Editor’s Note: This essay contains very minor spoilers for The Winds of Winter. Here’s the audio recording!
Daenerys Targaryen will make a momentous return in The Winds of Winter, but her return will be not be the stuff of triumph that many fans expect. Many fans believe that Dany will return to Meereen, collect her army and sail for Westeros. But all signs point to George RR Martin defying fan-expectations and following a different course. What course might that be? Only George and his editors know for certain, but I believe a careful reading of the first five books of A Song of Ice and Fire coupled with information collected from interviews and the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter give broad strokes on Dany’s future themes and plot points.
Recently, when asked about The Winds of Winter, George RR Martin offered this nugget:
“Well, Tyrion and Dany will intersect, in a way, but for much of the book they’re still apart. They both have quite large roles to play here. Tyrion has decided that he actually would like to live, for one thing, which he wasn’t entirely sure of during the last book, and he’s now working toward that end—if he can survive the battle that’s breaking out all around him. And Dany has embraced her heritage as a Targaryen and embraced the Targaryen words. So they’re both coming home.” – EW Shelf Life, June 26, 2014
From this very small but significant quote, I surmise the following:
- Dany’s will spend a significant amount of time apart from any of the characters tied into the Meereenese Knot.
- The long-awaited intersection between Tyrion & Dany will take place towards the middle to late portion of The Winds of Winter.
- Daenerys will eventually make her way to Westeros…
- … But not before Dany spends the majority if not the entirety, of her Winds of Winter arc in Essos.
Wait, Essos!? How could George RR Martin inflict us with another pointless, meaningless character arc in Essos? Isn’t it time that Daenerys triumphantly return to Westeros where she’ll defeat the Others with her dragons, marry Jon Snow and reclaim her father’s crown from the hated Lannisters? Well, maybe, but I don’t think that’s how GRRM will structure Dany’s storyline at least in TWOW.
In these essays, I want to show that Dany’s extended stay in Essos is congruent with how Dany’s arc was developed in the first five books, and how her arc will be tied to how George RR Martin’s writes plot-tension that encapsulates triumph, tragedy and realism.
But more important than the plot-points is the thematic impulse behind Dany’s future in The Winds of Winter. As GRRM (quoting Falkner) likes to put it: “The human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about.”
Dany’s future in The Winds of Winter will be tied to her past, routed through dangerous, fickle prophecy, drenched in warfare but most importantly, bound to internal, human struggle.
Mother of Dragons
Mirri Maz Duur had promised that she would never bear a living child. House Targaryen will end with me. That made her sad. “You must be my children,” she told the dragons, “my three fierce children. Arstan says dragons live longer than men, so you will go on after I am dead.” (ASOS, Daenerys IV)
Throughout A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen grapples with issues of war and peace. But while these conflicts are bloody and have very real consequences, they mirror the thematic struggles that Dany faces. Beset by a violent insurgency within the city of Meereen and facing foreign invasion, these external events serve as a visceral backdrop to Dany’s own conflicting desires and inclinations. In writing A Dance with Dragons, George RR Martin layered Dany’s arc with symbols that signified Dany’s internal struggle, but one, seemingly pinnacle concept underpins all of Dany’s internal conflict: the theme of motherhood.
In Daenerys’s mind, she is a mother to two distinct groups of children and these two groups symbolize Dany’s conflicting desires. The first vision of motherhood is one that is birthed at the end of A Game of Thrones. Daenerys views herself as the mother of 3 dragons. While the exact birthing of these dragons is quite deliberately left in shadow, the greater point is that Dany believes the dragons are her children.
More importantly, Dany’s role as mother of dragons symbolizes the violent, angry, wild, vengeful, perhaps Targaryen components of her personality. Though Dany’s mother of dragons persona rises quite literally from Drogo’s pyre, there are elements of this persona present before this magical event. The term is first used in A Game of Thrones as Dany stands before Drogo’s funeral pyre with her 3 dragon eggs.
No, she wanted to shout to him, no, my good knight, do not fear for me. The fire is mine. I am Daenerys Stormborn, daughter of dragons, bride of dragons, mother of dragons, don’t you see? Don’t you SEE? With a belch of flame and smoke that reached thirty feet into the sky, the pyre collapsed and came down around her. Unafraid, Dany stepped forward into the firestorm, calling to her children. (AGOT, Daenerys X)
In its first use, we find Dany’s mother of dragons identity as a callback to both her past (Stormborn, daughter of dragons) as well as to her future (mother of dragons, calling to her children.) And while the mother of dragons persona used at the end of A Game of Thrones is not explicitly associated with violence, it is dripping with an implicit Targaryen ethos of passion and violence.
“Mhysa!” a brown-skinned man shouted out at her. He had a child on his shoulder, a little girl, and she screamed the same word in her thin voice. “Mhysa! Mhysa!”
Dany looked at Missandei. “What are they shouting?”
