Game of Thrones did Daenerys Targaryen wrong.
While Dany's hunger for power was well documented throughout HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's novels, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss failed to provide a satisfying explanation for her sudden turn to madness in the final episodes of Season 8. With Martin sitting down to (hopefully) finish writing The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in A Song of Ice and Fire series, the novel may fill in the gaps of Daenerys’ storyline, by giving readers greater insight into her inner world in moments of introspection.
From the very first season of Game of Thrones, the Mother of Dragons had one goal: To return to the Seven Kingdoms and reclaim the throne she believed to be rightfully hers, after her father's death at the hands of Jaime Lannister and Robert Baratheon. Dany transformed from an abused underdog to a powerful leader and conqueror in the span of a few seasons.
“A queen I am, but my throne is made of burned bones” — Daenerys, A Dance with Dragons
In Season 8, her conviction was more powerful than ever. After learning that Jon Snow — as the son of Lyanna Stark and her older brother Rhaegar Targaryen — also had a claim to the throne, Dany’s paranoia grew by the day. She resented that the people of Winterfell saw her as an outsider, choosing to follow her only out of loyalty to Jon Snow. The people of Westeros questioned her claim to the Iron Throne in a way she hadn't predicted.
Even though her victory was already assured, Dany made the surprising decision to burn King’s Landing to the ground in "The Bells," the second-to-last episode of Season 8. The choice was puzzling and hastily executed. Game of Thrones doubled down on that narrative in the series finale, when Jon Snow murdered his former lover and aunt as she tenderly embraced him.
Emilia Clarke, who played Dany, recently commented that Jon "got away with murder" in a candid interview about her reaction to the divisive final season. Dany's transformation into Mad Queen left many fans dissatisfied, and understandably so.
Daenerys' transformation has a foundation in the books
However, there’s still hope that her storyline will be given its due in the pages of The Winds of Winter. Martin has already been crafting Dany’s transformation toward madness in the books, hinting from the start that her path to the throne would be mired by moments of instability, violence, and anger towards anyone who dared defy her.
In A Clash of Kings, Dany obsesses over “The Prince That Was Promised” prophecy, which suggested that an "Aegon Targaryen" would be the next ruler of Westeros. There are multiple characters that go by this name in Martin's books – living, dead, and likely impostors like Young Griff. Jon Snow's parentage has yet to be revealed in Martin's novels, and it's possible (if unlikely) Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring will depart from the TV show's storyline.
"You are the blood of the dragon. .... Dragons plant no trees."
While inside the House of the Undying, Dany also learned that she would endure three treasons – for gold, blood, and love – leading her to become paranoid. Consumed with these premonitions, Dany’s mental state slowly began to deteriorate.
The entirety of A Dance with Dragons explored Dany’s internal struggle, tempering her aggressive nature with more rational inclinations of maintaining peace in Mereen. While she was eager to prove herself a merciful ruler, she was miserable keeping up appearances when she’d much rather flay them all. She is also paranoid and distrustful, worried that those closest to her would betray her at every turn.
Towards the end of the book, Daenerys is lost in the wild and starts to hallucinate and hear the voice of her long-dead brother Viserys. In Chapter 11 of A Dance with Dragons, she wonders how she can hold onto Mereen without her dragons, without violence, conceding that she is a monster, just like her “children.”
“Mother of dragons, Daenerys thought. Mother of monsters. What have I unleashed upon the world? A queen I am, but my throne is made of burned bones, and it rests on quicksand. Without dragons, how could she hope to hold Meereen, much less win back Westeros? I am the blood of the dragon, she thought. If they are monsters, so am I.”
Dany's turn to madness may be complete in The Winds of Winter
How does this all factor into The Winds of Winter? We know that the sixth book will open with the Battle of Slaver’s Bay. In Game of Thrones, the battle ends well for Dany, but that may not be the case in The Winds of Winter, as the Mother of Dragons ruthless tendencies have been more clearly delineated in the novels. She’s cunning and willing to do whatever it takes to maintain her authority, even if that means the murder of innocents.
Her stay in Mereen is causing her to lose her grip on authority, so it’s possible that she will unleash her violent tendencies during the Battle of Slaver’s Bay. Dany’s realization that peace in Mereen won’t work for her is a significant turning point in A Dance with Dragons. If nothing else, her internal struggles have become increasingly erratic as she carries on with her internal war.
"No. You are the blood of the dragon. .... Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words. “Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass."
The Winds of Winter will likely offer further exploration of Dany’s state of mind and wilting belief in peace as an option. Should Dany decide that violence is the ultimate key to power, she may reason that she can only rely on herself and her dragons moving forward. Isolated, lonely, and paranoid, an attack on King’s Landing in The Winds of Winter would make more sense in this context, with Mereen playing a pivotal role in foreshadowing Dany’s next steps.
Whichever way the pendulum swings, let's hope that Dany's transformation into the Mad Queen will be a lot more satisfying in Martin's next book than it was on Game of Thrones.
The Winds of Winter does not yet have a release date.