6:45am PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones' Final Path: The Journey of Daenerys Targaryen
Welcome to Final Path, a new regular feature leading up to the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones. In every Final Path, The Hollywood Reporter's resident Westeros expert Josh Wigler will offer a character-by-character deep dive of their journey through seven seasons as well as what can be expected in the upcoming eighth and final season. Up next: Daenerys Targaryen.
In "The Red Woman," the sixth season premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) encountered a trash-talking Dothraki named Khal Moro (Joe Naufahu). "You are nobody," he told her at the time, snarling out the insults. "The millionth of your name. Queen of nothing."
Clearly, this is a man who could have benefited from an HBO Go account, or at least a summary of the previous five seasons of Thrones. Three episodes following his vicious insults, Khal Moro was dead and gone, a pile of ashes as the so-called Queen of Nothing marched onward into the future, a new family of Dothraki loyalists at her side. Such has been the journey of Daenerys, constantly underestimated throughout her life, let alone throughout Thrones. Those who misjudge her do so at their own peril, and often buy their own fiery demise along with the miscalculations.
Will the trend continue into the final season of Game of Thrones, launching April 14, as Daenerys now fights her greatest war yet on two fronts? Not only does she still have her eye on the Iron Throne of Westeros, she's also now contending with the threat of the Night King and his dreaded Army of the Dead, last seen obliterating the Wall and marching into the Seven Kingdoms. The stakes are as high for Dany as they have ever been … and in that spirit, with our latest walk down the Final Path, let's take one last look back at the Targaryen queen's trials and tribulations along the way, as well as the ones she's most likely to face in the remaining six episodes.
Name and Titles: Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, First of Her Name, Rightful Heir to the Iron Throne, the rightful Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt and the Breaker of Chains. (At least, that's the most recent iteration, as uttered by Missandei in season seven.)
First Appearance: "Winter Is Coming," the first episode of the series. We meet Daenerys as she and her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) are in the city of Pentos, the elder (and crueler) of the two Targaryen siblings conspiring his glorious return to Westeros. The scheme: marry Dany off to Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) and earn an army with which to take back the Seven Kingdoms. Anyone trying to force Daenerys into marriage against her will now better be immune to dragon fire.
Last Appearance: "The Dragon and the Wolf," the season seven finale, in which Daenerys' story for the time being ends in the intimate company of Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Their current happiness is the likely source of future awkwardness, as explained a few sections on from now. Keep going!
Best Friends: Daenerys has an entourage that would make Vinnie Chase blush, and we're only talking about the ones who are currently alive: Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Dany's off-again, on-again captain of the Queensguard; Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Dany's trusted adviser and veritable spokesperson; Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), the military-minded leader of the Unsullied; Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Hand of the Queen; and the rather significant detail of two dragons named Drogon and Rhaegal.
Worst Enemies: The Night King, commanding the Army of the Dead north of the Wall. While he only landed on Daenerys' radar in season seven, he did so with massive impact, plucking poor Viserion the dragon out of the sky with a well-aimed ice lance. What's more, Viserion is back in the game, raised from the dead as the Night King's new mount; a climactic battle between Dany and one of her very own "children" is certainly in the cards for the final season. As for other enemies? The list is large, including but not limited to current Iron Throne holder Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), the Masters of Slaver's Bay (currently being kept in their place after their failed attempt to retake Meereen) and the blue-tongued Warlocks from the House of the Undying (easily one of the greatest disparities in quality between the A Song of Ice and Fire books and the TV adaptation).
Best Kill: There are many, but the one that comes most readily to mind calls back to season three's fourth installment, "And Now His Watch Is Ended." In the episode, Dany and her slowly growing crew increase the size of their army with a huge power play, as she cleverly recruits the Unsullied and turns a whole mass of dragon fire against the masters of Astapor in one fiery swoop. It's Daenerys' bounce-back moment after a wobbly second season storyline, one that still stands out among the great Game of Thrones sequences, boiling down to one High Valyrian word: "Dracarys."
Worst Wound: The Breaker of Chains has sustained wounds both physical and existential along the way, including the loss of her unborn child thanks to the blood magic of Mirri Maz Duur (Mia Soteriou), which also led to the brain death of husband Khal Drogo, which also led to the fiery funeral in which the witch was burned and Dany emerged unscathed — pain and power once again proving themselves as familiar bedfellows. Most recently, Daenerys suffered the heartbreaking loss of her dragon Viserion, watching the creature fall from the sky as easily as Orson Lannister squashes a beetle. The pain once again leads to power, for now in the form of the White Walker army having a dragon on their side, but ultimately in providing Daenerys with enough inspiration to take on the White Walker threat — a choice guaranteed to play an instrumental role in humanity's success in the final season.
