Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part IV: A Darker Daenerys

In ADWD, the drama of Dany’s arc is in her struggle with herself. In her final chapters, that struggle is resolved.

Earlier in the book, motivated by fear of her own violent side and what it could mean for innocent life, Dany devoted herself to making peace in Meereen. She told herself, again and again, that she had to do this, for her people. She was willing to subsume all other parts of her personality, and all of her other desires, to achieve this peace. She knew that when she unleashed her violent side in the past, the end result was only devastation. The horrors of Astapor and Hazzea weighed heavily on her mind. So, difficultly and amazingly, she achieved that peace for Meereen.

And once she does, she becomes utterly miserable, and concludes it was a failure and a mistake.

Peace and War in ASOIAF

Before we get into Dany’s rejection of the peace, let’s put it in context with the series. Martin has said part of his project is to always portray both sides of war — the glorious stirrings one may feel in the moment, and the bloody and awful aftermath. He doesn’t want us ever to forget that though it might feel good to go to war, the consequences of throwing the country into chaos are slaughtered and raped innocents, broken men, feasts for crows, war making “monsters of us all.”

Now, Martin is not a total pacifist. He’s said he would’ve fought in World War II, and he seems to think war is perfectly justifiable for self-defense, or to confront a truly great evil. But from the amount of time he spends lingering on war’s awful consequences, it’s pretty clear that he thinks a whole ton of wars that sound good in theory are actually horrific in practice. Again and again, he has urged the reader to bask in awesome feel-good moments of warmongering, such as Robb’s “King in the North” crowning, Dany’s “Dracarys” in Astapor, and Doran’s “Fire and Blood” speech to Arianne… only to completely undercut those moments later, showing how those decisions were actually disastrous mistakes with horrific results. It is always the innocents who suffer most, when the high lords play their game of thrones.

After dwelling on war and its consequences in the first four books, Martin turns his attention to peacemaking in ADWD. Now, peace is often idealized as a happy sunshine-y state where all is well and everyone holds hands. Martin clearly has a more realistic view — he thinks peace is incredibly difficult to achieve, often unsatisfying, never guaranteed to last, and requires much effort to maintain. There will always be plots, and people who see war as in their interest. And, crucially, peace often involves letting many injustices continue, rather than trying to right all the world’s wrongs. With peace, you never get everything you want.

This is why war is such a seductive option. In comparison to peace, war is simple. War clarifies things. War means you can try to take what you want through force of arms, rather than giving up some things you want. War can be well-meaning. And not all wars are started by wicked people. Indeed, much of ADWD is about how and why “good,” sympathetic characters can willingly choose to discard peace in favor of war.

Despite the shortcomings of peace, Martin views it as incredibly worthwhile and valuable — considering the consequences of war he’s outlined, how could he not? Indeed, I would go so far as to speculate that he agrees with the Green Grace in Barristan’s final chapter. As she desperately begs Barristan to restore the peace by freeing Hizdahr, she tells him that the decision to discard peace is a tragedy, because:

 “In return he gave her peace. Do not cast it away, ser, I beg you. Peace is the pearl beyond price.” (ADWD BARRISTAN IV)

Yet Dany comes to believe the price of peace is too high.

Why Dany becomes dissatisfied with peace

Dany knows the consequences of war, and has been tormented about them since Book 1:

 When the battle was done, Dany rode her silver through the fields of the dead… Across the road, a girl no older than Dany was sobbing in a high thin voice as a rider shoved her over a pile of corpses, facedown, and thrust himself inside her. Other riders dismounted to take their turns. That was the sort of deliverance the Dothraki brought the Lamb Men… Slaves, Dany thought. Khal Drogo would drive them downriver to one of the towns on Slaver’s Bay. She wanted to cry, but she told herself that she must be strong. This is war, this is what it looks like, this is the price of the Iron Throne. (AGOT DANY VII)

As I mentioned, this internal conflict is restarted in earnest at the end of ASOS, with the fate of Astapor, and continuing into ADWD, with the death of Hazzea. But as the book proceeds, Dany starts to reckon with the price of peace as well. A part of Dany has always yearned for peace and simplicity in a generic, idealized sense — this is symbolized by the “house with the red door” of her happiest childhood years:

 “What are you looking at?” “My city,” said Dany. “I was looking for a house with a red door, but by night all the doors are black.” (ASOS DANY VI)

…“Is it Daario? What’s happened?” In her dream they had been man and wife, simple folk who lived a simple life in a tall stone house with a red door. (ADWD DANY II)

…She would rather have drifted in the fragrant pool all day, eating iced fruit off silver trays and dreaming of a house with a red door, but a queen belongs to her people, not to herself. (ADWD DANY IX)

But life is not a song, and “happily ever after” only happens in stories. Peace in the real world is not so idyllic.

Does it matter that Hizdahr’s kisses do not please me? Peace will please me. (DANY VII)

I hate this, thought Daenerys Targaryen. How did this happen, that I am drinking and smiling with men I’d sooner flay?This is peace, she told herself. This is what I wanted, what I worked for, this is why I married Hizdahr. So why does it taste so much like defeat? (DANY VIII)

In her two post-peace chapters in Meereen, Dany is a cauldron of anger and misery. In theory, Dany was willing to compromise on her values, share power, and tolerate some injustices in the world without violently trying to fix them — all to protect innocent life in Meereen. In practice, it all ends up feeling intolerable for her.

Dany comes to despise the peace for several intertwined reasons. For one, the above quote shows she doesn’t like feeling that her enemies have defeated her, when she’d rather kill them. This is also emphasized after she speaks to the treacherous Brown Ben Plumm, feels defeated, and then schemes to have him killed:

 “Is there some man in the Second Sons who might be persuaded to… remove … Brown Ben?” (DANY VIII)

Another is that she hates feeling powerless and not in control:

The street ahead had finally cleared. “Shall we continue on?” What could she do but nod? One step, then the next, but where is it I’m going? (DANY IX)

She begins to feel mistrustful and paranoid, seeing potential insults and treacheries everywhere:

The tumblers who came next failed to move her either, even when they formed a human pyramid nine levels high, with a naked little girl on top. Is that meant to represent my pyramid? the queen wondered. Is the girl on top meant to be me?

