Daenerys has officially turned into the Mad Queen on Game of Thrones.
Even after Cersei’s army rang the bells of surrender during the siege on King’s Landing, Daenerys decided to fly towards the Red Keep and burn not just Cersei but also the civilians throughout the whole city. Just like her father, Aerys II, she now has a reputation for killing the innocent. Game of Thrones has been setting up this twist for Daenerys — from savior to villain — but this dramatic of a turn feels too quick for a show that has previously spent several seasons on single characters’ development.
Few fans were surprised by Dany going mad. Throughout this season, Sansa has told Jon over and over again that she does not trust Daenerys. Shots of a grimacing Mother of Dragons have become staples of recent episodes as she’s lost her closest advisors, Jorah and Missendei, and become increasingly isolated in Westeros. Even Jon has rejected her romantically. And just last episode, Varys told Tyrion that he worried about Daenerys’ state of mind.
But the show may have breached the bounds of realism with Daenerys’ villain edit. Daenerys has never suggested she had a desire to burn innocents as she did in this episode. In season 1, Daenerys even advocated for the Dothraki to stop raping and slaughtering the innocent people they conquered. For the next several seasons she traveled across Essos freeing slaves and punishing slavers.
Yes, Daenerys has used fire and her dragons to enact vengeance and punishment before, but up until season 7, everyone she burned was either evil or an enemy.
She ordered “dracarys” for the first time when the warlock Pryat Pree tried to imprison her and her dragons to use them as a source of magic. She burned alive the slaver who tried to trade her the Unsullied Army for a dragon and in doing so freed a city of slaves. She used fire to kill the Khals who planned to rape her or sell her into slavery or both — and gained an army of Dothraki in the process. She burned the ships of the Masters who tried to re-enslave the people she freed.
Varys’ death in the latest episode may have been hard, but he did in fact plot to usurp the queen. Any paranoia that Varys accused The Dragon Queen of was entirely justified.
Daenerys perhaps took her love for fire too far when she killed Sam’s brother Dickon in addition to Sam’s father, Randyll, when they refused to bend the knee. And her advisors have largely been trying to reign in this instinct ever since. But if Daenerys had flown directly to King’s Landing and burned down the Red Keep as she originally wished, she would still have her dragons, her army, her advisors and plenty more people to rule over in Westeros than she does now.
If Daenerys grew frustrated with her position in Westeros, that is largely the fault of her advisors. Tyrion came up with the plan to travel north of the Wall to capture a wight that nearly ended in Jon’s death and lost Daenerys a dragon. Tyrion told Daenerys to trust Cersei when she should not have. Tyrion and Varys promised that they could sow discord against Cersei by offering lords of Westeros new castles and positions if they took Daenerys’ side or publicizing Cersei’s cruelty. They haven’t.
Instead, Daenerys came up with the idea to legitimize Gendry as a Baratheon and thus earn his loyalty herself. And in the last episode, advisors told her to split up her forces when approaching King’s Landing, which led to a sneak attack by Euron that devastated her ships and led directly to Missendei’s capture and execution.
Perhaps the most perturbing part of her advisors’ inability to advise Daenerys is the way in which their analysis of Daenerys’ character played into the terrible trope of the crazed, power-hungry woman. Before she burned innocents, Daenerys’ actions that Varys called paranoid and tyrannical were largely justified. Varys called Daenerys paranoid that she would be betrayed, when in fact she was being betrayed — by Varys.
Varys looked warily at Daenerys as she gazed resentfully at Jon being celebrated by the Northerners. But it’s true that she did as much, if not more, to defeat the White Walkers than Jon: her dragons did most of the damage, and she has been riding dragons for years while Jon only rode one twice.
Worst, Varys twice suggested that Jon would be a better ruler exactly because Jon did not want to rule. This is not an original idea: figures ranging from Moses to George Washington to Harry Potter have been exalted in stories because they came to power reluctantly. Those figures also tend to be male. And how do our myths and stories cast women eager for power? As evil queens. And that’s what Daenerys is now: A cliché.
It may be true that power corrupts absolutely. And Game of Thrones may have always wanted to argue that even a heroic figure like Daenerys — a woman we’re set up to root for for seven seasons — can be torn apart by her messiah complex. That’s an interesting idea. Daenerys just needed to evolve to that character over the course of many seasons, in the same way that Sansa evolved from innocent to hardened ruler over many seasons or the Hound softened through his relationship with Arya and other relationships throughout the series.
Instead, Daenerys turned from someone who lived her life by the ethos of justice to someone who burned unarmed men, women and children alive in just a few short episodes. It wasn’t enough.
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Write to Eliana Dockterman at firstname.lastname@example.org