That’s right. After the unsatisfying conclusion to the White Walker threat, episode 4 of the final season of Game of Thrones hurtled Daenerys Targaryen straight towards Mad Queen territory. Sansa plots against her with it in mind. All the Stark children try to convince Jon away from her. Varys turns on her. Tyrion seems to be doing the same. Dany is being set up for a villain turn fulfilling years of theories that she follows in the footsteps of her father, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen.
And it’s complete nonsense. Disgraceful, unearned, incompetent nonsense presented in the most offensive and misogynistic way. This is setting up to possibly be the peak example of Game of Thrones misogyny, and I am furious.
Mad Queen Daenerys is nothing close to a new theory. Many fans of A Song of Ice and Fire have thought this to be a possibility for years. Fans of Game of Thrones haven’t exactly ignored it either. While there’s always debate, often fierce, the concept itself is not exactly offensive to either group. So what’s the issue here, exactly? The way it happens throughout this episode, and how it’s setting up to happen moving forward.
Let’s take a look at what happens to Daenerys throughout the course of this episode. After the Battle of Winterfell, where she lost her closest, longest-serving advisor and much of her army, she wants the North to follow up on Jon’s pledge to help her finish Cersei off and finally take the Iron Throne. They eventually do move south, and along the way she loses yet another of her dragons. During this attack, another of her closest and longest-serving advisors, Missandei, is captured. Missandei is then executed.
Dany is visibly distraught after all this, and after an episode in which she is talked out of simply attacking King’s Landing, people expect her to dismiss previous advice and unleash her fury on Cersei’s forces. She probably will. She’ll unleash the full force of Drogon and what army she has. It will almost certainly involve the deaths of many civilians of King’s Landing.
In the end, we will be left to think that Daenerys is just her father come again. And it will feel like complete crap, because it is.
The majority of this episode was spent painting Dany in an unfavorable light. She was jealous of Jon during the celebration dinner, her plan to attack King’s Landing was (again) painted as unreasonable, and multiple other characters schemed to undermine or outright replace her. It’s clear the narrative wants us to think that Dany is losing her grip and becoming a violent tyrant. They talked about her as if she cares about nothing but the Iron Throne.
I guess we’re just forgetting about the previous episode? You know, the one where she put her ambitions on hold and risked everything to protect an ungrateful North from the White Walkers? Where her forces were put front and center to be slaughtered first and protect everyone else? It’s not like this is anything new, either. If Game of Thrones intended to paint Daenerys Targaryen as heading down a path towards obsessive ambition for the Iron Throne, it has failed miserably.
Ever since her arrival in Westeros, Dany has put her ambitions on hold to try and do the right thing. When Jon Snow came to her about the White Walkers, she had understandable skepticism. Ice zombies? Give me a break, right? But she came around, helped Jon with his incredibly stupid bro trip beyond the Wall, and lost a dragon to save him. In the face of this threat, rather than run back to try and take King’s Landing, she pledged herself to the fight against the White Walkers because it was the right thing to do. When she arrived in Winterfell this season, she took a backseat to Jon and fought for a people who treated her like crap from the second she arrived.
Her reward is a narrative twisting itself into pretzels to try and portray her badly.
Just look at the fact that it’s Varys and Tyrion delivering this “mad” narrative throughout the episode. The two advisors who have consistently given her advice making it harder and harder to win the Iron Throne. Episode 4 wants us to consider that because Daenerys is not listening to these two men, we’re supposed to think she’s losing it.
Let’s just ignore the utter madness of these two characters delivering this narrative for now. Just take a look at the decisions they’ve encouraged since Dany arrived in Westeros in season 7. They have consistently spoken against Dany simply storming King’s Landing. The quickest, easiest way for her to actually win. Where did this advice lead her? To lose the Ironborn. To the Unsullied marching to Casterly Rock for nothing. She has consistently come out worse for listening to these two and their terrible advice. It’s so bad people believed Tyrion was working for Cersei because they couldn’t logically explain his advice otherwise.
Now we’re supposed to believe Daenerys is becoming her father since she won’t listen to these two? They are the voices through which we are exposed to doubts about Dany’s sanity? They are the ones who drive this plot forward? Because of them, tens of thousands have died and will die moving forward that would not have if they did not stand in the way of Dany attacking King’s Landing to begin with.
