Editor’s Note: This essay contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter. As it’s been a while since I’ve covered Daenerys in The Winds of Winter, I’d encourage you all to read part 1 and part 2 if you’d like to refresh on my ideas on Dany’s torn conception of motherhood, struggles with prophecy/magic and predicting her early Dothraki arc in The Winds of Winter. Finally, I’ll hope to have an audio recording of this essay soon! Follow us on twitter to find out the latest on when that will occur!
Artwork by Erisiar
Daenerys Targaryen’s initial forays in The Winds of Winter hint at a return to Vaes Dothrak and a prophetic identity further reforged by Dothraki mores. But Daenerys’ war is not in the Dothraki Sea or Essos. Her war is in Westeros. But before Daenerys can return to Westeros, however, she has to return to Meereen (a city that Martin himself once wondered whether he could drop a hydrogen bomb on).
The Meereen Daenerys returns to will not be the relatively peaceful (even with the tensions bubbling just below the surface) city she ruled as queen. Meereen will have gotten its own share of fire and blood from the great battle there opening The Winds of Winter, as well as from her two other dragon children. Moreover, from this great conflict will emerge three people (or, to be more specific, two individuals and one group of people) all seeking to win Daenerys’ favor. Each of them will tug her in a direction that the mhysa queen willing to sacrifice on behalf of peace in A Dance with Dragons would never have adopted – toward violence, magic, and the fiery faith of R’hllor.
But it would be a mistake to assert that Dany’s actions and impact will come solely at behest of the designs of others. Daenerys will make fateful, violent decisions based on her perceptions of injustice in the city of Meereen, and it won’t simply be the guilty who will suffer from them. Much as it was in with the crucifixion of Great Masters and the torture of the wineseller’s daughters, innocent and guilty alike will suffer from the dragon’s mercy in Meereen.
The impact of these choices will further Daenerys’ transformation in The Winds of Winter, from a planter of trees to a reborn dragon.
The Khalasar Rides for Meereen
“The Dothraki only follow the strong.” (AGOT, Daenerys IX)
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
Let us remember where we last left Daenerys, Having embraced fire and blood among the Dothraki, Daenerys has returned to Vaes Dothrak, become the khal(eesi) of khals and now gathered a massive host of Dothraki at her back. But for Daenerys’ narrative in The Winds of Winter to move forward, it’s imperative that Dany not stay among the swaying grass and city of stolen gods. Instead, she will need to make the journey to Meereen.
Several factors will draw Daenerys back to the city she conquered and ruled:
- Her army. The great khalasar she has assembled could wreak a fair amount of havoc in both Westeros and Essos, but Daenerys’ Unsullied, Stormcrows, and freedmen companies are still waiting for her in Meereen. .
- Daario Naharis. By the end of her last chapter in ADWD, Dany’s sole motivation for returning to Meereen was to be in the arms of her charming sellsword commander. That said, there’s something more at play here. The Meereenese Blot rightly has it that Daario Naharis symbolically represents the seduction of violence and war. So, Daenerys will need to return to Meereen in order to embrace her sellsword commander and symbolically embrace the violence he imbues.
One factor that will not, however, is the violently unsettled state of affairs in Meereen. Indeed, in her last chapter, Daenerys believes that she will return to the peace she sacrificed so much hard to protect.
It makes no matter. By now the Yunkai’i will be marching home. That was why she had done all that she had done. For peace. (ADWD, Daenerys X)
Yet in her absence, Meereen has been dramatically (and terribly) transformed. The good but imperfect peace Daenerys attempted in Meereen with her marriage to Hizdhar zo Loraq was burned by Drogon’s fiery return and Dany’s departure. In A Dragon Dawn, my essay series on the Battle of Fire, I analyzed the causes of war, the composition of the armies, the early stages of the battle and finally concluded that the following will have occurred by the battle’s end :
- Barristan Selmy is wounded or dead on the battlefield as a result of Meereenese treachery
- Victarion Greyjoy is dead.
- Euron Greyjoy has control of at least one dragon (likely Rhaegal).
- Viserion just killed numerous soldiers from both sides of the battle in a new field of fire.
- There’s been a mass slaughter of civilians within the city of Meereen by Skahaz mo Kandaq
Even if none of my predictions come true, Daenerys will return to a Meereen transformed by battle. To think that the recently reinvigorated Mother of Dragons, who has embraced violence and a prophetic vision of destiny, would be upset by this turn of events may be understating it.
Even more importantly, new people and factions will have likely taken residence in the ancient Ghiscari city, and each one of them has a seductive, darker path with which to tempt the silver queen from the skeptical mhysa to the Mother of Dragons.
Ironmen in the Midst
You may dress an ironman in silks and velvets, teach him to read and write and give him books, instruct him in chivalry and courtesy and the mysteries of the Faith, but when you look into his eyes, the sea will still be there, cold and grey and cruel. (TWOIAF, The Ironborn)
Artwork by Jen Zee
If you’ll briefly recall events from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, the Ironborn are coming to Meereen. Armed with a horn that allegedly binds dragons to the horn-owner’s will, Victarion Greyjoy was dispatched by Euron Greyjoy for Meereen in order to bring Daenerys and her dragons back to Westeros. Of course, an embittered Victarion plots to betray his brother and take the dragon queen and her dragons for himself. Along the way, the Iron Fleet picked up the red priest Moqorro (who we’ll discuss in greater depth later). From the sample chapters of The Winds of Winter, we know that the Ironborn have landed on the shores of Meereen, cutting a bloody path through the Yunkai’i.
