Tag Archives: Untangling the Meereenese Knot

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.

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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.

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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.

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Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part II: The Peace Was Real

Many readers so dislike Meereen because Dany’s efforts there seem clearly frustrating, doomed, and pointless, ending in failure. And this reaction is perfectly understandable, because that’s what practically every Westerosi character in the book ends up thinking, including Dany! They all conclude that the peace effort was pointless, Dany was naive and got taken advantage of, and that things always had to end in war, so why did we waste so many chapters leading up to the inevitable?

But a closer look at the Meereenese events gives me quite a different impression. To actually understand what unfolded there, we need to take a closer look at the specifics of Dany’s enemies, their interests, and their actions — rather than viewing them as an undifferentiated mass of evil men with weird names. We also need to correct for the bias of the unreliable narrator by looking closely at the harder facts in the text.

My take is that Dany’s overall course of action in Meereen was moral, correct, admirable, and effective — that the peace she created was real, albeit fragile, like most peaces are. That, up to the moment Drogon returned to the fighting pits, her rule in Meereen was headed toward success, and that neither of her two main enemies, the Harpy and the Yunkai’i, planned to break the peace.

Many readers who think the peace was doomed point to the poisoned locusts as the main “proof” of this. Hey, her enemies were plotting to kill her all along! But if the locusts are the work of the Shavepate, as I argued in Part I, then this implies just the opposite — the attempt was made because Dany’s peace was so successful, not because it was foolish and doomed.

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Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part I: Who Poisoned the Locusts?

Meereen. The mere word probably makes you groan. It’s considered to be the weakest, most frustrating plotline in ADWD, and perhaps in in the whole series. It’s thought to be where GRRM lost the plot and spent endless chapters on pointless filler. The solutions seem so obvious, the villains seem obviously evil one-dimensional caricatures. And many fans see it as the plotline that ruined Dany’s character, revealing her to be a naive, incompetent, lovesick girl.

I used to agree with all of those criticisms — but I’ve come to believe that they’re all actually quite wrong. In these essays I’ll debunk them. After a reread (or several), and much productive discussion on various forums, I now firmly believe that ADWD is the smartest, most complex, and most thought-provoking book in the series. It is very carefully constructed, yet quite subtle and therefore rewarding of rereads, close analysis, and an effort to engage. In particular, the Meereen plotline is quite ingeniously constructed by Martin to mislead fans in certain ways. Often, the truth there is the opposite of what it appears on the surface.

I’ll be delving deep into Dany’s decisions, her character development, Meereenese politics, the overall themes Martin intends with the Meereen plotline, and how it’s all setting up the future of the series. But I’ll start near the end of the book, with one neat little case study that doesn’t involve Dany at all, but shows there’s more than meets the eye in Meereen:

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