A Game of Thrones
Identity and relationships
We meet Daenerys as a young girl enslaved by her brother’s words and abuse, yearning for some semblance of peace and home. ‘Dany had cried when the red door closed behind them forever’.
She has no interest in politics, as she believes will have no part in it other than as Viserys wife. She believes herself to be an object and fully accepts the word of Viserys. Her relationship with Drogo is therefore incredibly complex, as he signifies oppression and slavery, but also the beginning of her freedom. Crucially, he (in the books) is the first man to ask her permission and he never abuses her. I would argue though, that in the confines of this world, her lack of choice in the marriage negates this consent. Daenerys is given space and time whilst Khaleesi to heal and reflect on the words she has been fed. He complicated relationship with Viserys changes, as she loses fear alongside parts of her naivety and innocence, particularly after she becomes pregnant:
‘My brother will never take back the Seven Kingdoms’, Dany said. She had known that for a long time, she realised. She had known it all her life.’
In place of Viserys, Jorah becomes a confident and father figure, strengthened by Dany feeling his presence as a reminder of her ties to Westeros. Through this relationship and trust, he is subtly allowing Dany to realise the significance of her place in the West, as an alternative to Viserys. By the time of Viserys’ death, Dany is starting to associate herself with the dragon, something she never did before her role as Khaleesi. Dany struggles with her identity, and tries to create a sense of self by her collective, monarchist thinking. She doesn’t yet have her own desires, or when she does- a peaceful family life- she forsakes them for the sake of the Targaryen dynasty. It is clear that Dany has been pushed to believe in the Targaryen cause her whole life, as it plays a huge part in her outlook, yet she does not know this world, and it’s not something she herself cares about or strives for:
‘With Viserys gone, Daenerys was the last, the very last… She must not forget’.
As Dany searches for identity, Rhaegar’s legacy plays a significant part in her sense of morality and rational. She strives desperately to act in a way that would please one of the only relations she has who was perceived by the world as good, kind and fair. Jorah (and later Barristan Selmy) realise the power in this and use this urge to live up to Rhaegar to influence Daenerys. Dany begins to recognise and name herself heir, particularly after she has been hardened by the death of Drogo and her child. It is at the end of A Game of Thrones that Daenerys has accepted that she will return to Westeros by and for herself. Drogo’s funeral and the subsequent birth of her dragons also signify Dany becoming a woman, and it is at this point that prophecies become significant.
‘Viserys is dead. I am his heir, the last blood of House Targaryen. Whatever was his is mine now’.
‘She saw crimson fireflies and great yellow serpents and unicorns made of pale blue flame; she saw fishes and foxes and monsters, wolves and bright birds and flowering trees, each more beautiful than the last. She saw a horse, a great grey stallion lined in smoke, it’s flowing mane a nimbus of blue flame. Yes, my love, my sun-and-stars, yes mount now, ride now’.
Politics and slavery
In developing her sense of self and place in the game of thrones, slavery is very significant to Dany and themes of slavery can be seen early on:
‘There was no slavery in the free city of Pentos. None the less, they were slaves’.
Dany sees herself in people who experience the slavery that she herself has dealt with since childhood. Daenerys genuinely wants to help people, like Rhaegar did, and anti-slavery philosophies guide her strongly. It is also clear, however, that she has a very black and white view of freedom. She has never learned how to lead, unlike those primed from birth for royalty, and she does not yet think critically. This is evident in her sense of entitlement and heroism after helping Mirri Maz Duur:
‘Dany felt she could trust the old, plain-faced woman with her flat nose; she had saved her after all.’
Dany does not consider the hardships that Mirri Maz Duur has already faced and fails to consider the feelings of those she has ‘freed’. This is similar to Dany’s inner monologues and discussions throughout the books regarding other cultures. Dany often fails to consider the needs and desires of those that she is leading. She genuinely wants to help and wants to create a sense of family and community, but her privilege and entitlement are often her downfall, for example, the tragic result of blood magic used on Drogo.
Themes of ‘madness’ begin from this point in line with the significance of prophecy. From this point, Danerys often finds herself questioning her own sanity, and creates the mantra ‘if I look back, I am lost’.
‘Was it madness that seized her then, born of fear? Or some strange wisdom buried in her blood? Dany could not have said’.
It is not until later books, that Dany becomes more nuanced in these views, for example, the bloodshed evident in Qarth.
‘Is it only the plunder they see? She wondered. How savage we must seem to these Qartheen’.
A Clash of Kings
Identity and relationships
Grief is a prevalent theme for Dany, or rather, her refusal to deal with grief as she pushes on instead. Her relationship with Jorah is intensified as is her lack of self esteem and her doubt. Jorah reveals his feelings whilst Dany is vulnerable and her grief complicates things, as she values and feels for Jorah strongly as a mentor, friend and father figure (good old daddy issues). The revelation that Dany is now infertile- or believes she is- also impacts her deeply:
‘What man would want a barren wife?.. He can never have me, but one day I can give him back his home and honor. That much I can do for him’.
