If this chick ever sits on the Iron Throne I will burn all Game of Thrones books and DVDs on a pyre, and sacrifice any love I had for A Song of Ice and Fire to the old gods and the new.
Just kidding, of course. I’m not some insane, power drunk Targaryen.
I am a big fan of Game of Thrones in both of its formats. After season one’s finale hooked me like a Tully, I went back to the beginning and read all of the books inside of a few months, while keeping up with the HBO series throughout the years that followed. I delight in A Song of Ice and Fire in both its written and visual formats, finding particular adoration for the vast array of characters save one, Danerys Targaryen.
I’ll admit that the reasons why are all entirely subjective and have nothing to do with the integrity of the character, rather they are questions I have about the character’s integrity. Danerys is as well written a character as any other in A Song of Ice and Fire, with strengths and flaws that make her more human than heroine. She just isn’t the kind of human I want to be around, and I’ve never really understood why there are those who would see her rule the seven kingdoms.
Many fans latched on to Danerys’ story early on and see her as an inspiring and empowering figure. I can’t deny that her story certainly resonates with women, particularly those who have been on the receiving end of abuse and sexism in all its many forms. She continually rises from the ashes of terrible cruelty and treachery with a great desire to bring freedom, and justice to the world. Her goals are lofty and seem admirable. Her indomitable will and ambition are as intimidating as dragon fire, but still, I remain uninspired to love her.
There is an air of entitlement and hubris in Danerys’ character that I find to be as morally repellent as it was in Jeoffrey Baratheon, the Dothraki warlords, the slave masters, and the inherited Targaryen legacy of conquest, incest, and madness. She has no cultural sensitivity for any city of Essos or her homeland of Westeros. Danerys takes whatever lies in front of her by force and appoints herself sovereign, judge, jury, and executioner.
The Danerys of the books is a bit more likable than her HBO counterpart, though not by much more than a swords length. Early on George R.R. Martin establishes Danerys to be somewhat intellectual. She retreats to her private thoughts when confronted with her brothers’ perverse inhumanity, or the slave masters’ bloodlust and greed. Still, she has trouble making balanced and rational decisions about how to solve her problems without getting blood and ash everywhere.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of her intelligence comes to us in the brilliant counselors she surrounds herself with and occasionally listens to. Danerys reaps the benefits of their counsel, and like sycophants they credit her wisdom. When Danerys doesn’t like their advice or the results, she often proclaims her absolute authority, issues threats of violence for those who question her divine right to wrath, and proceeds on down the warpath to the next land, culture, or people she wishes to dominate and manipulate.
The consistent declaring of her birthright to the seven kingdoms of Westeros and status as queen often reminds me of something Tywin Lannister once told Joffrey in a fabulous public shaming during a meeting of the small counsel. Tywin interrupted Joffrey’s tantrum with the words, “any man who must say, ‘I am the king’ is no true king.” Wise and biting words that couldn’t be more true in either Joffrey’s or Danerys’ case.
For Danerys, only the rarest and most powerful of mythical beasts is her equal. She often talks of her pedigree as her brother Viserys did, they are “the blood of the dragon”, and her pedigree is well known to be by Targaryen design to keep the bloodline pure. It is a strange and hypocritical assertion for the breaker of chains to make as it sounds quite racist. She proclaims her racial superiority even while delivering freedom to those she wants to support her, worship her, and die for her.
Like the antihero, the antivillain leaves one with questions as to whether or not they are a force for the greater good or evil. With an antihero you see them do terrible things to save the world we love, but an antivillain does good things in order to destroy the world we despise. Danerys wants to break the wheel, change the balance of power to favor slaves, the uneducated, bastards, and broken things. She does so knowing that those she delivers from bondage will not question her greatness and these people will give her more influence and control.
She isn’t the lone antivillain in Westeros, Theon Greyjoy keeps Danerys in good company. It was easy at first to hate Theon for his egotism, tantrums, his betrayal of Robb Stark, his cruelty and stupidity. But as his torture by Ramsey drew on and his identity was stripped away with his flesh, he became a pitiable creature I wanted to see redeemed. He saved Sansa and himself to break the wheel of terror and abuse that the Boltons had them both chained to. As he seeks to save his sister from his Uncle I have no reservations about cheering for his renewed sense of self and honor.
I absolutely love to hate a great villain. Characters like Ramsey Bolton, Petyr Baelish, Joffrey and Cersei Lannister fill me with joy during their chapters and scenes. I also love an underdog, so Tyrion Lannister, Sansa Stark, and Sam Tarly are profoundly endearing to me. Antiheroes are another favorite subject of mine, and so Varys, Arya Stark, and Jaime Lannister all wormed their way into my personal esteem.
Danerys is all these concepts combined, so like any villain I want to see her torn down and humbled, just as I relished Cersei’s walk of shame. Unlike Cersei, though, whose bold witty arrogance I find appealing, Danerys’ stoicism has a Targaryen gloom that seems to have followed them from Valyria. She has a deep self loathing that is more pathetic than inspirational, as it is in her heroic nephew, Jon. And when she ingratiates herself to those around her it looks more like the manipulative cage made by a narcissist than liberation.
While I ultimately hope for her failure, I also hope for an awakening of Danerys’ better nature before her story ends. If she can recognize her folly and beg pardon among those she has tempted to join her mad crusade for power, I might be persuaded to like her in the end. Though at this point, it seems more likely that I will breathe a deep sigh of relief at her death.
Image Credits: HBO