Fire and Blood

Despite it being Suicide Awareness month, my story and experiences with suicide have been pretty well documented elsewhere on this blog. So instead I thought that today I would engage in some geekery.

For those of you who have been asleep for the past 6 years, Game of Thrones is A Thing. Based on the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series of books by George Returns. R. Martin, the TV series on HBO is enormously popular. In fact, at the Emmy Awards this past Sunday, it became the new record-holder for number of awards for a fictional show. The acting is great, the action is brutal, and the story is pretty captivating. So it is no surprise that I’m hooked. What may be a surprise is the character who has become my favorite – Daenerys Targaryen.

Daenerys is played by British actress Emilia Clarke, and so some of the appeal to me is her attractiveness – Esquire did declare her the series that woman in the world in 2015, after all. But there’s more to it than that, a lot more, so bear with me as I geek out about my favorite character. Warning: there will be spoilers for those of you (heathens!) Who have not seen all 6 seasons.

Daenerys is introduced to the viewer as a beautiful girl (she starts the series at age 15), but one who is meek, afraid, and controlled by her older brother. She doesn’t seem like she will last long in the world of Game of Thrones. Sure enough, we find that she and her brother are the last heirs of the Targaryen family, former royalty of Westeros, and have been on the run from the forces of the usurper essentially their entire lives. Viserys, Daenerys’ older brother, is angry and wants to retake the crown he sees as his – and is going to sell his sister as a bride to a Dothraki  (think fantasy Mongol) warlord in exchange for an army. Despite her objections, the marriage happens, and she is raped on her wedding night by a husband she cannot communicate with. Not a good start.

But rather than be broken by her situation, Daenerys flourishes. She throws herself into learning the language and customs of her husband, and while learning to be the new khaleesi  (basically a queen), she grows to love her husband, as he grows to love her. She becomes loved by her new people, which angers her brother, who impatiently wants his promised army. He tries to abuse his sister like he used to, only she has grown, and is no longer willing to be abused. Viserys’ impatience leads to his death, and Daenerys acquires his advisor, an exiled Knight from Westeros, as her own. Sadly, mistakes are made, resulting in the loss of Daenerys’ husband. Unborn son, and most of her followers, but when she walks into her husband’s funeral pyre, already lit, and is found naked – but otherwise unharmed- the next day, with three newly hatched dragons, we begin to realize that Daenerys is special.

Daenerys goes on to make her fair share of mistakes – much of season 2, for her, is continually making mistakes, whether through lack of knowledge or arrogance. But given the chance, she learns from her mistakes – she doesn’t approach Astapor in season 3 with the same arrogance she came to Qarth with, for example, and her plan to get an army of Unsullied soldiers – while rather ruthless – is pretty smart. Season 3 is pretty successful, for her – she gains an army, conquers several cities, and is in pretty good shape to continue further. And when season 4 rolls around, and she is confronted with the fact that, despite her high-minded attempt to eliminate slavery around the eponymous Slavers’ Bay that the people she deposes will retake power once she moves on, she decides that rather than return to Westeros to try to take the Iron Throne, she will instead work to fix her mistakes and ensure that the cities she conquers remain slavery-free. This takes her until the end of season 6, because even with an army and dragons, beating entrenched oppression is hard, but she does it.

Part of her strength is that she realizes there’s still a lot for her to learn, and so she listens to the people she surrounds herself with – and many of them are very good at what they do, though some are more trustworthy than others. It’s when she departs from this – when she decides that she knows best, like in Qarth in season 2, or Meereen in season 5 (after ejecting Jorah Mormont) – that she has the most trouble. But by the end of season 6, she has surrounded herself with brilliant advisors – the former spymaster of Westeros, Varys; the commander of her Unsullied army, Gray Worm; her talented translator, Missandei; and my second-favorite character, and brilliant mind in his own right, Tyrion Lannister. Alongside the enormous army she has gathered, this dream team is pretty well poised to conquer Westeros, by fire and blood. Oh, and she has three very large dragons.

There are a fair amount of nude scenes for Daenerys, to be sure, but I actually find most of them to be either uncomfortable or rather non-sexual. Every nude scene in season 1, for example, makes me feel kind of sick to my stomach, especially since I know that Emilia Clarke had rather strong reactions to doing those scenes. There are one or two more in seasons 2 and 3, but there’s nothing spectacular about them, it just seems like HBO was using nudity because it could. And her only nude scene since season 3 occurs in episode 4 of season 6, and it is far from sexual – it’s all about power. She burns an entire building full of Dothraki khals alive, with herself inside it, but she’s fireproof – so when she walks out, standing tall, naked but otherwise unharmed, the only survivor, the other Dothraki all bend the knee to her. She conquers them without ever lifting a sword or raising an army. In that scene, her nudity isn’t about being attractive, it’s about being threatening, and it works.

To me, she’s kind of an inspirational character. She’s not a (fictional) role model, like Captain America, but she has had to overcome a lot to get to where she ends season 6 – an abusive older brother; a not-terribly-nice husband, part of a not-terribly-friendly culture; moss of both a husband and a child; near-starvation; imprisonment (multiple times); and frequently, people questioning whether or not she can do what she sets out to do because she’s a girl. Granted, she does start the series at age 15, but she has done far more in 5 years than I have, at least on a purely physical level – from being a scared, abused, meek beggar princess to a queen surrounded by some of the finest minds we’ve seen, backed by an army at least 50,000 strong. She is the conqueror of the Bay of Dragons, the Mother of Dragons, Mhysa, khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea. She can be impulsive, and there are hints that she might have inherited some of the hereditary Targaryen mental instability, but she’s a fine example of a character who rises from an enormous disadvantage to a great position of power, and doesn’t have to sell her soul to do it.

Daenerys is strong; she took a situation that would have broken many people, and used it as an opportunity to become a ruler. She’s smart, and she is willing to listen to those around her – mostly – if they have ideas she hasn’t thought of. She can be ruthless; witness her treatment of the Dothraki khals or her dragon-riding exploits in season 6. But she can also be compassionate and charismatic – Yunkai citizens name her ‘Mhysa’ for a reason, after all. Despite never having picked up a weapon, she is poised, at the end of season 6, to attain her goal since the beginning, retaking the Iron Throne, and her chief competition – Cersei Lannister – has no idea how outgunned she is. Alongside characters like Arya and Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Olenna Tyrell, Daenerys has helped to make most of the show controlled by women, and I can’t see that as a bad thing. I look forward to the epic awesomeness to come in season 7 – though waiting until June is going to be hard.

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