The Dragon’s Mercy: The Violent Future Path of Daenerys Targaryen: Part 2: Reborn on the Dothraki Sea


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“Viserys was Mad Aerys’s son, just so. Daenerys… Daenerys is quite different. The frightened child who sheltered in my manse died on the Dothraki sea, and was reborn in blood and fire. This dragon queen who wears her name is a true Targaryen.” (ADWD, Tyrion II)

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Spoiler Warning: Part 2 of my essay series The Dragon’s Mercy: The Violent Future of Daenerys Targaryen picks up where we last left Daenerys Targaryen at the end of A Dance with Dragons. Originally, I intended this to be a 2-part series, but I estimated that the writing for part 2 would be close to 13,000 words. So, in lieu of a very long read, I’ve decided to make this essay series into 3 parts. While much in these last two parts will be speculative and based on clues and foreshadowing from the first five books of A Song of Ice and Fire, I will need to delve into some of The Winds of Winter sample material and interviews that Martin has given about The Winds of Winter. As such, this essay and recording contain both major and minor spoilers for The Winds of Winter. 

Early in A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys abandons her violent, mother of dragons persona and embraces a peaceful conception of motherhood known as the mhysa. But within the space of one chapter of this embrace, Dany is confronted with a scene of such personal violence that it challenges her new-found peaceful desires.  In ADWD, Daenerys II, reports reach Daenerys that 9 Unsullied soldiers have been killed by the Sons of the Harpy outside of a wineshop. Mossandor, the brother of Missandei, is among those dead from the ambush. The murder of the Unsullied shocks Dany, but equally upsetting is that the perpetrators escaped custody. Instead, the Unsullied took the owner of the wineshop where the attack occurred into custody for questioning. Likely to ensure thoroughness in their investigation, the Unsullied also take the wineseller’s daughters into custody as well.

Mossador. Dany made a fist. Missandei and her brothers had been taken from their home on Naath by raiders from the Basilisk Isles and sold into slavery in Astapor. Young as she was, Missandei had shown such a gift for tongues that the Good Masters had made a scribe of her. Mossador and Marselen had not been so fortunate. They had been gelded and made into Unsullied. “Have any of the murderers been captured?”

“Your servants have arrested the owner of the wineshop and his daughters. They plead their ignorance and beg for mercy.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)

With the witnesses appealing to the mhysa, Daenerys is left in a bit of a quandry. She suspects the wineseller of some sort of complicity in the act or at least knowing more than he’s let on, but what could she do to retrieve that information? Simply questioning the wineseller or his daughters might not net the results needed to identify the perpetrators. But torturing the wineseller might extract the information. It might be morally nebulous or even wrong, but it could lead to a more peaceful Meereen in the long-term. Dany, for her part, is skeptical of the wineseller’s declaration of innocence, but at the same time, she’s unwilling to take on the mother of dragons mantle.

They all plead ignorance and beg for mercy. “Give them to the Shavepate. Skahaz, keep each apart from the others and put them to the question.”

“It will be done, Your Worship. Would you have me question them sweetly, or sharply?”

“Sweetly, to begin. Hear what tales they tell and what names they give you. It may be they had no part in this.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)

Dany’s statement gives the  impression that while the death of the Unsullied and Mossador angers Daenerys, their deaths as soldiers, as an Unsullied made some sort of cosmic sense. Like the Joker put it in A Dark Knight, “If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger, will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics.” Though the news is bad, it’s not bad enough to push Dany towards conflict between her two conceptions of motherhood. So, by ordering an ethical interrogation of the wineseller and his daughters, Dany’s shows that her mother of dragons instinct is tempered by her sense of cosmic justice.

But when Skahaz mo Kandaq reports on other murders, ones that don’t make any cosmic sense, Dany is dumbfounded.

She hesitated. “Nine, the noble Reznak said. Who else?”

“Three freedmen, murdered in their homes,” the Shavepate said. “A moneylender, a cobbler, and the harpist Rylona Rhee. They cut her fingers off before they killed her.”

The queen flinched. Rylona Rhee had played the harp as sweetly as the Maiden. When she had been a slave in Yunkai, she had played for every highborn family in the city. In Meereen she had become a leader amongst the Yunkish freedmen, their voice in Dany’s councils. “We have no captives but this wineseller?”

“None, this one grieves to confess. We beg your pardon.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)

When Daenerys flinches, it’s a tell on George RR Martin’s part that he’s about to turn the tables on the reader.  Just prior to this moment, we’re lulled into feeling that Dany will do the right thing, that she will hold firm to her mhysa identity. But when Dany flinches, it’s demonstrating that her moral firmness in the matter is a bit less solid than thought. The deaths of the Unsullied were tragic and horrific, but they could be processed mentally, because soldiers dying, while tragic, is more cosmically understandable. But when innocents die unnecessarily or when they are murdered, Daenerys Targaryen’s mhysa side gives way to the mother of dragons. When innocent slave children were cruelly crucified against the mileposts to Meereen, Daenerys let her vengeful Mother of Dragons persona rage. The Mother of Dragons exacted her vengeance in the form of crucifying 163 Meereenese Great Masters, without determining their guilt or innocence in the deaths of innocents.

Here, when confronted with a very personal loss, one that defies any cosmic sense, Dany turns once again to the mother of dragons.

Mercy, thought Dany. They will have the dragon’s mercy. “Skahaz, I have changed my mind. Question the man sharply.”

“I could. Or I could question the daughters sharply whilst the father looks on. That will wring some names from him.”