“…If Hizdahr’s peace should break, I want to be ready. I do not trust the slavers.” I do not trust my husband. “They will turn on us at the first sign of weakness.” (DANY IX)

And she finds that she loathes allowing injustice to continue, when peace necessarily involves letting injustices continue. Some of these are specific conditions of the peace she agreed to, that she now regrets:

“They have opened a slave market within sight of my walls!”

“Outside our walls, sweet queen. That was a condition of the peace, that Yunkai would be free to trade in slaves as before, unmolested.”

…Yunkai will trade in slaves, Meereen will not, this is what we have agreed. Endure this for a little while longer, and it shall pass.”

…All of the entertainers were slaves. That had been part of the peace, that slaveowners be allowed the right to bring their chattels into Meereen without fear of having them freed. In return the Yunkai’i had promised to respect the rights and liberties of the former slaves that Dany had freed. A fair bargain, Hizdahr said, but the taste it left in the queen’s mouth was foul. She drank another cup of wine to wash it out. (ADWD DANY VIII)

Sometimes, she perceives injustice, when it’s actually an incremental improvement she just has trouble accepting as a victory:

“Those bearers were slaves before I came. I made them free. Yet that palanquin is no lighter.”

“True,” said Hizdahr, “but those men are paid to bear its weight now. Before you came, that man who fell would have an overseer standing over him, stripping the skin off his back with a whip. Instead he is being given aid.”

It was true. A Brazen Beast in a boar mask had offered the litter bearer a skin of water. “I suppose I must be thankful for small victories,” the queen said.

“One step, then the next, and soon we shall be running. Together we shall make a new Meereen.” (ADWD DANY IX)

…“Six-and-ten,” Hizdahr insisted. “A man grown, who freely chose to risk his life for gold and glory. No children die today in Daznak’s, as my gentle queen in her wisdom has decreed.”

Another small victory. Perhaps I cannot make my people good, she told herself, but I should at least try to make them a little less bad. (ADWD DANY IX)

Sometimes, she is correct that she perceives an unjust violation of what she’s agreed to — but she can resolve it through negotiation and the political process. To truly build a new and stable Meereen, she will have to butt heads with the less savory desires of Hizdahr and the nobles, day in and day out, for years, peacefully. As she does below:

“You swore to me that the fighters would be grown men who had freely consented to risk their lives for gold and honor. These dwarfs did not consent to battle lions with wooden swords. You will stop it. Now.”

The king’s mouth tightened. For a heartbeat Dany thought she saw a flash of anger in those placid eyes. “As you command.” (ADWD DANY IX)

For all these reasons, Dany is very antsy and unhappy in these chapters — and responds by quickly flirting with breaking the peace in two ways. First, she starts scheming to win the loyalties of the Yunkish sellswords — she suggests having Brown Ben Plumm killed by his own men, and also recommends reaching out to their other three companies.

“Do it soon. If Hizdahr’s peace should break, I want to be ready. I do not trust the slavers.” I do not trust my husband. “They will turn on us at the first sign of weakness.”

“The Yunkai’i grow weaker as well. The bloody flux has taken hold amongst the Tolosi, it is said, and spread across the river to the third Ghiscari legion.” (DANY VIII)

Dany legitimately feels like she has to do this, because her foes will betray her. But I argued in Part II that the Harpy and Yunkai both intended to keep the peace. Dany is exaggerating her foes’ treachery and their strength (Barristan points out they’re being weakened by the pale mare).

Next, Dany decides to summon Quentyn and dangle her dragons in front of him. She appears to be trying to test Quentyn’s mettle, telling him her marriage “need not be the end of all your hopes.” Barristan rightly sees that little good can come of this:

 “Bring him to me. It is time he met my children.” A flicker of doubt passed across the long, solemn face of Barristan Selmy. “As you command.” (DANY VIII)

But Dany manages to get through the night, eventually falling asleep “to dream queer, half-formed dreams of smoke and fire.”

The fighting pits

The fighting pits are a symbol of everything Dany hates about the peace, but there’s a good deal of ambiguity to how we as readers are supposed to feel about them. They are obviously based on the Roman gladiators and the Colosseum. Westerosi like Dany and Barristan perceive it as an obviously horrific practice, signifying the corruption of the Meereenese culture, but literally everyone in Meereen seems to want them reopened. With Dany’s reforms, the fighters should all be volunteers, or condemned murderers or rapers. The former slaves beg to be allowed to fight, to earn glory and money.

“I have heard your arguments so often I could plead your case myself. Shall I?” Dany leaned forward. “The fighting pits have been a part of Meereen since the city was founded. The combats are profoundly religious in nature, a blood sacrifice to the gods of Ghis. The mortal art of Ghis is not mere butchery but a display of courage, skill, and strength most pleasing to your gods. Victorious fighters are pampered and acclaimed, and the slain are honored and remembered. By reopening the pits I would show the people of Meereen that I respect their ways and customs. The pits are far-famed across the world. They draw trade to Meereen, and fill the city’s coffers with coin from the ends of the earth. All men share a taste for blood, a taste the pits help slake. In that way they make Meereen more tranquil. For criminals condemned to die upon the sands, the pits represent a judgment by battle, a last chance for a man to prove his innocence.” (DANY I)

…Dany grimaced. Even her own people would give no rest about the matter. Reznak mo Reznak stressed the coin to be made through taxes. The Green Grace said that reopening the pits would please the gods. The Shavepate felt it would win her support against the Sons of the Harpy. “Let them fight,” grunted Strong Belwas… “I train since three,” said Goghor the Giant. “I kill since six. Mother of Dragons says I am free. Why not free to fight?” (DANY II)