“It is Ghiscari, the old pure tongue. It means ‘Mother.'” (ASOS, Daenerys IV)
But the mother of dragons theme is only half of the motherhood theme, Daenerys is also mhysa (mother) to tens of thousands of freed slaves that she liberated from Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen. And while this identity eventually came to represent Dany’s peaceful impulse and willingness to sacrifice for her people in A Dance with Dragons, Dany’s mhysa identity was a bit different during her war of liberation.
In A Storm of Swords, Dany’s two concepts of motherhood work in tandem. She unleashes her dragons at Astapor to liberate the slaves who would become her children. And after Astapor, Daenerys conducts a bloody war of liberation across Slaver’s Bay, increasing the numbers of her children along the way.
But when she marches from Yunkai, bound for Meereen, she discovers that her identity as a liberator comes at cost. Dany encounters 163 children, crucified against the mileposts from Yunkai to Meereen. This horrifies Dany and violates her very real desire to save innocents and especially children from brutality. But instead of turning a literal blind eye to the horrors of the march, Dany forces herself to witness the horror.
Daario had given orders for the children to be taken down before Dany had to see them, but she had countermanded him as soon as she was told. “I will see them,” she said. “I will see every one, and count them, and look upon their faces. And I will remember.” (ASOS, Daenerys V)
It’s here that Dany’s two conceptions of motherhood coincide at their fullest. And even though Dany & her army take Meereen and sack parts of it, she remembers the horror along the road. Outraged and angry, Daenerys crucifies 163 Great Masters in response to the murder of children — her children. But after the deed was done, Dany began to have regrets.
She had them nailed to wooden posts around the plaza, each man pointing at the next. The anger was fierce and hot inside her when she gave the command; it made her feel like an avenging dragon. But later, when she passed the men dying on the posts, when she heard their moans and smelled their bowels and blood…
It was just. It was. I did it for the children. (ASOS, Daenerys VI)
It’s at this point that Dany’s two visions of motherhood start to diverge. Disgusted by her own actions, Daenerys attempts to rationalize her avenging dragon by thinking that she did it for the children. But yet, the nature of the action and the word-choice Martin uses (Fierce-hot-anger, avenging) binds Dany’s actions to her own desires while divorcing them from justice.
But the psychological impact goes deeper than that. Though inclined to march on Westeros, Dany stays on in Meereen to learn how to rule, but more importantly, she stays on for, you guessed it, her children. But there’s an additional wrinkle here: Daenerys consciously separates her dragon and human children and by extension, herself, into two categories.
“My children need time to heal and learn. My dragons need time to grow and test their wings. And I need the same. I will not let this city go the way of Astapor. I will not let the harpy of Yunkai chain up those I’ve freed all over again.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)
A Chained Identity
As Dany’s identities pull apart, they set part of the thematic stage for Dany’s internal struggle in A Dance with Dragons. In her very first chapter in the book, things have not gone to plan. Despite her overwhelming military victory in seizing Meereen, an insurgency rages within the walls. She resists calls for genocide against the Great Masters — the likely culprits of the insurgency, but she returns Meereen’s hostility with her own hatred of their culture, allowing her mother of dragons persona to shine through.
But the mother of dragons identity comes to a screeching, albeit temporary, halt with the death of a child at the hands of one of her dragons. Hazzea, a girl of 4, is killed by Drogon. This horrifies Dany so much that the mother of dragons gives ground in Dany’s psyche. In the place of the mother of dragons, Dany’s shifts internally to an altered definition of mhysa. Martin accomplishes this shift in obvious ways. The sorrow caused by the death of Hazzea has such an impact on Dany’s psyche that she views her dragons as monsters. What’s more, she views her own mother of dragons persona as monstrous.
Mother of dragons, Daenerys thought. Mother of monsters. What have I unleashed upon the world? A queen I am, but my throne is made of burned bones, and it rests on quicksand. Without dragons, how could she hope to hold Meereen, much less win back Westeros? I am the blood of the dragon, she thought. If they are monsters, so am I.
(ADWD, Daenerys II)
But Martin also inserts subtlety into the change in Dany’s mindset. Between ADWD, Dany I & ADWD, Dany II, Daenerys, in a hugely symbolic measure, chains 2 of her dragons — the 2 that were caught. This symbolizes Dany’s desire find peaceful solutions to the wars within and without Meereen. But more than that, it showed Dany’s willingness to restrain her violent impulses in Meereen. And the compromises she starts to make are bound to the concept of, you guessed it, protecting her children.
But the fact that 1 of the dragons — Drogon, her wildest, most violent dragon, escapes capture symbolizes that while Dany’s mhysa personality stands pre-eminent for much of the rest of A Dance with Dragons, she retains a component of her mother of dragons persona as well. Dany’s anger and frustration at Meereen remains, and she lashes out violently against innocents at one other time (something we’ll get into in part 2). So, Dany’s mother of dragons persona was not dead. It was only chained, and it wouldn’t be long before those chains would rub raw.
