“Every child knows that the Targaryens have always danced too close to madness. Your father was not the first. King Jaehaerys once told me that madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds it breath to see how it will land.”
In the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones Daenerys coin has finally landed and with it a torrent of takes was unleashed upon the internet. Many of which in very stark terms decrying the cheapness of the “twist” and what it does to Daenerys’ legacy and Martins story. What is strange about this all is how surprised people see to be. As I’ll be blunt if you didn’t see a possibility of this, or even see it coming, you were not paying attention.
Daenerys has never been the paragon of virtue she and her fans held her up to be. She was a conqueror and a good one. Able to summon up great charisma, empathy, and compassion which made people want to follow her. She inspired devotion, belief, and even love in her followers. To those who followed Dany, even many of her viewers here, she of course was a hero - the coin fell on greatness.
However, this has long been a limited reading of the character and where the issue seems to lie. While all the above was true so too is the fact she often showed less than desirable qualities, qualities one could associate with madness. All the way back in Season One the “Crown of Gold” which saw her brothers head literally melted down. Her response “A Dragon cannot be burned”, cold as ice.
Now you can explain he was abusive towards her, seeing her as nothing more than an object of lust and gain, his property. He deserved it, she was right to be cold he didn’t care for her, why should she care for him. Which is exactly how I took it all those years ago. We then move to the end of the season and the birth of her Dragons, as she burns the witch Mirri Maz Duur.
As a viewer (and reader) we remember Mirri Maz Duur as a witch who killed Daenerys’ unborn child in a ghastly bargain for Khal Drogos life. However, who was this “witch”? She was a slave, she was an orphan, she was a victim. In fact she was exactly the kind of person Daenerys’ would later claim to stand up for. However, when she took her revenge on her slave owner Khal Drogo, Daenerys’ condemned her to death. Was Mirri Maz Duur an innocent? No, that is clear but just as Daenerys’ actions and future actions had reasons so too did Mirri Maz Duur.
That was just season and book one. Over the course of the series more of these moments would build up. Condemning people to suffocate in a vault, burning the House of the Undying, burning the rebel Dothraki, burning the fleet of Slavers Bay. Each defensible at the moment for sure, they were enemies standing in her way, and she had to do something to finish them. However, taken in totality Daenery’s death toll likely exceeds every other character in the series.
One moment I feel needs more examination was the burning of the Tarlys. I feel this is an amazingly important moment that many missed due to the less than stellar construction of the season. In it Daenerys asks these men to “Bend the Knee” her catchphrase of the season, in it they refuse. At this point they are defenceless, her prisoner, they have no power she has a Dragon - she has ALL the power.
She burns them. For no reason other than they would not submit. Literal prisoners of war summarily executed for holding to their oaths. This moment always felt different for me (and Tyrion too judging by his reaction to it) as unlike all her previous moments there was no justifications. There was no fig leaf you could use to say “what about this”, it was a pure power play. She killed defenceless men because they wouldn’t submit.
Again you could say this is war. War is brutal, people die, but Daenerys was fundamentally fighting for goodness. She was freeing slaves, liberating the underclasses, she was the “breaker of chains”. Except, why was she doing this? The Iron Throne.
Throughout the entire series, long before she took the titles Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains, she had one goal. Just one, to regain the Throne that was stolen from her family, her birthright. Everything stemmed from that one goal, one obsession, her divine right to rule as a Targaryen.
When asked how does she think the people will react to a foreign Queen riding Dragons taking over? She said they’d rejoice. For their rightful ruler has saved them from the “usurper”. Never once realizing the people of Westeros did not know, nor care for her, or the game of thrones.
When confronted by the fact her ambitions would likely raise resistance, she brushed it off as incorrect or unimportant. Tywin Lannister once said “A lion does not concern himself with the opinion of sheep” switch Lion for Dragon and you have Daenerys’ entire view of the people’s opinion.
That is the key to her character and why her reveal is not shocking. There are two Daenerys’, the one she proclaims to be the “Breaker of Chains” and the one her actions showed her to be; a ruthless conqueror who does what she needs to do to achieve her one true goal. To become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Even when confronted by the truth that her “Birthright” that of rule, was not hers, she did not waver in her convictions. Her claim to be the rightful heir to the throne of Westeros was gone, but she would not let that stop her. Not when she was so close.
Strangely enough this is actually the Daenerys’ who I love, but I am also a person who loves Olynia Tyrell and Tywin Lannister. People who do what needs to be done. However, at no point would I consider them good people because at its core A Song of Ice and Fire is not a story about good or bad, it is a story about choices. In this Daenerys’ choices have largely been self-serving. If the action is good but done towards a corrupt end the goodness becomes corrupted.
Finally, there is the fact Daenerys revealing her true visage at the end makes the most amount of sense from a thematic perspective. George R. R. Martin has said of his series A Song of Ice and Fire he likes to subvert expectations. Whenever somebody is sure something is going to happen he likes to pull the rug from under them.
Daenerys’ the charismatic, determined, blonde, purple eyed (in the books), beautiful, orphan who had to struggle her entire life for everything becoming the Mad Queen? A tyrant the very thing she claims to stand against? It makes sense when you think how shocking it would be, so much so people (including myself) have been pointing it out for years. What feels so hollow though is even in the moment of confirmation, the execution of it seems too rushed.
For that I would agree with the detractors Daenerys deserved better than what she got on Sunday. In fact many characters did. However, that is a different issue entirely. At the end it is okay to feel betrayed by her actions but you should not be surprised by it. Daenerys’ has long shown she had it in her, it was just the moment she stopped lying to herself and us about who she really is and always was.
Final Episode Idle Thought: Wouldn’t it be fun that even after all this she still “wins”. The Mad Queen sits on the Iron Throne, a fitting book end to a series of events that largely started with “burn them all”.
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