Breaking the Wheel: Burning King’s Landing Was Always Daenerys’ Fate
If you loved Daenerys and are horrified by her tragic turn, don’t feel bad. You’re in good company. Wise men like Tyrion, Jorah, and Varys all believed in her, too. She is a charismatic leader, and like many charismatic leaders and conquerors through out history, she has a force of personality that draws people to her side.
Shocked by her turn and feeling cheated by the writers, I re-watched the evolution of Daenerys and slowly began to realize how the narrative had tricked those of us on Team Dany from the beginning.
After all, this is the girl who shouted, “When my dragons are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me and destroy those who have wronged me. We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground.”
She goes on to say, “I will take what is mine. With fire and blood.”
But with her saying all these threatening and horrible things, why did we still believe she was the hero?
Daenerys only seemed “good” because she opposed faceless antagonists
At the time, Daenerys was young and childish, so her rant seemed like an angry girl not getting her way. It’s not like she could actually burn a city to the ground. Since she was not yet powerful, like Cersei or Stannis, we didn’t take her threats seriously. Plus, she claimed she wanted to “break the wheel,” and since Joffrey was over in Westeros being a nightmare, Dany seemed very noble by comparison.
Secondly, because she was shouting it at a character we have no attachment to, who seemed snarky and selfish, we sided with Dany. She was the protagonist, and the man was clearly a snide antagonist. We had no connection to him. But imagine if this scene happened in Westeros, and Dany had shouted this to Renly Baratheon or Rob Stark. We would have had to pick a side, then, between two characters we like who are opposing each other.
The narrative tricked us by narrowing our perspective
We were tricked into thinking Dany was good. It was easy to see her as a heroic character in the beginning of the show because she isn’t pitted against anyone we care about. So she is positioned as the protagonist, and her journey begins with her as a meek girl with an abusive brother and rapist husband, so we root for her. And since she’s as complex as all the other characters in the series, she does many good things and many bad things. But since the bad things are against nameless antagonists to her, we root for her.
Meanwhile, when Cersei does something bad, it’s usually to the Starks, who we love, and therefore we hate Cersei, even though Cersei is equally complex with many good and bad moments as well. Every character is a shade of gray, but in Westeros we are watching them do good and bad things to other characters we like, so we begin to choose sides. Whereas with Dany, we never have a reason to side against her since she’s never interacting with anyone we care about — until she gets to Westeros.
From Worshiped Hero to Foreign Invader: Her True Motives Revealed
Once she’s in Westeros, we see her begin butting heads with Cersei, and since we’ve been trained to hate Cersei, we still side with Dany. Plus characters we admire like Tyrion, Varys, Jon Snow, Missendei, and Jorah all seem to really be taken with her. But that makes sense, really — she’s a charismatic leader. She sweeps people up in worshiping her. But as soon as she hit Westeros, a lot of the worship began to crumble. She was truly in “The Game,” and now she would be competing against characters we have already established relationships with — so our perspective of her isn’t as pure anymore. In Westeros, she really is just a foreign invader, and she expects to just be allowed to sit on the throne.
However, she does save Jon’s life, and she daringly goes into battle to help her troops (unlike cowardly Cersei and Joffrey). She still does good things like help save the world. But perhaps she is doing these things because she loves being worshiped—and that’s where she starts to break down. Because after doing all this good for Jon and his family, they DON’T worship her. And that’s the first time her good deeds have not been met with immediate worship — because now she’s in Westeros, playing The Game, not in Essos.
Turns out, she kind of sucks at The Game.
And Dany, who seems like a kind character who breaks chains and wants to destroy the wheel, reveals her true colors. She expects to be worshiped when she does good things. She’s only kind when the world goes her way.
Danaerys, like everyone on the show, is a shade of grey
All of that being said, I can see how her character arc would lead here. However, I also don’t blame her for being frustrated. She came into The Game with three dragons and a massive army. But Tyrion gave constant bad advice, which seemed out of character at the time, but now we realize it’s because he wanted Dany on the throne without having to hurt his family. Dany seemed paranoid when she accused him of wanting to protect his family — but she was dead on. Tyrion, if even subconsciously, was trying to serve two queens.
Daenerys burned King’s Landing because her home rejected her
Tragically, the good part of Daenerys, who carefully listened to her advisors because she feared becoming her father, listened to Tyrion instead of own instincts. She feared her own instincts might turn her into a monster. However, had she ousted Cersei from the beginning, she may not have faced such losses that ultimately made her give up on her good side.
In this case, her council, who also seemed “good,” but whose characters are also shades of grey, was loyal to other people in Westeros. She was a stranger in a Game that already had years of allegiances and relationships, and she knew it.
She’s a tragic character. She was orphaned as a child, forced to leave her home. All she wanted to go back and take back what had been taken from her. She built friendships and power in Essos, but she wanted to go home. But once she went home, she was an outsider there, too. No matter where she went, she’d be an outsider.
I think that’s why she burned King’s Landing. She’s not just pissed at Cersei; she’s pissed that her home doesn’t want her, that her only friends are gone, and that The Game has been rigged from the start because Tyrion loved his evil sister after all. But no matter how much “good” Dany does, she can’t force anyone to love her or be her family. She’s been utterly rejected by her home.
And if her home rejects her — then she rejects them, too. No one will ever love her; she will never have a true home or family, so she may as well burn it all.
Dany did complete her purpose: She destroyed the wheel
I do think this story arc was coming, but I do agree the bad writing made it all seem very jarring, and they had to “force” a lot of weird character decisions to make it happen so fast. So it leaves us with a very unsatisfying story, where at the last moment our favorite characters all start being morons—puppets to the writers to force the story along. However, with such limited time left, I understand why the writers had to do it that way.
But at least, after much thinking and sadness, I can understand Dany’s ending.
I had long hoped that Jon, Dany, and Tyrion would ride dragons and defeat the Night King. Perhaps Dany would die, but she’d die a hero. But this is Game of Thrones, and I guess that was too happy of an ending to wish for.
Now Jon will likely kill Dany and go back to the wall. I bet Bran sits the throne, as the Three-Eyed Raven is not human and therefore is a good solution to this “humans are the real enemy” problem. He can form a democratic council, and anyone who becomes ruler from then on must become the Three-Eyed Raven.
In that way, Dany did accomplish her dream. She broke the wheel.
No longer with specific houses roll back to the top. It’ll be more democratic, with a wise man on the throne. Perhaps Bran would say, just as he pardoned Theon, “Everything she did was to lead us here, with the wheel broken and a brighter future. She played her role, and this was her fate. But her madness made a better world, just as Theron’s betrayals led him to ultimately save Bran. She is a good person.”
I guess that’s a bittersweet ending, after all.