“Do as you think best, but bring me names.” Her fury was a fire in her belly. (ADWD, Daenerys II)

The dragon’s mercy can be broadly defined as Daenerys fulfilling her emotional need to visit vengeance upon those who have harmed innocents. But before you agree that this is good or even admirable, the dragon’s mercy has parameters that go beyond the mere protection of innocents. Torturing the wineseller could perhaps be justified in a moral sense, but torturing his daughters while their father looks on? That’s less justifiable. It’s these moral and pragmatic shortcuts to achieve her ends and fulfill a personal emotional need that define the dragon’s mercy. But it’s these shortcuts that have villainous overtones. Do heroes allow innocents to be tortured? It’s a question that Martin at least seems to want us to ask.

So, when at the end of A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys re-embraces her mother of dragons identity, she’s also inherently embracing a mindset of the dragon’s mercy too. Worse, she’s wrapped her avenging dragon persona in a prophetic vision of destiny. Gone are the days when Dany made peace with her enemies. Gone still further is the willingness to make compromises to safeguard innocents. Instead, in The Winds of Winter, we will find that Daenerys Targaryen will bring the dragon’s mercy to Essos. Meereenese, Yunkish, Volantene and Pentoshi will feel the heat of the dragon’s mercy as Daenerys Targaryen burns her way across Essos. But first, she will bring fire and blood to the Dothraki.

Dead Man Riding: The Fiery Future of Khal Jhaqo

That was how Khal Jhaqo found her, when half a hundred mounted warriors emerged from the drifting smoke. (ADWD, Daenerys X)

When we last left Daenerys, she had made her final break from her mhysa identity and embraced a fire and blood mentality wrapped in prophetic vision of destiny. But Dany’s last chapter in A Dance with Dragons doesn’t end there. Instead, GRRM pushes the narrative forward just a little further. After her conversation with the swaying grass, Daenerys emerges from her vision quest to the reality around her.

Stuck in the Dothraki sea with only the occasional presence of Drogon to keep her company, Dany’s immediate future is uncertain. But then a Dotraki scout emerges out of the tall grass in front of Dany. Hidden by the tall grass, Dany’s presence goes unnoticed. But when the scout departs, Daenerys begins shouting after the rider. This causes Drogon to fly to Dany’s presence. After tellingly echoing Qaithe’s “to go forward, you must go back” prophecy, she mounts Drogon to chase after the Dothraki scout. While on intercept course, Drogon & Dany fly over a herd of horses with about 20 Dothraki riders among them. Drogon & Dany then descend down on an unmounted horse; there, in another highly symbolic measure, Drogon lights the horse on fire and then he and Dany eat the horse. The chapter concludes with Khal Jhaqo and 50 warriors from his khalasar finding Dany and Drogon.

So, before we move into what I suspect will immediately transpire after Khal Jhaqo’s discovery of Daenerys, who is this Khal Jhaqo fellow? Is this someone that we’ve met previously? It sure is. Khal Jhaqo was a ko, that is a subordinate commader of Khal Drogo’s. When Khal Drogo fell from his horse and appeared all but dead, Ko Jhaqo took on the mantle of khal and claimed 20,000 of Drogo’s riders.

“The Dothraki follow only the strong,” Ser Jorah said. “I am sorry, my princess. There was no way to hold them. Ko Pono left first, naming himself Khal Pono, and many followed him. Jhaqo was not long to do the same. (AGOT, Daenerys IX)

Among Khal Jhaqo’s new bloodriders was a nasty horseman by the name of Mago. Mago is first introduced to the reader during the Dothraki attack of the Lhazarene. In that chapter, Daenerys saves a few of the Lhazarene people from being claimed by the Dothraki. Among some of those claimed were captives of a bloodrider known as Mago. Dany’s action infuriates Mago; specifically, one of the captives that Dany claims is a slave girl named Eroeh, and this slave girl was someone that Mago hoped to rape.

“This one is Mago, who rides in the khas of Ko Jhaqo. He says the khaleesi has taken his spoils, a daughter of the lambs who was his to mount.” (AGOT, Daenerys VII)

Mago attempted to take back Eroeh, but his atempt was thwarted by Drogo, but when Khal Drogo and Dany fell into comas, Mago seized on the opportunity.

“They took Khal Drogo’s herds, Khaleesi,” Rakharo said. “We were too few to stop them. It is the right of the strong to take from the weak. They took many slaves as well, the khal’s and yours, yet they left some few.”

“Eroeh?” asked Dany, remembering the frightened child she had saved outside the city of the Lamb Men.

“Mago seized her, who is Khal Jhaqo’s bloodrider now,” said Jhogo. “He mounted her high and low and gave her to his khal, and Jhaqo gave her to his other bloodriders. They were six. When they were done with her, they cut her throat.” (AGOT, Daenerys IX)

The gangrape and murder of Eroeh enrages Daenerys. Though powerless at the end of A Game of Thrones, Daenerys swears bloody vengeance on Jhaqo and Mago.

“Khaleesi, “ the handmaid Irri explained, as if to a child, “Jhaqo is a khal now, with twenty thousand riders at his back.”

She lifted her head. “And I am Daenerys Stormhorn, Daenerys of House Targaryen, of the blood of Aegon the Conqueror and Maegor the Cruel and old Valyria before them. I am the dragon’s daughter, and I swear to you, these men will die screaming. (AGOT, Daenerys IX)

After A Game of Thrones, Mago & Jhaqo drop from the main narrative, but their names and exploits remain in Dany’s mind. After Daenerys embraces her mhysa identity at the end of A Storm of Swords,  she reflects on Eroeh. But tellingly, rather than thinking  of the vengeance she will exact for her gang-rape and murder, she regards Eroeh as an example of her failure to safeguard innocent life.

