I’m just gonna say it: Daenerys Targaryen might be the most important character on television right now. She’s arguably the main character of the biggest show in a generation and the fate of her world rests on her shoulders. The final season of GAME OF THRONES will change Daenerys forever, so let’s take a journey back to her roots to see just how far she’s come — and how far she can still go.

A Woman of Many Names

Daenerys Targaryen has had a similar arc to Sansa’s in that they were both impressionable teenagers used as pawns at the start of the series but have forged their own paths in this crazy world. Daenerys differs, though, in her innate hunger for power to reclaim what was taken from her. It’s a fascinating and rare trait for a young woman on TV to have, so her journey has been some of the show’s best work. We saw her grow into her own as a ruler and grapple with the real-world issues of justice and leadership. 

Daenerys Stormborn, First of Her Name

After Robert’s Rebellion, Daenerys and her brother Viserys are exiled in Essos. Under the care of her abusive brother since she was a baby and now unwillingly engaged to Khal Drogo, Daenerys is timid and powerless. She has never known love or real family. She is only a bartering chip for Viserys’s hopes of retaking the Iron Throne.

daenerys targaryen
Viserys is just the worst. Courtesy of HBO.

Daenerys receives three dragon eggs as a wedding gift, though they are said to have turned to stone over time. Dragons are extinct, after all (wink wink, nudge nudge). In the tumult of a nonconsensual marriage, Daenerys finds solace in her dragon eggs, tending to them as if they were alive. One of her handmaidens tells her a story of how there were once two moons, but one drifted too close to the sun and cracked open, releasing dragons into the world. The other handmaidens dismiss her story, saying that the moon is the wife of the sun. Daenerys, of course, relates to the former and asks her to teach her how to please Drogo. She goes a step further and teaches Daenerys to use her sexuality to influence her husband and become his equal.

Again, like Sansa, Daenerys’s sexuality has become an important part of her story. It can be used as a weapon against her like it often was for Sansa or she can turn it into a tool of power. In this world of theirs, sometimes sex is the only weapon a woman has. She harnesses it here, but once she has obtained power in her own right later on, she is able to reclaim her sexuality as the very personal thing it is. She can use it when and with whom she wants — but only once she’s in charge politically.

Not a Queen, a Khaleesi

She also finds out that she is pregnant and seems genuinely happy about it. The news bolsters the growing love between them and that love makes Daenerys visibly grow more self-assured and powerful. Daenerys floats the idea of leading the Dothraki in war for the Seven Kingdoms to Jorah, but he dashes her dream by revealing the Dothraki’s fear of crossing water. They would certainly win the battle, he says, but they would never get there (more winks, more nudges).

She ponders her dragon eggs again, thinking they may hatch under heat as the moon did. Nothing happens when she places an egg on the fire, but she also doesn’t burn herself. Curious. The women of the Khalasar declare that Daenerys’s son will be the Stallion Who Mounts the World, that he will unite all the Dothraki to rule the world. We’ll call this Prophecy A.

A true power couple. Courtesy of HBO.

Daenerys slaps Viserys with a belt. It doesn’t totally matter why but it’s a great moment and feels extremely cathartic as a viewer because Viserys is the worst. If he ever hurts her again, it will be the last thing he does. And because he’s the worst, he tries it again. Viserys draws a sword on Drogo and threatens his unborn child like an idiot, and is met with a pot of molten gold poured over his head (which is the kind of opulence I expect from all my executions from now on). Daenerys is free from his grasp officially, secure in her own power both as Khal’s wife and as a Khaleesi in her own right.

Daenerys Targaryen, The Unburnt

With Viserys gone, Daenerys implores Drogo to take their army to Westeros so their son can sit on the Iron Throne. Drogo is not inclined to take his people across the sea until an assassination attempt on Daenerys. Then he’s in it whole hog. He’s ready to take the Seven Kingdoms “in blood and fire.” The Khalasar raids a nearby village to fund their war, but Daenerys is not happy with the violence they show to their prisoners. But one warrior is not going to give up his rape and torture so easily. He challenges Drogo to combat and gets into one deep wound before losing. Daenerys begs a woman she saved to use magic to save Drogo. The witch needs a life for a life in order to do so. The stress of it all sends Daenerys into labor and her child is stillborn and has scales and wings (a Lucille Bluth wink and a giant shove).

Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt. Courtesy of HBO.

Drogo is technically alive but the witch brought him back to a vegetative state as revenge. Daenerys has to mercy-kill him and ties the witch to his funeral pyre. She gives a rousing speech to her Khalasar, telling them that if they wish to remain with her she will lead them to greatness. She also put the dragon eggs on the pyre, walking into the fire. It’s not until morning that she reappeared, accompanied by three baby dragons.

Blood and fire, indeed.