Yet Dany just cannot stand the things. And interestingly, she never actually tries to counter the arguments of Hizdahr or the pit fighters — she never really articulates why she hates them so. She just considers them obviously barbaric and therefore abhorrent. So it’s hard to say Dany is actually taking a moral stance here. She constantly thinks about how she’ll have blood on her hands if she reopens the pits. But instead of any truly terrible injustice, the pits seem to signify her inability to overcome her cultural disconnect with the Meereenese. Of course, a brutal war and an Astapor-like fate on Meereen would put much more blood on her hands than a mere bit of consensual fighting pit fun would, as Dany reflects here:

Barsena Blackhair was going to face a boar, his tusks against her dagger. Khrazz was fighting, as was the Spotted Cat. And in the day’s final pairing, Goghor the Giant would go against Belaquo Bonebreaker. One would be dead before the sun went down. No queen has clean hands, Dany told herself. She thought of Doreah, of Quaro, of Eroeh … of a little girl she had never met, whose name had been Hazzea. Better a few should die in the pit than thousands at the gates. This is the price of peace, I pay it willingly. If I look back, I am lost. (DANY VIII)

But, much like the peace itself, the pits prove impossible for Dany to stomach. As mentioned above, she correctly objects to the true injustice of Tyrion and Penny potentially being forced to fight lions, and rightly prevents it from happening. But she seems nearly as disturbed by the consensual fighting. After several matches, there is finally the gory death of the female fighter Barsena, who earlier chose quite willingly to embrace the possibility of her death, and petitioned Dany specifically for the right to fight:

“And the losers? What shall they receive?”

“Their names shall be graven on the Gates of Fate amongst the other valiant fallen,” declared Barsena. For eight years she had slain every other woman sent against her, it was said. “All men must die, and women too … but not all will be remembered.” (DANY II)

Daenerys would have prohibited contests between women as well, but Barsena Blackhair protested that she had as much right to risk her life as any man. (DANY IX)

It is interesting that Martin chose Barsena’s death as the last straw for Dany, rather than a moment of more straightforward injustice. For it is at that very moment that she decides to throw away her Meereenese tokar — a very important act symbolizing her rejection of Meereenese culture — and leave the pits.

 The boar buried his snout in Barsena’s belly and began rooting out her entrails. The smell was more than the queen could stand. The heat, the flies, the shouts from the crowd … I cannot breathe. She lifted her veil and let it flutter away. She took her tokar off as well. The pearls rattled softly against one another as she unwound the silk.

“Khaleesi?” Irri asked. “What are you doing?”

Taking off my floppy ears.” (DANY IX)

And just then — at the moment of Dany’s highest dissatisfaction with the both the peace and the Meereenese themselves — Drogon returns. Whether this timing is purely symbolic or whether it’s magical in some way, it’s surely not an accident on Martin’s part:

“Take me from this abbatoir, husband.” She could hear the boar snorting, the shouts of the spear-men, the crack of the pitmaster’s whip. “Sweet lady, no. Stay only a while longer. For the folly, and one last match. Close your eyes, no one will see. They will be watching Belaquo and Ghogor. This is no time for—” A shadow rippled across his face. (DANY IX)

Suddenly, and very cleverly, the cultural script is flipped. This whole time, Dany had felt superior to the Meereenese because of their love for the fighting pits, even complaining that “I cannot make my people good.” But now, as Drogon devours Barsena and the boar, the Meereenese are the ones horrified by the scene. And Dany’s sympathies completely reverse and she can only think of defending her dragon:

 As he began to feed, he made no distinction between Barsena and the boar. “Oh, gods,” moaned Reznak, “he’s eating her!”

…“Kill it,” Hizdahr zo Loraq shouted to the other spearmen. “Kill the beast!” Ser Barristan held her tightly. “Look away, Your Grace.”

“Let me go!” Dany twisted from his grasp. The world seemed to slow as she cleared the parapet. When she landed in the pit she lost a sandal. (DANY IX)

And then she faces down Drogon, thinks that they are both “fire made flesh,” jumps on his back, and flies away from Meereen and her peace.

Reborn in the Dothraki Sea

Removed from the city, and left alone with her thoughts, her visions, and her dragon in the Dothraki Sea, Dany’s psychological transformation completes. She spends the first few pages trying to walk back to Meereen, telling herself she has to, that it’s her duty, for her people:

 Her home was back in Meereen, with her husband and her lover. That was where she belonged, surely…

…On Drogon’s back she felt whole. Up in the sky the woes of this world could not touch her. How could she abandon that? It was time, though. A girl might spend her life at play, but she was a woman grown, a queen, a wife, a mother to thousands. Her children had need of her. (DANY X)

It’s important that, though the reader knows Meereen is now falling apart, Dany has no idea. As far as she knows, everything is still peaceful there:

By now the Yunkai’i will be marching home. That was why she had done all that she had done. For peace. (DANY X)

However, Drogon is keeping her away. He is again behaving symbolically, representing her dragon side keeping her away from the peace, until she is ready for war:

She would sooner have returned to Meereen on dragon’s wings, to be sure. But that was a desire Drogon did not seem to share. (DANY X)

Soon the visions start. All of the visions have the same purpose — to criticize what she did in Meereen, and tell her to be a dragon. First is Quaithe:

 “Remember who you are, Daenerys,” the stars whispered in a woman’s voice. “The dragons know. Do you?” (DANY X)

Then Dany eats some bad berries and sees Viserys — surely a great role model for how to responsibly use a dragon — making the same point — that she has forgotten who she is, and what her words mean.

 “Why did they give the dragon’s eggs to you? They should have been mine. If I’d had a dragon, I would have taught the world the meaning of our words.” (DANY X)

Now, the following exchange is crucial:

 “I am the blood of the dragon,” she told the grass, aloud.

Once, the grass whispered back, until you chained your dragons in the dark.

Drogon killed a little girl. Her name was … her name …” Dany could not recall the child’s name. That made her so sad that she would have cried if all her tears had not been burned away. “I will never have a little girl. I was the Mother of Dragons.”