But are the Ironborn simply a deus-ex-rohirrim mechanism that GRRM will use in his writing to allow Barristan to defeat the Yunkai’i in the Battle of Fire? I don’t think so. There’s more at work in the Ironborn than simple warriors thrown in to win a battle. Instead, these seafaring raiders are intended to affect Dany’s personality, especially her new turn towards fire and blood.
While much of the Seven Kingdoms shares a common history, lore and culture, the ironborn stand largely unique, especially in terms of religion. As The World of Ice and Fire puts it:
Yet however the ironborn arose, it cannot be denied that they stand apart, with customs, beliefs, and ways of governance quite unlike those common elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms. All these differences, Archmaester Haereg asserts in his History of the Ironborn, are rooted in religion. (TWOIAF, The Ironborn)
Daenerys and the Iron Price
So what effect will the Ironborn have on Daenerys? Or more importantly, why did GRRM decide to implant them into Dany’s arc? Well, the first thing that springs to mind is how similar the Ironborn old way is to the traditional Targaryen ethos of fire and blood. Compare and contrast what Dany believed was the Targaryen way to how Theon thought on it:
Meereen was never your city, her brother’s voice seemed to whisper. Your cities are across the sea. Your Seven Kingdoms, where your enemies await you. You were born to serve them blood and fire. (ADWD, Daenerys III)
War was an ironman’s proper trade. The Drowned God had made them to reave and rape, to carve out kingdoms and write their names in fire and blood and song. (ACOK, Theon I)
Now, one of the key aspects in both Dany’s (or, rather, Viserys‘) & Theon’s statements is that both speakers have been removed from their native cultures for most of their lives;, both idealize what they assume to be these cultures’ basic tenets . Even so, the key characteristic of both quotes is how much each culture focuses on violence. Paying the iron price fits nicely with taking what is mine by fire and blood – a neat coinciding of Daenerys’ identities as the supreme Khaleesi and as Mother of Dragons.
Raiding and reaving are the hallmarks of Ironborn culture, and this culture has a certain similarity with the Dothraki that Daenerys embraced in A Game of Thrones. While her brother Viserys was unable to adopt the Dothraki ways, Daenerys (eventually) thrived in the environment. And the appeal wasn’t simply an admiration of the simple ways of the Dothraki. There was a seduction in the violence, and even when Daenerys was confronted with the ugly truth of what a Dothraki sack of a town looked like, she rationalized the brutal sack and death of innocents by focusing on her endstate:
Slaves, Dany thought. Khal Drogo would drive them downriver to one of the towns on Slaver’s Bay. She wanted to cry, but she told herself that she must be strong. This is war, this is what it looks like, this is the price of the Iron Throne. (AGOT, Daenerys VII)
The militaristic culture of the Ironborn is similar to the Dothraki, and I think that the Ironborn will have a similar appeal to Daenerys. They’re violent savages whose chief contribution to Daenerys will be their warlike ways (and their fleet as well — something we’ll get into in part 4). This violence is firmly embedded into the Ironmen through the Drowned God and the so-called Old Way.
The iron captain had no time to wait for laggards. Not with his bride encircled by her enemies. The most beautiful woman in the world has urgent need of my axe. (ADWD, Victarion)
This mentality has a definite appeal to Daenerys. Whether it’s Victarion, Euron or a random Ironborn captain who encounters Daenerys when she arrives back at Slaver’s Bay, the thematic impact of the Ironborn will be found in how the Ironborn (along with the Dothraki) will seduce Daenerys towards violent, cruel shortcuts to achieve her ends.
Cruelty does not come naturally to Daenerys, but it’s not completely unknown to her either. One can only think of the 163 crucified Meereenese Great Masters or the tortured daughters of the wineseller as examples where Daenerys has allowed her dragon’s mercy to venture into cruelty. Likewise, the Ironmen have an affinity for cruelty:
“Cruel places breed cruel peoples, Bran, remember that as you deal with these ironmen.” (ACOK, Bran VI)
Moreover, when Euron speaks of his reason to marry Daenerys, his reasons are violent and cruel in nature. He wants to conquer Westeros with a Targaryen bride and her 3 dragons.
“When the kraken weds the dragon, brother, let all the world beware.” (AFFC, The Reaver)
Is this the work of a force that will bring the dragon’s mercy to heel? No. This is a force that will push Daenerys to embrace her mother of dragons persona at the expense of the mhysa. But the ironborn will not be alone in waiting for Daenerys in Meereen, however. Another man is on his way to serve Daenerys, bearing not arms but furtive, dangerous knowledge.
When Marwyn had returned to Oldtown, after spending eight years in the east mapping distant lands, searching for lost books, and studying with warlocks and shadowbinders, Vinegar Vaellyn had dubbed him “Marwyn the Mage.” (AFFC, Prologue)
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
One of the most consequential characters that Daenerys will encounter in The Winds of Winter will be someone who hasn’t quite arrived in Meereen yet: Marwyn, often called “Marwyn the Mage”.
Interestingly enough, Daenerys has already had some exposure to Marwyn the Mage. Back in A Game of Thrones, Mirri Maaz Durr convincingly claimed to have received training in the arts of healing from a maester — namely one Marwyn.
