In Defense of Daenerys Targaryen
It seems the whole world has turned against Daenerys Targaryen. She’s always been a flawed character who has suffered from some poor writing over the years, but until fairly recently, she was considered a fierce badass, the Khaleesi, the Mother of Dragons, a symbol of great strength and awesomeness.
Now, she is too arrogant. Too volatile. Cruel and selfish, entitled, power-hungry, incredibly dangerous. According to both people inside the world of Game of Thrones and those watching it, she must be stopped.
Dany is no longer the young and vulnerable badass with baby dragons who have symbolic meaning but can’t actually do all that much. She’s a dragon rider with a huge army, fighting to take her throne. That’s less safe and appealing. She’s a force to be reckoned with.
And so she has to become the enemy.
Rising from the Ashes
It’s easy to forget, after so many seasons of the show, that Daenerys came from nothing. She grew up homeless and powerless, under the abusive influence of her brother. That brother then literally sold her to a stranger who didn’t speak her language so that he could have an army. She was nothing but a pawn in other people’s wars, and it was only through her own strength and determination that she survived.
Even when Daenerys turned the situation with the khalasar to her advantage, she’s left with nothing when Drogo died, because the power wasn’t really hers. Even after she hatched her dragons, she had little more to support her than a title and some curious pets. She lost most of the Dothraki. She had to walk starving through the wastelands. She’s survived several assassination attempts. Her dragons were stolen and her friends slaughtered. Time and again, she’s lost people close to her — Drogo, her handmaids, Ser Barristan.
And now she’s lost Ser Jorah, the one person who was there for her through it all. He always believed in her strength, even before she had any. She lost him, and then she lost another of her dragons, and then her best friend and advisor. The show has broken her. And all she has left is the herself, and the titles that support her.
Daenerys of the Many Titles
Daenerys lost everything when Khal Drogo died. She was no longer the Khaleesi, and she had to fight to survive. And so it’s notable that she gathers titles, while Jon is simply “Jon Snow.” Jon has never needed titles to be taken seriously — people trusted him and elevated him either way. But Daenerys needs them. Every one of her titles is something she has survived or a miracle she has achieved. Every title adds to her argument that she is the rightful queen.
She is the “unburnt,” “Queen of Meereen,” “Breaker of Chains,” and “Mother of Dragons.” She has gathered evidence of her own strength and self worth, and she has to present it to people, because no one will take her seriously without it. She has achieved far more than almost anyone else in Westeros, and she has to remind people of that, time and time again. She is not safe without it.
Daenerys never initially dreamed of taking the Seven Kingdoms back or being queen. As she tells Viserys in the very first episode, she just wants to go home. She wants to feel safe and secure and loved, and she has never been allowed to feel that, or at least not for very long.
And so she thinks that the only way she can achieve it is by taking back the Iron Throne. Becoming the Mother of Dragons gave her something to fight for, an idea that kept her going no matter how dark things got. It also made people more willing to fight for her. Most of all, it gave her a sense of where she might finally belong, if only she can get herself back to Westeros, back home.
Yes, Daenerys can be arrogant, but she needs to be. It’s a survival instinct. Her arrogance is born out of her deep insecurity and the genuine fact that her life and everything she loves has always been, and will always be, at risk.
She wants to go home. She wants to have a purpose. She wants to be safe.
Of course, the irony is that the Iron Throne is a very unsafe place to sit, and it will not bring her the validation or the security she craves. She has always been chasing a hopeless dream.
Doing the Right Thing
So far this season, Daenerys has not been the terrifying tyrant her advisors now seem to think she has. She has been far more of an unappreciated hero, let down by those around her, but still continuing to fight.
Daenerys — our supposedly selfish, tyrannical queen — has majorly screwed herself over by doing the right thing. She brought all her armies to Winterfell because she saw the White Walkers for herself, and she knew that she needed to help save the kingdom she claims to rule. She agreed to do that even if Jon Snow didn’t bend the knee, because it was what was right. She even agreed to have a ceasefire with Cersei, because it needed to be done.
And what has Daenerys personally gained from this? Nothing but heartbreak. She lost one of her dragons to the wights after saving Jon and his men. She’s lost the majority of her army. Her remaining dragons were badly injured, to the point that Rhaegal was an easy target. Ser Jorah died protecting her from the dead. She has lost both personally and politically, because she wanted to do the right thing and protect people.
