Game of Thrones

On Game of Thrones, Absolute Power Corrupts Daenerys Targaryen Absolutely

Breaker of chains, mother of dragons, and queen of the ashes


Daenerys "Stormborn" Targaryen, First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Conqueror of Mereen, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons… and Mass-Murderer of the Innocent.

On tonight's penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's favorite character stared relatively bloodless victory in the face and spat at it, preferring to burn King's Landing to the ground. Man or woman, old or young, friend or enemy, innocent or evil—in the end, none of these distinctions mattered to the Dragon Queen.

Daenerys's turn to the Westerosi equivalent of the Dark Side of the Force was far too rushed: The writers even had the nerve to edit-in a montage of various characters recalling Daeny's capacity for cruelty during the "previously on" segment. But it wasn't a complete surprise. Indeed, Daeny has always made good use of the Targaryen motto fire and blood: She burned the Dothraki chieftains, crucified Mereen's nobility, and executed Westerosi lords who defied her. Despite her high-minded claims—all that breaking-the-wheel-nonsense—Daeny clearly practices a fiery form of collective punishment.

There's a lesson here, buried somewhere in the rubble of King's Landing: Power is a corrupting force, and when push comes to shove, well-intentioned leaders equipped with weapons of mass destruction are not so different from the tyrants they seek to topple. Daeny isn't really an improvement over Cersei: Indeed, the latter's act of explosive vengeance was surgical and restrained compared to what we just witnessed. Stripped of her power, Cersei was once again portrayed as sympathetic, trying desperately to succeed at the most noble goal: protecting her young. Here too, Thrones seemed to be saying that it was political power that poisoned Cersei. Vulnerable once again, she seemed almost human.

Farewell, Cersei—and Jaime, Sandor Clegane, Euron, Qyburn (RIP: Westeros's Scientific Revolution), and, of course, Varys. Varys, who met his end trying to stop Daeny's madness, once warned that Petyr Baelish was dangerous because he would gladly watch the world burn "so long as he could be king of the ashes." A version of this fear has now come to pass: The ashes, it seems, will have a queen.