Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Game of Thrones.”
Daenerys Targaryen is in many ways one of the most appealing characters on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” She’s powerful, determined, and inspires people to follow her again and again.
Now she’s close to forming an alliance with Jon Snow, the other main hero of our tale. Together, they’ll be a dragon-riding, direwolf-wielding duo who will slaughter the White Walkers and save Westeros. They could both perhaps be “The Prince That Was Promised,” Azor Ahai reborn.
But would a writer like George R.R. Martin really let his series end so simply?
Some fans don’t think so and point to a few troubling characteristics of Daenerys both on the show and in the books that could lead to her eventual turn towards a darker path.
Let’s explore just why some people think Daenerys could become a villain.
Daenerys is a vengeance seeker
Throughout the series, Daenerys is convinced of her own moral compass. If she ever witnesses something she views as wrong — such as rape or slavery — she immediately attempts to put a stop to it and punishes the wrong doer.
This a noble trait to have, but seeing the world in black and white and believing that she is the sole bringer of justice is one of Daenerys’ downfalls.
We saw this early on the series when she saved a healer and maegi named Mirri Maz Duur, one of the Lhazareen women who was being raped by the Dothraki who had conquered their village. To Daenerys, saving Duur was an honorable thing to do and she later enlists the woman to help heal Khal Drogo after he becomes injured.
Instead, Duur makes Drogo’s condition worse and also kills Daenerys’ son Rhaego when he is still in the womb using blood magic.
Daenerys doesn’t understand why the woman turned on her when Daenerys had previously saved her. But Duur viewed it quite differently:
“Saved me? Three of those riders had already raped me before you saved me, girl. I saw my god’s house burn, there where I had healed men and women beyond counting. In the streets I saw piles of heads: the head of the baker who makes my bread, the head a young boy that I had cured of fever just three moons past. So, tell me again exactly what it was that you saved?”
Duur herself was seeking vengeance for the death of her people. In retaliation, Daenerys murders Duur in Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre and emerges with her three dragons.
Was the scene epic? Of course. But this will not be the last time Daenerys murders or harms people who disagree with her perception of what is right and what is wrong.
Another moment of Daenerys’ vengeance gone awry happens when the Great Masters crucify 163 slave children as mile markers on her way to Meereen as a way to intimidate Daenerys. When she sacks the city, Daenerys then crucifies 163 Great Masters as a punishment.
In “A Storm of Swords,” however, Daenerys begins to regret her actions, despite her initial sense of righteousness:
She had them nailed to wooden posts around the plaza, each man pointing at the next. The anger was fierce and hot inside her when she gave the command; it made her feel like an avenging dragon. But later, when she passed the men dying on the posts, when she heard their moans and smelled their bowels and blood…
It was just. It was. I did it for the children.
Daenerys, though she suppresses the thought, realizes some of the Masters may not have been guilty of the death of these children. She tries to convince herself that she was right to take their lives.
And on season six, episode five, show watchers saw Daenerys murder the powerful khals in their straw hut. These weren’t nice men — they spent a significant chunk of time insulting Daenerys and talking about how they intended to rape and kill her — but watching her burn them alive was still an unnerving moment for some viewers, especially because it looked like she took pleasure in watching them die.
Daenerys’ rationalizations for all these events should give her fans pause. Murdering evil people may seem like the right thing to do, but what would happen if Daenerys’ moral compass was ever skewed?
It wouldn’t be the first time she burned people who disagreed with her, after all.
Dragons as Nuclear Weapons
In “A Dance With Dragons,” Daenerys compares her dragons to monsters:
Mother of dragons, Daenerys thought. Mother of monsters. What have I unleashed upon the world? A queen I am, but my throne is made of burned bones, and it rests on quicksand. Without dragons, how could she hope to hold Meereen, much less win back Westeros? I am the blood of the dragon, she thought. If they are monsters, so am I.
This wild and changeable nature of dragons is directly tied to Daenerys. When she equates herself to a dragon, she means it: She can be just as destructive and changeable as her dragon children.
What’s more, George R.R. Martin has talked about ties between the dragons and nuclear weapons. Both are powerful weapons to have, but can easily lead to utter destruction.
“Dragons are the nuclear deterrent, and only Dany has them, which in some ways makes her the most powerful person in the world,” Martin told Vulture in a 2014 interview. “But is that sufficient? These are the kind of issues I’m trying to explore. The United States right now has the ability to destroy the world with our nuclear arsenal, but that doesn’t mean we can achieve specific geopolitical goals. Power is more subtle than that. You can have the power to destroy, but it doesn’t give you the power to reform, or improve, or build.”
We saw the full force of this when Daenerys attacked the Lannister army with Drogon. Director Matt Shakman chose to show the battle from Jaime and Bronn’s perspective in order to bring the horrors of dragonfire into sharp relief.
“I wanted to tell the story of what it was like […] when war changes forever and a truly horrific weapon like napalm or an atom bomb is suddenly unleashed and what that does to the men on the ground,” Shakman told INSIDER.
