Daenerys Targaryen is one of the most popular characters in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels and HBO's Game of Thrones TV show. And I'm calling it now: She's gonna die.
This is a bullshit article, isn't it?
No. Well, not really. But most Game of Thrones fans expect Dany to be around for a while. I don't.
A number of popular outlets run "dead pools" and try to predict who will die in any given week. Dany rarely makes anybody's list, and with good reason: She's one of the most popular characters in the books and on the show. People name their kids after her. And she's weighted down with lore and prophecies within the show's fiction that have not yet come to pass.
But this is the speech Daenerys gave in episode six of season six.
That moment is clearly intended to mirror this famous speech Khal Drogo gave in season one, episode seven.
The thing is, Khal Drogo died pretty much immediately after he touted his prowess in war and the strength of his horde, and there's reason to believe Dany might be going the same way.
So, what's her deal?
Daenerys is the only surviving child of Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, who was killed by Jaime Lannister. As such, she has a hereditary claim to the Iron Throne of Westeros. She aspires to retake her father's throne and wreak vengeance on the other houses of Westeros, who butchered her family and drove her into exile.
Dany's brother Viserys sold her to Khal Drogo in the show's first season, in exchange for the promise that Drogo would help Viserys retake the Iron Throne. Drogo made Dany his wife and gave her a gift of three dragon eggs, which were believed to be fossilized remnants of an extinct species. Dany became pregnant with Drogo's son, and the child was prophesied by Dothraki mystics to be "the stallion who mounts the world," a leader who would unite the disparate Dothraki bands into an unstoppable army.
Drogo suffered what appeared to be a flesh wound in a battle over power, and Dany urged him to seek treatment from a priestess that Dany had rescued from Drogo's raiders. The priestess, outraged by the massacre of her village, betrayed Dany and used blood magic incantations to kill the baby and render Drogo catatonic. Daenerys put the traitorous priestess and her dragon eggs onto Drogo's funeral pyre, and then she walked into the flames herself.
The priestess burned alive, but Dany was unharmed by the fire, and the dragon eggs hatched.
Drogo is dead and his armies are disbanded and scattered, but Daenerys now has three dragons, the last of their kind. These are the most powerful weapons in the world, if she can keep them under control.
In season five and in Martin's most recent book, A Dance With Dragons, Daenerys hit a low point. Her dragons were marauding across the countryside, and she couldn't stop them. She had undertaken a campaign to liberate three cities held by slave masters, but two of the cities had fallen back under the control of the slavers she thought she had vanquished, and she held the third city only by the force of her military occupation, which was beset by a vicious insurgency.
She tried to consolidate control through a convenient marriage to a local nobleman, but she was the victim of an assassination attempt and escaped by flying away on the back of her largest dragon.
In season six of the show, which advances the story beyond the most recent books, she has recovered significantly. She was captured by the Dothraki and taken before a council of the Khals — the Dothraki leaders — but she killed them all by setting the building on fire and then walking unscathed out of the flaming wreckage. Now she leads the entire united Dothraki horde, an army tens of thousands strong that can sweep away the enemies who recently seemed to have Daenerys on the ropes.
This is the kind of thing Daenerys does regularly. People who threaten her have a tendency to burst into flame. When she was captured by the Undying wizards in the city of Qarth, she managed to get her dragon to burn all of them alive. Later, she seemed to be forced to sell one of her dragons to obtain an army of Unsullied, who are soldier-slaves trained from birth to be the most fearsome warriors alive, but after the slavers signed the soldiers over to her command, the dragon burned the slavers alive.
So if she's doing so well, why do I think she will die?
The scheming and skirmishing over the Iron Throne in Westeros has, since the beginning of the series, existed in the shadows of two impending threats: the zombie army of the White Walkers in the North, and Dany and her dragons across the sea.
The White Walkers have been an ever-present threat in Westeros. They were introduced in the first chapter of Martin's books, but they have mostly existed as a looming threat on the edge of the world. Since the HBO series passed Martin's books and began setting the table for its endgame, the Walkers have become much more prominent. It's clear that the climax of the series will center around them, at least partially.
Daenerys now has an an army large enough to mop up all the various battle-weary Westeros factions and face down the wights and the Walkers, who are vulnerable to dragon fire. Setting up an ultimate conflict between the dragons and the zombies would be the inevitable finale of any other fantasy series, and that's why I suspect that Martin wants to subvert this expectation.
Sonny Bunch at the Washington Post wrote an article recently arguing that we should be rooting for the White Walkers to destroy all the characters.
