Administrative note: I’ve decided to expand this analysis out to 5 parts. Originally, there were significant spoilers from The Winds of Winter in this post, but I’ve opted to cut them to parts 4 and 5.
“I cannot fight two enemies, one within and one without. If I am to hold Meereen, I must have the city behind me. The whole city.” (ADWD, Daenerys V)
With Astapor fallen, Yunkai’s armies would turn their gaze north to Meereen. But Yunkai’s armies would not be all that would arrive outside of Meereen’s walls. New factors and faces would make their appearance in and around Meereen. Alliances would be tested, cloaks would be turned, peace would be attempted and then discarded and finally battle lines would be drawn.
In part 1, I introduced the various factions for the upcoming Battle of Fire and started to go into detail on the myriad social, political, economic and military factors in Meereen, the rise of the Ironborn, Yunkai’s resurgence and Astapor’s decline and fall. In part 2, I’ll continue analyzing and summarizing relevant sections from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. I’ll go into some detail on the situation in Meereen, the Ironborn invasion of the Shield Islands and Daenerys’ attempts at establishing an internal peace in Meereen.
Originally, I had planned to have this be a 3-parter and then a 4-parter, but the writing for part 2 evolved into something far too long to contain in a single part. In lieu of that, I’ve opted to cut much of part 2 into part 3. The reason for doing so is that the complexity of Meereen’s political situation coupled with the other major characters and their plotlines on their way to Meereen pushed the writing to over 10K words. So, my hope is that this part helps narrow the focus a little.
Who is the Harpy?
“I do not doubt that Skahaz would soon have me confessing. A day with him, and I will be one of the Harpy’s Sons. Two days, and I will be the Harpy.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
I haven’t really touched on the “Harpy” in this analysis, because I haven’t found a good place to fit the discussion, but the start of the essay is as good a place as any. The “Harpy” was an alleged shadowy leader of the Sons of the Harpy, the insurgent group in Meereen, likely representing noble interests. Though Dany was dismissive of an over-arching commander of the insurgency, others in her council, especially Skahaz Mo Kandaq, were convinced that the Harpy existed even while Daenerys was skeptical.
Skahaz was convinced that somewhere in Meereen the Sons of the Harpy had a highborn overlord, a secret general commanding an army of shadows. Dany did not share his belief. The Brazen Beasts had taken dozens of the Harpy’s Sons, and those who had survived their capture had yielded names when questioned sharply … too many names, it seemed to her. It would have been pleasant to think that all the deaths were the work of a single enemy who might be caught and killed, but Dany suspected that the truth was otherwise. My enemies are legion. (ADWD, Daenerys V)
However, I believe that there indeed was a Harpy who served as the overall commander of the Sons of the Harpy. And I believe there are only 4 real possibilities on who that individual was:
- Hizdahr Zo Loraq – a member of House Loraq, Hizdahr seemed a moderate by all accounts but was this just a false front as he actively held command of the Sons of the Harpy? Skahaz seemed to believe so, and eventually he would lead others to this belief.
- Skahaz Mo Kandaq – Another noble, albeit one who had a more extremist position when it came to dealing with the Sons of the Harpy. Was he using his position as Dany’s sheriff/spymaster of laws to remove political enemies in Meereen and place himself into power? I doubt it, but I offer it as a possibility.
- Grazdan Galare – This member of House Galare was a very minor characters that was briefly mentioned in ADWD, Daenerys I where he attempted to get recompense for former weavers who had taken their craft and business away from him when they became freedmen. Later, Dany hears about certain weavers who were murdered in Meereen. I think it’s likely that these murdered weavers were the same weavers from ADWD, Daenerys I and were killed on Grazdan’s orders. Grazdan was the cousin to Galazza Galare, the Green Grace of Meereen, and seemed to hold a position of political and economic prominence among the Great Masters. I leave him up here as a possibility on account of a long-discussion that /u/feldman10 and I had on /r/asoiaf several days ago. The more I think on it, the more I’m unwilling to dismiss Grazdan as a possibility.
