Legacies of Ice and Fire: How Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen will be remembered
The season finale of Game of Thrones leaves us at a very particular point in history. Following two successive wars, a supernatural catastrophe and the near destruction of the capital, Westeros is left with a new king and a new wheel, one in which they choose their own ruler. However, the finale also leaves a very strong feeling of an open future. Arya sails for new adventure in the west. Bran and Sansa begin their reigns. Jon ventures out into the unknown north. It leaves the definitive taste that this world will keep going, these characters will keep living. We might not get to witness anymore, but Westeros lives on.
This is a common technique for the ending of a series, of course, and here it is surely effective as I have turned my thoughts to this future that we aren’t privy to. I’ve started thinking about the times immediately following episode 6 as well as the decades and centuries to follow. Without a doubt, the people of the future are going to look back on the time period Game of Thrones covered as a major point in their history. Equally without doubt, they are going to look back at two specific people, which had me asking the question:
What are the long-term legacies of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, now that they have both departed the realms of men?
The fact that there will be legacies is undeniable. These two were larger than life characters that twisted the destinies of countless, countless people. Forever entwined, the pair spent next to no time in the relative ‘centre’ of Westeros, or indeed together, but enough was done for the names to be on the tongues of the people for years to come.
Before we get to what the narrative will be let’s establish the basic fact: Both of them saved the world. There’s far more to their stories than this, but it was the pinnacle to their arc. Without either one or both, the Night King wins and the world falls under darkness. Both of them were absolutely crucial. Fact.
Also fact: shortly after this Daenerys murdered thousands of people in some of the most horrific ways possible, and Jon in turn murdered her under the guise of finally returning her love. So with both having crimes forever attached to their name it really comes down to which side of the argument your faction lands on.
Both Dany and Jon have very clear support groups but the majority of Planetos citizens aren’t going to belong to one of these teams. Most likely your average Westerosi is going to form an opinion based on hearsay, legend, and perhaps even some nuggets of truth. At this point I want to look at the individual cases of the pair.
I theorize Jon is eventually going to become some kind of cult hero legend. Before that it is likely the people of the capital are going to associate positively with him. He is the northern king who came south and killed the woman who had just burned half a million people. Despite the gentle prejudices against northmen, it is an easy-to-relate hero story. Comes from the north, defeats the evil queen despite it likely meaning his life, is banished to the wall for the crime of saving them all. Considering how indestructible Daenerys seemed just a few weeks ago Jon’s reputation is only improved.
Slowly but surely you would expect the story of The Battle of the Dawn to also make its way down south. Obviously the Northerners will adore Jon already. He won back Winterfell from the hated Boltons, restored the Stark name, and gathered the army that would face and repel the army of the dead. He led the forces of good in the most important war in human history. Some even whisper he died for the north and then came back to save it.
As life returns to normal in Westeros northerners will travel below the Neck while southerners travel up. Perhaps not at the same rate as before, due to the North being its own independent country again, but news will spread, and Jon’s legend will keep growing. We can reasonably expect a story of horned king of ice to be met with dubiety by those in the south, but if enough people keep up the tale then why not add it to Jon’s resume?
“He saved us all from an invasion of White Walkers AND dragons? And got banished for it? He gave his life for ours.”
There is always a counterargument. Jon very publicly declared for Daenerys (multiple times) and his northern forces besieged the city on the Dragon Queen’s orders. He marched into the city the same as the Unsullied. His troops committed atrocities amongst the innocent, he was even present when surrendering soldiers were set upon after the bells had sounded. Pro-Cersei forces still exist, both in the city and in the Westerlands, and Jon cut down more than his fair share of Lannister soldiers. That will be remembered, by some. Combine that with anti-northernness or the people’s general disparaging of bastards and Jon’s popularity is far from a hundred percent.
Still, if we have to put money down, I’d say the narrative of someone who maybe repelled an army of the dead and definitely killed the evil dragon queen will stick.
To Jon’s advantage, some of his largest detractors have left. The Unsullied, who obviously despise him, have departed for Naath. The show doesn’t make it clear what has happened to the Dothraki, but you would assume that they are not staying in Westeros, so he doesn’t have too many people going around actively trying to harm his legacy.
What about the official line from those in charge? Up in the north it’d be easy to assume Sansa will happily talk up Jon as his loving sister. But remember Sansa needs her own support now; she is Queen in the North. It would not do well to go around claiming there was someone much better than her for the job and she was just second choice (It would also be untrue). So Sansa likely must perform a balancing act of being positive about Jon, his role against the Night King and his time as the King in the North, without going overboard and harming her own hold at the same time. In many ways Sansa does have to deal with similar problems that Daenerys faced, Westerosi Lords will always side with the male if you give them half a chance, whether that is justified or not. She must assert herself now and find a way to help the North move on from Jon Snow.
