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Daenerys, the Mad King, and the final descent of Game of Thrones

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Dany’s mad — and it doesn’t bode well for her future as queen

daenerys episode 4 season 8 game of thrones HBO

Will the real Daenerys Targaryen please stand up?

The Dragon Queen has never seemed like the best choice of ruler, but the final season of Game of Thrones — dragons be damned — has put in an extraordinary amount of work toward making her the worst possible option. The most recent episode, “The Last of the Starks,” is the clearest evidence yet that Dany’s seemingly surefire course toward the Iron Throne is now in jeopardy, especially as questions about Westerosi history throw her ability to rule into doubt.

[Ed. note: Major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 4, “The Last of the Starks,” below.]

With two of her dragon children dead and Missandei’s execution at the hands of Cersei Lannister (after telling Dany to take King’s Landing to town, no less), Dany seems set to burn the Red Keep to the ground to get what she believes is hers. As Varys has already pointed out to her, it’s an awful plan of action, given how many innocent people will die if she opts for all-out war.

It’s also likely to turn her allies against her when they see the collateral damage she’s wrought, and put further fuel on the fire of getting Jon on the Iron Throne. Now that the knowledge that he’s got a real claim to the throne is starting to get out there, thanks to Sansa, the campaign for his rule has effectively begun. Dany’s worst nightmare — that everything she’s worked for will fall apart — seems to be coming true, and when she finds out how much support Jon has, it’s likely to send her even further into the deep end.

The common thread through Westerosi history when it comes to the Targaryens is not just that they’re tied to dragons, but that they are volatile and succumb to madness — as Daenerys’ own father, Aerys II Targaryen (aka “The Mad King”) did. The argument that Daenerys is going mad will be an easy one to make if she decides to take on Cersei by razing King’s Landing to the ground.

dany in game of thrones season 8 episode 4
Dany watches the Winterfell crowd celebrate Jon Snow in “The Last of the Starks.”
HBO

However, she’s not mad in the way that Aerys (or even her brother Viserys) was. She’s literally mad — she’s pissed off. She’s fought for her right to rule for years, only to cross the Narrow Sea and discover that everyone would rather follow a guy who won’t even pet his dog (direwolf) goodbye. Her fear that knowledge of Jon’s legitimacy will put him on the throne even though he has no interest in ruling is valid, particularly given the way he has reluctantly but steadily climbed the social ladder.

She’s also one of the few people who understands that Sansa Stark poses a real threat to whoever she puts her mind against. Sansa’s life mirrors hers: Both of them were forced into political marriages and treated like pawns, but learned the ropes and became powerful leaders themselves through ingenuity and force of will. It’s why both she and Sansa know what Jon doesn’t: that it won’t matter whether or not he wants to rule when the truth about his lineage comes out.

Where Dany does begin to resemble Aerys II, however, is in the way her suspicions of the people around her begin to affect her ability to be impartial. Her fears are valid in that she’s a stranger to Westeros, no matter what her right to the throne may be, whereas Jon is a known entity and well-loved by the people around him.

Unfortunately, it also means that everyone who didn’t cross the sea with her is a potential threat or enemy. She can no longer trust Jon, not because he doesn’t love her, but because he knows too much; she can no longer trust Tyrion, if she ever completely did, because she doesn’t trust the Lannisters; and she doesn’t trust anyone else, particularly Sansa, because she knows she was needed in the war against the White Walkers for her literal firepower but doesn’t serve the same purpose anymore.

Dany’s decision as to how to take King’s Landing will be a key step in whether or not she’ll be able to remain a viable candidate for the Iron Throne, but the wheels of fate may already be in motion. Breaking the bonds of history is crucial to Game of Thrones, but that doesn’t mean history hasn’t been known to repeat itself, too.