Beyond The Wall

What Dany's Biggest 'Game of Thrones' Moment Ever Means for the Show

daenerys game of thrones finale
HBO
This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8. Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the first of her name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains, is dead.

In the end, it was another member of her family who stopped her reign of terror that began when she unleashed her dragon on the unwitting citizens of King's Landing in the penultimate episode. In the finale, Jon Snow, letting his desire for stability override his love for her and his pledges of loyalty, stabs her as they kiss. The scaly child she used as a weapon ultimately destroys the thing she wanted most, burning that chair of swords before taking her body and flying off. (Narrowly missing Jon in the process.)

In the aftermath of her conquering of King's Landing it's clear she has no intention of stopping her world domination. She sees her acts as liberation and wants to continue on that path from "Winterfell to Dorne," an invocation that gets some side-eye from Jon and Tyrion. But Jon continues to defend her, even after she imprisons Tyrion. The Lannister implores him to reconsider. He clearly does. He walks to the throne room, where she's confident and gloating, and asks her to lead with forgiveness. She rejects that notion, but she still wants him with her. "We do it together," she says. "We break the wheel together." They kiss, but in their embrace he stabs her in the heart. 

The conflict between Jon and Daenerys has defined the show's final season. Jon learns he's a Targeryen in the premiere, and wrestles with this information paired for his professed love for Dany in almost every episode. Even as Sansa and Arya Stark caution him against unwavering fealty, he forges ahead. His only betrayal is telling his sort-of siblings the true nature of his parentage, which nonetheless sets off a chain of events that results in the death of Varys, and, indirectly, her rage spiral that leads to the destruction of King's Landing.

As we watched these final moments unfold, it felt like we were getting an abridged version of the story. Because of the shortened, six-episode run, the showrunners had to escalate the conflict between Daenerys and Jon quickly, allowing for little nuance in the process. Daenerys became desperate not just for power, but for Jon's affections. When he physically rejects her kiss in "The Bells" -- he's more uncomfortable with the whole aunt-nephew thing than she is -- she decides to rule with fear. Before she sacks King's Landing, she's consumed by grief in part due to the beheading of her her friend and confidante, Missandei, and in part thanks to Jon's dismissal of her advances. 

Ultimately, Jon's cooler head prevailed, even at great personal cost. Now her death reframes their relationship -- and, frankly, the entire series -- with some icky gender politics. Daenerys becomes a woman too irrational to hold power, whereas Jon turns into the man destined to stop her before she burns the world. 

dany death in game of thrones
HBO

Since last week, the series' treatment of Daenerys has been up for debate. Did the 11 o'clock villain narrative destroy her legacy as as a feminist hero and baby name inspiration beloved by Elizabeth Warren? Or was she always edging dangerously close to bad-guy status, her future foreshadowed ever since she burned Mirri Maz Duur in the first season? For some -- this writer included -- the source of consternation wasn't that Daenerys went full evil queen, but how she went full evil queen, and one Jon Snow plays a huge role in that dissatisfaction. 

As Dany lost her mind, Jon became part of her downfall, an inert alternative to her fiery persona, and her unconvincing Achilles' heel. Game of Thrones has never been particularly good at romance -- this season especially proved that. Not only were there ultimately unnecessary love pairings between Arya and Gendry and Brienne and Jaime, but Jon and Dany's relationship never felt as important as it ultimately was. Getting killed by the man who didn't love her the way she wanted him to is a depressing ending for Daenerys, Mad Queen or not. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.