Daenerys Stormborn, First of Her Name: A Body Count

Many spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5. If you haven’t seen it yet and this would ruin it for you, avert your eyes.

Outrage culture

People seem angry about how Game of Thrones is progressing. However, a couple of friends and I don't feel quite the same as the many vocal detractors on Twitter do. Granted, it is not quite the same style of program that was delivered in the first 6 seasons but I can't say that the storyline progression is wrong. According to George R R Martin:

The Targaryens have heavily interbred, like the Ptolemys of Egypt. As any horse or dog breeder can tell you, interbreeding accentuates both flaws and virtues and pushes a lineage toward the extremes.

Daenerys, Rhaegar, and Viserys are the offspring of the Mad King Aerys and his sister Rhaella Targaryen. The potential for madness is there, thanks to their bloodline. Daenerys has been combating the portrayal of Targaryens as madmen throughout her whole story arc, especially because of her father's actions. In Season 6, Episode 9 The Battle of the Bastards, Dany and the Greyjoys have an exchange:

Daenerys Targaryen: Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We're not going to do that. We're going to leave the world better than we found it. You will support my claim as queen of the Seven Kingdoms and respect the integrity of the Seven Kingdoms. No more reaving, roving, raiding, or raping.

Yara Greyjoy: That's our way of life.

Daenerys Targaryen: No more.

Yara Greyjoy: No more.

This is the Daenerys that the audience loves and believes in. It's the Daenerys that Missandei, Grey Worm, Jorah, Varys, and Tyrion desire as queen. She's killed and burned people alive before, but we justified it because those she Dracarys'd were allgedly bad people. Let's take a look at the many deaths associated with her—some directly, some indirectly:

Season 1

  1. Viscerys - Daenerys' brother killed by molten gold poured on his head by Khal Drogo in A Golden Crown (episode 6). She shrugged that off pretty easily. He wasn't the best brother, that's for sure, but it didn't phase her at all. That could have been our first clue.
  2. Khal Drogo & Mirri Maz Duur - In Fire and Blood (episode 10), Dany smothers her irreparably damaged husband. This is considered an act of mercy, because while he may technically be alive, he couldn't live. A Khal is not a Khal in this state. Mirri, the Lhazareen priestess who performed the blood sacrifice to save Khal Drogo's life, which kept him in a very damaged state and killed Dany's unborn child, is tied to Drogo's funeral pyre. Dany lights the pyre and enters it with her dragon eggs as Mirri is burned alive. When the fire burns out, Dany remains unburnt with 3 newly hatched dragons, and a legion of devoted followers. The audience (us included) are so dazzled by her not being burned to death and having baby dragons that we overlooked the revenge murder.

Season 2

  1. Pyat Pree, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, & Doreah - In Valar Morghulis (episode 10), the wizard from the House of the Undying was the first victim of Dany's dragons, but would not be the last over the course of time. The King of Qarth and Dany's handmaiden betray her by stealing her dragons. As Dany finds them in bed together, she has them locked in the vault that held Xaro's nonexistent fortune and left them to die. Hot take: it's not a good idea to mess with Daenerys, especially if you get caught!

Season 3

  1. Kraznys mo Nakloz, Greizhen mo Ullhor, & all the Astapor Slavemasters - In And Now His Watch Is Ended (episode 4), Daenerys sacks an entire city in Slavers Bay, intent to acquire an army. Sure, the slaver talked to her like she was a stupid bimbo. He was clearly a jerk. But she clearly lied about selling her dragon to the asshole, because she burned him instead. Oh yeah, then set the newly acquired army and said dragon off on a killing spree to teach the city of slavers a lesson. A tad harsh...but I loved it, so I didn't log it as an infraction to being a good human.
  2. Many unnamed Yunkai soldiers - In The Rains of Castamere (episode 9) - Dany sends Grey Worm, Jorah, and Daario Neharis to sack Yunkai and liberate the city from slavery. This seems like doing something for the greater good, but let's not forget she really has a much larger goal in mind.

