So I don’t know if this is late or early considering technically the episode doesn’t air till Sunday, but whatever, here we go:
There was only one awesome thing about this episode, which was anything to do with the Night King and the Wight Dragon. Everything else was a complete departure from all we’ve come to learn about these characters, but that aside, let me try to understand it as best as I can.
We start the episode on Jon and the rest of the A Team trudging along and making fun of Gendry. I actually really liked all these scenes because the male bonding was done well, the dialogue was funny and the chemistry between these characters was believable. I mean I didn’t know I needed a Tormund x Sandor best friendship till that episode, especially when they begin talking about Brienne. Mr Tormund “I want to make babies with her” Giantsbane. It was brilliant, needless to say.
What’s not so brilliant but a great moment of foreshadowing was Tormund’s conversation with Jon. He essentially tells Jon that although Mance Rayder was a great man, his pride got a lot of people killed, echoing Jon’s own words to the man:
“"Isn’t their survival more important than your pride?”
And of course Dani’s words to Jon in the Cave of Invisible Chemistry.
The problem I have with this is that it comes from Tormund, a wildling man whose pride is as much as a defining factor as his ginger beard. But whatever, I see what they’re trying to do here. They’re trying to justify what happens later because if Tormund can understand the dire need for Dani’s help over his own pride then Jon should too, and he does, of course, as we later find out.
Here’s the thing though. I am still firmly of the camp that it’s all a ruse, and this is the moment Jon realises he might have to bend to Dani’s will for her alliance. He doesn’t want to and he knows fully well that the Northern houses will not accept her as their queen in any capacity, but all he cares about is his people’s survival through the Long Night. He’s willing to lose his kingdom for their safety. And this thought becomes even more concrete in Jon’s mind the moment Dani arrives to save his dumb ass with her three dragons. The look of awe on his face as those dragons rain hellfire on the wights is indicative of this because up until that point, he’s had a very abstract understanding of what these dragons are capable of and how they can help him. Seeing it in person, seeing them turn a hopeless situation into a victory, Jon fully understands now that the only way to survive is for Dani to fight with them with her dragons.
I was almost finished writing down my dark!dany-impressions from episodes 1 and two, but then episode 3 aired and I decided to completely change the structure of this little essay and start anew. So of course, this took way longer than anticipated. I decided to finish the first part now, hopefully post the second part later today or tomorrow and complete the third and fourth after Dany went Dracarys in ep 4 (because she will, I just know that she will)
A couple of disclaimers before I get started :
First: D&D are playing loose (very loose) with the social rules and norms established in the books. I will try to keep any “that doesn’t make any sense, in the books xyz would happen” out of this. For example if the show tells me that besieging a city from all sites, thereby cutting its supply lines, will cost the least civilian life, I will take that as a fact. If the show claims that Cersei’s claim to the Iron Throne is “secure” enough to be seen fucking her own brother, at least within Kings Landing and in the mind of several Reach Lords who answered her summon, I will accept that as well. In short: If D&D say that’s how it is, then that’s how it is.
Second: I do not believe that primarily judging characters and their actions from a westerosi point of view really makes sense anymore. The world in which this story takes place should be taken into consideration, yes, but watsonian consistency and accuracy have really taken a backseat to the doylist intentions the show is trying to express. D&D are clearly changing and constructing plot lines, characterizations, decisions and reactions with a modern audience in mind and, most importantly, to accommodate their modern moral and ethical views. This is not to say that modern audiences lack the capacity to put themselves into alien positions and worldviews. This ability simply seems to be very inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory. For example: Even though decapitation has mostly vanished as a form of punishment, it’s fairly easy to recognise the supposed “justice” in such an act. If we are presented with a culprit guilty of a capital crime. As the show has displayed many times, chopping off someone else’s head for breaking a vow, does not turn you into a blood-thirsty murderer or ruthless tyrant, even though we all agree, that it’s good we don’t do that anymore. But on the other hand (pun intended) if one of our good guys were to cut of a thief’s hand on screen -a widespread punishment for theft over many continents and centuries, including the setting of asoiaf* - we would probably have a harder time to “forgive” them for it. I know I would. Humans and their perception of “moral” are weird. I’m sure there are some theories out there on why that is and what influences this, imo, rather weird phenomena, but I hope you understand what I mean when I say: We can accept different realities and their rules, but only when we can. In my opinion, that’s a framework D&D are carefully working with.
You can disagree with me on that, but that is how I am going to approach the show from now on, this little post included. I will focus on what the show-runners are trying to convey to a modern audience. How do they want us to react to what happens on screen and what tools do they use to influence and guide our reaction. Many of my estimations will be intuitive and not necessarily fully objective, so everyone is free to disagree with me in that perspective. But if you want to refute one of my arguments here, solely based on “but it is based on the medieval !!!”, you will have to present a very compelling case for me to care. Because the show mostly doesn’t care on what time period Westeros is vaguely based on, so why should I?
