The leadership decisions in "Game of Thrones" are often terrible and result in negative consequences. But the characters that have survived (so far) have demonstrated their abilities to confront harsh challenges.
Daenerys Targaryen is one such character. Love her or hate her, Daenerys has proven herself to be a leading candidate in claiming the Iron Throne.
The Mother of Dragons started out with no particular capabilities in battle or in leadership. But one of her strongest and most unrivaled skills is her ability to build a loyal following — a skill that could make her an effective ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.
Daenerys understands she needs advisors to guide her in building a strong following, but she doesn't trust them blindly and insists that they be honest with her. Throughout her journey, when the situation justifies it, she punishes those who have harmed her and the people important to her.
When Daenerys is backed in a corner and her strategic discussions with her team don't result in victory, she fights! In the Chamber of the Painted Table, the Queen of Thorns reminds Daenerys: "You are a dragon, be a dragon!" Daenerys wisely takes the advice and torches the evil Queen Cersei's army.
There are many triumphant battles in "Game of Thrones," but Daenerys stands out from the rest of the crowd; she's a true freedom fighter who willingly confronts danger to protect her following.
Early in her journey, Daenerys chooses to walk into Khal Drogo's funeral pyre. She tells herself, If I look back, I am lost. She later emerges, unharmed, with three newly hatched dragons. Daenerys knew she needed to keep moving forward and accept the dangers of the pyre — and the possible birth of her dragon eggs — if she was to regain the trust of the remaining Dothraki.
Her followers are fiercely loyal and stay with her because they see her as their protector. As Missandei said, "She is the Queen We Chose." (Cersei's people, by comparison, are low in motivation and skill, and they follow her out of fear or self-interest.)
Daenerys inspires followership and presents herself as the Breaker of Chains; she empowers the enslaved, the vulnerable, the poor and the powerless.
What's most admirable about Daenerys is that she's determined to fulfill her purpose. But this also happens to be her Achilles' dragon wing: Daenerys' actions and behaviors have increasingly indicated that she's confused about what her purpose actually is.
Daenerys has a birthright to the throne, but her relationship with Jon Snow complicates things even more. When she learns that Snow is Aegon Targaryen, she realizes her lover may have more claim to the throne — and potentially be a better leader for Westeros. At this point, it appears that Daenerys might not even know what she wants anymore.
If her goal is to liberate the vulnerable, then she must work together with Snow to deliver justice to her people — and it shouldn't matter who sits in the Iron Throne. But if her goal is to claim the Throne, she may put the liberation of her people at risk. That scenario could also mean following in her father King Aerys II's footsteps, who fell into uncontrollable rage and paranoia.
Daenerys could very well end up ruling the Iron Throne, but it's impossible to tell at this point. (After all, that's the attraction of "Game of Thrones": There are no easy answers.) In order to lead herself and her team, Daenerys must be clear on her purpose. Let's just hope she doesn't go mad in the process.
Bruce Craven teaches the popular MBA elective Leadership Through Fiction at Columbia Business School. He is also the author of "Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones," and has watched all episodes of the hit HBO show three times. He studied politics and literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz and has an MFA in writing from Columbia University's School of the Arts.
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