How about in the south? Bran is both Jon’s brother and the new king. Tyrion is Hand, a friend of Jon, and the best source in the world for knowing exactly how difficult it was for Jon to do what he did. So do they give Jon his due publicly? When the deal to banish Jon was struck it seems they had to save some face with the Unsullied and act distant from him to make sure it all went through. With them having departed perhaps they change policy and openly state how much Jon did for them all, both in the north and with Daenerys? The counter option would be Bran deciding that the city needs to move past that tragic event as quickly as possible and discourages talk of Jon and the other events. Tyrion is perhaps more interesting. He owes his life directly to Jon and was also majorly involved in Daenerys’ death. Would he be willing to revisit that dark time in his life by speaking openly about it? For sure, none of them are going to talk negatively about him, banishment or not, but it is interesting to think how far they would go out of their way to promote him. It would also be worth noting that Davos and Samwell sit on the Small Council. If anyone is going to want to spread Jon’s story, it would be those two.
We mentioned that Jon’s being a bastard might still reduce him in some of the stiffer and blinder Houses. But having said that, his status in that regard remains unclear. He was King in the North, after all. That is before breaching the fact he is actually a Targaryen and the heir to the Iron Throne. Again, we don’t know how many people are aware of the fact, but it stands to reason that if the assembled Great Lords want to make a go of this new type of ruling, they are going to stay hush about there being an actual true heir for the next few years at least. Varys did send out those letters, and it is the type of rumour to be whispered in wine sinks and inns, and absolutely the type to bolster the legend of a banished king. In a few years it’ll likely be seen as all but fact, but by the time it is cool to talk about it the effect will be largely diminished.
Jon’s banishment and disappearance above the Wall will only bolster his legacy. You can already hear the songs being written. A man who came back to life, defeated the dead, went south to save everyone from a dragon and then disappeared back above the Wall. It is the type of thing that links well with stories of him dying and being brought back to life, his friendship with giants and his mighty direwolf.
The details are how these things seep through into the culture of a people.
“They say he spoke to giants and rode dragons.”
“He fought the wildlings and became their king”
“They follow him because he died for them. Now he’s up there with them, out in the wilds. The-King-Beyond-The-Wall.”
Ultimately, in Westeros, Jon will become known as a hero. In the north more than anywhere but the Six Kingdoms will remember him as a war hero, a man linked unbreakably with honour, and for the singers a man who would rather kill his own love than see the realm burn. He defeated the Night King, saved the wildlings, defeated more men then you can count in single combat. Add to that the fact he lives above the Wall now with a direwolf taller than he, with his half-giant friend and a kingdom of wildlings who adore him, plus any number of other stories, and the legend of Jon Snow will only grow larger and larger in the years to come.
History is not going to look on Daenerys so kindly. Not at all.
The devastation she lay upon King’s Landing will not be forgotten. Nothing of its sort has been done in Westerosi history, and we can assume stories of the utter horror in the streets will not go quiet anytime soon. As if anyone could forget, the Red Keep will never look the same again, to say nothing of the streets themselves.
Other stories will begin to appear to support the hypothesis.
“I heard she crucified men in the east.”
“She sacked the city of Qarth.”
“She burned the Tarly men after their surrender”
Tales from Dany’s past, lacking detail and context, will push the story forward. This being King’s Landing the people will likely learn of her lack of remorse and plans to ‘liberate’ people the world over. They will whisper Daenerys was so bloodthirsty even the evil Imp could not bear to be her Hand, and her heart was so black even the man who loved her was driven to put a knife in it.
Her background will set a solid foundation on which hate can fester. She was a foreign invader, leading a force of Dothraki barbarians and Unsullied eunuchs to the shores of the innocent. Didn’t she murder her own brother by melting his head? It is worth remembering that the people of this generation will have grown up fearing the name ‘Targaryen’ anyway. The last one they saw was Aerys, already known for his cruelty. The next time one shows up suspicions about the family are confirmed as she goes ahead with burning them all atop a mighty dragon.
Her family name will earn her some respite from unpopularity. There are pro-Targaryen families out there in the world, after all (though some of them are/were pro-Rhaegar, which calls into question if they would be more inclined to welcome his son or his sister). They may well still support the dragon banner, even if they probably keep it to themselves. But there were more than enough people who hated Cersei, after all, and Daenerys already had the support of several before she attacked King’s Landing. We know Asha Greyjoy still supports what she did. In theory whoever is ruling Dorne would be quite pleased as the prospect of a dead Cersei and a burnt King’s Landing. Gendry owes his Lordship and Castle to Daenerys, but it is harder to see where his loyalties would lie. There may even be a smattering of Reachmen who remember who Olenna Tyrell sided with, and absolutely will not forget the destruction of the Sept of Baelor. It would not be proper to forget the damage Cersei wreaked in Westeros, both as Queen and before. The person who cast her down, and who was also seen to cast down the Red Keep and Iron Throne as symbols even if that is slightly blurry details wise, will be liked by more than one person. Daenerys will find her supporters on the fringes of the south, far from the capital, but it’s unlikely anyone will hear them shout too loud.