When I was younger and more fair, I went in caravan to Asshai by the Shadow, to learn from their mages. Ships from many lands come to Asshai, so I lingered long to study the healing ways of distant peoples. A moonsinger of the Jogos Nhai gifted me with her birthing songs, a woman of your own riding people taught me the magics of grass and corn and horse, and a maester from the Sunset Lands opened a body for me and showed me all the secrets that hide beneath the skin.”
Ser Jorah Mormont spoke up. “A maester?”
“Marwyn, he named himself,” the woman replied in the Common Tongue. “From the sea. Beyond the sea. The Seven Lands, he said. Sunset Lands. Where men are iron and dragons rule. He taught me this speech.”
“A maester in Asshai,” Ser Jorah mused. “Tell me, Godswife, what did this Marwyn wear about his neck?”
“A chain so tight it was like to choke him, Iron Lord, with links of many metals.”
The knight looked at Dany. “Only a man trained in the Citadel of Oldtown wears such a chain,” he said, “and such men do know much of healing.” (AGOT, Daenerys VII)
So, from the early stages of writing the plot for A Song of Ice and Fire, GRRM placed a fair amount of emphasis on Marwyn — meaning that his significance is likely to be great in coming volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire. That meta topic aside, the fact that Daenerys Targaryen has heard of Marwyn prior to events in The Winds of Winter is intriguing and perhaps ominous given the outcome of Dany’s interaction with Mirri Maaz Durr. But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.
Who is Marwyn really? Well, from what we can tell, he’s a mysterious character whose interests, appearance and personality stands apart from the vast majority of maesters. Consider how Marwyn is first introduced to us from the Prologue of A Feast for Crows:
Marwyn looked more a mastiff than a maester. As if he wants to bite you. The Mage was not like other maesters.(AFFC, Prologue)
The physical description of Marwyn is important and something that GRRM wants to emphasize.. While other maesters are described as scholarly, diminutive and obsequious, Marwyn’s brawny description underlines his uniqueness and unorthodoxy among his Citadel brethren. To further emphasize this point, GRRM writes yet another detailed description of Marwyn’s appearance in Samwell’s last chapter in A Feast for Crows, when he finally meets the Mage.
Marwyn wore a chain of many metals around his bull’s neck. Save for that, he looked more like a dockside thug than a maester. His head was too big for his body, and the way it thrust forward from his shoulders, together with that slab of jaw, made him look as if he were about to tear off someone’s head. Though short and squat, he was heavy in the chest and shoulders, with a round, rock-hard ale belly straining at the laces of the leather jerkin he wore in place of robes. Bristly white hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils. His brow beetled, his nose had been broken more than once, and sourleaf had stained his teeth a mottled red. He had the biggest hands that Sam had ever seen. (AFFC, Samwell V)
Besides the difference in physical appearance, Marwyn distinguishes himself further through his interests. While the maesters of the Citadel look to reason and science as their touchstones, Marwyn’s interests have always been arcane.
People said that he kept company with whores and hedge wizards, talked with hairy Ibbenese and pitch-black Summer Islanders in their own tongues, and sacrificed to queer gods at the little sailors’ temples down by the wharves. Men spoke of seeing him down in the undercity, in rat pits and black brothels, consorting with mummers, singers, sellswords, even beggars. Some even whispered that once he had killed a man with his fists. (AFFC, Prologue)
Likely because of his interests in magic and the Citadel’s abhorrence of it, Marwyn’s attitude towards the other maesters of the Citadel is disdainful. Qyburn describes his banishment from the Citadel for his interests — interests that uncoincidentally are similar to Marwyn’s.
“Once, at the Citadel, I came into an empty room and saw an empty chair. Yet I knew a woman had been there, only a moment before. The cushion was dented where she’d sat, the cloth was still warm, and her scent lingered in the air. If we leave our smells behind us when we leave a room, surely something of our souls must remain when we leave this life?” Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.” (ASOS, Jaime VI)
“Why did the Citadel take your chain?”
“The archmaesters are all craven at heart. The grey sheep, Marwyn calls them.” (AFFC, Cersei II)
Marwyn’s interests and magic run counter to that of the other archmaesters of the Citadel. (Why Marwyn was selected as an archmaester in the first place, given these unorthodox interests, is a question for another time) In Samwell’s last chapter in A Feast for Crows, we finally come to discover the true reason for Marwyn’s distaste for the Citadel and his fellow archmaesters: Marwyn believes that the maesters are conspiring to create a world without magic
“Perhaps it’s good that he died before he got to Oldtown. Elsewise the grey sheep might have had to kill him, and that would have made the poor old dears wring their wrinkled hands.”
“Kill him?” Sam said, shocked. “Why?”
“If I tell you, they may need to kill you too.” Marywn smiled a ghastly smile, the juice of the sourleaf running red between his teeth. “Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?” He spat. “The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons.” (AFFC, Samwell V)
For an individual who has studied the arcane arts and seems to have a healthy respect if not love for magic, Marwyn would naturally abhor the maester’s role in killing the dragons and extinguishing magic Likewise, in defiance of the Citadel’s dismissal of their use, Marwyn keeps a glass candle in his chamber:.
Whatever was inside of it smelled burned. Aside from that, the only light came from a tall black candle in the center of the room.
The candle was unpleasantly bright. There was something queer about it. The flame did not flicker, even when Archmaester Marwyn closed the door so hard that papers blew off a nearby table. The light did something strange to colors too. Whites were bright as fresh-fallen snow, yellow shone like gold, reds turned to flame, but the shadows were so black they looked like holes in the world. Sam found himself staring. The candle itself was three feet tall and slender as a sword, ridged and twisted, glittering black. “Is that… ?”
