Emilia Clarke’s Khaleesi is exhibiting some pretty terrifying traits. Could she be getting closer and closer to her father, the Mad King?
The night is dark and full of spoilers, everybody. If you haven’t watched the first episode of Game of Thrones season eight yet, now is your chance to save yourself from learning more than you wish to know. Otherwise: read on.
Fathers rarely figure well on Game of Thrones.
Who has a good one? The Stark kids, maybe, but then Ned Stark was always too damn honourable for his own good. If only he had been willing to get down into the gutter, maybe he might have escaped King’s Landing with his head on his shoulders and none of the ensuing war for the Iron Throne would have happened. But then Game of Thrones would be a pretty boring show.
Let’s take stock of the television series’ roster of bad fathers. There’s Tywin Lannister, who treats his children like livestock to be traded. Robert Baratheon fathered so many bastards he couldn’t keep track of them. Balon Greyjoy disowned Theon for having a moral code. Walder Frey is a misogynistic creep. Roose Bolton is the root of all evil. And the less said about awful Craster the better.
But no bad dad figures more prominently on Game of Thrones than Daenerys’ father Aerys Targaryen, alias the Mad King.
Dany (Emilia Clarke) never knew her father, and yet he looms large over her life. It was his poor judgement that saw the execution of senior Stark patriarchs and the beginning of Robert’s Rebellion. It was the Mad King who drove King’s Landing into civil war and forced Daenerys’ mother to flee the city to Dragonstone while pregnant with her only daughter. It was the Mad King whose reign, ultimately, proved so terrifying that Jaime Lannister broke his solemn vow to protect his monarch and killed him, once and for all.
No wonder Dany has always tried to distance herself from her departed dad. “Our fathers were evil men, all of us,” she told Yara Greyjoy in season six. “They left the world worse than they found it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to leave the world better than we found it.”
For most of Game of Thrones, Dany has endeavoured to do just that. She broke the wheel in Slaver’s Bay and liberated hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised people. She told Yara that the Iron Islands must end their tradition of “reaving, roving, raiding and raping”. She united the Dothraki with the Unsullied. She has inspired loyalty almost everywhere that she goes.
And yet in the first episode of Game of Thrones season eight, one small snippet of dialogue revealed some terrifying truths about our heroine. Do we need to be worried about Daenerys in the final season of Game of Thrones? Could she be turning into the Mad Queen?
The dialogue we’re talking about is the conversation between Samwell Tarly and Dany, with sweet Ser Jorah Mormont watching on. Dany’s devoted knight brought his queen to meet Sam, the man who cured him of greyscale, in a moment of downtime at Winterfell. Dany treats Sam kindly, hinting that when she is installed as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms she might be in need of a new Arch Maester in the Citadel.
Sam is excited by the prospect, but he asks Dany if she might be able to give him something in the short term. He asks her if she will pardon him for stealing a few books from the Citadel library… And a Valyrian steel sword from his father’s estate.
“Not Randyll Tarly,” Dany says, her face falling.
“Do you know him?” Sam asks hopefully.
Yes, you could say that Dany knows Randyll Tarly. In season seven, Dany – with some Dracarys-shaped help from Drogon – flambéd him mercilessly when he refused to bend the knee. She also executed Dickon Tarly, Sam’s broad-shouldered, hunting-obsessed brother in a similarly cruel fashion.
Because Sam absconded from the Citadel in the dead of night with a wagon of pilfered books, the news of his father and brother’s death was yet to reach him. Watching this beloved character’s quivering chin as he processed the information, struggling not to burst into tears in front of his new queen, was a truly emotional sight. Dany, for her part, did not apologise for Sam’s loss. She merely repeated her justification that Sam’s father and brother wouldn’t bend the knee.
Later, in the Winterfell crypt, Sam tells Jon his true parentage for the first time, stressing to his friend that he is the true King. Jon won’t hear it, and reaffirms his fealty to Daenerys.