As for the official line, Bran and Tyrion aren’t given much of a choice here. They both know her, know what she did for the world, and what drove her at the end, but if they want any sort of success in holding King’s Landing and uniting a realm they cannot be anything other than disapproving of her actions. Tyrion, especially, might feel the pull to highlight her better traits, her successes in the north and east, to make himself feel better about his past choices as much as anything, but he is hopefully too smart to push the issue now.
Where the departing of Dothraki and Unsullied work in Jon’s advantage it is obviously a minus for Dany. They would have supported her until their dying day but they have sailed far, far away (and their word would have only been worth so much anyway). One would hope that she will at least receive credit for her role in the north, but it is thin ice to place a hope on. Gendry, perhaps, would tell the truth of what happened and how important she was, but in general the best she could hope for is second billing to Jon. Everyone who would have said her name first is either dead or gone from the continent. Again, Tyrion and Bran know but are caged in by their new roles. There will have been many northerners and Vale men who saw how imperative Daenerys was, but they will still have Jon’s names on their lips first. And Sansa is not exactly going to encourage fair credit. Tragically, the further we go into the future the more and more Daenerys will be erased from the victory over the dead.
And again, she will fall victim to the various inaccuracies of rumour and tale.
“Dragons saved us in the north, we would have died without them.”
“No, no, we fought against a dragon!”
“My uncle was there; he saw Jon Snow stand against a dragon breathing blue flame. Moments later the thing was dead on the ground.”
Daenerys would have fallen victim to this injustice even had she not marched on King’s Landing. She was not wrong in her estimation of the people loving Jon more, or in the pre-made sexism of the time. The stories of her dragons will go on but become more and more mixed with legend. But with the addition of what happened down south she her true role will be forgotten while her memory is tarnished and vilified en masse. Those on the fringes will put up a vague fight, maybe, for a time, but the wave of history likely won’t be defeated in this case. Daenerys will, heartbreakingly, leave behind a legacy of hatred.
As for Essos, her legend will only grow, as it always does when someone dies young. In Slaver’s Bay and the surrounding area Daenerys will never be forgotten. She changed too much, on a beyond-monumental scale. For hundreds of years there will be stories by scores of people about the Dragon queen who came and liberated the ancestors of those living there. A silver-haired woman with three dragons who saved them all. The mother. The Mhysa. Not that she will not have her fair share of detractors also, but they are simply outnumbered at this point. Families of Yunkai, Astapor and Meereen will all remember. If we assume the Dothraki return to the Dothraki Sea they will carry their own legends of their greatest ever Khaleesi, the one who lead them across the sea to kill men in their Iron Suits and defeated the greatest enemy of all. Dothraki follow strength and there is no greater image of strength to be found in the world than Daenerys burning King’s Landing atop Drogon. In far Essos she truly did break the wheel, and she endeared herself, for life, to the people. As the years go past her legend will only grow and grow, in the centre of the Dothraki Sea, along the coast of Slaver’s Bay, and of course to the south on the island of Naath.
After all, only three dragons have existed in the last couple of centuries, and they are hard to forget. Especially when one is still flying around in your general area. We saw how the story of the Mother of Dragons spread even when her noble campaign of Slaver’s Bay was only beginning. Nothing will change. The former slaves and people of middle-Essos will put Daenerys on a pedestal, the girl who walked into a fire, freed the slaves, went west to reclaim her throne and was then betrayed on all sides. She even helped them defeat some kind of invaders from the north, but that was not enough. No, the dogs of Westeros butchered their Khaleesi, their Mhysa, as foreigners are wont to do.
“The dragons saved us. We live in Dragon’s Bay now, and they killed them.”
“I hear she burnt this king of the night on Drogon.”
“Not only that, she defeated the evil Lion. She freed the Westerners from their enemy, and they repaid her with death. Her lover was jealous of her power and stole it from her. His brother even sat on the Throne after. Vicious dogs!”
And so forth.
If we look at the map we will see how two factions will grow over the centuries. In Westeros the people will cheer the name of Jon Snow, their saviour. In Essos the legend of Daenerys will live on, the story of their saviour. Given how the end of Daenerys came about we can imagine these two factions to not be particularly fond of each other. Not at all. It is interesting then that the Free Cities almost become a sort of buffer. Neither Jon nor Daenerys had any great effect on most of them (on the show at least), so they will naturally become a neutral zone. For a time at least. Braavos is more likely to be influenced from the West. Volantis etc from the east. Maybe, in time, they each come to support one or the other too.
We can even hope that somewhere, somehow, a group of people remember the truth about what both did for the world, and how they truly loved each other. Yes, we can hope.
Tyrion makes a king by telling us how important stories are in society, and the societies of Planetos especially. They get right in deep, via song, prophecy or bedtime story. They carry stories and legends with them for thousands of years, never letting go. Jon and Daenerys affected the world more than anyone in centuries, their stories, fairly or unfairly, live on. The song of Ice and Fire will never, ever, stop being heard on the wind.