Third: These are only my opinions, blah blah. I do not claim to have an insider in HBO who tells me what they were trying to do. These are only my thoughts, my analysis, my interpretations.
Fourth: I don’t “hate” Dany, I don’t think she is the most evilest person on the show, I simply believe that she is moving into a darker direction. Honestly, that would be the exact twist the series could need right now. It’s starting to get a bit boring and predictable.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get started with the first big question:
Why even conquer Westeros ?
I believe that both intentions and consequences are important. As a rule of thumb I always judge an action by its consequences, the character of a person by their intentions. This is often intertwined, an “evil” person will often do “evil” things, “good” people can sometimes do “evil” things for “good” reasons, and if a “good” person keeps doing “evil” shit you will sooner or later question how “good” they really are. It’s useless to say that all of this is indeed very subjective and it’s pretty unlikely that two people will always be on the same page. No one has to agree with me on that (after all the entire field of philosophy has been arguing about this for centuries), but I found it to be a fair and meaningful way to assess “ethical positioning”, at least for fictional fictional characters and my own opinion.
So in this first section, I will focus on the question Why does Dany even want to conquer Westeros? Rather than her qualities as a queen or the consequences of her actions I will try to focus on her intentions, on what drives her to conquer the Seven Kingdoms. I will end this section on whether those intentions justify or warrant the price she is willing to pay for the Iron Throne and talk more thoroughly about it in later parts.
Season 7 has had a number of interesting hints and revelations about this issue.
EPISODE 1 “DRAGONSTONE”
I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the single short scene Dany had in episode one. (I was preoccupied with the case umber & karstark vs the north). But some comments made by Dany-fans caught my attention and made me take another look at her behaviour. What I’m talking about is Dany entering the Throne Room in Dragonstone, walking towards the throne (a symbol for “ruling”) but moving to the next room, rejecting it for the carved table Aegon planned his conquest on 300 years ago (a symbol for just that - “conquest”).
I read comments along the lines “This was such a great character moment! It really shows where her priorities lie” or “She doesn’t just want to rule, she wants to win!”. After giving it some thought I fully agree with these statements, but … I do not think that’s … a good thing? This reminds me very much of something Dario said in season 6:
You weren’t made to sit on some chair in a palace. […] You are a conqueror, D Stormborn.
I think he is spot on with this. It has been shown again and again that what Dany is good at, what she thrives at, is conquest. Fighting and defeating your enemy. My question is: does this make her a good candidate for the Iron Throne? Shouldn’t her conquest simply be the means through which she accomplishes her real goal - ruling - instead of her true vocation?
I don’t believe that Dany actually wants to sit on a throne, she simply wants to win it. Robert showed that good soldiers don’t make good kings, I do not believe that good conquerors make good queens neither.
EPISODE 2 “STORMBORN”
This episode tackles and subtly undermines two motivations behind this conquest, that made it an relatable, righteous venture in both our and Danys mind.
First, Dany admits that Dragonstone “doesn’t feel like home”.
Dany to Viserys in Pentos [s1]: I don’t want to be his queen. I want to go home.
Dany to Tyrion in Meereen [s5]: I fought so that no child born into Slaver’s Bay would ever know what it meant to be sold or bought. I will continue that fight here and beyond. But this is not my home.
Dany to Tyrion in Dragonstone [s7]: I always thought this would be a homecoming. Doesn’t feel like home.
Longing for one’s home is an outmost humane desire. We can empathize and sympathize with this. We can’t begrudge her for this wish or the actions she takes to fulfill it. She might have never spend a day of her adult life in westeros before, but it has always been “home” in her mind. Now she is faced with the ugly reality that it isn’t. That Dragonstone, and I would deduce the Seven Kingdoms as a whole, are a strange, foreign place to her. If the castle she was born in, her family’s ancestral seat doesn’t feel “like home”, what will? The Red Keep? The Iron Throne? It is quite tragic, but the only real home Dany ever knew was the House with the red door in Braavos she lived in as a child. And that is not the home she will find at the end of her conquest.
Second, Dany realizes that the common folk is not praying for her return, sewing dragon banners and drinking secret toasts to her health.
The wine seller and Dany [s1]: You know there are many in your homeland who pray for your return princess. – I hope to repay your kindness someday.
Tyrion and Dany [s5]: When you get back to you home, who supports you? – “The common people”.
Dany to Varys [s7]: They call out for their true queen? They drink secret toasts to my health? People used to tell my brother that sort of thing and he was stupid enough to believe it.