She almost feels that she owes Jorah love due to her own upbringing and abusive relationship with Viserys. Loss has permeated Dany’s life and she frequently recalls the death of everyone who has loved her. Feeling safe and loved is something that is extremely significant to Dany, particularly after the loss of Drogo, and she projects this by trying to support those around her, and a fierce desire to create a sense of home.
‘My great bear, Dany thought. I am his Queen, but I will always be his cub as well, and he will always guard me’. It made her feel safe, but sad as well. She wished she could love him better than she did’.
Despite her grief, or to deny it, Dany allows herself for the first time to imagine a life as Queen and to consider what this will mean.
‘I want to make my kingdom beautiful, to fill it with fat men and pretty maids and laughing children. I want my people to smile when they see me ride by, the way Viserys said they smiled for my father’.
Danerys desires are still not driven by her own interests, rather in the interest of living up to the Targaryen legacy. She strives to become a conqueror as a means of showing the world and herself what she can achieve. Dany has internalised Viserys stories, and has never questioned that their father was good and wrongfully accused. At times, her desire to live up to her father’s name and conquer drive Danerys until she becomes progressively more unattainable and difficult to council. These actions are very dependent on Dany’s self-esteem at the time, and it is when Rhaegar is the influence that Daenerys is more stable.
Prophecy and madness
Following the death of Viserys, Daenerys begins to consider the Targaryen stereotypes, particularly the rumours of insanity and darkness. These permeate her inner thoughts, predominantly after Dany experiences visions in the house of the undying. Dany becomes consumed by the prince who was promised and is certain that Rhaegar was meant to be the prophesised.
‘’Aegon’ he said to a woman nursing a newborn babe in a great wooden bed. ‘’What better name for a King?’’ ‘’He has a song.. He is the prince that was promised and his is the song of ice and fire’’. ‘’There must be one more’’. ‘The dragon has three heads. She later says she’s certain it was Rhaegar.
‘’The shape of shadows…morrows not yet made…drink from the cup of ice… drink from the cup of fire… three heads has the dragon… child of storm…’
‘Yet even crowned, I am a beggar still. I have become the most splendid beggar in the world, but a beggar all the same. She hated it, as her brother must have. He must have known how they mocked him. Small wonder he turned so angry and bitter. In the end it had driven him mad. It will do the same to me if I let it’. ‘No, that is defeat. I have something Viserys never had. I have the dragons. The dragons are all the difference’.
At the end of book two, Dany has become significantly more lost and paranoid. The dragons are essential to her wellbeing, signifying her own faith and desire to keep going.
A Storm of Swords
Identity and relationships
Jorah continues to have a significant influence on Dany and play an important role, for example, she is concerned about Jorah’s judgement of Daario and her feelings for him. She feels safe with Jorah, and feels connected through him to Westeros and her brother. This is tainted when Jorah kisses Dany, resulting in her admittance to herself of the loneliness, isolation and weight that Dany is feeling. This power and influence is particularly important in the lead up to Dany’s ‘madness’ should that be the route GRRM goes down, after Dany finds Jorah’s treason.
‘I tell you truly, Daenerys, there is no man in all the world who will ever be half so true to you as me’. ‘No true knight would ever kiss a queen without her leave.. What Dany wanted she could not begin to say, but Jorah’s kiss had woken something in her, something that had been sleeping since Khal Drogo died.. Sometimes she would close her eyes and dream of him, but it was never Jorah Mormont she dreamed of.’
Jorah uses his influence to try and council Daenerys when she attempts to buy the unsullied with the involvement of her dragons: ‘Go forth and kill the weak? Or, ‘go forth and defend them’. Interestingly (to me anyway, hahaha) from this point, Dany’s inner monologues often appear to battle between using strength or kindness to rule. This could be marked as dramatic irony should Dany go on to treat Kings Landing similarly to the show’s depiction. Daenerys morals tend to become flimsier in times of desperation, and she grapples with how she should use her power. Rhaegar is again her port of guidance, and Jorah’s remarks significantly impact Dany:
‘At the trident, those brave men Viserys spoke of died beneath our dragon banners- did they give their lives because they believed in Rhaegar’s cause, or because they had been bought and paid for?’’ (Dany)
‘’Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honourably. And Rhaegar died.’’ (Jorah)
Later, when Dany reflects on her decisions: ‘She felt desperately afraid. Was this what my brother would have done? I’m not religious and know religion is a sensitive topic, so I’m not going to say too much, but I would like to mention the interesting religious parallels that play out in ASOIAF. Dany could be likened to Jesus in her self-defined role in the prophecy. Following the vision (and the birth of her dragons), she truly believes in the three headed dragon, and that it is her fate to rule, and yet Dany often feels doubt in her own actions and place. Rhaegar acts as a Godlike figure to Dany at these times. Quaithe also appears almost as a religious messenger whenever Dany feels lost, guiding her towards her path: ‘Remember. To go North, you must journey South. To reach the west, you must go East. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow’.