Waking the Dragon
I hate this, thought Daenerys Targaryen. How did this happen, that I am drinking and smiling with men I’d sooner flay? (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
Artwork by Jamga
But though Dany’s mhysa side remains dominant for most of the rest of A Dance with Dragons, the mother of dragons wasn’t dead. Rather, she lay ominously dormant waiting re-emerge. A lot of fans point to Dany’s final chapter in A Dance with Dragons when this facet of her personality forcefully re-emerges, but while I think that Dany’s final chapter in A Dance with Dragons is the conscious tipping point and culmination of Dany’s turn from peace to fire and blood, Dany’s belief that her peace was a defeat coupled with an angry rejection of Meereen and her culture led to the re-emergence of the mother of dragons. Consider the peace of Meereen.
By Dany’s latter chapters of A Dance with Dragons, Dany has achieved her goals. Meereen is peaceful, her freedmen (her children) have not been targeted for murders or death in 90+ days. Meanwhile, the military power of Yunkai has been mitigated through a peace treaty mid-wifed by Hizdahr. Meereen is at peace, and it’s primarily through Dany’s embrace of the mhysa vision of motherhood and restraint of her violent mother of dragons instincts.
Daenerys Targaryen had other children, tens of thousands who had hailed her as their mother when she broke their chains. She thought of Stalwart Shield, of Missandei’s brother, of the woman Rylona Rhee, who had played the harp so beautifully. No marriage would ever bring them back to life, but if a husband could help end the slaughter, then she owed it to her dead to marry. (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
But this peace came with a price — a steep one. She was forced to sacrifice her sexual autonomy and marry Hizdahr zo Loraq, a Meereense noble. And as part of her marriage, she is forced to cede power to someone that she doesn’t fully trust. But the largest compromises come at a moral level. Dany is forced to allow the fighting pits of Meereen to re-open after keeping them closed for a long period of time. Dany would also have to pay an indemnity to Yunkai for their economic losses. These don’t seem that great of compromises compared to her next one. Slaver’s Bay would return to slavery.
As part of the peace agreement, Yunkai would be allowed to start slaving again. When Hizdahr first broached the idea as a peace offering, Dany seemed receptive to it at first.
“The Yunkai’i will resume slaving, as before. Astapor will be rebuilt, as a slave city. You will not interfere.”
“The Yunkai’i resumed their slaving before I was two leagues from their city. Did I turn back? King Cleon begged me to join with him against them, and I turned a deaf ear to his pleas. I want no war with Yunkai. How many times must I say it? What promises do they require?” (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
But when the Yunkai’i opened a slave market outside of Meereen, it infuriates Daenerys.
“They have opened a slave market within sight of my walls!”
“Outside our walls, sweet queen. That was a condition of the peace, that Yunkai would be free to trade in slaves as before, unmolested.”
“In their own city. Not where I have to see it.” The Wise Masters had established their slave pens and auction block just south of the Skahazadhan, where the wide brown river flowed into Slaver’s Bay. “They are mocking me to my face, making a show of how powerless I am to stop them.” (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
So, while Dany gained peace and safety for her children within Meereen, it’s quite understandable why she chafes under the compromises she’s made to safeguard her children. More than chafes, she thinks that peace is defeat.
This is peace, she told herself. This is what I wanted, what I worked for, this is why I married Hizdahr. So why does it taste so much like defeat? (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
And the actions of her chained and free dragons mirrored her own mental state. Much of this stirring occurred prior to Dany’s deals with Hizdahr and Yunkai, but the stirring of the dragons serves a thematic purpose. Mid-way through ADWD, As Dany began to sacrifice on behalf of her people, the chained dragons stirred.
Down in the pit, Viserion had snapped one of his chains; he and Rhaegal grew more savage every day. (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
By the end of ADWD, the dragons remain fierce, angry and wild. When Daenerys takes Quentyn Martell down into the dragon pit in an attempt to test his mettle, she tells him:
“My children have grown wild and angry in the dark.” (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
As the dragons represent Dany’s violent, Targaryen impulse, we can deduce that the violent mother of dragons persona was there and grating against the peace she was forced to endure. But there was another part of her warlike, aggressive, violent persona that was free. And that side of her personality would make for a dramatic return in her second-to-last chapter in A Dance with Dragons.
Unleashing the Mother of Dragons
Dany finally fell to sleep, to dream queer, half-formed dreams of smoke and fire. The morning came too soon. (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
Artwork by Marc Simonetti
In Dany’s second-to-last chapter in A Dance with Dragons, we find Dany’s 2 conceptions of motherhood collide. And at the end, Daenerys symbolically embraces her mother of dragons persona at the expense of the mhysa. Of macro import, Drogon’s violent return to Meereen has nearly over-the-top thematic implications for Daenerys. But there other thematically important events underpinning the macro event of Drogon’s return.