- Galazza Galare – The Green Grace herself has been mentioned by many fans as a suspect for the Harpy. The Green Grace was a smart and capable diplomat, and she seemed to speak with the same voice as the Harpy. She also had the ability to transcend any familial differences between the Great Masters on account of her status as the city’s high priestess. I’d still consider Galazza to be the prime suspect for the Harpy, but her actions later in the story don’t necessarily correspond to the actions of the high commander of the Sons of the Harpy.
As I said, I believe that there is a Harpy who is in charge of the overall insurgency in Meereen. However, this individual’s identity was not revealed in ADWD. We’ll have to wait for the publication of TWOW to find out if there is a Harpy and their identity.
Darkening Clouds: The Situation Outside of Meereen’s Walls
The Astapori had no place to go. Thousands remained outside Meereen’s thick walls— men and women and children, old men and little girls and newborn babes. Many were sick, most were starved, and all were doomed to die. Daenerys dare not open her gates to let them in. (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
Astapor’s fall ensured that Meereen would be the next target of Yunkai’s armies, but it also ensured that it would be more than enemy swords and sails that would make their appearances outside of the walls of Meereen. When the dust settled from Astapor’s sack, the surviving citizens of Astapor emerged from the husk of their once-great city. Without protection and especially food and water, the Astapori went in the only direction that they could: north to Meereen. And these refugees were encouraged to flee to Meereen by Yunkai.
“We’ve been commanded to hunt them down and turn them, drive them back to Astapor or north to Meereen. If the dragon queen wants to take them in, she’s welcome to them. Half of them have the bloody flux, and even the healthy ones are mouths to feed.” (ADWD, The Windblown)
But while the mouths that they would bring would endanger Meereen, the Pale Mare that rode with the refugees would bring the greatest danger to Meereen. The Pale Mare, also known as the Bloody Flux, was a a wasting disease that the Wiki of Ice and Fire describes as dysentery. The symptoms of the Pale Mare were unpleasant. Fever, intestinal hemorrhages, and diarrhea were among the most prominent, but the worst part about the flux was its ability to spread quickly. This awfulness was compounded when people (such as the Astapori refugees) lived in tight, squalid quarters.
When the Astapori arrived outside of Meereen, they were exhausted, starving and diseased. Daenerys felt great compassion for the huddled masses of Astapor who lived under Meereen’s walls. So, she distributed food and supplies to the refugees. Dany even tried to send medical care to those who were suffering from the Pale Mare, but this medical treatment would prove ineffective.
She had tried to do what she could for them. She had sent them healers, Blue Graces and spell-singers and barber-surgeons, but some of those had sickened as well, and none of their arts had slowed the galloping progression of the flux that had come on the pale mare. Separating the healthy from the sick had proved impractical as well. Her Stalwart Shields had tried, pulling husbands away from wives and children from their mothers, even as the Astapori wept and kicked and pelted them with stones. A few days later, the sick were dead and the healthy ones were sick. Dividing the one from the other had accomplished nothing. (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
Without a means to really treat the Astapori, Daenerys did the only sensible thing: bar the gates to the refugees. On the face of it, it’s a smart move — it sealed off the city from disease and hopefully contained it outside of the walls. But don’t doubt that it was a death sentence for most of the Astapori as well. And it hit Daenerys hard. She knew that she couldn’t save the Astapori, but she hoped against all reason that something, anything would save her children. And when the realization that nothing could save her children and that her own children began to resort to eating their dead, she despaired.
What kind of mother has no milk to feed her children? (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
But others started to arrive outside of Meereen’s walls. Yunkai’s advance party for their siege arrived in the form of a navy.Yunkai’s navy had two main objectives. The first was something of a shaping operation — namely to clear the waters of any of Daenerys’ ships prior to the arrival of the main force. Yunkai’s plan relied on surrounding the city from all sides. The plan involved two legions from New Ghis making an amphibious landing north of the city and the Skahazadhan. These soldiers would form the northern siege line.
