Mercy, thought Dany, They shall have the dragon’s mercy (ADWD, Daenerys II
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
Fire and blood. Dany’s arc in A Dance with Dragons ends with her recognition that dragons plant no trees and that her words are “fire and blood” – not just as the house words of her dynasty, but as her personal motto validating her rediscovered turn towards the mother of dragons and a violent vision of prophecy.
In The Winds of Winter, that recognition and acknowledgement of her true self will morph into action. Early through her Winds of Winter arc, she’ll bring her mother of dragons persona and vengeance to Khal Jhaqo & the Dothraki. But after she unites a giant khalasar by fire and blood, she’ll turn her dragon’s mercy to Meereen. Nor will her full wrath end at the pyramids of Meereen. Instead, I believe that the city will be a mere stepping stone to the full expression of the dragon’s mercy.
Aiding Daenerys in her conquest will be new advisers and groups whose personalities and aims look to keep Daenerys’ footing firmly tied to her identity as the mother of dragons.
The Band of Misfit Advisors
Last time, we went into great detail on some of the new people, cultures and religions that Daenerys will encounter when she returns to Meereen, but we didn’t cover everyone. Though there are multiple new minor characters whom Daenerys will likely encounter in Meereen, I want to briefly cover the two who look to be the most consequential to the Mother of Dragons.
The Tattered Prince
“Tattered and twisty, what a rogue I am.” (ADWD, The Spurned Suitor)
Artwork by Diego Gisbert Llorens
Of all the sellsword captains encountered in A Dance with Dragons, the Tattered Prince is probably the most reprehensible of them. Originally elected as the Prince of Pentos, the Tattered Prince fled the city upon his election and became a sellsword. Eventually, Tatters started his own sellsword company known as the Windblown.
When the Tattered Prince was three-and-twenty, as Dick Straw told the story, the magisters of Pentos had chosen him to be their new prince, hours after beheading their old prince. Instead he’d buckled on a sword, mounted his favorite horse, and fled to the Disputed Lands, never to return. He had ridden with the Second Sons, the Iron Shields, and the Maiden’s Men, then joined with five brothers-in-arms to form the Windblown. Of those six founders, only he survived. (ADWD, The Windblown)
The Tattered Prince comes to be known to the reader through the POV perspective of Quentyn Martell. Through Quentyn’s POV, we learn some charming details about the Tattered Prince:
- Orders his Windblown to cut off the feet of deserters
- Allows Pretty Meris (his chief torturer) to torture deserters to death.
- Participates in the brutal sack of Astapor
- Drives civilian refugees sick with the Pale Mare north to Meereen to help start an epidemic in Meereen
- Willing to betray his contract with Yunkai when the Yunkish prove not to be formidable on the battlefield
- Murders guards at the dragonpit.
Yet strangely, the Tattered Prince still has one goal: Pentos. For a man who ran away from the “honor” of being elected the Pentoshi’s prince, Tatters seems willing to do anything, twist any situation, to achieve this goal. When Quentyn & Company turn to the Tattered Prince to try to steal a dragon, he demands Pentos in exchange for helping Quentyn. When Barristan reaches out to the Tattered Prince on the eve of the Battle of Fire to see if the Windblown will turn cloak, the remaining Dornishmen tell Barristan that the price of the Windblown turning cloak will be the same as it was with Quentyn.
“What did Prince Quentyn promise the Tattered Prince in return for all this help?”
He got no answer. Ser Gerris looked at Ser Archibald. Ser Archibald looked at his hands, the floor, the door.
“Pentos,” said Ser Barristan. “He promised him Pentos. Say it. No words of yours can help or harm Prince Quentyn now.” (ADWD, The Queen’s Hand)
Still, by the end of A Dance with Dragons (and the death of Quentyn), it remains unclear how the Tattered Prince will get his city. Barristan announces (despite Gerris and Archibald’s skepticism at the plan) that he will release the Windblown captives being held prisoner for their role in loosing the dragons as well as send the Dornishmen back to the Tattered Prince with a specific mission:
“I mean to send them back to the Tattered Prince. And you with them. You will be two amongst thousands. Your presence in the Yunkish camps should pass unnoticed. I want you to deliver a message to the Tattered Prince. Tell him that I sent you, that I speak with the queen’s voice. Tell him that we’ll pay his price if he delivers us our hostages, unharmed and whole.”
Ser Archibald grimaced. “Rags and Tatters is more like to give the two of us to Pretty Meris. He won’t do it.”
“Why not? The task is simple enough.” Compared to stealing dragons.
Gerris Drinkwater pushed back his mop of sun-streaked hair. “Might we have some time to discuss this amongst ourselves?”
“No,” said Selmy. “I’ll do it,” offered Ser Archibald, “just so long as there’s no bloody boats involved. Drink will do it too.” He grinned. “He don’t know it yet, but he will.” (ADWD, The Queen’s Hand)
A Dance with Dragons concludes without resolution to whether the Dornish were successful. But a sample chapter from The Winds of Winter, however, reveals the results of Archibald and Drinkwater’s mission. In Tyrion II, the Tattered Prince and Windblown reveal their treachery in dramatic fashion in the midst of the Battle of Fire.
“Gorzhak zo Eraz lies slain, cut down by Pentoshi treachery. The turncloak who names himself the Prince of Tatters shall die screaming for this infamy, the noble Morghaz swears.”