By ADWD, Daenerys IX, Dany is utterly miserable. She’s sacrificed again and again to usher in peace and maintain it, and she’s grown completely disillusioned of Meereen and the peace she purchased at great price. The chapter itself centers around one seminal event: the re-opening of Daznak’s Pit in Meereen. Of course, this re-opening of Daznak’s Pit and Hizdahr’s insistence that Dany be present for the event are intensely distasteful for Daenerys who had fought against the existence of the fighting pits for most of A Dance with Dragons. And yet, she was forced to attend the spectacle.
As Daenerys and company make their way to the re-opening of the fighting pit, a number of important events occur. The first is that Daenerys grows anxious and fearful for the future.
“One step, then the next, and soon we shall be running. Together we shall make a new Meereen.” The street ahead had finally cleared. “Shall we continue on?”
What could she do but nod? One step, then the next, but where is it I’m going? (ADWD, Daenerys IX)
Next, Daenerys is very nearly killed by poisoned locusts — the likely poisoner being Skahaz mo Kandaq. And when they finally arrive at Daznak’s Pit, the people cheer for Dany in a way that should be especially ominous upon re-read.
Ten thousand throats roared out their thanks; then twenty thousand; then all. They did not call her name, which few of them could pronounce.
“Mother! ” they cried instead; in the old dead tongue of Ghis, the word was Mhysa! They stamped their feet and slapped their bellies and shouted,”Mhysa, Mhysa, Mhysa, ” until the whole pit seemed to tremble.(ADWD, Daenerys IX)
So, it’s here that the final confrontation between Dany’s two identities comes to the forefront. The mob regards Daenerys as their mother — the one who saved their lives from bondage and death. But Dany doesn’t see it that way at all. For Dany, her very presence at Daznak’s Pit is the culmination of her defeat, of how she failed her children.
Dany let the sound wash over her. I am not your mother, she might have shouted, back, I am the mother of your slaves, of every boy who ever died upon these sands whilst you gorged on honeyed locusts. (ADWD, Daenerys IX)
This is the point that Daenerys places limitations on her mhysa identity. She rejects the Meereense as her children and castigates them and their entire culture. Through sacrifice, Daenerys has won peace for Meereen and kept it slave-free. But as Dany says in the previous chapter, she feels that this peace is a defeat. And Dany’s rejection of Meereenese children has profound implications for the future. And before an objection is raised that Dany is only rejecting the Great Masters as her people, here’s the description from Dany’s POV of who is inside Daznak’s Pit moments before she rejects the Meereenese as her children.
Across the pit the Graces sat in flowing robes of many colors, clustered around the austere figure of Galazza Galare, who alone amongst them wore the green. The Great Masters of Meereen occupied the red and orange benches. The women were veiled, and the men had brushed and lacquered their hair into horns and hands and spikes. Hizdahr’s kin of the ancient line of Loraq seemed to favor tokar s of purple and indigo and lilac, whilst those of Pahl were striped in pink and white. The envoys from Yunkai were all in yellow and filled the box beside the king’s, each of them with his slaves and servants. Meereenese of lesser birth crowded the upper tiers, more distant from the carnage. The black and purple benches, highest and most distant from the sand, were crowded with freedmen and other common folk. (ADWD, Daenerys IX)
I believe that the cross-section of Meereenese society that Dany describes is deliberate on Martin’s part. He’s showing Dany rejecting the totality of Meereenese culture — rich, poor, noble, commoner, freedman, slave. And what a change this was from the start of A Dance with Dragons.
“I want to protect you but … it is so hard. To be strong. I don’t always know what I should do. I must know, though. I am all they have. I am the queen … the … the …”
“… mother,” whispered Missandei. “Mother to dragons.”
Dany shivered. “No. Mother to us all.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)
Drogon’s return brought death to Ghiscari men, women and children regardless of their social status, and it’s really only fitting considering that it culminated Dany’s rejection of the Meereenese as her children. In this, I find GRRM’s structuring of Dany’s arc as a battle between her two identities and the subsequent violent return of Drogon a masterstroke. It set Dany up for a final confrontation between her two identities in her last chapter.
But before we get to that, we need to examine one more thematic struggle that Dany grapples with throughout A Song of Ice and Fire.