However, Yunkai’s first order of business in clearing the waters in and around Meereen was to cut the city off from any trade or re-supply moving up through Slaver’s Bay or west through the Skahazadhan. The advance party brought some 25 ships with them of mixed Ghiscari, Qartheen and Yunkish origin with them to Slaver’s Bay. While in the bay, their numbers were augmented with the capture or defection (see below for more on this) of Meereense ships within Slaver’s Bay. Taking the bay was easy for the Yunkai’i, but cutting off the the flow of goods from the Skahazadhan would need a more daring approach. Whoever came up with the plan isn’t mentioned in ADWD, but we do know that the Qartheen were the ones to make the attempt.
“Last night three Qartheen galleys sailed up the Skahazadhan under the cover of darkness. The Mother’s Men loosed flights of fire arrows at their sails and flung pots of burning pitch onto their decks, but the galleys slipped by quickly and suffered no lasting harm. The Qartheen mean to close the river to us, as they have closed the bay. And they are no longer alone. Three galleys from New Ghis have joined them, and a carrack out of Tolos.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
Blockaded both at Slaver’s Bay and the Skahazadhan, with a massive army en-route, the situation looked all the grimmer for Daenerys. But it would not be Yunkai’s armies that first arrived outside of Meereen.
Dany’s Plan of Attack and then Defense
With the Yunkai’i approaching, Dany focused on the defense of the city of Meereen itself. Dany’s initial impulse was to march out and attack the Yunkai’i with her army of Unsullied and Freedmen.
“I defeated the Yunkai’i before. I will defeat them again. Where, though? How?”
“You mean to take the field?” The Shavepate’s voice was thick with disbelief. “That would be folly. Our walls are taller and thicker than the walls of Astapor, and our defenders are more valiant. The Yunkai’i will not take this city easily.”
Ser Barristan disagreed. “I do not think we should allow them to invest us. Theirs is a patchwork host at best. These slavers are no soldiers. If we take them unawares …” (ADWD, Daenerys V)
In Dany’s envisioning, her army would meet the Yunkai’i in battle before they were joined by more reinforcements from other sellsword companies and slave cities. But in a word, it was foolishness. If Dany marched out from Meereen with all her strength to meet Yunkai in battle outside of Meereen’s walls, it would have 2 bad consequences. The first was that marching outside of the gates would expose much of her army to the plague that infested the Astapori refugees. She would lose countless men before a single sword parry. The second and more important consequence of attempting this course was the city of Meereen itself. If Dany marched, Meereen would likely close its gates behind her and her army and overthrow any semblance of government she left behind in the city. Both of those points say nothing of whether Dany would be successful in the field, outnumbered and without her dragons.
Fortunately for Dany, she abandoned this plan almost as soon as she made it. And strangely enough, she was convinced to abandon it by a counselor who advocated marching against Yunkai, Barristan Selmy.
“I know.” The queen sighed. “What do you counsel, ser?”
“Battle,” said Ser Barristan. “Meereen is overcrowded and full of hungry mouths, and you have too many enemies within. We cannot long withstand a siege, I fear. Let me meet the foe as he comes north, on ground of my own choosing.”
“Meet the foe,” she echoed, “with the freedmen you’ve called half-trained and unblooded.”
“We were all unblooded once, Your Grace. The Unsullied will help stiffen them. If I had five hundred knights …”
“Or five. And if I give you the Unsullied, I will have no one but the Brazen Beasts to hold Meereen.” (ADWD, Daenerys V)
So, Daenerys decided to follow the counsel of Skahaz Mo Kandaq. She would use the high walls of Meereen as a force multiplier while sending her sellswords out to harry Yunkai’s approaching army.
“The Stormcrows and the Second Sons can harry the Yunkishmen, but they cannot hope to turn them. If Your Grace would allow me to assemble an army …”
“If there must be a battle, I would sooner fight it from behind the walls of Meereen. Let the Yunkai’i try and storm my battlements.” (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
And the limited food and supplies that Meereen had couldn’t go to the refugees. They were needed for the soldiers who would man the walls and gates of Meereen when Yunkai descended on the city.
Dany could only sit and watch. “Ser,” she said to Barristan Selmy, “is there no more we can do? You have provisions.”
