Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part III: Dany’s Struggle With Herself

So, what was the point of Dany’s sojourn in Meereen?

Many just dismiss it as wholly filler, without any real purpose at all except to pad out the books. Others think that Dany as a character “regressed,” returning to a state of incompetence, naivete, and passivity. Others think the point was about giving Dany “practice” ruling, so she could make mistakes, and eventually become a better ruler when she reaches Westeros.

Here’s why all these interpretations miss the point:

 “The human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about.” –George R. R. Martin

Martin has paraphrased this quote from William Faulkner time and time again in interviews, yet many readers haven’t fully internalized it. It means Martin is not interested in merely showing characters “leveling up,” like a video game, progressing from incompetent naif to awesome badass. His main interest is in exploring his characters’ values. And throughout the series, he creates drama by forcing characters to choose between their core values — love vs. duty, honor vs. pragmatism, vows vs. innocent life.

With that in mind, a closer look reveals that Dany’s plotline in Meereen has been very cleverly designed as a series of tests of her values, and one value in particular. Each test is designed to ask — how far will Dany go to make peace and protect innocent life? With nearly every new chapter, Dany is asked to give up something else she wants or desires, for the good of the Meereenese people. The use of her dragons. A share of power in Meereen. Some of her anti-slavery reforms. Her desire for vengeance. Her desire to right every wrong she sees. Her distaste for cultural practices she finds abhorrent. Her sexual autonomy. Her happiness. Her pride. Her chance at Westeros.

Dany’s arc is revealed in how she responds to these tests, and how she tries to balance her moral ideals against her own darker impulses and desires. Part of Dany genuinely does want peace, and wants to sacrifice a great deal to protect innocent life. But another part of her would rather she take what she wants, through fire and blood.

The main drama of the Meereen plotline lies in Dany’s mind and in her choices. On the surface she is struggling with the Meereenese — but her most crucial struggle is with herself. And the outcome of this struggle will have momentous consequences for Westeros.

Dany’s Motivations for Making Peace

Dany entered Meereen as a violent conqueror, an “avenging dragon.” Motivated by her disgust at the treatment of slaves, she had decided to overturn the slave trade throughout Slaver’s Bay by force. Earlier, she had left the now-free city of Astapor in the hands of a council of former slaves — “a healer, a scholar, and a priest.” But by the last chapter of ASOS, she learns her council has been overthrown by Cleon the Butcher King, and Dany is forced to ask herself what her influence has wrought.

Missandei leaned close to Dany. “He was a butcher in Grazdan’s kitchen,” the girl whispered in her ear. “It was said he could slaughter a pig faster than any man in Astapor.” I have given Astapor a butcher king. Dany felt ill…

…The master of the Indigo Star was Qartheen, so he wept copiously when asked about Astapor. “The city bleeds. Dead men rot unburied in the streets, each pyramid is an armed camp, and the markets have neither food nor slaves for sale. And the poor children! King Cleaver’s thugs have seized every highborn boy in Astapor to make new Unsullied for the trade, though it will be years before they are trained.” The thing that surprised Dany most was how unsurprised she was. She found herself remembering Eroeh, the Lhazarene girl she had once tried to protect, and what had happened to her. It will be the same in Meereen once I march, she thought. (ASOS DANY VI)

So Dany quickly learned that violently overturning the status quo, without staying behind to build a new status quo, left only new horrors behind in Astapor. The city’s fate only grows grimmer in ADWD, when it collapses into utter hell. Astapor is a constant reminder to Dany of why she can’t simply leave Meereen behind.

Once ADWD begins, it is clear that simple conquest through force has not brought peace in Meereen, either. Dany faces many problems in the opening chapter, the foremost being the Harpy insurgency murdering her allies. But the chapter closes with by revealing a killing that wasn’t committed by the Harpy:

“It were the black one,” the man said, in a Ghiscari growl, “the winged shadow. He come down from the sky and … and …”

No. Dany shivered. No, no, oh no….

…”Those are no sheep bones.”

No, Dany thought, those are the bones of a child. (ADWD DANY I)

This is the girl Hazzea, killed by Drogon. Dany repeatedly thinks of her through the rest of the novel; she is a reminder of the horrors that Dany and her dragons are capable of. Astapor and Hazzea are two important symbols of what it truly means when “fire and blood” is unleashed.

Mother of dragons, Daenerys thought. Mother of monsters. What have I unleashed upon the world? A queen I am, but my throne is made of burned bones, and it rests on quicksand…  I am the blood of the dragon, she thought. If they are monsters, so am I. (ADWD DANY II)

As seen above, Dany’s desire to make peace is also driven by some newfound self-doubt about her own nature. Back in her final ASOS chapter, Barristan explained the concept that many Targaryens have the “taint” of madness. These words haunt Dany throughout the rest of that chapter, and in Meereen as well. Note below that, as she announces her decision to stay in Meereen, her mind flashes to wonder whether she is mad. She is using her fear of her darker side to motivate herself to achieve something good and constructive:

 “Aegon the Conqueror brought fire and blood to Westeros, but afterward he gave them peace, prosperity, and justice. But all I have brought to Slaver’s Bay is death and ruin. I have been more khal than queen, smashing and plundering, then moving on.”

…“You have brought freedom as well,” Missandei pointed out.