Daenerys is sitting with her finger on a red button that could take out all of Westeros. She may not want to destroy the kingdom, especially before she ever has the chance to rule there, but by virtue of wanting to conquer Westeros she could be bringing more death and destruction into a country still ravaged by war.
There’s a chance Daenerys could be viewed as a villain instead of the returning hero of house Targaryen.
Daenerys and the Mad King
While Daenerys has remained fairly sane so far, the Targaryen dynasty has a history of mental illness and madness, mainly due to intermarriage. Daenerys’ own father, King Aerys II, was called the Mad King because he became paranoid and started killing people and hiding wildfire around King’s Landing.
Daenerys starts to worry about this possible “taint” in her blood, as do many other characters throughout the series. But it’s not so much that Daenerys could go crazy — though that’s certainly a possibility — but that she could follow in her father’s footsteps by punishing those who disagree with her or who she views as her enemies.
Tyrion warned her against this tactic at the end of season six, and the two reached a compromise where Daenerys instead burned just one of the slaver’s ships and had Grey Worm execute two of the three slave masters.
Once she arrived in Westeros, Tyrion once again counseled Daenerys against immediately using the dragons to burn King’s Landing or other cities, telling her she didn’t want to be the “Queen of the Ashes.”
But their alternate plans failed due to Tyrion’s miscalculations of what Jaime and Cersei would do, and Daenerys got tired of sitting around and doing nothing. She rode Drogon into battle against the Lannister army, and laid waste to their soldiers and loot. She didn’t choose a select few leaders and punish them — this time she went for everything in sight.
Granted, it was better than her flying to the Red Keep and attacking civilians, but it was still hard to 100% root for her in this moment.
Daenerys also had a tense conversation with Varys earlier on the seventh season. She made him promise to be straightforward with her about her potential failings as a leader, but she then vowed to burn him alive if he ever betrayed her.
If Daenerys goes too far in the “fire and blood” direction, she could end up repeating her father’s mistakes — something that would end up costing her the throne, just like it ended up costing King Aerys both his kingdom and his life.
Jon Snow is the true hero
A penchant for vengeance, a crazy father, and dragons do not together make Daenerys a villain. But let’s compare Daenerys to another heroic character in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series: Jon Snow.
In the books and show, Jon is very similar to Ned Stark. He’s honorable, justice-minded, and takes no pleasure in killing. When he’s forced to take a life, Jon makes sure he’s the one to swing the sword, and he views it as a burden, not a pleasure.
For example, when he punished the the brothers of the Night’s Watch who stabbed him on season six, Jon took no joy in it. He listened to every man’s last words before cutting the rope and watching them die. He did not look pleased by their deaths, unlike Daenerys who smiled right before she watched the khals burn.
Jon also never asks for the responsibility that is heaped on his shoulders time and time again. Jon is forced to become the Lord Commander after Samwell Tarly submitted his name. He doesn’t want to be the one to take care of the Wildlings, but he feels morally obligated to help them and therefore becomes their savior. He doesn’t want to be the one to punish his brothers, even though they betrayed and murdered him, and yet he knows the responsibility falls to him.
And now, he’s King in North after rallying the Northern houses around him. But he didn’t even want to do that — not until Sansa Stark convinced him it was the right thing to do.
Jon follows the traditional “reluctant hero” journey in many ways. He questions himself, he sometimes falls, and he picks himself back up.
It’s not unlike what Dumbledore tells Harry in the “Harry Potter” film series: “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”
Jon never asks to be a leader, he’s just the best man for the job. It’s something Daenerys — with her Targaryen dynasty and ambitions — would never understand. When Jon and Daenerys met for the first time, Daenerys told him that all people enjoy what they’re good at.
“I don’t,” Jon said.
He was likely referring to leading and killing — the two things he’s been forced into ever since leaving Winterfell as a young man. Jon never sought out a royal title, but he’s good at owning it. That factor might make him the one person best suited for the job.
What does this mean for the series?
There’s also substantial evidence throughout the series that Daenerys will be a good ruler. She’s intelligent, tries to listen to her advisers, and genuinely wants the people she rules to be happy. People like Missandei and Grey Worm follow Daenerys because they truly believe in her ability to change lives for the better.
And even with her possible flaws, Daenerys would ultimately be a much better ruler than Cersei or Joffrey Lannister, or even King Robert.
Still, there could be a complicated friction as Daenerys continues trying to claim the Iron Throne. Instead of being the hero she assumes she will be, Daenerys could likely face opposition and bring destruction and death to the kingdom.
On the other hand, she possesses weapons that, while volatile, could be the key to defeating the White Walkers (at least on the show). We know that Valyrian steel and “dragonglass” — two things believed to be made with dragon fire — can kill the White Walkers, so it stands to reason that actual fire from actual dragons would do the trick, too.
So while she may not be greeted in Westeros as a hero, she and her dragons could fast become their only hope. Plus, a Jon and Daenerys romance might be brewing (even though their shared bloodline grosses some fans out). Perhaps his “ice” will temper her “fire,” if you catch our drift.
In the end, only Martin knows what he has planned, but Daenerys fans should buckle up — it could be a bumpy ride on her way to the Iron Throne.