The importance of dragons in Dany’s storyline (and of direwolves in the Starks’)
Hi! Love your blog and your insight and hope this question don’t appear too simplistic or bother you somehow: Do you think that Daenerys’ storyline relies too much on her dragons? I admired much more her character before, when she integrated in the Dothraki and accomplished many things by her own, whereas in the later books the dragons seem the biggest conditioner in the way people treat her (almost the only thing they see in her) and in the way she acts. I get that it’s a fantasy novel, that Targaryen heritage and dragons are the ultimate weapon to save the world and crucial to her identity…, but so are the Starklings direwolves and their characters are determined by much more than that (Jon may have survived in important moments thanks to Ghost, but didn’t become Lord Comander or resist the wildlings because of him). Thank you in advance for your time!
Well, you have to consider that Daenerys Targaryen, as a character, was created to be the Mother of Dragons. Even from the very beginning, in GRRM’s original pitch letter, we have Dany acquiring dragon eggs and hatching a dragon, which gives her great power. (And while Bran’s first chapter, the one where they find the direwolf pups in the summer snows, was the first GRRM ever wrote of ASOIAF, it’s interesting that the direwolves barely get a mention in the pitch letter.)
But besides that, I think you’re missing out on a large portion of Dany’s characterization? Her dragons had nothing to do with her decision to free the slaves of Slaver’s Bay, and very little to do with her decision to remain as queen of Meereen. Yes, she used her dragons to kill the Good Masters of Astapor and free the city’s slaves – but Yunkai gave up its slaves after the defeat of its sellswords (with no dragons involved in the battle), and Meereen was conquered by stealth (again, with no dragons involved). And later, when Meereen was besieged by the Yunkish and their allies, Dany doesn’t use her dragons at all to solve the problem, working only with diplomacy and her own choices.
In fact, most of Dany’s chapters in ADWD are how she handles herself as a ruler without her dragons. Though because of her decision to lock them up because of Drogon’s murder of a child, they are often on her mind in her chapters – either her guilt that she has abandoned her children, or her fear that “if they are monsters, so am I” – but nevertheless, she navigates the politics of Meereen without them.
Still, it’s true that when people encounter Dany, her dragons are the most major factor in the way they react to her. But, y’know – they’re three giant flying nuclear lizards? Dragons, which were extinct from the world for over 150 years, until Dany magically birthed three? Of course the dragons are why people react to her the way they do, and are a serious factor in her own actions – she’s a damned miracle-worker, the focus of multiple prophecies (including that of a religion followed by thousands across the continent), and she has flying semi-sentient firebreathing dragons devoted entirely to her. I mean, three wise people followed a star to come find her and the dragons… if that doesn’t signify their meaning to you, I don’t know what could.
But even more so, the dragons gave Dany power and a status beyond any she’d ever had, even beyond that of anyone else in the world. Before the dragons, she was just a penniless princess in exile, an asset to be bought and sold – and though she did gain power in the Dothraki and found agency and the strength to fight back against her abusive brother, almost all that power vanished the moment her husband Khal Drogo lost his ability to lead. Before the dragons, her remaining khalasar was only the sick and weak,
one loyal knight with his own motivations, and a few loyal bloodriders who only wanted to take her back to dosh khaleen and then abandon her. But after the birth of the dragons, they all knelt and offered their unfailing devotion, as Daenerys was now far more than a 14-year-old widow and the last scion of a lost dynasty, but the most miraculous and amazing thing they had ever seen… and all she wanted to do in return was protect her people. So, yes, Dany’s character is much more than her dragons – but nevertheless, once they were born, they became essential to her character.
Also, I don’t think you realize just how essential and important the direwolves are to the Starks? GRRM says for this generation of Starks, the direwolf is far more than a sigil, “it’s more than just a handy metaphor with them.” Bran and Summer are inseparable, Arya’s wolf dreams are part of what keeps her identity from being effaced by the Faceless Men, “the wolf was near as wild as Rickon”, GRRM says Sansa is “a little adrift” without Lady, and Ghost is the first thing people see when they look at Jon.
Chett pictured Jon Snow lying blue and frozen on some bleak mountaintop… The thought made him smile. I hope they killed his bloody wolf as well.
“He is a warg,” said the Lord of Bones, “and a crow. I like him not.”
“Well met, Jon Snow. I am fond o’ wargs, as it happens, though not o’ Starks.”
“I betook of your lord father’s meat and mead, had a look at Kingslayer and Imp… and made passing note of Lord Eddard’s children and the wolf pups that ran at their heels.”
How fine that would be, to wake back on the Fist of the First Men with all his brothers still around him, even Jon and Ghost.
The king’s men were much in evidence in the yards of Castle Black. They stopped as Jon went by, and gaped at him. None of them had ever seen a direwolf before, he realized, and Ghost was twice as large as the common wolves that prowled their southron greenwoods.
Lord Janos was red-faced and quivering. “The beast,” he gasped. “Look! The beast that tore the life from Halfhand. A warg walks among us, brothers. A WARG! This… this creature is not fit to lead us! This beastling is not fit to live!”
He had known what Snow was the moment he saw that great white direwolf stalking silent at his side.
Also, Jon did resist the wildlings with the help of Ghost – they respected and feared him as a warg, and ““They’re dogs and he’s a wolf,” said Jon. “They know he’s not their kind.” No more than I am yours.” (And even when Ghost was separated from Jon by the Wall, it was a direwolf, Summer, who helped him escape the wildlings when he needed to.) Furthermore, Jon rejected Stannis’s offer of legitimacy and the lordship of Winterfell explicitly because Ghost returned to him…
Ygritte wanted me to be a wildling. Stannis wants me to be the Lord of Winterfell. But what do I want? […] The direwolf had no answer, but he licked Jon’s face with a tongue like a wet rasp, and his eyes caught the last light and shone like two great red suns. Red eyes, Jon realized, but not like Melisandre’s. He had a weirwood’s eyes. Red eyes, red mouth, white fur. Blood and bone, like a heart tree. He belongs to the old gods, this one. And he alone of all the direwolves was white. Six pups they’d found in the late summer snows, him and Robb; five that were grey and black and brown, for the five Starks, and one white, as white as Snow. He had his answer then.
…which is why he accepted being elected Lord Commander.
So, no, I don’t think Dany’s storyline relies too much on her dragons. I think they are exactly as important as they need to be. And I only wish that people understood that the direwolves should get the same kind of respect in the storylines of the Starks.
Papa Emeritus III done with permanent markers and paint pen. 44x63 cm. Something I did to fill dull lunch break with. Freehand drawing and no grid or anything of a sort was used. It turned out pretty nice, don’t you think?