A Shakespearean End: The Tragedy of Daenerys Targaryen

After the initial shock and anger has abated somewhat regarding the controversial finale of Games of Thrones, I would like to give my own take on the fall of the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen.

To be honest, I was not that surprised nor offended by the way things turned out. Do I agree that things were rushed in Season 8? Absolutely. I believe the story could have been fleshed out more and there was plenty of room for Daenerys’ turn to the dark side to be more fully earned. I disagree, however, with the feminist and other ideologically-fueled arguments that her demise is a crushing blow to pop culture and to our modern, progressive sensibilities.

Perhaps I’m not as emotionally invested because I got into Games of Thrones extremely late; six seasons had already aired by the time I started watching it, so I haven’t been on this decade-long journey as some more ardent fans have. And perhaps in watching almost the entire show at once, I was more able to fish out the scenes that hinted as Daenerys’ downfall, and thus was more willing to accept it, rather than be scandalized by this decision.

Nevertheless, let us delve into some elements that I believe the show did well in foreshadowing Daenerys’ darker streak.

A Child Without a Home

Daenerys was caught between two worlds, unable to call either one home. Despite her family originating from Valyria, the Targaryens had spent the last 300 years ruling Westeros, so their descendants were treated as foreigners in Essos. Likewise, when Daenerys finally landed in Westeros, she was perceived as a foreign invader, both in the long-term history of her family’s origins, and in the short-term historical context of her father’s overthrowal.

For all his flaws, Viserys could not help but feel jealous how his sister won the respect of the Dothraki, seeing that she has found a semblance of purpose beyond the abstract desire for the Iron Throne, something he himself has never had. His conversation with Jorah Mormort as he tried to steal the dragon eggs highlighted this envy.

Viserys: I’m the last hope of a dynasty, Mormont, the greatest dynasty this world has ever seen…on my shoulders since I was five years old. And no one has ever given me what they gave to her in that tent. Never. Not a piece of it. How can I carry what I need to carry without it? Who can rule without wealth or fear or love?

What I found fascinating to watch was that in Season 8 Daenerys herself entered into a similar jealous dynamic with Jon Snow, mourning the hearts she knows she cannot win in Westeros.

Daenerys: I saw them gathered around you. I saw the way they looked at you. I know that look. So many people has looked at me that way, but never here. Never on this side of the sea.

In her realization that she would never be accepted fully in Westeros, Daenerys became her brother, relying on fear as he would have done. It’s an interesting irony that despite these parallels between the two siblings, Viserys was one of the first to die in the series and Daenerys was the last. In fact, back in Season 7 before Daenerys snaps, she mused on what Viserys would have done in her position

Daenerys: If Viserys had three dragons and an army at his back, he’d have invaded King’s Landing already.

Tyrion: Conquering Westeros would be easy for you, but you’re not here to be Queen of the Ashes

Daenerys: No…

And yet that is exactly what she ended up doing.

Unlike Viserys, Daenerys was given the opportunity to find purpose outside the Iron Throne. Her diversion to Slaver’s Bay indicated that she wasn’t as single-minded as her brother, but ultimately the feeling of taking back what she felt was stolen from her was too great a temptation to resist. In Season 5, Tyrion brought up the possibility of remaining in Essos.

Tyrion: There’s more to the world than Westeros. Perhaps this is where you belong, where you can do the most good.

Daenerys: I fought so that no child born into Slaver’s Bay would ever know what it meant to be bought or sold. I shall continue that fight here and beyond, but this is not my home.

Desperate for Love and Acceptance

Behind Daenerys’ and even Viserys’ lust for power, there was a deep emotional wound of abandonment and a desperate feeling to belong. In the absence of acceptance from external sources in their childhoods, they both idealized taking back the throne as their purpose in life.

In Season 7, Daenerys mocked her brother for falling prey to Illyrio Mopatis’ stories that the Westerosi people are yearning for the Targaryens’ return, yet again and again she proved in her words and actions that, deep down, she too longs for that very fantasy to be true. She automatically assumed that the common people will support her, presuming they would take anyone over Cersei.

She was further deluded by this fantasy in how she is adored in Slaver’s Bay, whose former slaves gave her that love. She naively thought that this adoration will come into being in Westeros as well. Certainly after she saved the North from the doom of the White Walkers, surely then she would be loved as the fiery savior that she is!

Unfortunately, the political climate of Westeros was vastly different than Essos.  Then the emergence of Jon Snow as a threat to her royal claim, the loss of trusted advisors like Jorah and Missandei, and the overall lack of love she felt, Daenerys descended into madness.

Daenerys was a lost, abused girl who found strength and power despite her struggles, but in the end could not fashion a permanent life for herself in Essos. She could not move past the trauma of her family’s displacement and chose revenge for the past rather than define her own future irrespective of her beginnings.

This illustrates Daenerys Stormborn’s character arc as the classic tragedy of a fall hero who, despite the best of intentions, turns to villainy from an unhappy marriage of circumstances that drove her over the edge. This is the classic makeup of a tragedy, when a single flaw in a good person is exasperated by unforeseen events to the point that there is no turning back.

In terms of how quickly Daenerys falls from grace, I couldn’t help being reminded of Macbeth, which is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy. I’m no the first to say this, but many parallels have also been drawn between her and Anakin Skywalker, another character arc that has roots in Shakespearean and Greek tragedy. Both are figures who turned bad because of love, or rather, the darker side of love: rejection, fear of abandonment, and betrayal.