I love the introduction of Selmy to Danerys world, and feel that he adds a more pure, less biased council for Dany than her previous relationships. Dany instantly loves and trusts Selmy for his personal knowledge of Rhaegar. She will, however, stop Selmy when she feels that he is undermining Dany’s Godlike vision of her brother: ‘Dany did not want to hear about Rhaegar being unhorsed’. Selmy provides Daenerys with a more nuanced perspective of the War throughout the books. He characterises Rhaegar as gentle and kind, a lover of song and stars, interestingly a contrast to the ‘ultra-masculine’ depiction of a successful ruler that Dany has been trying to take on. Selmy humanises Rhaegar:
‘Not sour, no, but… there was a melancholy to Prince Rhaegar, a sense of doom. He was born in grief, my Queen, and that shadow hung over him all his days.’
Selmy challenges Dany’s idea of Ned (key to future encounters with Jon). ‘Stark was a traitor who met a traitors end… Lannister or Stark, what difference? Viserys used to call them the Usurper’s dogs. All the dogs are just as guilty’ He tries to balance Daenerys black and white thinking as he tells her of Ned’s part in trying to stop Robert from harming her. He also understands that he may have an influence over Dany’s decision to go to Westeros. Throughout her time at Meereen, Selmy almost conditions Dany, telling her that Rhaegar would be proud whenever Daenerys leans in to her gentler instincts. He is used to dealing with Targaryen’s and provides almost a moral compass for Daenerys.
.Meereen was never your city, her brother’s voice seemed to whisper. Your cities are across the sea. Your Seven Kingdoms, where your enemies await you. You were born to serve them blood and fire.’
Prophecy and madness
Selmy is able to soothe and reassure Daenerys when she worries that she has the ‘Targaryen taint’: ‘Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.’ Dany is able to confide in him and begins to feel safe to question Viserys perspectives. At this point, she is incredibly tired and frequently considers how Targaryen’s before her dealt with the burdens of ruling. Daenerys is lost and philosophical regarding the future she wants.
‘Was my father truly mad? She blurted out.’ ‘There is some good to be said of my father, surely?’. ‘There is, Your Grace. Of him and those who came before him… and Rhaegar. Him most of all.’ ‘I wish I could have known him.’ Her voice was wistful.’
‘All alone but for my brother. Viserys should have protected me, but instead he hurt me and scared me worse. He shouldn’t have done that. Why do the gods make kings and queens, if not to protect the ones who can’t protect themselves? ‘Some kings make themselves. Robert did.’ (Jorah) ‘He was no true King,’ Dany said scornfully. ‘He did no justice. Justice… that’s what kings are for’.
This isolation paranoia is heightened greatly when Selmy reveals Jorah’s betrayal. This is a pivotal moment for Dany, as she loses her friend and feels that her connection to Selmy has been tainted.
‘I was going to take you home! I should say the word and burn he two of them. Was there no one she could trust, no one to keep her safe? ‘Are all the knights of Westeros as false as you two?’ ‘They betrayed me. But they saved me. But they lied’.
The undying had said she would be betrayed twice more, once for gold and once for love.’ (I’m interested in thinking more about the prophecy when I read other POV’s. I do wonder if the once for love will be Jon killing Dany?)
Politics and slavery
Dany is disillusioned by the slavery, and injustice that she has come across, and her own trauma often results in Dany acting emotively rather than politically. One of the first things Dany does following the fall of Astapor is to abolish the custom of naming the Unsullied as slaves. She also frees the slaves within the city. These extremely well intentioned gestures are however not well considered, as Dany then fails to accommodate for the needs of these freed people. She cannot provide the city with money, education or laws. This becomes a common theme with Dany the conqueror and yet due to her privilege and entitlement, Dany fails to see her shortcomings.
‘I gave them the city, and most of them were too frightened to take it’. ‘I told them they were free. I cannot tell them they are not free to join me’.
When Dany later attempts to free Meereen, Jorah advises that she should move on, due to the starvation and sickness her own followers are facing. ‘You cannot free every slave in the world, Khaleesi. Your War is in Westeros’. Dany is angry at this council, believing that failure to free the people is defeat. Daenerys is driven by kindness and a love for the children she sees suffering. Ending slavery is also important to Daenerys as something that she sees as part of her own identity, legacy and the carving of her own name and reputation within the Targaryen legacy. In freeing the city, Dany makes the decision to torture and kill the slavers, a decision which plagues Dany. ‘It was just. It was, I did it for the children.’ This marks the start of her making decisions as ‘Queen’ rather than Daenerys. Dany frequently battles her own kind heart and what she feels a ruler ‘should’ do, particularly difficult in a barbaric world where Kings frequently exude toxic masculinity.
‘Is this the face of a conqueror? So far as she could tell, she still looked like a little girl. No one was calling her Daenerys the conqueror yet, but perhaps they would.’
She is disillusioned by the end of ASOS, as her first time ruling does not elicit the hero complex that she strives for: ‘The widows will curse me all the same’. Dany is beginning to realise that her actions have consequences and that she is not yet equipped with the skills and knowledge required to rule. ‘All my victories turn to dross in my hands… Whatever I do, all I make is death and horror.’