On HBO’s Game of Thrones, you either win or you die. Daenerys Targaryen has been edging closer to the Iron Throne for the past seven seasons: now, in the eighth and final, we may at last get to see which fate awaits her. Dany seems increasingly aware of these stakes herself — and it’s made her more ruthless than ever.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 2.
This past week, we saw some of Dany’s vengefulness in action at the unofficial trial of Jaime Lannister. As The Verge points out, “every Stark has reason to hate the Lannisters” — and yet Dany is the only one raring to execute him. “When I was a child, my brother would tell me a bedtime story about the man who murdered our father,” she says. “He told me other stories as well, about all the things we would do to that man once we took the Seven Kingdoms and had him in our grasp.”
This kind of delight in envisioning someone else’s torture is troubling, to be sure, but not necessarily a sign of evil in the GoT universe. Sansa watched gleefully while Ramsay’s dogs devoured him, after all, and one could argue she was motivated by a similar desire for revenge as Dany’s. More troubling, then, is the violence Dany has already enacted in her quest for the Throne. We’ve watched her kill hundreds, directly or indirectly, for their refusal to bend the knee or otherwise subscribe to her new way of life. For the most part, they’ve been anonymous or evil — the slave masters she burns back in season 3 come to mind — and so it’s been easier to overlook.
In the season 8 premiere, however, we come face to face with the consequences of her unyielding stance. Samwell Tarly, in a moment of bewilderment, learns his father and brother have been killed for refusing to bend the knee. The look on Dany’s face in that moment is not one of contrition. It’s a moment of awkwardness, of her hoping that this won’t cost her Sam’s allegiance. She has good reason to worry: this strengthen’s Sam’s resolve to tell Jon Snow about his heritage, not only because he has a right to know, but because Sam is beginning to question whether Dany is the right choice for the Throne. If she had taken a moment to acknowledge his pain, and show empathy in the way that gained her so many followers in earlier seasons, that might not have been the case.
Last year, Emilia Clarke dropped a major hint about her character’s arc in the final season. “It f*cked me up,” she said, referring to Daenerys’ final moment on the show. “Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavor in someone’s mouth of what Daenerys is.” With the way the season 8 plot has been going, it seems increasingly likely that that “lasting flavor” will be a bitter one. Clarke has essentially revealed that our final look at Daenerys will be in stark contrast to what we know of her so far — and so far, she’d been viewed as the saving grace of the Seven Kingdoms, the ruler who would come along and “break the wheel.”
Now, it seems that Dany is falling victim to a classic GoT fate. As her power swells, her conscience ebbs away, leaving only a desire for more power in its place. Her reaction to the news of Jon’s heritage was chilling, ignoring all personal ramifications and going directly to his claim to the Iron Throne. Having watched her turn on Tyrion in the same episode, there is a mounting feeling that no one is safe from Daenerys. If anyone slows her down or gets in the way of her path to the Throne, they’d better win — or be prepared to die.