Like anything popular, “Game of Thrones” attracts no shortage of criticism when it steps out of line; over the years, the ways in which the show depicts sex, violence, race, and more have always been under a heightened level of scrutiny.
However, the show’s most fatal flaw is ultimately not any of these hot-button issues, but instead a corner into which the show’s creators painted themselves thanks to the complicated mythology of George R.R. Martin’s novels (published and otherwise). In the final season of “Game of Thrones,” Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryan (Emilia Clarke) have begun a romantic relationship, and it’s not fun to watch.
Jon was the presumed bastard of Ned Stark until late in Season 7, when he was revealed to be the true heir to the Iron Throne thanks to the annulment of one marriage and the wedding of another, between his birth parents Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. This makes him one of the most powerful players in the titular Game, with one twist — he’s sworn his allegiance (as well as his affection) to Daenerys, unaware that she’s his aunt.
And thus, their big love scene in the Season 7 finale was a deeply uncomfortable thing to watch, but the worst part about the relationship between Jon and Daenerys isn’t the fact that it’s incest. Even though, generally, modern civilization tends to frown on things like an aunt and nephew going to Pound Town together, what proves most problematic about Jon and Dany is the black hole of chemistry that exists between the actors — a situation that even Clarke, in an interview with Vanity Fair, said felt unnatural and strange.
It’s not until Season 7 Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice,” that Harington and Clarke share any time together on screen, and the way in which their relationship is built over the following episodes feels paint-by-numbers at best. To the show’s credit, there’s no immediate spark of attraction, which would be unrealistic in a scenario where two vying players for power are confronting each other, but the way in which the show tries to shift that initial tension into the foundation for a love affair proves awkward.
In fact, it’s largely driven by outside observers. “I’ve noticed you staring at her good heart,” Davos says to Jon. When Daenerys tells Tyrion that “Jon Snow is not in love with me,” he replies, “Oh, my mistake. I suppose he stares at you longingly because he’s hopeful for a successful military alliance.” It would be nice if Dany’s feelings mattered more in this equation, but apparently she got over her initial belief that Jon is “too little for me” (which, hey, if your first husband was Khal Drogo, it’s understandable that you might be used to a certain stature in your love interests.) The previously-on footage for the Season 7 finale made a meal of her and Jon holding hands at his bedside, after she’d lost one of her dragon children — a clear prelude to their eventual love-making in that episode.
The romance continues into the Season 8 premiere, but with clear consequences on the horizon. As of “Winterfell,” Jon now knows his true heritage, and of course that will come up in upcoming episodes — but given the show’s general acceptance of Jaime and Cersei as a couple (and they were raised together, dude) it’s hard to imagine that the show will treat Jon finding out he’s been intimate with his father’s sister as a huge hangup for the character. In fact, the most important point of Jon learning about his heritage is that he should be sitting on the Iron Throne, by all rights.
That said, is Jon and Dany still an endgame romance we should expect in this final season? It’s certainly not one that anyone watching Harington and Clarke interact will be hoping for. It’s a relationship which has felt forced from the beginning, based on the established material but without any basis in the reality that these two actors simply don’t connect on screen.
If you’re babysitting for a friend, it’s fun to watch a five-year-old girl shoving a Barbie and Ken doll’s heads together to make them kiss. But that’s not exactly what one looks for, when watching a prestige drama.