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Game of Thrones’ Mad Queen theory, explained

Will Daenerys Targaryen go mad, just like her father before her?

Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones season eight, episode four.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

As Game of Thrones marches toward its endgame, Cersei Lannister’s plan to “protect” the civilians of King’s Landing by securing them in the Red Keep to prevent Daenerys Targaryen from attacking her is a brilliant move: It ensures that Dany can’t win the Iron Throne without mass casualties, and in turn brings to mind Daenerys’s father, Aerys II Targaryen, and his legacy of madness and death. It’s a legacy that has haunted Daenerys and the Targaryens and one she’s been actively trying to avoid falling victim to.

While Dany has been trying to avoid following in her father’s footsteps, she’s been reminded on a few occasions that she’s displaying similar behavior. And “The Last of the Starks” placed a lot of emphasis on the possibility of Dany descending into madness — though your mileage may vary on how effective, graceful, or believable it was — with scenes like Dany furrowing her brow and glaring at the men celebrating Jon Snow, or speaking extra abrasively during the wartime discussions.

Her behavior was even shown to worry her advisers, with Varys asking Tyrion in private about her mental state. Tyrion defused the situation as best he was able, saying that worrying about a monarch’s mental state is part of their job as advisers. But that hasn’t stopped fans from speculating that Game of Thrones is headed for an ending in which Dany goes mad just like her father before her, and uses her last remaining dragon (and that magic word “dracarys”) to burn anything and anyone that would hinder her from taking the Iron Throne.

Daenerys’s father was known as the “Mad King” — a legacy she wants to avoid

To understand Daenerys Targaryen, you have to understand her family. Game of Thrones hasn’t actually introduced many of Dany’s relatives, but it’s referenced them frequently over the years. Her father, Aerys II, was known as the “Mad King” because he eventually grew to be a spiteful, murderous (usually by burning people), and deranged ruler. His insanity was ultimately attributed to the inbreeding in the Targaryen family.

One of the most nefarious things Aerys II is known for today is hiding wildfire all over King’s Landing, to able to torch any perceived enemies at a moment’s notice.

If you’ll recall, Jaime previously explained as much to Brienne in season three:

“He burned anyone who was against him,” Jaime said. “Before long, half the country was against him. Aerys saw traitors everywhere. So he had his pyromancers place caches of wildfire all over the city.” (We saw some of Aerys’s stores in action in season six, when Cersei used wildfire to burn down the Sept of Baelor with all her adversaries inside.)

Jaime, who was actually part of Aerys’s Kingsguard — before eventually killing him and earning the nickname “Kingslayer” — went on to explain how this plot was the reason he turned on Aerys, and why people believed the Targaryens were so dangerous that they should never rule again. Many believe that any Targaryen, no matter how benevolent or sane they might seem, will inevitably succumb to their true nature, which Aerys displayed.

Aerys’s legacy of pyro-obsessed madness is why Daenerys is so bent on making sure that she wins the faith of her people, and why she is so determined to rule in a different way than those who came before her (remember how often we’ve heard her she say she wants to “break the wheel”?).

It’s also why Tyrion Lannister (with Varys advising him) is constantly urging Dany not to use blunt force to take cities. Specifically in season six, Tyrion told Dany that using her dragons would make her no better than her father:

“You’re talking about destroying cities,” he says, telling her about her father’s wildfire plot. “It’s not entirely different. I’d like to suggest an alternate approach.”

Knowing Aerys’s backstory and the history that Dany is up against has put all her actions into an equation in which Game of Thrones viewers are trying to calculate whether she seems more or less like her father, and whether she’s justified in using her dragons on her enemies.

Dragon fire is more acceptable when Daenerys is defending herself from, say, the Sons of the Harpy rather than burning the Tarlys alive because they won’t bend the knee, no matter how idiotic they are. When it comes to the latter, in the season eight premiere, Samwell’s visceral reaction to learning that Dany killed his dad and brother was supposed to make us question her use of force.

Cersei is aware of Dany’s history too, which explains why Cersei has leaned into depicting Dany as a mad queen with an army of savages (Cersei has pejoratively called Daenerys the “dragon queen” and uses phrases like “foreign scum” to describe the Dothraki).

It’s also why Cersei has made it so that Dany will have to kill innocent people to get at her — to ensure that Dany appears to be no better than her father, which will lose her the trust of her army and her closest advisers.

And now that Missandei made her last word “dracarys,” the word Daenerys uses when directing her dragons to unleash their fiery breath, it seems all but certain that Targaryen fire will come to King’s Landing.

Daenerys has lost so much, it would be sort of understandable for her to retaliate

While using dragon fire to kill people is frowned upon, I could see why Dany would lash out.

Going back to season seven, she’s lost so much since deciding to help the Jon Snow and the North.

Thanks to Jon’s brilliant idea to bring a wight to King’s Landing to convince Cersei to send troops to the North, Dany lost a dragon. Sansa Stark, who has taken over Winterfell in Jon’s absence, treats Dany like a guarded enemy even though Winterfell would have fallen without Dany’s army and her dragons. And the people of the North were not exactly welcoming (read: low-key racist) toward Missandei and Grey Worm.

Then during the Battle of Winterfell against the Army of the Dead, Dany’s Dothraki cavalry was wiped out. Her army of the Unsullied suffered huge losses as they sacrificed their lives to protect the retreating Northern soldiers. All of Dany’s efforts to free people and amassing an army to overthrow a rotten queen have been threatened while she has been defending people who are wary of her, and still, in this episode, the Starks had the nerve to voice their displeasure with her.

If helping defend Winterfell from an undead army isn’t enough, then nothing, it seems, will ever change people’s minds about Dany.

And now, with Euron having killed her dragon Rhaegal and Cersei having executed Missandei in the wake of Ser Jorah’s death, Dany’s circle of trusted friends and loved ones has shrunk again. Mad queen be damned — at this point, could anyone really blame her for wanting to lash out? I wouldn’t.

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