The One With All the Magic

The Khalasar accepts Daenerys as their queen, but being in charge isn’t easy. She leads her people through the desert with little food and water, ending up in Qarth. But she didn’t get the warm welcome she expected. The Qartheens just want to see her dragons. But one, Xaro, welcomes Dothraki into his home. The security gives Daenerys time to train her dragons to breathe fire on command. Xaro offers his fortune to fund Daenerys’s war in exchange for marriage, informing her that Robert Baratheon is dead. Daenerys is galvanized by the news and inclined to accept it. That’s what a woman does in this world: use marriage as a political tool. Jorah is wary of her being indebted to anyone else. He believes that she doesn’t need to play by the old rules. In fact, she is stronger without them.

Super normal and safe. Courtesy of HBO.

Daenerys finds that her dragons have been kidnapped in the House of the Undying. The House of the Undying is like an escape room if escape rooms had magic, the Mirror of Erised, and visions of your dead husband. She makes it through, of course, and her dragon training comes in handy. The dragon babies respond to their new trick and burn their captor alive. Daenerys’s power isn’t limited to that of a Khaleesi. She’s also a mother and you never mess with her children.

In her first act of ruthless vengeance (a la her father, the Mad King), Daenerys leaves Xaro to die in his empty bank vault for betraying her. She robs him to buy a ship and heads on her merry way. 

Daenerys Targaryen, Breaker of Chains

In search of an army, Daenerys seeks out the Unsullied, an elite army of castrated slaves, in Astapor. The owner of the Unsullied is, unsurprisingly, a total douchebag. He is a cruel owner and frequently insults Daenerys, not knowing that she speaks Valyrian. Being underestimated is Daenerys’s biggest trigger, both bolstering her iron will and sparking her recklessness. Daenerys negotiates for the entire army, offering one of her dragons as payment. Something is obviously fishy since we know Daenerys will never part with her children. But the slave owner takes the bait, bringing all his slave owner friends to witness the deal. Daenerys hands over Drogon and gets the symbolic golden whip in return. She orders the Unsullied to kill all the slave owners and free the people of Astapor. Oh, and the douchebag gets burned to a crisp.

Daenerys Targaryen, Breaker of Chains. Courtesy of HBO.

With an army under her control, Daenerys is at a turning point: Will she do whatever it takes to win, even if that means being the dictator she just took down? Or will she try to forge a better world? For now, it’s the latter. She frees the Unsullied from their service, giving them the choice to stay with her. They all choose to stay. She also gives the choice to the slavemaster’s translator, Missandei, saying they are going to war and she may die. “Valar morghulis,” Missandei says, “all men must die.”

“We are not men,” Daenerys adds.

Take Two

The next city is Yunkai, which is also full of slaves that Daenerys wants to free. (We could talk for a long time about the deep white savior problems of this show, but that’s a discussion for another day. So let’s just acknowledge it here and keep going.) The Yunkish masters threaten Daenerys with their “powerful friends,” who turn out to be the Second Sons, a mercenary army. Taking the honey approach over the vinegar, she meets with the Second Sons’ captains to try to turn them to her side. But they are sexist and gross and secretly plot to kill Daenerys.

Again, never underestimate her unless you enjoy being destroyed. The plan was revealed by Daario Naharis, a member of the Second Sons, who also beheaded the captains for good measure and committed to Daenerys’s cause. A ride or die if we’ve ever seen one. Daenerys’s forces take Yunkai and free the slaves. She gives another rousing speech, her ability to rally a crowd really shining through — and perhaps above some of her more practical skills as a leader.

Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons

Freeing slaves and taking cities seems easy compared to Daenerys’s other role: mother to teenagers. Her dragons are growing big and strong, but they are also rebelling against her. She is losing control over them, which is truly terrifying. Our heroes march to Meereen, where they encounter dead slaves nailed to crosses each mile along the road. At the city gates, they set about slave-freeing once more. It’s pretty easy for them at this point. Daenerys has 163 of the slave masters crucified like they had done to their slaves, calling it “answering injustice with justice.” Some may call it “an untenable form of the criminal justice system,” but more on that later.

#TeamNewDaario. Courtesy of HBO.

Daenerys unfurls a Targaryen banner on the Great Pyramid, the start of her dynasty. The real work of governing begins. Her egalitarianism hasn’t stuck like she’d hoped and she worries about ruling the Seven Kingdoms when she can’t even control these three cities. She decides that Westeros can wait — she is the queen here and she must take care of her kingdom. It was her first real mature decision as a leader. Given that her whole life has led up to her quest for the throne, it shows a genuine sense of care for her people to put that goal on hold. As much as her reputation relies on her activities, it isn’t just about monikers. She really is a breaker of chains and wants to see that through.

