For the past seven seasons of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has been kicking butt and taking names. A whole lot of names. She’s the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains, the Mother of Dragons—and that’s before all the titles she seeks to inherit by ascending the Iron Throne of Westeros.
Every one of those titles is a chapter in a story of self-discovery, as she tells Jon Snow: “Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods, not in myths and legends. In myself. In Daenerys Targaryen.”
Now, with the Great War at her doorstep, Daenerys will need that faith in herself more than ever. With her two remaining dragons (RIP, Viserion), Dany wields the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of the living, and she’ll need to use them wisely. After all, fire cannot kill a dragon...but ice can. For now, let’s take a look back at how Daenerys transformed from Little Orphan Dany to The Dragon Queen.
Khal Me By Your Name
Daenerys is the only daughter of the “Mad King” Aerys II Targaryen, born on Dragonstone during the worst storm in living memory. This lead to the first of her titles: Stormborn. As a baby, she was smuggled to Essos with older brother Viserys after her parents and brother Rhaegar died during Robert’s Rebellion. Daenerys grew up timid as a result of Viserys’s cruelty, and by the time he negotiates her marriage to the fearsome Khal Drogo, she’s meek as a kitten.
But that changes soon enough. Daenerys blossoms in her marriage, unexpectedly falling in love with Drogo and growing more empowered by the day. She's also growing larger by the day, pregnant with the Khal's son. Drogo resolves to cross the Narrow Sea, as no khal has ever done, so that the child may one day sit the Iron Throne. The assembled Dothraki believe the boy will fulfill a prophecy of a fearsome khal that leads their people to world domination, known as "The Stallion Who Mounts the World." Dany, for her part, names him Rhaego to honor her fallen brother.
As for her less illustrious brother, Viserys is less excited about the prospect. When he comes to demand the crown he was promised in exchange for her hand, Drogo gives it to him—in the form of a cauldron of molten gold poured over his head. Daenerys looks on, dispassionate. “He was no dragon,” she says. “Fire cannot kill a dragon.”
Sadly, Drogo and Dany’s happiness doesn’t last. Drogo sustains an injury—it’s just a flesh wound—that begins to fester. Soon he’s at death’s door, and a pregnant Dany turns to a captive witch in desperation. Her blood magic works, but there’s a catch: the child arrives stillborn and deformed; meanwhile, Drogo lives, but in a permanent vegetative state. Only death can pay for life.
Dany’s devastated and alone in a desert wasteland. The only logical move is to smother Drogo herself, tie the witch who betrayed her to a stake, and then climb on his burning funeral pyre with her dragon eggs. In the morning, she emerges with three baby dragons clinging to her naked body. Congratulations, it’s a girl! Or a boy. Nobody really knows how that whole thing works.
The Secret Life of the Reptilian Teenager
Daenerys rounds up her baby dragons and a handful of believers and begins her conquest in earnest. Watch out Westeros: she’s coming for the throne. But first, she goes...east. Way east.
First stop is Qarth, a thriving trade hub home to merchants, warlocks, assassins, you name it. Dany gets a proposal from a rich dignitary named Xaro Xhoan Daxos, who offers to fund her attempt to retake the throne. When she comes to her trusted advisor Ser Jorah Mormont with the news, he’s skeptical. And jealous. He reveals the depth of his feelings for her, and Dany’s like, “...k.” Don’t be bummed about the friendzone, Jorah. Consider yourself lucky she gives you the time of day!
Ultimately Dany decides not to marry Xaro, which proves wise when she discovers he’s had a hand in stealing her dragons and plotting a coup with the wizard Pyat Pree. She visits the House of the Undying to get them back and finds herself in a vision of her late husband and child. (And, curiously, of snow falling over the Iron Throne in a ruined Red Keep.) Shaking off the temptation to linger, Dany walks out, reclaims her dragons, and melts off her chains, leaving an extra crispy Pyat Pree in the House of the (now) Straight-Up Dead.
Ships and gold in hand, Dany makes her way to Astapor in Slaver’s Bay, where she seeks to purchase an army of elite slave soldiers called the Unsullied from a man named Kraznys mo Nakloz. Kraznys refuses to sell, but Daenerys shrewdly offers to trade Drogon for the entire army. Kraznys agrees to the trade, but when the moment comes, Dany reveals her hand. “A dragon is not a slave,” she tells Kraznys, as he struggles with Drogon’s chain. Then she orders the Unsullied to kill all the slave masters and Drogon to roast Kraznys alive. Afterward, Daenerys releases the Unsullied, and they choose to fight for her as free men.
At this point, it seems like Dany has assembled a dream team. She’s got her army; she’s got her dragons; she’s got a crack squad of captains, including new additions Ser Barristan Selmy, who was rudely dismissed from Joffrey Baratheon’s service, and sexy sellsword Daario Naharis. She’s even got a new translator/BFF, Missandei. Not bad for a single mom.
But while Daenerys treks from one ancient city to another, freeing slaves and dispensing injustice, her dragons are growing up...and getting into trouble. First they’re snapping at her, then they’re staying out late roasting herds of goats. Typical teenage angst. But when Daenerys finds out one of them killed a small child, she has to act. She grounds Rhaegal and Viserion beneath the Great Pyramid of Meereen, and listens for word of Drogon, who never came home. Meanwhile, she sets up shop in the pyramid, where she’s decided to stay and learn how to rule. A mhysa’s work is never done.
