Can Daenerys Targaryen Still Find Redemption on Game of Thrones?

Well, Daenerys Targaryen has gone full Anakin Skywalker, and much like Vader before her, Daenerys's flip to the dark side was cemented by using her legendary weapon (a dragon in her case, a lightsaber in Anakin's) to mercilessly slaughter a bunch of innocent children (amongst others). There's not much that can bring you back from that morally. Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss didn't even leave us much intellectual wriggle room. There are no such "Well, perhaps if we're presented with more information next week we might see Dany's actions in a different light" games to play here. She was a one-woman Mount Vesuvius who made King's Landing her personal Pompeii. She was less merciful to that city than global warming is going to be to Miami. She succumbed to madness, and any notion she'll rule Westeros as a benevolent queen is out of the window like its name was Tommen.

Though, keeping the Anakin analogy in mind, perhaps it isn't all that much of a shocker. The fantasy and myth genres are stocked with stories of fallen heroes who become unimaginable villains, and it was surprising, frankly, that Game of Thrones hadn't played that card yet. Especially considering George R.R. Martin's whole thing with filling in the grays between the black and white of good and evil. The story had, after all, flirted with making us see the good in characters we had assumed were evil. Weren't we all just a little naive to not be ready when that path became a two-way road? Wasn't it weird they hadn't truly done that yet? We were all too busy worrying about who was going to live or die that we completely forget to ask ourselves if there might be any gut-punch heel turns. And knowing that Game of Thrones likes to play on such tropes, maybe it's not surprising they'd save it for the penultimate episode.

Still, it's worth noting that while Darth Vader was so bone-chillingly evil—he still stands as the gold standard for fantasy/sci-fi pop culture villain—he did end up finding his redemption at the very end, as so many of those heroes-turned-villains do. He saves his son and threw his wrinkly old master down a reactor chute, and then got to chill out in Force Ghost form in the afterlife with his old pals Yoda and Obi-Wan while still looking like an in-his-prime Haden Christensen.

So, is there a chance that Daenerys could find some redemption while also still achieving her goal? Was her goal actually different than what we assumed all this time? Hey, it's possible. Burning down an entire city may be incompatible with becoming a beloved monarch, but it certainly isn't incompatible with breaking a wheel of power. Here, a series of intriguing points to ponder when it comes to Dany's fate.

Is it possible Daenerys always knew she could turn mad?

Here's one to keep in the back of your mind, because it's possible Dany has all this time. While she didn't have a traditional education, she's well versed in her family history thanks to her brother Viserys, and is particularly aware of her father's downfall from once beloved and generous king to insane tyrant. "I know what my father was," she says at one point. "What he did. I know the Mad King earned his name." Everyone who has a parent who has struggled with a potentially inheritable disease, mental illness, or addiction has privately grappled with the possibility that that monster may be harbored within them as well. Would Daenerys be any different? She had one good brother, another who was evil. She had to have wondered at some point which way the coin would flip for her. She also had visions of this legacy. This, of course, wouldn't be something she telegraphed to others. She was on a mission, and there's no use saying, "Full disclosure here, guys, but just to let you know, there's a possibility I may one day go insane and murder everyone, but support me anyway!" Though, she does certainly seem to come to anxious attention when Tyrion mentions that they're both "the terrible children of terrible fathers" during one of their first in-depth discussions.

She struggles with actual rule, can't have children, and has no interest in the succession question.

Daenerys's strong suit has always been as a conquering leader, but she's never quite seemed at ease with the actual responsibilities of ruling after the war. It's something her advisors had pushed her towards, and she seemed fully uncomfortable and sometimes quite bothered by the realities of it during her time in Essos.

Dany has also operated under the notion she can't have children since shortly after her brother died (and the fact she isn't carrying around Daario Naharis-Targaryan Jr. in a kiddie seat on the back of Drogon seems to attest to this). When Tyrion broaches the subject of the line of succession late in season 7, Daenerys has little interest in an answer. Every step of the way since since season 1 she's approached her journey knowing full well she won't be able to rule like a typical monarch by producing heirs. Maybe her disinterest in mastering the ways of ruling means she never really planned on doing it one day, anyway.