“Freedom to starve?” asked Dany sharply. “Freedom to die? Am I a dragon, or a harpy?” Am I mad? Do I have the taint?

…”I will not let this city go the way of Astapor. I will not let the harpy of

Yunkai chain up those I’ve freed all over again.” (ASOS DANY VI)

We can see these comments stay with Dany, because she alludes to her greatest fear in ADWD. In a previous draft of the chapter, Martin had her express that fear more explicitly:

“My fears were burned away the day I came forth from the fire. Only one thing frightens me now.” “And what is it that you fear, sweet queen? “I am only a foolish young girl.” Dany rose on her toes and kissed his cheek. “But not so foolish as to tell you that.” (ADWD DANY III)

She looks at Ser Barristan and tells him that she told Xaro that she feared only one thing, though she would not tell the merchant what. Ser Barristan guesses that she only fears her dragons. “Myself,” Dany tells him. (PARAPHRASED EARLIER DRAFT OF ADWD DANY III)

Dany’s Violent Impulses

Dany has good reason to fear herself. We can think of her as having two sides, mother and dragon, and her dragon side is capable of great violence and cruelty when she is angered. She grows particularly angry when she feels something is incredibly unjust or evil — and she wants to respond with violence. So in revenge for the Meereenese slavers’ crucifixion of 163 slave children, she crucified 163 slaver prisoners.

“How many?” one old woman had asked, sobbing. “How many must you have to spare us?”

“One hundred and sixty-three,” she answered.

She had them nailed to wooden posts around the plaza, each man pointing at the next. The anger was fierce and hot inside her when she gave the command; it made her feel like an avenging dragon. But later, when she passed the men dying on the posts, when she heard their moans and smelled their bowels and blood . . .

Dany put the glass aside, frowning. It was just. It was. I did it for the children. (ASOS DANY VI)

Even though her righteous anger is understandable, Dany’s indiscriminate revenge killing of prisoners of war makes her queasy and should make us queasy too. Early in ADWD, she unleashes one more extremely disturbing bit of violence, again because of righteous anger, and while thinking of herself as a dragon — she responds to the murder of innocents, by approving the torture of innocents:

 “Three freedmen, murdered in their homes,” the Shavepate said. “A moneylender, a cobbler, and the harpist Rylona Rhee. They cut her fingers off before they killed her.”

The queen flinched. Rylona Rhee had played the harp as sweetly as the Maiden. When she had been a slave in Yunkai, she had played for every highborn family in the city. In Meereen she had become a leader amongst the Yunkish freedmen, their voice in Dany’s councils. “We have no captives but this wineseller?”

“None, this one grieves to confess. We beg your pardon.”

Mercy, thought Dany. They will have the dragon’s mercy. “Skahaz, I have changed my mind. Question the man sharply.”

“I could. Or I could question the daughters sharply whilst the father looks on. That will wring some names from him.”

“Do as you think best, but bring me names.” Her fury was a fire in her belly. (ADWD DANY II)

In the same chapter, Dany orders hostages to be taken from the noble families that are suspects. She fears what she might have to do to the hostages, but seems to be telling herself she might go through with it.

 “They are afraid for their children,” Reznak said. Yes, Daenerys thought, and so am I. 

“We must keep them safe as well. I will have two children from each of them. From the other pyramids as well. A boy and a girl.” “Hostages,” said Skahaz, happily.

“Pages and cupbearers. If the Great Masters make objection,explain to them that in Westeros it is a great honor for a child to be chosen to serve at court.” She left the rest unspoken. (ADWD II)

So early on in ADWD, with a mass execution, torture of innocents, and the collection of child hostages, Dany is close to unleashing her darker side on Meereen.

How Dany Turns Away from Violence, Toward Peace

But those are the last of Dany’s violent, vengeful actions in Meereen to date. Motivated by Hazzea’s death, Astapor, her innate compassion, and her fear of herself, Dany decides to turn away from a path of violence.

First of all, she chains her dragons. As mentioned, she does this because of Hazzea’s death, but the action is fraught with symbolic import. She is actually trying to chain her own violent impulses and potential to kill innocents. Second, despite further Harpy killings, she refuses to harm the child hostages. I argued in Part II that this was likely very important in changing the Meereenese nobles’ perceptions of Dany and making peace possible.

Dany’s fourth chapter is a turning point in her rule. First, the Green Grace visits, and after praising her mercy toward the hostages, suggests that Dany could make peace with the Harpy by marrying Hizdahr. For the good of her people, Dany thinks she should:

 “A highborn king of pure Ghiscari blood could reconcile the city to your rule. Elsewise, I fear, your reign must end as it began, in blood and fire.”…

…Daenerys Targaryen had other children, tens of thousands who had hailed her as their mother when she broke their chains. She thought of Stalwart Shield, of Missandei’s brother, of the woman Rylona Rhee, who had played the harp so beautifully. No marriage would ever bring them back to life, but if a husband could help end the slaughter, then she owed it to her dead to marry. (DANY IV)

Hizdahr is sent up, says he can make peace with the Harpy, and outlines what it would cost to eventually make peace in Yunkai as well:

“The Yunkai’i can be persuaded to allow all your freedmen to remain free, I believe, if Your Worship will agree that the Yellow City may trade and train slaves unmolested from this day forth. No more blood need flow.”