Brown Ben scratched at his beard. “The Windblown have gone over, have they?” he said, in a tone of mild interest. (TWOW, Tyrion II)
That the Tattered Prince will want the payment of Pentos for his betrayal of Yunkai goes without saying. More disturbingly, two good, noble characters (Barristan & Quentyn) are willing to pay this price – to hand over the Free City of Pentos to a truly evil character, tosacrifice thousands of innocent Pentoshi people to achieve their ends. As the Tattered Prince tells Quentyn:
“In Pentos, we have a saying. Never ask the baker what went into the pie. Just eat.” (ADWD, The Dragontamer)
But why in the world does Tatters want Pentos? A theory that Nina and I had which is worth expanding on is that the Tattered Prince wants Pentos on his own terms, not the ones imposed by the social order of the city. If Pentos loses a war, the crop yield is bad or the Prince is unable to deflower the Maid of the Fields, the Prince gets his throat cut. At the same time, the Prince is a largely ceremonial political position in Pentos with no real political power. As a sellsword captain, the Tattered Prince has real power — power that can change the course of war (As is likely in the Battle of Fire) or affect political dynamics. So, it would stand to reason that Tatters’ desire for Pentos is something that will transform the position of Prince of Pentos to something else. It seems that he wants real power in Pentos, not the ceremonial position that tradition would have afforded the Prince in his early 20s.
Will Daenerys eat off from the hand that the Tattered Prince offers? Will she take on his swords in order to win her throne? Will she condemn the lives of innocent Pentoshi to gain the Iron Throne? Almost certainly.
Daenerys has a brief history with the Tattered Prince. After peace is achieved in A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys plots to undo it, and one of her schemes is to turn the Windblown against Yunkai.
“Our prisoners,” suggested Dany. “The Westerosi who came over from the Windblown with the three Dornishmen. We still have them in cells, do we not? Use them.”
“Free them, you mean? Is that wise? They were sent here to worm their way into your trust, so they might betray Your Grace at the first chance.”
“Then they failed. I do not trust them. I will never trust them.” If truth be told, Dany was forgetting how to trust. “We can still use them. One was a woman. Meris. Send her back, as a … a gesture of my regard. If their captain is a clever man, he will understand.” (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
A clever man understood. At the very end of her time in Meereen, Pretty Meris attempted to approach Daenerys to bring the Tattered Prince’s terms to Daenerys. Instead, she talks directly with Barristan Selmy who relays the information to Daenerys.
“Will they come over to us, if need be?”
“She says they will. But for a price.”
“Pay it.” Meereen needed iron, not gold.
“The Tattered Prince will want more than coin, Your Grace. Meris says that he wants Pentos.” (ADWD, Daenerys IX)
This surprised Daenerys, and even after Barristan reports that Pentos doesn’t have to be an immediate priority, Daenerys rejects it, and she does so for good reason.
“Pentos?” Her eyes narrowed. “How can I give him Pentos? It is half a world away.”
“He would be willing to wait, the woman Meris suggested. Until we march for Westeros.”
And if I never march for Westeros? “Pentos belongs to the Pentoshi. And Magister Illyrio is in Pentos. He who arranged my marriage to Khal Drogo and gave me my dragon eggs. Who sent me you, and Belwas, and Groleo. I owe him much and more. I will not repay that debt by giving his city to some sellsword. No.” (ADWD, Daenerys IX)
Not turning Pentos over to butchers is a good enough reason to reject the Tattered Prince’s offer. But Dany personalizes this by invoking Magister Illyrio — an individual to whom she owes much to. Yet what happens when Daenerys learns of Illyrio’s involvement in Aegon? Will Daenerys come to believe that Illyrio betrayed her? And if so, will her moral firmness against exchanging Pentos for the Windblown’s swords hold? Barristan has already gone behind Dany’s back and made the deal with the Tattered Prince. Will Daenerys uphold Barristan’s bargain?
“What do you plan to offer the dragon queen, little man?”
My hate, Tyrion wanted to say. Instead he spread his hands as far as the fetters would allow. “Whatever she would have of me. Sage counsel, savage wit, a bit of tumbling. My cock, if she desires it. My tongue, if she does not. I will lead her armies or rub her feet, as she desires. And the only reward I ask is I might be allowed to rape and kill my sister.” (ADWD, Tyrion VII)
Artwork by Marc Fishman
Even more important than the Tattered Prince is Tyrion Lannister. Save for the coming re-appearance of the Dragon Queen herself, Tyrion’s presence in Meereen is the most monumental event of the Meereenese storyline. Tyrion’s long journey to Meereen is one that bears a longer exposition than this piece allows, but we’ll focus on a few key moments of his journeys to Meereen in A Dance with Dragons and what he brings to the table in Meereen.
Tyrion Lannister is perhaps the only person in Slaver’s Bay who knows of the existence of the would-be Aegon VI. As such, his importance to Daenerys cannot be overstated. After all, Tyrion was the one who counseled Aegon to turn west and seize Westeros without Daenerys and her dragons. Why Tyrion counseled Aegon to march west instead of east is worth analysis in and of itself, but Tyrion’s knowledge in and of itself will likely be of tantamount importance to the reborn mother of dragons.
But interestingly, GRRM has indicated something about the plot of Tyrion and Daenerys in The Winds of Winter. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in June 2014, GRRM said:
“Well, Tyrion and Dany will intersect, in a way, but for much of the book they’re still apart. They both have quite large roles to play here. Tyrion has decided that he actually would like to live, for one thing, which he wasn’t entirely sure of during the last book, and he’s now working toward that end—if he can survive the battle that’s breaking out all around him. And Dany has embraced her heritage as a Targaryen and embraced the Targaryen words. So they’re both coming home.” – EW Shelf Life, June 26, 2014
If Daenerys and Tyrion are still apart for much of the book, it begs the question on when Daenerys will find out about Aegon. I’ll have more to say about this towards the end of this essay, but I wonder whether Tyrion might use the information of Aegon’s survival and his intent to march west as commodity to gain the trust of Daenerys as well as earn his way into Dany’s inner circle. If so, I wonder whether that will take place towards the very end of The Winds of Winter.