She’s got a lot to learn. “You can live in my new world,” she tells the slave masters, “or you can die in your old one.” They don’t take it very well. Soon, an insurgent group of former slavers called the Sons of the Harpy starts terrorizing the city in retaliation. Dany’s tempted to answer with Fire and Blood, but Ser Barristan counsels her against it. That was the way her father earned his nickname and a sword in the back. Dany reluctantly assimilates into Meereenese culture a bit, agreeing to marry the scion of a highborn local family, and reopening the city’s fighting pits, though she personally finds them barbaric.
At a preliminary fighting tournament heading into the Great Games, Dany sees a familiar face—but not a welcome one. The winner in the pit is Ser Jorah, who she had angrily dismissed for spying on her to Robert Baratheon. His betrayal is still fresh, but he’s brought a gift to try to smooth things over: Tyrion Lannister. Initially, Dany considers killing them both, but Tyrion wins her over. Spare Jorah, he says, but send him away again, and in the meantime, let a Lannister advise you how best to defeat Lannisters.
Reopening the pits isn’t enough to placate the Sons of the Harpy, who storm the arena. Dany and crew are surrounded, and all seems lost, when a Drogon ex machina appears to roast the would-be assassins and spirit her away. Dany is finally picking up the family mantle of Dragon Rider.
They land somewhere in the neighboring grasslands, where Dany wanders off in search of food and is taken captive by her old pals, the Dothraki. They take her back to the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen to live out her days with the other widowed khaleesis. It’s like they’ve never heard of her before. Nobody puts Dany in the crone home.
Dany riles the assembled khals, then sets the temple on fire and walks out unburnt again. None of them were fit to lead the Dothraki, so she’ll do it herself. She returns, khalassar in tow, to Meereen, which has since been overrun with former slave masters intent on taking back what was theirs. Once again: have you heard of Daenerys Targaryen? She frees her chained-up dragons, takes out the masters and Sons of the Harpy, names Tyrion Hand of the Queen, and makes sail for Westeros. Cue epic theme music.
Mhysa Goin’ Home
Team Targaryen lands at her ancestral home of Dragonstone and gets to strategizin’. The plan is to use Yara Greyjoy’s fleet to bring Ellaria Sand’s from Dorne and combine it with the Tyrell forces from Highgarden. A quick rendezvous on Dragonstone, and then it’s on to King’s Landing with a rainbow coalition of 100,000-plus Dothraki screamers, Unsullied, Ironborn, Dornishmen, and Westerosi. And dragons.
But this is Thrones, where nothing is that simple. The Lannisters take Highgarden and kill Olenna Tyrell. Yara’s uncle Euron destroys Yara’s fleet, taking her and Ellaria prisoner. Suddenly Dany’s list of Westerosi allies is back to zero. So when Jon Snow shows up asking for help against the Night King, she makes it contingent on his allegiance. Bend the knee, goes the refrain. On Tyrion’s advice, she lets Jon harvest the dragonglass sitting below her fortress, and eventually, in a torch-lit rendez-vous complete with ancient cave paintings of the White Walkers, Jon convinces her that the Army of the Dead is real.
Jon’s starting to prove himself in other ways, too. Though their relationship gets off to a rocky start—again, can he just get over himself and bend the knee?—he and Dany develop a mutual respect. When he meets her dragons, she's surprised at how much they seem to like Jon and how gentle (or rather, not deathly terrified) he is with them in return. Handsome AND good with kids? In the Thrones world, it’s a rarity.
Still, the Great Game, not the Great War, is Dany’s primary concern. As the Lannister army is on the road home with their looted Tyrell gold, Daenerys swoops in on her dragon to dole out some retributive firepower, and the Dothraki cut through the enemy line like a hot arakh through butter. It’s an effective show of force that sends Jaime Lannister back to King’s Landing with a simple message: Cersei, we’re gonna lose.
Tyrion suggests everyone hit pause on the Iron Throne situation, and arranges a meeting with Cersei to call for a truce. But for her to take a detente seriously, they’ll need evidence that the Army of the Dead is real. Though Dany all but begs him to stick around, Jon takes a group north of The Wall to retrieve a wight for Cersei’s inspection.
That goes as well as you’d imagine. Jon’s party ends up surrounded by The Night King, his army, and a frozen lake. Daenerys and her dragons arrive just in time to save them, but, in the fray, the Night King impales Viserion with an ice spear, sending the dragon crashing to its (temporary) death.
Viserion’s death is a hugely emotional moment for Dany (following Rhaego's death in season one, she believes the dragons to be the only children she’ll ever have), and bonded by tragedy, she and Jon really fall for each other. Jon is a man who would, and did, give his life for a righteous cause, but it’s his compassion at her personal loss that really touches Dany’s heart. For his part, Jon sees the vulnerability beneath her strength and understands that she, too, is a leader who won’t shy away from taking the more difficult path, even when the price is high. He finally agrees to bend the knee, and later, like the true Targaryens they don’t realize they both are, Jon and Dany make incestuous love.
As the Great War approaches, the Night King is coming with a mount of his own: Undead Viserion. This won’t be a happy reunion with Daenerys and the other kids. Viserion’s death marks Dany’s first big, personal loss on her quest for the Iron Throne. True, she’s loved and lost, suffering the death of Khal Drogo and her stillborn son, Rhaego, but she didn’t knowingly risk their lives. Will seeing Viserion’s reanimated corpse unnerve her? Will the Mother of Dragons be unwilling to risk the remaining two?
And then there’s her new boyfriend. The truth of Jon Snow’s Targaryen blood will come out soon enough. Beyond the ick factor, Daenerys suddenly doesn’t have the best claim to the Iron Throne in her own family. How will that knowledge affect their budding romance and recently-sworn oaths? Will they even survive long enough to find out? Remember, all men must die. But also remember what Daenerys tells Missandei in Astapor: “We are not men.”