I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a thing I don’t want to think about: the life expectancy of Daenerys Targaryen. Game of Thrones is a couple weeks away from the beginning of Season 8 and less than two months thereafter from reaching a conclusion to its story. Only then will we know for sure who lives, who dies and who sits on the Iron Throne, if there still is an Iron Throne on which to sit, in the end. I’d like it to be Daenerys Targaryen.
I’m under no such allusion, though, that this is the way the story is going; even if it were, there’s no self-imposed precedent for Game of Thrones to abide by. The show threw precedent out the window when it beheaded its main character, the good Ned Stark, in the Season 1 finale. (And it wasn’t even getting canceled.) Stark’s death set the tone for everything GoT stands for, which is to say no character is safe from death — not even the supposed good ones — which goes against every conventional narrative out there. Even Harry Potter, who was meant to die in order to weaken his greatest enemy and perhaps save the world from that person, was brought back to life in the narrative because he carried with him an immortality stone because he was the hero who needed to last the course of the story. Taylor Sturm writes, in the above linked article, “In most media, it is expected that the good and noble hero is saved at the end to continue on their quest.” Game of Thrones ignores that. Ned dies. His son, Rob, dies. Rob’s mom (what’d she ever do besides love her kids?) dies. Jon Snow, for a minute, dies.
Ned was Season 1. It’s now seven seasons further into GoT and 10 years later in our lives. Something interesting has happened, as it always does. Of characters, we have our favorites. By now, our strong feelings about those favorites are deeply engrained in us. Ned’s death was a real “WTF moment,” but all significant deaths coming in Season 8 (probably a ton) will be a big “F-U” to those who bleed the colors of those characters’ flags. So, now a different question is posed: Are the characters who we want to survive (a phrasing we wouldn’t have used in Season 1) safe?
Of course, the easy answer is no. They can’t all be. There will be at least two World Wars being waged when this season begins, and different fans are rooting for different characters to go all the way (excuse the sports phrase), so, no, everybody can’t survive. But it is a little different when we wonder aloud about Daenerys specifically.
It’s higher stakes. She is unequivocally, certainly as leaders go, the darling of the series. Several fan votes and editorial rankings have been done in the decade since the show began — more so within this last two-year break between seasons — so, let’s talk about what they tell us. Ranker, a website that fan sources rankings, has reached over time almost 30,000 voters to decide “The Best Game of Thrones Characters.” Daenerys comes in at No. 4. The next head-of-house leader, Cersei Lannister, is No. 21 on the list. Coming in ahead of Daenerys, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark and Jon Snow all are direct beneficiaries of her potential success. Hollywood Reporter ranked its top 30 characters after six seasons and put Daenerys third, behind Arya and Tyrion and just ahead of Cersei. Winter is Coming, a Fansided blog, mocked a March Madness bracket in 2018. They had Daenerys as one of four No. 1 seeds (the second overall seed, technically, if you understand how a bracket is assembled). The fans voted for an upset, Jaime Lannister over Daenerys in the Elite Eight.
Prior to Season 7, Rotten Tomatoes polled 1,000 GoT fans to rank several aspects of the show. “Greatest Hero” yielded Jon Snow, over second-place Daenerys and Arya, while “Favorite Character” had Tyrion at the top and Daenerys closely behind in second. The “Favorite Alliance” category overwhelmingly (44 percent of the vote) went to Daenerys and her Hand of the Queen, Tyrion, which was new at the time of the poll. Combining everything, fans voted for “Who do people want to see on the Iron Throne?” and Daenerys captured 45 percent of votes.
Fans not only love Daenerys, they want her to win this thing more than basically all other possibilities combined.
That’s why her (stares up at the ceiling, sighs deeply) death would be the biggest convention-breaker ever.
Sure, the deaths of characters like Arya and Tyrion (regulars at the top of those fan votes) would be heart-breaking, like losing a best friend. Jon Snow? That band-aid has already been ripped off once. There’s another level of unmetered devastation looming should it happen to Daenerys, not unlike, perhaps, a nation mourning the assassination of their president (one they like) or the civil leader who makes them feel like they matter, one they unconditionally admire who’s young, charismatic, who has so much promise and so much life ahead of him or her.
Sturm writes, I revisit once more, “the good and noble hero is saved at the end to continue on in their quest.” Ned Stark was a symbol. Daenerys is the good and noble hero at the end. There’s still time to save her.