Friday, December 6, 2013

Game of Thrones: Is Daenerys Targaryen Really Such a Bad Ruler?

For those who have only watched the television show or those who have not read A Dance With Dragons, spoilers for the series are below!!!

After Season Four, Game of Thrones the television series will have a tough task: making A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons into a compelling viewing experience.  While A Feast for Crows is criticized for focusing too much on side characters and subplots, A Dance With Dragons may be more frustrating -- it promises series progression and largely fails to deliver.

In Dance we are finally reunited with Daenerys and Tyrion Lannister -- the former of whom is trying to rule Meereen, a conquered slave city, and the latter of whom is traveling to serve her.  Readers know that after 1,000 or so pages, Tyrion never actually meets Daenerys.  However, the biggest source of disappointment may be Daenerys herself.

The Situation

Many critics believe that Daenerys is simply a poor ruler.  During her reign, Meereen steadily descends into chaos, culminating with a war with Yunkai, another slave city that Daenerys conquered and abandoned.  Rather than stay and fight, Daenerys takes off -- literally -- on one of her dragons and ends up in the midst of the Dothraki sea.  While Daenerys's escape was not planned, it gives the sense of her taking the easy way out, at least for now.

I think fans' biggest source of dissatisfaction isn't Daenerys's actual rule of Meereen, but that she's still in Meereen at all -- and not in Westeros.  Throughout the first three books of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series, Daenerys's rise was meteoric: from a timid, abused girl to a confident leader of a large, hungry army.  With her three dragons growing rapidly, it seemed like only a short time before Dany finally had enough fire power (pun intended) to make her voyage to Westeros, where she would win back her kingdom from the Lannisters.

Then something happened: Dany decided to stay in Essos and rule one of the cities that she had conquered.  Until then, her army had been burning a path through Slaver's Bay -- first Astapor, then Yunkai, then finally Meereen.  Each time, Dany freed the countless slaves and set up a new government that she trusted would be wiser than the old one.  Yet once she learned that the provisional government of Astapor had fallen apart, she realized that she needed to stay and clean up her own mess, so to speak.  So Dany decided to rule Meereen, to create a stable government and get some practice with ruling before she went after the bigger prize of Westeros.  That was a wise decision, except for three things:

1.  Fans do not care about Meereen.

2.  George RR Martin does not appear to care about Meereen.

3.  Daenerys does not really care about Meereen.

The awkwardness of the situation came about due to George RR Martin's decision to scrap a planned five-year jump.  The five-year jump would have provided enough time for Dany to become a wise ruler and also for her dragons to grow to a mighty size.  However, since Martin likes to portray the minutiae of events, he didn't want to lose so much eventful material in the time jump, so he created A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons to help untie the "Meereenese knot."  A Dance With Dragons almost did it, but there is still quite a bit of Meereen left in The Winds of Winter, unfortunately. 

Critical Assessment

Because Martin did not intend to stay in Meereen so long, his indifference toward the city is telling.  Meereen never feels like a real place; its people are presented in the sort of shady, two-dimensional fashion that one would expect from films about Arabs from the 1950s (or, let's face it, today).  There is no one to empathize with -- only people to mistrust.  Their names sound like they were pulled from a Scrabble bag: Hizdahr zo Loraq, Reznak mo Reznak, Skahaz mo Kandaq.  Or like they belong to comic book villains -- the Green Grace.  So we wonder why Dany would put so much effort into placating these people, ruling those who clearly hold her in contempt.

That said, her actual decisions as a ruler aren't all that bad.  Let's look at what she's done:

1.  Locked up the dragons after learning that one killed a child.

2.  Took the children of several prominent Meereenese hostage, then refused to kill them.

3.  Attempted to install new forms of trade since Meereen's previous commodity -- slaves -- was no longer available.

4.  Married a prominent Meereen citizen to keep internal peace and to prevent a war with the Yunkai.

Can anyone say that the above decisions were unequivocally bad?  Of course we don't want to see Dany lock away her dragons for the sake of a people we hardly care about, because we know that they represent her power source, what she needs to get back to Westeros.  But you can't blame her for recognizing their danger and being quick to remove them as a threat when one of her subjects is harmed.  Locking the dragons away would never work as a long-term solution, but for the short term it is sufficient enough.

