Daenerys Targaryen did nothing wrong in Game of Thrones season 8


Ten years out from the premiere of Game of Thrones, let’s take a look back at the trajectory of Daenerys Targaryen, quite possibly the show’s most iconic character.

In the infamous last season of Game of Thrones, we witnessed a terrible character assassination. No, I don’t mean the one in the series finale when Jon Snow killed Daenerys Targaryen. Metaphorically, we witnessed the assassination of a long-running character arc, as Daenerys turned from a noble paladin into the ultimate evil to be defeated by the real hero Jon, undoing everything the show had built over the course of its eight seasons.

Mad Queen Maybe?

After the airing of “The Bells,” showrunner David Benioff said that hints about Daenerys Targaryen’s turn to madness were scattered across the show going all the way back to season 1 when she witnessed her brother Viserys get executed by Khal Drogo. “There is something kind of chilling about the way Dany has responded to the death of her enemies,” he says. This implies that Dany was always fated to go mad. Except that it isn’t true. Daenerys had never done anything morally worse than many other characters in positions of power. Executing the slavers? Conquering a city to liberate the slaves? Burning a person who betrayed her (Varys) when she had promised to do exactly that if he ever did? In the context of Game of Thrones, none of that is truly horrible or worse than any other “crimes” committed in open war. She actually had potential to be a lot more cruel than she was in many situations but never did because she isn’t evil and she does not enjoy suffering.

The showrunners posthumously painting Daenerys as having been inherently villainous all along simply doesn’t work. They spent seven seasons telling us Daenerys was the hero, the epitome of goodness, showing a character with flaws but who ultimately always did the right thing. All along, Daenerys has been presented as an idealist, a woman on a crusade to make the world a better place, not a mad zealot.

Daenerys and Jon Snow were perhaps the only characters always acting in the interest of other people, helping, saving, and rescuing them even when they were loathed for their choices. And they didn’t just do it for their people, nor for “the realm” that Varys claims to serve. No, Daenerys and Jon defended all people, even those they weren’t responsible for. They are rebels with a cause, heroes defending humanity from its worst enemies: the supernatural evil that wants to wipe away mankind, and human greed.

Daenerys goes to war with the cities of Slaver’s Bay, delaying her grand plan to claim her birthright in Westeros over people that shouldn’t be her concern. She takes one look at slavery and knows it is wrong. She knows she has the power to overthrow it, to change things, so she does because she knows no one else will, no matter the cost to her, no matter that ruling Essos isn’t her goal. After all, she has been a slave herself, sold and used like a piece of jewelry by her brother Viserys and Illyrio Mopatis to Khal Drogo. When she crowns herself Queen of Meereen, it’s not because she craves power. It’s to establish a fairer life for the people, to oversee the liberation of the slaves and the new class hierarchy that it creates. Despite being young and inexperienced, Daenerys was a good enough queen, if not always a good strategist. She cared. She never did anything on a whim, for her own gain, or out of selfishness. She surely never shied away from doing things that didn’t please her.

Daenerys might’ve gone down, but she took Game of Thrones down with her

Daenerys was a wholesome person, an iconic character, and they needed to ruin her to justify her assassination, but in ruining her character, they ruined the entire story. The idea behind Dany’s final turn is that she was driven to it by a succession of tragic events, but many of the things that escalate her grief don’t make any sense plot-wise. For example, there’s the moment in “The Last of the Starks” where Euron Greyjoy shoots Dany’s dragon Rhaegal out of the air. In an interview, Benioff famously said that “Dany kinda forgot about the Iron Fleet,” which is suspect on its face. But if it were true, that also meant Tyrion and Varys and Grey Worm and the entire council at Winterfell, including Jon and Davos and Sansa and Arya and their advisors and military commanders, also forgot, which simply isn’t realistic, especially when Theon had been there as a stark reminder (had to use this pun, sorry) of the Ironborn, at least before he died at the Battle of Winterfell.