A House Divided

Queen Daenerys’s subjects have bones to pick with her and her decision matters have real consequences for both individuals and for her reign on the whole. It’s not all great oratory and killing the bad guys and save the good guys anymore. She has councilors on both sides of that moral spectrum. Daario wants to do two things: kill men and love women and he finally got to do the latter so he’s ready to kill some slave owners. Jorah, on the other hand, understands that good people sometimes do bad things and deserve mercy. Daenerys sides with Jorah and sends Daario to offer the Yunkish masters a choice of living in her new world or dying in their old one.

Strife brews internally as well. Jorah confesses that he had originally been spying on Daenerys in exchange for a pardon from Robert Baratheon. Betrayal is Daenerys’s other big trigger and Jorah’s cuts deep. She banishes him from Meereen, showing the mercy that he taught her. Without her chief advisor by her side, Daenerys struggles to keep order in her free cities. Plus her dragons have started killing people. In fact, Drogon has disappeared completely. Daenerys had no choice but to cage Viserion and Rhaegal in the catacombs, effectively condemning her children as slaves.

An Eye for an Eye

A pro-slavery terrorist group, the Sons of the Harpy, have risen in Meereen. Daenerys has to decide whether she will allow for real trials or jump straight to execution for the accused. Ser Barristan, her remaining Westerosi advisor, tells her that her father the Mad King really was that: mad with power and violence. His recklessness destroyed their family. Daenerys insists that she is not her father, but Barristan cautions her on the slippery slope of authoritarian justice. She tries to take a more measured approach, but her hand is forced, prompting riots between the former slaves and masters.

At least they’re an aesthetically cool terrorist group? Courtesy of HBO.

Things are marginally better in Yunkai, where the former masters agree to live in a free city but want to reopen the fighting pits where slaves had fought to the death. Daenerys is against it, but Daario sways her, testifying as to the upward mobility and city unity offered by fighting.

The Sons of the Harpy kill Ser Barristan, which we should have seen coming since Daenerys gave him the day off to go have fun. No fun allowed in this world. Daenerys gathers the heads of Meereen’s noble families and lets them meet her dragons, so to speak. Finally getting a lesson in compromise, she agrees to marry one of them to secure her favor with the noblemen and agrees to reopen the fighting pits. 

Daenerys Targaryen, Dragonrider

Daenerys and her new fiancé attend the opening of the pits, much to Daenerys’s horror. She is ready to leave, but one fighter makes such quick work of his opponents that her interest is piqued. Surprise! It’s Jorah. But Daenerys isn’t ready to make nice and sets him back on his way. Double surprise! He brought Tyrion Lannister as a gift.

That’s enough to get her to at least talk to Jorah. Tyrion is Daenerys’s first real connection to the happenings of Westeros. He catches her up on the game of thrones and suggests she build herself a new kingdom in the east, but that isn’t enough for her. She wants to break the Westerosi monarchy once and for all.

Drogon saves the day. Courtesy of HBO.

The Sons of the Harpy attack at the fighting pits and it really feels like the end for Daenerys. But Drogon appears at such an opportune time that it’s almost ridiculous. He scares off the Sons and manages to scorch a few, too. Daenerys climbs aboard his back and flies off into the distance. They eventually land in a large field of grass. Over the hill emerges a Dothraki hoard, encircling the helpless queen. Helpless is perhaps the wrong word: she subtly drops a ring onto the ground, leaving a trail for wherever she may find herself next.

Not a Queen… a Khaleesi?

Daenerys is once again with the Dothraki but this time she is not their Khaleesi. Far from it — she is a prisoner. Daenerys reveals herself as Khal Drogo’s widow, but with that title comes a new kind of captivity. She was forced to live in the temple of widowed Khaleesi, where she was supposed to have gone immediately upon Drogo’s death. Not, you know, go off and try to start a new world order.

At her trial for not joining the temple, she tells the Khals that they aren’t fit to lead the Dothraki. But she is, and she is ready to pick up the torch. They threaten her, but it doesn’t matter because she sets the building on fire with all of them in it. Daenerys emerges, unburnt, the new leader of the Khalasar. It’s like deja vu all over again. Rejuvenated by the drama of it all, Daenerys is ready to focus again on taking the Iron Throne.

The Westerosi Connection

More worlds collided when Yara and Theon Greyjoy arrived to provide ships in return for defeating their uncle Euron. Daenerys agrees if Yara agrees to stop the raids of the mainlands. She says that both their fathers made the world a worse place, but they will make it better. Daenerys breaks up with Daario by telling him he has to stay in Meereen and help establish a democracy, which seems outside his skill set. She’s upset, but only by how easy it was for her to say goodbye to someone who loves her. Way harsh. The ragtag team of misfits sail to Westeros, ready to conquer whatever they may find.

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What did they find, you ask? Well, you can rewatch season seven, of course, or you can tune in to part two of “Daenerys Revisited” to talk all about the return of the Targaryens, some bonkers fan theories, and some good old fashioned incest! Put your tin foil hats on because things are going to get weird.

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