This article contains Game of Thrones spoilers for all seasons.
It was supposed to be a moment of blissful beauty. Jon Snow, the ever so humble King in the North (at least by royalty standards), has revealed himself to be more than just an unlikely ally; he is perhaps the first man she has had a soulful connection with since turning the body of Khal Drogo into ash oh, so many moons ago. Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name and Queen of many titles, has a détente with her worst enemy in the south while traveling with Jon Snow to the North—a kingdom which has rather peacefully subjected itself to her rule. At least that is the tune Jon Snow is singing.
The consummation of their not-so-hidden passion should thus be a rare moment of happiness on a show that’s tone is as bitter as the winter winds its characters are always yammering on about. But this is still Game of Thrones, and history suggests any concessions to romance must always end in tragedy. So the choice by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to intercut Jon and Dany’s lovemaking with Bran Stark spelling out to the most casual of Game of Thrones viewers the obvious (Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon) shouldn’t be all that surprising. Like every union between Direwolf and Dragon, Jon and Daenerys’ love story appears fated to crash upon a rocky shore in season 8.
But must that come to pass? Additionally, what really does fate hold in store for Daenerys Targaryen, the woman who went from nothing to seemingly conquering three-sevenths of Westeros while cutting a bloody path to her birthright. Well, we are no Greenseers but we can give our best educated guess as to what comes next for the Mother of Dragons in Game of Thrones’ final movements.
The Wolf and Dragon Torn Asunder
The best place to begin any sort of speculation regarding Westeros’ first healthy power couple is to theorize how they’ll be torn apart. Indeed, the seeds were already laid with Bran Stark revealing to Samwell Tarly the truth of Jon’s parentage, as well as Tyrion Lannister’s awkward and wistful look outside of the royal pair’s seafaring cabin.
Personally, I do not believe there is any scenario in which Daenerys and Jon end up ruling on the Iron Throne together as husband and wife while Eddie Murphy’s anthropomorphic mule belts out Monkees tunes. Happily ever after might be fine for J.R.R. Tolkien’s noble blooded heroes and lady loves, but it’s a little too storybook for George R.R. Martin. Plus, a generic conclusion would be a dull capper on such a creative and subversive story as “A Song of Ice and Fire.” So Dany and Jon are not to be, at least not for long. But how could this collapse?
The obvious direction some fans might suggest is that one or the other could die tragically (and we’ll address that more in the final section of this article), but they should be parted well before that when Jon and Daenerys learns that his name is really Aegon Targaryen. Friction will likely follow them straight into Winterfell when Jon’s sister Sansa Stark learns that he has sold the independence of the kingdom she compelled him to build for really no reason at all. But the true breaking point should be when all the facts are unearthed by Daenerys and Jon.
Bran and Sam might be the ones who confirm this, but the proof should probably come from Howland Reed, who you may recall was Eddard Stark’s bannerman and only other survivor of the Tower of Joy tragedy that ended with Ned holding the newborn babe of his dead sister in his hands. Howland is the father of Jojen and Meera Reed, and as Bran sent Meera home to her father in season 7, it is imaginable he would call on them both to come to Winterfell in season 8 before the final battle.
But all of this is pretext for explaining why the two cannot be together. Nominally, Daenerys might welcome the reveal that her lover is her nephew, if only because it is a Targaryen tradition. In the novels, Dany grew up believing she was groomed to marry her brother Viserys. Thank all the gods that did not come to pass. And thank Dany too, who did not lift a finger when Drogo melted his gold medallions in an effort to make a slapdash crown for the man who was her brother. In that vein, I have sincere doubts Daenerys is still quite so open to incest.
Further Daenerys has a pride and suspicion that comes with being told her whole life she is one of, if not the only, surviving heir of a great dynasty—and being targeted constantly for assassination and arranged, opportunistic marriages because of it. Methinks the Silver Queen will have sincere doubts about a man who claimed to be a Stark and then turned out to be a Targaryen with a greater claim on the Iron Throne than her own. Yep, Aegon Targaryen is the last surviving son of her older brother, who by rights had a better claim than his younger sister. This tension may not immediately lead to an annulment of her partnership with the King in the North, but it will create rapid intrigue and paranoia that will poison the soil of their love before it’s even blossomed. Luckily in the immediate future there will be…
The Battle of Winterfell
While I do not think Jon and Dany will remain lovers, they will most definitely be forced to keep an alliance, as shaky as it could become, due to the immediate threat of the White Walkers. As the season 7 finale foreshadowed with all the subtlety of a blast of dragonfire to the face, the Army of the Dead have knocked down the Wall at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and are marching south. And they’re obviously headed to the ancestral home of House Stark.
It is said that in the millennia when the Starks were the Kings of Winter that a Stark led the defeat of the White Walkers in the last Long Night, and further it was Bran the Builder (also a Stark) who constructed the Wall that has trapped them in the land of eternal winter. So needless to say, the Night King has beef with the Starks (some fans even speculate the blue-eyed devil is a Stark himself). Ergo, just as Jon and Daenerys arrive at Winterfell from the South, they should receive a raven from Castle Black and Tormund Giantsbane about visitors from the north.