“Provisions for Your Grace’s soldiers. We may well need to withstand a long siege.” (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
To that matter, Dany was trying to buy for time against Yunkai by having the Second Sons and Stormcrows harass Yunkai’s advancing host. Previously, the Stormcrows had been sent north to open trade talks with the Lhazarene. What harassment generally meant in ancient and medieval military terms was to conduct continuous raids against an opposing force in hopes of exhausting them prior to their decisive action. In the case of Daenerys’ sellswords, this was conducted through a series of mounted, light cavalry attacks against the weaker components of Yunkai’s armies as Daario himself reported.
“Sweet queen, I would have been here sooner, but the hills are aswarm with Yunkish sellswords. Four free companies. Your Stormcrows had to cut their way through all of them.” (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
However, Daario’s report brought grim news as well. The Yunkai were marching with all their strength on the city. Worse still, they had dispatched two legions of New Ghis on ships to disembark north of the Skahazadhan. Effectively, this would mean that Yunkai would be on Meereen’s south and north sides. Yunkai’s navy would then blockade Meereen in Slaver’s Bay. This naval force would later be augmented by others.
But the worst news that Daario brought was the defection of Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons. These sellswords had been stalwart allies of Dany’s after Plumm was elected to command them after their initial defection to Daenerys. Their defection would be costly to Dany as they numbered 500 swords, but the defection would have a greater psychological than military impact. If the sellswords were turning cloak, it had the potential to signify to those serving under Daenerys that the cause was all but lost, that turning cloak was the better option to death.
For Daenerys herself, this had an even greater impact. To her, Brown Ben’s betrayal was a sign that she could not win by force of arms in Meereen. She would need something else to survive in Meereen. She needed peace, and the price for peace would be steep for the Mother of Dragons.
The Chained Dragon of Meereen
“I cannot fight two enemies, one within and one without. If I am to hold Meereen, I must have the city behind me. The whole city.” (ADWD, Daenerys V)
While the situation outside of Meereen’s walls was bad and growing worse, the situation within the walls was nearly as bad. The Meereenese insurgency had not abated despite Daenerys’ attempts to quell it with force. So, Dany opted to use more force to compel peace within the walls and both of these actions pushed her further into morally grey areas. But the force that Daenerys used was chained to a certain set of moral principles. Much as Daenerys chained her dragons, she limited her own violent impulses at least initially. And while the moral principles would trend towards something resembling goal post moving, they effectively contained Daenerys to a grey middle ground between being a good queen and a butcher queen. More to the point, these methods would prove to have unevent effects both in the short and long term.
First, she gave Skahaz more power to “put people to the question.” Skahaz Mo Kandaq, as you’ll recall, had something resembling a cross between Attorney General, Queen’s Justice and Sheriff in Daenerys’ court in Meereen. His voice in the court was one that consistently called for harsher actions to combat the Sons of the Harpy. One of the key components of his harsher actions (and one that Dany acceded to) was a widespread torture program of captured Sons of the Harpy. And much as torture works in real life, this was proving an inadequate means of revealing actionable intelligence in Meereen.
The Brazen Beasts had taken dozens of the Harpy’s Sons, and those who had survived their capture had yielded names when questioned sharply … too many names, it seemed to her. (ADWD, Daenerys III)
But an expanded torture program wasn’t all that Daenerys attempted to do to combat the Sons of the Harpy. Convinced again by Skahaz, Daenerys took hostages from the families of the Great Masters of Meereen in an attempt to force the Great Masters to give up their insurgency. In a way, the plan was a strategically good if not entering into morally black territory. If the Sons of the Harpy belonged to these families of the Great Masters, the hostages would force them to stay their hand as any violence that came from the insurgency would be met with the execution of the children of the Great Masters.
Dany, though, didn’t want to be the butcher queen of Meereen. So, when 3 freedmen were killed by the Sons of the Harpy, Daenerys hesitated in putting these child hostages to death.
“Your Radiance has found the courage to answer butchery with mercy. You have not harmed any of the noble children you hold as hostage.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
Now, why would the Sons of the Harpy continue their violence insurgency when their family members were held hostage and faced likely execution in retaliation for the attack? Quite simply, I think the Sons of the Harpy were probing Daenerys to see what her reaction would be. Would she make good on the implied threat to her hostages?