Aye, the grass said, but you turned against your children. (DANY X)

This is a turning point for Dany. The book started with Dany finding out her dragon had killed the little girl Hazzea. The girl’s name haunted her throughout the book, so it’s immensely significant that her name has been forgotten now — in favor of the dragons. Dany’s vision seems to be saying that innocent little Meereenese girls aren’t your real children — the dragons are. The clear suggestion being that Dany needs to abandon or seriously reduce her concern for innocent life, in favor of using her own dragonpower to do what she wants.

Which leads us to the long sequence where Dany has her final realizations, concluding her arc in the book:

The stream will take me to the river, and the river will take me home.

Except it wouldn’t, not truly.

Meereen was not her home, and never would be. It was a city of strange men with strange gods and stranger hair, of slavers wrapped in fringed tokars, where grace was earned through whoring, butchery was art, and dog was a delicacy. Meereen would always be the Harpy’s city, and Daenerys could not be a harpy.

Never, said the grass, in the gruff tones of Jorah Mormont. You were warned, Your Grace. Let this city be, I said. Your war is in Westeros, I told you. (DANY IX)

Here again, what finally pushes Dany to the breaking point is her distaste for Meereenese culture — not injustice per se. Simply leaving and going to Westeros — an option she had earlier rejected as immoral and awful — is now presented as the answer to her problems.

 “I am alone and lost.”

Lost, because you lingered, in a place that you were never meant to be, murmured Ser Jorah…

I gave you good counsel. Save your spears and swords for the Seven Kingdoms, I told you. Leave Meereen to the Meereenese and go west, I said. You would not listen.

“I had to take Meereen or see my children starve along the march.” Dany could still see the trail of corpses she had left behind her crossing the Red Waste. It was not a sight she wished to see again. “I had to take Meereen to feed my people.”

You took Meereen, he told her, yet still you lingered. “To be a queen.”

You are a queen, her bear said. In Westeros.

“It is such a long way,” she complained. “I was tired, Jorah. I was weary of war. I wanted to rest, to laugh, to plant trees and see them grow. I am only a young girl.” (DANY X)

Note Dany’s account of why she had stayed in Meereen. As mentioned in Part III, she was motivated to stay by both the fate of Astapor, and her fear of her own dragon nature and potential madness. Neither is mentioned here. Instead she now seems to view her decision to stay in Meereen as the whims of a young girl, rather than a responsible moral crusade.

No. You are the blood of the dragon. The whispering was growing fainter, as if Ser Jorah were falling farther behind. Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.

Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass. (DANY X)

And there it is. A rejection of Meereen. A rejection of peace. A rejection of bending over backward to protect innocent life. A rejection of “planting trees.” And instead, an embrace of vague, violent rhetoric about who she is “made to be” — and her words, “fire and blood.”

Since the first book, Dany has been tormented by the innocent lives lost when she unleashes violence and war. Now, she has apparently resolved to stop letting all this bother her. Her new “fire and blood” approach just seems likely to lead to many more Astapors and thousands more Hazzeas. But in this chapter Dany seems prepared to write them off, as sad but necessary collateral damage of her embracing her true “dragon” self and who she was “made to be.” The dragons, and Dany’s own violent impulses, will no longer be chained. She has given into her greatest fear — herself.

This is not to say Dany will become some cackling, one-dimensional “evil” villain. She will surely continue to care about those she loves, use violence against some people who legitimately deserve it, and free some more slaves if she happens to come across them.

But now she wants to go to Westeros. And that’s particularly interesting because, so far in the series, Dany’s violent methods and ignoble tactics have often been palatable to the reader because they were used against brutal and murderous slavers, for seemingly noble ends. But there are no slaves to free in Westeros. It seems that Martin started off by giving Dany a seeming moral justification for her violence, that he always later planned to undercut. Now, Dany’s in it for herself — for her own power, for her own throne, and for becoming who she’s made to be, and woe to anyone who gets in her way.

This is the tragedy of Dany. She achieved peace. And then she decided war felt better to her.

Conclusion

Overall the purpose of the Meereen arc was to transform Dany into a much darker character.

With that in mind, so many of the most-criticized aspects of this plotline make a great deal more sense. Our characters are supposed to be confused and frustrated about Meereenese politics. They are supposed to hate the city and conclude that staying there is a waste of time. They are supposed to feel this generic distrust for everyone, and to fail to grasp that their peaces were actually quite successful. Dany is supposed to conclude — wrongly — that her behavior through most of the book was silly and foolish. And if you came away with those impressions too, it’s perfectly understandable.

But when you look past the unreliable narrator and POV-character bias, Martin’s aim becomes clear. The whole plotline is designed to maneuver Dany into a mental place where she’ll decide to sideline her concerns for innocent life, and take what she wants with fire and blood. Martin’s triumph is in handling this character development in such a natural and organic way. He gives Dany as much agency as he can — her hand is never truly forced by the Harpy or slavers. He presents her with incredibly difficult situations, places her core values into conflict, and makes her choose. Her choices first go one way — then another.

Now, the transformation is complete. The Dany we knew at the end of ASOS is gone. The one who reaches Westeros will be a very different person. The dragons are now unchained, and the gloves are off.

Teora gave a tiny nod, chin trembling. “They were dancing. In my dream. And everywhere the dragons danced the people died.” (TWOW ARIANNE I)

Next: Daario, and Dany’s symbolic struggle

38 Comments

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38 responses to “Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part IV: A Darker Daenerys

  1. Rölli13

    L: Is the dark side stronger?
    Y: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

    • Andrew

      Very apropos. To that I’ll add: Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

      Dany now seems to have taken the easiest way out when it comes to innocents being harmed: simply to stop caring as much. Dany seems to be changing for the worse, and the chances are that she may eventually reach a point where she realizes that along the way she had become what she had hated.

      Her moral red line I would say is her tenet: about the killing of children. She vowed vengeance of Mago and Jhaqo for their rape and murder of Eroeh, had 163 slavers crucified for the nailing of children to signs and had her dragons restrained after the death of Hazzea. I think sometime towards the end of her journey she may come close to violating that tenet herself. I think I know who the candidate is for when that test comes: Rickon Stark.