Season 4

  1. Oznak zo Pahl - The Champion of Meereen who was killed by Daario before Daenerys catapults the chains of the freed slaves over the city walls in Breaker of Chains (episode 3). Shit happens in wartime, right?
  2. The Great Masters of Meereen - Dany has 163 of them crucified as recompense for the 163 slave children who were crucified on the road to Meereen in Oathkeeper (episode 4). How very “eye for an eye” of her.
  3. A flock of sheep - While not murders in the traditional sense, this is the first glance we get of how the dragons live. Drogon scorches a field of goats for sustenance and Dany pays the herder 3 times their value to compensate him for his loss in The Laws of Gods and Men (episode 6). We see her trying to make up for something that an innocent has suffered at her hand, even if it wasn't intentional. So, we see she's not rotten to the core. I suspect we credit her with this act for much longer than she may have deserved, in retrospect.
  4. Zalla - the 3 year old child of a shepherd, killed by Drogon, as Dany comes to realize she is unable to control her growing dragons in The Children (episode 10). This was bad. Not intentional, but bad. At least she takes action to prevent it from happening again...for a time.

Season 5

  1. White Rat - One of the Unsullied who is murdered by a member of the Sons of the Harpy, a group who resists Daenerys' rule in Meereen in The Wars To Come (episode 1). When you invade a city, unrest is bound to happen, right?
  2. The Son of the Harpy, Mossador, & many former slaves and masters - In The House of Black and White (episode 2), after an argument breaks out about what to do with the Son of the Harpy for his crime, Ser Barristan tells Dany that her father, the Mad King, believed his actions were a means of serving justice to his enemies. This tale convinces Dany to put the Son of the Harpy on trial, rather than execute him outright. Mossador kills the Son of the Harpy before his trial begins. Hoping to preserve order in Meereen, Dany publicly executes Mossador, inciting a riot. Woopsie!
  3. Ser Barristan, some Second Sons, Unsullied, Sons of the Harpy, & Meereenese - In Sons of the Harpy (episode 4) the Sons of the Harpy organize an ambush of Second Sons, which escalates to include Unsullied, Grey Worm, and Ser Barristan. Again with the unrest (see earlier comment).
  4. Master Eaton - Dany summons the leaders of the great houses in Meereen to the catacombs where Rhaegal and Viserion are chained up. She has Daario push one of the leaders forward until Rhaegal sets the man on fire and both dragons eat his remains in Kill the Boy (episode 5). That's a brutal lesson. Was it really necessary?
  5. Hizdahr zo Loraq, Pit Fighters, Sons of the Harpy, & many former slaves and masters - In The Dance of Dragons (episode 9), the Sons of the Harpy attempt to ambush the spectacle at the Fighting Pits, only to be thwarted by Jorah, Daario, and Drogon. Drogon bites and breathes fire—dispatching the Sons of the Harpy before Dany mounts him and flies away. Survival instinct isn't a bad thing, really, but even I found it odd back then that she took off without her companion and advisors. It's not like Drogon couldn't have held their weight.

Season 6

  1. A temple full of Khals and their bloodriders - Daenerys sets a hut ablaze in Vaes Dothrak when the Khals refuse to serve her. As in season 1, she emerges unburnt and acquires a legion of devoted followers in Book of the Stranger (episode 4). That's a serious disagreement right there. She may not have been familiar with all of their customs, but she was familiar with the lifestyle of the Khals. She had to know how this was going to turn out from pretty early on in the situation.
  2. Belicho Paenymion, Razdal mo Eraz, & the Slaver fleet - In Battle of the Bastards (episode 9), 2 of the 3 Masters who had been funding the Sons of the Harpy are executed by Grey Worm while Dany and the dragons burn up the fleet in the bay. It would seem silly to have dragons and not use them as your strategic advantage in war, right?