“Save for the blood of those slaves that the Yunkai’i will trade and train,” Dany said, but she recognized the truth in his words even so. It may be that is the best end we can hope for. (DANY IV)

The eventual conditions of both peace deals have now been laid out. Dany is intrigued at this other path, and for the good of her people, challenges Hizdahr to see if he can truly stop the violence:

 “Peace is my desire. You say that you can help me end the nightly slaughter in my streets. I say do it. Put an end to this shadow war, my lord. That is your quest. Give me ninety days and ninety nights without a murder, and I will know that you are worthy of a throne. Can you do that?”…

… “My people are bleeding. Dying. A queen belongs not to herself, but to the realm. Marriage or carnage, those are my choices. A wedding or a war.” (DANY IV)

At this point, though, Dany is not yet fully committed to following through — she tells Barristan, “Ninety days is a long time. Hizdahr may fail.” The chapter closes with two temptations, where characters offer Dany seductive alternatives that have far less concern for innocent life in Meereen. First, Barristan advises her to just leave and go to Westeros. He also reminds her that marrying Hizdahr would hurt her chances for taking Westeros. For purposes of conquering Westeros, this is good advice, but from the perspective of someone concerned about innocent life in Meereen, it would only condemn the Meereenese to an Astapor-like fate.

 “Westeros is far away.” “Lingering here will never bring it any closer. The sooner we take our leave of this place—” “I know. I do.” Dany did not know how to make him see. She wanted Westeros as much as he did, but first she must heal Meereen. (DANY IV)

Finally, Dany meets with Daario. Many fans come away thinking Dany’s attraction to Daario merely reveals her girlishness and immaturity. But in ADWD, Daario’s main importance is to symbolize the path of war — violent, amoral, charismatic, seductive, taking what one wants — and to tempt Dany toward that path. Every single time the two meet, Daario proposes some bloody and violent action to break the peace. Dany’s attraction to him shows that some part of her is quite drawn to this mindset. Here, Daario proposes that Dany deal with the Meereenese nobles not through peaceful compromise, but through a Red Wedding:

“Winkle them out of their pyramids on some pretext. A wedding might serve. Why not? Promise your hand to Hizdahr and all the Great Masters will come to see you married. When they gather in the Temple of the Graces, turn us loose upon them.”

Dany was appalled. He is a monster. A gallant monster, but a monster still. (DANY IV)

Is Daario giving good advice? Well, how are things working out for the Freys lately? Dany is outraged and sends him away, again harkening back to her greatest fear — of herself, and what she could become.

“He would make a monster of me,” she whispered, “a butcher queen.” (DANY IV)

But we will later see that Daario’s words have lingered in her mind.

Will Dany follow through on the peace?

Peacemaking isn’t easy — it’s painful, challenging, risky, and by necessity involves you not getting everything you want. After the terms of the eventual peace deals are outlined in Dany IV, her next three chapters represent a slow, agonizing trudge toward her eventual acceptance of the deal.

But in them, the cruel god George R.R. Martin puts her through the wringer by throwing three general types of plot elements at her: (1) Unpleasant concessions she’ll have to make for the peace, (2) New temptations to break the peace, (3) Wrenching reminders about what breaking the peace would mean for innocent life. These events are all quite unpleasant for Dany — some especially unpleasant. As she becomes more and more unhappy, it becomes clear that the drama of this part of her arc is all about whether she’ll be able to force herself to stick to the peace deal.

Her first temptation is from the Shavepate. Though the Harpy killings stopped nearly a month ago, there are some Meereenese ships participating in the Qartheen blockade. Shavepate, conveniently, implicates every single ruling family of Meereen as participating, and suggests arresting all their relatives in the city. Dany refuses, putting aside action against her enemies in favor of peace. But she wonders if she’s being naive:

 “Your Worship should have a look at this. A list of all the Meereenese ships in the blockade, with their captains. Great Masters all.”

Dany studied the scroll. All the ruling families of Meereen were named: Hazkar, Merreq, Quazzar, Zhak, Rhazdar, Ghazeen, Pahl, even Reznak and Loraq. “What am I to do with a list of names?”

“Every man on that list has kin within the city. Sons and brothers, wives and daughters, mothers and fathers. Let my Brazen Beasts seize them. Their lives will win you back those ships.”

“If I send the Brazen Beasts into the pyramids, it will mean open war inside the city. I have to trust in Hizdahr. I have to hope for peace.” Dany held the parchment above a candle and watched the names go up in flame, while Skahaz glowered at her.

Afterward, Ser Barristan told her that her brother Rhaegar would have been proud of her. Dany remembered the words Ser Jorah had spoken at Astapor: Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died. (DANY V)

Next, Dany hears a prolonged report of the situation of the Astapori refugees. Dany regrets not doing more for them earlier, but is grudgingly convinced that any help she gave them would have put Meereen at risk. This is another important feature of the peace — Dany has to restrain her desire to right every wrong in the world, and fix every injustice, to focus only on her own city. And again, the guilt of using her power wrongly haunts her:

“I know. I know. It is Eroeh all over again.”

Brown Ben Plumm was puzzled. “Who is Eroeh?”

“A girl I thought I’d saved from rape and torment. All I did was make it worse for her in the end. And all I did in Astapor was make ten thousand Eroehs.”

