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‘Game of Thrones’ Is Testing Viewers’ Allegiances and Their Tolerance for Incest

Are you Team Jon, Team Daenerys… or Team Jonerys?

Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington, "Game of Thrones"

Helen Sloan/HBO

As “Game of Thrones” heads into its final two episodes of the season, with only six more installments to follow in Season 8, gearing up for the epic conclusion has necessitated some major shifts.

The first is the convergence of characters who’ve been estranged and separated — such as the Stark sibling reunion or Jon Snow (Kit Harington) seeing Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) again — or characters who’ve previously never met but are finally facing off. Sometimes it’s a happy new mix of beloved characters who are working for a common cause, such as the Avengers-style force that just went beyond the Wall to catch a wight. Many of these convergences have been cause for celebration, as these interactions reveal new sides of the characters.

But increasingly, the show has pitted favorite characters against each other, and viewers are left uncertain whom they’d prefer to prevail. The loot train battle is a case in point: Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) has been painted as a hero throughout the season, and if she had attacked Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) directly, the obvious delineation between good guy and bad guy would’ve made it clear who to root for. As it is, she faced off with Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), who has been on a redemption journey in which he revealed himself to be worthy of sympathy and respect. His sidekick Bronn (Jerome Flynn) is also a fan favorite for his blunt and cheeky speech. Viewers are left wondering if it’s better that Bronn survives and shoots a dragon, or if Dany should be allowed to burn everything down.

Sophie Turner, Isaac Hempstead Wright, and Maisie Williams, "Game of Thrones"

In last Sunday’s episode, “Game of Thrones” set up yet another loyalty dilemma that will play out soon: Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) versus her own sister Arya (Maisie Williams). Both have endured and lost so much, coming out on the other side stronger but more jaded and tarnished. Since Episode 1, the Starks have been presented as the heroes, a force of good in a world. But as the series went on, the lily-white Starks also became tinged with darker hues, until each of them have become as grey as the direwolf on the House Stark sigil. Even Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), as the Three-Eyed Raven, has lost some of his humanity in gaining his new powers.

Perhaps the most difficult rivalry for audiences to navigate is the one between Daenerys and Jon Snow. She’s used bloodthirsty and ruthless tactics to get what she wants, but on balance, she has freed thousands of slaves, and wants to create a more equal, inclusive society. On his end, Jon has united the clans in the North and the free folk, but has made his share of leadership mistakes that have lost lives — even his own life before he was conveniently resurrected. And while he’s not afraid to wade into the fray and risk his own neck, he’s not as hawkish as Daenerys either.

One obvious solution for viewers rooting for both sides has presented itself in lingering glances onscreen: Daenerys and Jon should marry and create an empire together. Their chemistry and complementary traits would balance each other out. They could fly dragons together! The idea of this relationship has even inspired the ‘shipper nickname “Jonerys.” This is why the series is called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” right?

There’s just one problem: They’re related. Although the series hasn’t explicitly revealed the information yet, all clues point to Rhaegar Targaryen, Daenerys’ brother, being Jon’s real father, not Ned Stark (Sean Bean). This makes Daenerys technically Jon’s aunt.

If the two get together, that would make it incest, which carries with it a lot of baggage, not to mention the ick factor. To our modern mindset, incest is not just a cultural taboo, it isn’t biologically advantageous either. Inbreeding with close relatives can cause genetic issues with the offspring and exacerbate any debilitating traits or conditions. Genetic diversity makes for stronger babies.

Throughout the history of mankind, each culture has had to determine which incestuous relationships are considered taboo. With most cultures, a parent and child pairing is considered taboo, as is the sibling-sibling pairing. Among elites, however, brother-sister marriages have been known to happen. The line for first cousins pairing off or the aunt/nephew or uncle/niece relationship is far hazier though.

What it comes down to is how “Game of Thrones” sees incest, the most complex (and dysfunctional) instance of which is the relationship between Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Theirs doesn’t appear to be a healthy bond, since Jaime seems to be far more devoted to his sister than she is to him, and when it comes to their offspring, one of their three children was a horrible, spoiled tyrant, and this could be chalked up to inbreeding or madness. Or, based on recent events, perhaps he was just taking after his mother. Since the couple’s two other children had no behavior or health issues, in this case, inbreeding does not look to be an issue. Also, biologically speaking, incest usually creates more genetic issues over generations.

Lena Headey and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, "Game of Thrones"

Lena Headey and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”

HBO

And this is where the Targaryens come in. Something that the books have emphasized far more than the series is the history of incest in the Targaryen line. Just like ancient rulers in the real world, brother-sister marriages were quite the norm among the Targaryens, and some believe this is why there is also a history of madness. Daenerys’ own father is known as the Mad King for good reason. He had people burned to death on a whim and was the one who had wanted to “burn them all” in King’s Landing before Jaime stopped him.

Therefore, Daenerys and Jon Snow getting together actually carries far more risks of madness to potential offspring than the Lannister twins’ pairing. Fans of the series have argued that Dany is now infertile after the magical events in Season 1 that led to her losing her child, and therefore the argument could be moot. Or, in probably the wildest theory yet, Jon Snow could somehow magically give her babies, which could fulfill the “wake dragons out of stone” part of the prophecy of Azor Ahai very loosely, if you think of potential Targaryen babies symbolically as dragons.

At this point, it seems that “Game of Thrones” is heading towards a Dany and Jon romance, whether fans support it or not, judging by all the charged interactions between them. Beyond their potential romance, however, is a new factor that was hinted at in Sunday’s episode. At the Citadel, Gilly (Hannah Murray) read this intriguing historical record: “Maynard says here that he issued an annulment for a Prince Rhaegar and remarried him to someone else at the same time in a secret ceremony in Dorne.”

John Bradley and Hannah Murray, "Game of Thrones"

John Bradley and Hannah Murray, “Game of Thrones”

HBO

This little bombshell, which Sam (John Bradley) so rudely interrupted, implies that Rhaegar could have married Lyanna Stark after all, which would make Jon Snow, the show’s most famous bastard, not a bastard at all. Jon Targaryen would be legitimate and, according to the laws of patriarchal succession, next in line for the Iron Throne, not Daenerys.

Now it remains to be seen: Will Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons “bend the knee”?

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

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