He might be on to something. Most viewers and critics view the White Walkers as a problem for the characters to solve, rather than a faction that might actually triumph. But it is hard to imagine the scheming, aggrieved houses of Westeros uniting, even in the face of an enemy that seems prepared to wipe humanity off the face of the earth.
It's a lot easier to speculate that these characters might try to destroy the one weapon that can stop the Walkers — Dany's dragons — out of fear that the dragons might be turned against them.
If Daenerys comes to Westeros, then Game of Thrones is a story about Daenerys
Game of Thrones is a sprawling narrative with numerous characters scattered across several continents. While Daenerys is doing her thing with her dragons, Jon Snow is trying to retake Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton and unify the Northern houses and the Wildlings into a force that can defend humanity against the Walkers. Bran Stark is north of the Wall, becoming the Three-Eyed Raven. Arya Stark has been training to become an assassin. Cersei Lannister is locked in a power struggle with a cult of militant fanatics in King's Landing. Littlefinger is doing Littlefinger things in the Vale, and the Sand Snakes are doing Sand Snake things in Dorne.
This is a list of very interesting things, and Dorne.
If the scope of this is ultimately going to narrow to a battle of Dany's army and her dragons against the Walkers, a lot of those characters will be left on the sidelines. The politics and schemes that have driven most of the show's drama will be rendered largely moot if the Dothraki horde and the dragons make it to Westeros. The dragons, in gaming terms, are OP. They would overpower their enemies as well as the show's narrative.
This is why many people think Daenerys could ultimately become the show's central villain instead of linking up with our existing "good" characters to fight the threat of the White Walkers. The story makes much more sense in many ways if she's seen as a conquering antagonist instead of a "hero."
There are also several good reasons to believe that Game of Thrones is the story of the Starks. The last book of the series was, at one point, going to be called A Time for Wolves, and the wolf is the sigil of House Stark. There's no way for the story to be about anyone but Dany if she maintains control over the forces she currently commands and brings them to Westeros.
George R.R. Martin has no love for conquerors
One trend that occurs repeatedly throughout A Song of Ice and Fire is that powerful charismatic leaders and military commanders fall victim to treachery, and their armies and coalitions dissipate.
When King Robert Baratheon died in the first season, his two brothers became rivals for the throne. The charismatic Renly Baratheon was much more popular than his stern older brother Stannis and, although Stannis' claim to the Iron Throne was stronger, Renly earned the support of important factions like the Tyrells of Highgarden. But just as their two armies were prepared to meet in a battle in which Stannis would likely have been routed, Melisandre, a witch loyal to Stannis, conjured a shadow monster out of her vagina that killed Renly.
Game of Thrones is that kind of show.
Similarly, Robb "King in the North" Stark was wildly successful in battle, routing the Lannisters everywhere he met them. But he was a poor politician, and decisions he made ostracized some of the lords who fought under his banner. When Robb backed out on a promise he made to marry the daughter of a minor lord named Walder Frey, the malcontents conspired with the Lannisters to betray him, and Robb was murdered in the infamous Red Wedding. He did everything right, except when it came to marriage.
That decision is still hurting the Starks, as Sansa and Jon were refused fighting men in last week's episode due to Robb's marriage to the wrong person.
Drogo's death followed a similar pattern: He commanded a military force that had few rivals, and he never suffered a defeat in battle, but he was killed by treachery and his forces disbanded after his death.
The deaths of these kings led to the fragmenting of their forces, and the armies that could have conquered Westeros dispersed. Every leader who has stood on the cusp of consolidating power, throughout the series, has been felled by treachery or arrogance. Or both.
Daario Naharis, the sellsword commander who is Daenerys' sometimes lover, observed in the sixth episode of the sixth season: "You weren't made to sit on a chair in a palace ... you're a conqueror." If the fate of every other conqueror in A Song of Ice and Fire is any indication, Martin holds a dim view of conquerors.
Unlike those other leaders, Dany has the advice of Tyrion Lannister and Varys the eunuch, who have fled Westeros to join her cause. In her absence they've cut a deal with the slavers to end the insurgency. How Dany responds to this situation when she returns to Meereen will likely influence her fate. But given that she now has the largest army in the world at her back, it seems unlikely that she'll be willing to stick to a deal with her enemies.
Many fans like Dany, and that's fine, but few have really stopped to think what would happen were she to arrive in Westeros with her dragons and her Dothraki army. It's not like Jon Snow is going to bend the knee, nor would anyone else of note. The result would be a rolling mountain of death, likely killing the characters we know and love and setting fire to the settings we've come to know.
It makes much more sense for Martin to kill her before that happens.
The prophecies don't ensure Daenerys' survival
When Daenerys visited the House of the Undying, the warlocks told her that "three fires must you light ... one for life and one for death and one to love ... three mounts must you ride ... one to bed and one to dread and one to love ... three treasons will you know ... once for blood and once for gold and once for love ..."