When Daenerys did nothing, it showed her to be bluffing. Now, I’m not saying that Dany should have killed children — that would have been a monstrous evil. But to say that she was bluffing was also true. I think that Martin is making a point here in showing that good rulership lies in Machiavellian principles, particularly the ones outlined in The Prince, Chapter XVIII.
Be it known, then, that there are two ways of contending, one in accordance with the laws, the other by force; the first of which is proper to men, the second to beasts. But since the first method is often ineffectual, it becomes necessary to resort to the second. A Prince should, therefore, understand how to use well both the man and the beast.
In taking child hostages and in then being unwilling to respond in a reciprocal fashion to the Sons of the Harpy, Daenerys hewed a middle road between beast (dragon) and man (mother). Looking at it from a absolutist/Kantian moral position, her best course of action would have been not to take hostages in the first place, but Dany’s political machiavellianism would pay dividends in the long-term.
The Iron Fleet Sets Sail
The Drowned God had not shaped Victarion Greyjoy to fight with words at kingsmoots, nor struggle against furtive sneaking foes in endless bogs. This was why he had been put on earth; to stand steel-clad with an axe red and dripping in his hand, dealing death with every blow. (AFFC, The Reaver)
When we last left the Ironborn, Euron “Crow’s Eye” Greyjoy had been elected King of the Iron Islands by the Kingsmoot with the promise that the Ironborn would conquer all of Westeros with Daenerys’ dragons. But there was a minor issue at play. Dany and her dragons were thousands of miles away from the Iron Islands. The Ironborn would need to undertake a long journey to reach Meereen. Additionally, the old grudge between Victarion and Euron was not abated by Euron’s election to the kingship. Victarion was willing to serve Euron as the rightful King of the Iron Islands, but he still loathed his brother. And the final minor issue was that Euron wanted to make a quick pit-stop in the Reach prior to sailing to Meereen. By quick, I mean that Euron wanted to conquer the Reach.
Prior to the arrival of the Ironborn, the Reach had been almost completely untouched by battle. Though Highgarden and the Reach joined in the War of the Five Kings initially on Renly Baratheon’s side and then switching allegiance to the Lannisters when Renly died, the war was mostly conducted outside of the Reach. And Euron used this greatly to his advantage. The vast majority of the Reach’s militay might was outside of the Reach itself, assisting the Lannisters in the Crownlands, Narrow Sea and for the most part. Only a token force remained within the Reach itself, and this token force would find itself under great pressure when the Ironborn arrived.
But before we get into the start of the campaign, we have to consider why Euron didn’t make for Meereen the instant he was crowned with the Driftwood Crown. Ostensibly, it seemed that Euron wanted to slaves and plunder to finance his war for Westeros.
Euron shrugged, “The price of slaves is rising. We will sell our slaves in Lys and Volantis. That, and the plunder we have taken here, will give us sufficient gold to buy provisions.” (AFFC, The Reaver)
However, I do not believe this is the full picture, especially given some evidence of what occurs after the Battle of the Shield Islands.
“Have no fear, Lord Captain,” said the Reader. “They will come. His Grace desires it. Why else would he have commanded us to let Hewett’s ravens fly?” (AFFC, The Reaver)
Why else indeed? I’ll get more into that in part 4, but for now, suffice to say that I think that Euron’s plan was more complex than he let on, and Euron was keeping his cards tight to his chest.
And Euron’s initial attack into the Reach was nothing if not completely brilliant. First, he sent a dozen ships past the Shield Islands up the Mander River. The watchtowers on the Shield Island alerted the lords of the Shield Islands of an incursion by raiders. These lords then dispatched ships down the Mander to chase the Ironborn Vanguard. With the Shield Islander Fleet away from the Shield Islands themselves, Euron moved the Iron Fleet towards the Shield Islands and launched amphibious assaults against the 4 islands. As the islands were seized by Euron, Victarion and the rest of the Iron Fleet waited at the mouth of the river to destroy the Shield Fleet.