So is there something more to her wooing of Jon Snow?

Dany is obviously troubled by the fact that Jon Snow is secretly a Targaryen, but her answer to the problem seems to be to attempt to continue to woo and marry him. Sure, there might have been real feelings there, but think of it from a strategic point of view. It's not beyond possible that she could have struck a deal with him that would let her be queen with Jon as her successor. Even if Jon died before Dany or refused the throne, his children could be her heirs. Thus the Targaryen dynasty would have been firmly reestablished and continued without all the incest-y stuff and propensity for madness.

Though, if Dany had married Jon as she had wanted that means the Targaryen lineage would go fully extinct (at least in an official capacity). Jon certainly isn't the cheating type, and even if he had any children out of wedlock they wouldn't be recognized as noble Targaryens (assuming Dany let them live, that is).

Both "The Wheel" and King's Landing are products of the Targaryens.

One of the biggest frustrations amongst viewers of the show's penultimate episode "The Bells" was that Dany never goes directly after Cersei at all, and instead spends her time torching King's Landing.

But let's remember what King's Landing is. It's a Targaryen city through and through. It originated as a small wooden fort built by the very first King Aegon I Targaryen, and blossomed into the metropolis it is today under Targaryen rule. What Dany burnt down didn't truly belong to Cersei in the grand scheme of things. That was Targaryen architecture, Targaryen history, and Targeryen achievement (and probably, frankly, a whole lot of people who had bastard Targaryen blood as well, but let's not harp on that too much).

Daenerys is also intent on breaking the wheel, and while some version of it may have existed before the original Targaryen conquest of Westeros, it is her own family that steered that wheel for about 281 years (and it serves to be reminded that the House of Baratheon was a bastard offshoot of House Targaryen, too).

So, ok, how does any of this amount to redemption?

Well, what if Daenerys's true enemy all along was her own heritage and family legacy? That might explain quite a bit: her nonplussed reaction to Viserys's death, her obsession with burning King's Landing, etc. Even amidst her lapse into madness, she's still intent on showing "mercy towards future generations who will never again be held hostage by a tyrant," knowing full well most of the previous tyrants were her own ancestors. Once, when Daenerys spoke of peace in Westeros, she didn't wince or take issue when Olenna Tyrell asked, "Peace? Do you think that's what we had under your father? Or his father? Or his? Peace never lasts, my dear." Later she tells Tyrion and Yara Greyjoy, "Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We're not going to do that. We're going to leave the world better than we found it."

She's always intended to take back what is hers—the Iron Throne and the crown of Westeros—but it's always been less clear what, exactly, she wanted to do with them afterwards or what that breaking of the wheel would entail. Maybe she wants to destroy them outright, a goal she's long realized no one else has. She burns Varys alive, and perhaps with it any notion that a good king or queen can actually exist.

Her lapse into madness doesn't negate the possibility she can still achieve this goal, and indeed accepting her own instability may only bolster her convictions. She can still play a very large part in putting into place a better world, even if she was a symptom of the evils of the old one.

And think about it like this: Darth Vader found his redemption by killing the only person in the Star Wars universe more evil than he is. That's no longer an option for Daenerys. She's the only big bad guy left. So her only option is to destroy the entire system in place that turned her mad to begin with. That's really the only thing worse than her at at the moment. Indeed, who knows, she might even end up killing herself, or at least accepting her death at the hands of another.

We certainly might not like what she may or may not attempt to do to Jon next episodes, and her former allies will never forgive her. But there's still some possibility she could go down in Westeros history as a change agent who ultimately brought a better way of life to the land even if she committed unnecessary war crimes along the way.

Or, you know, maybe she's just simply gone totally mad and that's all there is to it. Frankly, who knows at this point.

Related: https://www.wmagazine.com/story/game-of-thrones-jamie-lannister-hand-error