Cities in Ashes On My Window: Fire and Blood Comes to Essos
Artwork by Joseph Zgheib
But Daenerys Targaryen isn’t simply a canvas for other characters to paint their personality and desires upon. Though Daenerys seems bound to make compromises to further her aims, her aims will still be hers. But important for Daenerys is that her aims have fundamentally shifted. As we’ve already discussed, Daenerys’ turn will be likely be villainous come The Winds of Winter. And the best expression of this in The Winds of Winter will likely come through her coming slash and burn campaign through Essos.
Aided by a prophetic vision of destiny, a fiery god and her re-discovered mother of dragons personality, Daenerys looks to wreak vengeance upon those who wronged her and her children.
For it wasn’t just Khal Jhaqo or the Sons of the Harpy who fueled Daenerys’ dangerous fixation on violence. There’s a whole slew of cities and people who will almost certainly stir the dragon’s mercy. Yunkai, Volantis and Pentos lie in the dragon’s path. And it’s in these 3 cities that we can expect Daenerys to deliver her fiery form of justice to Essos
Yunkai: The Untaken City
Of all the cities of Slaver’s Bay, the city of Yunkai stands closest to Meereen and thus closest to the threat of Daenerys Targaryen. Dany’s history with the Yellow City is one of almost complete animosity. As soon as Daenerys was finished sacking Astapor, she turned north to Yunkai to continue her violent war of liberation. She successfully defeated the Yunkish sellswords in battle (albeit using more guile than feat of arms) and had her soldiers forcibly end slavery in the city. To add insult to the injury of defeat, Daenerys demanded that Yunkai arm, clothe and feed its former slaves or be sacked and burned.
“On the morning of the third day, send out your slaves. All of them. Every man, woman, and child shall be given a weapon, and as much food, clothing, coin, and goods as he or she can carry. These they shall be allowed to choose freely from among their masters’ possessions, as payment for their years of servitude. When all the slaves have departed, you will open your gates and allow my Unsullied to enter and search your city … If you do this, Yunkai will not be burned or plundered.” (ASOS, Daenerys IV)
Though Yunkai complied with this mandate while Dany and her army were within sight of the city, Yunkai hired sellswords and formed military alliances with various slave cities throughout Slaver’s Bay almost as soon as Daenerys marched north to Meereen. After Daenerys took Meereen, an envoy from Cleon, “King” of Astapor, arrived at Dany’s court with news.
These Yunkish dogs cannot be trusted, Your Worship. Even now they plot against you. New levies have been raised and can be seen drilling outside the city walls, warships are being built, envoys have been sent to New Ghis and Volantis in the west, to make alliances and hire sellswords. They have even dispatched riders to Vaes Dothrak to bring a khalasar down upon you. (ASOS, Daenerys VI)
The truth of this report is borne out by events in A Dance with Dragons. Throughout A Dance with Dragons, the Yunkish army of Ghiscari legionnaires, Free-City Sellswords and their own Slave Army takes form, march on Astapor, sack the city and then turn north to Meereen.
Though initially tempted to meet Yunkai in the field, Daenerys adopts a wiser course. She holds back within her walls and negotiates peace with Yunkai. This proves to have positive second-order effects for Daenerys as out-and-out war does not erupt around Meereen. And Daenerys’ unwillingness to take military action against Yunkai opens a window for peace.
“I want no war with Yunkai. How many times must I say it? What promises do they require?” (ADWD, Daenerys VI)
And as it happens, Yunkai made peace with Daenerys, and there’s strong evidence that Yunkai was in earnest when they made the peace deal with Daenerys, though there is also evidence that Yunkai was hedging its bet.
Regardless of the argument, Dany’s flight atop Drogon changed everything. Hundreds died at Daznak’s Pit when Drogon returned to Meereen; some of dead included prominent Yunkish officials. Most of all Drogon’s fire and blood return to Meereen provided the most visible casus belli for Yunkai to re-start the war with Meereen.
And as A Dance with Dragons concluded, Yunkai launches war against Meereen.
The Razing of the Yellow City
It’s not an error on George RR Martin’s part that the Battle of Fire commences while Daenerys is away on the Dothraki Sea. As far as Daenerys knows, the peace between Yunkai and Meereen remains in place. In fact, she makes this explicit during her wanderings in the Dothraki wilderness chapter.
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)
That war has broken out between Meereen and Yunkai has not even crossed her mind. (That her actions and the actions of Drogon are responsible for hostilities breaking out will probably never cross her mind) But there is little doubt that Daenerys will be confronted with the aftermath of the battle. I don’t expect her to participate in the battle itself, but I believe she will witness its effects on both her human and dragon children too. And this was after Daenerys sacrificed everything (in her mind) for peace with Yunkai.
So at the end of A Dance with Dragons, when Yunkai bears the sword against Meereen, against her children and against her children, this bodes ill for Yunkai. Though Daenerys had negotiated peace, her feelings for Yunkai remained hostile.
I hate this, thought Daenerys Targaryen. How did this happen, that I am drinking and smiling with men I’d sooner flay (ADWD, Daenerys VIII)
And as we discussed above, Daenerys plotted conspiracy against the Yunkish and their sellsword allies.
But what of the Battle of Fire itself? Will there be consequences that will seal Yunkai’s fate? In my concluding analysis of the Battle of Fire, I hesitated to make too sweeping of judgments on the outcome of the battle itself, but one of the things that I played with in draft form was whether the Yunkish might take out one of Dany’s dragons. After all, it’s noted several times that the Yunkish positioned heavy weapons south of Meereen with the intent of shooting Drogon out of the sky.
Elsewhere teams of slaves were raising ramps of stone and sand beneath their mangonels and scorpions, angling them upward at the sky, the better to defend the camp should the black dragon return. (ADWD, Tyrion XI)
“It is said that the Yunkai’i have ringed the city all about with scorpions, to loose iron bolts into the sky should Drogon return.” (ADWD, The Queensguard)
But while Drogon and Daenerys were far from Meereen at the end of A Dance with Dragons, 2 of her other children are in the midst of the battle. Rhaegal and Viserion are currently loose and flying above the Battle of Fire as of Tyrion’s 2nd chapter in The Winds of Winter. Rhaegal is flying er the sea battle while Viserion lights diseased corpses on fire and eats them in mid-air. So far, Yunkai hasn’t shown the wherewithal to take down a dragon, but that’s to say nothing of the potential for dumb luck to intervene on Yunkai’s behalf. After all, it was dumb luck that brought down Meraxes during the First Dornish War.