The result was predictable. The 4 islands were seized by the Ironborn, and the Shield Fleet was crushed by Victarion and the Iron Vanguard. The only real wrinkle in the battle was that Victarion himself took a serious wound to his hand — a wound that would come to have greater significance later in this section.
After the naval victory, Victarion sailed to Oakenshield where his brother Euron feasted. There, Euron doled out 4 lordships to 4 Ironborn captains — 4 captains who were closely aligned with Victarion. The point is often made in the narrative and by fans of the series that Euron is mad; however, this action was politically astute for an alleged madman. By appointing 4 of Victarion’s allies to lords in the Shield Islands, Euron isolated Victarion.
Euron also had a plan in mind for Victarion, one that would ostensibly keep the King of the Iron Islands out of immediate harm’s way. And Euron had other concerns too. He had brought 1000 ships from the Iron Islands down to the Shield Islands. If he sent his entire fleet to Meereen, he ran the risk of losing the majority of his ships during the voyage. However, if he sent a smaller, elite fleet, it could maintain a semblance of order on the long voyage to Meereen. Euron needed the Iron Fleet, or at least that’s what he told Victarion.
“Too large a fleet could never hold together over such a distance. The voyage is too long, too perilous. Only our finest ships and crews could hope to sail to Slaver’s Bay and back. The Iron Fleet.” (AFFC, The Reaver)
In Euron’s mind, there was no better candidate to send on this long voyage than Victarion himself. And Victarion wasn’t simply going to Meereen to retrieve the dragons. No, Euron had a greater ambition than seizing the dragons through the great dragon horn. He intended to marry Daenerys, and he needed Victarion Greyjoy to sail to Meereen to fetch his bride and her dragons.
For his part, Victarion’s loathing for Euron hadn’t diminished. By all accounts, it grew with the seizure of the Iron Islands since Euron and his loyalists had taken a lion’s share of the plunder. But a plot came to Victarion when Euron announced his plan. Yes, Victarion would sail to Meereen and seize Daenerys and her dragons, but not for Euron. Victarion wanted Dany and her dragons for himself.
“I’ll go to Slaver’s Bay, aye. I’ll find this dragon woman, and I’ll bring her back.” But not for you. You stole my wife and despoiled her, so I’ll have yours. The fairest woman in the world, for me. (AFFC, The Reaver)
A Potential for Peace in Meereen
“My people are bleeding. Dying. A queen belongs not to herself, but to the realm. Marriage or carnage, those are my choices. A wedding or a war.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
With war coming to Meereen, a raging insurgency within the city, plague spreading just outside of the walls and the defection of one of her trusted subordinates, Daenerys needed solutions — one preferably that would solve as many of the problems that her and her band of followers were forced to confront. But the solutions that Daenerys was eventually persuaded to pursue would be one that would be personally distasteful to her and some of her closest advisers. And in the end, this distaste for peace would be lead the key players both in the Meereenese and Yunkish Camps to revert back to a war footing.
But there were additional internal issues in Meereen which drove Daenerys towards peace. The first was that many of the prominent families in Meereen had ships that allegedly joined in Yunkai’s naval blockade of Slaver’s Bay.
Skahaz drew a parchment scroll from his sleeve. “Your Worship should have a look at this. A list of all the Meereenese ships in the blockade, with their captains. Great Masters all.” (ADWD, Daenerys V)
Whether these ship captains and their vessels were forced into service by Yunkai or voluntarily joined the blockade is up for some debate. What’s not up for debate is that the actions of these families isolated Daenerys further. And so Daenerys attempted peace through something distasteful to her: marriage.
Marriage had been an occasional thought in Dany’s mind early in ADWD.
Reznak and the Green Grace had been urging Dany to take a Meereenese noble for her husband, to reconcile the city to her rule. Hizdahr zo Loraq might be worth a careful look. Sooner him than Skahaz. The Shavepate had offered to set aside his wife for her, but the notion made her shudder. Hizdahr at least knew how to smile. (ADWD, Daenerys I)
Marriage as a means of achieving peace or alliance were long-held customs both in Essos and Westeros. Previously, Daenerys had been married briefly to Khal Drogo, but when he died and she brought 3 dragons to life, she became the most eligible bachelorette in the world. Her first real pursuer was Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a wealthy merchant in Qarth. but though Daenerys rebuffed his attempts in Qarth to marry her, the threat of marriage hung over Dany’s head.