“… obsidian,” said the other man in the room, a pale, fleshy, pasty-faced young fellow with round shoulders, soft hands, close-set eyes, and food stains on his robes.
“Call it dragonglass.” Archmaester Marwyn glanced at the candle for a moment. “It burns but is not consumed.” (AFFC, Samwell V)
While the actual use of glass candles is intentionally left ambiguous, their obsidian makeup and connection with magic underlines their importance. When these candles are lit, the light gives off a queer appearance, and allows global communication and visions of at least the present. Before Dany’s dragons were born, the glass candles could not be lit — this was used as a practical demonstration by the Maesters of the Citadel of the limits of human knowledge. But by A Clash of Kings, the candles are lighting up across the globe. Marwyn himself has lit a glass candle — proving the boundlessness of human knowledge and wisdom. Thus, Marwyn’s connection to the glass candles is a connection to visions and more importantly a representation of his connection to magic.
So, at the end of A Feast for Crows, Marwyn makes a fateful decision to sail for Daenerys in Meereen and attempt to beat other maesters that the Citadel might dispatch from Oldtown.
“What will you do?” asked Alleras, the Sphinx.
“Get myself to Slaver’s Bay, in Aemon’s place. The swan ship that delivered Slayer should serve my needs well enough. The grey sheep will send their man on a galley, I don’t doubt. With fair winds I should reach her first.” (AFFC, Samwell V)
So, we have a maester of the Citadel who is openly disdainful of the senior hierarchy of the Citadel and who has sought knowledge of magic his entire life. The impact that this man will have on Daenerys in The Winds of Winter will surely be pretty great indeed.
Marwyn in Meereen
Although Marwyn has not yet arrived in Meereen by the end of A Dance with Dragons (or by The Winds of Winter’s Battle of Fire), his eventual appearance will impact Daenerys Targaryen and substantially affect her views on her dragons, magic and prophecy.
So, what’s the deal exactly? Why did George RR Martin decide to have Marwyn travel to Meereen? I think the answer is embedded in Marwyn’s knowledge and difference from the other maesters, his fascination with magic and dragons and his skepticism of prophecy.
One of the more interesting things that’s come out of interviews and convention appearances by George RR Martin is his opening up about the so-called Meereenese Knot.
For example, I wrote three different versions of Quentyn’s arrival at Meereen: one where he arrived long before Dany’s marriage, one where he arrived much later, and one where he arrived just the day before the marriage (which is how it ended up being in the novel). And I had to write all three versions to be able to compare and see how these different arrival points affected the stories of the other characters. Including the story of a character who actually hasn’t arrived yet. – Asshai.com Interview with GRRM, 7/28/2012
GRRM may have left this character’s identity anonymous, but it seems likely he meant Marwyn; Victarion and Tyrion have already arrived in Meereen by the Battle of Fire, while Marwyn has not. . Of even greater interest is the fact that GRRM seems to have written some of Marwyn’s material for The Winds of Winter when writing A Dance with Dragons.
So back to the narrative reasons for Marwyn’s entrance into Dany’s arc. Marwyn’s distinction from other maesters is one of the keys here to unraveling his impact on Daenerys in The Winds of Winter. We know from Marwyn’s statement that the Archmaesters will likely send one of their own to be adviser to Daenerys, but we also know that Marwyn suspects the Citadel of a grand conspiracy against magic and dragons. As such, if (and given his head start at the end of A Feast For Crows, it seems a more than likely possibility ) Marwyn can beat the maesters’ representative dispatched from the Citadel, he has a chance to ingratiate himself into Dany’s council and to warn Daenerys of the dangers that the maesters pose to her and her dragons.
Therein lies one of the more interesting aspects of Marwyn: he has a fascination with dragons and magic. When Daenerys arrives back from the Dothraki Sea with her reforged dragon identity, I think part of Marwyn’s role is to reinforce the position that magic is powerful and should be used by Daenerys in her quest for the Iron Throne.
“What feeds the flame?” asked Sam.
“What feeds a dragon’s fire?” Marwyn seated himself upon a stool. “All Valyrian sorcery was rooted in blood or fire. The sorcerers of the Freehold could see across mountains, seas, and deserts with one of these glass candles. They could enter a man’s dreams and give him visions, and speak to one another half a world apart, seated before their candles. Do you think that might be useful, Slayer?” (AFFC, Samwell V)
Thus, Marwyn’s role is to instruct Daenerys about the dragons and blood magic, although he won’t solely try to turn Daenerys towards harnessing the magic derived from dragons. Instead, I think he’ll have a further role in Dany’s arc: advising her not to adopt policies based on prophetic vision.
When Samwell relates that Maester Aemon believed that Daenerys was Azor Ahai Reborn, Marwyn had a very interesting response to it:
“Maester Aemon believed that Daenerys Targaryen was the fulfillment of a prophecy… her, not Stannis, nor Prince Rhaegar, nor the princeling whose head was dashed against the wall.”
“Born amidst salt and smoke, beneath a bleeding star. I know the prophecy.” Marwyn turned his head and spat a gob of red phlegm onto the floor. “Not that I would trust it. 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.” He chewed a bit. “Still…” (AFFC, Samwell V)
Marwyn’s use of the word still here is almost dire. Originally, my thought was that Marwyn would take the role of speaking against the prophetic overtones of Daenerys’ new mentality and role, but will Marwyn reconsider his skepticism of prophecy when he sees Daenerys, 3 living dragons and every seeming fulfillment of the prophecies?
