TV Shows

The impending tyranny of Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys riding into winterfell with a smug look as dragons fly overhead
Courtesy: Hotstar

Spoilers ahead:

The new season of Game of Thrones aired today and the highlight of the episode was Jon discovering his true parentage and right to the iron throne. However, the bigger question is what Sam brought up when he asks Jon “You gave up your crown for the good of your people. Will she do the same?”.

The important question is not whether Daenerys will let Jon be king. She might, especially since they are pretty much an incestuous couple now in true Targaryen style. Calling themselves king and queen of the seven kingdoms wouldn’t be that hard or take away any power. The question is if Daenerys truly thinks of her crown as something she wears for the good of the people. Of course she keeps talking about making a better world and leaving the world better than how she found it, but it’s always a secondary theme in her stump speech. The primary theme is always “I am the rightful queen of the seven kingdoms” and “kneel or burn”. In her head, she is justified in most of her actions because she was wronged as a child and hunted, sold and abused across the narrow sea for a good part of her life. In many ways, many of her actions were justified, but what happens when the justifications run out and she still needs to rule and act?

What happens after they win the great war and Daenerys is on the throne in peace, a peace she brought? If she and her dragons play a pivotal role in defeating the Night’s King, she would quite naturally see herself as the savior of the seven kingdoms and beyond, in addition to being the rightful queen. Post that, if she runs into a group of people somewhere who do not want to kneel to the dragon queen, what will she do? What will she do when her dragons eat children, as they have done before? If she and her dragons rule over King’s Landing in perpetuity, will the occasional dragon kill of a citizen or a child be considered the price of the dragon queen’s protection? A sacrifice for the greater good?

The show has enough insight into her thinking to make reasonable predictions and what we know doesn’t make the future look rosy for Westeros. Let’s detail it out.

1. What does Daenerys believe in?

Don’t need to work hard to figure this one out. Here’s a direct quote:

“Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods, not in myths and legends. In myself. In Daenerys Targaryen. The world hadn’t seen a dragon in centuries until my children were born. The Dothraki hadn’t crossed the sea, any sea. They did for me. I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and I will.”

Extrapolate this a bit with references to how she defeated the Night’s King and saved humanity and you can underscore and bold that last bit about being born to rule.

Food for thought – If she was born to rule, and lived up to to that promise so splendidly, wouldn’t she naturally consider any future children to have a similar birthright to rule and believe in themselves and nothing else? Would they have grown up in humbling circumstances like hers to temper that sense of entitlement?

2. How deeply does Daenerys think of the fate of her people after her rule is ended?

Not much. Tyrion has raised the question of succession a couple of times and the reception wasn’t great.

Quote:

“Tyrion Lannister: Because I believe in you and the world you want to build. But the world you want to build doesn’t get built all at once. Probably not in a single lifetime. How do we ensure your vision endures? After you break the wheel, how do we make sure it stays broken?
Daenerys Targaryen: You want to know who sits on the Iron Throne after I’m dead?
Tyrion Lannister: You say you can’t have children. But there are other ways of choosing a successor. The Night’s Watch has one method, The Iron born folk, although many flaws
Daenerys Targaryen: We will discuss the succession after I wear the crown.
Tyrion Lannister: Your Grace, I saw hundreds of arrows fly towards you when you fought on Blackwater Rush, and I saw hundred of arrows miss. But any one of them could have found your heart and ended you.
Daenerys Targaryen: You’ve been thinking about my death quite a bit, haven’t you? Is this one of the items you’ve discussed with your brother in King’s Landing?
Tyrion Lannister: I’m trying to serve you by planning for the long term.
Daenerys Targaryen: Perhaps if you’d planned for the short term, we wouldn’t have lost Dorne and Highgarden. We will discuss the succession after I wear the crown.”

Her priorities seem quite clear from this exchange: Daenerys’ conquest of Westeros > Good of the realm

3. How steady has Daenerys’ moral compass been, especially as she grew in power?

Daenerys has done a lot for the downtrodden. She’s freed and saved thousands of slaves. However, what about excesses from her side?

