Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, season 8, episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”
Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen has been a fearsome queen-in-the-making since the end of the show’s first season, but her Westerosi allies are only recently starting to realize it. The series’s latest episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” opens with her confronting her father’s murderer, Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer. “When I was a child, my brother would tell me a bedtime story about the man who murdered our father,” she says. “Who stabbed him in the back and cut his throat… He told me other stories as well, about all the things we would do to that man once we took the Seven Kingdoms and had him in our grasp.”
In a hearing of sorts, Daenerys gives all of the Starks and their allies a fair chance to vouch for Jaime, with the clear understanding that she’s planning to execute him, probably in a memorable fashion, if she doesn’t hear a good enough reason to hold back. Surprisingly, several people come to his rescue, despite Jaime’s long ledger of sins (most prominently, incest with his sister Cersei and attempting to murder 10-year-old Bran Stark for discovering said incest).
A curious power dynamic keeps surfacing in the latest episodes of Game of Thrones where characters are reminded that Daenerys can be a vindictive queen, similar to Cersei in certain ways, although clearly not as maniacal. The season 8 premiere demonstrated that Jon Snow and his best friend Samwell Tarly weren’t aware that Daenerys had burned Sam’s father and brother to death for refusing to kneel to her.
Growing up in the Free Cities of Essos, first under her brother’s tyrannical control and then as a self-made queen, Daenerys learned to deal with her enemies cruelly to make sure no one would oppose her. Over the course of the series, she’s burned a witch alive, locked traitors in a vault for a slow death, and tricked slave masters into selling her an army in exchange for a dragon, only to burn the sellers with dragonfire and take her dragon back. Her cunning actions helped her gain a lot of power quickly, but her experiences have also made her prone to solving her problems with fire and to take any steps she sees as necessary to preserve her power.
Her new allies may not have all of these details from her history — though Varys likely does, and may well have passed some of it along — but even if they don’t know the steps that made her decide to burn the Tarlys, they’ve seen her ruthlessness up close. By season 8, episode 2, we’re seeing characters with no reason to love Jaime making a reluctant effort to protect him from the gory punishment Daenerys is dangling in front of him.
“I trust you with my life. You trust him with yours. We should let him stay,” Sansa says once Brienne of Tarth vouches for him. Jon simply says, “We need every man we can get.” Bran, the show’s resident fortune-teller, stays quiet about how Jaime shoved him off a tower.
It’s clear that Bran remembers what Jaime did. He even reminds him by saying, “The things we do for love,” the line Jaime uttered while pushing Bran out of the window in season 1. But Bran later tells Jaime, “I’m not angry at anyone… You wouldn’t be able to help us in this fight if I let them murder you first.” He understands that if he’d shared his story, Jaime would have lost his backing from the Starks, and Daenerys certainly would have executed Jaime.
Every Stark has reason to hate the Lannisters. But they come to Jaime’s defense anyway, partly out of a need for soldiers to fight the Army of the Dead and partly because they’ve seen what Daenerys is capable of doing. The fear of Daenerys even extends to what she might do to Tyrion Lannister after he mistakenly advises her to trust that Cersei will send her armies north to help fight off the wights.
“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” leans heavily on characters gently trying to manage Daenerys. After the sequence with Jaime, Jorah Mormont comes to Dany’s chambers to ask her to forgive Tyrion. It’s a strange vouch since Daenerys hasn’t outright threatened Tyrion with anything and since Jorah and Tyrion aren’t exactly friends. But Jorah knows exactly what it’s like to get on Dany’s bad side as an adviser. Back in season 4, she learns Jorah betrayed her by selling intel about her to Varys, and she sends Jorah into exile. When he attempts to redeem himself in a gladiator match in season 5, she refuses to save him when he gets wounded. He knows firsthand how coldly she can turn on her former allies when they’ve let her down.
These are the kinds of fascinating power plays that once made up the bulk of Game of Thrones, and are now reduced to short, telling conversations. Given how little there is left to Game of Thrones and how much ground there is to cover, it’s unlikely the series has time to fully deal with the themes it’s developing about how mercilessly Dany can deal with threats and how carefully her advisers need to tiptoe around her.
But these small nods toward her fearsomeness could give Jon Snow — aka Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne — more reason to feel he has a duty to claim his birthright and keep Daenerys from becoming the queen of Westeros. As we head into the final four episodes of the show’s last season, it seems like the showrunners are trying to set up more tension between Daenerys and Jon and more reason for her old adherents and her new Northern allies to question her as the final wars approach. As Jon says, maybe houses and old alliances don’t matter so much in a war against the dead, and they simply “need every man they can get.” But there’s a second war coming for the survivors, and reminding audiences that Daenerys isn’t a simple black-and-white heroine may be part of establishing the stakes in that war.