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Daenerys Targaryen Is Not the Hero of 'Game of Thrones'

Despite a seven-season buildup, "Beyond the Wall" made it clear that the Mother of Dragons is unlikely to rule Westeros.
Photos courtesy of HBO

FYI This post contains spoilers.

For seven seasons, Daenerys Targaryen has been the People's Champion on Game of Thrones. We've seen her overcome death, deserts, war, rape, and heartbreak on her mission to destroy oppressive practices like slavery, pillaging, and bloodsport. (Though her arc has been accused of falling into the white savior tropes of Avatar, Pocahontas, etc, and Dany's claim to seizing the Seven Kingdoms is still rooted in hereditary monarchy.) Dany has been the star (as well as the moon) of our lives, and is often the character people point to as evidence that Game of Thrones is a show about strong women "destroying the patriarchy." It appears that Sunday's episode undid much of this established background to ease viewers into the fact that she ultimately will not end up ruling Westeros.


Up until now, there have been hints that supported viewers' claims that Game of Thrones is Daenerys's story, and that her fate was to save the world not only from the evils of men but supernatural forces as well. But in order to understand how her role is changing—or was misunderstood in the first place—we have to understand how the Mother of Dragons fits into a universe that is larger than even she expected.

The best place to start is with Dany's possible relationship to the legend of Azor Ahai, a prominent figure in the mythology of the Lord of Light. Thousands of years ago, Azor Ahai forged the sword Lightbringer, which according to the red priestess Melisandre was used to defeat the darkness of the "Great Other" (the god of cold and evil who is the nemesis of the Red God, and possibly also a description of the Army of the Dead and the white walkers known as "the Others" in Westerosi lore). But Azor Ahai paid a great price to unleash the sword's true powers, plunging the blade into the heart of his wife Nissa as sacrifice. The prophecy recounted by Melisandre says that Azor Ahai will be reborn amidst salt and smoke after a long summer as "the prince that was promised," wielding a flaming blade to defeat the enemy once again.

Early this season it was stated outright that the Azor Ahai prophecy may have been mistranslated when it regards the savior's gender. "Only the prince who was promised can bring the dawn," Melisandre tells Dany, to which she replies, "I'm afraid I'm not a prince." Her counselor Missandei interjects: "Your grace, forgive me, but your translation is not quite accurate. That noun has no gender in high Valyrian, so the proper translation for that prophecy would be 'the prince or princess who was promised will bring the dawn.'" In the book series, Maester Aemon similarly tells Sam Tarly that "no one ever looked for a girl…it was a prince that was promised, not a princess" and that "the error crept in from the translation. Dragons are neither male nor female…but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame."


And while fans who read the books (or at least the fan theories on Reddit) have long suspected that the prophecy of Azor Ahai was about Jon and not Dany, the last episode all but confirmed this. Not only will the greater war against the Others obliterate her resources (she has already lost one dragon), it will merge her story into Jon's. And despite Jon's own (increasingly) royal status, it now seems extremely unlikely that Dany will rule Westeros when you consider not only the theft of her army and plotline but the ham-fisted assassination of her character in the last episode.

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In an unbearable face-off between Dany and Tyrion, she trash talks "heroes" for doing the "stupidest, bravest" things—the exact kind of deeds she committed a mere two episodes ago when she ignored her advisors and charged into battle to burn the Lannister army, or when she confronted the warlocks of Qarth, to name a few examples. Then, she refuses to admit that she's ever lost her temper—something that we've seen her proudly defend in season two, when she puffs out her chest after Xaro Xhoan Daxos says, "She is the Mother of Dragons, do you expect her to watch her people starve without breathing fire?"

And perhaps worst of all, Dany dismisses all of Tyrion's questions about her plans to "break the wheel," repeatedly telling him, "We will discuss the succession after I wear the crown." This felt like the deepest betrayal of her character, and it seems utterly implausible that the topic of what to do after conquering a continent with a horde of bloodriders has never come up. Why would Dany, who successfully fought battles for a more egalitarian society in Slavers' Bay with the help of advisors both foreign and native to the region, refuse to discuss how to destroy Westeros's current ruling class with one of the most powerful Westerosi leaders from a respected house?

Following a pattern we've seen before, it's clear that Game of Thrones showrunners are hurriedly writing in unimpressive displays of Daenerys's flaws so that we feel less guilty when it's revealed that Jon is the true (read: male) heir to the throne, despite Dany being the older Targaryen who also brought dragons back into the world after a hundred years of extinction. Although Emilia Clarke emotes admirably, it seems odd that she tells Jon that losing a dragon, one of her children, was a necessary sacrifice to learn that he was right all along. When Jon calls her his Queen, she says, "I hope I deserve it"—and while it's certainly a moment of forced vulnerability so that we're excited to see them have sex, it feels antithetical to her character, who would more typically pledge a better future or a dark promise in reply to such a profound statement of loyalty; it is almost a quiet, one sentence dismissal of her own legitimacy.

Our two greatest heroes are forming a pact to work together: Jon, to accept Dany as the ruler over all the kings of Westeros, including himself, and Dany, to help defeat the Army of the Dead. But even though Jon is the one bending the knee, it is Dany who is compromising not only her own war but her own story.