It was at Hellholt where the Dornish had their greatest success against the Targaryens. A bolt from a scorpion pierced the eye of Meraxes, and the great dragon and the queen who rode upon it fell from the sky. In her death throes, the dragon destroyed the castle’s highest tower and part of the curtain wall. (TWOIAF, Dorne Against the Dragons)
The death of one of Daenerys’ dragons, one of her children could very well set Daenerys avenging dragon off. Perhaps this would be Dany’s own casus belli for bringing fire and blood to Yunkai’s doorstep. After all, Daenerys previously expressed regret at not seizing and burning Yunkai.
It was not that Dany harbored any love for Yunkai. She was coming to regret leaving the Yellow City untaken after defeating its army in the field. (ADWD, Daenerys I)
So, given Dany’s personal dislike of Yunkai, Yunkai’s responsibility in breaking the peace, the potential for one of Dany’s dragons to die due to a Yunkish siege engine and Dany’s own regret at leaving the Yellow City untaken, I think Yunkai is bound to meet a fiery fate in The Winds of Winter. I’m also fairly certain that Daenerys herself will be the one to visit this vengeance on the Yellow City.
When Yunkai threatened war early in A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen made a statement which I think GRRM intended as foreshadowing.
“The Wise Masters should follow their example. I spared Yunkai before, but I will not make that mistake again. If they should dare attack me, this time I shall raze their Yellow City to the ground.” (ADWD, Daenerys III)
After Meereen burns, Daenerys will turn south to Yunkai. She won’t spare the city. Instead, she will visit terrible vengeance on the city. But to Dany, this will be just. This would be the just desserts of a city that brought its own destruction upon itself. But beneath the hot anger of the avenging dragon, it won’t be the guilty who will die. The innocent will burn too.
Tigers, Elephants, and Dragons
Ancient wars had depopulated much of the city, however, and large areas of Volantis had begun to sink back into the mud on which it stood. Beautiful Volantis, city of fountains and flowers. (ADWD, Tyrion VII)
Yunkai is only the 1st stop after Meereen. Other cities lie in the dragon’s path. Most prominent among the cities is Volantis. Volantis’ political history is a history of conflict between its desire for increased trade and its desire to be the military successor of the Valyrian Freehold. This is best represented in its political parties:
- The Tiger Party is the militaristic political party bent on turning Volantis towards imperial conquest. They have never held more than 1 triarch position due to the failure of Volantis to establish itself militarily as the successor to the Valyrian Freehold.
- The Elephant Party represents the trade and mercantile interests of the city. This political party has generally sought to advance Volantene interests through trade. They have been the predominant party since the Century of Blood.
It’s only in A Dance with Dragons that the 2 political parties seem to form something resembling a coalition government, and that’s entirely due to Daenerys Targaryen. On first glance, this is strange as Daenerys has never been a threat to Volantis (in the way that Yunkai and Slaver’s Bay are threatened by Dany’s rise to power and anti-slavery stance). So what was in it for Volantis to unite politically and consider war with Meereen? The answer is a little more complex than A Dance with Dragons lets on.
For the Tigers, Volantis’ destiny is to succeed the Valyrian Freehold. After Valyria’s fall, they initially succeeded in this venture, but seemingly, internal strife and an anti-Volantene military alliance nipped Volantis’ imperials hopes in the bud. All the same, the Elephants still considered themselves the heirs to Valyria.
Volantis asserted its right to rule over all the other Valyrian colonies throughout the world. Such was the might of the “First Daughter” that for a time she succeeded in establishing hegemony over several of the other Free Cities during the Century of Blood. Eventually, the Volantene empire collapsed of its own weight, brought down by an alliance of those sister cities that still remained free and the rebellion of those that had been subdued.
Many Volantenes regard themselves as the natural and rightful successors to the dragonlords of old Valyria and desire to achieve dominance over the other Free Cities and, in time, the world. The tigers advocate achieving this dominance through war and conquest. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Volantis)
A victorious war in Meereen would both fulfill the Tigers’ desire to assert Volantis’ role as the successor state to Valyria and project its military power into Slaver’s Bay — an area which has symbolic historic importance for the establishment of a Volantene Freehold. When Valyria rose, it established its preeminence over Essos first by conquering the Ghiscari Empire — an empire based out of Slaver’s Bay.
The fields were sown with salt, lime, and skulls. Many of the Ghiscari were slain, and still others were enslaved and died laboring for their conquerors. Thus the Ghiscari became but another part of the new Valyrian empire, and in time they forgot the tongue that Grazdan spoke, learning instead High Valyrian. So do empires end and others arise. (TWOIAF, Ancient History: The Rise of Valyria)
Moreover, a victory against Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen and by extension, the Valyrian Freehold, would hold monumental importance to the Tigers — it would show Volantis as the pre-eminent power in the world, able to defeat the the heiress of Valyria — a victory worthy of the up and coming Volantene Freehold.
For the Elephants, the conquest of Meereen offers the restoration of region-wide slavery and an opportunity for plunder. Restoring Volantene glory probably interested the merchant class less than the profit motive. Though Volantis was far from Meereen, the regionalization of Essosi slavery and its effect on the market ensured that its abolition in Slaver’s Bay was felt in Volantis. Thus, profits would have certainly dropped off for the merchants in Volantis.
