There aren’t many men who can say they’ve been dumped by a queen. But Daario Naharis isn’t like most men.
OK, he can be a little bro-y. Kissing the tiny topless woman carved into the hilt of your knife is never a good look. But the warrior-leader of the Second Sons does have one genuine soft spot: his love for the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Stormborn.
In Game of Thrones’ explosive sixth season finale, the Targaryen queen and her army of Ironborn, Dothraki, and Unsullied soldiers (and three fully-grown dragons) finally set sail across the Narrow Sea to Westeros. But before she shipped off, Daenerys broke some news to Daario: In Westeros, she’d need to make alliances. To make alliances, she’d need to marry. To marry, she’d have to leave him, her lover, behind.
Daario was heartbroken.
The sellsword betrayed and killed two fellow leaders of the Second Sons so he could follow, fight for, and help protect the queen as she blazed through Slaver’s Bay, brought peace (or something like it) to Meereen, and prepared for the journey to Westeros. He’s spent two seasons alternately disrobing at her command (“take off your clothes”) and cutting down her enemies. He barely knew her when he decided to dedicate his “life” to her, but she’s the kind of woman who makes a strong first impression.
“The admiration was there right at the beginning,” says Michiel Huisman, the Dutch actor who’s played Naharis since Season 4. “He sees strength in her and a sense of humanity in her that he wishes for the world. That relationship grows stronger [as time goes on].”
Now he’s been left behind to protect the peace in Meereen while Daenerys conquers Westeros. In classic breakup fashion, Daario tries to persuade Daenerys to change her mind: “I love you,” he said. “And I make you happy. You know I do. Bring me with you. Let me fight for you.”
Unfortunately for Daario, it was not meant to be.
“I think that in the back of his mind, he knew this was gonna happen at some point,” says Huisman. “But I don’t think he expected it to happen right now. Especially right before they’re finally ready to sail to Westeros.”
While Daenerys may have once planned on bringing Daario along, recent events realigned her priorities. It turns out that burning an entire culture’s ruling body of evil men alive (bye, Dothraki rapists) goes a long way toward convincing a queen that she can make do without a lover.
“We saw a change in her basically ever since she was captured by the Dothraki,” Huisman says. “When she came back, she was tougher and more determined than ever. You don’t see a lot of their relationship after that, but it’s been a lot more distant between the two of them. Still, he didn’t see this coming.
“Daario’s become too cocky, basically,” he adds. “He’s become too comfy, then she pulls the rug.”
That cockiness never stood out more than it did in Daario’s scenes this season with his fellow protector, the only man who’s loved Daenerys longer than he has: Ser Jorah Mormont. “Isn’t it frustrating wanting someone who doesn’t want you back?” Daario asked the ex-knight, gleefully rubbing salt in the older man’s wound.
Still, Daario stayed respectfully quiet as the exiled Westerosi lord tearfully proclaimed his love to the queen before heading out in search of a cure for greyscale, the disease that threatens to end his life.
“He’s a smart guy. He wouldn’t be such a brilliant fighter if he wasn’t an intelligent man,” says Huisman of Daario. “But he’s a guy who reacts on instinct. He loved Daenerys, so it’s logical for him that Jorah loves her too. And that’s totally fine, as long as she’s ‘mine,’ you know? He can proclaim his love to her as much as he wants.”
Daario’s never minded sharing his queen with Jorah or the higher-born men she’s had to forge marriage-alliances with. In Season 5, when she wed Meereenese lord Hizdahr zo Loraq in a doomed attempt to stop the Sons of the Harpy’s campaign of violence, Daario was more than happy to be his queen’s sidepiece.
“He’s always told her that he is the son of a whore and he’d probably never be the king,” says Huisman. “He never even wanted to be king. It’s the last thing he wants. So in the case of someone like Hizdahr, he knew there was still a place for him even though she was married. He was willing to play that role again.”
The breakup scene in question—the last scene Huisman shot for the season, which he says “added an extra layer” of meaning to his performance—is refreshingly mundane by the standards of Game of Thrones, where relationships are typically torn apart rather than brought to their natural conclusion.
Still, there’s a kind of comical brutality in the scene that follows, in which Daenerys admits to Tyrion that she “felt nothing” during the breakup, despite Daario’s devastation.
“It’s a testament to [Emilia Clarke’s] performance that those scenes work so well,” says Huisman. “When she’s telling Daario to stay behind, it’s really hard to tell what she’s actually feeling. I always thought she was feeling pain and she was probably hiding it. That she was being cold and distant because she didn’t want to allow herself to feel things.”
Both Huisman and Daario were dead wrong.
As for whether we’ll ever see the leader of the Second Sons again—which at the moment feels unlikely, given that it was Daenerys who anchored the story in Meereen—Huisman remains cryptic. I ask if he’s disappointed he left without a big death scene, to which he replies, “I am disappointed. But he’s still out there, you know. It’s a big world. He got left behind, but who knows?”
Maybe the Second Sons will swoop in for a last-minute leg-up in battle for their queen in Westeros, the way the Knights of the Vale did for Sansa in the Battle of the Bastards. Or maybe Daario will settle comfortably into retirement with one of Essos’s many Daenerys-cosplaying prostitutes.
Only Season 7 will tell.