And now let’s not ignore what these two men have been. Varys is responsible for convincing Aerys Targaryen to open his gates for Tywin’s army, leading to the brutal sack of King’s Landing that all but ended Robert’s Rebellion. He helped engineer the War of the 5 Kings. Tyrion used wildfire on Stannis’s fleet and has treated many people cruelly. These two men are nothing remotely resembling a moral authority. Now they both oppose Dany doing one of the most basic aspects of medieval warfare by conquering an enemy city?
I mean, the stupidity of this exists simply in the fact that Tyrion and Varys suddenly view basic medieval warfare as a bad thing. That’s how far they’re going off the rails to deliver this plot point.
Or look at how they go about making Daenerys isolated and paranoid throughout this episode. She sits alone and unappreciated at the feast. Where was Missandei? Or Grey Worm? Hello? Let’s forget they exist long enough to make her feel bad and jealous. Then Missandei somehow becomes the only person captured off a sunken ship that also included Tyrion and Grey Worm. Just so they can kill her off and make Dany lose more. Rhaegal becomes her second dead dragon through an absolutely absurd ambush by Euron.
It is absolutely nonsensical and aimed at forcing a villain turn on Dany.
And then they find out Jon Snow’s true identity. Here the episode truly reveals the disgusting motivations behind Dany’s villain turn. Here we see a familiar friend of Game of Thrones rearing its ugly head in possibly the most blatant, offensive way yet. That’s right, it’s time to talk about the sexism at the core of pushing Jon Snow to take the throne instead.
Does anyone doubt this? Sexism is the admitted center of Varys’s argument. Jon has a penis and that matters more than any other qualification. Ambition becomes a negative and suddenly it’s a lack of desire for a crown that makes one worthy. This from Varys, who served Robert Baratheon, a man categorically unfit to be a King because of his lack of interest in being one.
Tyrion: I don’t think a cock is a true qualification, as I’m sure you’d agree.
Varys: And he’s the heir to the throne. Yes, because he’s a man—cocks are important, I’m afraid.
But it’s more than that argument, as much as it should stand on its own. It’s the way it is framed to make Daenerys look like an irrational, overly emotional woman lost in her feelings simply for being angry about the losses she has suffered. It’s an argument inherent in the “Jon has a penis” part of the conversation. Westeros will have a problem with this woman who dares to feel real human emotions so we need a man instead.
We’re supposed to view Daenerys Targaryen as suddenly losing control and becoming another mad Targaryen for exactly the same things this show has celebrated in its male characters. It’s openly sexist and misogynistic. Having participated in the fandom conversations about this, it only confirmed it for me. Dany is being viewed as bad for hypocritical reasons.
Presumably, the thing that will make everyone view Dany as having “gone mad” is the burning of King’s Landing. In her anger, she will unleash Drogon and her army to take the city. Civilians will die. Somehow this will be viewed by other characters as the worst thing ever, they will betray her, and she will find out and probably kill more of them. The narrative will tell us Dany is “crazy” for executing whoever she does. Except she’ll end up executing traitors! Let’s say she finds out what Varys and Tyrion are up to. How is she not justified to execute two men openly plotting to replace and possibly kill her?
All throughout this show, we’ve seen characters do awful things in the name of revenge or to end wars. Jon hanged a child who betrayed him and beheaded Janos Slynt for disobeying him. Arya eliminated House Frey and openly threatened to murder and skin her sister. Jaime was willing to trebuchet Edmure Tully’s child. Over and over this show has romanticized revenge and violence and asked the audience to cheer it.
Dany is no different and has done terrible things. She did burn Mirri Maz Duur. She did slaughter Astapor in brutal fashion. The crucifixion of the Meereenese slave masters is pretty messed up. Daenerys Targaryen has an undeniable mean streak that has led her to do brutal things.
Except the narrative has always asked us to cheer for her when she does these things. Asking us to think they were signs of possible madness now simply doesn’t add up.
Viewing this as madness also completely ignores the motivations behind Dany’s actions. Reasons don’t always excuse terrible things but her motivations are part of the larger pattern of who she is and what she wants. Consistently, she fights to help people. Her experiences of abuse by her brother and slavery with the Dothraki drove her to stop it from happening to others. Her entire reason for attacking Slaver’s Bay is because she can’t turn a blind eye to the suffering of those cities. What makes Daenerys a complex, engaging character is the way her motivations are worth cheering but her actions don’t always line up the same way. That’s true of everyone in both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones.
It’s also a complexity increasingly lost as Thrones has progressed.