“It’s the truth,” Sam says. “You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”
Back in season seven, the execution of the Tarly father and son seemed relatively – pardon the pun – small fry for Game of Thrones. Odious (and vaguely racist) though Tarly senior seemed to be, especially towards Gilly, his and his son’s death didn’t pack as much of an emotional blow as the demise of fan favourite Olenna Tyrell or even the satisfying execution of Littlefinger in the season finale.
Still, at the time both Tyrion and Varys were shocked at Dany’s impulsive behaviour. “Daenerys is not her father,” Tyrion ventured to Varys in one of their close conversations.
“And she never will be – with the right counsel,” Varys responded. “You need to find a way to make her listen.”
But now, a season later, Dany’s hasty decision to barbecue her enemies is coming back to hurt her. When Sam informed Jon what his girlfriend/aunt had done to his family, Jon’s face was coloured with shock while Sam’s usually kind features were the image of fury.
John Bradley West, who plays Sam on the show, told Vanity Fair that Sam thinks that Daenerys is “psychopathic”.
“I’d be interested to know what Jorah’s view on Daenerys is now,” he said. “In season two he tells Daenerys she has a good heard and that’s why she’d be a good leader, and you’re not really seeing that anymore.”
West continued: “After all of her experiences and all she’s gone through and all that she’s withstood and the person she is now, she doesn’t seem to have that heart anymore. She seems much more – in that scene especially – she seems psychopathic almost and she seems to have regressed in terms of morality so much that I don’t know what he thinks of her anymore.”
Psychopathic, eh? Sounds an awful lot like Sam Tarly might think that Dany is turning into the Mad Queen. And it also sounds like Sam isn’t the only one who might have clocked onto that fact. Both Tyrion and Varys have expressed suspicions about Daenerys’ sanity before. Could any one of them betray her in pursuit of protecting the realm?
The rumour mill has suggested that Tyrion might find himself imprisoned for the third time in season eight. (A Belfast taxi driver even told Stylist digital editor Kayleigh Dray as much.) If that comes to pass, we’d guess that the charge would be high treason: betraying his queen. And Varys’ loyalty, we know, is not to one king or queen but to the realm itself. If he believed that Dany was losing her grip on her mind then he would switch sides without so much as a second glance.
It’s important to remember that the Mad King’s descent into insanity started with the murder of a father and son, too. Back before Robert’s Rebellion King Aerys Targaryen imprisoned Rickard and Brandon Stark – father and brother of Ned, grandfather and uncle to Jon – before setting them on fire in the throne room without cause.
It was their deaths that led Robert to rise against Aerys with Ned by his side, and it was the memory of their deaths that inspired Sansa to counsel Jon against heading to Dragonstone to meet with Daenerys. It’s also why Arya is so wary about Daenerys in her reunion with Jon in the first episode of season eight.
“Stark men don’t fare well when they come South,” Tyrion mused to Jon back in season seven.
“True,” Jon replied. “But I’m not a Stark.”
Will Jon allow history to repeat itself and follow in his adoptive father’s footsteps to rise against the Mad Queen? Or will he put his faith in his lover and what he believes to be her innate sense of justice and goodness?
Jon once told Daenerys that he saw her as a better Queen than Cersei, and Dany has certainly proven herself more than capable of meeting that admittedly low bar.
But now that Jon knows his true parentage, and finally understands that there is another potential leader kicking around Westeros, will he still hold that statement to be true? Might Jon see himself, finally, as the King of the Seven Kingdoms that he was born to be? And how will Dany react to this new information?
Not well, we’d hazard to guess. In fact, learning that the man she has opened her heart to after all this time has a better claim than her to the Iron Throne is going to wreak havoc on Dany’s psychological wellbeing. It might even be enough to turn her mad.
Game of Thrones airs on Sunday nights on HBO in the US and Monday mornings (and again in the evening) in the UK on Sky Atlantic and Now TV.