Acknowledging that Viserys was a fool to believe this, certainly shows maturity and that she’s come to understand “how the world works”, but this notion, that she would return the rightful ruler to her people also gave her conquest a “moral backbone”. After all Dany has always depicted herself as a champion for the common people (at least as long as she was in essos, more on that later). If she believes that “her people are crying out for their true queen”, even if it isn’t true, simply if she believes it, her conquest is to some extent meant to fulfill the wishes of her subjects. Whether that is an important factor for the legitimacy of a feudalistic ruler, is another question, but it definitely is a quality we admire and look for in a good ruler. What makes the King in the North scenes so powerful and engaging, is the fact, that both Robb and Jon are chosen by their people. This has always played an important part in Dany’s self-image as a ruler. She was always shown to be loved by the essosi commoners (ie former slaves), she herself has stated that “the common folk” is who supports her in westeros. But quite frankly the show hasn’t addressed yet what the westerosi small folk is thinking about the dragon queen’s return. Neither has Dany. It is only brought up once, when Varys starts to recount how unpopular Cersei is and Dany shuts him down immediately.
I noticed that “the good” Dany could do for the small folk in Westeros is mostly addressed by her supporters, not herself. Varys claims to back her because he believes “she is the best chance the common folk has”, Tyrion is the one to tell Jon that she “protects people from monsters”. In her time in slaver’s bay she brought this up numerous times herself: What SHE could do to better their lives. But since she landed in Westeros, she only talks about bringing peace and prosperity to the people twice. Once when talking to Onella, who immediately shits all over warfare-the-nice-way and tells her to be “a dragon” (more on that in part 3) and a second time when talking to Jon. But this sentiment was brought up in the context of how “a targaryen on the Iron Throne and a Stark as warden in north” have been good for the realm. It isn’t directly linked to Dany herself, rather her conception of her family’s legacy and it’s influence in the past.
EPISODE 3 “THE QUEENS JUSTICE”
This episode has done nothing to paint Danys motivation in a, let’s say “humanitarian”, light. Quite contrary, Dany freely admits in her own words that this conquest is most and foremost about her. Her wishes, her desires, what she thinks she deserves. She is approaching her “negotiation” with Jon with two key arguments in mind. First, her hereditary claim as a Targaryen and secondly, her personal claim based on her life experiences.
The last King in the North was Torrhen Stark, who bend the knee to my ancestor, Aegon Targaryen. In exchange for his life and the life of the Northmen, Torrhen Stark swore fealty to House Targaryen in perpetuity. […] You’ve travelled all this way to break faith with House Targaryen? …
I’ve already talked about my problems with Dany calling herself the “rightful” ruler. Though she admits that her father was an “evil man”, she doesn’t acknowledge Robert’s Rebellion as a justified uprising against a tyrant. She simply sees her father as the bad apple of the family. As a single outlier in the otherwise “consistent” history of “righteous” Targaryen rule. Not only showing an unwillingness to accept any wrongdoings done by her house, her father gets outsourced as an exception, but also the consequences his downfall has for her “birthright”. Notice how she is specifically introduced as the “rightful” ruler (which is a little node at Jon heritage as well). She insists that the oaths Torrhen Stark made to Aegon are valid for eternity. She accuses Jon of “breaking faith” and “being in open rebellion”. She is not trying to re-establish House Targaryen post-rebellion, she is refusing to acknowledge the rebellions significance, as if it doesn’t even matter. Her goal is to keep the Targaryen rule going, because in her mind, it never was rightfully “interrupted” in the first place. This is a mind-set that hasn’t changed since season 1.
While this argument seems to be prepared, her “outburst” that follows, reveals her most honest thoughts and opinions.
I was born in Dragonstone. Not that I can remember it. We fled before Robert’s assassins could find us. Robert was your father’s best friend, no? I wonder if your father knew that his best friends sent assassins to murder a baby girl in her crib. Not that it matters now, of course. I spent my life in foreign lands. So many men have tried to kill me, I don’t remember all their names. I have been sold like a broodmare. I’ve been chained and betrayed, raped and defiled. Do you know what kept me standing through all these years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods, not in myths and legends. In myself. In D Targaryen.
Don’t get me wrong, she deserves sympathy for all this. She was victimized for most her life, breaking free of this role, taking agency and even drawing strength from her abuse is indeed inspiring. I don’t know if that was the purpose of her speech, but I’m sure that many people perceived it that way. I don’t want to badmouth those who took just that away from it.
But somehow … it also raised some “tragic-villain-backstory” alarms in my head. You know, traditionally at the end of the movie, when our heroes are chained up somewhere in the bad dudes lair and ask “Why are you doing this?” and the villain responds with all the bad shit that happened to them. Talking about how the world wronged them, often how our heroes wronged them.
“All my life the laughed at me, look who’s laughing now?”
This is not a sentiment directly expressed by her, but I feel like it’s so heavily implied that it’s fair to list it here. She has endured many, many hardships and now she feels that the world “owes” her big time. I feel like her ambition of conquering an entire kingdom has crossed the line of “not letting all your traumas stop you” and entered the realm of “I deserve everything I want, no matter the cost because life was unfair to me.” And that really is a text-book villain motive.