With most of the main characters gathering in Winterfell, it will obviously be the location of the Battle for the Dawn. Daenerys, Jon, Sansa, Arya, the Hound, Sam, Bran, Brienne, Jorah, Podrick, and probably Jaime Lannister will all be in one place. Not all of them will live to see that dawn, but some of them have to for the show to have a satisfying ending—I do not subscribe to the belief that the White Walkers are going to win, sorry nihilists.
Still, whoever dies, Daenerys will not be among them. Her entire arc has been built around her reclaiming the Iron Throne taken from her father by Robert and the Lannisters. While Bobby B. has long rested in his grave, Cersei ever sits on the Iron Throne, and there can be no conclusion to Dany’s journey, in life or death, until she steps foot in King’s Landing one more time.
Daenerys will survive the Battle of Winterfell, and my guess is that she and her dragons will be integral in its defense. I would not be surprised if at least one of her living children, if not both, are killed by their mutated and violated brother. And it might even fall to Bran to commandeer Viserion, but it will be on Dany to avenge him.
There Can Be Only One
Nonetheless, Game of Thrones is not The Lord of the Rings. It shall not be concluded in a battle between good and evil, the living and the dead. That is too pat. This series is at its best when it focuses on its very human and flawed characters, and few are more human or flawed than Cersei Lannister. Her choice to ignore the existential threat of a force of nature like the White Walkers is in keeping with real-life leaders who ignore obvious perils to our collective future as a species. As is her attempt to profit from the calamity.
While everyone else will be getting slaughtered by White Walkers, Cersei will regroup her forces by hiring an army of sellswords to protect King’s Landing. Previously, I had suspected that it would be perfectly in keeping with George R.R. Martin for her to use these forces to sack Winterfell right after the threat of White Walkers is thwarted, but recent rumors suggest instead there may be a final battle in a different location: King’s Landing. This is apt.
If Daenerys is going to take the Iron Throne, then it should be in the very capital her father attempted to burn in order to keep it. This is also where the final fates of the most central main characters will be decided, including Daenerys. And my ultimate prediction—and hope—is that the Iron Throne ends up in Daenerys’ hands.
Obviously discounting Mad Queen Cersei as an option for the final victor, Daenerys is a far better choice for ruler than Jon Snow, especially if the series needs to kill at least one of them off to achieve what Martin has described as a “bittersweet” finale to his ponderous song. Jon was never groomed for royalty, nor does he aspire to it. If we spoke in platitudes, some would say “that’s why he deserves it” or why it “must” be him. But those pleasantries were also showered on Ned Stark, including by Robert Baratheon on his deathbed when he entrusted the fate of the Seven Kingdoms to his BFF. Before the following afternoon, Ned’s inexperience at politics ended with him condemning himself to death, his daughters to suffering, and his realm to a protracted civil war that has thus far left his wife and two of his children dead.
For the realm to find peace, it needs more than a novice like Snow, and as has been established time and again, every time a Stark goes south, it ends in catastrophe.
By contrast, Daenerys has spent all her life learning the lessons of leadership. The death of her unborn son and khal taught her the dangers of trusting bad advice, as the Starks so often do, and her journey from conqueror to ruler in Slaver’s Bay forced her to examine her own biases and blindspots, as well as how easily it is to create power vacuums that suck you into chaos.
Her experiences make her the most qualified to rule the Seven Kingdoms—or six if the North’s fate goes another way. Plus, I suspect she will be the one most likely to throw off the trappings of her own family’s heritage.
If only one character will be the one to meltdown that damned Iron Throne, perhaps by dragonfire, and usher in a new age, it would be the one who promised to “break the wheel.” She will also achieve this by enacting the Westerosi version of the Magna Carta and creating the continent’s first legislative chamber, perhaps over the smoking ruin of where the superstitious Sept of Baelor once stood.
Assuming either Varys or Tyrion lives so long without betraying her, it is conceivable that either would do well acting as a leader in a rudimentary form of democracy as Westeros finally exits its staggering medieval period. While Jon actually experienced the virtues of a democratic system on the Wall, Daenerys is the type of personality who could lead it without winding up with seven daggers in her belly.
Lastly, I am aware that many speculate Daenerys will become pregnant by Jon Snow, with either she dying in childbirth or he in battle, while the other waxes nostalgically about a lost love. I downright reject this possibility because it is trite, particularly the “childbirth and death” angle. That’s the kind of hackneyed plot point one would expect from something like the Star Wars Prequels (poor, poor Padme). While Dany could be pregnant, it is again what society expects of a female character, especially one as maternal as Daenerys Targaryen.
However, a stronger ending is to hold firm to what was said in season 1: she will never mother any children, save for her dragons. They are her progeny, and her legacy is becoming a Mhysa of sorts for Westeros, as opposed to the traditional gender roles placed on her by some fans. The character, like much else in Game of Thrones, is derived from the politics surrounding England during the end of its Middle Ages period. Daenerys, in function, resembles Henry VII, the first Tudor king who won the final battle of the War of the Roses civil wars… and his granddaughter became who many consider Britain’s finest monarch, Elizabeth I—a woman who took no husbands and bore no children, yet ushered in her nation’s “golden age.”
So too should be Daenerys’ legacy when all is said and done.