It is Eroeh all over again.”

Brown Ben Plumm was puzzled. “Who is Eroeh?”

“A girl I thought I’d saved from rape and torment. All I did was make it worse for her in the end. And all I did in Astapor was make ten thousand Eroehs.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)

And in Dany’s last chapter in A Dance with Dragons, she thinks about Mago & Jhaqo. As she wanders across the Dothraki Sea, she reflects back to Mago & Jhaqo. Tellingly, this occurs just before Dany has her dramatic vision of destiny & her encounter with the Dothraki.

Ko Jhaqo named himself Khal Jhaqo and rode off with even more. Mago, his bloodrider, raped and murdered Eroeh, a girl Daenerys had once saved from him. Only the birth of her dragons amidst the fire and smoke of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre had spared Dany herself from being dragged back to Vaes Dothrak to live out the remainder of her days amongst the crones of the dosh khaleen. (ADWD, Daenerys X)

As such, Dany’s memory of Jhaqo & Mago is very fresh when she has her prophetic reckoning with fire and blood. It’s not coincidental after Dany’s vision that she ecounters Khal Jhaqo’s khalasar. And that’s how Dany’s last chapter ends.

Now, moving past A Dance with Dragons territory and into speculation territory, it’s important note something very symbolic at the end of Dany’s last chapter in A Dance with Dragons. Right at the very end, Drogon & Dany descend on an unmounted horse where Drogon proceeds to light the horse on fire and then eats the horsemeat with Dany.  Now, GRRM sometimes likes to hit his readers over the head with sigil and animal symbolism (Think the direwolf skewered by the stag in A Game of Thrones for example). Here, George is practically telegraphing what’s going to occur after Dany and Drogon’s fateful encounter with the Khal Jhaqo’s khalasar.

First, while the 20 Dothraki scouts may have run from Daenerys and Drogon initially, they went for help and came back in force. With now 50 Dotraki confronting Dany, it’s clear that they mean business and hope that greater numbers will give them a chance against Daenerys and a dragon. But will numbers actually matter? Probably not. This is how I imagine that Dany’s first chapter will open in The Winds of Winter: Either in the moment or in recollection, Dany will make a play at taking Khal Jhaqo’s khalasar from him. And how would she accomplish this? Well, remember Jorah Mormont’s estimation of the Dothraki:

“The Dothraki follow only the strong.” (AGOT, Daenerys IX)

Given that Khal Jhaqo seized a sizeable part of Khal Drogo’s khalasar by demonstrating his strength, Dany seizing back that part or all of Jhaqo’s khalasar makes poetic sense here. And so I imagine that some sort of confrontation between Daenerys and Khal Jhaqo will take place either in the Dothraki Sea or in a place we’ll get to in a moment. And how well would even the best Dothraki warrior do against dragonfire? Poorly.

But if Dany & Drogon start her campaign of fire and blood by killing Khal Jhaqo, what about the fate of Mago the bloodrider? In the HBO series Game of Thrones, Mago is killed by Khal Drogo after the Lhazarene Battle. But we know that Mago is one of Jhaqo’s bloodriders in A Song of Ice and Fire. So, in a rare revelation about The Winds of Winter, GRRM said something interesting about Mago in an interview shortly after A Dance with Dragons published.

“So Mago is not dead in the books. And, in fact, he’s going to be a recurring character in Winds of Winter. He’s a particularly nasty bloodrider to one of the other Khals that’s broken away after Drogo dies.” – Entertainment Weekly Interview with George RR Martin, July 12, 2011

I interpret this to mean that Mago will survive the initial encounter with Daenerys, and that he will take some of Jhaqo’s old khalasar with him. And given that he’ll be a recurring character in The Winds of Winter, I think that Mago will play the role of antagonist to Dany throughout her fire and blood campaign in Essos.

But if Dany has seized part of a khalasar, would she return to Meereen or would she attempt something more drastic?

The Mother of Mountains

“To go forward, you must go back.” (ASOS, Daenerys II)

The obvious play here would be to have Daenerys make her way back to Meereen with Drogon and a partial khalasar. However, if we look at Dany’s mental state, we know that she’s rejected the Meereenese as her children. And while she may wish to return to Meereen in order to re-unite with Daario, the urgency to return to Meereen is likely not as it once was. Even more so, Dany’s mystical encounter with Qaithe in her final chapter and her new vision of prophetic destiny will likely push her temporarily from the Harpy’s City. Instead, I think that Dany’s repetition of Qaithe’s “to go forward, I must go back” mantra prior to mounting Drogon in her last chapter is a tell that Martin is planning to have Dany return to a place in her history, that place being Vaes Dothrak.

In a brief window into The Winds of Winter, George RR Martin, while not confirming that he was writing about Vaes Dothrak, gave some broad hints as to what he was writing in mid-2012:

WINDS OF WINTER. Yes, I’m working on that too. At the moment, I am writing about the Dothraki. More than that, I sayeth not, you know I don’t like to talk about this stuff. – GRRM, Notablog, May 12, 2012

Vaes Dothrak and the Dothraki people represent many things to Dany. It’s where she came into her own power. More importantly, given her new prophetic vision of destiny, Vaes Dothrak provides a fitting place for Dany to return to. As Dany is taking on this new mystical mantle, Dany will likely start to re-examine some of the prophecies that were spoken to her back in A Game of Thrones. Remember the stallion that mounts the world prophecy that was given to Dany’s unborn child? Will Dany start to believe that this prophecy wasn’t meant for Rhaego; that it was meant for her?

