Game Of Thrones has come to an end after nearly a decade of surprising fans and subverted genre expectations. Regardless of how fans feel about the last season or the show and the conclusion of one of the most award-winning and critically acclaimed series ever to hit HBO, it has certainly been a long, exciting, and frightening decade spent invested in the citizens of Westeros. While Daenerys has been on quite a journey, from displaced royal refugee being used as a pawn in the big game, to becoming the mother of dragons, to then taking the title of queen of Westeros for herself, she certainly has had plenty of time to grow into a strong, tactful, and relentless queen and leader. But the real question is: How much did Daenerys actually grow? Was it really Daenerys that changed? Or was it her relationship with power that changed? Let’s see if we can track her journey and growth through Game Of Thrones.
Daenerys Targaryen, along with Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, is set up very early in the series as a group of connected individuals with untapped potential. Much like Jon and Tyrion, (to some extent) Daenerys is a bastard. Not only due to her resounding lack of a father figure, but she has been exiled from her home, making her a bastard child of the land where she finds herself, in a way. When we first meet Daenerys, she is nothing but a pawn being used by the men around her.
As Daenerys marries Khal Drogo, the dragon inside her begins to awaken. The audience gets a small glimpse of who Daenerys will become as she watches her brother and life-long tormentor, Viserys, killed by her husband. This is the beginning of a rebirth that finishes the season as she walks into a burning pyre, only to walk out as the mother of dragons.
Daenerys’ entry into season two is a tad bittersweet. While she has finally gained the devotion and adoration of her Khalasar and given birth to three dragons, they wander aimlessly through the desert without food, water, or any idea of where they are headed. When members of her Khalasar are slaughtered in Xaro’s home and her dragons are taken by Pyat Pree (the warlock from the house of the undying), fans get a very interesting scene in the form of Daenerys’ vision.
First, Dany walks into the decimated and snow-covered (or perhaps, ash-laden) throne room. She is then called away from the iron throne by the only things in the world that mattered, her family, Khal Drogo and their unborn son. Visions of both a future left behind and the future still to come. Daenerys’ journey through season two is about coming to terms with her new found power, and her responsibility to those under her care. While she has already experienced much loss, this is the first time the lives that were lost were her responsibility. A responsibility she does not take lightly.
By this point in the series, Dany has gone through a massive shift from when audiences were first introduced to her. As Daenerys heads to Astapor to collect the Unsullied, fans finally get to see Daenerys in an unquestionable position of power. She tricks the slave masters of Astapor into handing over the Unsullied army in an exchange that will ultimately cost them, and every other master in Asatpor, their lives. Daenerys spent much of her life a slave to the whims of the men around her and with her first true taste of power, she decides to free the slaves of Astapor. This decision not only wins her a loyal army, but is one that will shape the course of her mission and her future entirely.
Daenerys Targaryen is now the breaker of chains. Of all the many titles that she carries with her throughout the series, this along with her status as the mother of dragons is, perhaps, the most important. While being the mother of dragons changes those around her, the title of Breaker of Chains causes a cataclysmic shift in the way Daenerys views herself. She is no longer just a queen without a throne. She is, in her eyes, and perhaps the eyes of those around her, a righteous woman on a righteous mission to free the world from oppression.
With the slave masters of Astapor and Yunkai left in her wake, Daenerys, The Breaker Of Chains, heads for the last remaining slave city on Slaver’s Bay, Meereen. Although she doesn't know it yet, Meereen will be the site of her first truly great victory. But it will also be the site of her greatest defeat. Daenerys has taken to her title as the breaker of chains and has let it become more of a mission statement than a title. A fact she exhibits by crucifying 163 masters of Meereen in exactly the same way they had the 163 slave children that lined the road to Meereen. Despite Ser Barriston advising Daenerys to show restraint and mercy, Daenerys objects in favor of “answering injustice with justice”. Now that Daenerys has amassed a sizeable army and the power to enforce her “justice” on those she feels have done wrong, audiences begin to see the type of ruler, even with advisors, that Dany might later become.
For four seasons now, fans have watched with bated breath as Daenerys journeyed throughout Essos amassing confidence, three dragons, thousands of soldiers, all while capturing and freeing the three slave cities of Slaver’s Bay. Daenerys has become a frightening force to any that would oppose her and even, as the Sons of the Harpy believe, the newly freed sons and daughters of Meereen.
While Daenerys has been eager to break the wheel and rule over a people that love her, governing (as Daenerys quickly learns) is not all it’s cracked up to be. Daenerys is constantly forced to compromise her idea of what a society should look like. She understands how it is that she wishes to rule, but what she has yet to learn, to great consequence during the great games, is how to rule for the people of Meeren and not simply for her own version of the future.
With Meereen (and her responsibilities as a ruler) in her wake and Drogon nowhere in sight, Daenerys finds herself the prisoner of a new Khalasar. While she believes her status as Khaleesi will grant her some kind of refuge and perhaps, a chance to get back to Meereen, Daenerys’ luck seems to have run out. Season six sees Daenerys returned to her the same station she had escaped in season one, a slave left to the bidding and desires of the men around her.
While her circumstances have come full circle, who Daenerys has become internally has not. She is no longer that submissive young girl. The dragon has already awakened. Much like the master of Yunkai learned back in season three, the Khalasar is about to learn that not only is a dragon not a slave, but the dragon will always unleash an inferno on those who may try to subjugate her. Daenerys was reborn through fire once already as the mother of dragons, but as she steps out of the flames unburnt for the second time, she is reborn once more even more certain of her destiny, her right to rule.
Having finally reached Westeros, Daenerys and her company settle into Dragonstone ( the exact place her ancestors landed when arriving in Westeros). Throughout her journey, Daenerys has shown that she is a capable and benevolent leader. She has also shown that she can be ruthless when it comes to her enemies. As she progresses through this season (and the series as a whole) it is made clear that despite bigger threats, despite what it may cost her, whether it be family, friends, followers, or even her children, Dany will stop at nothing to reach what she believes is her destiny.
When Jon comes into Daenerys’ life, she begins to fall in love with the benevolent king of the north. With his noble mission, willingness to abide by her rule, and those dark curly locks that could slay the Night King himself, Jon begins to show Daenerys that some things are more important than power and destiny. Sometimes one's duty must be to the bigger picture. Whether Daenerys is able to take that lesson to heart is an entirely different story.
As the final season opens it is important to remember the journey of a young woman who has been on the run since birth. A young woman who has been owned and abused and traded like a piece of meat. A young woman who has had friends, family, followers, loved ones all lost to her as she remained steadfast in her mission for the throne. While her return to King’s Landing should have felt like a welcome home party, that is not the case.
If she is not even welcomed back into her own home with loving arms, then what have these sacrifices been for? If she has given up all those who meant so much to her for that sake of her supposed destiny, then why doesn’t she feel the happiness and love she had surrounded herself with since rising to power? She is alone in this new and foreign land. Alone in the world is a terrible position for any Targaryen to be in. This is the season where we see Daenerys give in to the worst instincts that have been seen throughout her journey, allowing her mission as the 'Breaker of Chains' to completely rob her of her humanity, slaughtering anyone who stands in her way - and even those who surrender to her. Had she not been killed, it's difficult to know how far she would have gone.