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In the moments before the start of the Battle of Winterfell, Jon Snow dropped his big lineage bombshell on Daenerys Targaryen, and her response was… surprising. While most in her shoes would have been primarily concerned about the whole “sleeping with your own nephew” thing, Dany’s perspective on the matter was instead completely dominated by concerns regarding her claim to the Iron Throne. It was somewhat odd in the moment, but also just a bit concerning.
Of course, Game Of Thrones hit pause on the subject as the living took on the dead in “The Long Night,” but now the aftermath featured in “The Last of the Starks” has put the whole situation in sharp relief. After watching seven seasons of the dragon queen free slaves and exercise a powerful will, she is truly starting to become one of the show’s scariest figures. In fact, while she’s not quite as big a horror show as Cersei Lannister, we’ve now gotten to a point where she can be described as the lesser of two evils when considered as a potential future ruler of Westeros.
The fourth episode of the eighth season is one that is jam packed with a lot of key events, from the deaths of Rhaegal and Missandei, to some key departures from Winterfell, but the big takeaway from everything is the response that Daenerys has in the face of challenge to her authority, and the lengths she is willing to go to establish her rule. As Varys rightly points out during a conversation with Tyrion, there aren’t exactly any leaders who welcome questioning to their legitimacy, but what we see from Dany is arguably a bit of line-crossing. It starts with her desperately trying to silence the truth about Jon’s parents, and ends with her preparation to burn King’s Landing to the ground.
Throughout the show, the Starks have long been true north on the moral compass, and the way in which the clan turned against Daenerys here is most definitely significant – even before they learn about Jon’s secret. Within the 78 minute episode, the fire is lit fairly quickly with the look on the Queen’s face when Sansa Stark leaves the head table during the post-war celebration, and it’s all downhill from there. Her insistence that Jon keep the identity of his real mother and father from his sisters is downright wrong, and a scary step into tyrannical behavior.
A righteous leader would let their people know the truth and be prepared to accept the consequences of it – with the hope that their past accomplishments would ultimately protect them and encourage support. That’s not the path that Daenerys chooses, however, and it raises legitimate skepticism about her that is not only reflected in the reaction from the Starks, but also Tyrion and Varys.
These events alone were enough to put the dragon queen on shaky ground, but the developments in regard to the developing war against Cersei Lannister further pushed the character to scarier places. It wasn’t all that long ago when she seemed committed to not being Queen of the Ashes, but that concept went out the window in a big way in “The Last of the Starks.” Obviously there is a lot of emotion in play given the aforementioned deaths of Rhaegal (whom she considered one of her children), and Missandei, but passionate motherhood only gave Cersei so much leeway in her actions, and the depths to which Dany is sinking are now getting to the same levels of unforgivable.
She hasn’t actually done anything yet, but the Lady of Dragonstone is now fully prepared to potentially kill thousands by bathing King’s Landing in dragon fire. The only reason she agrees to try and negotiate with Cersei is purely political – and while one could argue in her defense that negotiations would obviously never reach an amenable conclusion, at the end of the day we’re still ultimately talking about slaughtering innocent people just so that she can sit in a chair and wear a crown.
At this point, Daenerys Targaryen is most definitely not Cersei Lannister. We’ve seen her do some horrific things over the years (the burning of Randyll and Dickon Tarly springs to mind), but nothing compares to Destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, or the general terror Cersei has wrought as a royal puppet master. But just because she isn’t the worst choice for the Iron Throne doesn’t make her a good one, and “The Last of the Starks,” in fact, suggests she is actually a pretty terrifying one. To say the least, this was an absolutely massive turning point for the character, and given the expectations about where things are headed, it looks like things are going to be getting a lot worse instead of getting better.