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Why is Daenerys Targaryen convinced she can’t have babies?

Viewers believe the impossible could happen.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Sep 7, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 6:15 pm CDT

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 7.

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In the penultimate episode of Game of Thronesfast-paced seventh season, just as the mission to capture a wight up north was about to kick off a series of events leading up to the finale’s horrific final scene, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen slowed down long enough to talk about the future.

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Out of all the things they discussed—from Jon Snow to how to handle their meeting with Cersei Lannister and Dany’s temper—the one thing she didn’t really want to talk about is what’s been on Tyrion’s mind for ages: Who will succeed her on the Iron Throne? It’s not as though he’s actively plotting to have her removed from power or anything; he’s being pragmatic about it. Dany’s vision of a peaceful future only counts if there’s not going to be yet another bloody fight for power after she’s gone. 

“You say you can’t have children, but there are other ways of choosing a successor,” Tyrion told her. “The Night’s Watch has one method. The Ironborn, for all their many flaws, have another.”

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Dany, however, wasn’t having it and shut him down, telling him that she’ll discuss succession “after I wear the crown.” By the end of the episode, she’s lost one of her “children,” her dragon Viserion, named for her older brother Viserys.

That scene, along with several others sprinkled through season 7 (but particularly the last few episodes), is setting up the idea that even as the end of the world arrives on their doorstep, many of the characters have thought about legacy. Cersei was willing to betray Jon and Dany to fight for her and Jaime’s unborn child. Tormund Giantsbane is already imagining the monster babies he’d have with Brienne of Tarth. In refusing Longclaw, Ser Jorah Mormont told Jon that he hoped it would serve him and his children well. And underlying all of it are hints of infertility.

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For some fans, all of the children talk on Game of Thrones feels like one big setup. Despite Dany’s insistence that she can’t have children, many fans believe she will become pregnant in season 8—possibly as a result of falling into bed with her (unbeknownst to her) nephew Jon. Whether that’s true or not, it’s certainly raised many other questions along the way.

Mirri Maz Duur’s enduring words

At the end of season 1, Dany placed her dragon eggs into her husband Khal Drogo’s pyre and stepped into the flames. The next morning, she emerged unburnt and with three newly hatched dragons, creating one of the show’s most iconic images: a baby Drogon appearing on top of Dany’s ash-covered shoulder. What led to that fateful moment, however, might not be as fresh in viewers’ minds.

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In the episode “The Pointy End,” Khal Drogo fought and killed another Dothraki warrior who challenged him, which resulted in a deep cut on his chest. Although he insisted that he was fine, Dany brought in Mirri Maz Duur, a healer and maegi from the Lhazareen village the Dothraki pillaged, to tend to him. When he took a turn for the worse, Dany begged Mirri Maz Duur to save him with blood magic, but she’s warned that “only death can pay for life.” She believed that killing Khal Drogo’s horse would pay that price, but she would soon discover just how wrong she was.

She went into labor and her son Rhaego died shortly after, but according to Jorah he had never lived; the baby was deformed and born with scales. In return, Drogo lived, but he was a mere shadow of his existence. Angry and upset, Dany asked Mirri Maz Duur when Drogo would be like himself again.

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“When the sun rises in the west, sets in the east,” she told her. “When the seas go dry. When the mountains blow in the wind like leaves.”

GIF via Game of Thrones/HBO

Mirri Maz Duur’s curse (or prophecy) was word-for-word with what she said in A Game of Thrones with one major difference: She left out the last part.

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“When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child,” Mirri Maz Duur added. “Then he will return, and not before.”

Dany repeats those words later shortly before putting Drogo out of his misery with a cushion. In A Game of Thrones, those words also include the part about her bearing a living child, but the next paragraph suggests that it will never happen: “Never, the darkness cried, never never never.”

Is it a prophecy or a curse—and has it come true?

There’s been plenty of debate about Mirri Maz Duur’s words over the years. Are her words truly a prophecy? Is it a curse she placed on Dany as revenge for what the Dothraki did to her and her village? And is Dany really barren like she believes?

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Some, like Dany herself, took Mirri Maz Duur’s words to indicate that she’d never have children apart from her three dragons because of everything that would need to happen before she could become pregnant. The birth of Rhaego mixed with blood magic may have affected her ability to have more children, which would put an end to “The Stallion Who Mounts the World” and her ability to fulfill that prophecy.

As far back as season 2, Dany believed that she was infertile and corrected Jorah on that point after her three dragons went missing in Qarth.

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“They are my children,” she told Jorah. “And they are the only children I will ever have.”

Another interpretation of the scene suggests that Mirri Maz Duur wasn’t addressing Dany’s ability to bear children but rather simply when Drogo will be back to normal; her list of impossible scenarios is a long way of saying never. Dany’s affair with Daario Naharis never resulted in a pregnancy, so she’s never had to consider it.