Marwyn’s primary role is to urge Daenerys to embrace the magic that her dragons bring, and this potential secondary role might be to cast skepticism on prophecy. But even if Marwyn brings a skepticism to magic, he will have an antagonist to deal with.
The Role of Dark Flame
A huge man, taller than Ser Jorah and wide enough to make two of him, the priest wore scarlet robes embroidered at sleeve and hem and collar with orange satin flames. His skin was black as pitch, his hair as white as snow; the flames tattooed across his cheeks and brow yellow and orange. His iron staff was as tall as he was and crowned with a dragon’s head; when he stamped its butt upon the deck, the dragon’s maw spat crackling green flame. (ADWD, Tyrion VIII)
Artwork by Robert O’Leary
Along the way to Meereen, the Ironborn picked up a giant red priest, Moqorro. The priest has already affected the lives of several characters in A Dance with Dragons; soon enough, Daenerys will also feel Moqorro’s impact as well. Yet this impact will be far more transformative than many suspect: In The Winds of Winter, we’ll find that Moqorro’s importance will be best seen in molding Daenerys’ reborn prophetic vision of destiny into a vision shaped by the Lord of Light.
To understand how Moqorro will turn Daenerys into a champion of R’hllor, we should understand the background of their meeting. Moqorro was a red priest of R’hllor, dispatched from Volantis by Benerro, the High Priest of the Red Temple, to Daenerys Targaryen. He journeyed with Tyrion Lannister for part of the way to Meereen, but when their ship encountered a massive storm, Moqorro was blown over the side of the boat. Before Moqorro could die, he was picked up by the Iron Fleet as it sailed towards Meereen. When thrust before Victarion Greyjoy Moqorro demonstrated his power by healing Victarion’s wounded hand. Thereafter, Moqorro became Victarion’s right-hand man, giving Victarion counsel on how to use the dragon horn and the prophetic course he should set for the Iron Fleet. Our last glimpse of Moqorro comes from GRRM’s reading of the Victarion chapter in The Winds of Winter, where we find the one that Ironborn have come to call the red priest Black Flame lighting nightfires and rubbing Victarion’s blood onto the horn known as Dragonbinder.
So, this brings us to a question: Why would the High Priest of the great Red Temple in Volantis go through all of this trouble to seek out Daenerys? : Simple: Benerro (and presumably whoever else ranks high in Volantene R’hllorism) has come to believe that Daenerys Targaryen is Azor Ahai Reborn, the ancient hero of the Faith of R’hllor.
“Aye. The dragons have come to carry her to glory.”
Haldon nodded. “Benerro has sent forth the word from Volantis. Her coming is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. From smoke and salt was she born to make the world anew. She is Azor Ahai returned … and her triumph over darkness will bring a summer that will never end … death itself will bend its knee, and all those who die fighting in her cause shall be reborn …” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
Moqorro was sent by the Red Temple to convince Daenerys to take on the mantle of Azor Ahai Reborn and much like the legendary hero, to heroically save a hard-pressed people from oppression. Practically, Moqorro is dispatched to convert Daenerys to R’hllor and bring her anti-slavery crusade to Volantis. The huge red priest was a suitable choice, given that he can speak the Westerosi Common Tongue with only the barest hint of an accent: .
“Someone told me that the night is dark and full of terrors. What do you see in those flames?”
“Dragons,” Moqorro said in the Common Tongue of Westeros. He spoke it very well, with hardly a trace of accent. No doubt that was one reason the high priest Benerro had chosen him to bring the faith of R’hllor to Daenerys Targaryen. (ADWD, Tyrion VIII)
Besides his fluency in the Common Tongue, Moqorro’s choice as emissary-missionary was a clever choice on the part of the Red Temple. Why? Well, a subtle aspect of Moqorro’s personality is his use of flattery to win the trust of the people around him. This is something that Tyrion picks up on while sailing to Meereen with Moqorro.
Tyrion was almost flattered. And no doubt that is just what he intends. Every fool loves to hear that he’s important. (ADWD, Tyrion VIII)
More to the point, Moqorro’s prophetic utterances always place a platform under the hearers of the these prophecies. When Moqorro becomes Victarion Greyjoy’s prophetic mentor and advisor, he does a damn fine job of making Victarion feel powerful.
“What do you see?” the captain asked his black priest that night, as Moqorro stood before his nightfire. “What awaits us on the morrow? More rain?” It smelled like rain to him.
“Grey skies and strong winds,” Moqorro said. “No rain. Behind come the tigers. Ahead awaits your dragon.”
Your dragon. Victarion liked the sound of that. (ADWD, Victarion)
The key here isn’t Moqorro’s truthfulness (something we’ll get at in a little bit); it’s that he’s making Victarion feel like a character with a great destiny — one bound to have a dragon. Combined with the destiny factor, Moqorro seems able to read people and what motivates them extraordinarily well. We saw with Tyrion how Moqorro attempted to manipulate him by making him feel important. With Victarion, Moqorro feeds Victarion’s desire for glory.
“There is no need. The Lord of Light has shown me your worth, lord Captain. Every night in my fires I glimpse the glory that awaits you.”