To portray Daenerys as obsessively desirable for the Iron Throne simply doesn’t line up with her actions. It doesn’t even line up with her actions since arriving in Westeros. Yes, she wants the throne and wants it immediately. What does she actually do, though? She puts it all on hold and risks her ability to defeat Cersei by helping defeat the White Walkers. She even agrees to a plan that basically sacrifices her forces in order to preserve the Northern forces.
It strikes back to the sexism often presented against women in Game of Thrones or A Song of Ice and Fire, where any ambition makes people view them as power hungry beyond reason. Sansa has suffered the exact same accusations in recent seasons, regardless of her actions. How many times was she accused of being power hungry despite repeatedly turning down power offered to her?
Of course, they then made her power hungry this season despite Sansa’s actions.
People cite Dany’s ambition for the throne and her past cruel actions as setup for the Mad Queen. They say these actions hint at what she would eventually become. Yet where are these fans when Tywin is destroying two Houses to the point of infamous songs, or having his armies rape and plunder King’s Landing because of a grudge against Aerys? Tywin is considered a “cool, calm, pragmatic” person for his actions, where Dany is considered overly emotional and on the path to madness.
Of course, the most obvious example of this involves Jon and Daenerys. In both the books and the show, there are obvious parallels between the journeys these two take. It’s the point of the series in a way, the song of Ice and Fire, Dany and Jon and the journeys which lead them to where they are now. They go through similar experiences and create similar loyalties among disparate groups.
Yet one is the selfless, humble person who will make a good king and the other is “going mad.” Jon has ignored his advisors just as often. He’s committed his own cruel acts. He held onto his crown last season just as bitterly as Dany is now. She was the one who committed to him before he bent the knee to her, even if the narrative has now completely retconned this to make him look better. Even Sansa, who is now the “smartest person” on the show, is pushing Jon as the best candidate. Maybe you can rationalize it as her using Jon for her own motives, but it’s still part of the episode’s pattern of pushing Jon as the better candidate.
It’s a classic case of desperately trying to find fault in an ambitious, driven woman who doesn’t bury her thoughts and emotions deep, and the show is playing it far too straight. There is room for the characters to portray the sexism of Westeros society without the narrative backing them up. That’s not what’s happening here. Game of Thrones has consistently portrayed Jon as its good guy. This season, as previously mentioned, has outright rewritten the events of the season 7 finale in order to make him look better and Daenerys look worse. Tyrion has always been a “voice of reason” on the show and he is turning against her.
Just look at the conversation between Varys and Tyrion. They basically discuss how to tame Daenerys. Varys dismisses the idea of a marriage between Jon and Dany because Dany is “too strong” for him. THAT IS SEXIST. It would be one thing if the show called Varys out on this but Tyrion does not.
Game of Thrones isn’t telling its audience that the characters are being sexist and we should question the idea of Dany being mad. It’s telling its story so that we also think Dany is going mad. And she almost certainly will.
This is really becoming the peak of the sexism that has run rampant throughout Game of Thrones from the beginning and only gotten worse over time. As seen in our rewatch of the series, David Benioff and Dan Weiss have made questionable decisions regarding its female characters and their adaptative choices from the very beginning, and only gotten worse as time went on. Kylie and Julia have probably written somewhere in the range of 500,000 words exploring the sexist choices pervasive throughout the show. In many ways, having Daenerys turn mad now, and especially the way it’s happening, seems inevitable. It is the end result of a show that has always made this type of choice with women.
Over and over we see how Game of Thrones portrays tough, cold, stoic, masculine women as the good women, the one we should listen to. Meanwhile the women who have open ambition and emotion (like Cersei) are the bad guys. Dany has been the show’s faux-feminist mascot for years by being the stoic, stone-faced YAAAAAS QUEEN. And now that she’s losing people and showing more emotion, it’s how we “know” she’s going mad. It’s the pattern, and it’s one Dany’s villain turn fits perfectly. Dany’s actions weren’t considered a bad thing until now, when they want to turn her. Until now we were supposed to celebrate it.
And to be clear, I don’t believe Mad Dany is impossible in Martin’s books. Not at all. This could very well be an endpoint given to Benioff and Weiss that they are fulfilling. One thing I am sure of is that Martin has no plans to execute a Mad Dany arc this way.
Game of Thrones has tossed aside everything that defines Daenerys Targaryen in service of a poorly conceived madness plot with no real buildup, directly contradicting events not just from the past, but from this very season. They’ve contorted the narrative to the point that critics and fans are finally recognizing the absurdity of it all. And at its heart is the same sexism we’ve seen for years.
I don’t know why I’m surprised.