Critical Moments: Daenerys hatching the dragon eggs during Khal Drogo's funeral, signaling the return of magic to Westeros, Essos and beyond; Dany's subsequent moves to increase her army, first in recruiting the Unsullied at Astapor, the Second Sons at Yunkai, all the trouble she brought in Meereen (eh, the less said about that whole debacle, the better), the greater Dothraki forces she wooed during her return to the road in season six, all the way until she and the Greyjoy army sailed together back to the Seven Kingdoms. The Queen's entire run through Westeros thus far has been an event, between meeting Jon Snow and embarking on an icy-fiery fling, to throwing down against the Lannisters after years of revenge fantasies, to finally glimpsing the danger north of the Wall that's set to dominate the final season of the series.
Unresolved Mystery: The Dragon Queen's relationship with the King in the North is not just the stuff of Westeros' most widely circulated gossip blogs, but also one with huge impact on the story for the throne. We know something Dany and Jon do not: Jon is secretly the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany's long dead brother, which means Daenerys is Jon Snow's aunt. How the two of them react to this news, assuming they get the chance to react to it at all, is one of the big questions heading into the final season. As mentioned in the inaugural Final Path column, I'm predicting Jon Snow won't survive the final season. If he dies and Dany lives, she might not find out about their true relation until after his death. If he does survive, or if the two of them find out about the news early enough in the season, it could be a huge source of contention, given Jon's strong claim to the throne — a throne he does not care much about at all in the face of the White Walkers, but one that represents so much to Daenerys.
Final Prediction: Long ago, when she first met Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys outlined her plan for how to rule over Westeros: "Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, and then that one's on top, and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground … I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."
It's a beautiful dream, as Tyrion pointed out then, but is it one that's likely to transpire in the final accounting of Thrones? More so than virtually any other character, Daenerys Targaryen's march toward the Iron Throne has been a defining characteristic of her story, save for maybe Cersei. The version of Thrones that ends with Cersei Lannister's regime still intact is pretty hard to see; the one in which Dany wins the day and ushers in a new dawn over the Seven Kingdoms, much easier indeed.
Then again, "Game of Thrones" and "easy" aren't the tightest of allies. Many things stand between Daenerys and victory: Jon Snow's claim to the Throne (though perhaps an arrangement could be easy enough to work out), Cersei's murderous ambitions toward the Dragon Queen and the potential fallout from the war against the Night King. Indeed, Daenerys herself may not even survive the events of Game of Thrones. The Targaryen line could very easily die with her, if she doesn't make it out of the final battle with the Night King alive.
There are two strong possibilities I could see for Dany's final path. First: She dies before she gets a chance to sit upon the throne, sacrificing herself for the greater good of Westeros, not unlike what I've predicted for the way in which Jon's story could end. Much as Jon's tenure as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch ended poorly, Daenerys' time in Meereen was a similarly bumpy ride; she and Jon are both best as wartime rulers, but test worse in times where peace is needed. For much of her life and certainly through most of Thrones, Daenerys has looked at the Iron Throne as her final destination, her birthright. Could it be that her destiny instead is to save the strange land she believes she is owed by rights, rather than rule over it — even at the cost of her own life?
Behind door number two, there's the relatively neat version in which Daenerys successfully "breaks the wheel," rules over Westeros, and divides the land and governing responsibilities in new ways that work better than what's come before. Perhaps Dany's story could end much as it began, with yet another wedding, a happier affair this time, though also bittersweet in its own right. Since we're predicting Jon Snow's death, how about this: Dany winds up marrying Gendry (Joe Dempsie), the bastard son of the late Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), a power move that ends the painful rivalry between Houses Targaryen and Baratheon once and for all (or at least for now). Certainly, it would not be Dany's first time proposing marriage to someone for political reasons (see: season five, in which she tried to unify Meereen by popping the question to former slaver Hizdahr zo Loraq), and she could do much worse than ending her days with someone as decent as Gendry, fast on his feet if slow in his wits.
There's a larger image fueling both of those visions, tying back to another vision entirely, first seen in season two: Daenerys in the House of the Undying, walking through an illusory version of the Red Keep of King's Landing, in which snow falls through gaping holes in the throne room's roof. Is this a sign that Daenerys needs to put it all on the line in order to defeat the Night King, losing her own life in the process? Is it a sign that she will one day reign over Westeros, albeit a broken version of the land — broken in ways she couldn't predict? Just a few more weeks until the answer, like they say in Dothraki, "is known."
Last Hope: For Daenerys to add another friend to her ever-growing list: Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). The first official footage from the final season confirms the two women will meet in the courtyard of Winterfell, and there's already some concern online about a budding rivalry. Please — please — no. We will get to Sansa soon enough here in Final Path, and to tie one of our predictions for her to this last hope for Daenerys, it's this: Dany walks through door number two, becomes Queen of Westeros, and honors Jon Snow by walking back his pledge of allegiance, granting the North the independence they fought so hard for, and paving the way for Sansa to the ship. Sansa Stark, Queen in the North? Now that's a Game of Thrones successor show.
Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage. Game of Thrones returns April 14 on HBO.