The Treacherous Nature of Prophecy
“Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is… and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams. That is the nature of prophecy, said Gorghan. Prophecy will bite your prick off every time.” (AFFC, Samwell V)
Artwork by Marc Simonetti
Prophecy at points haunts Dany, gives her renewed strength and courage, but above all else, it sets her on a sometimes-mystical and always-dire course. But before we venture into Dany’s relationship with prophecy, I think it’s important to talk a little about the over-arching themes related to prophecy in A Song of Ice and Fire. Characters in the books, as well as fans, debate and wonder on whether x-event fulfills y-prophecy or why x-character fulfills y-prophetic identity. But while this has importance to the story, I think George RR Martin is posing a different challenge than unraveling the mysteries behind magic and prophecies. While characters and fans are caught up in attempting to interpret the various prophecies throughout the books, the questions that GRRM seems to want us to ask ourselves as readers is how the nature of prophecy compels the characters in the series to act in the ways that they do and whether a path guided by prophecy is a morally good one. In his excellent essay, Under the Bleeding Star, Stefan Sasse examines the various prophecies related to characters to the books and the literary context of prophecy and concludes with this:
Prophecy is what drives many of the main events of A Song of Ice and Fire, but it’s not the divine predictions themselves, as if some celestial entity were actively manipulating events (as seen, for example, in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica); rather, it’s human nature, prone to error and prejudice and ego.
Prophecy in ASOIAF is bound tightly to a flawed humanity nature and flawed human interpretation, and this has a significant impact on its validity. This is communicated time and again with characters like Melisandre who routinely misinterprets prophecy. And even if a prophecy were genuine, it was as much danger to the individual that prophecy
“Sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.” (ADWD, Jon VI)
But it’s more than that. I think that GRRM is trying to tell us something about the moral paths reliance on prophecy takes the characters. For prophecy is almost by its nature seductive to the characters, turning them towards a darker morality. And if characters aren’t being drawn to morally dark actions, they’re making moral compromises and shortcuts based on prophetic vision.
And these moral evils or compromises often result in a compromised identity and skewed vision of events, but more than that, acts of magic and prophecy endanger innocents in A Song of Ice and Fire. Consider a few examples outside of Dany’s arc:
- Stannis, a man almost universally considered to be just, nearly allows Melisandre to sacrifice Edric Storm in order to fulfill Melisandre’s prophetic vision that kingsblood will “raise stone dragons” in Stannis’ desperate need. Previously, Stannis had allowed Melisandre to use her magic to murder Renly and murder Ser Cortnay Penrose.
- Rhaegar’s belief that the dragon “must have 3 heads” is theorized to have been a contributing, if not primary, reason why Rhaegar stole Lyanna, becoming the catalyst for the war that brought ruin on House Targaryen and the deaths of thousands.
- Cersei’s valonqar prophecy leads to the murder of dwarves, the imprisonment of a (likely) innocent girl in Margaery, causes Cersei herself to go mad and will likely lead to the deaths of thousands.
Dany’s History with Prophecy and Magic
No, she wanted to shout to him, no, my good knight, do not fear for me. The fire is mine. I am Daenerys Stormborn, daughter of dragons, bride of dragons, mother of dragons, don’t you see? Don’t you SEE? (AGOT, Daenerys X)
Artwork by by Franz Vohwinkel of Fantasy Flight Games
Outside of perhaps Bran Stark, Daenerys Targaryen has the most visceral connection to magic, visions and prophecy in ASOIAF. Dany experienced prophetic visions and dreams early and throughout her storyline. In this section, we’ll examine a few of the more prominent prophetic events in Dany’s life and also examine two prophetic mentors that influence Dany to shift away from skepticism to a woman bound to prophetic vision.
Very early in AGOT, Dany echoes her Targaryen ancestors and begins having dragon dreams. She dreams of Viserys and the birth of the dragons.
“You woke the dragon, you woke the dragon.” Her thighs were slick with blood. She closed her eyes and whimpered. As if in answer, there was a hideous ripping sound and the crackling of some great fire. When she looked again, Viserys was gone, great columns of flame rose all around, and in the midst of them was the dragon. It turned its great head slowly. When its molten eyes found hers, she woke, shaking and covered with a fine sheen of sweat. She had never been so afraid… (AGOT, Daenerys II)
The dragon dream frightens Dany immensely; only the marriage ceremony to Khal Drogo frightens her more. GRRM seems to want to highlight that Dany’s entry into the prophetic world is fraught with fear and is not wholly positive. Dany is still an innocent, and prophecy represents uncharted territory fraught with danger to her.
But this is not the last prophecy/prophetic vision that Dany has. When Dany is pregnant and presented to the dosh khaleen, and is given a major prophecy regarding her unborn child, she’s dumbfounded.
“In your womb rides the stallion who mounts the world.” He held out his cup, and a slave filled it with fermented mare’s milk, sour-smelling and thick with clots.
Dany waved her away. Even the smell of it made her feel ill, and she would take no chances of bringing up the horse heart she had forced herself to eat. “What does it mean?” she asked. “What is this stallion? Everyone was shouting it at me, but I don’t understand.”
“The stallion is the khal of khals promised in ancient prophecy, child. He will unite the Dothraki into a single khalasar and ride to the ends of the earth, or so it was promised. All the people of the world will be his herd.”
