July 24, 2011

Daenerys V

Daenerys Targaryen (Artwork by Amoka)
Daenerys is counting the ships sailing up and down the river, confusing the number and concluding that it doesn’t matter since the enemy has brought Meereen down anyway. Groleo, her admiral, comes forward and complains about the situation, urging her to unleash the dragons on the enemy ships. Dany has nothing of it, telling him to build new ships which Groleo declines. When he leaves, Ser Barristan reports that the food situation is good since Meereen is planting crops and the Lhazaareen are sending food too. When Dany asks about the training of knights, Barristan proudly reports that at least five of them, maybe a dozen, may have it in them to receive the honor. 

Skahaz, the Shavepate, then comes and reports that Hizdahr zo Loraq has now visited the eleventh pyramid and that the killings have stopped for near thirty days now. He doesn’t trust him and suspects that he is in truth the Harpy, urging Dany to allow him to inter and torture him to find out the truth. Dany denies it, knowing full well the worth of a confession got under torture. Skahaz then produces a list of the captains of the ships besieging Meereen, telling her that everyone has kin in the city and that she should take them hostage and force the captains to relieve the city. Dany declines again, since this would mean civil war and disturb her shaky order. 

After the Shavepate, Grey Worm comes to report that a rider on a pale mare from Astapor came, sick of fever, and told them that Astapor was burning. He warns her that a plague, most likely the bloody flux, runs rampant in Astapor and is likely to come to Meereen with the fugitives. Dany commands that her troops are returned to the city, since the Yunkai’i will now march on the city. Eight days later, Brown Ben Plumm returns with the Second Sons. Dany hugs him, and h tells her he has three of them here, healthy, and they report to the queen in turn, telling her in detail about the fall of the city and how they made their escape. Their accounts also contain the plague, which is very dangerous. Plumm advices her to buy her way out of Meereen and to sack the city for good to make for Westeros. She denies him and commands that a camp for the Astapori fugitives is set up down the walls of the city. 

She sends the Second Sons out to scout the advance of the Yunkai’i and to fight them, and Ben suggests that she gives him gold to buy over enemy mercenaries. Barristan counsels her to take the field since her own troops are slightly better than the enemy’s, and Ben agrees. After he left, she tells Barristan, desperate, that her only hope is to take Hizdahr as her husband if she wants to get peace. 

Dany faces even more problems than before in this chapter. The enemy is now on the march and can’t be stopped, and he has superior numbers. Dany is almost in the situation of Ned Stark in “A Game of Thrones”, like him not realizing it. When Brown Ben Plumm suggests to sack Meereen and march off instead of seeking open battle, he is Petyr Baelish revisited, and when Dany turns him down and instead sends him out to fight the enemy, he just goes over with Janos Slynt to Cersei Lannister. When Plumm requests fresh horses and money to buy the enemy, he just sweetens his desertion up. Dany is too blind to see that, however, since she is in horny-mode all over again, impatient for the arrival of her gleaming-tooth sellsword. 

She generally tries to do what she thinks is “the right thing”, but in the end, it won’t matter. Thousands of people have sworn themselves to her defeat, and she alienates the few allies left to her left and right. Neither is she ready to either ally herself with the old elites nor to destroy them utterly. She totally overlooks that collaborators like Skahaz the Shavepate rely on the destruction of the old elites, but she constantly snubs him. On the other hand, the old elites keep being alienated since she won’t return to slavery and the fighting pits and wants to enforce her own version of “change”. 

Her greatest liabilities are twofold. The first are the dragons, uncontrolled und unused, chained up in the pit or roaming the hinterlands at will. She was feared for them, and they bested Astapor back in the days, but now she doesn’t have them and it can’t be long until everyone realizes it. Groleo continuously asking for their action is just the vanguard of these people. Second, her own judgment is clouded by her lust for Daario. Oftentimes, it seems like fucking him is more important to her than doing anything else, and where the sellsword is concerned, she loses all sense. 

The chapter in itself doesn’t really give much away. Most information we already had, especially about the fall of Astapor, which was described at length already in “The Windblown” and gets just a reminder here. All the other elements seem like repetitions as well. Generally, the Daenerys plot keeps to be the most unengaging in the book. This may come from the general disappointment of the development of Dany and Ser Barristan and the promise broken by Martin made at the end of “A Storm of Swords”: Barristan then promised Dany to talk about Rhaegar, and ever since then the reader expects some Targaryen lore to be had in the chapters of these two characters. Instead, they relive the plot of “A Game of Thrones” in an exotic ambience and never talk about it. It’s a disappointment in that respect, even in the reread.


  1. This will come up more in later chapters, but I don't at all think GRRM's theme for the arc is "Silly Dany tried to do the right thing, trusted the wrong people, and they betrayed her" -- I don't think Dany's plotline is at all like Ned's. Ned merely had to deal with scheming at court.

    Dany's challenge is that she wants to (1) bring peace to Meereen and avoid being a "butcher queen" (while facing an insurgency and defending against external threats), and (2) maintain her own power, achieve large-scale societal reform, and change the world. She reluctantly decides to prioritize the first set of goals over the second. But this isn't because she's a naive fool -- her decisions to share power with Hizdahr, reopen the fighting pits, and compromise with the Yunkai'i on slavery policy are in fact what is needed for peace.

    But when peace is achieved, Dany realizes that peace is not what she wanted after all (this becomes clear in Dany VIII and IX). This is also Daario's purpose in the story -- Hizdahr represents the imperfect realities of the political compromises necessary for peace, while Daario represents what Dany truly wants to do -- rule, conquer, get what she wants.

  2. I was a bit too polemic for my own good here. It's the specific storyline in this chapter that seems like a repetition of known patterns, not her story arc in general. I have well understood what that's about, just this peculiar chapter seems one of those that could have been streamlined in order to get a more fast paced story.

  3. This is the chapter where Dany "buys in" to the idea that she must marry Hizdahr. The idea was proposed in the previous chapter but, knowing Dany, it's hard to imagine her marrying him until she's really in a corner. The chapter shows the external threats escalating, the spectre of the Astapor disaster hanging over Meereen in Dany's mind, and Hizdahr's proven ability to stop the Harpy killings, leading to her declaration that she needs Hizdahr. It could've been handled in a few sentences in another chapter but I think it's more effective to show how her mounting despair and lack of options lead her to this decision.