Daenerys Targaryen will win the Iron Throne only if she loses everything she stands for.
Khaleesi has been a winner from the moment she chomped down onto that bleeding horse heart and proved herself a Dothraki queen back in Season One. She's only gained more power, more followers, and more titles since. Her vision for a free world brought her the Unsullied Army. Her message brought her the smartest tacticians and politicians in the Seven Kingdoms (Lord Varys, Tyrion Lannister, and possibly Jaime Lannister) and the most loyal advisors (Jorah Mormont, Missandei, Grey Worm) to her side. Her strength convinced Jon Snow to bend the knee, creating an alliance against the White Walkers to the North and Cersei Lannister to the South.
Her followers believe in her. And as she declares in Season Seven as she stands in Dragonstone, her birthplace in Westeros:
I spent my life in foreign lands. So many men have tried to kill me, I don't remember all their names. I have been sold like a broodmare. I've been chained and betrayed, raped and defiled. Do you know what kept me standing, through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any god, not in myths and legends. In myself. In Daenerys Targaryen. The world hadn't seen a dragon in centuries, until my children were born. The Dothraki hadn't crossed the sea, any sea. They did for me. I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and I will.
Faith is a strong word, and it has made Dany strong enough to win Game of Thrones. But Game of Thrones only allows its characters to succeed if their strength is balanced with despairing loss. And it's not just losing a battle that evens the scale. It's the loss of morality, loss of hope, or loss of love. And the kinds of gutting personal sacrifices that Dany suffered to get where she is-besides the death and icy rebirth of Viserion-are long behind her. Her time's up.
One of the biggest issues Dany faces is how to use her remaining two dragons without drawing direct comparisons to her father the Mad King, who burned anyone who questioned his rule. We've already seen the signs that she's leaning toward more the dragonfire style of governing. When Dany used her dragons to torch slavers and their ship, we didn't bat an eye. But when she charred entire Lannister troops in Westeros and then burned two Tarly prisoners of war alive, we were left with a sick feeling in our stomachs. Tyrion warns Dany she should not burn her way through the Seven Kingdoms. "You are not here to be queen of the ashes," he says. Jon tells her that to wage a war against King's Landing with dragons would make her just like the rest of the tyrannical leaders.
But warnings only go so far. That faith Dany has in herself makes her think she is unstoppable. She thinks people can't question her because her motives are pure, and so she feels justified in getting rid of anyone she deems traitorous. Her brand of justice is dragonfire, and she's the only one who dishes it out. As enemies stack up to the North of the Wall, with Cersei in King's Landing, the Ironborn on the water, and even rebellion among the Stark household, she's going to have to dole out more punishments just to stay ahead of them. Sure, Cersei has it coming, but do all the people under her control?
Dany also continues to demand loyalty from her advisors and people, no matter her decisions. To win the Iron Throne, she will have to learn to lie and to scheme against them. That might mean turning against Tyrion because he's a Lannister. It might mean turning on Jon Snow, because his Targaryen claim to the throne threatens hers-and this would also mean abandoning the guy who's probably her next great love. She could become as ruthless as Cersei, which is how she'll get the Iron Throne.
And eventually, Dany will overstep-she'll think it's required of her to win, and she's right-quite possibly stepping into the role of the Mad Queen. (There's even a deeper loss-the loss of her literal life so that she can finally rule as the Night Queen reborn-if this theory is correct.)
Emilia Clarke knows what price her character will have to pay to win the Throne. "The Targaryen in her-the bad leadership decisions-make her sometimes go: ‘I’ve got to have this power. I don’t care who I’m controlling or what I have to do to get it, because it’s intoxicating,’” she said in an interview with The New York Times. "It’s fascinating-what I’ve found about the sacrifices that you make and what you get out of it as a result. Ultimately, if you get on the throne, what are you really getting?"
Dany has sacrificed, but she has not yet sacrificed nearly enough. And that's the toll Game of Thrones extracts from its victors: utter and complete destruction of their morality. For the Mother of Dragons, that price will be worth paying. But in the end, there will be no one left with faith in her.
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