She acted as exactly the sort of queen she claims to be, someone who puts all of the people in her kingdom first. Yet Jon is the only one celebrated for being a hero. He’s the one praised for riding a dragon into battle. Jon is talked of as the one who saved everyone, even by Daenerys’ own advisors. Daenerys has worked incredibly hard for everything she has, and people are eager to give it all, and all the credit, to a male relative as soon as he emerges.
Worse, her mistakes were often caused by the advice of the supposedly wise men who are now turning on her for refusing to listen to them. She attacked the Lannister army with her dragons after Tyrion’s “smarter” plan failed her and she was left scrambling without allies. She went North before dealing with Cersei because everyone told her it was the best thing to do, allowing Cersei to recruit the Golden Company and set-up this nightmare situation she now finds herself in. Yes, Daenerys is impulsive, but her impulses are often right. It’s when she listens too much to the voices of others that things fall apart.
A Flawed Queen
Daenerys has always been a flawed and complex character. She’s temperamental, sometimes arrogant, and she often makes rash decisions based on emotion rather than logic. In the Battle of Winterfell, this was a positive. She joined the battle early with Drogon when she saw her people dying, because she wanted to help immediately, not when the plan said. And she probably saved more lives that way, since the dragons were incapable of killing the Night King either way.
Impulsiveness and self belief have always been a key part of her character. You can’t argue that it was logical she should step into a burning pyre to try and awaken three dragon eggs. She did that on gut instinct, and that instinct proved right. Her impulses and self belief have kept her alive, and got her everything she ever achieved.
Yes, she’s also been impulsive in far more harmful ways. She hung the masters along the road to Meereen to send a message. She burned the Lannister army when she heard they had tricked her. And now she is going to burn King’s Landing to the ground because of Cersei’s actions. As I’ve already said, those last two situations only happened because Daenerys ignored her instincts in the first place.
But those later instances also feel like a set-up by the writers, rather than true character development. In the case of the Lannisters, Daenerys turned from saying she didn’t want to burn anyone to deciding to cause utter chaos, and her turnabout was never properly explained. It felt more like the writers wanted a dramatic battle scene and a hint of “evil Dany” than like something Daenerys would actually believably do in that moment.
And now she’s going to burn King’s Landing, not because she’s mad with power, not because she’s a tyrant, but because she is quickly losing everything she has ever wanted or loved. If she does not defeat her enemies, what was the point of any of it? She must avenge Missandei. She must have a destiny. Otherwise, all of her suffering, all of her loss… it’s all been for nothing, and that is the most terrifying thought of all. The narrative drives her into the role of being “the Mad Queen,” and then suggests that that’s who she’s always been, instead of being the result of intense, endless suffering and grief.
Chasing the Iron Throne
For years and years, people talked about how they couldn’t wait for Daenerys to finally turn to the Seven Kingdoms. Her narrative was criticised for being too still, focussing on Meereen, when she really needed to be a badass with her dragons and go after the Iron Throne.
And now she is pursuing the throne, after another stop-off to help people, and she’s considered the tyrannical villain. Now Jon is the true hero, because he does not want to rule, ignoring the fact that Dany is the way she is because it’s the only thing that has kept her alive.
Daenerys’s slide into tyranny would make sense. She’s an impulsive character, she has a strong temper, and the idea of being queen is literally the only thing that has ever given her a sense of strength or security. Everything else has thought she had has slipped through her fingers, and all she can do is fight back, harder than ever. She has to make it worth it. She has to get the security of the throne.
In the right hands, this could be an interesting and sympathetic inversion of our expectations for her narrative. Instead, it just reads as an inversion of the series itself into a far more traditional mold. Daenerys is firey and emotional and irrational. Jon is the calm, true king. Daenerys wants the throne too much, because she has been fighting for it for years. Jon doesn’t want the throne, and doesn’t need the throne, and therefore is declared a much better choice.
Our badass female character can fight for power when she’s powerless, but she shouldn’t fight too hard, and she shouldn’t be allowed to get it. Then she has to be put back in her place.