And what of Qaithe’s prophecies? Will her cryptic words impact Dany’s travels?

“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.”

Just as an aside: this prophecy by Qaithe is one that many fans interpret to mean something about Dany going to Asshai, but while GRRM may have thought to send Daenerys to Asshai early in writing A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m fairly confident that that she won’t make her way to Asshai in the last two books based on two things that Martin has said on the matter.

Interviewer: … Do you have any plans for the other characters to visit some of the other areas you haven’t explored yet, such as Valyria or Asshai?

GRRM: … Actually Asshai’s another question; it’s kind of at the other end of the world. I’m not sure if we’ll actually ever go to Asshai. You may learn more about it through Melisandre or other people remembering it or talking about it. – Interview with GRRM prior to publication of ADWD

Question: Will we see Asshai?]

GRRM: Only in flasback and memory, if at all. So Spake Martin, July 27, 2008

Moving beyond Qaithe, there’s also the issue of Dany’s visions from the House of the Undying. While prophecy in ASOIAF turns the hearer towards shortcuts and morally gray actions, the prophecies and visions that Daenerys experienced in the House of the Undying are probably the truest glimpses into the future. A prominent part of the House of the Undying vision references a nearby terrain feature of Vaes Dothrak.

Beneath the Mother of Mountains, a line of naked crones crept from a great lake and knelt shivering before her, their grey heads bowed. (ACOK, Daenerys IV)

This lesser-cited portion of the House of the Undying prophecy is something that sticks out after a few re-reads. Has any of this been fulfilled previously? Likely not. So, what does it mean? First, a few points. The Mother of Mountains is the most prominent terrain features in and around Vaes Dothrak and the endless flat grassland of the Dothraki Sea.The Mother of Mountains also has spiritual significance to the Dothraki people. Now, turning away from the mountain, the crones referenced here are a likely reference to the Dosh Khaleen — that is the widowed khaleesis of dead khals. Their significance in the story was felt early when they prophesied  that Dany’s child would be the stallion that would mount the world. Later, Dany’s turn to Mirri Maaz Durr to save Khal Drogo’s life was at least partially motivated by her unwillingness to join the Dosh Khaleen.

Returning to the vision from the House of the Undying, it’s important to note again that the subjects of prophecy and vision oft-times misinterpret the visions and prophecies that they experience. So, are the line of naked crones shivering from the coldness of the lake that they had emerged from? Maybe, but the lake doesn’t have any special significance to Daenerys. While cold might be a reason for shivering, a more intriguing possibility is that it isn’t water that is making the dosh khaleen shiver. Rather, it’s fear that is causing the crones to shiver or more accurately shake with fright.

A Targaryen Queen mounted on a dragon demanding pledges of fealty would be a terrifying sight to behold. The vision’s reference of  the crones “kneeling with their grey heads bowed” likely references some sort of homage that the dosh khaleen are giving to Daenerys Targaryen.

But outside of the thematic purposes, if Martin was writing about the Dothraki and Vaes Dothrak, what plot purpose would returning to Vaes Dothrak serve for Dany’s arc? First, it could serve as the confrontation point between Daenerys and Jhaqo or Daenerys and Mago. If Dany doesn’t kill Jhaqo or Mago on the Dothraki Sea, Vaes Dothrak would make for a dramatic confrontation. Moreover, if the final confrontation between these two Dothraki and Daenerys occurs in Vaes Dothrak and a certain dragon is involved in the confrontation, it could serve as a callback to events from A Game of Thrones. Dothraki traditions about the shedding of blood are resolute.

The Dothraki esteem Vaes Dothrak as the holiest of cities. No blood may be shed there. (TWOIAF, The Dothraki)

But Khal Drogo found a way to circumvent this with Viserys. Recall how Viserys was killed in Vaes Dothrak and not a drop of blood was shed. It’s possible that Daenerys will both uphold and subvert this time-honored Dothraki tradition and use dragon fire to kill Jhaqo & Mago within Vaes Dothrak — that is if either aren’t killed out in the Dothraki Sea.

Moreover, this event or any number of events could serve as a focal point for Daenerys to unite the Dothraki into a great khalasar. The World of Ice and Fire makes two interesting notes regarding the future of the Dothraki. The first is an admission that the Dothraki will unite.

Wiser men know that it is only a matter of time until the khalasars unite again under some great khal and turn west once more in search of new conquests. (TWOIAF, The Dothraki)

The second reference in The World of Ice and Fire takes a look at the prophecies surrounding the Dothraki.

One day all the khalasars shall gather together once more beneath the banners of the great khal who will conquer all, the “stallion who mounts the world.” (TWOIAF, The Dothraki)

Dany’s return to Vaes Dothrak would serve as the impetus for the grand unification of the Dothraki under a singular leader. The city serves as the central location for bringing the Dothraki together under the khal of khals or in the case of Daenerys, the khaleesi of khals.

The Thematic Impulse for Dany’s Coming Dothraki Arc

When we take a step back from the thematic and plot-purposes and get a 10,000 foot view of why George RR Martin would take us back to the Dothraki, some interesting meta themes emerge. Dany’s return to Vaes Dothrak may make sense to drive Dany’s plot and character arc forward, but there are other issues that will likely come into play. As a people group, the Dothraki have a less-than-stellar reputation among the people of Essos. The World of Ice and fire sums up the prevailing view of the Dothraki nicely.