At Slaver’s Bay, she was justifiably angry when the slavers crucified slave children to send a message to her, but what did she do in response? She crucified all the masters without differentiating between them. She assumed her enemy is a homogenous entity, equally complicit in a collective crime, only they weren’t. As explained by Hizdahr zo Loraq the son of a crucified master who joins Daenerys on the show and explained in more detail in the books, many of the masters she crucified were ones who fought against the murder of the children and were reformists who fought with their own people. They were crucified just like the children they tried to save, only by a different monster this time.

After the battle of the gold road, Daenerys chooses the shock and awe of burning two men to death over imprisonment or taking the black, in order to send a message. Did she really need to burn both? Couldn’t she kill the father and imprison the son at least? Or if she really had to execute them, weren’t there more humane ways to do it? Dragon fire isn’t a mandatory circus trick to please the audience.

Now you might justify this saying this was war and such things happen, but does Daenerys introspect about her own crimes or brutality? She used to, but it’s clearly changing now.

For example, her dragons once burned and ate an innocent child and the father brought her the charred remains. A visibly horrified Daenerys locked up her dragons after Jorah explained that dragons don’t know to differentiate between ours and theirs. But later, when the slavers burned her ships and came for her, Dany triumphantly let out her dragons, never to reel them in again. At the end of season 7 when she sees the dragon pit at King’s Landing, she comments on how her family was mistaken to lock up dragons and diminish their own power, a sentiment which has clearly superseded concerns about dragons flying around populated areas and preying on citizens without recognizing friend or foe. At Winterfell, Sansa raises a very relevant question – how are they supposed to feed two armies and two full grown dragons when they have no spare provisions in winter. When she asks “what does a dragon eat anyway?”, Daenerys smugly says “whatever they want”. If Winterfell runs out of cattle, what do you think ‘whatever they want’ becomes? The fact that she cares so little about it, in spite of them having killed a child before is cause for concern.

The disturbing trend evident from all this is that Daenerys is losing her ability to introspect, self correct or even experience remorse for any of her more extreme actions as time goes by, defaulting to her birthright and a belief that dragons can do what they want and in advice such as “you’re a dragon, be a dragon”. Whatever conscience she has now is outsourced to Tyrion, and she doesn’t defer to him like she once used to defer to the advice of Barristan the bold or pre-betrayal Jorah. How long can you depend on other people to check your worst impulses, especially when your own power grows?

Daenerys will undoubtedly win the war and the save humanity, but if the writers continue her story arc in true George RR Martin style, the hero might become the villain. In an interview early on, George RR Martin famously said what he didn’t like about Lord of the Rings was the lack of nuance or shades of grey. He said he was more interested in knowing what Aragorn did after he won the war – did he commit genocide of all the Orcs left alive in Mordor, what was his tax policy, how prosperous was kingdom and so on. In the case of Daenerys, the question is, will she break the wheel, or just stop it with Targaryens on top with an almost absolute belief in a divine right to rule?

There is one way out of course. Daenerys has to die in the great war, leaving Jon Snow aka Aegon Targaryen on the throne, someone who doesn’t really want to be King. I have a feeling he will be more receptive to Tyrion’s advice on experimenting with proto-democracy in Westeros. Daenerys dying would even match the old Azor Ahar prophecy in a way. The original Azor Ahai was supposed to have tempered the sword lightbringer by plunging it into the heart of his wife Nissa Nissa (disturbingly sexist). If I remember correctly, the prophecy is only that Azor Ahai will return and wield lightbringer again, not that he has to kill his wife personally. But maybe it will be an interesting parallel if Jon Snow sends his wife to her death on a dragon during a battle? Or maybe she chooses to do so herself and becomes ‘lightbringer’ with dragon fire? Bran should connect to Weirwoord.net and play The Dark Knight to Dany, so that she can internalize the quote “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” and choose wisely.

If she does and her dragons go as well, maybe just maybe, little Ghost will come out and play with Jon?

 

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