“When you smashed the slave trade, the blow was felt from Westeros to Asshai. Qarth depends upon its slaves. So too Tolos, New Ghis, Lys, Tyrosh, Volantis … the list is long, my queen.” (ADWD, Daenerys IV)
“This arrogant child [Daenerys] has taken it upon herself to smash the slave trade, but that traffic was never confined to Slaver’s Bay. It was part of the sea of trade that spanned the world, and the dragon queen has clouded the water.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
But Meereen offered more than a simple restoration of economic balance for Essos. It offered easy money in the form of plunder. Victarion Greyjoy observes as much when he puts in for a port stop in Volantis.
In Volantis he had seen the galleys taking on provisions. The whole city had seemed drunk. Sailors and soldiers and tinkers had been observed dancing in the streets with nobles and fat merchants, and in every inn and winesink cups were being raised to the new triarchs. All the talk had been of the gold and gems and slaves that would flood into Volantis once the dragon queen was dead. (ADWD, The Iron Suitor)
Thus, a war against Daenerys and Meereen unites the competing purposes of the Elephants and the Tigers, offering glory, a potential foothold for an empire, the restoration of the regional slave trade and a get-rich scheme all at once.
But the political unity in Volantis is quite deceiving. The Elephants and the Tigers might be united in their desire for war, but the common people and especially the slaves of Volantis have a very different view of Daenerys.
As we talked about in part 3, the Red Temple of Volantis views Daenerys Targaryen as Azor Ahai Reborn. The High Priest Benerro himself makes an explicit call for war – not against the Dragon Queen, but against those plotting against Daenerys, especially the Triarchs in particular.
“The priest is calling on the Volantenes to go to war,” the Halfmaester told him, “but on the side of right, as soldiers of the Lord of Light, R’hllor who made the sun and stars and fights eternally against the darkness. Nyessos and Malaquo have turned away from the light, he says, their hearts darkened by the yellow harpies from the east.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
That a religion and its leaders are promoting the idea of Daenerys as a messianic figure is problematic for a Triarchy and united political class bent towards war. But Daenerys Ahai” ventures into dangerous territory as soon as the appeal of R’hllor and the demographics of Volantis are taken into consideration. R’hllor appeals primarily to the freedmen and slaves of Volantis, and the slave to free ratio in Volantis is staggering – and dangerous:
“It’s said there are five slaves for every free man in Volantis.” (ADWD, Tyrion II)
A war against Daenerys risks inflaming 80+% of the population who likely already despises the upper classes of Volantis. But it’s not only the religious who support Daenerys in Volantis. The Widow on the Waterfront tells Tyrion to tell Daenerys to come quickly to Volantis.
“Should you reach your queen, give her a message from the slaves of Old Volantis.” She touched the faded scar upon her wrinkled cheek, where her tears had been cut away. “Tell her we are waiting. Tell her to come soon.” (ADWD, Tyrion VII)
For her part, Daenerys Targaryen’s experiences with Volantis are somewhat limited. She lived in Volantis with her brother Viserys early in her life.
They had wandered since then, from Braavos to Myr, from Myr to Tyrosh, and on to Qohor and Volantis and Lys, never staying long in any one place. Her brother would not allow it. (AGOT, Daenerys I)
Otherwise, she rarely gives thought to Volantis until rumors of a Volantene-Yunkish alliance reach Daenerys in Meereen at the end of A Storm of Swords. Mid-way through A Dance with Dragons, the threat of Volantis entering the war on the side of Yunkai begins to grow.
Brown Ben Plumm bulled over him. “Your Grace, the Yunkish got three free companies against our two, and there’s talk the Yunkishmen sent to Volantis to fetch back the Golden Company. Those bastards field ten thousand. (ADWD, Daenerys V)
But the fear of Volantis’ entry into the war remains unfounded until after Daenerys and Drogon depart Meereen. Thereafter, Skahaz mo Kandaq reveals startling information to Barristan Selmy.
“And there is more. Worse. Volantis has launched its fleet against us.”
“Volantis.” Selmy’s sword hand tingled. We made a peace with Yunkai. Not with Volantis. “You are certain?”
“Certain. The Wise Masters know. So do their friends. The Harpy, Reznak, Hizdahr. This king will open the city gates to the Volantenes when they arrive. All those Daenerys freed will be enslaved again. Even some who were never slaves will be fitted for chains. (ADWD, The Queensguard)
Victarion Greyjoy estimates that Volantene Fleet coming for Meereen will consist of between 300-500 ships, all “packed with slave soldiers.”
As of the end of A Dance with Dragons and the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter, the Volantene Fleet and the slave army has not arrived outside of Meereen. However, I think it’s a near-certainty that the Volantene Fleet will make an appearance in the battle. As to what happens when the Volantene Fleet shows up, I believe that this will one of the more satisfying turns in the series.
Remember how the Volantene ships bound for Meereen are packed with slave soldiers? What I imagine is going to happen once the Volantenes arrive at Slaver’s Bay is a general slave revolt aboard the ships. The Elephants and Tigers who command the ships will likely be killed by slaves who view Dany as the savior of mankind and the breaker of their own chains.
And thus, Daenerys will have perhaps 500 ships to transport her army and her children to wherever they might want to go. But there’s no doubt in my mind that after the sack of Yunkai, the next stop will be Volantis.
The Sword of Fire: The Siege of Volantis
“In Volantis, thousands of slaves and freedmen crowd the temple plaza every night to hear Benerro shriek of bleeding stars and a sword of fire that will cleanse the world. He has been preaching that Volantis will surely burn if the triarchs take up arms against the silver queen.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)
The coming slave rebellion aboard the Volantene ships in The Winds of Winter will only foreshadow events that will occur in Volantis. But will this be a return to Dany’s righteous liberator status or a continuation of her mother of dragons identity? I think you know my answer. While the end-result of the violent liberation of Volantis might be an overall good, Dany’s reasons for attacking the city will be far less pure.