The Dothraki remain nomads still, a savage and wild people who prefer tents to palaces. (TWOIAF, The Dothraki)

And though it would be unfair to castigate the Dothraki completely, their reputation for savagery is not unwarranted. No one who has read the description of the Dothraki sack of the Lhazarene town in A Game of Thrones comes away marveling at the human rights record of the Dothraki. Instead, George intends us to react with horror to the scenes of murder and rape. So, it would seem that Dothraki culture in and of itself was intentionally designed by George RR Martin to be foreign to us living in modernity. We can’t sympathize with brutal military conquest and the mass human trafficking that flows from these conquests. Moreover, even outside of their brutal military methods and tactics, the Dothraki as a people group are utterly alien to our cultural mores and customs. But interestingly, GRRM almost seems to regret that the Dothraki seem so one-dimensional

Charlie Jane Anders: People complain that the Dothraki are this one-dimensional barbarian society.

George RR Martin: I haven’t had a Dothraki viewpoint character though. – io9 Interview with GRRM, 7/23/2013

But if Martin might regret the lack of a Dothraki POV character, it doesn’t mean that he won’t use their one-dimensional nature to manipulate readers. If Daenerys were to confront the Dothraki atop Drogon, most readers would be hard-pressed to summon much sympathy for the Dothraki. This becomes even more true when GRRM inevitably brings us the confrontation between Daenerys and Mago/Jhaqo. Both men represent the pinnacle of Dothraki culture. And both represent the evils inherent in Dothraki culture.

Interestingly, I think that GRRM is setting this up to be another moment similar to what occurred in Astapor in A Storm of Swords. There, Daenerys, confronted by the horrors of the slave culture in Astapor, betrayed the Wise Masters of Astapor and brought fire and blood to them and their ilk. And in that dracarys moment, we, as readers, cheered Dany’s actions. As readers, we loved seeing some cosmic justice dealt to these tokar-wearing slavers. In the case of Astapor, it’s hard to really argue against Dany’s actions to violently end the reign of the Wise Masters (Though some have made the point that Dany’s breach of contract was egregious). That being said, the cost in human lives in Astapor was enough that Dany’s actions were regarded as a sack thereafter.

And so, any punitive or military actions that Dany takes with the Dothraki will likely be cheered by fans. But given the subtext of Dany’s new-found Targaryen and prophetic identities, George will likely be inviting readers to evaluate her actions against her prophetic and mother of dragons identities. Moreover, there’s a subtle change that will likely be at work. Dany’s actions in Astapor were motivated by her desire to safeguard innocents, those who became her children. When the Unsullied joined her thereafter; it was a significant windfall to her humanitarian impulses, but securing the Unsullied was not her primary motivation in letting fire and blood reign down on Astapor. But will Dany be motivated by humanitarian reasons with regard to the Dothraki? Or will her actions be motivated by a desire to secure a khalasar and larger army to take the throne of Westeros back from her enemies? For that matter, will there be any innocents to safeguard in Vaes Dothrak? Or will any innocents shake with fear and bow their heads in submission to Daenerys?

These potential shifts are subtle but of great import.


A current running through these potential future event is that of Dany’s new status as a villain. But is she? In an interview with Charlie Jane Anders of io9, GRRM gave a thoughtful response to the question of evil.

Are there any characters that you’ve kind of fallen out of love with, that you just don’t, you know, get excited about any more?

I still love all the characters. Even some of them who aren’t very lovable. At least the viewpoint characters. When I’m writing in the viewpoint of one of these characters, I’m really inside their skin. So, you trying to see the world through their eyes to understand why they do the things they do. And we all have, even characters who are thought of to be bad guys, who are bad guys, in some objective sense, don’t think of themselves as bad guys.

That’s a comic book kind of thing, where the Red Skull gets up in the morning [and asks] “What evil can I do today?” Real people don’t think that way. We all think we’re heroes, we all think we’re good guys. We have our rationalizations when we do bad things. “Well, I had no choice,” or “It’s the best of several bad alternatives,” or “No it was actually good because God told me so,” or “I had to do it for my family.” We all have rationalizations for why we do shitty things or selfish things or cruel things. So when I’m writing from the viewpoint of one of my characters who has done these things, I try to have that in my head. – io9 Interview with GRRM, 7/23/2013

Dany’s future turn as a villain will not be one where she’ll contemplate what evil she can do. Almost assuredly, Daenerys will continue to view herself as the hero in her own story. But to the reader, Dany’s turn to villainy will be one where Dany rationalizes her moral compromises away from a perspective of fulling destiny. The Dothraki may be a people whose warlike and slaving ways warrant some sort of cosmic justice in the form of dragonfire, but will Dany’s actions be done from a perspective of justice, divorced from human emotion? Or will they be tied intrinsically to her new prophetic, mother of dragons desire to exact vengeance on those who have wronged her? It’s my estimation that Dany’s rebirth into fire and blood will continue into the Dothraki Sea.

If Dany can secure a great khalasar at Vaes Dothrak and eliminate Khal Jhaqo & Mago, her power will be great and terrible indeed. But it will only be phase 1 of Winds of Winter arc. Phase 2 can only take her to one place: to the city that is not her home, to a people she rejected as her children, to the war that she fought so hard to forestall and to a fiery red god that will give her new purpose and destiny.

Thanks for reading! Part 3 will continue our examination of Dany’s coming arc in The Winds of Winter. Please follow us on twitter, like us on facebook or subscribe to our podcast on podbean or itunes in order to stay up to date with all the latest and greatest from all of us here! 


