August 25, 2011

Daenerys IX

Daenerys Targaryen
Daenerys prepares for the day in the fighting pits. Missandei pleads her not to go since people go there to see blood, but Dany thinks she has no choice. Irri and Jiqui on the other hand anticipate the event eagerly and discuss the fighters' chances. Barristan Selmy wants her to take Unsullied as guards instead of Brazen Beasts, but Daenerys replies that if the publicly doesn't trust them, the Meereenese wouldn't too. Barristan then tells her that the sellsword Meris was freed at her command, claiming that the Tattered Prince had wanted to go over all along, a plan spoiled by the Dornishmen. As a reward, he wants pentos. Dany declines that, neither trusting Meris or the Tattered Prince nor wanting to repay Illyrio's help with delivering Pentos to a sellword.

On the way to the pits, she is musing about the blood involved and the cruelty of it. When a litter bearer stumbles and falls, she commands that he is helped and fed. Hizdahr tells her that when he was a slave, he would have been beaten instead, and she tells herself to be happy about small victories. The car in which she and Hizdahr ride to the pits is full of sweets and other luxuries, and Belwas is happily eating some honeyed locusts, and Hizdahr tells her she needs to taste them herself. Dany declines, however, sickened enough by the prospect of the coming blood.

When they reach their seats, Hizdahr calls on the people to give a roar for Dany, and thousands shout out "mother" to her. She knows that they love the pits, however, and not her. She decreed that no children would die, another small victory, but there will be mock fights, follies and beast fights. At least the dead beasts will make stew for the poor. Then the fighting begins. Several cherished gladiators defeat their opponenets, an elephant kills several wolfes, then a mock battle of knights vs. Dothraki takes place. After the first folly comes, two dwarves jousting. One of them rides a sow, the other a dog. Their arms show Baratheon and Lannister to please Dany. When she learns that soon lions will be released to kill the unexpecting dwarves, she forbids it, and the mass shouts in disapproval.

The next fight is Barsena against a wild boar. She only has a knife and intends to dodge and slice the boar multiple times, but the beast is more clever than that, gets the better of her and kills her. That is more than Dany can stomach, and she decides to leave. Hizdahr tries to persuade her to stay, when suddenly a big shadow falls over the pit. Drogon flies in, roasting the boar and feasting on it and the dead Barsena alike. A bold spearman attacks the dragon, throwing his spear into him, and is roasted for it. Hizdahr commands other spearmen to attack, while Dany tries to prevent it. The attack on Drogon fails, and Dany shakes off Barristan who tries to hold her back and jumps into the pit, running to Drogon. The dragon attacks her too, but she manages to dodge the attack, picking of a leash and trying to cow the beast. She knows that if she hesitates one second, the dragon will kill her. After two other attempts to kill her, the dragon finally lays down and lets Dany mount him. She feels dizzy, and when she reopens her eyes, Meereen lies way below them.

Finally the Dance with dragons has begun. Nearly 700 pages are done in which the title beasts didn't play a role worthy of mentioning. When Drogon suddenly and most unexpectedly descends into the fighting pits, the story changes for good and Dany's struggle with her failure of realpolitik is over. To drive the point home, most of the chapter shows us how badly lost she was. In the last chapter she had to accept the Yunkish, give them hostages and endure a slave market right under her walls. In this chapter, she has to put on her "floppy ears" again and go the fighting pits to a specactle she abhores and which she tried to outlaw for most of the book. More of it, the freed fighting slaves were the foundation of her success against Meereen in the end of "Storm of Swords". Now, they are visibly her failure.

Daenerys was caught in the demands of realpolitik like no other character ever was. Eddard Stark tried to evade them, dying for it. Davos served a king without a taste for it, and Tyrion and Cersei both enjoyed it. Daenerys, however, lost her way. She didn't know what she wanted anymore, and her journey to herself took much longer than it took Tyrion, who had a likewise problem. She tried to be a good ruler, but all she did was to make compromises she hated which soon proved to be not worth the ink in which they are written. Hizdahr soothes her with words about how they will build a new Meereen, but it is clearly visible that what he has in mind is getting the old one back. Even if it wasn't for the murder attempt that hit Strong Belwas instead of Dany, his actions clearly tell that he takes over the power in the city, most visibly in the Brazen Beasts. Dany mistakes the demonstrations for what they are; she thinks the Brazen Beasts are hers and that she needs to show confidence, while in truth they already belong to Hizdahr and are used by him.

When Drogon descends on the arena, however, everything is changed instantly. By instinct Dany jumps down in the pits, going directly at Drogon. She tells herself that like he is flesh made of fire, so is she, referring her Targaryen heritage and the attached destiny of the Iron Throne forcefully for the first time in the book. The dragons were lost to her before, but now she regains a small bit of control (although, as we know, not for long). When she flies out of Meereen, she leaves the ruler Dany behind her. She becomes something else, or rather continues to be something she would be already hadn't she stayed in Meereen. It would be wrong to cast away her time here as a total waste, however. She failed in nearly every respect, granted, but she will have learned valuable lessons from it.

As to sidenotes, the chapter offers some barely hidden insight in the hippocracy of the Meereenese about the fighting pits. One of Hizdahr's strongest arguments always was that the people fought voluntarily, and that dying in the arena was to be covered in glory. However, no one remembers Strong Belwas or gives a damn about his earlier exploits, and several participants - like Tyrion and Penny - obviously aren't there voluntarily. No one cheers the losers, but they quickly forget them and cheer the winner. And, of course, there are no nobles taking on this glory task which they claim to love so much.

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