How Game of Thrones brought Daenerys to her breaking point


Throughout season 8, Culturess will analyze Game of Thrones through the lens of a particular character. For this week, we look at Daenerys Targaryen.

When Game of Thrones began, Daenerys wasn’t yet called Heir to the Iron Throne, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, or the Breaker of Chains. She had just one title: Targaryen.

It was an important title, though. Even as she lived in exile in Pentos, orphaned and abused by her only surviving brother, Daenerys clung to the belief that she was destined to return home and reclaim the realm her family had ruled for three centuries. During her bleakest moments, from Khal Drogo’s death to the uprising of the Sons of the Harpy, her dragons – first as eggs and then as conscious, fire-breathing, killing creatures – provided solace, reminding her of her destiny.

For a while, Daenerys seemed poised for a heroic arc. Her gradual evolution from pawn to queen was thrilling, fueled by feminist righteousness. Between her dragons and her desire to “break the wheel” of tyranny, it was easy to see why she inspired devotion. Yet, her noble intentions always had a maternalistic edge: she may have believed slaves should be free, but Daenerys never viewed them as her equals. As her authority grew, along with the opposition to that authority, her instincts increasingly undermined her intentions.

She didn’t inherit madness from her father; she inherited power. And as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What “The Last of the Starks” means for Daenerys

The closer she’s gotten to the Iron Throne, the more distant Daenerys has become to viewers, her former vulnerability hidden behind her imperious gaze. Over time, she has learned to trust only a handful of people, and even those people she keeps at an arm’s length, interacting with them on a strictly professional basis. Ironically, the trait that made Daenerys so admirable to begin with – her confidence – is now what makes her difficult to root for.

With “The Last of the Starks,” Game of Thrones brings its Dragon Queen back down to earth, if only a little and only for a moment.

It opens with Ser Jorah’s body laid out on the ground. He and the rest of the countless dead from the battle against the White Walkers are being burned in a mass funeral outside the Winterfell gates. Visibly struggling to keep her emotions in check, Daenerys kisses her oldest, most faithful ally on the forehead and whispers something inaudible to him. Then, she leaves to join the other mourners, her composure regained.

During the victory celebration afterward, she displays neither jubilance nor sorrow, watching the festivities from her pedestal as if it is a somewhat boring play. You get the sense that she would prefer to be already flying to King’s Landing. In an unusual move, director David Nutter shifts to a subjective perspective, letting the noise fade out as Daenerys takes note of the various cliques that have formed, none of which include her. Suddenly, she seems fragile, out of her depth.

Throughout the episode, various characters talk about Daenerys, debating her state of mind and her leadership abilities. However, the most revealing conversation involves her as a participant rather than merely a subject. After an awkward attempt at intimacy, she and Jon finally confront his lineage. He reiterates his pledge of fealty to her, and she urges him to keep it a secret.

More telling than what she says is how she says it. Daenerys doesn’t try to hide her desperation. She wants Jon’s loyalty, not only for strategic reasons but also for emotional ones; if she loses the Iron Throne, she will have to consider everything her ambition has cost her and the fact that it is based on a lie. We’ve seen Daenerys demand a lot; this is the only time we’ve seen her beg.

Of course, Jon being Jon, her pleas prove futile, and Daenerys probably suspects as much, even if she ignores her suspicions. So, when Cersei executes Missandei, Daenerys’s closest remaining ally and the first slave she brought into her service, she gets the excuse she needs to burn King’s Landing to the ground. She’s waited long enough.

dark. Next. Game of Thrones: 5 details you missed in “The Last of the Starks”

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.