“Oh,” Dany said in a small voice. Her hand smoothed her robe down over the swell of her stomach. “I named him Rhaego.” (AGOT, Daenerys V)
However, at the end of A Game of Thrones, Dany, overcome with grief over the death of Drogo and Rhaego, overcomes her fear and begins spouting what sounds like insanities of her being the mother of dragons and how the fire won’t harm her. And then she walks into the flames of Drogo’s funeral pyre and emerges unscathed from the fire with 3 living dragons. That magical, one-time event would have made almost anyone a true believer in their prophetic destiny. But Dany didn’t actually take as much stock in her own magical purpose as most of the characters in ASOIAF do.
In A Clash of Kings, we find Dany wandering in the desert with a mystical red comet overhead in a manner much like religious archetypes from our own history as Stephen Attewell points out.
The allusion is not particularly subtle – after a miraculous birth, a group of ex-slaves and their messianic leader is fleeing across a desert, following a star. It’s a weird mashup of Moses and the New Testament, and the similarities don’t end there. To begin with, as is often the case in prophet narratives, the prophet and their people undergo persecution.
But though the red comet had magical and prophetic properties to Dany, the entire endeavor was fringed with the realism.
It is the herald of my coming, she told herself as she gazed up into the night sky with wonder in her heart. The gods have sent it to show me the way. Yet when she put the thought into words, her handmaid Doreah quailed. “That way lies the red lands, Khaleesi. A grim place and terrible, the riders say.”
“The way the comet points is the way we must go,” Dany insisted… though in truth, it was the only way open to her. (ACOK, Daenerys I)
Dany had to get her people out of the Red Wastes in order to keep them alive. But when Dany finally arrived in Qarth, her perspective of visions, dreams and prophecies changed.
Two events in Qarth turned Daenerys towards a path tinged with prophetic vision: Dany’s encounter with Quaithe and the famous House of the Undying Scene. I’ll talk a bit more in-depth about Quaith in a moment, but suffice to say, her impact on Dany’s movement towards prophecy cannot be understated.
Now, as to the House of the Undying, Dany receives a stunning vision of future events. And to be fair, a lot of these visions seem to come true or at the very least, they have thematic truth embedded in them. However, I find it fascinating that GRRM chose to conclude the HoTU with the undying attempting to seduce Dany into staying in the temple. And when Dany refuses, they begin to grab and act violently against her. So, were the prophetic visions good for Dany? Not necessarily. I think if she had been seduced by the prophecies, gifts and words of the Undying, she would have become undying herself.
But while these events had meaning and moved Dany to lean towards a less skeptical, more mystical outlook, they were meaningless without the roles of the people behind the prophecies.
From Skeptic to True Believer: The Roles of Two Prophetic Mentors
Dany’s relationship with prophecy is complex. She wrestles with the veracity of the various prophecies and dreams she’s had, and at times, shows a profound skepticism of magic and prophecy. But by Dany’s last chapter, she’s a true believer. How did it come to that? I think that this can best be explored through Dany’s consequentialist relationship with two prophetic mentors and how one relationship turns her towards skepticism of prophecy and magic while the other tempts her back towards a magical path.
Mirri Maz Duur’s relationship with Daenerys was one in which she turned Dany towards skepticism. Mirri Maz Duur gave Dany hope that she could resuscitate Khal Drogo through magic. And at first, Dany trusted the Lhazareen woman to bring Khal Drogo back from the brink, but when she instead murdered the son in her womb and left Khal Drogo dead in all but name, Dany expressed profound outrage at this magic. Mirri Maz Duur either gives a new prophecy to Dany or mocks her.
“When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east,” said Mirri Maz Duur. “When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before.” (AGOT, Daenerys IX)
This prophecy and Mirri Maz Duur’s magical abilities stay with Daenerys throughout her arc.
The maegi Mirri Maz Duur had sworn she should never bear a living child, and what man would want a barren wife? (ACOK, Daenerys I)
The words of Mirri Maz Duur rang in her head. When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before. The meaning was plain enough; Khal Drogo was as like to return from the dead as she was to bear a living child. (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
In fact, Mirri Maz Duur leads Daenerys towards profound skepticism of sorcery. In Qarth, when she’s confronted by the warlocks, she thinks to herself.
Dany was wary of the warlock; the maegi Mirri Maz Duur had soured her on those who played at sorcery.
Dany’s skepticism of the value and veracity of prophecy is rooted in the ill-work of Mirri Maz Duur. Throughout A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys thinks poorly of prophecy and magic.
Would that forestall the prophecy? Or would some other betrayer take his place? Prophecies are treacherous (ADWD, Daenerys II)
Dany knew how it went with prophecies. They were made of words, and words were wind. There would be no son for Loraq, no heir to unite dragon and harpy. When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, when the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. Only then would her womb quicken once again … (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
But Mirri Maz Duur was not the only prophetic mentor that Dany had. There was another: Quaithe, and Quaithe’s influence on Dany was opposite of what Mirri Maz Duur’s influence was. With Quaithe, we find perhaps the most enigmatic figure this side of Bloodraven. Qaithe gives cryptic prophecies to Dany from ACOK onwards. To an utterance, these visions are ambiguous and thus impossible to be wrong. How do I mean? Well, consider the things that Quaithe has told Dany pri0r to Dany’s last chapter in ADWD.
