Game of Thrones: What Really Makes Jon and Daenerys “The Song of Ice and Fire”

Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Tar…Sta…Snow. Fire and Ice. Essos and Westeros. Conqueror and (ex-) Lord Commander.

Whether you watch Game of Thrones, read A Song of Ice and Fire or both, most of us have made the pretty safe bet that these two characters’ paths will eventually cross for the impending war against the White Walkers. You’ve probably read many internet theories – that the two are related, that Jon will ride one of Dany’s dragons, that they will rule Westeros together in the end. But we’re not going to theorize much here; instead, let’s take a deeper look at both of their journeys from day one and analyze just how strikingly similar they’ve been – and how they are already tied together despite being at opposite ends of the world.

Side note: This piece will focus on the show as both characters’ storylines have stayed quite close to George R. R. Martin’s novels, plus we have the benefit of certain Season 6 events that have not yet happened in the books.

Part 1: Identity

Let’s begin with our Mother of Dragons. When we first meet Daenerys in Season 1, she and Viserys are in Pentos on the run from Robert Baratheon’s assassins. Viserys treats his sister as if she is less than human, a mere piece of property to be used in any way that can help him take the Iron Throne. She has no discernible personality of her own and is too scared to stand up to her brother’s cruelty out of fear that she will “wake the dragon”. No parents to guide her, no visible friends until Jorah came along, and a fear/inability to even think for herself…the Mother of Dragons began with the mother of all identity crises.


Daenerys spent her childhood being controlled by her cruel brother Viserys

Likewise, at the start Jon is also struggling to form an identity of his own. The bastard child of a highborn family, constantly overshadowed by Robb, despised by Catelyn for what his very existence represents, it’s no wonder he rarely cracks a smile. Theon Greyjoy even calls Ghost “the runt” of the direwolves and says it’s fitting that Jon should own him. Unlike Daenerys, Jon was raised by a loving father and surrounded by many good people, but when the Starks departed for King’s Landing his options were limited. He knew a bastard had no place in the high court and he certainly couldn’t stay in Winterfell with Catelyn, so he chooses the one place perfectly suited for misfits who want (or need) to establish new identities: The Wall.

As their storylines progress through Season 1, both find themselves in new surroundings but are viewed as “outsiders” by their peers, forced to perform difficult tasks in order to survive and gain acceptance. As Dany slowly embraces Dothraki traditions and learns to sexually please Khal Drogo, her personality grows and we see the emergence of a stronger, more confident young woman. (“You’re speaking like a Queen.” “Not a Queen – a Khaleesi.”) Meanwhile, Jon arrives at the Wall and is immediately disliked by many of his Night’s Watch brothers. The boy born into a high-born family, enjoying all the best food, clothes, shelter and comfort views himself as “better than” his brothers, most of whom are thieves, murderers or rapists. But after learning that everyone is treated equally at The Wall, he realizes that he – like all the others – has a clean slate and that his past identity means nothing. Like Dany, he begins to embrace the people around him and the makings of a respectful, leadership-like personality begin to emerge.

By the end of Season 1 and into Season 2, Daenerys and Jon’s personalities have developed significantly as we see the beginnings of the people they become later in the series. Initially, their identities are established purely from the need to survive; however, they continue to grow internally and externally as a result of the growing fondness for and understanding of the people around them.

Part 2: Leadership Ideologies

They may have become rulers by rather different means – fire, blood and dragons versus a democratic vote – but Daenerys and Jon prove to have very similar leadership ideologies which have turned out to be both their strength and their weakness. Let’s take a look.

On the journey that eventually leads her to Meereen, Daenerys becomes the leader of numerous types of people: from the Dothraki to an army of Unsullied, from former slaves and poor folk to high-born lords and Westerosi knights and sellswords. In other words, she welcomes anyone who wishes for her help and shares in her vision of freedom and equal opportunity for all. It is a very forward-thinking ideology (especially for a region called Slaver’s Bay), an all-inclusive and non-discriminatory style of rule.

The problem? She still has the classic young person’s belief that the world can be made perfect and she tries to accomplish this immediately and forcefully. Predictably, many of her laws and decisions are met with support in some areas and skepticism or

Dany conquers Meereen but struggles to maintain control

Dany conquers Meereen but struggles to maintain control

outright backlash in others. Look at her decree on slavery: she attempted to do away with it entirely in one day and as a result, the slave masters executed 163 children with Dany soon responding by executing 163 slave masters. (Remember that Ser Barristan counseled mercy, to which she responded “I will answer injustice with justice.”) Likewise, her decision to close the fighting pits of Meereen was met with widespread backlash from nearly all sections. She wants a peaceful future without violence, but the people of her city love the entertainment of the fighting pits and having a chance at tournament glory. It is a part of the culture’s history, which she has not yet acclimated to. For the (former) slaves in particular, it is their one chance to do something special in life and be remembered for it. She eventually concedes to these pleas, but only because of the growing threat of the Sons of the Harpy. Though many view her as the “Mhysa” or the “savior”, Season 5 in particular showed us that Dany’s style of rule does not quite mix with Meereenese culture and beliefs.

