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Game of Thrones’ finale revealed Jon and Dany’s story was a tragic one

George R.R. Martin’s book series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. Now we know what that song is about,

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Game of Thrones’ series finale, “The Iron Throne,” wrapped up the story that author George R.R. Martin titled A Song of Ice and Fire with a brutal resolution for those characters who best represent ice and fire, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen — namely, Jon killed Dany in front of that Iron Throne.

Dany had massacred the civilian population of King’s Landing, burning the city to the ground and ordering the execution of even more prisoners afterward. She then announced her desire to continue onward to violently “liberate” the rest of the continent and the world as well.

That led Tyrion Lannister, who had been the Hand of the Queen, to dramatically announce his resignation — an action that soon led to his imprisonment by Dany.

But Tyrion had known Jon Snow since all the way back in season one, when the two met at Winterfell and traveled to the Wall together. So Jon visited the captive Tyrion, and Tyrion convinced Jon (in a quite loud and animated discussion of treason) that it was now Dany who was the greatest threat to the realm — and that she had to die.

Jon was resistant, at first voicing continued loyalty to his queen. But evidently, he concluded that Tyrion was right. He walked right past Dany’s dragon, Drogon, and into the destroyed throne room of the Red Keep, where the Iron Throne sat. He listened to Dany explain her plans to free all the people of the world. And then he stabbed her to death.

It’s now clear in retrospect that so many of Game of Thrones’ plot lines — Dany’s dark tendencies, Jon’s desire to serve the realm, Jon’s secret Targaryen heritage — were building toward this moment, in which Jon felt compelled to kill the person he once loved to prevent more innocent people from inevitably dying.

Jon killing Dany is also the final truly dramatic moment of “The Iron Throne.” After it, the episode jumps forward to all of the political problems of Westeros being solved in a single meeting, resulting in Bran Stark being named king for some reason, Tyrion Lannister becoming his Hand, and Jon being set free but sent to the Night’s Watch. (Whether he stays at the Watch isn’t entirely clear — he rides north with wildlings in the episode’s final scene, but it’s not explained whether he’s abandoning the Watch or just riding peacefully with his former foes.)

Jon and Dany’s Song of Ice and Fire was tragic

Later in the episode, Samwell Tarly — now Grand Maester of King Bran the Broken’s Small Council — presents a book to the group. It’s a chronicle recent events, titled A Song of Ice and Fire. (Sam didn’t write the book, but says he helped “Archmaester Ebrose” with the title.)

Of course, that’s a nod to the name of George R.R. Martin’s book series. But it should also remind us of just how central Jon and Dany have been to Martin’s story all along. For instance, Alan Taylor, who directed several episodes of Game of Thrones, said that he spoke to Martin back during season one, and that Martin “just sort of mentioned in passing, ‘Oh well it’s all about Dany and Jon Snow.’”

Daenerys, the exiled Targaryen princess, recovered from being sold to and raped by Khal Drogo to establish herself as a tremendous power. She hatched three dragons and freed thousands of slaves, before returning to Westeros to try and conquer the continent. But all along, she had a darker side to her — she was willing to lash out in sometimes indiscriminate retaliatory violence, ordering crucifixions and burnings of her enemies because she believed her cause was just.

Jon Snow, meanwhile, was raised as a bastard of Ned Stark, and, unhappy with his status, decided to join the Night’s Watch, an organization aimed at protecting the realm. There, he learned of the threat of the White Walkers, an ancient evil that seemed set on destroying all life — and became obsessed with stopping them. His stint at the Night’s Watch ended with his murder by his own men, but he was subsequently resurrected by the witch Melisandre and became established as king in the North.

Once Dany landed in Westeros with her three dragons, though, Jon begged her to hold off on her conquest of King’s Landing and to instead use her forces to protect the continent from the White Walkers. She agreed — while the two were falling in love. And they succeeded in their efforts, defeating the supernatural threat (with the help of a well-timed leap by Arya Stark).

But in retrospect, there were two massive problems. The first was Jon’s secret heritage. It turned out that, rather than being Ned Stark’s illegitimate son, he was the son of Ned’s sister Lyanna — with Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany’s late older brother. This meant he and Dany were related, which cooled his romantic ardor once he found out. It also made him the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and a threat to her rule.

The second and far more consequential problem was that defeating the White Walkers did not, in fact, resolve the political situation of Westeros. Cersei Lannister remained in power in the south, and her continued resistance resulted in some bitter losses for Dany. Dany did not respond well at all to those losses — instead, she indulged some long-running tendencies to lash out and cause destruction, and massacred the city’s population.

And that decision brought about the end of the Song of Ice and Fire. Jon and Dany’s love story ends in tragedy: Believing that she has become a tyrant, Jon becomes convinced that he must protect the people of Westeros from her, and kills her. As a result, he’s excluded from contention for the throne, and is instead sent to the Night’s Watch to end up back where he began.

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