“To go north, you must go south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.” (ACOK, Daenerys III)
Asshai, Dany thought. She would have me go to Asshai. “Will the Asshai’i give me an army?” she demanded. “Will there be gold for me in Asshai? Will there be ships? What is there in Asshai that I will not find in Qarth?”
“Truth,” said the woman in the mask. (ASOS, Daenerys II)
“The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
Now, fans have various theories on what these prophecies mean, but there is one constant running throughout Quaithe’s prophecies: they could mean anything and thus can be pigeonholed into any event. Dany herself comes to some pretty significant conclusions about these prophecies in the story. And why shouldn’t she? Prophecy has a seductive quality that plants a firm pedestal under its receiver. And ambiguous prophecy can plant an especially high pedestal under its receiver. Dany for her part briefly considers Quaithe in a rather interesting way:
Was she an enemy too, or only a dangerous friend? Dany could not say. (ASOS, Daenerys I)
Even if Quaithe were a friend to Dany, she , like the prophecies and magical visions she gave, was dangerous. And it’s not coincidence in Dany’s last chapter of ADWD that we find Quaithe using prophecy to seduce Daenerys.
Dragons Plant No Trees: The Thematic Importance of Dany’s Last Chapter from A Dance with Dragons
Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.
“Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
Artwork by Feliche
It’s from the backdrop of Dany’s conflicting identities of motherhood & her history with prophecy that we approach Dany’s last chapter in A Dance with Dragons. And I’ll make a bold prediction: looking back after reading A Dream of Spring, this chapter with Dany, her dragon and the swaying grass will be the most consequential chapter in all of A Song of Ice and Fire. If Dany’s 2nd to last chapter in ADWD is the turning point from peace to fire and blood, her final chapter is her final breaking point where she abandons her mhysa identity and skepticism in favor of a violent mother of dragons identity driven by ambiguous prophetic vision.
As many other astute readers have pointed out, the chapter’s opening of Dany attempting to walk to Meereen from Dragonstone is profoundly symbolic of her internal struggle.
Dany knew the lure of home.
Two days ago, climbing on a spire of rock, she had spied water to the south, a slender thread that glittered briefly as the sun was going down. A stream, Dany decided. Small, but it would lead her to a larger stream, and that stream would flow into some little river, and all the rivers in this part of the world were vassals of the Skahazadhan. Once she found the Skahazadhan she need only follow it downstream to Slaver’s Bay. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
However, this was not the course that Drogon had in mind for Daenerys.
She would sooner have returned to Meereen on dragon’s wings, to be sure. But that was a desire Drogon did not seem to share. And no matter how far the dragon flew each day, come nightfall some instinct drew him home to Dragonstone.
Despite Drogon’s refusal to take her back to Meereen, Daenerys kept her mind and thoughts trained on what she had sacrificed so hard on behalf of: Meereen.
His home, not mine. Her home was back in Meereen, with her husband and her lover. That was where she belonged, surely. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
The word surely at the end of Dany’s thought shows how shaky her desire to return to Hizdahr zo Loraq & Meereen is. But yet, Dany finds purpose in her mhysa identity at least for a few hours.
It was time, though. A girl might spend her life at play, but she was a woman grown, a queen, a wife, a mother to thousands. Her children had need of her. Drogon had bent before the whip, and so must she. She had to don her crown again and return to her ebon bench and the arms of her noble husband. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
Dany’s desire to be with her people, her children was still very real to her. She had done all she had done for peace, to protect her children. But there were temptations to turn back to Drogon and his cave. And these temptations only grew as Daenerys walked farther from Drogon’s cave.
It looks so close. I’ve been walking for hours, yet it still looks as if I could reach out and touch it. It was not too late to go back.
No, Dany told herself. If I look back I am lost. So once again, she turned her back upon the distant hill and closed her ears to the song of flight and freedom that the wind sang as it played among the hill’s stony ridges.
The description of flight with Drogon as the song of freedom is meant to leave us with a sense of discomfort at Dany’s mental state and how she’s viewing Meereen and her experiences with Drogon. Just a few pages before, Dany recalls her first flight and the chaos and blood-shedding it caused — and she specifically remembers a mother attempting to shield her child from Drogon’s flames. Drogon’s landing and flight from Daznak’s Pit left hundreds of innocents dead (Barristan says that 214 people died in Daznak’s Pit)
But this line of thinking continues toward its inevitable conclusion. Dany keeps associating flying atop Drogon with freedom and fun as she continues trudging towards Meereen. And this feeling of freedom and happiness associated with dragons culminates in a dream where Dany is visited by Quaithe.
