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Welcome to The Hollywood Reporter’s “Everything to Know” series. Starting with Game of Thrones, THR’s Westeros guru Josh Wigler will offer an in-depth guide about, well, everything there is to know about one particular topic within the complex universe.
Game of Thrones exists in a dense world filled with oddly named cities and characters, but if there’s one word that even the most casual fan can recognize immediately, it’s this: “khaleesi,” best when said using your finest Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) impression.
It’s a title seen all throughout Dothraki culture, but for our purposes, we tend to associate the term “khaleesi” with one specific individual: Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, Mother of Dragons, so on and such. Seriously, the list of titles and nicknames associated with Emilia Clarke’s cunning character is virtually endless, as outlined in our Everything to Know video.
How did Daenerys wind up with so many honorifics? Some were earned with fire, others with blood — but all of them starting before her birth. Long before the start of Game of Thrones, Westeros was ruled by House Targaryen, a powerful dynasty with ancient roots in Old Valyria, a long lost civilization known for its kinship with dragons. Three of those very same fire-breathing beasts, as well as three members of the Targaryen line, conquered and unified the Seven Kingdoms under their rule almost three full centuries ago — and then, in an instant, their reign was over.
OK, the fall of House Targaryen wasn’t quite so swift; indeed, it was excruciatingly slow for folks like Rickard and Brandon Stark, brutally slain at the behest of the last reigning Targaryen ruler, the Mad King Aerys. Their deaths, along with Rhaegar Targaryen famously kidnapping Lyanna Stark (though recent developments raise questions about the “kidnapping” charges), ignited Robert’s Rebellion, a war that saw Houses Stark, Baratheon, Lannister and more taking down the Targaryen regime. By the time it was finished, there were no Targaryens left — except for the Mad King’s two surviving children, the petulant Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and his younger sister Dany (if we may be so informal), living their whole lives in exile across the Narrow Sea.
When Game of Thrones begins, Viserys wants to build an army to win back his birthright back home in Westeros. To that end, he forces Dany to marry the savage warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) in order to forge an alliance with the Dothraki people. It works, but not in the way Viserys intends: Dany becomes enmeshed with Dothraki culture, to her own surprise, not to mention her brother’s shock. Frustrated that he’s no longer in control of the situation, Viserys makes a desperate attempt to force the Dothraki into setting out for Westeros. Instead, Khal Drogo brutally murders the wicked would-be king, pouring molten metal over his head. Not only is Dany not bothered by this, she actually sends her brother off with one of the most stone-cold one-liners of the series: “He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.”
After her brother’s death, Dany appears poised to relax into her new life as a khaleesi, until tragedy strikes: Drogo dies due to complications of an injury, and his unborn child with Daenerys dies as well — all thanks to the blood magic of a vengeful witch. Daenerys responds as a true Dothraki would: by savagely killing the witch, burning her in the midst of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre. Dany steps into the flames as well, almost without explanation … and there’s an equal number of answers (see: few to none) when Dany emerges from the pyre the next morning, completely unburned. (Later developments in the series confirm that Dany is fire-proof, yet another reason why she’s a force to be reckoned with.) What’s more, she’s the proud new owner of three baby dragons, the first of their kind in years and years, since before even the Mad King’s reign.
With her dragons in tow, Daenerys embarks on an adventure across Essos, traveling through cities like Qarth, Astapor and Yunkai, burning entire armies of enemies in the process. She forges alliances of her own as well, with the elite soldiers known as the Unsullied, with the mercenaries known as the Second Sons, and even with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who becomes one of Dany’s most trusted advisors in the later seasons of Thrones. There are highs and lows during the Mother of Dragons’ campaign through the continent, liberating slaves at the expense of war, and even squaring off against a particularly nasty group of Dothraki warriors. But by the end of season six, Dany has left Meereen behind in more than capable hands, with her sights finally set on the same prize her late brother craved so desperately: the Iron Throne.
Of course, even with an astonishing number of allies (not to mention three rapidly growing adolescent dragons) on her side, Daenerys has her work cut out for her as she makes her move on Westeros. The Mad King is dead, but a mad queen now rules at the heart of King’s Landing: Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), bereaved and broken, with a whole lot of wildfire at her disposal. We’re guaranteed to see some fireworks when the Targaryen and Lannister forces come to blows.
But even more pressing is the King in the North, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) — or should we say, Jon Targaryen? The season six finale finally confirmed the longstanding fan rumor that Jon is the secret son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, which means he might boast his own claim for the Iron Throne. Expect some heat when these two finally meet in season seven, if only because we’ll finally learn what it sounds like when Jon Snow utters the word “khaleesi.”
Check in with THR.com/GameOfThrones for everything else you need to know about the show, and keep the conversation going with me on Twitter @roundhoward. We’ll return in two weeks with a closer look at another corner of the world of ice and fire. In the meantime, check out our previous “Everything to Know” Game of Thrones coverage:
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