I really do not like to compare female characters, and I’m not trying to say that one of them “had it worse than the other”, but all of these things also apply to Sansa, some of them even to Cersei. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in an episode titled “The Queen’s justice”, we see one Queen using her sufferings to support her claim, one taking revenge on those who wronged her and another taking care of her people’s needs. All of these three women have suffered in similar ways and while two of them use it to justify their rather selfish behaviour, one of them is shown to spend her time working for others. This “parallel” is only amplified by Bran mentioning Sansa’s wedding night in the same episode. The only reason I can see for Bran bringing up this specific incident (there were many other options to proof his three-eyed-raven powers), is to draw a connection to Danys speech. Again, I am not necessarily trying to set them against each other, but Danys approach to coping with her abuse, at least resembles the one Cersei chose to take. Compare Danys speech to this book quote from Cersei and tell me you don’t get similar vibes:
I waited, and so can he. I waited half my life. She had played the dutiful daughter, the blushing bride, the pliant wife. She had suffered Robert’s drunken groping, Jaime’s jealousy, Renly’s mockery, Varys with his titters, Stannis endlessly grinding his teeth. She had contended with Jon Arryn, Ned Stark, and her vile, treacherous, murderous dwarf brother, all the while promising herself that one day it would be her turn. If Margaery Tyrell thinks to cheat me of my hour in the sun, she had bloody well think again.
This makes me believe that Dany is more or will be more like Cersei than she would like to think. If we all believe that Cersei is power hungry, isn’t Dany as well? For very similar reasons?
The ending of her little speech also makes her seem a bit megalomaniac.
[…] Do you know what kept me standing through all these years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods, not in myths and legends. In myself. In D Targaryen. The world hasn’t seen a dragon in centuries until my children were born. The Dothraki haven’t crossed the sea, any sea. They did for me. I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms and I will.
It’s no surprise really. She is the Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt, the Khal of Khals. It’s no wonder all of this goes to her head. This also ties into her conversation with Melisandre in episode two. She immediately assumes that the prophecy is about her, or at least, seems rather pleased at the possibility. She seems to be taken aback when Mel said she (only) “has a part to play”. (At least that’s how I interpreted it, it’s not really easy to know what EC is trying to convey with her … “acting”. Sry, not sry.) She has fully accepted herself as a chosen one, a prophesied savior, an über-mensch. Whether because of her lineage or her own achievements, this attitude hinges on plain arrogance and is way more often found in “villains” than “heroes”.
Please notice that her speech is not triggered by Jon refusing her claim, but by his insistence that the white walkers are real and coming for all them. Having her react like this at that point off the argument seems a bit out of place. It could boil down to shitty writing, but it could also be meant to emphasize an apparent contrast between Jon and Dany. Jon embraces leadership to protect his people, Dany seeks it to satisfy her need for self-importance.
While episode two subtly degrades her relatable and philanthropic motivations, episode three highlights those who are ultimately self-centered. Those rooted in ideas of superiority and entitlement. Whether she feels entitled because of everything she had to endure or her birthright as the last (lol) Targaryen, isn’t important. The point is that she feels she deserves to rule. She feels entitled to the seven kingdoms because of external circumstances, not because of her own qualities or competence.
I would also like to point out one more thing: Dany could have very well stayed in Essos. She could have chosen to remain in “the Bay of Dragons”, rule as it’s queen, bringing real stability to the region. The show swept that under the rug, and yes, I promised to just take the bullshit D&D feed me at face value, but it she just left Slaver’s Bay behind when it was time to conquer Westeros. I don’t see any reason why the region shouldn’t return to chaos after she, her armies and her dragons are gone. After all, it was “D Stormborn and her dragons coming to Meereen”, as Tyrion put it, that finally brought the former Masters to obey. Now that she’s busy somewhere else, what’s going to keep them in check? Daario and his 2000 Second Sons?
She could have stayed there, leading a comfortable life as it’s queen, caring for the people who worship her as the breaker of chains. Instead she decided to lead a war of invasion on Westeros. She decided to leave as soon as a fragile peace took hold, to wage war again. For what? If Dany isn’t fighting for “home” or “the will of her people”, what is she fighting for? What is left? She said it herself: D Targaryen. She is fighting for herself. This all is primarily about her and no one else. Honestly, I have a hard time rooting for someone who starts an invasion for selfish reasons.
This was part 1 of this long-ass post. I really hope I can finish “Tyrion Cricket starring in Danoccio” today or tomorrow. The sections “Fire and Blood and Burning Shit” will follow most likely after episode 4 has aired and my favourite topic right now (Targ!Cest vs Targ!Bowl) will come shortly after that. Stay tuned and thank you for your attention.