Those words pleased Victarion Greyjoy mightily, as he told the dusky woman that night. (ADWD, Victarion)
So Moqorro has a clear understanding of how to manipulate the truth for his own purposes . When he says, for example, that he sees in his fires the glory that awaits Victarion, he allows the iron captain to believe that he will gain fame and honor in Meereen. Yet Moqorro’s words can be taken in another, more ominous way. The “glory that awaits” comes “in the fires”; Victarion’s glory will literally come in the form of a fiery end – likely, an end in dragon fire.
The Seduction of R’hllor
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
Given Moqorro’s mission, personality and manipulation of the truth, I think we’re bound to have a confrontation between Daenerys and Moqorro. And given Dany’s reborn reliance on prophecy, the encounter will be fateful indeed.The priests of R’hllor have an uncanny connection to magic and seemingly true prophecy in the story, and use this connection to manipulate non-believers to become adherents to the Lord of Light. Moqorro’s role in Dany’s story is to convert her to the religion of R’hllor.
Dany’s religious background is somewhat ambiguous. The best way to describe her would be to call her a nominal believer in the Faith of the Seven — though she finds the religious conceptions of 7 facets of god confusing. At the same time, her exposure to R’hllor at least by the end of A Storm of Swords makes her dislike R’hllor all the more.
Westeros had seven gods at least, though Viserys had told her that some septons said the seven were only aspects of a single god, seven facets of a single crystal. That was just confusing. The red priests believed in two gods, she had heard, but two who were eternally at war. Dany liked that even less. She would not want to be eternally at war. (ASOS, Daenerys VI)
But though it’s easy to see Dany’s opinion of R’hllor here as instructive to how she’ll interact with Moqorro in The Winds of Winter, we should also remember that Dany’s entire outlook has changed from the end of A Storm of Swords. She’s no longer interested in maintaining peace; she now believes that attempting peace in Meereen was a mistake. Instead she’s come to the realization that her “war is in Westeros” and that war will require moral sacrifice.
One of the ways that priests of R’hllor have brought non-believers to their side is through magical acts or making a prophecy of future events and then those events coming true. For Melisandre and Stannis, it was the creation of shadow assassins and their role in the murders of Renly Baratheon and Cortnay Penrose, as well as the fast transit of Stannis’ fleet north to Eastwatch. For Thoros and the Brotherhood Without Banners, it was bringing Beric Dondarrion back to life over and over again. For Moqorro and Victarion, it was the healing of Victarion’s hand and issuing prophetic statements that seemed to come true. (e.g. Victarion’s 3 lost ships discovered off the coast of Yaros)
To win Dany’s initial trust, I believe that Moqorro will demonstrate his power in some way towards Daenerys. This likely will come through a prophecy that Moqorro states that appeals directly to Dany’s newfound psyche as well as placing a firm pedestal under her. Moreover, I think Moqorro’s use of nightfires will have a raw appeal to Dany’s turn to fire and blood.
But there is a fly in the ointment of this idea of Daenerys turning fully to R’hllor, and it comes from a prophetic mentor that Daenerys turned to in her last chapter in A Dance with Dragons. Quaithe brings Daenerys a very interesting prophecy early in the book; a prophecy that is ambiguous but will almost certainly engender mistrust for Moqorro.
Hear me, Daenerys Targaryen. 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 III)
There’s a whole interesting discussion to be had on an editorial change that George RR Martin made on the Kraken and Dark Flame bit (When George read this chapter in 2005, the line was “Crow and Kraken” instead of “Kraken and Dark Flame). But what’s important here is that Daenerys will likely mistrust Moqorro if she remembers this prophecy by Quaithe. Why is that? The nickname the ironborn have planted on the hard-to-pronounce Moqorro: :
“The captain commands, and I obey,” said Moqorro. The crew had taken to calling him the Black Flame, a name fastened on him by Steffar Stammerer, who could not say “Moqorro.” By any name, the priest had powers. (ADWD, Victarion)
That Moqorro will take on the role of religious adviser and missionary of R’hllor to Daenerys seems fairly certain, but I accept that Dany may be loath to trust fully in Moqorro at least initially. An act of prophecy and fulfillment will likely set that ship to rights though.
So, while the concept of eternal war didn’t appeal to Daenerys in A Storm of Swords and her prior skepticism of magic and prophecy runs against Moqorro’s goals, the Daenerys who emerges from the Dothraki Sea, the Dany who chose fire and blood over her mhysa identity will find an almost instant gravitation to R’hllor. Couple that with prophetic demonstrations of Moqorro’s power through miracles or prophetic utterances that come true, and there’s a strong case for Dany’s prophetic vision of destiny to be shaped by R’hllor and for Dany herself to embrace the Lord of Light and his fire.
The Impact of R’hllor
The Red God knows only one song. (ADWD, The Sacrifice)
Photograph by HBO
That Daenerys will make a turn to R’hllor and allow her identity to take on R’hlloric overtones seems sensible, plotwise. But what is the narrative purpose of such a turn? Daenerys’ conversion might highlight one of the narratives that often gets lost when discussing religion in A Song of Ice and Fire: religion, magic and prophecy might be true, but they come with definite consequences and potential moral compromises.