Now let’s go back to The Wall and Jon’s time as Lord Commander. Like Dany, Jon’s approach to leadership is extremely progressive – gladly welcoming any man, woman and child of any birth who wishes for protection and wants to aid in the battle against the White Walkers – but it is deeply unpopular with the traditionalists of the Night’s Watch. All they have ever known for hundreds of years is that “the wildlings are the enemy” yet their new Lord Commander is suddenly allowing thousands of them to cross under The Wall for the first time in history. Jon is constantly thinking of the future and the forthcoming war while many of his brothers only see the here and now. The irony is that for all his planning ahead, Jon failed to grasp the growing threat that was literally right in front of him and paid for it with his life (well, for 2 episodes).

Jon leads Tormund and some Night's Watch brothers to Hardhome

Jon leads Tormund and some Night’s Watch brothers to Hardhome

Nearly every decision Jon makes is met with skepticism or outright defiance, from Janos Slynt refusing a direct order to Ser Alliser’s advice that the mission to rescue the wildlings at Hardhome would be suicide. (“You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It’ll get us all killed.”) Like Dany, he wants to give everyone a chance at freedom and safety, regardless of their birth or race. His capacity to forgive (pre-death anyway) is an underrated feature as well. The great love of his life, Ygritte, was killed in battle by young Olly, while two of his best friends Pyp and Grenn were in turn murdered by wildlings. Despite those heavy personal losses, he continues to aim for the long-term goal of togetherness and harmony for everyone.

With all that said, could Jon and Daenerys realistically rule Westeros together someday? Both are young, compassionate, heart-on-sleeve rulers whose biggest mistake was not realizing they had entered cultures that were not ready to accept the radical changes they implemented. Of course they are not entirely alike, but Westeros is neither Meereen nor The Wall – which for them is probably a crucial detail. There is enough to suggest that they, along with wise counsel from the likes of Tyrion, Davos and Jorah, could make up the leadership that finally leads the world into peace and prosperity. But as it’s George R. R. Martin we’re talking about, such a generous ending to the story seems almost silly to hope for.

 Part 3: Rebirth

On closer inspection, the theme of rebirth is relevant to many characters in Season 6 but we’ll stick to Jon and Daenerys here. Both have experienced rebirths of their own in recent weeks, one literal and the other metaphorical. Jon, of course, was murdered by his Night’s Watch brothers but was brought back to life thanks to Melisandre’s powers (or just saying “please”). Daenerys was symbolically reborn in the Vaes Dothrak flames, rediscovering herself and what makes her special, makes her feared and powerful.

Interestingly, both of their rebirths were necessary in part due to their failure to keep Ghost and the dragons – who represent the historic sigils of House Stark and House Targaryen – close to them. Melisandre warned Jon that his surroundings were becoming more threatening and to keep Ghost nearby at all times – advice he failed to heed. Likewise, Daenerys began to lose her way as a ruler along with her identity as a Targaryen when she locked up Viserion and Rhaegal. Instead of embracing her dragons and learning to control them, she ignored them for long periods and attempted to be the diplomat instead, to largely negative results.

You could argue that being kidnapped and taken to Vaes Dothrak was the best thing that could happen to Dany, as she destroyed her captives in true Targaryen fashion – with fire and blood. The overwhelming feeling from fans in the aftermath of that scene was “Finally, Daenerys is back!” And while Jon will never appreciate being mutinied against by his own men, his subsequent rebirth has enabled him to get off The Wall without fear of being executed as a deserter. Now he can fight to take back Winterfell for the Starks and attempt to unite the North and beyond against the true threat to mankind – the Night’s King.

In both cases, hard lessons have been learned and they will surely be wiser for the struggles they have endured. Only time will tell the ultimate roles Jon and Daenerys will play in the wars to come and their aftermath, but we know without question that they will be major players. We’ve long suspected that these two must cross paths in the end, as they do represent the “ice and fire” of Martin’s incredible world, but perhaps the correlation in their journeys all along is creating their full Song of Ice and Fire.



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Author: Joe Ballard View all posts by

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