      The North is that last place she’ll go, and after her battle with Stannis, she will suffer a personal loss that will make her want to go full-scale vengeance, showing them what it means to wake the dragon, and decide to kill Rickon Stark, the Northmen’s proclaimed king after Stannis is killed. I don’t know whether or not she will know he is actually a five year-old boy until she meets him.

      • Ryan

        I’ve always thought that she’ll be set against Tommen at some point. And she’ll balk at killing him. Maybe her last prophesied betrayal “for love” is to be interpreted as the love of the innocence she used to have, which she’ll see in Tommen after going ‘fire and blood’ on everyone. It is my prediction that this decision will lead to her undoing, and ultimate death.

        Parallels with Anakin/Darth Vader story arc, but it’s a common and effective device. Good intention, leading to hell, and given a final chance at retribution.

  2. SerBrightflame

    Absolutely magnificent. Though it is sad to think of Dany losing her morals, the only thing she had to guide her on the long road from the Red Waste.

  3. asd123

    It appears in Feast, not Dance, but they were originally intended to be one book, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the story of how Aerys was actually pretty normal until the Defiance of Duskendale is told early on in Brienne’s chapters of the Feast/Dance combo-book. There’s a reason why a pretty significant bit of backstory like that was held until now. History is repeating itself, with daughter like father breaking when she perceives defiance and treachery against her. Maybe not as bad as Aerys did, but still definitely breaking and becoming more violent.

  4. Oscuro

    Well written. After so much hate of meerenese knot everywhere, it’s also refreshing. The next Daenerys is sure to be victorious on many events. I love your conclusion – the loss of desire of peace is indeed the tragedy of Daenerys Targaryen. The question is, how dark will she turn out to be? With ironborn, dothraki, sellswords, Rh’llor fanatics and even dragons as her fighting force, Daenerys will be viewed as villian from many POVs…. :-(
    However, is she will be strong enough not to be swayed by the likes of Littlefinger and Crow’s Eye, I will be satisfied with her story…

    • Iksen

      You can already see Westerosi opinion turning against her in that Arianne chapter from Winds that he quotes at the end. She’s already really suspicious of Dany just from hearing about how she let Viserys be murdered. Throw stories about the complete destruction of Slaver’s Bay on top of that, not hard to see how people won’t trust her. Especially if Barristan doesn’t survive long enough to make it to Westeros with her and give her the legitimacy he brings, the only non-foreigner support she’ll have is Tyrion the kinslaying imp and Jorah the condemned-to-die, honorless disgrace to his family. It’s pretty much a cast hand picked to portray her as a villain.

  5. Pingback: Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part III: Dany’s Struggle With Herself | The Meereenese Blot

  6. Quaz

    Interestingly … The dragons continue to grow in size. In Kings landing, the dragon skulls get smaller and smaller and smaller the longer the targaryens rule. The reason given is because the dragons were kept in a smaller aviary … But could that also be an allegory for the descent from war to peace and a descent of aerys to tragic hero status?

  7. Kuruharan

    Most excellent and I am in complete agreement that the purpose of Meereen is to make Dany’s character darker.

    I think the overall thrust of Dany’s character arc across the whole series is Martin trying to subvert the usual heroine archetype. I think the purpose is to start off with Dany as a helpless and thoroughly sympathetic character, engage our sympathies, start making that character more powerful and have the readers root for her as she continues to become more powerful…and then in the end have her become a repellant, blood-thirsty and blood-drenched tyrant of the worst description and see if the readers notice what the person they are rooting for has become.

    I think that by the end of the stories, Dany will become a vile figure and the results of her actions will be orders of magnitude more tragic and revolting than the actions of Ramsey Bolton (for example). Not that I am convinced that Dany will sink to Ramey’s level of dementedness (although I suppose she might…she is her father’s daughter) but more from a sense of scale that Dany will slaughter, maim and leave far more broken and ruined lives behind her than Ramsey ever had a chance to.

    If I am right it will be interesting to see how the fanbase reacts to her in the end, whether there will still be a lot of people who love her or if she will be a universally reviled figure. At least, however, I don’t think anybody will still be calling her a naïve idiot.

  8. Really interesting series. I don’t know that I agree that it’s a “tragedy” though; I think I might agree with Dany that the price of peace in Meereen—allowing slavery outside it—is simply too high. Obviously this is a difficult choice: does she create a hundred more Astapors in a quest to eliminate slavery everywhere forever, or does she allow it to continue outside of Meereen to preserve the peace? People get hurt either way.

    I can’t see turning to war as necessarily “losing her morals”, as a commenter above put it, if it means smashing the slave trade. Slavery is pretty darn immoral. In fact I think most of the above comments about her turning into a “villain” are kind of nutso. Dany’s end goals are good and just. There is no way to achieve them without people getting hurt. Just ask all the U.S. politicians from 1776 up to 1863 (well, all the way up to today really).

    • John

      ” eliminate slavery everywhere forever”

      That’s an utterly impossible goal though — no single person ever achieved that in the real world, and never could in her world either. She’d just fail, and achieve nothing except fomenting civil war. The world as it is already has areas wherein slavery is illegal and areas where it isn’t, she’s just trying to expand the latter — whether her new No Slave Zone is limited to Meereen or limited to three Slaver’s Bay cities is essentially arbitrary, but the former is manageable now where the latter is currently beyond her means. If she succeeds in Meereen (which necessitates temporarily allying herself with slavers, to some degree) she might be able to expand her influence to its hinterlands, then to Yunkai and Astapor, and so on, but she doesn’t have the patience for that so she gives up entirely.

  9. Zizoz

    Can you put a spoiler warning for the TWOW quote, and for any future TWOW spoilers? These posts were some of the best discussion of ASOIAF I have read, but I am trying to avoid spoilers; I would hate to feel that I couldn’t read future posts for this reason.

  10. Torvald Nom

    Something to speculate about: Assuming that Daenerys has indeed left the wish for peace behind, what about her aspirations to become queen? Will she leave them behind, too, and become just another (though powerful) warrior, potentially going to the North to defeat the Others and then go back to someplace she could call home?

