“Burn them all. Burn them in their homes. Burn them in their beds.” — Aerys II Targaryen
“Burn them all.” It’s what plenty of Game of Thrones fans are hoping Daenerys Targaryen says and does to her enemies after losing her second dragon Rhaegal (leaving her with only one, Drogon) in an ambush by Euron Greyjoy’s Iron Fleet in S8E4; after she’s lost a huge chunk of her army fighting a war she was dragged into by Jon Snow; after she lost a man who loved and protected her like no other in Jorah Mormont; after she lost her best friend and advisor, Missandei to a callous execution at the hand of Cersei Lannister and the The unMountain.
Yet despite all she’s lost and sacrificed there is still one pointed Sword of Damocles which looms over her head; an inauspicious notion in the minds of her allies prohibiting her from unleashing righteous Dracarys upon her enemies. And it comes back to the phrase “Burn them all.” That is, if Daenerys had already made the decision to burn King’s Landing to relinquish Cersei Lannister of her power without deliberating upon the decision (like she wanted to do before helping Jon Snow battle the White Walkers), without weighing her other options, she’d be deemed a malevolent conqueror consumed by “Targaryen Madness,” her advisors warned; no better than her father, Aerys II Targaryen, “The Mad King,” who infamously wanted to burn everyone down in King’s Landing before Robert’s Rebellion and a well-timed stab in the back from Jaime Lannister deposed him from the Iron Throne.
But is it fair to attribute Targaryen Madness to Daenerys Targaryen’s actions? Do her actions portend the same inevitable insanity which overcame her father Aerys “The Mad King” and arguably her older brother Viserys?
Before we continue, a quick examination of Targaryen Madness:
What causes Targaryen madness?
From George R.R. Martin himself:
“The Targaryens have heavily interbred, like the Ptolemys of Egypt. As any horse or dog breeder can tell you, interbreeding accentuates both flaws and virtues, and pushes a lineage toward the extremes. Also, there’s sometimes a fine line between madness and greatness. Daeron I, the boy king who led a war of conquest, and even the saintly Baelor I could also be considered “mad,” if seen in a different light. ((And I must confess, I love grey characters, and those who can be interpreted in many different ways. Both as a reader and a writer, I want complexity and subtlety in my fiction))”
Per the Game of Thrones wiki:
The effects worsened with each generation of compounded inbreeding. By the later centuries of their rule, it was joked that when a new Targaryen was born the gods would flip a coin to decide if they would be a brilliant statesman or insane.
Symptons of Targaryen Madness
The symptoms of Targaryen Madness exhibited by Aerys, according to the Game of Thrones Wiki:
Dubbed the Mad King, Aerys seemingly began as a benevolent ruler until he was overwhelmed by the so-called “Targaryen madness” brought on by an incestuous bloodline. As a result, he began displaying traits of intense psychopathy, insanity, and sadistic intentions, exacerbated by hallucinations, schizophrenia, and paranoia regarding his own claim to the Throne, to the point where he burnt anyone he believed was against him, until half of the people whom he ruled were already against him.
Bran Stark has a vision of Aerys II Targaryen, “The Mad King.”
Daenerys’ father wasn’t the only Targaryen to exhibit mentally deranged behavior. Take Aerion Brightflame, for example:
Other Targaryens displayed highly bizarre personalities, though they were not strictly speaking “insane”. They didn’t have hallucinations or hear voices, but some had aggressive, sociopathic personalities. Aerion Brightflame(despite not being a product of incest), the older brother of Maester Aemon and King Aegon V, eventually succumbed to the delusional belief that if he drank wildfire it would transform him into a dragon but instead it killed him.
Is Targaryen madness actually genetic? Someone did the math.
Despite the last episode of Game of Thrones heavily leaning towards Daenerys being pushed to her limit and going “mad,” the outcome isn’t definite. Reddit A Song of Ice and Fire theorist jdylopa asserts that the instances of Targaryen insanity may not actually be genetic and instead is the dissemination of war-time propaganda.
“I claim that Targaryen madness isn’t genetic,” jdylopa says in his theory. “That the number of truly mad Targaryens is a small fraction of their House, and that the preconception of Targaryen madness stems from history looking unfavorably on the less-liked Kings.
Thus, out of 46 Targaryens (and Blackfyres), only 7 are undeniably mad, and including all the debatable ones, there’s 10. That’s 15.2%-21.7%. Out of those 7-10, most were products of situations that could have caused or [accelerated] any tendencies towards madness, a number of which would have driven anyone mad (Helaena Targaryen and Viserys spring to mind immediately).”
Not quite the coin flip the Targaryen’s opposition would have you believe.
What’s the evidence for Daenerys being mad?
Despite claims of Targaryen madness being exaggerated, there have been subtle clues of Daenerys’ cruel or mad side from the very beginning; they haven’t been overt and for the most part have been justified considered she’s taking violent act either in retaliation or to set an example of someone who has double-crossed her — but did we as fans overlook some of Daenerys’ cruel actions simply because the people ostensibly deserved it?
