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Game of Thrones - Daenerys Targaryen explained

Daenerys Targaryen is one of the best Game of Thrones characters who goes from a simple Khaleesi to the Mother of Dragons. Here's her history explained.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke)

Who is Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones? HBO’s Game of Thrones helped popularize the fantasy genre on the small screen with its epic tales of adventure, politics, and betrayal — lots of betrayals.

Of all the people we met during Game of Thrones‘ eight-season run, though, few were as complex as Daenerys Targaryen, aka the Mother of Dragons. Of all the Game of Thrones characters, Daenerys arguably goes on the biggest journey (both physically and mentally), going from a timid teen at the start of the fantasy series to a conqueror at the end (I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the Targaryen family tree).

But who is Daenerys Targaryen? Well, if you’ve got questions about the Breaker of Chains, then you’re in the right place. We’ve been all around Essos and Westeros consulting with locals, raided the libraries of Oldtown, and spoken with the Grand Maester to bring you a detailed history of the last Targaryen. Warning spoilers ahead for one of the best TV series of all time.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke)

Who was Daenerys Targaryen?

Daenerys, also known as Daenerys Stormborn (or Dany to her friends), was the youngest child and only daughter of King Aerys II Targaryen, aka The Mad King, and Queen Rhaella. Born in the latter days of Robert’s Rebellion, Dany spent her early life in exile, living off the generosity of wealthy patrons in the Free Cities. Still, she grew into a powerful warlord who conquered a large part of Essos, overthrowing the Slavers who once ruled.

Not satisfied with her new fiefdom, however, Daenerys eventually took her armies and dragons across the Narrow Sea to Westeros, intending to take back her family’s throne. There Dany met her nephew, Jon Snow, and became embroiled in his war against the White Walkers before setting her sights on retaking King’s Landing from the Lannisters who’d usurped it.

Unfortunately, by this point, the betrayals she’d suffered, the deaths of two of her dragons, and the cruelty of Queen Cersei Lannister pushed Dany over the edge. She succumbed to Targaryen madness and used her last dragon to burn King’s Landing to the ground. Realizing she’d become a tyrant, Jon killed his aunt (and lover) before exiling himself beyond The Wall, bringing the Targaryen line to an end.

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Daenerys Targaryen’s early life

Dany was born on Dragonstone after the Sack of King’s Landing. During Queen Rhaella’s labor, a huge storm lashed the island, which led to the young princess being nicknamed “Stormborn.” Unfortunately, the bad weather was an ill omen, and the queen died shortly after Dany’s birth.

With Robert’s forces on the way to take Dragonstone, the few men still loyal to House Targaryen secreted Dany and her elder brother Viserys across the sea to Essos, where they were cared for by Ser Willem Darry. The Children then spent the next few years touring the Free Cities, visiting various magisters, merchants, and princes in the hopes of gathering enough support to retake Westeros.

This never happened, and within a few years, the people of Essos lost interest in the Targaryen children and, with it, any hope of reclaiming the Iron Throne. Eventually, after the death of Ser Darry, the children were reduced to stealing food to survive, and Viserys earned the nickname the Beggar King. Still, hope was not entirely lost, and the wealthy Magister Illyrio Mopatis from Pentos saw an opportunity in the ousted Targaryens.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke) and a wounded Khal Drogo

Daenerys’ marriage to Khal Drogo

Illyrio took in Dany and conspired with Viserys to marry her off to the mighty Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo. Drogo was known to have the largest khalasar in Essos, and Illyrio promised that if he gave Dany to the Horse Lord Dany, then he would help Viserys take back his family’s throne.

Viserys, who was hardly known for his wisdom, agreed to the marriage, which ended up being a turning point in Dany’s life. While she initially hated being married to the barbarous Drogo, her marriage gave her something she’d never had before, freedom from her brother, and over time she grew bolder and bolder. Eventually, she won over the support of Drogo’s khalasar when she eats the raw heart of a stallion before the Dosh Khaleen and conceives a child with Drogo.

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Naming the child Rhogo, after her eldest brother Rhaegar, Dany and the Dothraki became convinced that the baby is the prophesized “Stallion who will mount the world.” Jealous that his sister had won the support of the Dothraki, Viserys made the mistake of slandering Dany in front of Drogo, who repaid the favor by dumping a pot of molten gold on the Prince’s head.

