The Problem with Dany

If I had to pick a character who was the most difficult to talk about in this series, it would probably be Daenerys Targaryen.  The intersection of every single conflict and perspective–in world and modern–about her is one that is almost impossible to address without sidelining one element of it.

That her arc relies intensely white saviorism; depictions of the Dothraki are laden with racist tropes; her experience in Slaver’s Bay harkens to (but does not perfectly mirror) white conquest in the 19th century.  This pairs uncomfortably with the fact that she is 13-16 years old (I’m focusing predominantly on book!Daenerys in this–if you are here for show!Daenerys proceed with that in mind), a child sold into sex slavery, a rape victim, and someone who believes firmly and acts upon the belief that any society that relies upon slavery is not society.  As a woman in Martin’s historically inaccurate misogynistic world, she confronts challenges that are designed by the creator of the series to confront her womanhood; as a Targaryen/Valyrian/Westerosi far from her home and without the resources of that home, she is left with little choice but to look forward.


Before even touching on the content of A Song of Ice and Fire, a point that causes trouble, right out of the gate, is where do “problems” with Daenerys arise?  When, for example, does responsibility lie with a character, and when with the architect of her story?  Add into that–when does the responsibility lie with neither character, nor creator, but with instead the fans who are discussing the media in question?

All this is not to absolve Daenerys of whatever sins exist within her storyline. There are choices that the character makes that are reprehensible and for which the ultimate responsibility does lie with her; however it is also to say that many of the things that Daenerys is loathed for are decisions that lie instead at Martin’s feet.

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What Happens to Daenerys at Vaes Dothrak?

Why does it matter that Daenerys is being taken back to Vaes Dothrak to be with the Dosh Khaleen? Before I answer, here is a refresher for show viewers and casual readers: the Dosh Khaleen is a body of sacred priestesses that are the main religious authority in Dothraki society. When a Khal dies, his Khaleesi is sent to Vaes Dothrak to become a member of Dosh Khaleen. So what will happen when Daenerys is brought back to them? Well you have to ask for yourself, why did a powerful Khal like Drogo agree to marry a Valyrian refugee princess in the first place? It certainly wasn’t for the social prestige he would get from marrying a foolish, straw-headed milk woman. I’m not entirely certain of the answer for this. It seems like weird move. It’s not like he really seemed that interested in the plan of invading Westeros. Was it even his idea? Drogo isn’t saying, but maybe it was orchestrated by a higher authority than the Khals, the Dosh Khaleen. What we can say, is that things certainly seem to move along quickly when they arrive at Vaes Dothrak for the first time in Game of Thrones. The first thing that Daenerys notices when they arrive is that city is hug, but virtually empty compared to its size. Okay, that was the second thing she noticed. First she notices it has a big horse gate, but no walls. I digress.

Vaes Dothrak was at once the largest city and the smallest that she had ever known. . .  Vaes Dothrak sprawled languorously, baking in the warm sun, ancient, arrogant, and empty. Even the buildings were so queer to her eyes. She saw carved stone pavilions, manses of woven grass as large as castles, rickety wooden towers, stepped pyramids faced with marble, log halls open to the sky … Most of the halls, even the largest, seemed deserted. “Where are the people who live here?” Dany asked. The bazaar had been full of running children and men shouting, but elsewhere she had seen only a few eunuchs going about their business.

The explanation for this is given by Ser Friend Zone in his earlier and much cooler role as Ser Exposition. Jorah tells Daenerys that:

“Only the crones of the dosh khaleen dwell permanently in the sacred city, them and their slaves and servants,” Ser Jorah replied, “yet Vaes Dothrak is large enough to house every man of every khalasar, should all the khals return to the Mother at once. The crones have prophesied that one day that will come to pass, and so Vaes Dothrak must be ready to embrace all its children.”

