Monday, December 30, 2013

When Women Play the Game: Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys and Dragons by ElinJ
As closest to the epitome of a Machiavellian ruler in A Song of Ice and Fire series, Daenerys Targaryen exhibits the most outright power as a woman, legitimately claiming the throne, unlike Cersei, who wants the throne and rules the throne but through her son as queen regent.  Men fear Daenerys and her dragons.  She is a goddess, a mother, and a queen.  She has both earned and demanded these titles.

Her similarities to Cleopatra VII are astounding.  Cleopatra VII Philopater, too, offered herself in the image of Egyptian goddess Isis.  Her natural language was Greek, but she spoke Egyptian as well.  She cast aside her brother to reign solo in Egypt, rather than with or subordinate to her brother.  Known for her great beauty, she was sought after my many men after her marriage to her brother, most notably Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.  Like Cleopatra, the beautiful Dany was sought after for the power, though one for the lust.  All respect her and fear her.  Her intent was to gain a fleet of ships to Westeros and reclaim her throne in the name of her forefathers.  Cleopatra also armed herself with a powerful fleet to first aid Caesar and later Antony.  The Targaryens were known to marry their siblings and keep the bloodline pure, just as the Ptolemys were, ruling for three hundred years.   Like Cleopatra, Dany fled as a child to Essos after her father’s death.  Both are politically driven, willing to whatever it takes to keep to reclaim the throne, even going as far as killing siblings.

As much as the Mother of Dragons is like the Queen of Egypt, she represents, to a certain extent, white imperialism.  She’s France, England, Rome, Sparta, and United States.  The barbaric cultures outside of Dany’s own understanding are clearly wrong, and those she encounters along the way to Westeros are of darker skin.  While she, the white leader, liberates these dark-skinned slaves that cannot save themselves, she slays their masters.  She is then deified as a sort of mother goddess by the former slaves and simply regarded as their new master by the Unsullied.  What else are these people left to do but follow Dany?  They likely knew nothing else their entire lives.  They may not know how to govern a city.  They may fall back into slavery by another city without Daenerys.  It likens to the emancipation of American slaves; some, though free, decided to stay with their masters because they did not know any other life.  Some left to the North, but found they could not cope with the change nor be far from their masters, whom they grew to love as the only family they had.  It caused them to return to the South to serve. 

BUT, despite her tendency to be a white imperialist, she was born with only stories of her ancestors in Westeros.  She had no home, no culture, no money, despite being of royal descent.  Her experiences growing up with an abusive and controlling brother and later with the Dothraki led her to compare what is wrong or right with her own beliefs, not her cultures.  In A Storm of Swords (Chapter 23), Daenerys even likens herself to the slaves, having been sold off by her brother Viserys:

“Do you know what it is like to be sold, squire? I do. My brother sold me to Khal Drogo for the promise of a golden crown. Well, Drogo crowned him in gold, though not as he had wished, and I…my sun-and-stars made a queen of me, but if he had been a different man, it might have been much otherwise. Do you think I have forgotten how it felt to be afraid?” 

She does have an adequate tactic: make her presence known, allow the dragons to grow, take control of another continent to be queen of two continents, make an army before she takes control of the Iron Throne, and take a high-born husband for alliances and additions to the army and finances.  She is on her way to become the most powerful of all the individuals vying for the throne, and her white imperialism is being countered with her own allowance of the gladiator games but for those who willingly agree to enter.

Daenerys by Phil Noto
Daenerys may believe in peace, but in order to gain peace, a lot of killing must be done.  She doesn’t think about that she might be an actual good leader of Westeros, a land she knows next to nothing about; she only thinks about the throne being owed to her.  It seems that on the surface she wants to free these people out of the goodness of her heart and that they deserve the freedom to choose, but her reasons for doing so end up being about additions to her army and more bodies under her rule.  She is unlike the other women in the book.  Her motives are entirely different from others’, and completely unlike Catelyn Stark, Daenerys does not think of consequences.  Barristan Selmy tells Quentyn Martell why she rejects her proposal, declaring that she is yet a child and immature:  “She wants fire, and Dorne sent her mud. You could make a poultice out of mud to cool a fever. You could plant seeds in mud and grow a crop to feed your children. Mud would nourish you, where fire would only consume you, but fools and children and young girls would choose fire every time”  (A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 59).  Her hostile takeover of Meereen has led to a highly dangerous and divisive time for both her and her people all because she had not expected anyone to put up enough obstacles that she could not simply burn through with dragons or an army of Unsullied soldiers. 

As one of the most changed, aside from Sansa, Daenerys is very much a dynamic character, having started the novels as a timid, shy, fearful girl.  Now, she is fearless, headstrong, hardened, and just.  Tyrion summed up Daenerys best, which is why so many love her:

I know that she spent her childhood in exile, impoverished, living on dreams and schemes, running from one city to the next, always fearful, never safe, friendless but for a brother who was by all accounts half-mad...a brother who sold her maidenhood to the Dothraki for the promise of an army. I know that somewhere upon the grass, her dragons hatched, and so did she. I know she is proud. How not? What else was left her but pride? I know she is strong. How not? The Dothraki despise weakness. If Daenerys had been weak, she would have perished with Viserys. I know she is fierce. Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen are proof enough of that. She has survived assassins and conspiracies and fell sorceries, grieved for a brother and a husband and a son, trod the cities of the slavers to dust beneath her dainty sandalled feet. (A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 22)

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