I was bitterly disappointed with the end of the Night King’s story, but I took a moment to sit back on Daenerys’ turn to the crazy and found that actually… it makes absolute sense, and should have surprised no one. It wasn’t a flawless execution, that’s for sure, I think we’d have all liked more time appreciating the Mad Queen’s development, but there’s a solid foundation for everything that happened in the climactic battle of the series.
Here I want to expand upon what Tyrion said: “Everywhere she goes evil men die, and we cheer her for it, and she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good, and right.”
Let’s take a look at the victories of the Mother of Dragons:
By Fire Be Purged
She starts her saga by taming a barbarian husband, and turning his passion in her favour, and watches with cold eyes as he slays her cruel brother with molten gold. She burns the witch who killed that barbarian and joined her in the flame to watch her scream. She burned a warlock alive, shut a man into a cold, dark, vault to let him starve to death. She has crucified, immolated, and generally slaughtered her way through a continent of evil people and overturned the balance of power, and everywhere she has gone she has found worship as a hero.
And yet where she could have stayed and ruled Slavers Bay, and even brought the whole of northern Essos to heel, and forged a nation of freedom and equality, enforced with the terror of burning retribution against all who would oppose her, she stayed fixated on the Iron Throne, in a nation she barely knows, dimly remembers, and where her family name is cursed and reviled. He need for conquest has been undermined in the past, as the slavers retook the cities she abandoned, taking her army and her dragons with her as she forged heedlessly on.
A better ruler would have stopped, shored up her power in each conquered realm before moving ever onwards, but her trusted advisers are always brought along for a front row seat rather than left to anchor the queen’s rule. Daenerys has shown that despite her grace in the moment, she lacks the foresight to be a truly wise ruler. She only cries out for more. An army and a fleet to take back a nation that could and would never be hers.
Take What Is Mine
Two unpleasant truths Daeny has just been confronted with:
First, Westeros is a far more ambiguous place, with more grey morality and shifting loyalty. She won’t find the devotion of slaves, but the scrutiny of free people who can make their own decisions and can choose in what and whom to believe.
Second, her nephew/lover has a more legitimate claim to the throne that she has fought and killed for than she does, than her brother did, and the last time someone was between her and the highest seat of Westeros she watched him die… and Viserys was a terrible man. Jon Snow, Egon Targeryon, is not. He’s kind hearted, refuses leadership and yet takes to the role perfectly, he’s a well respected warrior and leader, has brokered peace wherever he goes, and commands the unwavering loyalty of everyone’s life he touches. Even Alliser Thorn respected Snow despite the hatred they had for one another.
With her entire world-view shattered, and the possibility that her entire conquest to date has been for nothing, it’s little wonder that she’d be… how best to describe her mental state? Nothing is certain for her anymore, the rug has been pulled from under her and there is a deep cavern beneath. But there is a bad person, and bad people die in fire, that is what she knows, that’s the anchor she can cling to, so Cersei and everyone under her must burn for her people to be free, and for the throne to be hers.
A lot of people saw Daenerys as a hero, characters and viewers alike, and a lot were unsatisfied with the sudden apocalyptic turn she took. But she is that kind of leader, charismatic, zealous, and single-minded. The great speech she gave at the top of the steps to the Red Keep painted her as a dictator, but she’s given that kind of speech before from the foot of walls as cruel men looked down, and walking among soldiers she has just freed, and stood before men who eye her as a slab of meat. She isn’t nice, but she is strong, and she speaks so eloquently, and says the words we want to hear.
Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targeryen, Second of her name, Lady of Dragonstone, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, the First Men, and Mereen, Conqueror of Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, and the Breaker of Chains. She is the tyrant you should fear the most, who has built around her a cult of personality and fanatical worship, who is willing to do terrible things in the name of what she saw as “right”. We’ve seen that kind of leader before. What made you think she’d be any better?