    • amandahalefvirgo79

      I’ve seen Dany as more warrior/conqueror for a while now. Her goal now is to be a ruler, but I think she’s more suited to being a warrior — and that’s actually what I interpret the larger message of the outcome of Meereen to be: not that Dany is a tragic figure because she abandoned a peace that came at a cost she couldn’t stomach, but that her nature isn’t suited, and has in fact never been suited, to sitting on a throne. (If this were any other series, and people had a chance in hell of ending up where they belonged, I would say I could imagine the endgame being Tyrion on the Iron Throne, Dany having providing the strength to get him there.)

      I think the visions reinforcing that Dany’s place is with her dragons, her desire to keep flying with Drogon, her feeding with Drogon, the emphasis on Meereen never having been a place she belonged, and — very significantly — the fact that she ends up back with the Dothraki in the final moments of the story, all drive home her warrior nature trumping her goal to become queen. The reappearance of the Dothraki is huge, in my opinion — prior to settling in Meereen, Dany identified herself, in many ways, as Dothraki, and her return to their company in ADWD was a very meaningful development, in my opinion. And the fact that she did internalize and adopt and stay so open to the ways of their culture also make me lean away from Dany’s rejection of Meereen being indicative of her having cultural squeamishness. I don’t think it was the ways of the Meereneese Dany couldn’t tolerate, but the politics of being a ruler.

      I don’t see this as a tragic turn for Dany, because I don’t see her as destined for or best suited to being a queen. She’s a khaleesi, a dragon, and a warrior at heart. I don’t think her destination is on the throne — I think it’s at the Wall.

  11. Lauren

    I really enjoy your take on things. And I agree that the Meereenese plot is to show Dany’s inner turmoil and all, and I guess I must agree that she does seem to end on a darker note… but maybe to me it’s not as dark as others’ take (this being a wholly greyish world).

    Basically I felt the whole struggle for Dany was not that she ended up rejecting peace – more that she rejected peace ON OTHER PEOPLE’S TERMS. Everything she did for that peace was sacrificing parts of herself (her dragons) and her morals (no slaves, etc), constantly eroding away her self identity. And basically THAT was what she found unpalatable, not the peace itself. Essentially I saw it as the “wrong” way to achieve peace.

    But now she has fully embraced her dragons, and seems to not want to sacrifice her ideals to achieve peace, because she’s realized she is powerful enough to MAKE them accept it on her terms. Is it naive? Maybe. Is it somewhat tyrannical or even sort-of evil? Sure – but in a world as gray as Martin’s though, I think it’s one of the better options. No matter what, there is going to be bloodshed over the throne and innocents WILL die. And now Dany has learned that lesson, and this has made her realize that sacrificing her ideals and part of herself for peace isn’t necessary. People will die either way, so she may as wel achieve a true, lasting, and REAL peace – not some half-assed-let-them-keep-slaves-as-long-as-its-outside-where-I-can’t-see-it peace.

    Am I biased because I really liked Dany’s character? Sure probably. But I just really don’t see Martin making her into a complete monster. I’m sure she’s got a little darker to go yet – what hero wouldn’t be complete without recovering from the darkest moment – but I don’t think she’ll be as evil as some of you expect (though I completely agree I think she may be PERCEIVED that way by some).

  12. MNb

    “Our characters are supposed ….”
    Well, yes. It still took Mart way too many chapters to get there. After all the question remains (I’m paraphrazing the Epilogue): why should I care who rules Meereen?
    That’s why aDwD is way too long – almost everybody got stuck somewhere. And two of those who aren’t haven’t arrived yet.
    For instance it would have been a lot more fun if Brienne had crossed the Bay of Crabs and stirred up things a bit in the Vale.

    • Tywin's Armor Rules

      Why should you care about who rules Meereene? Why should you care about who rules the Iron Throne? I personally find the inner struggle way more interesting than either.

  13. Yi Li

    First of all– this is terribly well-written and while I certainly didn’t follow Meereen politics well enough to give a nuanced response, I do have one criticism about your thematic approach:

    You frame it in such black-and-white terms– peace is good, war is bad. Good queen Daenerys wants peace, the dragon wants war. And I think at the beginning Dany see is that way too– she tries to be a good person, but her moral thinking is often very manichean. Slavery is bad, slavers are bad, ergo any bad thing done to a slaver is morally righteous. But as you pointed out– there are limits. You can justify crucifying 163 slavers, but it feels wrong because it should.

    But let’s talk about the 163 slavers as a case study: Why does she do it? She does out of fury, as a reflection of her violent, dragon self, as you point out, but she really does do it for her people as well– her fury stems entirely from her empathy, the same sense of empathy that leads her to seek peace. The mhysa and the mother of dragons agree on this point.

    That’s the crux of it, I think– empathy can lead one to do bad things just as much as blind fury can. Peace can be as bad as war– what’s the difference between letting all those innocent Astapori die in the name of peace and torturing innocents in the name of retribution? By the end of ASOS, Dany has let her fury and her need for retribution lead her to do what most of us would consider immoral, but by the end of Meereen, Dany has let her need for peace lead her down a path that is equally immoral, or closely so. Closing the gates, allowing the slave trade to continue– these aren’t just unpalatable compromises. They are like the 163 slavers– justifiable perhaps, but they feel wrong because they are.

    Dany is prone to black-and-white thinking (she’s fifteen, after all), but Martin’s world is grey and Dany is learning that. Yes, she turns towards the path of destruction, but she learns the important lesson that even the best of intentions can result in devastating consequences. The next step is realizing that sometimes, great good can come from a place of fury and destruction. Astapor may have fallen apart due to mismanagement, but in that blaze, Dany freed 8000 people– people who now have lives and choices and even sometimes refer to themselves in the first person. In that moment, Dany was both conqueror and mother, equal parts vengeful and empathetic. And it’s never felt sweeter.

    It’s not an uncommon prediction that Dany’s future lies in the North and in being the Prince that was Promised who defeats the Others. Yes, her dragons eat children– but those same dragons might just save hundreds of thousands of children. Yes, Dany is destructive and violent and vengeful, but she’s also caring and dutiful and forgiving. These things aren’t as mutually exclusive as you, or Dany, think they are, and I believe it’s Dany’s ultimate character arc to find that there are ways (like fighting the Others) to reconcile them.