The escalating violence in Meereen and the oncoming Yunkish invasion forced the issue to the forefront. While Ser Barristan Selmy wanted Daenerys to leave Meereen and marry a Westerosi, most of the rest of her councilors and advisers wanted her to marry someone of Ghiscari blood. In this, she had really only two options: Skahaz mo Kandak and Hizdahr zo Loraq. Skahaz had offered to set aside his wife for Daenerys, but marriage to Skahaz was both personally distasteful to Daenerys as well politically infeasible. Skahaz was a hated figure among the Meereenese. A marriage to Skahaz would add fuel to the insurgency’s fire as the Great Masters would consider their lives in even more danger under the reign of the Shavepate.
Hizdahr though was both physically appealing and would be a political boon to Daenerys. Hizdahr’s place in Dany’s court had been something resembling an outside adviser as well as a petitioner in Daenerys’ court. His cause was restoring the fighting pits in Meereen to operational status. If you’ll recall, Daenerys had closed the fighting pits in Meereen after her initial conquest of the city. Hizdahr had been one of the most persistent petitioners, asking time and again for the pits to be re-opened.
But though Hizdahr’s goal to re-open the fighting pits of Meereen stood in contrast to Dany’s desire to keep them closed, Hizdahr didn’t appear to be in league with the Harpy. But even as he didn’t seem to be an insurgent leader, he also retained credibility among the Great Masters of Meereen — likely due to his family name as Galazza Galare, the Green Grace, pointed out.
“Oft have I heard that yours is the blood of Aegon the Conqueror, Jaehaerys the Wise, and Daeron the Dragon. The noble Hizdahr is of the blood of Mazdhan the Magnificent, Hazrak the Handsome, and Zharaq the Liberator.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
In fact, Hizdahr seemed a moderate Great Master whose middle-of-the-road approach to Meereenese politics is best summarized by his haircut of all things. Meereenese men traditionally fashioned their hair into wild shapes. When Daenerys seized Meereen, those Ghiscari (such as Skahaz) symbolically shaved their hair completely off as a visible means of abandoning the old ways of Meereen. Hizdahr, however, was willing to cut his hair, but not nearly to the extent that Skahaz and the Shavepates did.
He was shorn as well. He has shaved off his beard and cut his hair, she realized. The man had not gone shavepate, not quite, but at least those absurd wings of his were gone. (ADWD, Daenerys II)
Marriage to a moderate Great Master seemed a likely first step towards a peaceful Meereen. Furthermore, the Green Grace was firmly behind the idea.
But Dany was resistant. For one, any marriage in Meereen would likely delay her return to Westeros. While Dany had stayed in Meereen with the thought of learning how to rule, her eventual goal was to return to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne from the usurpers. But more importantly to Daenerys in the timeline of the story, she didn’t want to marry Hizdahr, because she had an infatuation with someone else: Daario Naharis.
Daario was the sellsword commander in charge of the Stormcrows. A wildly flamboyant man, Daario dyed his beard blue in Tyroshi fashion. But more than appearing flamboyant, his actions on and off the battlefield were also flamboyant and violent. Daario entered into Dany’s service in A Storm of Swords by murdering the two other captains of the Stormcrows who were about to face off against Dany’s army in Yunkai and then bringing the entire company to Dany’s side. Following his actions in Yunkai, he fought bravely to take Meereen and then was dispatched north to open a trade lane with the Lhazarene. But though gone, Daenerys’ infatuation with Daario grew.
