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Feature Article

Game Of Thrones: Why The Mad King Is Important To Dany's Depiction In Episode 5

Game of Thrones Season 8 spoilers ahead!

Episode 5 Update (5/12): With Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5, Daenerys went full Mad Queen. In our episode review of "The Bells," we discuss whether that transition was earned. But regardless of how the show got there, it's undeniable that Dany's transformation has been foreshadowed from the beginning. We may wish the show had spent more time on it, but it didn't exactly come out of left field--read on below for our full explanation of Dany's family history, her father the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, and why Dany's fire-and-blood rampage was always a possibility.

Original article follows:

After the most recent episode of Game of Thrones Season 8, "The Last of the Starks," it seems pretty clear what direction the show is going: They're setting Dany up to become a full-blown Mad Queen.

What exactly does that mean? Isn't Cersei already the Mad Queen? Well, yes and no--the answer is complicated. Sure, Cersei ultimately fulfilled the plan originally set in motion decades earlier by Dany's father, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, by blowing up a huge chunk of the city in Season 6. But that's only part of the story. Now, with two episodes left and Dany ostensibly at the end of her rope as she watches her plans fall apart and her closest friends, advisers, and dragon-children dropping like flies, the Dragon Queen's unfortunate heritage might kick in after all.

Of course, it's understandable if you're a little fuzzy on who the Mad King Aerys is, and why he matters so much. One of the quirks of the show's earlier seasons was that it rarely stooped to using obvious expository dialogue to get its backstory across. This made the show's first few seasons more immersive, but it also means that many viewers aren't fully aware of the relevant Westerosi history.

But over the years, we've learned from various sources about the Mad King, who once sat on the Iron Throne and ruled over the Seven Kingdoms. He is one of the most significant characters on the show, despite being dead before the series premiere; it was his disastrous reign that precipitated the current chaos in Westeros, and which may predict the way the story of Daenerys, his last remaining offspring, will ultimately end.

With Dany balanced on a knife's edge in these final episodes, we might be hearing a lot more about her father's madness--especially if Varys intends to act on his newfound belief that Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen would be a better ruler. So before that happens, let's explore the recent history of Targaryen madness in the Seven Kingdoms. We're pulling in elements of Targaryen history from the books to provide some additional context, so keep in mind not all of this will necessarily apply in the show.

Targaryen Madness

Prior to Robert Baratheon, the Mad King reigned supreme. His derisive nickname was well-earned, especially because Aerys was not always mad. Targaryens, on the whole, had a very good track record as monarchs; Aerys was the sixteenth member of his family to sit the throne. And Aerys's first decade of rule was marked by prosperity.

The young king (20 years old when he ascended) was aided greatly by his Hand, Tywin Lannister. Tywin was coldly objective and efficient--everything that Aerys was not. Aerys talked big and charmed people, while Tywin went about the sordid, detail-heavy business of actually running the realm. It was an arrangement that worked out for everyone at first.

But Aerys was insecure, and over time, he went mad. Perhaps his mental instability was the product of incest; generations of Targaryens intermarried to keep the lineage pure and consolidated.

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Aerys alienated Tywin over a period of years; while drunk, he made a crude sexual remark to Tywin's wife and cousin, Joanna. He also made Tywin's eldest son, Jaime, a member of the Kingsguard. Since Kingsguards are not allowed to marry, have children, or hold property, this was an insult disguised as an honor; he deprived Tywin of an heir to Casterly Rock.

Tywin resigned as Hand. And without a mediating influence in King's Landing, things quickly went off the rails. Administrative positions were increasingly occupied by a rotating cadre of yes-men and charlatans. And the king himself grew paranoid, fearing that his subjects were out to kill or usurp him. He tortured and killed entire families of those he suspected, and laughed while doing it.

He allowed his physical appearance to degrade; he no longer cut his hair or bathed, and his nails grew long and yellow. He developed an unhealthy fascination with wildfire and with burning people alive. The Targaryen family had always been closely associated with dragons and fire, but this was a step too far.

The Tipping Point

The situation became untenable when Aerys's son, Rhaegar, "kidnapped" Lyanna Stark. Lyanna's father Rickard and brother Brandon protested, as did Robert Baratheon, to whom Lyanna was betrothed. In response to their righteous anger, Aerys burned Rickard and Brandon alive in the throne room for their "treason."

This triggered an uprising known as Robert's Rebellion, during which the Starks, Baratheons, and eventually the Lannisters all united to overthrow the king. And in the midst of this coup, Jaime Lannister slit Aerys's throat. For this, and for doing so as a member of the Kingsguard, his enemies tagged him with the derisive nickname "Kingslayer."

What most people didn't know was that Jaime had saved King's Landing with his actions. Aerys had wildfire planted all over the city in its underground tunnels, so that in the event of a rebellion, he would reduce the city (and its inhabitants) to ash. This plan never came to pass, thanks to Jaime betraying his vow.

It's also important to note that Rhaegar never actually "kidnapped" Lyanna. In reality, the two had eloped and were in love. But no major player on either side knew this.

The Fallout

Aerys's pregnant sister-wife, Rhaella, fled to Dragonstone with Aerys' second son, Viserys. She gave birth to Daenerys and died shortly afterward.

Robert Baratheon ascended to the Iron Throne. He pardoned Jaime and married Jaime's twin sister, Cersei. He allowed Eddard (Ned) Stark, Lyanna and Brandon's younger brother, to remain as Warden of the North.

Rhaegar Targaryen, Aerys's first son, died during Robert's Rebellion. And Lyanna Stark died after giving birth to his son, Aegon Targaryen. Lyanna made Ned promise to keep the boy safe; had Robert known that Aegon existed, he would have killed him. So, Ned renamed him Jon Snow and presented him to the world as his bastard.

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And the wildfire that the Mad King had planted all over the city was used by Cersei in Season 6 to destroy the Great Sept of Baelor and kill the High Sparrow and the Tyrells. This ultimately resulted in Tommen Baratheon's suicide, and Cersei ascended to the Iron Throne in her son's place.

The Mad King's other caches of wildfire are presumably still scattered throughout the city. Should Cersei choose to light them, she may fulfill Aerys's plan after all.

The Future

The reason why Aerys is still important, all these years later, is multifaceted. As the saying goes, "The North Remembers." Aerys burned Rickon and Brandon Stark to death. And remember: As far as the North knows, the Targaryens raped and killed Lyanna Stark as well (although more and more characters are finally learning the truth about Lyanna and Rhaegar's relationship). Some of this distrust and anger naturally manifests itself toward Daenerys.

Daenerys, to her credit, has consistently disavowed her father, conceding that he was a bad man. She's promised to her doubters that she will be better, fairer, and more just. But as we're seeing more and more with the final episodes approaching, there is darkness in Daenerys. Like her father, she's demonstrated, on occasion, an uncompromising desire for power, such as when Randyll and Dickon Tarly initially refused to bend the knee, and Daenerys had them burned to death by her dragon Drogon, much to Tyrion's alarm and dismay.

And that's far from the only thing that has Dany's closest advisors worried. The Mad King may be dead, but his influence, and the fear and resentment he sowed, live on.

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mrougeau

Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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