No!  Not your power source!  Damn you, Meereen!
Refusing to kill her hostages might make Dany seem weak and less of a threat, but from the late chapters of Dance and the early chapters of Winds of Winter, it looks as though her act of mercy could pay off.  Which would be rare and refreshing since thus far, almost every kind act in the series has been smothered by acts of unrelenting brutality.  It might signal a shift in the wind (pun intended) if a ruler's mercy becomes a strength.

Dany's attempt to create new sources of trade is admirable, only hindered by the fact that her last conquered people, the Yunkai, steadily undermine them.  Finally, while we might think that Dany made a poor personal decision in marrying a prominent Meereenese citizen whom she did not love, it was at least a decent attempt to bring peace to her city, which was slowly being undermined by shadow killers.

If anything, Dany's greatest weakness as a ruler was the fact that she conquered so easily -- if she had not blazed a path through Slaver's Bay, immediately freeing the slaves and punishing their rulers, then she would not face such a mess in Meereen.  Much of A Dance With Dragons involves Dany coming to terms with the fact that the "right" decision is not always the "easy" decision, and even good, moral decisions can have repercussions.

Perhaps if Dany's decisions relating to Meereen are fairly understandable, her more personal decisions are less so.  

1.  She had lots and lots of sex with Daario Naharis.

2.  She made no attempt to learn her family's true history in Westeros and brushed off Barristan Selmy's attempts to make her see reality.

3.  She refused Quentin Martel's marriage proposal.

Of the three, the first tends to get the most outrage.  Oh my God, she's such a stupid girl!  The reasoning is that Dany can't possibly make cautious decisions in one area if she's being so reckless in another.  Clearly the boy is making her lose her brain.  But if that were the case, wouldn't it be more likely that Dany would marry Daario instead of someone for whom she feels nothing?  Dany's problem may be that, in fact, she's thinking too much with her head and not enough with her heart.  Only belatedly does she realize that she will never see Meereen as her own people.

The third is understandable.  Some boy from Dorne whom she's never met is proposing marriage and she is supposed to just drop everything?  Yes, a little too much of Dany's decision is based on Quentin's plainness compared to Daario's hotness, but she is correct in being cautious with him.  The main problem for many readers is that Dany does not express greater interest in Dorne, or current politics in Westeros.

That brings us to her second decision, the most troubling.  Despite knowing her family's downfall, Dany never once questions her brother Viserys's version of events -- that those bad, bad Starks and Baratheons were jus' jealous and wanted the throne for themselves.  When Selmy gently tries to tell her that Ned Stark was not a bad man and actually spoke against her assassination, Dany brushes him off angrily.  If conquering Westeros is her ultimate objective, Dany needs to understand history so as not to repeat it.  While she seems much kinder and more merciful than her crazy father, if she goes into Westeros preparing to destroy those who hated her father and raise those who loved him, she could find herself with few allies.  It's enough to make me hope that my Arya speculation is true and Dany gets some schoolin' before her voyage west.

Conclusion

So those are Dany's major decisions in A Dance With Dragons.  She also makes several more minor decisions, such as opening up the fighting pits -- a practice that she hated -- to appease some prominent Meereenese.  Dany gets criticized for her weakness and compromises, but her decisions seem mostly sound.  Her problem is that she is trying to clean up a mess that she created, and there is no easy way to do it -- especially since the consequences of her past conquests have followed her in the form of Astapori suffering from pale mare and vengeful Yunkish troops.

Despite the grimness of Dany's situation, it is an experience that she can learn from before she blows into Westeros.  Maybe there is a better way than just cutting down the bad guys and issuing declarations.  That is, if Dany chooses to learn that lesson.

The above images are used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

3 comments:

  1. I love dannerys (have not got to season 3)and really for those who are mad at her for having sex with dario, may be slutshamers

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  2. How long are the dragons locked up for ?
    are they ever released or is the rest of the books just feeding them

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    1. I'm guessing you just saw the Season Four finale? Well if you want to be spoiled then I'll tell you.

      5

      4

      3

      2

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      The dragons are released at the end of A Dance with Dragons by Quentyn Martell... who is promptly burnt to death for his efforts. In early WoW chapters released, the dragons are flying over Meereen, eating the dead corpses that the Yunkai have flung over the wall in an attempt to spread the Pale Mare sickness to the Meereenese.

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