Finally free from her cruel brother Dany then managed to use an assassination attempt by Robert’s small council to convince Drogo to invade Westeros. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. You see, Drogo’s cruelty had made him enemies across the land, and a slave known as Mirri Maz Duur, took advantage of Dany’s kindness to get revenge on the warlord.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke) emerges from the flames with a baby dragon

When Drogo was wounded during a fight with a member of his khalasar, Dany turned to Miri to heal her husband, and the old witch agreed. The witch used blood magic to save Drogo’s life, but at the cost of Dany’s unborn son, and as an added sting in the tail, Miri’s ritual left the former warlord in a vegetative state. As Drogo’s khalasar collapses, Dany is left with few friends besides those members of the khalasar, too loyal to leave, and her informal bodyguard Ser Jorah Mormont.

Distraught, Dany builds a funeral pyre for Drogo (after euthanizing him) to cremate his remains. In her wroth, though, Dany also had Miri chained to the fire and burned alive as revenge for her husband’s murder, and this had a remarkable effect. You see, Dany also placed three dragon eggs — wedding gifts from Illyrio — into the fire before throwing herself into the flames. Dany was left remarkably unharmed, and the eggs hatched, giving Dany a power not seen in centuries, dragons.

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Daenerys’ adventures in Essos

Left with nothing but the weaker members of Drogo’s khalasar, Jorah, and three fledgling dragons, Dany and her followers make their way through the dreaded Red Wastes to the city of Quarth, where she meets and befriends the merchant, Xaro Xhoan Daxos.

With Xaro’s help, Dany attempts to convince the ruling council of Quarth, the Thirteen, to help her reclaim her family’s throne, but they decline, and to make matters worse, her dragons, Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion, are stolen by the dreaded Warlocks of Quarth.

Undeterred, Dany enters the House of the Undying, the Warlock’s temple, and retrieves her dragons, but not before being confronted by visions of what could have been and what may still be. Realizing that Xaro had betrayed her to the Warlocks, Dany confronts her former friend and seals him in his own Valyrian stone vault after robbing him blind, of course.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke) at the House of the Undying

After Quarth, Dany’s growing followers go to Astapor, where she encounters Ser Barristan Selmy, who saves her from an assassin sent by the warlocks of Qarth. At Quarth, Dany agrees to trade Drogon to the slave masters in exchange for an army of elite eunuch soldiers known as the Unsullied (and their translator Missandrei). After the transaction takes place, however, Dany betrays the slavers by having Drogon immolate the slave master before using her army to free the Astapor’s slaves.

Marching North to Yunkai, Dany’s army is confronted by the Second Sons, a mercenary company hired by the slavers to defend the city. One of the company’s commanders, however, Daario Naharis, finds himself enchanted by Dany’s beauty and ends up betraying the Second Sons and helping Jorah and the Unsullied leader Grey Worm infiltrate Yunkai. Once inside the city walls, the three open the gates of the city, and the Unsullied conquer the city once again, freeing the city’s slaves.

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Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons

Now known as the Breaker of Chains and the Mother of Dragons, Dany invades the final city in Slaver’s Bay, Meereen. While Dany is successful in freeing the slaves of the city, her cruelty earns her more enemies than her past victories, and news soon reaches her that Yunkai has returned to slaving. Deciding the only way to keep her people safe, Dany agrees to stay in Meereen and rule the city.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, however, and Dany struggles to run the city, especially when it’s revealed her trusted advisor Jorah was spying on her for Robert Baratheon. Things only become worse for Dany when she’s confronted with proof that Drogon, who’s grown to the size of a horse, has devoured a three-year-old girl leaving nothing but blackened bones behind. Devastated but unable to find Drogon, Dany’s imprisons Rhaegal and Viserion in the pyramid of Meereen.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke) in Meereen

With Dany’s unpopularity growing and her dragons conspicuous by their absence, a group of rebels attempts to overthrow their new ruler. Known as the Sons of the Harpy, the rebels launch terror attacks across the city, leading to the death of Ser Barristan. In the hopes of pacifying the people, Dany marries the leader of one of Meereen’s ruling families, Hizdahr zo Loraq reopens the fighting pits.

In the reopened fighting pits, Dany’s taken by one of the fighters, who’s revealed to be Jorah, who has returned from exile with a “gift” for his queen. Jorah has discovered the son of Tywin Lannister, Tyrion, and offers The Imp to Daenerys. With his trademark silver tongue, Tyrion is able to work his way into Dany’s small council, although the princess once again banishes Jorah for his former betrayal.

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The threat of the Sons of the Harpy hasn’t ended, though, and the next time Dany attends the fighting pits, she and her retinue are attacked by a group of masked assassins. Luckily Drogon chooses this moment to return and saves his mother from the would-be killers. Unfortunately, Drogon again abandons his mother after dropping her off with some Dothraki bloodriders.