The Lord of Light is the exemplar of the moral compromises that characters make in the series. Particularly with R’hllorism, individual actors engage in cruelty to ensure that the red god’s will is done. Take for example the stories of Lord Alester Florent and the Peasebury cannibal soldiers. That Lord Florent and the Peasebury men were guilty is beside the point;the death sentences carried out against them – being burned alive – were horrifically cruel. Even this cruelty could be explained if the death sentences were merely punishments for crimes – harsh punishments, to be sure, but not outside the scope of any actor in ASOIAF (particularly the “truly just” Stannis). Yet these executions are couched in religious terms to further the human aims of those around the dead men:
Melisandre had given Alester Florent to her god on Dragonstone, to conjure up the wind that bore them north. (ADWD, Davos I)
Asha did not have to ask their purpose. She knew. Stakes. Nightfall would be on them soon, and the red god must be fed. An offering of blood and fire, the queen’s men called it, that the Lord of Light may turn his fiery eye upon us and melt these thrice-cursed snows. (ADWD, The Sacrifice)
But even if Daenerys Targaryen does not adopt the red god as her own, she will likely make alliance with Moqorro and R’hllor. In this, her decision is reminiscent of Stannis Baratheon who sought to use the power of R’hllor without fully embracing the tenets of the religion. Though Stannis witnessed the terrible power of R’hllor, the greatest impacts on his character development was for Stannis to turn to moral compromise and the sacrifice of innocent human life to achieve his ends. Melisandre put it best.
“The Lord of Light cherishes the innocent. There is no sacrifice more precious. (ASOS, Davos V)
Herein lies the impact of Dany’s coming turn to R’hllor. The Ironborn will tempt Dany to cruelty; Marwyn the Mage will push Daenerys to embrace the magic that the dragons bring; and the Lord of Light (acting through his servant Moqorro) will tempt Dany’s moral compass to engage in religiously heinous actions to advance her political and personal agenda.
The religion that Daenerys is about to embrace is one that values living sacrifices, moral compromise and an obsessive focus on fire. This is where Dany’s turn will burn hottest, especially when she discovers the fate of her children.
The Problem with Child Hostages
Dany had grown fond of her young charges. Some were shy and some were bold, some sweet and some sullen, but all were innocent.
But Daenerys Targaryen is not necessarily a blank canvass to be painted upon by others. As a character, she has autonomy of action and thought and is fully capable of making her own decision irrespective of the wishes of others. As such, Dany’s return to Meereen will bring her back to the stark realities that her violent departure brought. To help focus some of my predictions, I’d like to call back to one issue from A Dance with Dragons.
If you’ll recall from Dany’s arc in A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys decided to to take child hostages from the families of the Great Masters of Meereen in an attempt to prevent attacks by the Sons of the Harpy. Her logic, while hard, was sound.
“They are afraid for their children,” Reznak said.
Yes, Daenerys thought, and so am I. “We must keep them safe as well. I will have two children from each of them. From the other pyramids as well. A boy and a girl.”
“Hostages,” said Skahaz, happily. “Pages and cupbearers. If the Great Masters make objection, explain to them that in Westeros it is a great honor for a child to be chosen to serve at court.” (ADWD, Daenerys II)
But this hope of preventing attacks by the Sons of the Harpy fell flat just two chapters later when a report reached Dany of a brutal murder of some of Dany’s children (Freemen who follow Daenerys) including the murder of a Yunkish weaveress who Dany was particularly fond of. These murders were deliberate and chosen almost certainly to measure Daenerys’ response to the child hostages. But Dany chose to extend mercy, true mercy, despite the murders.
“Your Radiance has found the courage to answer butchery with mercy. You have not harmed any of the noble children you hold as hostage.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
Some in Dany’s court thought that this defeated the purpose of taking the hostages in the first place.
“The Shavepate would feed them to your dragons, it is said. A life for a life. For every Brazen Beast cut down, he would have a child die.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
But Daenerys rejected those harsh measures. For Dany, repaying innocent blood with innocent blood was unacceptable — no less so because these hostages were children.
The Shavepate has a harder heart than mine. They had fought about the hostages half a dozen times. “The Sons of the Harpy are laughing in their pyramids,” Skahaz said, just this morning. “What good are hostages if you will not take their heads?” In his eyes, she was only a weak woman. Hazzea was enough. What good is peace if it must be purchased with the blood of little children? “These murders are not their doing,” Dany told the Green Grace, feebly. “I am no butcher queen.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
Unbeknownst to Daenerys, her mercy to the child hostages despite the savagery of the Sons of the Harpy probably brought the Sons to the negotiating table and paved way for the peace within Meereen.
All of the above might seem extraneous to this analysis of Daenerys in The Winds of Winter until you consider that the fate of the hostages comes up again towards the end of A Dance with Dragons. Just prior to Barristan’s coup, Skahaz mo Kandaq brings the children up again. While discussing the coup and means by which Barristan might compel peace by the Great Masters after imprisoning one of their own, Skahaz suggests something horrific.
“We have hostages as well,” Skahaz Shavepate reminded him. “If the slavers kill one of ours, we kill one of theirs.”
For a moment Ser Barristan did not know whom he meant. Then it came to him. “The queen’s cupbearers?” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
Child murder is both horrific for our sensibilities as well as that of the characters in-universe. When Rickard Karstark and his men murdered Lannister children in retribution for the death of two of his sons, Robb Stark was rightly horrified and executed Rickard and his co-conspirators. But Skahaz’s suggestion of murdering children in response to any outbreak of violence by the Sons of the Harpy has a certain evil logic to it.