Yunkai will likely stir Dany’s mother of dragons instincts but Volantis will likely have a different appeal to Daenerys. On one hand, it will probably feel good for Daenerys to revisit her avenging dragon. But Volantis will also have a mystical appeal to Daenerys as well. As we talked about in part 3, Daenerys will almost certainly confront Moqorro when she returns to Meereen. We also speculated that Daenerys will convert to R’hllor at some point in The Winds of Winter. Moqorro’s purpose was to bring Daenerys to the Lord of Light, but his other purpose was to bring Daenerys to Volantis. And the best way to lure Daenerys to Volantis might be to speak of her dramatic destiny as the savior of mankind — something that Benerro, the High Priest of Volantis will likely provide for Daenerys.
“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)
I suspect that Moqorro will use the lure of Benerro’s significant prophetic ability to bring Daenerys to Volantis. Perhaps there will be a dialogue between Daenerys and Moqorro in The Winds of Winter in which Moqorro will state that his own powers of foresight are a mere taste of what Benerro can bring to Dany. “Blah. Blah. Blah. The Red God has put his trust in you, O Daenerys, Azor Ahai Reborn. Blah. Blah. Blah. Oh, and by the way, if you could help us kick the teeth in of the Triarchs and our political ruling class, and overthrow the existing government of Volantis, that would be lovely also.”
And to be fair to Daenerys, her war against Volantis won’t be unprovoked. The question is what will happen once Daenerys and her massive army arrive outside of Volantis. I think that the answer lies in the urban layout of Volantis as well as Volantis’ history and culture.
Volantis’ social stratification is so great that there exists a city within a city. Protected by high Valyrian-constructed walls known as the Black Walls, Volantis’ nobility can shield itself from either an extended siege by a foreign army or a slave revolt. Here’s how The World of Ice and Fire describes the Black Walls.
The heart of Old Volantis is the city-within-the-city—an immense labyrinth of ancient palaces, courtyards, towers, temples, cloisters, bridges, and cellars, all contained within the great oval of the Black Walls raised by the Freehold of Valyria in the first flush of its youthful expansion. Two hundred feet tall, and so thick that six four-horse chariots can race along their battlements side by side (as they do each year to celebrate the founding of the city), these seamless walls of fused black dragonstone, harder than steel or diamond, stand in mute testimony to Volantis’s origins as a military outpost. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Volantis)
And in Volantis’ history, the Black Walls were a last defense by Volantis’ nobility against outside threats. For instance, during the Second Spice War, the Volantene nobility are reported to have hidden themselves within the Black Walls when Garin the Great’s Rhoynish army threatened Volantis.
Rather than face him in the field, the Volantenes retreated back behind their Black Walls and appealed to the Freehold for help. (TWOIAF, Ancient History: The Ten Thousand Ships)
So, we’ve established the inner city as the Volantene nobility’s final defensive line, and by any conventional rationale, the Black Walls seem a daunting task to any would-be conqueror. In fact, this would seem an utterly impossible task for an army to take by force of arms. If only Daenerys and her massive army had some superweapon able to negate the defensive value of the Black Walls… If only.
But crucially, I think the inner city of Volantis and its Black Walls could serve an altogether more interesting purpose. And here, Dany’s reborn mother of dragons, willing to sacrifice human life to achieve her ultimate ends will come into play. For Daenerys, her war is in Westeros, not Volantis. So, despite the fact that Dany might stop at Volantis to have a full reading of her prophetic destiny by Benerro, the sad reality is that Volantis doesn’t mean much to her overall strategic plan.
As such, what I think might happen is that Daenerys might park her army outside of Volantis and wait for the slaves to do the right thing. After all, the slaves and freedmen of Volantis have been taught by the Red Temple of Volantis that all those who die fighting in her cause shall be reborn.
So, I expect a massive slave revolt to occur within the city of Volantis while Daenerys Targaryen, her massive army of mixed Dothraki, sellswords, Unsullied and Freedmen companies sit outside of the city and let the slaughter occur within the city itself. Likely, Daenerys will claim that she can spare no swords for Volantis’ revolution, and echo some of her earlier strains of the Volantenes tending their own gardens.
So, this won’t be like Astapor where Daenerys plays an active role in violently ending the social order of Astapor. Instead, Daenerys will likely allow Volantene slaves and freedmen to manage their own affairs. In fact, the argument can be made that Daenerys is allowing the Volantenes to sacrifice themselves as a moral shortcut to the end of massacring the nobility of Volantis and moving along to her next target and Westeros more quickly without the loss of the army she needs to conquer Westeros.
And when the dust clears from the civil war within Volantis, only then do I expect Daenerys to act. We can assume that the surviving members of the Volantene nobility to be cleared from the outer city and be confined to their Alamo: the inner city of Old Volantis. And there, I expect Daenerys and her dragons will do bring this generation’s Harrenhal down upon the nobility of Volantis.
The riverlords outside the castle walls said later that the towers of Harrenhal glowed red against the night, like five great candles…and like candles, they began to twist and melt, as runnels of molten stone ran down their sides. (TWOIAF, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest)
I can’t say how the site of Old Volantis’ inner city destruction will be greeted by Volantene slaves and freedmen, but I wonder if the jubilation of liberation will turn to horror upon seeing the Black Walls turn red while the men, women and children within the inner city burn to death from Daenerys’ sword of fire.
The Blood Price of the Tattered Prince
“Illyrio Mopatis wants you [Daenerys] back in Pentos, under his roof. Very well, go to him . . . but in your own time, and not alone.” (ASOS, Daenerys I)Artwork by Marc Simonetti
Despite the coming horrific destruction of Yunkai and the Inner Volantis, some may argue that there was some moral justification for these cities’ destruction. They were both belligerents in a great war against Daenerys and the evil of slavery was a blight worth violently ending. But what about Pentos? The city of Pentos has never raised sword against Daenerys. It is officially anti-slavery (though Pentoshi involvement in the slave trade is an open secret). Nevertheless, all signs point to Daenerys marching on the city likely near the end of her arc in The Winds of Winter. But Dany’s march won’t simply be a repayment for the Tattered Prince’s treachery against Yunkai.
