Will Jon Snow have to kill Daenerys Targaryen? Khaleesi perhaps best illustrates one of Game of Thrones’s most central storytelling motifs – which is precisely why her thematic counterpart and paramour just may end up having to kill her.
Game of Thrones has, for the past seven-and-a-half seasons, emphasized a rather malleable sense of identity for its various characters, which typically leads to an ever-changing set of political allegiances; just in season 8, episode 4, "The Last of the Starks," for instance, both of Dany’s most high-ranking aides, Tyrion Lannister and Lord Varys, juggled with the very real possibility of abandoning the Dragon Queen and instead putting their support around the would-be Warden of the North (which isn’t to mention the upjumped sellsword Bronn’s backstabbing of the backstabbing Queen Cersei Lannister, or Jaime Lannister’s leaving Ser Brienne of Tarth for his regal twin sister).
Daenerys herself has had a near-constant parade of differing identities, titles, objectives, and political and martial factions arrayed around her across Game of Thrones, with each and every season acting as yet another existential stepping stone to her becoming the powerful, ambitious, and now-vengeful conqueror that has, in these final batches of episodes, at last landed on the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. But despite her seemingly being the walking, talking manifestation of this thematic motif, the narrative has suddenly been closing in around her, leaving little room for the Mother of Dragons to continue growing. As we enter the Westerosi endgame, with its constricting playing field, other characters are starting to outmaneuver her at her own game.
Why Jon Snow Is A More Fitting Ruler Than Daenerys Targaryen
Yes, Daenerys Targaryen carries within her the bloodline of the dragon, but it also contains centuries of incest and extreme mental instability – the presence of her brother, Viserys, in Game of Thrones season 1 has served as more than ample reminder of the potential for her to become their father, Mad King Aerys, once she takes the Iron Throne (by force, of course). And we’ve seen Dany make a constant string of decisions that dance right up to the edge of full-on Aerys-ness, from the nailing of the Great Masters to sign posts leading out from Meereen to the execution of Randyll and Dickon Tarly.
However, perhaps the real reason why many expect Daenerys Stormborn to be the final villain of Game of Thrones is because she’s unable to extend her fluid sense of identity to all those around her; she may have turned slaves into freedmen (or even into one of her most trusted advisors, in the case of Missandei), but she either won’t or fundamentally can’t allow these individuals the benefit of true transformation. The one exception to this is Jorah Mormont, who she ultimately forgave for being a secret informant and potential assassin, although she did so only after literally years of being begged to pardon him by her court – and for the express purpose of Jorah becoming her living shield and bodyguard, to boot.
Jon Snow, on the other hand, not only has displayed this same level of dynamism over the course of the series – at one point or another, he’s been a bastard, Night’s Watchman, wildling, king, corpse, and, now, Targaryen royalty – but he’s also consistently displayed the ability to infuse all those around him, whether friend or foe, with the same benefit of the doubt to become the people they are meant to be instead of trapping them as the individuals they have been up until now. Put another way, Jon exudes the quality of empathy – once he became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, for instance, he refused to retaliate against the vicious Ser Alistair Thorne, and he (in)famously attempted to have the free folk settle Westeros (as Tormund Giantsbane lauded him for recently). Indeed, when Jon delivers the eulogy for all of the fallen at the beginning of "The Last of the Starks" and employs the words of the Night’s Watch to effectively cast all of them – the vast, vast majority of whom weren’t sworn brothers – as honorary members, he’s displaying this empathic ability to sweep others up into new identities and new relationships of meaning.
It has been made clear over the course of Game of Thrones’s run that the very nature of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros has undergone a radical amount of change, with a revolving door of who sits the Iron Throne, entire regions that have existed in one state of rebellion or another, and a whole series of invasions, whether from the Iron Islands, Essos or, of course, beyond the Wall. It only stands to reason, then, that the monarch who most deserves to rule over these battered and potentially reconstituted realms is the one who has equally served as a change agent.
Will Jon Snow Have To Kill Daenerys?
All of this explains why Jon Snow – or, should we say, Aegon Targaryen – would deserve to rule as king of the Seven Kingdoms; it doesn’t at all explain why he would have to kill his Aunt Daenerys in order to do so.
The answer is simple: Jon wouldn’t want to murder Dany, just as he didn’t want to be named the King in the North at the end of season 6 and why, now, he continues to swear off his birthright of the Iron Throne. That Jon has always undertaken his duties despite his personal reluctance (not rushing off to fight alongside his brother, Robb Stark, at the start of the War of the Five Kings, or going undercover with the wildlings, or liberating Winterfell from the clutches of House Bolton) is testament to his character, but it also spells out how he could come to blows with his lover – a woman who has come to be just as much in love with being in power as she has with her nephew.
And this is, really, the crux of the matter. Despite her humble origins as an impoverished, meek little girl who was meant to be nothing more than a sexual bargaining chip for the amassing of her brother Viserys' power base, Daenerys has “gone purple,” as the saying in the United States Senate goes – she has come to expect and, just maybe, relish the trappings of power. To be sure, Mhysa Dany has a true and proper crusade to apply that power to, and it is inarguable that all of Slaver’s Bay is better off for her conquest and reign than they were before it – but it is also hard to argue with Samwell Tarly’s summation that there is no way on the gods’ green Earthos that Daenerys would willingly relinquish her claim to the throne in light of Jon’s birthright. When one adds in the continued pressures that are exponentially being applied to her – the systematic decimation of her army and navy, the death of her second dragon, the execution of Missandei – one has a rather combustible recipe for destruction, and one that Jon would best be suited to confront and extinguish.
And it is precisely this scenario that seems ripe to be played out in next week’s penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, with the prospect of an all-out siege of King’s Landing that would make the last one – conducted during the very end of Robert’s Rebellion, when the smallfolk’s homes were sacked and Lord Tywin Lannister ordered the murder of Jon Snow’s Targaryen siblings despite the fact that they were only infants – look tame in comparison. That time, Mad King Aerys ordered the complete and utter destruction of the capital city through the usage of wildfire, and it took Jaime Lannister’s personal intervention to prevent the deaths of 500,000 innocent bystanders; this time, it just may take another such betrayal in order to forestall the very same outcome.
As Daenerys’s lover and fellow Targaryen, one who has faced death repeatedly over the course of the past eight seasons and always come back more humbled from the ordeal, Jon Snow just might be the last shield guarding the realms of men from one final existential threat.
Game of Thrones continues Sunday at 9:00 pm on HBO.