Filed under ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF Podcasts, ASOIAF Political Analysis, ASOIAF Speculation

43 responses to “The Dragon’s Mercy: The Violent Future Path of Daenerys Targaryen: Part 2: Reborn on the Dothraki Sea

  1. Zac

    2nd paragraph before the “Conclusion”, you’ve got “safegurad” instead of “safeguard.”

    • Correction appreciated. Thank you, ser!

      • Just to help in this then:
        after the “will we see asshai?” interview segment, fourth line “the the House of the Undying”
        Also, the segment about not spilling blood on vaes dothrak
        “No blood maybe shed there. (TWOIAF, The Dothraki)”

        Really interesting essay again. I think you might be right about Dany becoming a villain in a way. Also, remember how GRRM described the ending being bittersweet?

  2. Zac

    No problem! It’s the first time I’ve found one in one of your essays. I enjoy them so much so thank you, ser, for writing them!

  3. Rom

    May I ask you how you reacted to the 12 days of Westeros thing? 😀

    • My first reaction was to blubber like a fanboy to the tune of “Guys, am I losing it to think to be excited that 12 days of Westeros ends on the 1st day of winter, like TWOW?” But when Elio and later GRRM dispelled it, I came to my senses. That said, I left a comment on GRRM’s blog about why we as a fandom collectively lost our minds.

      • Rom

        I wish I could share your optimism regarding TWoW`s release, though.
        Liam Cunningham recently said that GRRM is only halfWAY through, and one of his editors said that a 2015 release is unlikely. I fear we have a long way to go.

      • Oh, I’m not that optimistic. Given the scant progress reports, we’re in for the long-haul.

      • Rom

        What could be the problem, this time? A new “Mereneese knot”?

        Either way, it`s sad that him saying that he hasn`t done as many rewrites and plans to finish the remaining books much faster doesn`t mean much. 😦

  4. Beto

    Yes. I agree with everything. Nice catch on Drogon killing and eating that horse´s flesh as foreshadowing of Dany killing Jhaqo and taking his army:

    Can´t wait for part three and hear your thoughts about what’s going to happen in Meereen once she returns. That part eludes me. I have no idea. I feel like all this time we spent in Meereen should have some payoff.. Either her efforts to improve the lives of slaves end up in complete disaster with her former “children” dead, or she succeeds in some way, just not the peaceful society of Freedmen and former nobility living side by side that she wanted during ADWD.
    Maybe she will leave the Shavepate ruling a brutal regime.. kind of a Butcher King 2.0. but i have no idea really.
    After that i think the books hint a number of conquests on her way back to westeros. Matarys through the Demon Road, Volantis, and Pentos probably will fall to her Khalassar.

  5. Steve

    Would/could the imagery of Drogon burning and consuming the riderless horse also foreshadow Dany’s arrival in Westeros and meeting with Stannis??

    • Perhaps. It would dovetail with Stannis’ vision in the flames of a burning crown. I definitely think that Dany & Stannis will be enemies in ADOS.

      • Elyse Frances Enger

        And the vision can also apply to both Dany and Stannis; their quest for the crown ends up destroying them in a twist of irony. To add insult to injury, I think Dany will be half-mad at the time she kills Stannis, and by the time Jon kills her in a act of betrayal, it may turn out to be a mercy that she desperately needs.

        So in a way Dany’s character delevopment may potentially parallel Cersei’s, and Jon Jaime’s.

  6. As a sort of response to your Foreward, I just thought I’d say that while I’ve not commented on any of them, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these essays, and continue to check back frequently in case of new posts.

    Thanks for being the metaphorical patch to my ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ addiction!

  7. Andrew

    I like the pointing out of the metaphor. The crones were likely in the lake to shelter from the dragonflame.

    I disagree that Dany would go away to VD willingly. GRRM doesn’t have his characters reach their highest points until after reaching their lowest points. StmW is a pretty high point, and GRRM would likely have her reach a really low point before doing so.

    We are told in the beginning of the chapter the Drogon always leaves for his cave at sunset, and according to Dany’s POV in the last paragraphs: “the western sky turned the color of a blood bruise”. It is sunset, and we know that the smoke or grass was thick enough to hide 50 mounted Dothraki, if that’s the case then it was thick enough to hide Drogon flying away. Khal Jhaqo was likely investigating the kill site after Drogon left given they don’t seem to have bothered him before.

    Otherwise if they do fight him, it took less than a dozen men to get Drogon to fly all the way back to his cave in Meereen. Fifty mounted warriors should be adequate to at least encourage him to fly away.

    Jhaqo would likely take Dany back to VD to the dosh khaleen. She might even be given a trail for breaking two taboos: blood magic and spilling blood in VD, as she said there is no privacy in a khalasar and people would have seen Viserys leaving her tent from the cut she gave him.

    She could have a trial in a parallel to Cersei’s and then like Cersei, have the magical creation named for her late husband arrive at the right time to save her. I agree, Drogon would give her a distinct advantage in being able to kill in VD without breaking the taboo.

    Dany noted that Drogon had been hunting the khalsar’s horses for a while, and had likely become his main food source in a drying sea. It makes sense for a predator to follow his prey, and Drogon would likely follow the herd to VD.

    • Perhaps Daenerys/Drogon break the taboo. Surely the Stallion Who Mounts the World (Drogon?) will not be constrained by some earthly taboo.

      Fire and blood.