  14. Very interesting analysis. I think that a darker Dany is necessary if she’s ever going to take the Iron Throne for herself. She’s going to be dealing with the likes of Cersei Lannister, Petyr Baelish, Roose Bolton, Euron Greyjoy and Stannis Baratheon. These are very dangerous, cunning, powerful, and ruthless enemies.

    I also think it’s interesting that some of her perceived allies like Varys, Doran Martell, Jon Connington and Aegon VI may actually turn out to be her mortal enemies once she lands in Westeros. After Quentyn’s death, Doran should have no reason to side with Dany. Connington’s priority has and will always be securing Aegon’s ascension to the throne, unless it is somehow proven that he is a fake, and not truly Rhaegar’s son. And Varys?? Who know what game he’s actually playing. At first glance, he appears as a Targaryen loyalist, but I’ve heard so much about his possible Blackfyre connections. I’m not very well versed on the backstory of the Blackfyres, so I don’t know enough information to agree or disagree with this theory. But, it does put into perspective how very few true allies Dany has in Westeros.

    Some people tend to believe that Dany will be anti-Stark. I think the opposite will be true. The Starks, like the Targaryens, are a family that has fallen from grace. The remaining Starks are mostly children. Knowing Dany’s soft spot for children, I think she will align herself with them, most likely with Arya or Bran. And then, there’s the theoretical Stark-Targaryen connection (if L+R=J is true), that would be an additional reason for her to see the Starks as her natural allies, despite the history of bad blood between the two families. The series is called A Song of Ice and Fire after all, the Starks being the Ice and the Targaryens being fire.

    • Andrew

      Jon is ice and fire through his heritage. I don’t see Dany allying with the Starks anytime soon as they are currently supporting Stannis. I don’t think R+L=J will be publicly revealed until she comes to WF, likely after fighting against the Starks.

  15. Bry

    I just discovered this blog. These are fantastic writeups!

    Concerning Dany’s being reborn in the Dothraki Sea, there are many beliefs among readers that Dany suffered a miscarriage after eating the bad berries. If you subscribe to this belief, how would this, and Mirri Maz Duur’s words (whether prophecy or not), play into Dany taking on a darker future?

  16. JBP

    Thank you for these very interesting thoughts on ADwD. A couple things though:

    1) GRRM still took wayyyyy too long to complete this story arc (Dany v. Slavers Bay). The Meereen portion of this arc became excruciating to get through.
    2) I’m surprised by your lament that Dany is embracing her destiny. She almost certainly is going to be an integral part of the pending war against the Others. You know, the cats that will wipe out ALL of humanity if allowed to. If this isn’t a textbook case of some must suffer or die to enable a greater good, I don’t know what is…

    • Tywin's Armor Rules

      1. It took one book to complete this ark. It’s the same with all the other character arcs. How is that unreasonable? Its still okay to dislike it but your reasoning doesn’t make much since.

  17. I think what I like about Dany’s trasformation the most is that now she is a character that we as reader might not want to succeed.

    Dany started out as the poor, lost girl, who was sold by her brother to a stranger just so that Viserys good gain back his throne, then her husband and child die, she has to struggle through a desert with her meager khalassar and the entiere time you feel sorry for her. At the same time every potential king/queen either dies or completely fails to do the right thing, so that the idea of Dany as the queen of Westeros become more and more attractive.
    Now though, after what we have seen of her in Meereen and in her last chapter is actually quite scary and too close to Cercei for comfort. (Though her reasons for her mistrust and violence are a bit more understandable, in my opinion).

    So all this time I could not wait for Dany to get to Westeros, now I’m not sure it’s such a good idea and I love this so much.

  18. Astor

    This is interesting when you think about Jaime’s last chapter.

    Hoster Blackwood was saying how peace never lasted with the Brackens because old wounds never heal and Jaime says ‘Never wound a foe when you can kill him. Dead men don’t claim vengeance’ (a Tywin saying) Basically that its easier to just ‘Rains of Castamere’ people to achieve peace than compromise.

    Pretty much Dany’s mindset after all those hallucinations.

  19. John

    @Astor Problem with the Rains of Castamere approach is it only works when your enemy’s allies are weak and/or fairweather ones. They tried it with the Starks… and now they have maybe 4/5ths of the Northern lords conspiring against them.

  20. NJ

    This blog is a futile effort in sophistry. It is disgusting. I realized all of that already and pointing it out in a long and detailed fashion does nothing to improve Dance. Yes Danys a Targaryen her nature is violence, I get it.

    Dany’s chapters were repetitive she was having that same dilemma again and again “Should I compromise with the slavers????”. The Volantis fleet undermined the whole peace process anyway.

    Tyrion and Victarion (and the Maester from Oldtown) failed to arrive. That is what we were waiting for. For Dany to advance the plot by interacting with the other characters in some way. That’s kind of how storytelling works.

    Trying to excuse the shortage of plot in Dance by writing incredibly long blog posts is ridiculous. Urg.

    • John

      “Disgusting”? Really? That someone wrote a detailed blog post that ddn’t happen to tell you anything new is “disgusting”?

      Drama Khaleesi.

  21. Jim B

    There’s always been an ugly dark side to Daenerys’s plans to return to Westeros.

    She was willing to bring war and death and rape and pillage, Dothraki-style, to the Seven Kingdoms, to accomplish…. what, exactly?

    To “save” the people of Westeros who curse the Usurper and drink secret toasts to the true ruler? Even as a young girl, Daenerys was too smart to buy that nonsense from Illyrio, even if Viserys wasn’t.

    Reclaiming her “right” to the Iron Throne? Well, even if you buy that she has such a right — that her birthright as the great-great-great…grandchild of someone who conquered the Seven Kingdoms (Aegon the Conqueror) trumps the rights of someone else who conquered those same kingdoms (Robert Baratheon) — that sounds awfully selfish. She’s also aware of the “taint” and the fact that Robert’s Rebellion wasn’t entirely unjustified.