You know what else is funny? How Tyrion’s line “everywhere she goes, evil men die” is used to turn Jon against Daenerys in the end. It’s like the writers kinda forgot that they haven’t abolished the death penalty in Westeros yet, and big criminals get executed and they die. What is Daenerys supposed to do to the slavers or the people who tried to kill her, send a stern


raven? Tyrion murdered his own father in cold blood, he’s in no position to judge her actions. Much like Arya telling Jon that, “I know a killer when I see one,” all these morally grey characters seem to hold Daenerys to a higher moral standard than they hold themselves, and when Daenerys does not abide to that, she alone must be eliminated.

The North Remembers…occasionally, like the showrunners

The Seven Kingdom refuse Daenerys out of prejudice and fear of what’s different. In Essos she was a liberator, but Westeros doesn’t have class consciousness because nominally there is no slavery. The Northmen owe Daenerys their lives, but they have no emotional ties to her and show no gratitude or support when it matters the most. “The North Remembers” is a nice slogan, but Westerosi can have a very short memory when it suits them. They certainly remember the madness of Daenerys’s father but fail to recall who brought her armies to save them from the army of the dead. In Westeros, Daenerys is accused of crimes that have nothing to do with her and gaslighted at every turn, somehow simultaneously hated for being a foreign conqueror and the daughter of their previous mad king.

The fact that the showrunners had to strip Daenerys of all her personal relationships with allies and loved ones to make her “go mad” shows how difficult a sell it was, and it still didn’t work. She had already endured unspeakable traumas, and yet further trauma is how they explain her sudden descent into madness? Losing Missandei, Rhaegal, and Jorah was enough to make her go into deep grief, but how was that worse than losing Rhaego and Drogo (there would be lots to unpack here about Stockholm syndrome but now isn’t the time) or Viserion? Some fans cite early glimpses of season 8 to argue that the initial scripts also included Daenerys miscarrying a baby, the product of her short-lived relationship with Jon Snow. That didn’t make it into the final season and that would have added unspeakable grief, but still.

The utter sexism of it all, with a preposterous pretense of feminism

“I don’t have love here, I only have fear,” Daenerys tells Jon the night before she attacks King’s Landing. Assuming that Daenerys would lose all sanity over not being popular is also preposterous, when she has endured so much worse and continued on her path. That all of Westeros would pour salt on her wounds by doubting her and conspiring against her behind her back to install Jon on the Iron Throne was painful to watch, because Daenerys hadn’t done anything wrong except being born Aerys’ daughter (yet, curiously, no one is concerned that Jon is his grandson). Varys saw it as alarming that she was spending too much time alone in her chambers (mourning all her oldest friends and children) and that she was not eating, and yet no one tried to help her. They convinced themselves she was going mad for no reason and that nothing could be done for it.

But the real insult to women everywhere is Benioff and Weiss deciding that the last straw for Daenerys was Jon refusing to be romantically involved with her. That anyone would lose all empathy and compassion and become merciless and choose tyranny and mass murder because of a romantic rejection is perhaps the lowest point Game of Thrones ever reached.

(L to R) Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen and Kit Harington as Jon Snow – Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO
(L to R) Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen and Kit Harington as Jon Snow – Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO /

Daenerys, falsely painted as power-hungry and sexually frustrated, destroying King’s Landing on dragonback is HBO’s way of refiling an extremely patriarchal notion of the world. Her descent into madness literally translates into lack of trust for all women in power, because it conveys the message that women are prone to unjustified fits of fury that raze cities to the ground, similar to what Cersei did when she exploded the Sept of Baelor in season 6. Note how Cersei, another sexually liberated woman who doesn’t ascribe to the predetermined notions of gender roles, also proceeded to go full-on Mad Queen. It’s almost like they were actively trying to say that power only corrupts fierce women. If your argument to counter this statement is that Sansa ends up on a throne and she is perfectly fine, it’s important to reflect on what change Sansa really brings to the world.