Once again a hostage of the Dothraki, the horse lords take the widow of Khal Drogo to the Dothraki capital, where they intend to force her to live out the rest of her days. Shockingly, Dany’s not really into this idea and actually manages to murder all the Dothraki Khals in attendance. Now the undisputed leader of the Dothraki Dany returns to Meereen on Drogon with her new army.

When Dany arrives, she finds Meereen besieged by the slave cities she’d previously freed, but the slaver’s ships are no match for Dany’s reunited dragons, who destroy the fleet before it lands in the city. Restored to the throne of Meereen, Dany finally has the army she needs to take back Westeros, and after forging alliances with House Greyjoy, Tyrell, and Martell, she begins her journey west to take back what’s rightfully hers.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke) sails to Westeros

Daenerys’s campaigns in Westeros

Landing At Dragonstone, Dany takes back her family’s former ancestral seat and begins to plan her campaigns against the Lannisters and the other lords of Westeros. After a few missteps, including losing the vast majority of the Tyrell family’s wealth, Dany eventually summons Jon Snow, the new King in the North, to come and bend the knee.

Jon refuses, however, stressing that the real threat to Westeros comes not from the South and King’s Landing but from the North beyond The Wall, where the White Walkers are building an army. While Dany doesn’t initially believe Jon, her own encounter with the Night King and the death of one of her dragons, Viserion, convinces her that the undead is a threat that must be dealt with.

Dany then travels with Jon to King’s Landing in an attempt to convince Cersei of the threat posed by the army of the dead. After successfully convincing the queen (Although Cersei decides to betray them anyway), Jon and Dany fall in love and sleep together. Little do the pair realize, though, that Jon is, in fact, Dany’s nephew Aegon Targaryen.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke) North of the Wall

Battling the Night King

Up north, the Night King uses his foul magic to revive Viserion, after which he uses the dragon’s power to destroy The Wall and bring his undead legions south. With the dead just days away and reinforcements not coming from the South, Dany, and Jon plan their last stand at Winterfell, although Jon’s ‘sister’ Sansa is less than happy to have the Targaryen Queen in her family home.

Jon and Dany’s relationship is further tested when Jon’s parentage is revealed. Fearing Jon’s claim to the throne, Dany becomes increasingly paranoid, although she’s distracted by her obsession with the arrival of the undead army. After a long battle, the forces of the living succeed, and the Night King is killed. There’s little time to celebrate, however, as Dany turns her eye south to King’s Landing, hoping to retake the throne finally.

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Daenerys’ final days

As Dany plots the attack on King’s Landing, her paranoia resurfaces when she learns that Jon’s true identity is well-known amongst her followers, and things only grow worse when Jon, who’s disgusted that he slept with his aunt, rejects her advances.

In her final days, Dany loses another dragon, Rhaegar, Missandrei, and even Tyrion betrays her, leaving the would-be queen with nowhere to turn. As she and Jon launch their final attack on Cersei’s capital, her mind finally breaks, and she uses Drogon to burn the city to the ground. After the slaughter, Jon confronts her, and she rants about doing the same to establish a new “good world.” Realizing Dany had gone mad, Jon killed the woman he loved, ending her threat once and for all.

Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen (Emelia Clarke) with wings

Daenerys Targaryen’s legacy

After she died, Dany’s body was taken by Drogon (but not before he melted the Iron throne) to parts unknown. Still, the Unsullied and Dothraki armies were still loyal to Dany, and Jon had to be exiled by the next king, Bran Stark, to ensure the safety of the realm.

Game of Thrones Daenerys Targaryen explained: Dany and Drogon

Who played Daenerys Targaryen?

Emilia Clarke played Daenerys Targaryen for all eight seasons of Game of Thrones. Clarke made her acting debut in the BBC series Doctores before getting her big break in Game of Thrones. Since appearing in the show, she’s starred in films like Terminator Genysis, Solo, Me Before You, and Last Christmas. Clarke last appeared in the Marvel series Secret Invasion, where she played the Super Skrull G’iah.

If you’re something of a Game of Thrones scholar, then you’re in the right place.  We have guides on both the House of the Dragon cast and the Game of Thrones cast.  That’s not all though we’ve also got a detailed breakdown of everything you need to know about the House of the Dragon season 2 release date and looked into a possible Game of Thrones season 9.

If you’re a huge fan of the scalier members of House Targaryen, we’ve got individual articles on Balerion the Black DreadMeleys, Arrax, Meraxes, Syrax, and Vermithor for your enjoyment. Finally, we have guides on all of the major players in House of the Dragon, including Alicent Hightower, King Viserys Targaryen, Otto HightowerDaemon Targaryen, Larys Strong, and Ser Criston Cole. Basically, we’re experts on the history of Westeros.