She was also shown a number of visions of the past and the future, including one of a blue flower growing out of a wall of ice.
Based on these prophecies, a common fan theory is that Dany will eventually come to Westeros and fall in love with Jon Snow, who defends the Wall at the edge of the North. The series is the Song of Ice and Fire, so he's the ice and she's the fire. A subset of the fanbase ships these two pretty hard, although that pairing would likely lead to some of the most dreadful dinner conversation imaginable.
Of course, if the best-reasoned and best-supported of all the fan theories is true, Daenerys Targaryen is actually Jon Snow's aunt. But Targaryens have a history of marrying blood relatives, so that doesn't discredit the Jon/Dany shippers.
There's also the argument that Dany is not in any present mortal danger, because we've been promised a love story that hasn't yet been delivered. But prophecies are no guarantee of anything in Westeros.
Rhaegar Targaryen believed his son Aegon was "the Prince that was promised," and Aegon did not survive infancy. Melisandre believed the same of Stannis Baratheon, and that didn't pan out either. Dany's baby was supposed to be "the stallion that mounts the world," and the child didn't even survive long enough to be born. Tyrion Lannister said, "Prophecy is like a half-trained mule. It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head."
In any case, many events that can fit the prophecy have happened already: Dany lit Drogo's funeral pyre, which allowed the dragons to hatch. She burned the house of the Undying, and the slave master at Astapor, and the Khals.
She's also mounted: Her silver horse, Drogon the dragon, Khal Drogo, Daario Naharis and Hizdahr Lo Zoraq, the noble she married.
The treasons are the most interesting part of the prophecy, and the biggest indicator that she might not survive. She's suffered two so far: Jorah Mormont passed information about her to Varys, and somebody tried to get her to eat poisoned food at the ceremony celebrating the reopening of the fighting pits.
Several characters might be responsible for the final treason, which Dany might not survive:
Hizdahr Lo Zoraq was killed by the insurgents in the HBO series, which suggests he was not conspiring with them against Daenerys, but he's still alive in the books and his involvement in the plot remains a possibility. The books and the television show have already diverged in many ways, but it's unlikely that Dany would live in one and die in the other. How she dies, and who kills her, may shift. But her ultimate fate will likely be the same across the two versions of the story.
Daario Naharis, who was Dany's lover, was pretty upset when she married Hizdahr. He's a dangerous man who has the capacity for treachery, and he's been given a lot of prominence in the TV show, which suggests he'll eventually do something important. He could betray Dany "for love," although this seems unlikely.
Jorah Mormont also loves Dany. In the HBO series, he's been afflicted with a disease called greyscale. He doesn't seem like someone who would willingly kill her, but he's known to do despicable things when he's desperate. He's also been ordered to find a cure, which is the sort of thing that could potentially backfire on the person doing the ordering. We'll see how that plays out.
Victarion Greyjoy, who has been incorporated into the character of Euron Greyjoy on the HBO series, is an Ironborn prince who intends to marry Daenerys and claim her right to the Iron Throne and her dragons. In the book, Victarion has a magic horn that can control dragons, and is influenced by the counsel of a terrifying red priest. He's another serious threat.
Finally, Dany chained two of her dragons beneath the city of Meereen because she had no other way to stop them from devouring livestock and children. In a recent episode of the HBO show, Tyrion cut them loose. Without purpose and without their mother, they're now likely agents of chaos. The Mother of Dragons being destroyed due to her lack of parental care to her most powerful children is the sort of thing that would fit neatly in the series' themes.
It's hard to predict what George R.R. Martin will do
Game of Thrones is so beloved in part because it strives to be unpredictable. George R.R. Martin loves abrupt narrative reversals and surprise twists. There are only a few characters left whose deaths can cause the kind of narrative upheaval Martin generated with events like the Red Wedding.
It's a mistake to assume any of those characters are safe.
Martin might very well bring the dragons to Westeros to deliver a final Lord of the Rings-style battle that brings all the armies together against the Walkers, but the series has shown a deep skepticism toward such setpieces thus far. And, in many ways, the conflict between humanity and the Walkers gets a lot more interesting if Dany and the dragons get taken out of the picture.
The HBO series tends to organize major deaths and story twists in the ninth episode of each 10-episode season, and they're going to have a total of eight seasons. Martin has two more books left to finish, and they'll each be more than 500 pages. So Daenerys could have quite a bit of road left ahead of her, but there's at least one more game-changing death that George R.R. Martin has shared with the showrunners, and Daenerys is the most likely candidate.