The writers of Game of Thrones are starting to move the show’s characters into place for the final reckoning. There are now only two episodes left, which means we’re two weeks away from learning how the whole thing ends.
But we have more than enough to lay down some educated speculation, especially since this season has done so much to clarify where both Jon Snow and Daenerys are headed. And after episode 4, “The Last of the Starks,” it seems like they’re headed directly toward each other — and not in a romantic way.
[Ed. note: Major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 4, “The Last of the Starks,” below.]
This is where both characters are at the end of their current arcs, and what it might mean for the future.
The boy who wanted to fit in
Jon Snow has always been firm about one point: He doesn’t care about the Iron Throne nearly as much as he cares about the survival of the human race. He bent the knee to Daenerys relatively quickly, and spends a significant amount of time assuring her that he doesn’t want to be king despite his right to the throne through his Targaryen lineage. Fair enough.
But the throne may become harder for him to resist, because it comes bundled with a lot of other things he does care about. Jon Snow is a bastard, as he points out again in this latest episode, and was never a “real” Stark. He never felt like he belonged at Winterfell, but he felt just as out of place during his short tenure on the Wall. He then spent time with the wildlings, even though he knew he was an outsider in that community as well. Trying to broker some kind of peace between the two groups led to the Night’s Watch coming together to label him a traitor and, ultimately, to kill him.
He didn’t stay dead, of course, and coming back from the dead has a way of alienating you from other people. So does riding a dragon.
But all of these strange circumstances move into an unexpected direction for Jon once he’s back in Winterfell: He suddenly seems like the most viable option they have for a ruler.
“I saw him riding that thing ... that’s why we all agreed to follow him,” Tormund yells during the feast. “That’s the kind of man he is. He’s little, but he’s strong. Strong enough to befriend an enemy, and get murdered for it. Most people get bloody murdered, they stay that way. Not this one. He comes back and keeps fighting. Here, north of the Wall, and then back again. He keeps fighting. He keeps fighting. He climbed on a fucking dragon and fought, what kind of a person climbs on a fucking dragon? A madman, or a king.”
Jon’s face shows that he knows how poorly this speech played out in Daenerys’ head.
But this isn’t about power for Jon; it’s about belonging. For the first time in his life he’s surrounded by people who see him for who he is, and what he can do. His brother and sisters accept him as a Stark. Those he leads accept him as a person in authority. The wildlings celebrate his acceptance of them, and reciprocate. Jon grew up with everyone looking at him with skepticism and fear. He was always second-guessed and kept at arm’s length.
Those days are over. He’s become, for lack of a better term, self-actualized. And the news about his relation to Daenerys, along with at least some idea of what’s likely coming next for both of them, causes him to pull away from her. She tries to rekindle the romance, making the whole thing even more awkward, while also beginning him to keep his bloodline a secret.
“Swear your brother and Samwell Tarly to secrecy, and tell no one else,” Daenerys tells him. “Or it will take on a life of its own, and you won’t be able to control it or what it does to people. No matter how many times you bend the knee.”
Despite the plea (or command?), Jon still thinks he can have this life and his family while Daenerys continues on her quest to become Queen. Jon is many things, but “The Last of the Starks” is another episode in which he comes off as being almost hopelessly naive about how the world works, and the limitations of hoping for the best.
Jon is driven by his desire to belong, and that desire is much stronger than his affection for Daenerys, and she knows it. He may not be able to keep his new happiness while Daenerys continues to make reckless decisions to gain the Iron Throne, and this episode made it very clear which he would pick between the two were things ever to come down to that. He has also been the character most directly responsible for the victory over the army of the dead at Winterfell — sorry, Arya — and what’s next after that but the throne?
Jon may not care about the throne, but he does care about his newfound place in the world, and the love and security it has given him. He’s always wanted to fit in, and now he does. The problem is that continuing to do so will make his aunt and erstwhile lover look at him with suspicion and fear. That’s not a look he needs to tolerate anymore.
Daenerys is right to be afraid of him, and nervous about where his loyalties lie. Bending the knee only means so much in this world, as we’ve seen time and time again.
The fall of Daenerys
Daenerys is, in many ways, Jon’s opposite. Jon cared about survival more than politics, but he has yet to figure out that spending a little more time on political maneuvering could have saved many lives through his adventures, not the least of which would have been his own.
But Daenerys now seems to care about politics and power above all else, ignoring all the practical advice around her in her quest for a throne she feels belongs to her. Since the Iron Throne is hers by right, everything she has to do to get it is retroactively justified. If people didn’t want to die they should have gotten out of her way.
Sansa tries to get her to rest the troops, but she sees it as the North postponing support of her campaign after she came to their aid. Her ill-planned siege of King’s Landing resulted in another dragon’s death and the loss of a huge portion of her fighting force. She’s not seeing clearly, and everyone around her seems to know it.
Both Varys and Tyrion both try to talk sense into Daenerys about how badly the battle for King’s Landing is likely to go, and she more or less ignores them. The throne is her destiny, after all, and Cersei is standing in the way.
“I have served tyrants most of my life,” Varys tells Tyrion after that discussion. “They all talk about destiny.”
They have a tense back-and-forth about whether Jon or Daenerys would make a better ruler. Tyrion is still loyal to his queen, but Varys seems to have a more realistic picture about what they’re about to live through. The rest of the episode shows that Varys might be right to be afraid.
This analysis does a very good job of laying out Daenerys’ state of mind after this last episode, so I won’t repeat those arguments here. But Daenerys is clearly losing what little balance she once had as a ruler, and Jon is in a position where it might be impossible for him to refuse the throne if word of his parents gets out. That’s a precarious place to be; Varys labels Jon’s parentage as “information” rather than a “secret,” now that eight people know, and it seems likely that at least some of those people will talk.
Which means that Jon and Daenerys are both sprinting toward a future in which they are at complete odds with each other, and neither seems to have much of a plan for what to do if they end up in open conflict. So far, the show’s writers and editors seem to be telling us that Daenerys is becoming less fit to be a queen instead of learning from her mistakes, and Jon may be moving in the opposite direction.
One of them will have to go if that’s the case, and it will likely be at the hand of the other. How that ultimately goes down, however, will have to be left to speculation for at least one more week.