      • BoccageTheBlueBard

        I tend to believe that Jhaqo would see Drogon in the skies, even with the smoke as a big winged creature would fan away any smoking cloud it comes up into… It also makes sense to bring her back to the Dosh Khaleen, but for the fact that Jhaqo – and Mago as well – has more than enough reasons for wanting her killed instead, the Blood Magic on khal Drogo, and the release of Eroeh, to name a few, I don’t think they would do it willingly. And do Dothraki have a trial-like system? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so.
        Now, what I do believe is that they will want to savor her capture and maybe even sell her to the Yunkai’i or ransom her in Meereen. Either way, I agree Drogon will save her, if not due to hunting horses, because of sensing her fear (IMO Drogon is the true stallion that will mount the world, her most willful, violent child). Then It would make sense to avenge/bend the knees of the other khalasars to her cause in VD.

  8. Sven

    How long does it take you to write an essay like this? I sometimes had trouble finding 1000 words for my essays at school and you spit out 5000 + like it`s nothing! 🙂

  9. Colonel Mustard

    Your train of thought regarding Daenerys’ turn toward motivation by prophecy reminded me of the tragic end that met other Targaryens who tried to chase dragon dreams and destiny, like Aegon V (Egg, who died at Summerhall trying to hatch his dragon egg), and Rhaegar (first believed he was the Prince who was promised, later that his son would be). It also reminded me of Tyrion’s words, “Prophecy is like a half-trained mule. It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head.”

    • An excellent point. Dany’s turn to a prophetic vision of destiny could very well mirror Egg’s turn. Wonder if Egg’s ending at Summerhall has any thematic implications for the end of Dany’s arc.

      • Elyse Frances Enger

        And also thematic implications can be gleaned from Aerys’s madness after Jaeherys forced him to marry Rhaella to get the PTWP, as well as Cersei’s mental instability after Joffrey’s death and her obsession with the valonquar prophecy.

        So in a sense, pursuing her own twisted prophetic vision potentially will drive Dany insane, when the visions she saw may potentially have other meanings.

  10. Patrick

    Do you think Dany’s embracing of her Mother of Dragons identity will aid her in controlling Drogon? Did we see a glimpse of that at the end of ADWD, or was Drogon just hungry for some venison?

    I wonder if/how she will get control of Drogon to the extent her dragon riding ancestors were able to command their mounts?

    Great essay as always!

  11. alex1

    what about Victarion/horn & Marwyn /sorsery and Danys dragons?
    will she have control over all 3 dragons or will she be left with only Drogon?

    i like all your dothraki analysis but Dany will have not just armies (Yunkai etc) against her
    but magic too

  12. BaelTheBard

    Thank you for your essays. I enjoy them very much.
    Hope you don’t mind if i transtate this for russian fandom.

  13. J Mann

    I don’t see Dany as a villain, any more than Jon or Robb are villains for suiting up and planning wars of revenge. All of the young characters get their illusions shattered — Dany and Jon are unusual in that it happens to them more than once.

    As for villainous viewpoint characters, I’d offer The on, Cersei and Victareon, plus arguably Jaimie. Tyrion is perceived as a villain, even in his own eyes, but his heart isn’t in it.

    • Elyse Frances Enger

      Have you ever given some thought about how Cersei’s paranoia over Maggy the frog’s prophecy may foreshadow Daenerys’s mental deterioration and paranoid delusions?

  14. Ratmancampidori

    This is an amazing essay, I can’t wait for part three. Hey heres a suggestion for an essay, I’ve always wondered about Targaryen madness and whether it’s truly real or an actual threat to the Seven Kingdoms stability. I would love to see an essay examining it.

  15. Rhaegar_Targaryen

    When does ,part 3 come out? Can’t wait.

  16. Akolyte

    If we’re lucky Dany gets shot in the throat with an arrow in the first chapter and we never hear about her again.

  17. Claire

    Thank you for your essays. They are one of the things keeping me sustained until WoW!! I have read almost all of them, but never commented before.

    One thing that has always bothered me about Dany’s arc is that she will presumably up and leave Essos, mid unsuccessful anti-slavery campaign, so she can claim a throne her family used to hold in a country she has never been to before (Dragonstone being an island off the coast).

    Dany going to a Westeros is logical in terms of defeating the Others, but she doesn’t know about them as yet! Surely, given that she is the only person in the world who has dragons, and therefore weilds a lot of power, she has a moral responsibility to stay in Essos and end slavery and figure out a way to enforce it? I hope this at least is something she will be able to achieve once she has embraced “fire and blood”. I don’t really mind if she does it pre or post Westeros, but if she doesn’t complete her anti-slavery campaign she will be a bit of a dud for me, since ending slavery seems more important than sitting the iron throne. However, I seem to be in the minority with this opinion. I would love to learn your opinion on this! 🙂

    I am looking forward to the 3rd instalment.

  18. Nice attention to detail in this essay, good job.

    I always expected Dany to take possession of a khalasar, this feels like the right time for that. Feels like a ‘miss’ if she doesn’t go to Asshai after the previous build up but I really don’t want yet another delay getting her to Westeros….unless there’s that arrow in the throat thing Akolyte (and I) pray for.

    That’s Akolyte makes a good point, in a way. The dothraki are mounted archers, basically Mongols. They’d be an ideal group to deal with Dany and her dragon, if they could control their mounts when facing dragonsfire.

    But I don’t expect Martin to end her plot line with a dothraki arrow.

