I have been thinking a lot lately about Daenerys Stormborn Targaryens, from Game of Thrones.
First, a little background: I had been avoiding watching Game of Thrones for some time for two reasons: first, Barnes & Noble had been promoting the books for some time, and I dislike the perceived obligation to read anything; and, second, after I started seeing the advertisements for the TV series, I knew if I started watching, I would get sucked in. I’ll watch it later, I told myself, some time when I am immobile and have a couple of weeks go kill. Then my husband read a positive review of it and decided we needed to watch it. It’s a small apartment and I love my husband; and I gave in to temptation and started watching it. We blitzed the entire series in less than a month. With business trips and life, this averaged out to 3 hours of GOT a night and several marathon weekends. I enjoyed it but that’s a little much. Great, I thought when it was over, I can check that off my list.
Meanwhile, I had been mulling over a question in my head, a question that had nothing to do with GOT. I read somewhere that if you take a few minutes to vividly picture a question or problem in your head before going to bed, your subconscious will send you a dream with the solution. So I did that.
And dreamed of Daenerys Targaryens.
The first night, she was killing the undead bear. Odd, I thought, and not the answer I was looking for. Must have been a random dream, although it is coincidental that I often say, when I am feeling beleaguered, that I feel I am pursued by a bear.
I dismissed it and tried again. And dreamt of her again.
And again. And again. I am not dreaming of the other characters or the scenes, or flying dragon back. Just her. I dream that I am her. I don’t remember anything other than that.
The pattern indicates that my subconscious is telling me something, something other than, “You are watching too much TV.”
So let’s unpack this.
Wait – if you haven’t watched the show and are afraid of spoilers, this would be a good time to stop reading. Sorry.
Was Daenerys my favorite character? No. My favorite character and the one I would like to be like is Arya – becoming skilled in something that, while risky while learning, keeps me alive and helps me pursue my goals. Recognizing that, when you meet the Buddha on the road, you must kill him. Pursuing my goals single-mindedly until I am wise enough to recognize that my goals are unhealthy, then shifting my goals to other paths, paths of exploration, going to find out what is West of the Westeros.
But who is Daenerys? [For those of you who read the books, I am analyzing the TV Daenerys now, not the book Daenerys, who I do not know. So let’s not get confused.]
When we meet her, she accepts her role as a pretty pawn in her brother’s game. She has no goal of reaching the throne herself; her goal is for her family to regain their “rightful place.” She is accustomed to servants and huge bathtubs and diaphanous gowns and flowering gardens. In one of her last scenes in this sheltered world, she steps into a piping hot bath despite the fact that her handmaiden warns her that it is too hot. Is she trying to hurt herself, to feel physically the pain that she feels emotionally? Or is she testing her heat-tolerance? Does she hope or suspect that she has the unique quality of her bloodline?
In his pursuit of the throne, her brother quickly marries her off to a character who seems the opposite of what she is used to and she must then accustom herself to a nomadic, leather-clad lifestyle of dust and blood and pain. The only thing that sustains her is the receipt of the three dragon’s eggs as a wedding gift. Who are they from? Jorah Mormont? Although he presents them, I suspect that they are not from him – he is, after all, the pay of Robert Baratheon at the time, to spy on her. My guess would be the Spider, Varys, who, after all, had served her father before serving Robert and often plays both sides of the field. Does she take the eggs as a sign of predestiny, a hint that she may be destined for something bigger?
And how does she handle being married to a man who sees women as possessions? She trusts her new slave handmaiden – a woman who is in her brother’s control, a woman who later betrays her* — who teaches her the seductive arts, which Daenerys then uses to earn her husband’s respect, his love, and power within his tribe. When her brother objects to her newfound independence, her husband awards him a crown of molten gold, which does him in while she watches impassively. Is she testing her brother? If her husband had poured that gold on her head, would her inflammability have protected her in a way that her brother was not protected? Does she wonder? She does say that her brother was not a “true” Targaryen and did not deserve the throne.