Season 7

  1. Unsullied & Lannister soldiers - During the attempt to take Casterly Rock, many Unsullied were killed in The Queen's Justice (episode 3). Shit happens in wartime.
  2. Lannister soldiers, Tarly soldiers, & Dothraki warriors - During the Battle of the Goldroad, the Dothraki horde and Dany riding Drogon descend upon the Lannister army and swiftly take them out during The Spoils of War (episode 4). Dragons. Strategic advantage. Been said before.
  3. Randyll & Dickon Tarly - Sam's father and brother are sentenced to “Death by Drogon” for refusing to bend the knee to Daenerys in Eastwatch (episode 5). This was a huge hint that she had it in her to burn people based on principle. This really wasn't necessary. Tyrion offered plenty of options. She didn't take them.
  4. Thoros, Benjen, Wildlings, Brothers in Black, a White Walker, many wights, & Viserion - It's true that Dany and her dragons were present in this battle at Jon's behest, but the death toll keeps going up in Beyond the Wall (episode 6).
  5. Captured wight, Brothers in Black, & Wildlings - These deaths are technically thanks to the Night King, but the source of his heightened military strength is thanks to Dany's deceased dragon, Viserion, that the Night King resurrects and rides as his mount. The season closes with the Night King carving a large path through The Wall thanks to blue dragon fire in The Dragon and the Wolf (episode 7).

Season 8

  1. Eddison Tollet, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Qhono, Jorah Mormont, Melisandre, Theon Greyjoy, Viserion (again), the Night King, & all the remaining wights - The war in The Long Night (episode 3) at Winterfell was coming with or without Daenerys' involvement, but she had an active role in it because she recognized that there will be no Seven Kingdoms to rule if all the living join the Army of the Dead.
  2. Rhaegal & Missandei - In The Last of the Starks (episode 4) the Iron Fleet, equipped with Scorpions, fatally wound Rhaegal, blow apart Dany's fleet, and capture Missandei. Cersei and her army are behind both of these deaths that might not have happened if Dany had not stepped foot in Westeros.
  3. Varys, Harry Strickland, Euron Greyjoy, Qyburn, The Hound, The Mountain, Nora, Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister, & basically all of Kings Landing, except Arya and a horse - Dany loses her shit and becomes the Mad Queen in The Bells (episode 5).

Let's face it, folks. Dany and her dragons have been wreaking havoc for all 8 seasons and we've liked it. I definitely have. I have dragons on my desk at work, for heaven's sake!

Resin figurines of Daenerys' dragons on my desk.
Drogon, Rhaegal, & Viserion hanging out in my office.

We all believed her to be a worthy ruler because her intentions seemed like they came from the right place in certain situations. Other situations were just necessity of war. There were only a handful of times that the deaths at her had were a bit extreme...but the fact is, season 8 was not the first time she went overboard. This was just the biggest, grandest version of it.

Back in season 5, Ser Barristan told Dany that her father believed much the same thing she did: this was justice for injustice. She was able to temper her baser instincts for a time, but this fire has been burning inside her all along. Puns intended. The loss of Jorah, the loss of her 2 dragons, the loss of Missandei, the betrayals she felt from John, Tyrion, Varys and everything she has had to endure to get to this point were enough for her to snap. It's not actually uncharacteristic...it simply was too abruptly developed for it to feel accurate.

I think the difficulty fans are having accepting this turn of events is because the pacing in seasons 7 & 8 are so much quicker than in all the seasons that came before them. The character development has not been as in depth as before and we have been left to fill in the gaps to justify portions of the story, like Dany burning the innocents she came to liberate from Cersei's rule. As I mentioned to The Brads™, “When we used to fill in blanks in the first 6 seasons it was to try to predict what was coming...not to explain what just happened.”

Parting thoughts

This is the final season. There is only one episode left for trying to predict the outcome. I, too, wish Daenerys hadn't had a melt down (more puns!), but it wasn't a gross misrepresentation of her character. We've just been rooting for her for so long, that it was a disappointment to see her move in this direction.

Imagine how Varys felt. He was rooting for her, too. He's the one who convinced Tyrion she was worth the effort, only to figure out too late that she wasn't on the same side he was on: the side of The Realm.