Jon and Dany were serving each other some looks in last night’s Game of Thrones episode. But, gross, they’re related! Right? Well, actually, it’s not that simple…
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, collectively, as a worldwide society of humans, it’s that incest is disgusting and wrong.
But if there’s another thing we can — hopefully — all agree on, it’s that fiction isn’t reality. Westeros isn’t real. Dragons don’t exist (sorry). Game of Thrones doesn’t actually depict real wars or real relationships between real people (beyond its War of the Roses parallels).
Any work of fiction must, for all intents and purposes, be viewed through the context of the rules that the creator (in this case George R.R. Martin) has set up for its universe. While there are plenty of legitimate reasons for Game of Thrones viewers not to want Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen to fall madly in love (it’s predictable, it’s too trope-y, you hate romance, you’re still not over Ygritte, blah blah), them being related is actually not a very good reason if going by the rules of Martin’s universe.
After seven years of them being on separate (yet surprisingly parallel) journeys, Jon and Daenerys have finally found themselves in the same place in Game of Thrones season 7. And the chemistry between them is scorching.
In Sunday’s episode “The Spoils of War,” Jon took Daenerys into a cave to show her some super convenient cave paintings
that he probably painted himself depicting the Children of the Forest and the First Men teaming up against the White Walkers.
And if you weren’t already hearing the song of ice and fire that’s playing every time these two are within touching distance, the fire in Jon’s eyes as he looked at Daenerys in this scene should definitely spark your interest. Showrunner David Benioff even confirmed the brewing tension between the two in a behind-the-scenes video:
But whether you’ve been shipping them for years, absolutely hate the idea of them getting together, or are only now just realizing the shipping potential of Jonerys, you’re probably left feeling pretty icky about the fact that, you know, they’re related.
As good as they look together, Jon Snow’s father Rhaegar Targaryen was Dany’s older brother, making them aunt and nephew. They don’t know this yet, of course, as Jon still thinks he’s Ned Stark’s bastard and has no reason to think otherwise, but we know it. Bran knows it. Littlefinger probably knows it.
It’s only a matter of time — weeks, likely, considering how fast events are unfolding this season on Game of Thrones — before someone fires this Chekov’s gun of knowledge that’ll put a serious wrench into Daenerys’ plans to take up her place as the rightful ruler of Westeros (whether or not the king’s trueborn daughter has less of a claim than the king’s son’s bastard is a discussion for another time).
So while literal and figurative sparks may be flying between Jon and Dany, they’re related, so it’s gross and wrong, just like raised-as-siblings-but-actually-cousins Jon/Sansa would be gross. Right?
Well, within George R.R. Martin’s universe, Jon and Daenerys getting together (or Jon/Sansa for that matter, though them being raised as siblings raises a whole other set of moral quandaries) isn’t actually that gross, and the people of Westeros probably wouldn’t even consider it wrong.
For starters, the Targaryen House has a long and celebrated history of blatant in-breeding, going back more than 300 years. While the Targaryens are obviously human, there’s an undeniable strand of magic exclusive to their bloodline which gives them special, fire-related powers (so to speak), and in order to avoid diluting that bloodline, they’ve had to quite literally keep it in the family.
In the books, Cersei actually feels totally justified in carrying on her relationship with Jaime exactly because the Targaryens had a history of marrying brothers and sisters, and it was both accepted and expected — so why should the Lannisters, an (in Cersei’s estimation) equally special House, not be able to do the same?
Of course Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is sick and wrong, we all know that, and is considered an abomination (as Craster and his daughters were) within the world of the show, too. Incest is not okay in Westeros, and clearly leads to the same kind of genetic issues that we’d see in real life — just look at Joffrey!
The Targaryens were an exception to the rule exactly because of their special bloodline, but even they were not immune to the biological effects of in-breeding, leading to a less-proud tradition of ‘mad’ kings and queens including Dany’s own father Aegon and brother Viserys. (They say there’s a 50/50 chance of a Targaryen turning mad, with Dany and old Maester Aemon being considered among the ‘sane’ members of the family.)
Still, as Targaryens, Jon and Daenerys could theoretically pick up where their family left off, and even if they had been brother and sister, the argument that they needed to keep the last strand of the bloodline intact might be enough to justify a union between them. But the question of incest and the inevitable comparisons to Jaime and Cersei would definitely raise some eyebrows, both within the show and for its audience. It’d be hard to root for them under those circumstances.
However, Jon and Daenerys are not brother and sister, and even if we disregarded the fact that they’re Targaryens, there aren’t any significant social barriers preventing aunts and nephews (or uncles and nieces) from marrying within the Westerosi noble families.
In fact, we’ve seen several instances of cousin-cousin or aunt/uncle-niece/nephew unions in noble families already, and no one within the show seems to consider those problematic: Tywin Lannister and his wife Joanna were first cousins; Littlefinger tried to arrange a totally above-board marriage between Sansa and her cousin Robin Arryn of the Eyre; in the books, Aeron Greyjoy is shown to be considering a match between his niece Asha (alias Yara) and his brother Victarion, etc.
Insofar as Westeros represents medieval Britain and the events are a fantasy retelling of the War of the Roses, this is also just a reflection of a time in our own history in which cousin-cousin and aunt-nephew/uncle-niece unions were considered an acceptable, strategic match within noble families to strengthen the bonds between families or to acquire power.
In the actual world of Game of Thrones, in which dragons and direwolves exist and White Walkers are scaling the Wall as we speak, a Jon/Dany union would be no more or less ‘wrong’ than most marriages between the lords and ladies of Westeros.
Once they discover they’re related, they might even be encouraged to marry in an effort to strengthen their joint claim to the throne and keep the Targaryen bloodline going (even though Daenerys is actually barren, at least until the sun rises in the West and the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves, which at this rate will probably happen before the end of the season).
Whether or not Jon and Daenerys actually get together in the show and/or the books remains to be seen. How they react to the news that Jon is actually Rhaegar’s illegitimate son will also be interesting. But for now, you can ship Jonerys or not as you please; within the context of the show, it’s totally fine, and should be considered just another fantastical element of a fantastical story in which dragons and direwolves are roaming the land, Arya can wear other people’s faces, and Winter is Coming.
(Now that this has been cleared up, we can go back to worrying about White Walkers, giant battles, the identity of Azor Ahai, and whether or not Gendry will ever find his way back to shore because that boy has been rowing for years.)