Illyrio Mopatis is a character that Daenerys thinks of fondly. He shelters Daenerys and Viserys at his manse in Pentos. He sends Barristan Selmy and Strong Belwas along to him as well as Admiral Groleo and a few ships. To Dany, he has been nothing but a faithful servant of House Targaryen. But is he truly loyal to Daenerys? I have my doubts. Without getting into the weeds of the Blackfyre Theory, at the very least, Illyrio seems to be throwing his support behind Aegon over Daenerys. And if Daenerys took a moment to consider what Illyrio’s plan likely was for Daenerys, she might reconsider Illyrio’s loyalty. (Credit for the below goes to /u/indianthane95)
- Original plan: The fool Viserys and a Dothraki khalasar (gained through little obedient Dany’s marriage to Drogo) are to cross over and pillage Westeros, with the Golden Company there too. The Golden Company and the revealed Aegon mop up. It doesn’t matter how Aerys’ children feel about Aegon, since Viserys is a dumbass and a weakling and Dany will probably not survive the horselords (besides being girl). Endgame: Aegon VI, rightful Targaryen heir by all laws of Westeros (as the eldest trueborn son of Prince Rhaegar), wins the Throne
- As expected: Robert calls for Dany’s death. Varys + Illyrio comply, again showing their lack of care for the Targaryens. If Dany dies, Drogo’s pissed and invades in the name of his dead Targaryen bride. If Dany manages to survive, Drogo’s pissed and invades at the side of his Targaryen bride.
- Disaster: Drogo dies, the Great Khalasar disbands.
- Wonderfully shocking news: Daenerys has become a mother of 3 dragons and is in Qarth. This is a more-than-suitable replacement for Drogo’s 40,000 warriors. Illyrio sends 3 ships, Ser Barristan the Bold, and Strong Belwas to bring her back to Pentos
- Another Surprise from Dany: The young girl has suddenly chosen to go her own route in Slaver’s Bay. No matter, Varys and Illyrio will wait for her to turn towards Volantis, send Young Griff and Co. there to meet up with Dany, her dragons, and her large army/following. Daenerys Stormborn is now the most formidable power in her own right, and her hand in marriage is necessary for Aegon to take the Throne.
- Goddamnit: Dany is continuing to linger in Meereen, trying to learn how to be a good Queen. Well, no point considering roads not taken, send Young Griff and his entourage to Slaver’s Bay.
- For fuck’s sake: The Griffs and the Golden Company have grown frustrated and impatient. “Fuck the dragons, bring me elephants”, and so the Company has landed in the Stormlands to take the Throne. Alone. Against orders. 10,000 men only, scattered across the region. Potential failure looms.
- We must go on paddling: Varys sees that Cersei’s disastrous reign as Regent has terribly weakened Tommen’s backing and support. The alliances that prop up her children’s hold on the Throne, are collapsing. Mayhaps her paranoia and insanity can continue to be used to help Aegon gather his strength and push for King’s Landing. But first the obstacles to Cersei’s chaotic ruling must be removed. And so Kevan gets himself in a quarrel, and Pycelle takes a nasty backstab.
And funny enough, Daenerys will encounter a man who knows something about Illyrio’s plan: Tyrion Lannister. Here is where I think that Tyrion will leverage information on Aegon, Illyrio and their plans into a position of power in Dany’s entourage. That Tyrion might advance himself through endangering tens of thousands is yet another essay topic in and of itself. But if Tyrion reveals Illyrio’s betrayal to Daenerys, the dragon’s mercy will burn hot. Likely, this will be a key component of why Daenerys will personally feel the need to visit Pentos to pay Illyrio a visit.
But is satisfying Dany’s desire for vengeance enough reason to gift the city to the Tattered Prince and expose thousands of innocents to the the horrors of war and totalitarian government?
It’s in Pentos that I expect Dany’s most stalwart supporters (both in-universe as well as fans of the series) to question the moral direction of the reborn Mother of Dragons. As we spoke about with Tattered Prince, the price of the Windblown and the Tattered Prince’s turning cloak on Yunkai was the city of Pentos itself. Now, Daenerys may end up betraying the Tattered Prince, but I don’t expect that. Instead, I think that Dany will very much fulfill her part of the bargain, and perhaps Dany will see the slaughter in the streets and echo her thoughts from A Game of Thrones when she witnessed the sack of the Lhazarene Town.
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 price for Daenerys might come at the expense of her emotional psyche and a further weakening of her moral compass, but for the Pentoshi the price for the dragon’s mercy and compromise will evil will be paid in blood. The regime change that Daenerys will bring to Pentos will result in the deaths of many innocents. And the city doesn’t stand a chance against Daenerys. Yunkai and Volantis had armies and navies to defend itself; Pentos is not so fortunate.
A further provision of the peace accords between Braavos and Pentos limits the Pentoshi to no more than twenty warships and prohibits them from hiring sellswords, entering into contracts with free companies, or maintaining any army beyond the city watch. Undoubtedly these are among the reasons that the Pentoshi are now notably less belligerent than the people of Tyrosh, Myr, and Lys. Despite its massive walls, Pentos is oft seen as the most vulnerable of the Free Cities. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Pentos)
And it’s worth asking the type of regime that the Tattered Prince plans to bring to Pentos. Presently, the city is ruled by a council of magisters (to include Illyrio). The Prince of Pentos is a mere figurehead with no real power.