“Your Grace could not have known—” “I am the queen. It was my place to know.” (DANY V)

Meanwhile, the Yunkish are approaching, Plumm advises her to loose the dragons on them, but Hazzea is brought up and Dany refuses. Barristan urges sending out the Unsullied, but Dany knows she would lose control of Meereen if she did so. Backed into a corner, she realizes what she has to do for her people, though she can barely say it — she has to give up her body, marrying herself off for the greater good:

 “I cannot fight two enemies, one within and one without. If I am to hold Meereen, I must have the city behind me. The whole city. I need … I need …” She could not say it.

“Your Grace?” Ser Barristan prompted, gently. A queen belongs not to herself but to her people. “I need Hizdahr zo Loraq.” (DANY V)

Next, she visits the Astapori refugee camp herself and organizes humanitarian food aid to the starving hordes — though their plight saddens Dany, she enjoys helping them, and thinking of herself as a mother. Afterward, she has a humiliating wedding planning meeting with the Green Grace and Reznak, who say that Meereenese culture requires Dany’s womb to be examined by Hizdahr’s family. She refuses this but must accept all the other cultural preconditions for the wedding, despite finding them ridiculous, and thinks of Brown Ben’s comment that if a man wants to be king of the rabbits, “he best wear a pair o’ floppy ears.” She also recalls a very different comment:

“Your Worship must marry Hizdahr in the Temple of the Graces, with all the nobility of Meereen on hand to bear witness to your union.”

Get the heads of all the noble houses out of their pyramids on some pretext, Daario had said.

The dragon’s words are fire and blood. Dany pushed the thought aside. It was not worthy of her.   “As you wish,” she sighed. “I shall marry Hizdahr in the Temple of the Graces wrapped in a white tokar fringed with baby pearls. Is there anything else?”

So a tempting violent path flashes in Dany’s mind, but she pushes it aside. Next, as a final humiliation, she is told she must reopen the fighting pits, a bloody Meereenese cultural practice that she despises. She reminds herself that “a queen must listen to her people,” and says Hizdahr can do it, but she wants no part of it. Hizdahr then visits, and confirms that Yunkai will agree to peace if Dany allows slavery outside Meereen’s walls, and if he and Dany wed:

 “Marriage or carnage. A wedding or a war. Are those my choices?”

“I see only one choice, Your Radiance. Let us say our vows before the gods of Ghis and make a new Meereen together.”

The queen was framing her response when she heard a step behind her. (DANY VI)

At this very moment Martin presents Dany with another temptation — Barristan tells her that Daario has returned, and he is wounded. Dany never responds to Hizdahr, and her thoughts are revealing:

 “Blood?” said Dany, horrified. “Is that a jape? No. No, don’t tell me, I must see him for myself.” She was a young girl, and alone, and young girls can change their minds.

“Convene my captains and commanders. Hizdahr, I know you will forgive me.”

Meereen must come first.” Hizdahr smiled genially. “We will have other nights. A thousand nights.” (DANY VI)

When Daario enters, he reveals the infuriating news that Brown Ben Plumm has defected to Yunkai. This worsening of her military position forces Dany to her most unpleasant compromise yet — she decides she must close the gates to the Astapori and let them starve. For Meereen, she has to. But it tears her apart.

And this is revealing. Dany has hated many of her compromises for the Meereenese, but above all else, she hates forcing herself to tolerate injustice elsewhere. And this compromise makes her so miserable that she immediately flirts with breaking the peace deal entirely — via Daario:

She wanted to scream, to gnash her teeth and tear her clothes and beat upon the floor. Instead she said, “Close the gates. Will you make me say it thrice?” They were her children, but she could not help them now. “Leave me. Daario, remain.” (DANY VI)

Dany then begins her affair. I’ll save most of my thoughts on Daario for a later post, but for now, suffice to say her affair places the peace deal at great risk, and symbolizes how she is somewhat attracted to the easier and more pleasing path of war. However, despite this reckless behavior by Dany, the peace deal and the wedding proceed, and despite Dany’s increasing love for Daario, she gives him up.

Before the wedding, Martin gives Dany one final test. When Quentyn arrives, Martin is effectively asking Dany which she cares about more — making peace for the Meereenese, or her future prospects in Westeros? And she chooses Meereen, easily and without a second thought. The prospect of Westeros has receded for her — while she still claims she intends to go one day, the fatalism of her statement reveals how much she has shelved those ambitions.

“One day I shall return to Westeros to claim my father’s throne, and look to Dorne for help. But on this day the Yunkai’i have my city ringed in steel. I may die before I see my Seven Kingdoms. Hizdahr may die. Westeros may be swallowed by the waves.” Dany kissed his cheek. “Come. It’s time I wed.” (DANY VII)

And then she does, and the peace is made.


For peace, Dany has chained her dragons, restrained her impulses toward violent revenge, agreed to marry a man she doesn’t love, agreed to abandon a man she does love, agreed to share power with people she detests, agreed to allow slavery outside Meereen’s walls, agreed to indulge various cultural practices she dislikes, and given up her best chance at Westeros, her body, and potentially her own happiness — and, toughest of all, agreed to let thousands of Astapori starve outside her gates. She wasn’t perfect, and did flirt with abandoning and risking the peace at times, but her overall course of action here is an impressive and astonishing series of self-sacrifices and self-submissions, all for “her people.”

And if Dany’s arc in the book ended with her marriage, it would be the story of how she summoned the immense courage and self-restraint to make those sacrifices.

But her arc doesn’t end here.

Next: Dany’s change of heart


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33 responses to “Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part III: Dany’s Struggle With Herself

  1. This blog here is a treasure.
    Thank you and waiting for the fourth part.

  2. CDM

    Thank you so much for your posts. Waiting for the next one.

  3. grimelda

    an amazing read- you manage to break down one of the tougher parts of the book into a compelling analysis!

  4. robert1

    Thank you for this blog. It gives a real insight.

  5. Interesting reading – I’ve added myself to the ‘Follow’ list and am lookingn forward to more thought-provoking posts.

    The whole Dany plot at this staqe I took to be allegorical – well-meaning power takes over a foreign place and tries to right obvious wrongs, only for those good intentions to destabilise everything over time – but I like the dimensions you focused on.

  6. Jami

    Thank you for this! Been enjoying each article, excited for the next!

  7. PIKI

    Great analysis! Does anyone know where else can I read quality essays like this one, concerning A Dance with Dragons?

  8. Pingback: Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part IV: A Darker Daenerys | The Meereenese Blot

  9. Pingback: Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part II: The Peace Was Real | The Meereenese Blot

  10. This is awesome. Keep up the good work!

  11. Alan

    Excellent essay! This is the kind of analysis I love to read. I thought I was in the minority by enjoying ADWD and Dany’s progression there. Glad to see that’s not the case!

    (Small side note: “The human heart in conflict…” is a quote by William Faulkner, not George R.R. Martin.)

  12. Richard

    I’m very curious to see how much of the negative side they will show. The crucifixion surely, but how about the wineseller’s daughter? That was the first time that I seriously thought Dany might have the taint. GRRM is all about setting up expectations, hopes, and dreams and them dashing them against the ground like a Clegane.

    Even if Dany manages to make an equitable peace in Meeren, then move on to make things right in Astapor and even deal with the Yunnkai, suppressing her Targ taint…what will happen when she sails to Westeros? More importantly, what if there is peace in Westeros at that time? Remember now we are already at the threshold of Winter, a Winter for which Westeros is very ill-prepared for. The civil war did no favors for harvesting and stockpiling of provisions to survive the long night.

    I cannot think of a single mudfarming peasant in Westeros that actually wants Dany on the throne, and certainly not if it means an extension of this civil war, or the ignition of a new one at this point in the Winter/Summer cycle. Will Dany have suppressed her desire to rule so much at that point that she turns back to Essos, realizing that what she (hopefully at that point) is a good situation, one that she shaped, and that sailing west would only cause untold suffering?

    I hardly think it Martinesque for Westeros to be so crippled and in need of a savior against the Others that they will welcome Dany with open arms as a savior against the Long Night. That just seems too damn conventional, like something you would see a mile away in one of your numerous nondescript fantasy paperbacks written over the past few decades. No, I think and hope not. What would be far more interesting is if she turns back, or, if Ser Barristan is somehow put into a situation similar to that of Ser Jaime and the Mad King wherein Ser Barristan runs Dany through to keep her from some massively destructive act.

    tl;dr GRRM allowing Dany to evolve from “incompetent naif to awesome badass” (as you put it), lover-Queen of Jon Snow and savior of Westeros seems a bit too on the nose.

  13. Richard

    …probably should have proofread that one a bit…sorry. Is there really no way to edit posts?

  14. Clariana

    Beautifully written essays and your arguments are very well made.

    Reading this one the thought occurred to me… Why did Westeros descend into civil war? The basic answer is because Raegar, Dany’s elder brother, could not respect his marriage vows… It was not intentional but his relationship with Leanna (whatever it’s nature) ended up tearing the kingdom asunder. In a way, a noble’s greatest duty is to bring peace through marriage. Ned recognised this in his marriage to Catelyn, the fact that Cersei and Robert cannot stand each other sews once again the seeds of discord.
    Dany is not new to this, she married Drogo very much against her will but she was determined to make the best of it and the power and knowledge she gained through her forebearance made her the person she is now.
    Those characters whorecognise that the married state is not for them are much better off remaining single, like Tyrion, the Blackfish or Jaime, say.

  15. Pingback: The Grand /r/asoiaf Analysis Companion | bryndenbfish

  16. Andrew

    Dany could have used Jon’s advice: “A fair bargain leaves both sides unhappy, I’ve heard it said.”

  17. Jon

    This is all very well thought out and written. Too much so, in my opinion.

    I’m all for suppositions and theories but I think this is all a lot of guess-work with no evidence. It’s like cramming puzzle pieces together just to make them fit the picture you want.

    I’m a bit lazy so I won’t write a huge response, but I find it much, much, much more likely that Dany isn’t nearly as smart as this makes her out to be. Yes, she is forced to sacrifice much to make her peace and attempt to get Slaver’s Bay put to rights. The question must be asked though: WHY must she sacrifice? Because she ruined three cities and nearly decimated their entire populations. All throughout book 5 she’s wracked with guilt and indecision. Mereene is very clearly a staging ground for her to attempt to rule, to practice for her reign in Westeros.

    Only she’s awful at it. Really, really awful. She doesn’t make defined decisions (ever) until her back is to the wall. She stalls and frets until SOMETHING has to be done. She has all the power (be it with the Unsullied, the Brazen Beasts, her dragons or what have you) yet refuses to ever use them for actual solutions. She says on numerous occasions, and most notably at her last chapter, that Mereene was never her home. She hates the entire area, the Mereenese people, the clothes, the food, everything about it. I honestly think she might be realizing that she’s a much better warlord than ruler. There’s plague everywhere, Astapor is destroyed, Mereene soon will be, she’s only JUST BARELY managing to control her dragons, she can’t control the Harpy’s Sons at all (or outright refuses to). Simply put, Mereene is a crap shoot and it’s time to move on. I think she finally understands that. You have to pass beneath the shadow to reach the light, says Quaithe. I think the shadow of abject failure is there, and now having survived that she has to push on or be engulfed.

    Call it a hunch, but I get the feeling that all this made her hard and cold. My guess is that she’ll rally a lot of Dothraki, go back to Mereene, possibly put it to the torch with everyone still in it, leave for Westeros and decide she doesn’t even want to be queen anymore. Barristan will leave her service (if he isn’t killed outright beforehand) because she’s a horrible ruler and he couldn’t stop it (he may even kill himself after failing yet another king/queen
    ). Stranger things have happened in this story.

    Ok, much longer than I expected or wanted. Seriously though, I think the entire book was just to show that Dany really isn’t cut out for Queenhood (at least not yet) and that this what would have happened if she had pushed for Westeros early on, and also to develop her character. I think everyone, the Shavepate, Hizdahr, the Green Grace, are all exactly who they seem to be. The Shavepate is an ardent patriot with dreams of power, Hizdahr is a nobleman who simply wants MORE power and has no attachment to Dany whatsoever, and the Green Grace simply wants everyone to stop killing each other.

    Oh, and beware the perfumed senschal? Not the Shavepate. It’s Illyirio.

    • Cannoli

      I thought “the perfumed seneschal” was the ship Tyrion & Jorah took from Volantis. It was also bringing the fire priest who is later picked up by Victarion. It might be that the apparently benevolent intentions of those three toward Daenerys might actually cause her more trouble in the long run, as with Quentyn. Granted, the ship fell afoul of the slavers, so it’s not like the Perfumed Seneschal is actually going to arrive, but the “mummer’s dragon” changed his mind and went to Westeros instead of coming to Meereen as they had intended, so that prophecy is not exactly ironclad.

  18. Roger

    Excelent analysis! I’m reading your blog and being surprised and marveled by your insight.

    But one point: many Yunkai men came to the fight pit with weapons (crossbows). Apparently concealed weapons. Why bring weapons to a wedding? 1) You are scheming a treason (read: Red Wedding) 2) Or you’re suspecting a trap. Barristan thinks it’s the second option. The Masters were expecting to come into the city and then take it.

    This is a logical thinking, but it’s somewhat strange: the Masters would risk their own lives, fighting agains half Meereen, inside the pit, while trying to open the gates?

    So I think the second option is more probable.

  19. Roger

    While I liked the Meereen chapters, there is a point of Martin’s narrative I strongly dislike there. There isn’t ANY simpathetic ghiskari. While Martin took great efforts to make theDothrakis virile and likable (despite being raiders, rapers and slave-makers), the Masters are presented as monsters. And even his culture is grotesque to our eyes. From his favourite colours (pink heroes?), to his national flag (a harpy), to his hairdress.

    Martin always draws a line between the Masters (who are undeniabily Ghiscari) and the modest people of Meereen. These ones are always called freemen or ex-slaves, and while the rulers are of “pure” blood, the freemen are a mixture of races. The impression is all ghiscari are born psychos.

    In fact, if we delete the slavery of the ecuation, the Ghiscaris have no reason to trust Daenerys. Let’s see her moves so on:
    1- First, she turned against the Masters of Astapor, during a trade negotiation, while being their guest (moreless). She lied and cheated.
    2- Then she unleashed the Unsullied against Astapor, ordering them to kill EVERYBODY AGED ABOVE 14. Were they really so bad? Even 14 years old boys? Daenerys had seen only the worst of the flock (the Unsullied’s traders), but she hadn’t spend even a single day in the city.
    3- Then he marched to Yunkai. Despite Yunkai men had never offended her. She bribed their mercenaries, attacked during a truce. Then he took the entire working force of Yunkai, leaving the city effectively ruined.
    4- Then she besieged Meereen. And let the revolted slaves and her freemen sack the city. After that, the desert: she crucified the Masters. Not even asked which were responsable of killing the slave childs.
    5- When Cleon the Butcher, apparently her thrall, attacked Yunkai, she did nothing to stop him.
    6- Even when she compromised herself with Hizhdar, she cheated him with Daario. It was public knowledge that noble Hizhdar was a cheated husband even before he married. And the adulterer was nothing less than Daario. A men who treasoned Yunkai and clearly wanted war. Clearly she didn’t believe in their marriage.

    Probably many Yunkai noblemen had family in Astapor and Meereen who died in these sieges. Fortunately, some of the Masters were more reasonable (Yezzan and the old lion), but sadly they are now dead.

    Aegon the Conqueror burned two kings, but he truly accepted the survivors as his lieges. He accepted the Seven’ Faith and didn’t favor his Valyrian’s subjects over the Westerosis. But apparently Daenerys lacks this wisdom. A pity. She may win the battle of Meereen, but the peace is already lost. And winter is coming…

    • Mike Heywood

      Adding sympathetic Ghiscari would have cleared up some of the misconceptions about this plotline, but it wouldn’t have made sense from Daenerys or Barristan’s POVs, because they don’t see any of the Ghiscari as sympathetic. The solution, in my opinion, would be to include a Ghiscari POV character. That approach worked with the Lannisters, after all. But it would still be railed against, because there is a vocal minority in the fandom that hates any plotline introduced after Book 3.

  20. Blanche

    Good essay, I really liked part I and II, but I’m having a hard time with Dany’s actions here.

    I hear what you’re saying about Dany’s sacrifices and hard choices, but the events at Meereen ar no less proof of her incompetence as a ruler, and those hard decisions are in my opinion the very least she could have done in comparison to the chaos she has caused.

    Yes, Astapor and Hazzea are a reminder that trying to save people without thinking it through you’re only gonna make things worse, but as she herself reflects later, Eroeh should already have taught her that.

    She should have thought of the consequences B E F O R E unleashing her soldiers and dragons on entire cities! She didn’t pause a single second before turning upside down the entire economy of several major cities, some would say of the entire continent. She should have considered Astapor and Yunkai’s fates BEFORE trying to change their very cultures. The bloody ruin of Astapor was very predictible, and when Volantis declares war it’s like Dany discovers this city exists, when she should have thought of the volantene’s reaction regarding her actions way before.

    It’s like she took action without imagining what they could cause, and it seems only fair she has to make compromises afterwards. Not letting the sick people of Astapor through her doors is one of the very rare situations where Dany thinks something through rather than just helping the poor innocent people, ant that’s in my opinion what she should have done from the start. If you think about it, are those compromises so hard on her? She chains her dragons because she cannot control them – she’s protecting herself as much as everyone else; she marries Hizdhar, sure, but she’s having an affair with Daario all the same. I think the compromises are in fact just learning to think about stuff instead of just doing stuff an regret later.

    I don’t think Dany is foolish or naive, but I do think she made a bloody mess of things – until she looked to the Green Grace and Hizdhar for peace.
    Dany’s problem is that her vision is very one sided : slave-trade is evil, I am a dragon, I am a saviour = she won’t reopen the fighting pits for 3/4 of the books because she disapproves of the sport in a westerosi vision and doesn’t consider the culture of the country and city she’s dealing with; she walks among the wounded and dying of the bloody flux because she is the blood of the dragon and risks her VERY important life on a random assumption from Viserys, who was half-mad and not very objective as to the Targaryen superiority; she considers herself a saviour from the so despicable slavers and crucifies a whole lot of them without even asking who really killed the children she’s avenging.

    That’s why people think this arc ruined her character in my opinion, because she just doesn’t think enough. About her building of peace though, she did well, I also believe her peace was real and that’s mostly why I don’t dislike Dany or why I won’t say she’s completely stupid. As a ruler though she seemed very ill fitted.

    sorry, it’s kinda long! I really love your essays anyway, and I can’t wait to read more!

  21. This is just incredible. Wow. This post is probably the best commentary I’ve seen on the books online yet. I think you’ve found the essence of Dany’s story. She is wrestling with herself. She’s learning to sacrifice herself for the greater good and do battle with her own negative impulses. But I would add that if you follow that to the logical conclusion it means that the best thing Dany can do for the greater good (and for the greater conflict being told in these books) is to ultimately not matter.

    I think Martin is telling a parable about the supremacy of nature and how the ideas and ideals of men, which grow weed-like over generations, will eventually wither and die in the face of a greater truth. As the yin of Winter approaches and Fire rises up yang-like to balance it out, magic creeps back in and things move toward a point of extremity. All of the story’s major players are being led to a point of selflessness, in service of the larger conflict. But this doesn’t come easily. Jon and Arya attempt to assimilate themselves into selfless orders but they can’t shake their own wants – desires rooted in their nobility, the dignity and pride of their upbringing as the children of a lord and of a proud, honorable family. The heart wants what the heart wants, whether that be revenge or the protection of family.

    I love what you wrote: “Martin is not interested in merely showing characters “leveling up,” like a video game, progressing from incompetent naif to awesome badass. His main interest is in exploring his characters’ values.” I also think his characters are learning that values are a hinderance.

    Ned Stark was an honorable man, but his honor is based in an idealism that has been stapled on top of the harsher realities of man’s animal nature. That kind of idealism fails ever time in this story. Men who fight honorably die. Idealism is rooted in personal opinion, which is rooted in ego, a curtain that has been hung over the window of nature. As most of the readers figured out pretty quickly, this isn’t the story of a throne. This isn’t a story about the Starks or the Lannisters. It’s so much bigger than that. This is a story of elemental forces, of nature self-correcting and returning to a state of balance. This is a song of hot and cold and the characters in the story serve that conflict. Their stories can not matter beyond that. It seems like Dany will have a lot to do in service of Fire, but first her ego must die.

    When Varys professes service to the realm, not any one ideology, a part of us cheers because we love to flirt with notions of communal selflessness. But as you’ve pointed out, Martin is telling the story of the heart at conflict with itself and all of his readers will know from personal experience that religious notions of personal surrender to the great sea of oneness are easier said than done. The idea that Dany’s personal, ego-driven destiny is of some importance is a red herring, dropped in there to trick the part of the readers’ minds that was raised on stories of a personal Jesus and custom-tailored God-penned scripts for each of our lives. Martin is wrestling with residual ideas of his own Catholicism.

    I disagree that Dany’s peace could have worked. I think Martin is making the point that her peace, and her rule in general, are doomed to fail because they are rooted in her own ego. When Dany acts for “her people” she’s still following a personal idea of what is right, trying to impose her own standards on others, trying to control others based on her own judgement. What she must finally give up is her desire to rule others altogether, and that is a fundamental impulse so deep for her she doesn’t even know to question it. The world doesn’t owe Dany anything, that’s a poisonous idea implanted in her psyche from birth and nursed by her psychotic brother. Dany’s idealism is based on a rotted foundation of egotism and bad ideas. She tried to push a fast-forward button on the evolution of that region. This never works, as the past few centuries of our own history can attest. You can’t force ideals on a group of people when those ideals grew organically elsewhere. It’s a grass that won’t take. This is something Martin knows deeply and illustrates beautifully in this part of the story (for instance, the former slaves whose standard of living has now decreased). Barbaric as it is, this region is an ecosystem of sorts. Tampering with it just brings further chaos.

    We root for Dany because her idealism mirrors our own, but on another level she is just another dictator, acting out the cliche that regions of strife need a Strongman to enforce stability. She believes she’s after a principled rule but what is she if not a usurper and an interloper. Her army of liberators was amassed with a combination of treachery and brute force. As a foreigner what gives her the right to go asserting her own values over these lands just because she has the nuclear option (dragons) in her back pocket and wants to work out the psychological traumas of her youth by waging a war on slavery as an institution. Dany wouldn’t be the first dictator to start out as a freedom fighter. Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro were both idealists before they were just bullies. I agree with you that Dany is fighting this out internally, but I disagree that there is any scenario in which she resolves it and then becomes a good leader of a place where she doesn’t belong.

    Having said that, I still can’t wait to see where Dany’s story is going because I think the dead ends themselves have a lot we can learn from. Dany has no spiritual ties to Slaver’s Bay and I think her notion of using it as a training ground for leadership, which she can then apply on a conquered Westeros, has fallen apart. But I predict we will come to see that her dream of ruling Westeros is similarly empty for many of the same reasons. I think the wisdom of this story is in supplanting the egotism of people like Stannis and Dany who cling to a claim to power based on arbitrary succession rights. Hopefully she’ll be one of many who have a hand in restoring balance to the world as the forces of Ice and Fire battle it out in the coming story. Equilibrium will be the only satisfying ending for me.

    • neverstatic

      “When Varys professes service to the realm, not any one ideology, a part of us cheers because we love to flirt with notions of communal selflessness.”

      Check this out, though. GRRM loves to smash such idealistic hopes and Varys’ “doing it for the realm” may not be the case.

      TLDR (TLDW?); Varys’ plot with Illyrio is probably less about doing what’s best for the people of the realm, and more about putting Aegon (a matrilineal descendant of Targaryan pretenders the Blackfyres, who is probably Illyrio’s son and/or Varys’ nephew ) on the throne.

  22. Every time I re-read this extraordinary series of essays I find myself in even greater awe – there’s a lot of great fandom analysis of asoiaf but this blog is at least tied for top honors – I desperately hope you’ll write more – maybe on some of the preview chapters, the Riverlands, or the North. I would gladly trade the entire television series for just these 4 essays on Meereen. The degree to which the show writers failed to get the point is scandalous.

    quote of the week:

    “So Dany quickly learned that violently overturning the status quo, without staying behind to build a new status quo, left only new horrors behind in Astapor.”

    Just replace “Dany” with “The GOP” and “Astapor” with “The Middle East” … oh, and replace “quickly” with “never”.

  23. Pingback: Two queens: Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister | nicolasbiekert

  24. genghiskhan

    Superb Post! Thank you for this. The effort that has gone into compiling this must have been insane!

    I am inclined to agree with most of your conclusions. The problem with Meereen, perhaps, is that first impressions matter. And the first impression of Meereen wasn’t inspiring [Maybe due to the fact that Daenerys is nowhere near ready to reach Westeros, something everyone has been hoping for ever since the dragons hatched]. The first time you read a book, you are more likely to try and get the story, rather than look for nuance. And if the story doesn’t appear compelling, maybe it is less likely that you are going to look for nuance in subsequent reads.

    Personally, I’ve found subsequent reads of the Meereen sections far more enjoyable.

    There is such a thing as being too subtle. Perhaps more of the author’s intentions should have come across on the page ? I maybe jumping the shark here; maybe it is better to examine the whole Meereen section after the Winds of Winter is out by which time I hope every little mystery gets resolved.

    I’d love it if you have an analysis of Tyrion’s journey as well.

  25. Why is it that everyone is more concerned with Daenerys’ penchant for violence and no one else?

    “So Dany quickly learned that violently overturning the status quo, without staying behind to build a new status quo, left only new horrors behind in Astapor.”

    Of course she had to learn this lesson. She has to learn to be a leader. Everyone does. And I’m including the other characters as well. One of the problems I have with fandom is that many tend to expect their protagonists to make no or very little mistakes in a story. Why? I have no idea. Is this some desire to find a leader or “worthy protagonist” who is ideal and with whom one can indulge in some kind of illusion? Is that why many of Tyrion’s mistakes before he left Westeros are overlooked by the fans, who instead, nearly put him on a pedestal because of his “cleverness”?

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