Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Game of Thrones season 7, episode 6
Succession plans are the topic du jour in Game of Thrones. Cersei and Jaime are expecting another baby, Jorah Mormont makes mention of Jon Snow’s future children, and even Daenerys Targaryen is thinking about the future of her family. Before she rode north to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and encountered the undead horde, Dany and Tyrion ruminated on the “long-term” reign of House Targaryen. Who will sit upon the Iron Throne after Dany’s days have run out?
For the Mother of Dragons, this is a troubling question. She has long considered herself to be barren and looks upon Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion as the only children she’ll ever have. Even then, her beloved family just lost a member. Now that Viserion was gruesomely murdered by the Night King, you can bet Dany will be particularly eager to secure the future of House Targaryen.
Despite everything that happened in “Beyond The Wall,” discussion of Dany’s offspring dominated the episode. It occurred at the beginning with Tyrion, materialized in the middle when Viserion died, and returned in the end as she stood by Jon Snow’s bedside.
Three major questions come to mind: Why can’t Dany bear children? Why does she tell Jon? And why is the show introducing this subject that has been dormant since season 1?
After Khal Drogo was mortally wounded in the first season, Daenerys ordered the sorceress Mirri Maz Duur to employ her dark magic and save her husband. While Mirri accepted the task, she compelled Dany to stay clear of the tent in which she offered the blood ritual between a horse and the leader of the Dothraki. When Drogo’s army got word of this rough magic, however, they grew irate and demanded to stop the sorceress, shoving Dany out of their way en route to the tent.
This momentary violence sent Khaleesi into premature labor, and when Ser Jorah saw this, he rushed her into the tent Mirri Maz Duur forebade them to enter. This triggered a chain of events that left Dany and her small family in ruins. Shortly after, her stillborn baby arrived with monstrous features, scaly skin, and leathery wings. Though Dany never laid eyes on the child, the description of him alone seems to suggest Daenerys is only capable of mothering dragons in some shape or form.
While the death of the baby Rhaego would “pay” for the life of Khal Drogo (at least for a time), Mirri Maz Duur later appears to inform Dany that she had become barren:
“When the sun rises in the west and 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.”
Though that text actually comes from A Song of Ice and Fire, Mirri echoes most of the exact sentiment in the show. It seems clear that the combination of Dany’s horrific first pregnancy and the prophecy she received convinced her she would never again bear children. Though she has had a few dalliances over the last six seasons, expectations for a pregnant Dany have remained out of the question.
While A Game of Thrones made it clear she was infertile, several chapters in A Dance With Dragons actually call that into question when Daenerys appears to have a miscarriage. Since the show and TV series have heavily diverged, however, we’ll leave that to George R. R. Martin to clarify.
Daenerys boldly accepts her barrenness, and in season two, she clings to her dragons as her true offspring. While Ser Jorah urges her to flee Qarth and the wild warlock Pyat Pree (who has Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal in his possession), Dany stands her ground.
“The dragons are my children. And they are the only children I’ll ever have.”
This becomes a familiar refrain for the Mother of Dragons, so much that both she and the audience have seemingly never considered House Targaryen’s future. Her focus on returning to and conquering Westeros has been so all-consuming that any mention of succession seems out of place. Furthermore, through all of her fire-walking and death-defying acts, Dany seems nearly immortal. As season seven makes clear, however, death is just around the corner.
When Viserion died, Dany’s perception of her world changed. Watching him collapse forced her to accept that though she may be the Mother of Dragons, her fire-breathing beasts are incapable of sustaining her family’s line. Drogon and Rhaegal are more precious to her than ever, but after seeing the army of the dead, they are more instruments of war than items of affection.
It’s no accident, then, that she stood by Jon Snow’s bedside and immediately started talking about her children.
“The dragons are my children. They’re the only children I’ll ever have. Do you understand?”
It’s an almost verbatim repeat of her statement to Ser Jorah, but it has an essential question at the end. She wants Jon to understand that she cannot bear human children, because he has proven himself worthy of her affection. Ser Davos has teased Jon about his eyes for Dany, Tyrion has ribbed Dany for her soft looks towards Jon, and now that the two are alone in a bedroom, matters of fertility are on the table.
Though neither party realizes it, House Targaryen will survive regardless of Daenerys’ presumed infertility. Though split with Stark blood, Jon Snow carries the Targaryen mantle himself. If and when they consummate their affection, however, the alliance of ice and fire could bring new life.
Game of Thrones returns for the season 7 finale next Sunday @9PM on HBO.