Daenerys and her Throne

erm‘s feeling a bit bothered by Dany lately, probably because now that Season 6 has started and her plotline is actually moving for once, her inevitable descent on Westeros is no longer something far off in the distance.

Here’s an unsettling scene from last season:

First of all, how excellent is it that she’s actually met Tyrion on the show? I think George RR Martin’s version is generally far superior to the HBO version but seriously, at least the show gets the stuff done.

But this scene in terms of the bigger picture concerns me a tad. From reading and from the occasional throw-away scene where Dany talks about stuff going on in Westeros, I know that she lacks some sophistication in her understanding of how politics work there. Or anywhere. Meereen, as joyless and boring as it is, serves to show what happens when Dany shows up and tries to do things her way – admirably, of course, but ineffectively, too. If there’s a point to Meereen, it’s probably that Dany has to learn either how to show up and take the reigns competently, even if she has to compromise a little bit, or maybe that she shouldn’t bother at all.

The greater context of this scene is Tyrion suggesting that she should consider pursuing some other goal, because conquering Westeros is going to be complicated at the very least. The only justification she has for demanding the Iron Throne is that it’s hers by birth, which is true, but ultimately meaningless.

It’s meaningless for all of the reasons that Tyrion mentions, as well as the fact that despite her name and all of her titles, she isn’t the one sitting on the throne currently. She can call herself “Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men” all she wants, but no one in Westeros except a couple of weirdo Targaryen fans are calling her that (and even those people only do it in secret). It’s also meaningless because the Targaryens just showed up one day and threatened to kill everyone if they didn’t accept them as their rulers, which makes for good history and songs, sure, but that definitely doesn’t fit in very well with her rhetoric here.

As the major Walker conflict draws nearer, it’s going to be harder and harder for anyone to be on board with Dany showing up and threatening to burn everything to the ground unless she gets to be Queen for real. And even then, there isn’t any proof thus far that she’s capable of controlling her dragons.

Dany vowing to break the wheel mirrors the scene in which Drogo gets all fired up about an assassination attempt and decides to conquer Westeros for his unborn son. His speech is great. Which is to say it is the opposite of great. It goes like this:

“I will take my Khalasar west to where the world ends, and ride wooden horses across the black salt water as no Khal has done before. I will kill the men in iron suits and tear down their stone houses. I will rape their women, take their children as slaves, and bring their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak.”

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Mirri Maz Duur is the real MVP. (See this awesome blog post for more about Dany and Mirri and stupid Drogo.)

Dany isn’t vowing to kill, rape, and enslave, but she displays a similar lack of concern about the well being of these families she’s talking about. And while she may insist that she can afford to not care about the great families in order to focus on protecting the small folk, the great families are our main characters. And some, such as the Starks, really are good at their jobs.

We’re reminded all the time about how loved the Starks are – not by everyone, obviously, and they aren’t without their flaws. But a woman could travel alone on the kings’ road in the North under a Stark and not fear for her safety which is not a thing we in the real world have achieved. Look at what happened when Tywin decided that it would be a really good idea to remove the Starks entirely and replace them with a different great house. Now, granted, he picked probably the worst great house to do the replacing, but in any case Tywin Lannister’s stupidity is now etched across the North for anyone to see, and learn from. Dany better reconsider – at least as far as the Starks are concerned.

Also Dany’s rather vague promise to break the wheel lacks very much foresight. If she can actually pull it off and rule her people well for the rest of her life, what happens next? She can’t reproduce, so is it to be free elections after her death? We know from watching how Meereen (and the rest of Slaver’s Bay) unfolded that you can’t just rapidly change the way things work and expect everything to go well. As much as this story loves to critique monarchism and aristocracy, I think it’s highly improbable that the ruling system is going to change all that much – or even at all. The argument in Dany’s favour has always been that the throne belongs to her because of her blood. The cherry on top of that argument is that she is a good person who would make a good leader. But so is Davos, and no one’s creepily sidling up to him going, “Khaleesi, I would follow you anywhere, because you are such a good guy and should totally be in charge of everything also let’s have sex wait what nothing I didn’t say anything what are you talking about?” The point is, she talks a big game here about privilege and power but she can only envision herself as Westeros’s queen by benefiting from exactly the same wheel she’s vowing to break.

I don’t think ASoIaF is going to end in democracy. I think instead that Dany is going to have to learn some things and make some compromises, or she risks becoming an antagonist. Dany as an antagonist isn’t an unpopular opinion among fan theorists, who don’t want to predict that her conquering of Westeros will be all happy and made of rainbows. It will just make things more complicated.

The biggest possibility is that Dany will come to Westeros not as a conqueror but as a saviour, to join Jon and a united Westeros to fight the White Walkers. This would require her to have a perspective shift. All she knows about taking and gaining and keeping power she learned from Viserys and Drogo, and she had Jorah whispering in her ear for some time. I don’t think we’re supposed to quietly not notice that these three guys were the biggest influences on her life early on. The time is ripe for her to talk with others, people who know better than these three. She has Tyrion which is good, but there’s a lot she can learn from Jon who was an AWESOME leader in book 5. Apart from being in charge of terrible people.

I’m still trying to figure out if Dany’s presumably triumphant descent on King’s Landing is something I want to happen, and I’m not sure that season 6 will even begin to answer that question. My compass for figuring out which characters make good leaders depends on that character’s ability to plan for the long term.

Jon is the best example of this – in the short term, he changes the Night’s Watch policy on wildlings, which has been their entire identity for the most part up until now. But in the long term, this protects the Watch, and the realm, from a zombie wildling horde which is the only outcome of leaving them beyond the Wall to die. Jon is a forward-thinker, and a good leader.

Tyrion commissions his chain and his pyromancers early into book 2, long before the battle of Blackwater ever happens. He is constantly trying to get Joffrey to be a better leader, to think through the consequences of his pointless cruelties. Tyrion is a forward thinker, and a good leader.

Tywin Lannister sends The Mountain to quench one rebellion against Joffrey which creates the Brotherhood Without Banners. Previously he sent The Mountain to take care of Elia and her baby, and was well-poisoned for it some fourteen, fifteen years later. He makes a deal with Walder Frey to kill Robb off neatly and ENSURES the North will remember. He places Roose Bolton, and eventually his legitimized heir Ramsay, as Wardens of the North. He endorses Janos Slynt of baby-murdering fame (directly on the show, indirectly in the book) to be Lord Commander at the Wall. He doesn’t believe in any of the dangers beyond the wall and doesn’t believe Daenerys and her dragons are a threat. He is a tyrannical father and is murdered by one of his sons. Tywin is not a forward thinker – he thinks only in short term gains and because of this has thoroughly screwed up the realm, and their chances in the upcoming White Walker war. He is not a good leader.

Stannis Baratheon, who went to the Wall in the Night’s Watch’s time of need, could be said to be a forward-thinker, until the day he decided that he should have his daughter burned alive to achieve a victory in war. Shireen is his only heir. She is a good and gentle girl and would have made a good queen. If Stannis is prepared to give up his only heir who would have been a worthy ruler, then he doesn’t deserve to rule the realm himself. Shireen is the metaphor for the goal Stannis claims to be fighting for thus far: peace, and a rightful ruler in charge. Killing her means effectively gutting his campaign. He is not a forward thinker in the end, and is not a good leader. And his men certainly seemed to agree literally right after Shireen burns on the show.

Where does Dany fit into all of this? She achieves a lot of short-term gains very quickly, but is now right back at the beginning. Currently I think she isn’t forward-thinking, but this do-over she achieved by saving Drogon in the fighting pits may be her chance to learn to think for the future. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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