  19. Pingback: The Dragon’s Mercy: The Violent Future Path of Daenerys Targaryen, Part 3: Blood for Blood | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  20. Aemon of House Daenaryon

    im always surprised by people’s thoughts on Dany turning evil. there is really nothing in the story that indicate she will turn evil. Blood and Fire is a threat against her enemies like the slavers and Jhago and those in Westeros who will try to kill her. its much like “winter is coming” which the Starks used as a threat in their battles or “ours is fury” which the Baratheons used in their fights. when those families use their motos we never think of them turning evil. its simply a matter of them accepting that now they need to fight for their believes and not hesitate. Dany is not my bias and i have disliked many of her actions but i can never see GRRM turning her evil because that means that she will have to die or be killed before the final battle with the Others. And we are almost guaranteed she will be there at the wall fighting the Others. Her being evil and her protecting humanity against The Others dont fit together. it is more likely that she will become even more ruthless against her enemies, and fans of the story will most likely cheer for her because she has finally gotten rid of her indecieciveness but her Mhysa identity will always be there inside no matter how deeply buried it appears to be, and i honestly think that its her Mhysa identity that will cost her her life at the end of the story. the bittersweet ending GRRM promised is more likely related to her death during the battle and her becoming a figure of worship for the common people

    • Elyse Frances Enger

      Something you should be paying attention to is the similarities between young Cersei and Dany. When they chose to indulge in prophecy they definitely don’t know what they get will not be the one they wanted or expected. And Marwyn said that Georghan of Old Ghis mentioned that prophecy is a treachous woman; you moan in pleasure at the sound of it, then she bite your prick off at the worst possible time.

      How do this apply to Dany? In essence, her naivety and her belief in prophecy will come back to bite her at the worst possible time, and as a result it causes her defeat. And her choice to side with R’hllor will also cause her downfall. There’s a ton of satanic imagery that relates a lot to the Targaryen sigil, one aspect is that their sigil resembles the seven-headed beast of Revelations. Another aspect you failed to notice that LIGHTBRINGER has a Latin equivalent; Lucifer. In Biblical myth he was the angel that defied God and was cast out of heaven as a result.

      In one of the chapters of Isaiah the quotes that refers to a conqueror falling because of his entitlement can apply to Dany, because she thinks she is the goddess when in fact she isn’t.

      “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: ‘Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?’”

      Dany, because she chose to go the way of prophecy may unintentionally end up burning herself, and as a result of her prophecies not going the way she expected it to will become mentally unstable, and as a result oppress her followers.

      Jon may kill her in order to protect Westeros from yet another mad ruler in a motif that may mirror Jaime’s killing of Aerys II and his strangulation of Cersei.

  21. Pingback: The Dragon’s Mercy: The Violent Future Path of Daenerys Targaryen, Part 4: The Embers of Essos | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  22. randombuddie

    Soooooooo backstory…. I googled something to get to this post because I am reading Book 1 for the first time (I watched season 1 back in the day and read 2-5 after) and I came across and interesting passage
    “Only the crones of the dish khaleen dwell permanently in the sacred city, them and their slaves and servants,” Ser Jorah replied,”yet Vaes Dothrak is large enough to house every man of every khalasar, should all the Khalid return to the Mother at once. The crones have prophesied that one day that will come to pass, and so Vaes Dothrak must be ready to embrace all its children.” AGOT Daenerys #? (I haven’t written code in a while so I’m not going to attempt to quote – sorry)

    Let me say, you have an amazing essay.

    I think Dany has to return to Vaes Dothrak to be the Mother that all the dothraki unite under. Utilizing both her mhsya and Fire and Blood personas. She is going to need to exhibit strength in order for them to follow her right? Why does she need to kill them all? Why do you think she would destroy her chances of conquering westeros? Don’t you think she needs the dothraki?

  23. Pingback: Drogon Might Take On The Dothraki In 'Game Of Thrones' Season 6 - AltoSky - AltoSky

  24. Tony Moore

    Remember back in Season 1, when it still appeared that the show was going to be faithful to the books and any difference was notable, there was a bit of an uproar when Mago was killed. Martin said: “… Drogo ripping out Mago’s throat, which was entirely new. But that’s going to have ramifications if we go the full length down the pike. I’ve talked to Dan and Dave about the butterfly effect”. George may have been talking, but they weren’t listening. I’ve gotten used to censoring myself on reddit to avoid being lynched by the pinheaded show apologists, but after hearing the last season 5 podcast here, I feel permitted to vent: the degree to which the showrunners have ruined this epic saga is truly appalling. I’m to the point where I don’t see it as incompetence or poor planning – it’s more like intentional cynical vandalism – like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa with a Sharpie pen. My only solace is that those two arrogant jerks are young enough that they’ll live to see themselves thoroughly humiliated after both the book series and HBO series have ended and been evaluated in their totalities.

  25. Hi. Just visiting your blog for first time. The comment from
    Martin about Mago being around for TWOW has me thinking that perhaps instead of being a thorn in Danaery’s side, he might end up following her? The Dothraki follow might. What better sign that Dany has achieved the submission of the Dothraki than her raining enough “fire & blood” down on the Dothraki to impress Mago into submission? And what better sign of Danny’s submission to her role of conqueror than to accept the likes of Mago into her ranks? With Mago around, it would be clear that Dany is willing to turn a blind eye to the damage the Dothraki can do, in order to use the Dothraki to achieve her ends. Or perhaps she will make the Dothraki promise not to rape & pilliage in order to join her successful conquest. But the inclusion of Mago will make it clear that the Dothraki might not be able to keep that promise, but that Dany is willing to take that chance. Good essay. I’m going to look up your podcast.

  26. Pingback: Blood of the Conqueror, Bonus Essay: The Turncloak | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

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