But the voices in Meereen calling for Daenerys to marry Hizdahr grew louder, particularly that of the Galazza Galare, the Green Grace. The Green Grace’s counsel to Daenerys was simple:
“Wed Hizdahr zo Loraq and make a son with him, a son whose father is the harpy, whose mother is the dragon. In him the prophecies shall be fulfilled, and you enemies will melt away like snow.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
Of interest here, Galazza’s counsel throughout ADWD was one that was very similar with the Sons of the Harpy — too similar to have not likely consulted with key leaders of the insurgency, even if she wasn’t the Harpy herself. When she proposed marriage between Hizdahr and Daenerys, she did so after she witnessed Dany’s unwillingness to execute the child hostages after insurgent violence. In this, I’ve come to agree with Adam Feldman’s theory that the peace offer from the Sons of the Harpy was genuine and resulted from Dany’s mercy to the child hostages and her willingness to chain her dragons.
But perhaps the more important change is Dany’s own actions. Since the initial brutal Harpy killings, Dany chained her dragons, and has refused to kill her child hostages.
Dany’s mercy towards the hostages — combined with the “bad cop” threat of the lurking Shavepate — seems to be precisely what made a peace deal possible. It changed the nobles’ view of Dany and made them realize she was someone they could work with.
Terms of the Agreement
With Yunkai fast approaching and the Sons of the Harpy growing more violent and bold each day, Daenerys did not immediately dismiss the Green Grace’s idea, but she did recognize potential benefits and downfalls in the Green Grace’s plan.
If I wed Hizdahr, will that turn Skahaz against me? She trusted Skahaz more than she trusted Hizdahr, but the Shavepate would be a disaster as a king. He was too quick to anger, too slow to forgive. She saw no gain in wedding a man as hated as herself. Hizdahr was well respected, so far as she could see. (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
But even if Dany didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand, she was still reluctant. So, when she met with Hizdahr to discuss this potential union, she came up with a proposal and framed it cleverly to Hizdahr in the guise as a noble quest that a knight must undertake to win the hand of a noble lady.
“Peace is my desire. You say that you can help me end the nightly slaughter in my streets. I say do it. Put an end to this shadow war, my lord. That is your quest. Give me ninety days and ninety nights without a murder, and I will know that you are worthy of a throne. Can you do that?”
Hizdahr agreed to try, but he wanted things from Daenerys too — things that would be personally distasteful to the woman known as the “breaker of chains.”
- The fighting pits of Meereen would be re-opened. A pet cause of Hizdahr’s, the fighting pits were a time-honored tradition in Meereen. As a past-time of the Great Masters, the fighting pits were the premier method of entertainment for the nobility. They would need to be re-opened.
- The other slaver cities would be allowed re-start the slave trade in Slaver’s Bay. This applied especially to Yunkai and was meant as olive branch to try to prevent Yunkai from attacking Meereen. This was incredibly distasteful to Daenerys, but in her current capacity, she couldn’t do much. Yunkai had already started taking slaves right after Daenerys left the city for Meereen. Essentially, agreeing that Yunkai could slave again gave official cover to an act that was already taking place.
But even as Yunkai would be allowed to re-engage in slaving under Hizdahr’s proposal, Meereen would remain slave-free, and that was a victory for Daenerys. Adam Feldman of the Meereenese Blot put it best:
And Dany paid a tough price for peace in giving the detestable former slavers a share in power — but the nobles have also made huge concessions in recognizing her rule and keeping the slavery ban. That’s what peace through political compromise is all about — no side gets everything it wants.
Many fans view Daenerys’ arc in ADWD as one where her incompetence is on bright display. However, I hope that I’ve shown that Dany is anything but incompetent. In over her head at points, potentially ill-advised by her counselors and often unsure of herself, yes, but to say that Dany was a terrible ruler in Meereen is simply not the case. She made hard, pragmatic decisions that often went against her beliefs. Her ability to strike a balance between her motherly side and her dragon side was in best keeping with good Machiavellian practice. And at least for the moment, it had the potential to peacefully keep the Sons of the Harpy at bay.
But as fate would have it, the pearl without price would prove itself to have less appeal than fire and blood to Dany and her strongest supporters.
Please join me next week when I write on the uneven peace of Meereen, the arrival of the Yunkai, the voyage of the Iron Fleet and the penultimate event that would shatter the peace in Meereen: the return of Drogon. Thanks for reading!
Next: The Gates of Fate