Daenerys Targaryen has been positioned as the Strong Female Character of Game of Thrones – she’s a leader in her own right, she’s sexually independent, she’s confident in her abilities, and she never doubts herself – but while I like Dany well enough and I do root for her, I cannot get behind her quest for the Iron Throne. Not just because I like other female GoT character far more, but because I think Dany would make a terrible Queen of Westeros. Because Dany has been positioned as the Strong Female Character of GoT, am I a bad feminist for wanting Dany to lose?
Having read comments online for years before I ever started watching Game of Thrones, it seemed to me that Dany was a hero so many people were rooting for. Then, as almost always happens in modern fan/internet culture, came the “backlash” to Dany’s hero status where people started commenting that Dany wasn’t as amazing as people claimed she was. Then came the “backlash” to the “backlash”, where other people commented that the people who didn’t like Dany did so out of nefarious reasons – that disliking Dany meant one disliked her because she was a strong female character. This left me in a quandary: do I dislike Dany due to some bias against strong women that I’m unconscious of, or do I dislike her for legitimate reasons?
In Season 5, Episode 8, “Hardhome”, Daenerys tells Tyrion Lannister:
Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell, they’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top, then that one’s on top, and on and on it spins crushing those on the ground… I’m not going stop the wheel; I’m going to break the wheel.
“Break the wheel” then became Dany’s official motto, but her actions tell a far different story. Dany seems less intent on breaking the wheel than shifting the wheel so she’s on top.
Daenerys was not a good Queen of Meereen – she may have conquered the city, but she had no idea how to rule it. Dany conquered the city and freed the slaves, but put no plans in place to change the policies of governance and culture of the city and its people aside from her sitting in the great pyramid and the Unsullied patrolling the streets. It’s not enough for her to simply punish the slave masters as severely as they used to punish the slaves, there must be actual reform for any lasting changes to take effect. This is why shutting down the fighting pits wasn’t successful, and she was forced to reopen them, because if you remove such a large aspect of a culture without replacing it with anything, there leaves a void. This is why the Sons of the Harpy were able to gain traction. What Dany did wasn’t break the wheel in Meereen, she merely turned the wheel so another spoke was on top.
In Season 6, Episode 6, “Blood of My Blood”, Daario Naharis tells Daenerys that she wasn’t “made to sit on a chair in a palace”, that she is “a conqueror”. This is true. Dany is not a great ruler; she is a great conqueror. But a conqueror is not someone who is going to break the wheel. If anything, Dany is repeating the wheel – giving it another spin – as, like Aegon I did, she is conquering Westeros with the threat of dragons.
When Daenerys conquers a city or a people and frees the slaves, she gives them the opportunity to leave with no consequences, but that if they choose to stay they will follow her as their leader. I would have less of a hard time believing that the people who do choose to stay with her are truly doing so out of love and belief in her abilities if they were doing so without the threat of dragons. The only time we have seen people leave after she has made this offer to them is at the end of season 1 before she had dragons. Since she has acquired dragons, no one she has freed has chosen not to follow her. This threat makes her seem less like a benevolent ruler and more like a potentially brutal conqueror, like Aegon I.
This was especially true when, in Season 7, Episode 5, “Eastwatch”, Dany burns Randyll and Dickon Tarly alive. Hilariously, three minutes before she burns the Tarlys alive, she says:
I know what Cersei has told you. That I’ve come to destroy your cities, burn down your homes, murder you and orphan your children. That’s Cersei Lannister, not me. I’m not here to murder, and all I want to destroy is the wheel that has rolled over rich and poor to the benefit of no one but the Cersei Lannister’s of the world. I offer you a choice: bend the knee and join me, together we will leave the world a better place than we found it; or refuse, and die.
Dany is far more like Cersei Lannister than she realizes. Cersei, too, kills anyone who stands in her way. Cersei, too, burns people alive. As did the Mad King. Taking the same actions as those whom you claim to be different from is not breaking the wheel – this is again merely turning the wheel so a different spoke is on top. As an aside, I also can’t get over how, in the same paragraph, Dany claims she’s not there to murder the people of Westeros, but will murder anyone who doesn’t bend the knee to her. What?
Daenerys, once in Westeros, is so focused on being Queen that she refuses to align with anyone who will not bend the knee to her, which most likely will end up costing her in the same way it cost everyone else who has refused to compromise. There is so much foreshadowing in this show where actions taken by characters who fail are then later corrected by characters in order to succeed. Stannis Baratheon refused to align with any of the other rebel kings unless they bent the knee, and ultimately ended up defeated because of it. Robb Stark refused to compromise with Walder Frey by refusing to acquiesce to his request to marry his daughter, and ended up dead at the Red Wedding. Tywin Lannister refused to compromise about Tyrion’s death sentence and ended up shot through the heart on the toilet. Mance Rayder refused to compromise with Stannis, even to save his people, and ended up dead. But Jon Snow ultimately bends the knee to Daenerys in order to save his people, because their survival is more important than his pride.
Refusing to compromise killed Robb Stark, Tywin Lannister, Mance Rayder, and Stannis Baratheon. Refusing to compromise will end up killing Cersei (if she survives this show, I’m going to lose it; she’s the worst). Dany’s refusal to compromise and work together for a common good, and her insistence that everyone around her bend the knee or burn, is as far from breaking the wheel as she can be in this story. GoT has a theme, and Dany’s false idea of what breaking the wheel means is not it.
To be honest, I don’t think Daenerys actually knows what breaking the wheel means even to herself. In Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall”, Tyrion speaks with Dany about successors, but Dany refuses to discuss it, saying: “We will discuss the succession after I wear the crown.” In some ways, it’s understandable that she wouldn’t want to discuss her own death, but in other ways it’s quite telling that Dany is so focused on her short term goal of wearing the crown. Coupled with everything else, it’s obvious that Dany is not focused on long term goals, perhaps because she doesn’t have any – she never talks about what breaking the wheel actually entails.
Daenerys’ focus on her short term goal of sitting the Iron Throne leads her to make decisions without any thought to the long term affect they might have, leading to rash, often cruel and unnecessary actions that are more akin to the people she’s fighting against than the people she’s fighting for.
I am fully willing to admit that there may be some unconscious bias I don’t yet understand which has caused me to turn on Dany, but there are also legitimate reasons to dislike her. I can appreciate the hardships that Dany has had to endure and overcome, but enduring and overcoming hardships isn’t enough to make me want to root for someone who comes across as hypocritical and who has shown she would make a terrible ruler, when there are far better options for the top job. Dany is okay, and dragons are an excellent spectacle, but I’m rooting for her to never achieve her goal of sitting the Iron Throne, even if that makes me a bad feminist.