She dreamed. All her cares fell away from her, and all her pains as well, and she seemed to float upward into the sky. She was flying once again, spinning, laughing, dancing, as the stars wheeled around her and whispered secrets in her ear. “To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward, you must go back. To touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.”
“Quaithe?” Dany called. “Where are you, Quaithe?”
Then she saw. Her mask is made of starlight. “Remember who you are, Daenerys,” the stars whispered in a woman’s voice. “The dragons know. Do you?” (ADWD, Daenerys X)
Dany’s mother of dragons subconsciousness was rising to the surface alongside of an identity carved more and more from a prophetic mold. Prophecy was both seductive and beautiful to Dany much as the Undying ones were seductive and beautiful in the House of the Undying as they attempted to use Daenerys for her life force.
The dragons knew who Dany was, and Dany was about to re-discover this as well. After waking from Quaithe’s dream, she walks again along the stream. There, she eats mystery berries, drinks the water and begins to have profound mystical visions of who she truly is.
Her first vision is that of dead brother, Viserys. Viserys comes to Daenerys and seems to represent the angry, violent impulses of the Targaryens. In Dany’s mind, Viserys is still embittered by his murder and lost honors and rights. He’s not much changed from the character we knew in A Game of Thrones. But for the moment, Dany seems to resist this version of Targaryen madness by rejecting Viserys’s version of fire and blood. But this would not last.
When Jorah Mormont arrived and spoke to Dany, she would make her final break from peace. The very first moment of dialogue between Daenerys and the grass around her is one in which Dany flirts with her Targaryen destiny.
“I am the blood of the dragon,” she told the grass, aloud.
Once, the grass whispered back, until you chained your dragons in the dark. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
This line of dialogue is the mirror image of Dany’s early thoughts on chaining her dragons and reflects the greatest fears she had of chaining the dragons.
What sort of mother lets her children rot in darkness?
If I look back, I am doomed, Dany told herself … but how could she not look back? I should have seen it coming. Was I so blind, or did I close my eyes willfully, so I would not have to see the price of power? (ADWD, Daenerys II)
The next lines of Dany’s vision are even starker.
“Drogon killed a little girl. Her name was … her name …” Dany could not recall the child’s name. That made her so sad that she would have cried if all her tears had not been burned away. “I will never have a little girl. I was the Mother of Dragons.”
Aye, the grass said, but you turned against your children. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
Dany forgetting the name of Hazzea has been commented on by smart readers as a a profound moment in Dany’s turn from peace to war. However, I find Dany’s last sentence about being the mother of dragons and Jorah’s response as Dany turning against her children as equally profound. Dany starts the chapter by walking back to Meereen in order to protect her children, but now Dany’s inner consciousness, her mother of dragons persona is accusing her of abandoning her children, her only children. And these children were not human; they were not peaceful. They were dragons, and only fire and blood could be come from them.
But in a last ditch attempt to retain her mhysa identity, she starts walking against towards Meereen (though pointedly she forgets about Hizdahr and focuses on her excitement at seeing Daario again). But only a few paces after she started walking, she stops and comes to a conclusion in her conscious state.
Meereen was not her home, and never would be. It was a city of strange men with strange gods and stranger hair, of slavers wrapped in fringed tokars, where grace was earned through whoring, butchery was art, and dog was a delicacy. Meereen would always be the Harpy’s city, and Daenerys could not be a harpy. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
And her unconscious state answers.
Never, said the grass, in the gruff tones of Jorah Mormont. You were warned, Your Grace. Let this city be, I said. Your war is in Westeros, I told you. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
And then finally, Daenerys makes the final break and embraces her a violent, prophetic interpretation of her Targaryen mother of dragon roots
I was tired, Jorah. I was weary of war. I wanted to rest, to laugh, to plant trees and see them grow. I am only a young girl.”
No. You are the blood of the dragon. The whispering was growing fainter, as if Ser Jorah were falling farther behind. Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.
“Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass.
The mhysa who sacrificed for her children, the mother who protected Meereen from forces without and within gives in to the temptation of her ancestry and brands herself the mother of dragons once again. Only this time, Daenerys has now partnered her mother of dragons identity with a ambiguous but fully violent vision of prophecy.
Ahead of Daenerys lies a path of blood and violence.
Thanks for reading! Part 2 will be an in-depth examination of where I think Daenerys’ arc will take her in The Winds of Winter both location-wise and thematically. Click here to read Part 2!
- Dragons Plant No Trees
- A Darker Daenerys by the Meereenese Blot
- Daenerys as a Villain
- Daenerys’ Tragedy
- Under the Bleeding Star by Stefan Sasse
- Race for the Iron Throne’s chapter analyses of AGOT, Daenerys X & ACOK, Daenerys I
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