Spoilers for Game of Thrones follow.
Of all the pairings on Game of Thrones, none have been as anticipated — or as heavy-handed in the execution — as the relationship between Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. Their significance to each other has been foreshadowed in the books through Dany’s visions of blue roses, which are often associated with Jon’s mother, Lyanna Stark. His recently confirmed Targaryen blood makes them family. Also, as the priestess Melisandre explained just a few episodes ago, they represent the ice and fire the series is named for.
In Game of Thrones lingo, this all equates to the very high probability that these two characters will bone. So why are the show’s creators doing such a bad job of building their relationship?
Jon and Dany have known each other for exactly four episodes. With the show’s current accelerated pace, it’s impossible to tell how much time that actually amounts to. It was a surprise in this week’s episode, “Beyond the Wall,” when we got a casual verbal reference to weeks going by, the first sense we’ve had in a while that time is actually passing. But the screen time Jon and Daenerys have spent together has largely been adversarial, with Daenerys insisting Jon swear fealty to her, and Jon responding with various forms of “I’m good, thanks.” Their common ground thus far has been one of mutual tactical advantage. Daenerys allows Jon to mine her island’s dragonglass, as a sign of good faith. Jon is determined to convince everybody and their mother that the White Walker army is real, so he spearheads the world’s dumbest expedition to catch one.
Between these major plot points, viewers have been treated to little scenes intended to stoke flames of anticipation. The two take a trip by torchlight to observe some ancient cave drawings. Jon gives Drogon a good ol’ pet, much to Dany’s surprise and awe. But these moments are undercut by how clearly Game of Thrones’ creators are telegraphing their relationship. Their advisors, Davos and Tyrion, have teased the two leaders about how they look at each other, rather than allowing fans to notice the dynamic on their own. Hey everyone at home, are you following that these two attractive principal characters are falling in love? Well they are.
This momentum is especially jarring in “Beyond the Wall,” as Daenerys swoops in to rescue Jon and his foolhardy squad. It’s worth pointing out that Jorah — who’s been with Dany since the show’s first season, who has shown her love and devotion over and over, who’s saved her life — is not the person she looks for on a stone island surrounded by undead. When she reaches out to pull the first man of the expedition to safety, she’s reaching for Jon Snow.
The fast clip of their sudden mutual infatuation makes their big scene near the episode’s end feel unearned. While Jon lies in bed, weak, wounded, and shirtless, Daenerys waits by his side, mourning her dragon Viserion. The two hold hands and share a few longing looks. But the familiarity of this encounter feels more like fan service than anything else. Especially when Jon uses Dany’s nickname — a name she reminds us was last used by her spiteful brother Viserys — in an awkward, weirdly intimate, out-of-nowhere way. The show is just now scratching the surface of a solid reason to root for this couple, aside from fans who’ve long thought of Jon and Daenerys as the couple that was promised.
By contrast, consider how well-developed Jon’s romance with the wildling Ygritte was. Jon sparred with her and spared her life. Ygritte vouched for him to her people. Their goals conflicted and they were sharp with each other, but slowly came around on each other. Their relationship had depth. The trials they endured together — climbing the Wall, fighting together, facing betrayal — made their love believable, and made its end all the more tragic. Or consider Daenerys and Khal Drogo. After being sold to him as a wife, she developed genuine feelings for him, and even stronger feelings around his illness and death. Their relationship was unpleasant in some ways, but it was complicated, and it had time to develop and change as she embraced the power that came with it, and gradually grew up.
The most riveting part of any on-screen relationship is the chase. It’s the thrill of the will they / won’t they, the build of every burning look or near touch. But with the show rapidly approaching its end, it’s running out of time for this kind of satisfying detail, and it’s rushing toward the climax instead. The writers clearly don’t want to waste valuable dragon-fighting airtime on Daenerys and Jon relating over something beyond their bloodlines, or demonstrating in a real way how they trust, change, or rely on each other.
Many fans want to see Jon and Daenerys wind up together, myself included. (Let’s have a round of applause for a show that makes people look at incest and think, “I ship this.”) But as with many of the season’s big moments, Game of Thrones’ creators are hurrying their way there. They’re too eager to tell, rather than show us, how these two characters are developing feelings for each other.