Over the centuries, however, the power of the prince steadily eroded, whilst that of the city magisters who chose him grew. Today it is the council of magisters that rules Pentos, for all practical purposes; the prince’s power is largely nominal, his duties almost entirely ceremonial. In the main, he presides over feasts and balls, carried from place to place in a rich palanquin with a handsome guard. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Pentos)
So, will the Tattered Prince upend the existing political order in Pentos and cut his way through the existing political structure in order to set himself up as the strongman of the city? Tatters’ repeated mantra of wanting Pentos doesn’t speak of power-sharing, representative government or to the general well-being of his fellow Pentoshi. In fact, I envision the Tattered Prince as the Pentoshi version of the Astapor’s Butcher King.
But while the average Pentoshi might be forced to endure the coming purge of Tatters, Daenerys herself might find make a visit to Illyrio’s manse in Pentos only to find Magister Illyrio on an extended leave of absence. In fact, Illyrio makes it explicit that he plans to join Aegon in Westeros as soon as possible.
“Good fortune,” Illyrio called after them. “Tell the boy I am sorry that I will not be with him for his wedding. I will rejoin you in Westeros. That I swear, by my sweet Serra’s hands.” (ADWD, Tyrion III)
And it’s in this moment that Daenerys will finally face turn herself, her army and her dragon’s mercy to Westeros.
To go back, you must go forward: Dragonstone and the Future
“It is dragons… They’re coming…” Teora gave a tiny nod, chin trembling. “They were dancing. In my dream. And everywhere the dragons danced the people died.” (TWOW, Arianne I)
Artwork by ElegantWaster
The fire and blood campaign that Daenerys will bring to Essos might seem monotonous campaign of city-wide destruction, but Martin has a purpose in likely writing Dany’s arc in The Winds of Winter through the lense of dragon-based destruction. I think that Martin will be looking to invoke parallels to the effects of nuclear destruction. George RR Martin has said in several interviews that the dragons of the series are the equivalent of nuclear bombs.
“The dragons are the ultimate weapon in the world of Ice and Fire. They’re controlled by only a few people. You can win wars with them, win battles with them, but that doesn’t mean you can govern successfully with them—build a successful society and culture. In that sense, they are like nuclear weapons.” – Vocativ Interview with GRRM, 9/4/2014
The dragons can win Dany’s wars for her, but at what cost? In the Entertainment Weekly Interview where Martin stated that Tyrion and Daenerys will be apart for much of The Winds of Winter, Martin also stated that “Dany has embraced her heritage as a Targaryen and embraced the Targaryen words. So they’re both coming home.” Perhaps Dany is embracing the violent ethos associated with some Targaryens such as Maegor the Cruel, but the use of dragons in warfare is a dark turn for a Daenerys that looks to continue on her villainous path. After all, dragons, like nuclear weapons, work best if they aren’t used at all.
Dragons are the nuclear deterrent, and only Dany has them, which in some ways makes her the most powerful person in the world. But is that sufficient? These are the kind of issues I’m trying to explore. The United States right now has the ability to destroy the world with our nuclear arsenal, but that doesn’t mean we can achieve specific geopolitical goals. Power is more subtle than that. You can have the power to destroy, but it doesn’t give you the power to reform, or improve, or build. – Vulture Interview with GRRM, 10/20/2011
The wake of destruction that Daenerys will leave across Essos is one that the region will take years to recover from. But will it bring any long-lasting change or reform to the cities she visits or will the region return to form in the years following the sword of fire or will Daenerys’ abandonment of the region for her war in Westeros ensure that the status quo of slavery and oppression will return? I think the latter is more probable.
But Dany’s narrative arc is propelling her away from Essos. GRRM’s plan has always been for Daenerys to return to Westeros since the early days of writing A Song of Ice and Fire.
NG: Three more volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire wait to be written. What shape do you expect them to take, and are their titles finalized as yet?
GRRM: Yes, three more volumes remain. The series could almost be considered as two linked trilogies, although I tend to think of it more as one long story. The next book, A Dance With Dragons, will focus on the return of Daenerys Targaryen to Westeros, and the conflicts that creates. GRRM Interview with Infinity Plus, 2000
When he envisioned the series as a trilogy, he wanted the Red Wedding to take place in Book 1 and Dany’s return to Westeros in Book 2. When the series was expanded to 6 books, and shortly after he completed ASOS, he said “the next book, A Dance With Dragons, will focus on the return of Daenerys Targaryen to Westeros, and the conflicts that creates” – SSM, 4/20/2002
As such, I believe that The Winds of Winter will conclude not with Dany’s final invasion of Westeros, but her landing at Dragonstone, the traditional seat of House Targaryen. Dany’s landing at Dragonstone would bring her arc full circle as well as fulfill Dany’s repeated To go forward, I must go back mantra.
Dragonstone has significant personal meaning to Daenerys. It was where Dany was born – the only part of Westeros she has ever known, though admittedly, she was much too young to comprehend it. Dragonstone is the first and last piece of Westeros the Targaryens ever owned, as well as the launching pad for Aegon the Conqueror’s conquest of Westeros. And at the risk of writing fan-fiction, I believe that Dany’s final chapter in The Winds of Winter will conclude in a way that reaches back to the Targaryen past as well as well as provides a window into Westeros’ dire future.
Atop Drogon, Daenerys Targaryen will look upon the grim island fortress of Dragonstone for the 1st time in 17 years. As her army lands below and begins clearing the island of Tyrell and Lannister soldiers,Daenerys will fly circles over the island, utilizing dragonfire to take out pockets of resistance. Once the battle is won, Dany will land within the walls of Dragonstone, dismount Drogon and make her way up to the Stone Drum of Dragonstone. She will climb the long stairs up the Stone Drum to the room with Aegon the Conqueror’s great Painted Table. The very last scene from her final The Winds of Winter chapter will be her gaze sweeping across the great painted table-map of Westeros and resting on King’s Landing.
Thanks for reading! I am indebted to my editor Nfriel who edited this lunk of an essay. Thanks! I also want to thanks Feldman10 and AdmiralKird who helped contribute ideas and comments to strengthen some of the shakier parts of this essay.