There’s been no shortage of speculation regarding Game of Thrones’ final season, but there’s one thing we know for certain: it’s going to be bloody. The show’s done away with plot armor as we know it, and given that Season 7 was comparatively light in major character deaths, we can probably expect a major backlash in Season 8. Literally no one is safe, and that includes beloved magical creatures like direwolves and dragons.
Viserion’s death at the hands of the Night King sticks out as one of the most memorable and, frankly, traumatic moments of the Game of Thrones Season 7. The dragons have been largely unstoppable creatures since Season 5, so we could all be forgiven for thinking they were invincible. But that’s the false sense of security Game of Thrones loves to exploit, so shame, shame, shame on us for not seeing that ice javelin coming. Unfortunately, when it comes to Drogon and Rhaegal — Dany’s last two surviving dragons — the writing’s on the wall. It’s highly unlikely they’ll make out of Season 8 alive (or in Daenerys’ possession). But honestly that has more to do with them than the wars to come.
The Dragons are too Powerful for Any Ruler to Possess
Daenerys’ arc throughout the series’ run paints her as a liberator, not a conqueror. She might seek to emulate her ancestor Aegon I , but she’s also been clear about her intention to end the cycle of infighting and instability that’s ruled Westeros for far too long. Both she and Tyrion (occasionally) agree that governing through fear isn’t sustainable and that if Dany wanted to solidify her power, she had to win the hearts and minds of the people away from Cersei. That’s why their initial strategy avoided using the dragons to simply lay waste to King’s Landing and plant a Targaryen flag on the ashes.
Unfortunately, Jaime and Cersei anticipated Tyrion’s actions and thwarted his plan masterfully. They managed to divide Dany’s armies, neutralize her entire naval force and cost her three major allies. An infuriated Dany responded by unleashing the Dothraki and Drogon on Lannister forces in “The Spoils of War.” She followed up her decisive and brutal victory by mercilessly executing the Tarly men and terrorizing the Lannister survivors into joining her forces. That move directly contradicted her initial intention to act as a benevolent “breaker of chains.”
While Dany attempted to justify her behavior as necessary, Tyrion regarded it as an abuse of power and a dangerous loss of control on the part of his queen. As fair-minded as Daenerys attempts to be, the dragons represent absolute power, and it’s clear she’s not immune to that kind of power going to her head. Season 7 well established that she has the capacity to be at least as bloodthirsty as her father, if not as mad.
Dany Can’t Break the Wheel at Gunpoint – and She Doesn’t Have to
Even if the dragons become the MVPs in the war against the Night King, once that war is over, they take his place as the biggest threat to humanity. Dany can’t very well promise to be a different kind of leader than Aerys II or Cersei while at the same time keeping two creatures by her side that are literally Wildfire made flesh and could easily eliminate anyone who opposes her. “Breaking the wheel” will call for more than giving Westeros yet another new leader. It will call for a new kind of leadership — one that presumably doesn’t involve governance through might and fear. Considering that’s been Dany’s whole brand since the first season, she can’t do that and keep the dragons by her side without the show betraying her entire arc. Luckily, there’s precedence for peaceful, dragonless rule in Westerosi history and her own.
The Targaryen dynasty ruled Westeros for over 150 years without the assistance of dragons, which is longer than they ruled with them, in fact. And while her own dragons helped her win decisive victories in Essos, Dany’s an effective governor without them at her back. The Unsullied, the Dothraki, Missandei, Tyrion, Jorah and every other ally Dany’s won to her side haven’t stayed because of dragons. They’ve stayed because they believe in her. Rhaegal and Drogon might help her win the hearts of the people, but they can’t her keep them. She can only do that on her own.
In short, Dany doesn’t need the dragons to survive in Season 8. They should help her win and then die heroically in battle.
Game of Thrones returns in 2019.