“Hostages,” insisted Skahaz mo Kandaq. “Grazdar and Qezza are the blood of the Green Grace. Mezzara is of Merreq, Kezmya is Pahl, Azzak Ghazeen. Bhakaz is Loraq, Hizdahr’s own kin. All are sons and daughters of the pyramids. Zhak, Quazzar, Uhlez, Hazkar, Dhazak, Yherizan, all children of Great Masters.” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
A life for a life was Skahaz’s suggestion to Daenerys when Dany reigned over the city, and his hard heart hadn’t softened since. But even if blood for blood seemed to have an evil logic to it, it might not have worked. It seems as though the Great Masters came to the negotiation table precisely because Daenerys refused to kill children in response to the gruesome murders by the Sons of the Harpy.
“Innocent girls and sweet-faced boys.” Ser Barristan had come to know them all during the time they served the queen, Grazhar with his dreams of glory, shy Mezzara, lazy Miklaz, vain, pretty Kezmya, Qezza with her big soft eyes and angel’s voice, Dhazzar the dancer, and the rest. “Children.”
“Children of the Harpy. Only blood can pay for blood.”
“So said the Yunkishman who brought us Groleo’s head.”
“He was not wrong.”
“I will not permit it.”
“What use are hostages if they may not be touched?” (ADWD, The Kingbreaker)
Skahaz’s motivations and desire for blood are only stymied by Barristan’s refusal to let Skahaz kill the children. But as the Battle of Fire starts, Barristan and Dany’s closest supporters are all engaged in warfare outside of the gates of Meereen. Within, I expect a day of the long knives within the city.
First to go will likely be “he of the tepid kisses:” the forlorn Hizdahr zo Loraq. Skahaz mo Kandaq has repeatedly stated his desire to kill Hizdahr, and with Barristan out in the field, Skahaz will almost certainly murder Hizdahr. The death of Hizdahr zo Loraq will have definite plot implications to the story (Dany will now be twice-widowed but also eligible for marriage). But Hizdahr’s death will also have thematic implications as well. The Meereenese Blot so ably demonstrated that Hizdahr zo Loraq represented the appeal of peace to Daenerys. His death would be a figurative representation of the death of any appeal to peace for Daenerys.
But I also expect that Skahaz and the Brazen Beasts within Meereen will commit further atrocities — ones that will heavily impact Daenerys. I believe that Skahaz mo Kandaq and the Brazen Beasts will murder the children that Dany refused to kill in A Dance with Dragons, and I believe that this impact will only truly be felt when Daenerys returns to Meereen.
For Daenerys, the murder of children and innocents has long haunted her and driven her to make some of her most fateful decisions. The murder of Eroeh fueled her desire to visit vengeance on Jhaqo and Mago, and as I’ve predicted, I believe that this vengeance-driven plot will dominate the early part of Dany’s arc in The Winds of Winter.
The death of Hazzea by Drogon in Dany’s first chapter in A Dance with Dragons has a similar profound impact both in Dany’s actions in chaining her dragons as well as symbolically at the end of A Dance with Dragons.
“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.” (ADWD, Daenerys X)
When Daenerys forgets the name of Hazzea in her last chapter in A Dance with Dragons, it demonstrated that Daenerys’ abandonment of the protection of innocence in favor of her mother of dragons persona.
So, if my prediction is correct and the child hostages die at the hands of Skahaz mo Kandaq, what will her response be? Judging by her last chapter and Martin’s statement that Dany “has embraced her heritage as a Targaryen and embraced the Targaryen words,” I expect nothing less than the fullest expression of the dragon’s mercy.
Mercy, thought Dany. They will have the dragon’s mercy. (ADWD, Daenerys II)
Artwork by Marc Fishman
Dany’s return to Meereen will do more than simply bring her face-to-face with war and those who would see its furtherance. It will expose her reforged “mother of dragons” persona to the true cost of war: the death of innocents, particularly that of children. But instead of a causing Dany to flinch from her identity, it will likely lead to a reinforcement in her mind of Meereen as alien to her. Her newfound friends will encourage a violent response to the horrors she will witness when she returns to Meereen in The Winds of Winter.
Here’s my prediction for what will finally happen after Daenerys returns to the horrors of Meereen. I think she will remove her army and children from Meereen and then Daenerys Targaryen will truly embrace her Targaryen identity. Dany will burn the city of Meereen to the ground with dragon fire.
The burning of Meereen by dragonfire might seem like Martin jumping the shark, but it represents an eerie callback to events at Astapor where Daenerys Targaryen took control of the Unsullied, freed the slaves and sacked the city. More than the consistency of the action, it will be the furtherance of Dany’s turn to fire and blood and the bloodthirsty desires of the red god. But most importantly, Dany’s burning of Meereen will likely result in the death of innocents within the city. She may remove her army and children (freed former slaves) from the city, but how many actual children will die in the blaze that consumes Meereen? How many innocents?
But if fire and blood starts deep within the heart of the Dothraki Sea with Jhaqo, spreads and grows in Meereen, it can only erupt in a blaze across Essos. For within the grand confederacy of Dany’s supporters rides those who Daenerys or her supporters have made promises to.
In part 4, we’ll find that Dany’s war is in Westeros, but first she will bring fire and blood to the slave cities of Yunkai and Volantis and then turn north to Pentos before crossing the Narrow Sea to reclaim her seat from the usurpers and pretenders who sit upon her rightful throne.
And all of it will bound tightly to chaotic bloodshed and the death of innocents.
Thanks for reading! I invite you follow us on twitter or tumblr and like us on facebook! Special thanks to fellow writer and editor extraordinaire Nfriel who made some key observations and edits that really made this essay what it is. Thanks so much, and if you haven’t already, read her series on Rhaegar Targaryen and the women who swirled around him entitled “The Dragon’s Ladies.”