Prophecy or not, it appears that some of Mirri Maz Duur’s words have already come true, at least in the books. As someone pointed out a few years ago, we’ve seen some of those impossible things Mirri Maz Duur mentioned. Quentyn Martell is the sun that rose in the west and set in the east—having traveled east to Meereen and died after being burned by one of Dany’s dragons—and you can argue the Martells themselves were those who rise. (The Martell sigil is a sun with a spear through it.) Dany found herself in the Dothraki Sea surrounded by dying grass. The swaying mountain could refer to the pyramids of Meereen or the Mountain himself. And after becoming sick (likely by berries she found near a stream) she woke up bleeding and had what appeared to be a miscarriage. While she has yet to bear a living child, she may have the ability to get pregnant.

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The show, on the other hand, hasn’t really touched on parts of the witch’s words coming true. There’s no Quentyn Martell, no mention of the Dothraki Sea dying, or any signs of bleeding from Dany. Instead, it may even lean into the viewpoint that she might not be cursed, if Jon’s response to finding out why Dany believes she’s infertile is any indication.

Photo via Macall B. Polay/HBO
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“Has it occurred to you [Mirri Maz Duur] might not have been a reliable source of information?” he asked her.

Jon’s “noble” reason for setting aside fatherhood

Motherhood was thrust upon Dany nearly from the beginning—first with her forced marriage and then with her dragons—whereas Jon never considered it. Although he had a better life than most bastards up at Winterfell, the taboo of his existence weighed on him. His is unwillingness to father a bastard is part of why he joined the Night’s Watch in the first place. It even weighed on his mind as he told Samwell Tarly about why he didn’t go through with his first (and only) attempt at sleeping with a woman.

“I couldn’t do it ‘cause all I could think was, what if I got her pregnant?” Jon said. “If she had a child, another bastard named Snow? It isn’t a good life for a child.”

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He also vocalized that fear in A Storm of Swords to Tormund Giantsbane after he was asked him why he hadn’t already slept with Ygritte. Like before, Jon didn’t want to father a bastard, but Tormund didn’t see what the big problem was: There’s nothing wrong with bastards, and there were ways to terminate the pregnancy. Both Westeros and free folk alike used moon tea to prevent or end pregnancies. (Lysa Arryn was given it when she was younger by her father after Petyr Baelish got her pregnant.)

“You’re bastard-born yourself,” Tormund replied. “And if Ygritte does not want a child, she will go to some woods witch and drink a cup o’ moon tea.”

As a member of the Night’s Watch, Jon swore a vow to never father any children. After his resurrection, he executed the men who killed him and handed Eddison Tollett the Lord Commander’s cloak before declaring, “My watch is ended.” Since then, he’s been moving and fighting almost nonstop.

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And honestly, it had probably never occurred to him that he could have children. It’s not even a matter of whether he physically could after his resurrection. Since Melisandre brought him back in “Home,” he’s been fighting a never-ending battle, first against Ramsay Bolton, then a political sparring match at Winterfell and Dragonstone, and then against the dead in “Beyond the Wall.”

Jon’s mind has been almost solely focused on defeating the Night King. And while he thought about it in the books, it wasn’t until Jorah planted the idea in his head that children were something he could have.

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Photo via Helen Sloan/HBO

“I forfeited the right to claim this sword. It’s yours,” Jorah said as he handed Jon back Longclaw. “May it serve you well and your children after you.”

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What happens if Dany does become pregnant?

The union of ice and fire, as the show has called it, is akin to a ticking timebomb. Although Jon and Dany entering a political marriage would have made perfect sense (especially after he bent the knee), the love shared between them makes things much more complicated and much more dangerous. Tyrion may be worried about losing influence over his queen. Jon and Dany’s feelings for one another will probably get in their way as they fight the Night King and perhaps result in more instances of heroes doing stupid things and dying. And that’s not to mention the whole incest thing now that Bran Stark and Sam Tarly know the truth about Jon.

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But a potential pregnancy would set things into motion much faster than anybody would expect. Jon, who never wanted to father a bastard, would find himself in a worst-nightmare kind of scenario: fathering a bastard who’s also a product of incest. Dany might be happy about the unexpected turn, but she’d also have to deal with the complications. And with the Night King and his army marching south, it’s also not a great time to bring any children into the world.

With the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones a long ways off, fans have plenty of time to figure out what that might mean for Jon, Dany, and a potential child if any or all of them will survive the Long Night. (Remember, as much as we might theorize and speculate based on all of the foreshadowing at the end of season 7, we don’t yet have any confirmation that Dany is pregnant or will be.) If Dany is in fact pregnant, would she even survive long enough to give birth and raise a child? And that’s not to say anything on whether Jon will survive long enough to see that child.

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One potential theory, which has been around long before the season 7 finale aired, harkens back to Mirri Maz Duur’s words to argue that Dany will die by the end of the series—but it won’t be from any particular battle or war ahead. It’ll be in childbirth (like her mother, Jon’s mother, and Tyrion’s mother). Khal Drogo would only return to her in death, and it would give Dany the kind of “bittersweet ending” that George R.R. Martin had promised: After a lifetime of fighting for the Iron Throne she believed was hers by birthright, she would never sit on it.

One thing is for sure. If Jon and Dany (and all of their allies gathering together in Winterfell) don’t figure out a game plan, none of them will live long enough to worry about any of it.

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*First Published: Sep 7, 2017, 6:00 am CDT
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