Women’s Empowerment Month: Daenerys (From Refugee to So Much More)

If you have ever watched or even heard of Game of Thrones, you are familiar with the name, Daenerys Targaryen. She is a fictional character created by George R. R. Martin for the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Daenerys is portrayed by Emilia Clarke in the TV series. Fair warning, in this post I will write about the first two seasons as regards Daenerys. Let this serve as a spoiler alert not for the full series and certainly not for the other dozen or so characters.

Although I have read all five of the novels, this entry will be about the character as portrayed in the television series, where her story arc is much more impressive, because there are only five books that have been written and the series went on for eight seasons. Early in the series, Daenerys is introduced as an exiled refugee princess, the daughter of King Aerys Targaryen known in a pejorative sense as “The Mad King” and his sister/wife Queen Rhaella.

Yes, you read that right. Her parents were married siblings, brother and sister. She along with her brother, Viserys, are the last survivors of House Targaryen. It is made clear from the beginning that Viserys considers his sister property which he intends to use as a resource to purchase an army that will help him retake the Iron Throne. In a particularly despicable moment, Viserys tells Daenerys that he “would let an army of men and their horses rape you for their” fealty.

This may look like a tender moment, but here Viserys has told Daenerys to go make Khal Drogo happy.

Whereas Daenerys is humble and subservient, her brother is haughty and brutal. Because they come from a culture that values purity of bloodline, incest is not stigmatized among the Targaryen. There appears to be a sexually abusive relationship between Daenerys and Viserys, one in which he benefits as the dominator while she is cowed by his brutality. So although she is a princess, she is in effect indigent, without a kingdom, and dependent on the goodwill of a benefactor.

As expected, the demure Daenerys is married off to the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo without a say in the matter. Consequent to this marriage, Viserys holds with the expectation that his army will be gathered shortly. Daenerys is afraid of the Khal, but she accepts her role as khaleesi which empowers and emboldens her. During the wedding, Illyrio Mopatis, Daenerys’ benefactor, gifts her with three petrified dragon’s eggs and a disgraced knight, Ser Jorah Mormont, pledges his fealty to her.

As a new bride, Daenerys endeavors to be a better wife. As such, one of her handmaidens instructs the khaleesi in how to be a more active lover, which impresses the Khal. As Daenerys learns the language of Dothrak, she and Drogo grow closer and genuinely fall in love. When the khaleesi gets pregnant, a festival celebration takes place where it is evident that the people of the tribe (khalasar) have admiration and genuine affection for her.

Her brother, Viserys, is startled by how overt it is that the khalasar love Daenerys. She has earned their affection by her accessibility and quiet, regal strength, which he has not been capable of matching. As he watches he gets filled with a sense of urgency and understands that he must leave. Drogo, Viserys acknowledges, has no intention of providing Viserys with an army to take back Westeros.

During the celebration an inebriated Viserys publicly threatens to cut the baby from Daenerys as he waves a knife. If he wanted to make an impression, he has done so, to his everlasting regret. Drogo kills Viserys by pouring molten gold upon his head like a crown. It is a point of wisdom to recognize that sometimes, it is not a good thing to get what you ask for.

In subsequent days, while Daenerys is walking through a marketplace, an assassin attempts to kill her. When it is revealed that the king Robert Baratheon has put a price on her head, Drogo goes berserk. The thought that someone could want to kill his wife and unborn child incense and infuriate Khal Drogo. Further, when one of his own men refuses to take orders from the khaleesi, Drogo fights him and gets injured in the fracas.

Drogo’s injury becomes infected and puts him in a catatonic state. Daenerys is so bereft that she seeks the assistance of Mirri Maz Duur a healer witch known to use blood magic. Some of the khalasar believe that the khaleesi should not have engaged blood magic and leave quietly in the night, deserting the khalasar.

Mirri deceives Daenerys, allowing the khaleesi to believe that it is within her capabilities to heal Drogo, but blood magic requires sacrifice and unbeknownst to her the khaleesi’s unborn child is forfeit. Drogo never regains his mind, and Daenerys ultimately ends Drogo’s life.

Mirri is tied to the funeral pyre as payment for her deceit. Daenerys puts the dragon eggs next to the Khal’s dead body atop the pyre. Upon lighting the pyre, Daenerys steps into the fire herself. More of the khalasar leave believing the khaleesi is dead. Others wait to see what is the result of the funeral. At daybreak, the fire has gone out. In the smoking embers sits Daenerys Targaryen, khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, and three baby dragons. The dragons are named Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion.

At the beginning of the second season of Game of Thrones, Daenerys and the remnant of her khalasar wander the Red Waste. Upon watching horses and people collapsing for lack of food and drink, she asks three of her remaining warriors to ride out in three different directions. She asks them to ride until they find shelter and sustenance. One returns and says that she has been granted an audience at Qarth, a port city with droves of merchant ships and ongoing commerce.

As Daenerys approaches the city walls, the Thirteen, Qarth’s ruling council greet her while barring her entrance. Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a merchant and member of the council, offers to help Daenerys persuade the council to sponsor her attempt to claim the throne at King’s Landing in Westeros. When she fails to convince the council, she returns to Daxos’ home to find that half of the khalasar have been killed and the baby dragons abducted.

The warlock Pyat Pree claims responsibility and in her sight kills the remaining members of the Thirteen. He tells Daenerys that he holds the dragons in the Temple of the Undying, in order to get Daenerys to go there. It is a trap to get her chained up beside her dragons, but to Pyat Pree’s everlasting chagrin, the Mother of Dragons commands the dragons to breathe fire on Pyat Pree. He dies an extra crispy death.

Daenerys returns to Daxos’ mansion convinced that he had something to do with the abduction of her dragons, and finds him in bed with her servant girl. She takes the key to Daxos’ vault, and locks Daxos and the servant girl in the vault while the khalasar raids the manse of all its valuables with the intent to purchase a ship to build an army capable of invading Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms.

Needless to say, since I have only covered until the end of the second season, there is so much more for Dany to conquer. I have deliberately gone no further because Daenerys is such an intriguing character with a story arc that transcends barriers. Her story is that of an indigent girl, refugee from her homeland, dependent on the beneficent indulgences of her older brother, and a kind benefactor. She is property transferred from her brother to a husband that only respects her, when she learns his language, embraces the title of khaleesi, and becomes an active participant in the bedroom.

When her husband dies, most women would slink off in fear because her protector was gone. However, the khaleesi takes the lead of her khalasar and deigns to find them a way through the Red Waste. They wind up in Qarth where the merchants attempt to cheat her out of her only real assets: the three dragons. She could have become the Queen of Qarth once the Thirteen were killed, but Qarth is merely a stepping stone to get her closer to her destiny. She is Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, soon to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

2 thoughts on “Women’s Empowerment Month: Daenerys (From Refugee to So Much More)

    1. It was always going to be a problem when Martin let the show get ahead of the books. I agree. But to my mind I still think of the growth as moving towards something positive.

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