Warning: This article contains spoilers for the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, so avoid reading on unless you are up-to-date with the show.
The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season – which aired on Sky Atlantic at 2am on 21 August – was a very big deal, featuring plenty of deaths beyond The Wall, further hints that Arya is planning to bump off Sansa, and news of Brienne and Jaime’s impending reunion (yay!).
But, if you ignore the fact that the Night King now has an undead dragon up his sleeve, there were plenty more reveals to be found hidden in the show’s quieter moments – and they all revolve around Daenerys Targareyen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington).
More specifically, though, they revolve around Daenerys’ perceived infertility. And, in doing so, those clever writers have seemingly foreshadowed the show’s big finale.
The subject is first broached in Beyond the Wall by Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) during a surprisingly gossipy conversation with the Mother of Dragons, in which he points out that she has found an admirer in Jon – a patently obvious truth which she denies.
Tyrion, sensing he’s getting nowhere with his matchmaking, then asks Daenerys who she plans to name as her heir if she wins her war.
“You want to know who will sit on the Iron Throne after I am dead, is that it?” she snaps.
“You say you can’t have children but there are many ways of choosing a successor,” he replies gently, suggesting that she could change the face of the monarchy forever.
“You once told me you’d break the wheel. So how do we ensure your vision endures? After you break the wheel, how do we make sure it stays broken?”
It’s a good question – and one which could have big repercussions for the remainder of the show.
Daenerys has long believed that she cannot have children, ever since she was cursed by Mirri Maz Duur back in the first season of the show. At the time, the Khaleesi was pregnant with Khal Drogo’s child and desperate to save the life of her wounded Dothraki husband – so much so that she agreed to offer up a blood sacrifice to Duur.
When Daenerys awakened from the ceremony, she learned that her son had been stillborn, and found Drogo alive but in a vegetative state. She asked Duur when her husband would return to full health, only to have the following curse spat back at her: “When the sun rises in the west, sets in the east when the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before.”
Since then, Daenerys has taken it as gospel that she cannot bear children – and, indeed, it does seem to be the case. Her unprotected sex with Daario Naharis has had zero results and, in the book, at least, she suffers what appears to be a miscarriage.
That’s why she sees her dragons as her children, and why Viserion’s death affects her so very deeply. As far as she knows, she will never give birth again: her only family are the three dragons who came out of the fire with her, and she loves them as tenderly as any mother.
So it makes sense that, when she’s reunited with Jon after that bloody battle beyond The Wall, she feels compelled to lay down some ground rules for her potential future partner.
“The dragons are my children,” she tells him softly. “They’re the only children I’ll ever have. Do you understand?”
Jon, for his part, has only recently begun to think about the possibility of having children himself. He was a young boy when he swore an oath of celibacy and joined the Night’s Watch – and, since being brought back from the dead, he’s been a little… well, a little less positive about his future.
However, in the very same episode that Daenerys reminds us of her infertility, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) pointedly tells Jon that he should pass Longclaw on to his children someday. An idea which seemed to please Jon very greatly, judging by the expression on his face.
Could this prove to be the obstacle that puts an end to his and Daenerys’ budding romance? Emilia Clarke certainly seems to think so, even going so far as to suggest that her character’s future lies with someone very different.
“The thing about Ser Jorah is that he has been The One from the very beginning,” she remarked. “I think he has an ability to see right through [Dany].”
Backing this theory up is the fact that Beric Dondarrion has all but told Jon that their unnatural resurrections means that they are unlikely to find “much joy” in their second life.
Indeed, it has been suggested that both have been brought back to life to serve the Lord of Light, bring down the Night King, and save the world. Once this is done, Jon – who has been more than willing to throw himself into deadly situations since his resurrection – may just be prepared to take a leaf out of JK Rowling’s Tale of the Three Brothers and welcome death once his task has been completed.
“And then he [the third brother] greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, as equals, they departed this life.”
Clarke, though, has good cause to throw GoT fans off the scent, and it’s worth noting that her and Jon’s closeness hasn’t been hampered by her confession at all. Indeed, he held her hand shortly afterwards, called her softly by the nickname ‘Dany’, and promised to bend the knee to her as his one true queen.
Yet when Robert Baratheon passed away so suddenly, leaving behind him one unrecognised bastard and zero legitimate children, Westeros fell into immediate chaos.
And, if Daenerys and Jon are to wed, which seems to be the intention of the writers (despite the fact the former is very likely the aunt of the latter), then who will continue their legacy after they’re gone?
So perhaps Daenerys will heed the advice of Tyrion Lannister and consider ‘breaking the wheel’ of hereditary lines.
“The Night’s Watch has one method, the Iron Islands for all their faults have another,” he tells her – and he has a point.
Which is why so many people suspect that Daenerys won’t ever sit on the Iron Throne herself. Instead, they believe that she will use her dragons to melt it down, putting an end to the tired old feudal systems past and forging a better, stronger and fairer future for all in Westeros.
The self-titled ‘Breaker of Chains’ has long been a fan of putting power into the hands of the people, so it makes sense that she should be the one to usher in a new era of democracy, put an end to the landed aristocracy, and offer the commonfolk the chance to choose their own leaders.
Which makes that recent conversation between Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) so vital: he asked her, flat out, why she still serves Daenerys even though she’s freed from slavery and servitude.
Missandei replied that she’s free to serve who she wants, and that she genuinely believes in Khaleesi.
Jon Snow then asked what would theoretically happen if Missandei wanted to return to her home, to which she said: “Then she would give me a ship and wish me good fortune.”
Daenerys has attracted such a huge following because she offers them something they have never been offered before: the freedom to choose.
Missandei, the Unsullied and the Dothraki all believe in Daenerys. They have chosen to follow her based on her actions, not because of her impressive lineage.
Now Jon Snow, who refused to bend the knee when Daenerys demanded that he do so, has recognised her as his queen. And he has chosen to do so because he has seen the woman she is – and truly believes she is the right ruler for Westeros.
More importantly, though, Jon decided to bend the knee to Daenerys after learning she can’t have children of her own – and, in doing so, has been one of the first GoT rulers to recognise that women are so much more than the sum of their body parts. That a queen’s role does not have to be reduced to anything as base as “lie back and bring forth children for your king”. That they can rise to be so much more than the head of home and hearth. That they can be brave, and smart, and calculating.
And, most importantly of all. that they can be rulers in their own rights, making valid and vital decisions about the future of their own people.
As one savvy viewer points out, “the ‘Game of Thrones’ can only ever end when the throne is removed from play”. But will Daenerys be brave enough to do it?
We guess we don’t have all that long to find out… roll on the next episode, already.