How Dany's Reaction to Jon and Sansa Will Decide Who Wins 'Game of Thrones'
Daenerys Targaryen is not having an easy time with the Stark family. In the second episode of Game of Thrones' final season, the woman we've come to know as Khaleesi had a series of awkward run-ins with her allies. The one everyone was waiting for, of course, was with her lover/nephew Jon Snow. In the final moments before the White Walkers arrive to attack Winterfell, he tells her what he just learned about his parentage: He's Aegon Targaryen. She's stunned -- not because of the incest, although probably that, too -- but because it means he's a male heir to the Iron Throne. In fact, he has more of a claim than she does: As the firstborn son of the Mad King's firstborn son, he's technically a more "direct" claimant than Dany, who's been banking on being the last living Targaryen. Still, that interaction almost felt perfunctory, as if the Thrones showrunners knew they had to get it out of the way before the big battle. The two lovers/relatives even get interrupted by the battle horn before Daenerys can react.
The more significant interaction between Dany and a member of House Stark comes earlier on in the episode, when she sits down for a chat with her greatest skeptic, Sansa. Since the former arrived at the latter's domain, Dany and Sansa's relationship has been heavily scrutinized. In the premiere, they exchanged barbs about dragon food with a sauciness that had some critics frustrated at what they saw as an impending catfight, a sexist trope the show has relied heavily on in recent episodes. But in "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," Dany wants to make amends -- sort of.
Dany's on something of an empathy quest this episode. For so much of the narrative, she's had to answer to no one other than herself, and her ruthlessness has been largely an asset. ("Dracarys," anyone?) But we've also seen examples where her badassery tips over into cruelty, which is what Jorah Mormont gently reminds her of when she starts to rail against Tyrion for his defense of Jaime Lannister.
It's in this spirit of compromise that she heads to Sansa for a tête-à-tête. These are two women who've been through absolute hell and have come out on top. But while Daenerys has known a sort of dominance for almost the entirety of the run, it's only in the last two seasons that Sansa has broken free from an endless cycle of abuse. It makes sense that she'd approach any ruler who want to exercise power over her with a sense of caution.
Dany tries to appeal to Sansa as a woman, complimenting her as she goes. "We both know what it's like to lead people who aren't inclined to accept a woman's rule, and we've both done a damn good job of it from what I can tell," she says. "And yet I can't help but feel we're at odds with one another, why is that? Your brother?" To which Sansa responds that she's wary of Jon's devotion to Daenerys: "Men do stupid things for women, they are easily manipulated." Dany's retort? She wouldn't be here fighting Jon's war against the White Walkers if she wasn't in love.
And yet Dany's insistence that she just wants the best for Jon and his family rings hollow when Sansa asks what happens when the battle with the dead is done. Now that they've made jokes about how short Jon is, Dany thinks she's won her target over when she declares she'll take the Iron Throne. Sansa's not having that. "What about the North?" she asks. Daenerys recoils just as they're interrupted by the arrival of Theon Greyjoy. He declares that he wants to fight for Winterfell and is received with an embrace by Sansa. An inscrutable look crosses Daenerys' face; this display of fealty from a place of emotion, without threat, seems to perplex her.
Ever since Khal Drogo died, Daenerys has rarely allowed genuine feelings to mix with her desire to rule, which is buoyed by her unwavering faith in her rightful claim to the Throne. Jon's revelation shatters the one certainty in her life. She reacts initially in almost petulant disbelief. (Her argument's not a bad one: So your brother and best friend told you this? Please.) But as Jon insists that it's true, something changes on her face. Once again, her look is hard to parse, but it seems like some combination of anger, love, and disillusionment. This, to Dany, is her world crumbling.
Per Emilia Clarke, Dany's not bothered by the fact that she's been getting it on with her nephew, given that incest is par for the course in the Targaryen family. Instead, it's Jon's claim that's shaking her, she told Entertainment Weekly. "This is my whole existence," she said. “Since birth! Dany literally was brought into this world going: RUN! These f—ers [in Westeros] have f—ed everything up. Now it’s, ‘You’re our only hope.’ There’s so much she’s taken on in her duty in life to rectify. There’s so much she’s seen and witnessed and been through and lost and suffered and hurt to get here … and Jon doesn’t even want it!”
For now, Jon and Dany have to go fight the White Walkers, but presuming they both survive, it doesn't seem like this conflict is going away any time soon. (By the way, there's also a deeply uncomfortable Jon/Sansa/Daenerys love triangle theory out there that Joanna Robinson wrote about on Vanity Fair, because you just can't squeeze enough incest into the final Thrones season.)
There is an easy, if unlikely, solution. Jon doesn't want the Throne so he gives it to Daenerys, who allows Sansa to retain control of the North, seeing a kindred spirit in the young woman who did everything she could to reclaim her home from her rapist. But that would require Dany to basically reshape her worldview. The threat of Dany's own instincts -- the ones that most resemble her "mad" relatives -- has long been lurking. In "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" she makes an effort to quell her most rash impulses, but how will she feel when the dust settles from the battle soon to come? Whatever she decides to do will likely dictate who comes out on top if and when the living take down the Army of the Dead.