[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season 8 Episode 4, “The Last of the Starks.”]
How quickly the tides turn. In the span of just two episodes, Daenerys Targaryen has lost her most devoted servant, a second dragon, and her closest adviser — all while her Hand to the Queen openly discusses treason with the Master of Whisperers. Has everyone forgotten what Dany sacrificed in order to make it this far?
For the uninitiated and/or forgetful, a refresher: Daenerys Stormborn grew up exiled on a foreign continent while her abusive brother blathered on about his birthright, the Iron Throne, for which he essentially sold her to a man who forced himself on her on their wedding night. After coming to eventually love her Dothraki husband, the new Khaleesi had to suffocate him to end the misery inflicted on him by a vengeful witch. She then spent several seasons amassing a formidable army of soldiers and followers for the sole purpose of taking the Iron Throne, a plan she quickly abandoned for the greater good of every man, woman, and child in Westeros.
Doing so cost her dearly. Viserion, Jorah, Rhaegal, and Missandei are all dead — to say nothing of the thousands of nameless Dothraki and Unsullied who perished in the Battle of Winterfell — and her once-loyal advisers are jumping ship faster than Euron. Whither the love for Mhysa, everyone’s favorite Breaker of Chains?
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It appears to have been extinguished faster than you can say “dracarys.” In the crypts below Winterfell, only Missandei stood up for her queen when she pointed out that “without the Dragon Queen, there would be no problem at all — we’d all be dead already” as Sansa and Tyrion pondered their fate. Daenerys is aware that she’s losing her people, and hints of the Mad Queen she may have been born to be are finally emerging. Can you really blame her if she takes Missandei’s last words to heart and burns the whole thing down?
The counterargument is sound: Daenerys is better at conquering than she is at ruling, whereas Jon’s reluctance to step into leadership roles makes him ideally suited for them. But his lack of interest in taking on that kind of responsibility costs him dearly with those he’s been appointed to lead — the Night’s Watch literally killed him, and the northern lords are none too pleased with how quickly he abandoned the title of King in the North — and none of these constituents were as unruly as the millions under the thrall of the Iron Throne. Considering how brief Ned Stark’s time in King’s Landing was, there’s little reason to believe that the game of thrones will stop being played if and when Jon becomes king — or that he’ll fare any better at it.
Dany hasn’t expressed much of this aloud, nor has she had to. Emilia Clarke has never been better as the Mother of Dragons than in these last few episodes, which find her followers’ faith in her at an all-time low even as she’s given up more than anyone could have asked of her. Whether you consider Daenerys’ growing paranoia a character flaw, a genetic inevitability, or a wholly expected response to recent events, the result will surely be the same: fire and blood.
Two years ago, I predicted that Dany would be the last major character on “Game of Thrones” to die and that her death would usher in Jon Snow’s reign as Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. That still seems the most probable trajectory — with only two episodes left and the simple matter of geography, few other potential monarchs are even present — but I hope I’m wrong. Jon, much to his credit, wants nothing to do with the Iron Throne and long ago decided to bend the knee. Everyone else should do the same.