Sansa proposes nothing revolutionary. All she demands is the independence the North has lost, which is promptly granted by her brother now sitting on the Iron Throne. She re-establishes the very traditionalistic vision of life that perfectly fits into the patriarchal structure of respectable Westerosi society. She doesn’t stand for diversity, she doesn’t fight for the oppressed, she is actually shown to be fearful and loathing of anyone who looks different from her. If anyone is still under the impression that Sansa’s coronation is an act of feminism on anyone’s part, it’s not. It’s pandering, it’s the showrunners patting themselves on the back for putting a crown on a woman after having another woman betrayed and stabbed by her lover during a passionate embrace.

The wheel returns

Daenerys’ true crime wasn’t what she did in “The Bells.” That was the cause apparent of her death, the fireworks added to create the excuse to kill her. She had to die for no other reason than the showrunners decided to forego a decade of characterization for shock value. They wrote Daenerys’ entire season 8 arc as they would a Shakespearean protagonist’s. Suddenly, despite her best intentions, everything crumbled around Daenerys, to the point that the casual watcher could see why Jon Snow was persuaded to become a Queenslayer and a kinslayer. The shows asks us to sympathize not with the loneliness and desperation heaved on Daenerys, but with the terrible manpain crushing the selfless, tragic hero who puts aside his honor and silences his heart to rid the realm of the evil woman he loves. (But, Tyrion, I thought evil men deserved not to die?)

No, Daenerys’ only crime was championing modern ideals in a world that wasn’t ready. In this show, Dany must die so that less radical sovereigns can take her place. By killing Daenerys and undoing her legacy and everything she fought for, the show is regressing to the previously accepted status quo that she had fought so hard to destroy. The wheel she had come so close to breaking is spinning again, once more crushing those on the ground, with no hope for the future.

The fall from grace of Game of Thrones

There’s a reason the series finale, “The Iron Throne” is rated only four wretched stars on IMDb, when the entire show has a 9.3 average. Here it is: Daenerys wasn’t mad. The problem is that this entire storyline was narratively forced on us. We were asked to believe that Daenerys was mad because they were telling us she was, but the audience knew better. She could have taken a dark turn somewhere down the line if there had been more time and more build-up. But in the show we watched, Daenerys was a perfectly sane person and ruler. She decided to fire on innocent civilians because of something that had absolutely no foreshadowing or payoff. What even did it? The bells? The screams? The Red Keep? Does it even matter? Whatever it was, it makes no sense on a Watsonian nor Doylist level. They made her destroy a city in order to excuse her cold-blooded murder at the hand of her love, her equal, the “true” hero, the one willing to do damn himself because Tyrion apparently brainwashed him by flipping a pretty phrase around.

And yet, even after that, Jon loves her and believes she is what the realm needs, that she can fix what is broken. To communicate in clear terms that she is the ultimate evil who must be destroyed, the finale employs visual imagery inspired by historical footage of dictators such as  Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for the scene where Daenerys addresses her troops. An entire separate op-ed could be written about the gravity of this, but to put a woman who stood for freedom and unity on the same level as these Nazi and fascist dictators is not only terribly insensitive and inconsiderate, it’s dangerous.

Daenerys Targaryen’s legacy

Despite the show’s best efforts to demonize her, Daenerys Targaryen became even more popular and beloved. Daenerys isn’t the tyrant, the dictator, the “Satanic Majesty” the finale script describes her as. She has become a martyr, a symbol, one that stands for love and equality and freedom from oppression. The power of Daenerys’ message has spread. Her images and quotes are being used in riots and protests against corrupt governments and unjust establishments in many parts of the world.

HBO thought they could rewrite her story, erase all the good she had done. But Daenerys Targaryen transcended.

Next. The 22 best moments from Game of Thrones season 8. dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels