Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part V: Hizdahr and Peace, or Daario and War?

In parts I-IV of this essay, I’ve laid out my main argument that Martin has designed Dany’s ADWD plotline quite deliberately to focus on her struggle within herself. She tries to be concerned for innocent life, and fears unleashing her violent impulses. Eventually, she sacrifices a great deal for peace, and achieves it. But she turns out to hate it, and in the end rejects it, in favor of “fire and blood.”

However, there’s another layer to this plotline that I’ve just barely touched on. In this concluding part, I’ll describe how Martin illustrates Dany’s struggle within herself symbolically, through her choice between Daario and Hizdahr. Now, in a straightforward sense, Dany’s peace initiative hinges on her marriage to Hizdahr, so of course he represents peace that way. But Martin has gone further — he has tailored the personal traits of Hizdahr and Daario so that they personify the path of peace through political compromise and the path of war.

Daario – The path of war

Many fans roll their eyes either roll their eyes at Daario, or sigh in exasperation. They find him a poorly-written character and are incredibly annoyed that Martin spends so much time on Dany’s attraction for him, which they see as an insipid distraction. One common interpretation is that Martin is simply reminding readers that Dany is just a young teenage girl, because of course those young girls have silly crushes on obviously unsuitable men for silly reasons, right?

Daario is certainly over-the-top, but Dany’s attraction to him is far from silly, thematically — it’s central to her ADWD arc. Daario personifies the path of war, violence and taking what one wants through force — exactly those darker impulses of Dany herself that she fears so much, and is struggling to subdue.

Since the moment he threw the heads of his two Stormcrow co-captains at Dany’s feet while pledging his undying service and love, Daario has represented both ruthless violence and eroticism to Dany. But when one looks at his character traits, as displayed in ADWD, they quite closely match the description of “war” that I laid out in Part IV:

1.) Daario is charismatic and seductive:

“Where should I escape to?”

“Into my bed. Into my arms. Into my heart.” The hilts of Daario’s arakh and stiletto were wrought in the shape of golden women, naked and wanton. He brushed his thumbs across them in a way that was remarkably obscene and smiled a wicked smile. (DANY IV)

2.) Daario disdains the peacemaking effort, and wants Dany to solve all her problems through simple violence:

“Attack,” he said at once. “A man surrounded by foes cannot defend himself. Try, and the axe will take you in the back whilst you are parrying the sword. No. When faced with many enemies, choose the weakest, kill him, ride over him, and escape… Kill them all and take their treasures, I say. Whisper the command, and your Daario will make you a pile of their heads taller than this pyramid.”

“If I knew who they were—” “Zhak and Pahl and Merreq. Them, and all the rest. The Great Masters. Who else would it be?” He is as bold as he is bloody. “We have no proof this is their work. Would you have me slaughter my own subjects?” “Your own subjects would gladly slaughter you.” (DANY IV)

3.) Daario is incompatible with peaceful and responsible rule:

Sending him to the Lamb Men had been wise. She was a queen, and Daario Naharis was not the stuff of kings. (DANY II)

He had been so long away, Dany had almost forgotten what he was. Sellswords were treacherous by nature, she reminded herself. Fickle, faithless, brutal. He will never be more than he is. He will never be the stuff of kings.  (DANY IV)

4.) Daario has no conscience and is completely immoral:

“Then 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. “Do you take me for the Butcher King?” (DANY IV)

He was never vexed by nightmares either. When Dany told him how Serwyn of the Mirror Shield was haunted by the ghosts of all the knights he’d killed, Daario only laughed. “If the ones I killed come bother me, I will kill them all again.” He has a sellsword’s conscience, she realized then. That is to say, none at all. (DANY VII)

5.) All of the above traits frighten Dany, and part of her fears that Daario will “master” her:

“He would make a monster of me,” she whispered, “a butcher queen.” But then she thought of Drogon far away, and the dragons in the pit. There is blood on my hands too, and on my heart. We are not so different, Daario and I. We are both monsters. (DANY IV)

Henceforth, she must keep him out of her bed, out of her heart, and out of her. If he did not betray her, he would master her. She did not know which of those she feared the most. (DANY VIII)

6.) But another part of Dany is undeniably quite attracted to and tempted by Daario, despite — or perhaps because of — all those above traits:

He made her want to be his wanton. I should never see him alone. He is too dangerous to have near me. (DANY IV)

“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. (DANY VI)

Hizdahr, and how peace fails to satisfy Dany

In contrast to Daario, Martin tailors the traits of Hizdahr zo Loraq to represent the path of peace through political compromise. Dany’s feelings toward him are exactly how she ends up feeling toward the peace — like the peace, Hizdahr is unsatisfying, frustrating, not what Dany truly wants, and cannot make her happy — and instinctively, she wants war more.

On her terrace, in her bathing pool, the little fish would nibble at her legs as she soaked. Even they kissed with more fervor than Hizdahr zo Loraq. “I do not love you.”

Hizdahr shrugged. “That may come, in time. It has been known to happen that way.”

Not with us, she thought. Not whilst Daario is so close. It’s him I want, not you. (DANY IV)

Dany pledges to marry Hizdahr if he can give her 90 days of peace, and he holds up his end of the deal. But by Dany’s sixth chapter, as I mentioned in Part III, she is already feeling immensely frustrated by the compromises she is making. She is particularly angry about Brown Ben Plumm’s betrayal, and her subsequent wrenching decision to let the Astapori starve outside her gates. Upset because of these painful compromises she’s making for the Meereenese people, she chooses to begin an affair with Daario — flirting with the easier, simpler path of war:

“Your clothes are stained with blood,” she told Daario. “Take them off.”

“Only if you do the same.” He kissed her.

His hair smelled of blood and smoke and horse, and his mouth was hard and hot on hers. Dany trembled in his arms.

“Promise me that you will never turn against me. I could not bear that. Promise me.”

“Never, my love.”

She believed him. “I swore that I should wed Hizdahr zo Loraq if he gave me ninety days of peace, but now … I wanted you from the first time that I saw you, but you were a sellsword, fickle, treacherous.” (DANY VI)

As their affair begins, it quickly becomes apparent that Daario can sexually satisfy Dany — contrasted with Hizdahr, who can’t. Dany’s sexual satisfaction is a metaphor — the reality of peace can’t truly satisfy Dany, only war can:

“Your Grace? Are you unwell? In the black of night this one heard you scream.” Dany took a fig. It was black and plump, still moist with dew. Will Hizdahr ever make me scream? …She took a bite, but the fruit had lost its savor now that Daario was gone. (DANY VII)

Hizdahr will bring me peace. He must…. Beneath her coverlets she tossed and turned, dreaming that Hizdahr was kissing her … but his lips were blue and bruised, and when he thrust himself inside her, his manhood was cold as ice. (DANY VII)

As she heads to her marriage, she fantasizes about Daario appearing to carry her away from it — again, taking what he wants by force.

If he loved you, he would come and carry you off at swordpoint, as Rhaegar carried off his northern girl, the girl in her insisted. (DANY VII)

(Amusingly, it is actually Drogon who later appears to quite literally carry Dany away from her marriage, Meereen, and peace.)

For now, Dany does her duty, marrying Hizdahr and sending Daario away as a hostage. If you think still think I’m overinterpreting things, look at the bolded passages below, where the symbolism of Daario representing the path of war, and Dany’s fear of her own darker impulses, is made explicit:

Daario had only grown wilder since her wedding. Her peace did not please him, her marriage pleased him less…He will be safer as a hostage. My captain was not made for peace. Dany could not risk his cutting down Brown Ben Plumm, making mock of Hizdahr before the court, provoking the Yunkai’i, or otherwise upsetting the agreement that she had given up so much to win. Daario was war and woe. Henceforth, she must keep him out of her bed, out of her heart, and out of her. If he did not betray her, he would master her. She did not know which of those she feared the most. (DANY VIII)

But it turns out to be Dany herself who’s not made for peace.

Does it matter that Hizdahr’s kisses do not please me? Peace will please me. Am I a queen or just a woman? (DANY VII)

…Dany slid her arms around him and let him have his way. Drunk as he was, she knew he would not be inside her long. Nor was he. Afterward he nuzzled at her ear and whispered, “Gods grant that we have made a son tonight.”…

… “This one heard you crying.” “Crying? I was not crying. Why would I cry? I have my peace, I have my king, I have everything a queen might wish for. You had a bad dream, that was all.” (DANY VIII)

Dany has also been telling herself that she has to play the role of a queen — that Daario is not “the stuff of kings,” that a true queen would put her people first, that she would become the responsible ruler. Now, she has seemingly come to a realization about herself:

She wondered what Daario was doing. Was he restless as well? Was he thinking about her? Did he love her, truly? Did he hate her for marrying Hizdahr? I should never have taken him into my bed. He was only a sellsword, no fit consort for a queen, and yet… I knew that all along, but I did it anyway. (DANY VIII)

The Dothraki Sea, again

As outlined in Part IV, in her final chapter, Dany chooses “fire and blood” over Meereen, peace, and Hazzea. But the symbolic conflict between Hizdahr/peace and Daario/war is also resolved. At first, Dany still tries to go back to Meereen and her husband, for the good of her people:

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. Drogon had bent before the whip, and so must she. She had to don her crown again and return to her ebon bench and the arms of her noble husband. Hizdahr, of the tepid kisses. (DANY X)

But Dany then has her “dragons plant no trees” and “fire and blood” visions, as outlined in Part IV. Afterward, the chapter’s metaphorical final scene involves literal “fire and blood”:

The carcass was too heavy for him to bear back to his lair, so Drogon consumed his kill there, tearing at the charred flesh as the grasses burned around them, the air thick with drifting smoke and the smell of burnt horsehair. Dany, starved, slid off his back and ate with him, ripping chunks of smoking meat from the dead horse with bare, burned hands. (DANY X)

And amidst the bloody, burning carcass, for her final thoughts in the book, Dany returns to the contrast between Daario and Hizdahr. Though Daario is not “the stuff of kings,” here is her ultimate rejection of the role of “a queen in silk,” and her choice of Daario:

In Meereen I was a queen in silk, nibbling on stuffed dates and honeyed lamb, she remembered. What would my noble husband think if he could see me now? Hizdahr would be horrified, no doubt. But Daario …

Daario would laugh, carve off a hunk of horsemeat with his arakh, and squat down to eat beside her.

As the western sky turned the color of a blood bruise, she heard the sound of approaching horses. Dany rose, wiped her hands on her ragged undertunic, and went to stand beside her dragon.

That was how Khal Jhaqo found her, when half a hundred mounted warriors emerged from the drifting smoke. (DANY X)

Dany now has decided who and what she is. Her internal struggle has been resolved.

Thanks for reading these essays! My next series is on Jon Snow in ADWD.


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59 responses to “Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part V: Hizdahr and Peace, or Daario and War?

  1. Tabitha

    I really love your expansions and while I don’t agree with a few minor points, really, on the whole, your conclusions are quite illuminating. I did finish the books in a week, so I am only aware of major events that happened 😦 will reread and let you know what I think soon.

  2. .:,

    What I do not get is why Dany, who is attracted to war, cannot eschew fighting pits in which free consenting adults engage in combat. If anything, they are less destructive than typical warfare. It isn’t more barbaric than Dothraki lifestyle either.

  3. Pingback: Daughter of Death: A Song of Ice and Fire’s Shakespearean Tragic Hero – THE MANY-FACED BLOG

  4. Jennifer

    While I think overall you make a good argument for what GRRM was trying to do, I think there’s one issue you (and quite possibly he) are missing: Dany WAS failing.

    What was Dany’s actual mission in Meereen? She doesn’t have a prophetic one, perhaps, but she must have had something in mind other than “peace” because Meereen had peace until she showed up.

    Since she was styling herself as “Breaker of Chains,” let’s say that her actual goal was to end slavery. And peace afterward.

    The Yunkai went back to selling slaves ON HER DOORSTEP due to the peace her husband negotiated. She failed.

    Additionally, there was the incident with Penny and Tyrion in the actual city, within less than a year of her brokering the peace. They may not have been called slaves, but they were treated like them when they were set up to fight a lion with prop swords.

    The Harpy were essentially using “salami” tactics to defeat her by pushing her just enough to make her angry but not so much that she was willing to break the peace by killing the hostages. She made a line, they put a toe over the line, she didn’t cut it off, they put another toe over the line, she didn’t cut it off, and you can see where this is going.

    You could pick another goal for her if you like, so long as it is something she actually wanted beyond the peace that previously existed.

    You talked a lot about compromise, but in a compromise, you get SOME of the stuff that you want. Dany got … nothing, actually, that I can think of. Just a sop to her conscience.

    So I would argue that the chapters don’t just feel frustrating and pointless because of the internal conflict. They feel frustrating and pointless and miserable because Dany is sacrificing a lot and often for … nothing that she actually wants. She was inexperienced and struck a poor deal (two poor deals really). She didn’t stick to her guns (or rather her dragons) when she should have.

  5. Summer

    > “Oh, gods,” moaned Reznak, “he’s eating her!” The seneschal covered his mouth. Strong Belwas was retching noisily. A queer look passed across Hizdahr zo Loraq’s long, pale face—part fear, part lust, part rapture. He licked his lips.

    Hizdahr doesn’t represent any true peace.

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