Though Daenery’s descent into madness felt undoubtedly rushed, the show has been foreshadowing it for years, all the while ostentatiously playing her murderous moments as heroic.
Daenerys Targaryen going completely ‘Mad Queen’ and burning Kings Landing to the ground in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones was met with universal disdain. Fans argued that the show had done little to justify her trajectory, with some even going as far as to compare Dany’s dark turn with Anakin Skywalker’s ill-conceived plunge to the dark side.
While I had a lot of problems with Jaime’s character arc, Dany’s wasn’t exactly a character assassination. The show has been building up to Dany’s descent into madness from earlier seasons and there is plenty of evidence to support that.
- Even when her dragons were just hatchlings, Daenerys Targaryen was never one to shy away from lofty proclamations. At Qarth, she declares that ‘We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground’ and that ‘I am Daenerys Stormborn of the blood of old Valyria and I will take what is mine, with fire and blood I will take it.’
- In the season finale, Dany has a vision of walking through the throne room, with white particles falling from the broken ceiling, which we wrongly assumed to be snow. We now realize that it’s actually ash from Drogon raining fire on King’s Landing, a chilling omen of things to come.
- After conquering Mereen, Dany orders for 163 masters to be crucified, without any regard for their individual guilt or innocence, as response to the 163 slave children the masters had crucified on her road to the city, despite Ser Barristan counseling her otherwise.
- At Vaes Dothrak, when the Khals verbally taunt her, she watches it all unfold with a badass smirk on her face before burning them all alive. She then makes the remaining Dothraki promise her that they will ‘kill (her) enemies in their iron suits and tear down their stone houses.’
- She has also demonstrated on several other occasions that she is happy to burn her prisoners alive (Tarlys, Sons of the Harpy, Varys) against the better judgement of her advisors.
- In the same season, when she finds Mereen under siege, her plan is to ‘crucify the masters, set their fleets afire, kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt,’ but thankfully Tyrion talks her out of it.
What the show successfully did was to make us root for Dany as the benevolent ruler who is trying to make the world a better place, all the while ostentatiously playing her murderous moments as heroic. It was only in the last two seasons that we started to question her actions. While I agree that Dany’s character arc was undoubtedly rushed in the last season, the show has been consistent in two regards.
One is that Dany wants to be loved. She believes that she’s the rightful heir to the Iron Throne and wants to be seen as a liberator to her people, the way she was worshipped as Mhysa in Essos. When the people of Westeros greet her with fear and open hostility, she comes to a grim realization that she will never be loved here.
Another aspect is that when she is provoked, she tends to quickly leap to ‘burn them all’ as the best solution regardless of whether it’s necessary or not. And she’s never been angrier than she is now, having lost her two dragons and two most trusted friends in quick succession. With her Targaryen blood, Dany never really needed that big of a push to commit genocide, and the final season actually gave her a really hard shove. As the Machiavellian saying goes, Daenerys Targaryen ultimately chose to be feared than to be loved.