- She had her brother Viserys killed
- Burned Mirri Maz Duur
- Murdered the king of Qarth and robbed his estate
- Fed humans to her dragons
- Crucified 163 masters in the Siege of Meereen
- Killed the Khals of the Dothraki by setting fire to the shrine during the Khalar vezhven
- Executed Samwell Tarly’s father and brother, Randall and Dickon
Consider this quotation from David Shuster’s interview with George R.R. Martin, where he parallels the White Walkers and Daenerys and her dragons as being commensurate threats to Westeros:
Well, of course, the two outlying ones — the things going on north of the Wall, and then there is a Targaryen on the other continent with her dragons — are of course the ice and fire of the title, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” …You know, one of the dynamics I started with, there was the sense of people being so consumed by their petty struggles for power within the seven kingdoms, within King’s Landing — who’s going to be king? Who’s going to be on the Small Council? Who’s going to determine the policies? — that they’re blind to the much greater and more dangerous threats that are happening far away on the periphery of their kingdoms.
Or even this quote from Emilia Clarke, the actress who plays Daenerys Targaryen, who claimed the filming of Daenerys’ final scene “f----d [her] up.”
“Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavor in someone’s mouth of what Daenerys is…” Clarke said dejectedly in the interview. Could this be foreshadowing of Daenerys going mad in her final moments in Game of Thrones?
Reasons against Daenerys being mad
“He’s a clever man, your Hand [Tyrion]. I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all,” Olenna said. “You know why? I ignored them. The lords in Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.” — Olenna Tyrell
The preceding points notwithstanding, Daenerys has shown that she isn’t only undertaking her conquest for the sheer sake of power.
- Selected the Army of the Unsullied specifically because the fact they were all castrated means they would be unable to rape and pillage in the spoils of war
- Liberated slaves
- Chained her dragons Viserion and Rhaegal when it’s proven they are a danger to the people
- Doesn’t want to rule in monarchal fashion like her predecessors, wants to break the wheel
- Tried to discontinue the fighting pits of Meereen
- Set aside her personal quest for the throne in order to help save Westeros and its people; without her army the White Walker invasion may have overtaken Winterfell
As redditor Fabrimuch says, “These are not the actions of a madwoman with a lust for power, these are the actions of a deeply empathic person trying to do her best in a hard situation. As for the people she has executed, she’s not any different than any other Westerosi lord. The first time we meet Ned it’s him beheading a turncloak, and noone judges him mad for it. But Dany burning Mirri Maz Duur for betraying her is madness? One might argue that burning people is a cruel way of killing them, but keep in mind her dragons are her single most powerful weapon, she’d be stupid not to use them as a show of power: she’d dealing with slavers who castrate little boys and have them kill babies from their mother’s arms as a form of training, she needs to use all the power and intimidation she can against these people or they won’t be fazed. We saw what happened when she tried playing nice: the Sons of the Harpy attacked her in the pits.
Stannis burns people regularly but noone calls him mad. Robb executed Lord Karstark and 5 or 6 of his men for killing two Lannister boys, but Dany crucifying 163 slavers as punishment for them having crucified 163 children is madness?
TL;DR: No, I don’t believe in Mad Queen Dany and think it’s a very flimsy theory standing on shaky ground that fundamentally misunderstands her character and applies harsher double standards on her than on any other character in a similar position.”
Co-showrunner D.B Weiss had this to say about it being incorrect to call Daenerys insane or “mad”:
“She’s not her father, she’s not insane and she’s not a sadist, but there is a ruthlessness there that comes with even the good Targaryens.”
Even if Daenerys becomes what could be considered “mad” in the context of her family line, has the show done a convincing enough job of this transformation?
Can we accurately categorize the revenge she seeks specifically against Cersei and her forces in King’s Landing as “madness?” Within the context of the Game of Thrones world, have her actions been any more ruthless or sadistic than what any other ostensibly noble and just leader has done during war time? If Daenerys’ last name was not Targaryen, would we be condemning her as mad? Did we condemn Eddard Stark for beheading Will in S1E1 for deserting the Night’s Watch? Or Jon Snow for executing a little boy with PTSD?
Perhaps Daenerys should have taken Olenna’s advice and sacked King’s Landing before taking on Jon Snow’s battle against the White Walkers; Cersei, who destroyed the Great Sept of Baelor with wildfire would be deposed and Daenerys would be the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms already, with considerably more of her army intact than if she had helped Jon Snow first and listened to the advice of her advisors Tyrion and Varys, who engaged in talks of betraying her last episode.
Do you think Daenerys should justifiably be considered a Mad Queen? Would we have considered Robb Stark mad if he had jumped on a dragon after Ned Stark was executed and set fire to King’s Landing? Sound off in the comments.
Game of Thrones S8E5 airs tonight at 9PM EST on HBO.