Oh that’s cool. The Dothraki have some kind of prophecy where they all gather at Vaes Dothrak for some purpose. That’s good to know. Like maybe it could have something to do with fighting the apocalyptic horde of undead being directed by the Others (White Walkers) to wipe out humanity. You know, maybe.

Okay, so what happens next? Daenerys eats a horse’s heart, as one does when one is pregnant, and the Dosh Khaleen look into the smoke for an omen as to whether or not the child will be a boy or a girl, they come back with the reading, it’s a boy and he is the Stallion Who Mounts the World. The what? Yeah, that’s the prophesied Dothraki messiah.

“Khalakka dothrae!” she shrieked. The prince is riding! “He is riding!” the other women answered. “Rakh! Rakh! Rakh haj!” they proclaimed. A boy, a boy, a strong boy . Bells rang, a sudden clangor of bronze birds.  …

“I have seen his face, and heard the thunder of his hooves,” she proclaimed in a thin, wavery voice. “The thunder of his hooves!” the others chorused. “As swift as the wind he rides, and behind him his khalasar covers the earth, men sing his coming, and the milk men in the stone tents will fear his name.” The old woman trembled and looked at Dany almost as if she were afraid. “The prince is riding, and he shall be the stallion who mounts the world.”

Now, I’ve been through the ultra sound moment myself (two girls) and if the doctor had come back with, “She’s a girl, and she’s the messiah,” I think I might have reacted with a bit more surprised than Drogo appears to be. Admittedly, Drogo is much cooler than me. I would expect him to have more of a poker face, but he doesn’t seem surprised by this at all. It’s almost like he expected this. Instead of acting surprised, he completes the ritual by marching Daenerys down to the sacred lake, the one we are told has no bottom. No, that’s not creepy. The moon is reflected on the surface of the water, which has all sort of symbolic implications I am not going to get into here. Then Daenerys drinks the sacred water, and the two of them have sex with everyone watching, as one does. We aren’t given too much more information after that.

Let’s skip to the end of the book. Rhaego, the Stallion Who Mounts the World, is still born, and all of us were left with the feeling that this is where Martin is taking the story. All of the prophesies and religious elements are going to turn out to be false, but then the dragons hatch and we aren’t so sure.

Now let’s leap forward to Clash of Kings and the House of the Undying. Daenerys seeks the wisdom of the Warlocks and they give her the Shade of the Evening, which gives her visions of the past, present, and future, (before the Warlocks try to eat her for her power or something.) Among Daenerys’ many confusing visions is this one, at this point, unambiguous one:

Beneath the Mother of Mountains, a line of naked crones crept from a great lake and knelt shivering before her, their grey heads bowed.

What will happen when Daenerys is brought back to Vaes Dothrak and the Dosh Khaleen? The Dosh Khaleen will reread the future and declare Daenerys to be the Mare who Mounts the World. (Much like the Prince that Was Promised, there was an error in the earlier gender translation.) Likely Drogon landing in Vaes Dothrak will have some influence on all of this.

It always used to make me upset when Westerosi men would call the Dothraki savages. When one looks at Khal Drogo’s Khalasar it looks like another culture that is separate, more superstitious, but generally equal to that of other societies in Westeros and Essos. After seeing other Khalasars I understand why the Dothraki are branded savages, and I have gained much more repect for Khal Drogo.


VAES DOTHRAK. a dothraki playlist

songs list: to vaes dothrak - ramin djawadi ; ancient hymns - dysposium ; god rest you merry - loreena mackennit ; hagia sophia - irfan ; inertia creeps - massive attack ; marrakesh night market - loreena mackennit ; zahrat el sahra ; song of the pharaohs ; ancient egyptian music - ramses ii ; peregrinatio - irfan ; miracle of sound back in time - prince of persia ; snake charmer - nox arcana ; seven devils -  florence and the machine ; evy remembers - alan silvestri ; ruin - kherpi ; sirenia allure - arkane ; a kinights lullaby - distortion mx ; rusted desert - kherpi ; mother of dragons - ramin djawadi