[*At least I think this is the handmaiden who betrays her – she has two, who look a lot alike. As my husband often complains of high fantasy that he can’t tell Boromir from Aragorn from Faramir from Eomer.[
And then she begins to pursue the throne herself, asking her husband to carry his tribe across the sea to help her take Westeros, promising them rape, pillage, and plunder. Meanwhile, she holds a dragon’s egg in the fire without being burnt. After she makes a mistake that kills her husband – her mistake of saving a woman who betrays her, her mistake in insisting on treatment for her husband’s wound which might have been just fine on its own based on his array of scars, her mistake in trusting the same woman to save her husband’s life and her unborn child – she chooses not to be relegated to the house of the widows, but to burn her betrayer alive and walk into her husband’s funeral pyre with her dragon’s eggs, hatching them, and escaping unscathed. Did she know that she would? Did she not care since everything she loved is gone? Or was it a test that she might? Or was it proof to the people who waited by the fire all night for her.
From then on, her pursuit of the iron throne is single-minded. She rescues slaves, yes, but how much of that is altruistic and how much strategic? She mothers the dragons, turning aside the illusion of a life with the memory of her husband and child, passing the illusion of the iron throne to reach them. But they don’t really seem to be the center of her world, the way that the Dragons of Pern are to their riders. She locks up the two smaller dragons after they kill a child because they are, well, dragons and we are prey. If the dragons were truly the center of her world, would she have locked them up in the dark – or even taken them to Westeros where the last of her family’s dragons had been locked up in an arena outside of Kings Landing? Wouldn’t she have escaped with them to someplace remote where they couldn’t have harmed anyone, maybe taken her boy-toy with her for company? Or wouldn’t she have said, I don’t care, they’re dragons, this is what they do.
Men fall in love with her – with the idea of who she is, with her beauty. Jorah is the one who really knows her and falls in love with her strength, and she banishes him when she finds out that he once spied against her for Baratheon, then banishes him again and again as he keeps yo-yoing back to her. She allows the leader of the second sons her company in bed, and he falls in love with her, and she leaves him behind to rule her kingdoms in Essos while she goes to Westeros. Even Varys falls victim to her spell – he really has no reason to think that she will be any better ruler than any other bright shiny object that he has followed. And Tryrion, who ought to know better, is inscrolled by her.
As she burned the witch who betrayed her by killing her husband, she continues to kill with fire, burning masters who rebel against her, the Dothrakhi warlords who dare to pass judgement on her behavior, and Westeros lords who refuse to bend the knee to her rule. She burns whole armies of the living (as well as the dead). She burns Varys.
She appears to love Jon Snow – maybe she does love him or wouldn’t she have torched him, too, when he confesses who he really is and then tells his sister who tells Tyrion who tells the Varys, who plots against her. But does she love Jon? Or is she using him as she used Jorah and Daario Naharis (the man she left behind to rule her lands in Essos)? On the love side of the scale is the fact that she takes her dragons to the North to rescue him…
She mixes fighting for the throne that she believes she deserves through inheritance and fighting for the rights of the people she frees from slavery and yet… and yet… it is almost as if she cares more for “the people” than for the real, individual people who she has not gotten to know as she has gotten to know, for example, Missandei or Jorah. And why are the Dothrakhi cheering her when she says she will un-enslave the world? The Dothrakhi are raiders who enslave the people they conquer; they have more in common with the Masters than with the freed slaves that she left behind in Essos, aside from the powerful freed slave army she brought with her.
In the end, she actually carries out the nightmare that her father, the mad king, only threatened to: burn them all, burning the men, women, children, allies, slaves, and all of Kings Landing. When she finishes, she gives a speech of triumph and promises to carry her “freedom” across the worlds, cheered on by the rigid ranks of the Unsullied and the wild war shrieks of her Dothrakhi followers.
So who is this woman? What is her Myers-Briggs type? [Okay, wait a minute, I just Googled it and found way too many sites claiming that she is an INFJ, which is maybe why she is speaking to me.] Why do I keep dreaming that I am her? Why is she the answer to my question? She is not someone I admire. Blonde, beautiful, cold, distrustful, with such a hesitant manner and a flat affect – not quite as despicable as Cersei but I am puzzled by Jon’s love for her. I find her unsympathetic, selfish, and self-pitying. I don’t like her approach or her goals.
And I don’t know what she has to tell me.
I’m almost afraid to ask: any ideas?