    And after the dragons are hatched, Daenerys seems to generally accept that Mirri Maz Durr spoke truly that she is infertile now, which means that Dany intends to conquer Westeros and install herself on the throne to install the shortest-lived dynasty ever. It’s very strange to me that we never once hear her think about this in her POV chapters — she doesn’t hope that it isn’t true, she isn’t planning to adopt an heir, she isn’t rationalizing why a war of conquest is justified just to put her on the throne for a couple of decades and then leave a likely civil war in her wake.

    I’ve often wondered if maybe Dany has some ambivalence about invading Westeros, and that her detour in Slavers’ Bay isn’t at least partly a stalling mechanism.

    And it’ll be interesting to see what her reaction to Aegon is. After all this time of thinking herself destined to rule, how will she feel about finding out “Sorry, Auntie, you’re behind me and all the heirs I intend to produce ASAP. But thanks for bringing the dragons!” (And yes, I think Aegon is a fake, but Dany’s initial reaction will still be interesting.)

  22. I appreciate your attempt to reconcile Dany’s confusion but unfortunately you do not make a strong enough case to prove that Dany has come to any solid conclusion or resolve. At the end of the book her head is still filled with questions and uncertainty. She is split between what she wants and what she needs, unwilling to sacrifice either. At the end it seems that she is even more confused and depressed. The only bit of confidence we get from her is when She says she is fire and blood, but she has doubted herself so many times how do we know that she is not merely on cruise control just going through the motions and not really committing to anything?

  23. Dragon

    If her dragons save the world from the Long Night and Endless Winter, then don’t the peasants have to die? If your options are to go the way of the Children of Forest or to destroy the enemies of humanity but some innocents die, then you obviously go with option 2.

    Peace with the Harpy was, in any case, a fool’s errand. You don’t have peace with those who claim, rape, and kill your people. You hunt them down and destroy them. None of the nobles should have been allowed to live.

  24. I know I’m quite late to the party on this one, but something struck me while reading it that I wanted to express. I found that all of Dany’s shifts back towards the dragon side – opting for something that felt like “herself,” more like her real home – all of those moments resonated very deeply with me. There’s tremendous emotional appeal there that staying in Meereen and denying oneself lacks. Furthermore, given the way many tend to think about the series, myself included, thinking about the strategies our favourite characters should employ while rarely questioning whether or not they should fight at all, Dany’s decision to go for Westeros and what will surely be a bloody war seems entirely reasonable.

    Perhaps these decisions are grayer than they’re presented here. Or perhaps they’re just that more insidious, that they seem both so reasonable and so emotionally, dramatically, and poetically fulfilling.

  25. Kirsten

    In Martin’s world, not everything is black and white. But some things still are black and white, tempered by practicality. That is the theme of the Slaver’s Bay story arc.

    Ofcourse you should do something to stop slavery. That is the black and white part of the equation. Not all slaves are treated brutally, and some do lead easy lives. However, looking at the big picture, slavery is a very brutal crime against humanity. Bringing freedom to Slaver’s Bay was the right thing to do. The problem was in the execution. The practicality part of the equation is the reality that compromises will have to be made. You cannot save all of the slaves, nor can you save any without hurting others. On the opposite end, why bother with it at all if you’re going to give away what Dany gave away to achieve peace.

    Peace is good. But peace at any cost, on any terms, is not beneficial. Sometimes, two sides just have to fight it out. The Ghiscari have thousands of years invested in slavery to just let it stop. When Dany went on a mission to end slavery, it became a fight to the death for the Harpy.

    So what actually happened in the middle of the Dothraki Sea? I do not think it is as profound as the essay suggests. It’s simply Daenerys realizing that you can’t make omelet without breaking a few eggs. Practicality means looking out for the greater good. You can’t solve every problem, so stick to solving the major ones. Get rid of the Ghiscari slavers for good, set up a provisional government, and allow the free people to chart their own course, and make their own mistakes. If you can lead the horse to water, you’ve done your job.

  26. Another fantastic post. I’m just discovering this blog and power-reading your wonderful essays.

    I think you’ve illustrated one of the themes in ASOIAF, which is the danger of premature ideas and of the importance of parental guidance. Dany wants to be a great ruler but she is an orphan and her notions about leadership and morality are fragmentary and undercooked. Ideas need to be nurtured to maturity through guidance. Emerson said “God screens us evermore from premature ideas.” That’s a nice notion but in reality nobody has been there to help Dany out with this.

    Jon goes to the night’s watch and gets a taste of its vows and meets men who’ve lived their entire lives by those vows. But then upheaval happens. He’s still unformed and when push comes to shove he breaks his vows to go save his sister and incites mutiny. If Jon had spent decades on the wall and been groomed for leadership more properly, it’s easy to imagine him making a different decision.

    This plays out over and over again. Joffery, who was raised without a father’s guidance, becomes a terrible king. Even King Robert himself was never groomed for leadership – his dynasty was one-man deep and he sucked at the job.

    Robb Stark was the oldest of the Stark children, raised by a wise and honorable father, and had the most time to form under that care – and he turned out to be a surprisingly great commander in the field with good, kind instincts. But he broke his word with the Freys and it got him killed. It’s not hard to imagine that, had Ned still been alive, he wouldn’t have made the same decision. And now the rest of the Stark kids are wandering Westeros orphaned. The younger and more unformed they are, the worse their trajectories. Arya’s become a killer. Rickon is the most unformed of all and the wildest. He might be being raised by cannibals now for all we know. I predict scary things from him.

    The list goes on and on, including the three Lannister children, who were raised to maturity by a strong father but tainted by his twisted parenting. And is their anyone more demented than Ramsay Snow, who was raised without a father at all?

    In contrast, the characters in the story with the most substance – Ned and Catelyn Stark, Aemon, Jorah Mormont, Barristan Selmy, The Blackfish, etc. – all had strong relationships with parents or parental figures (or at least no negative ones that we know of).

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