Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Daenerys VI

“The stallion who mounts the world has no need of iron chairs.”

“To Rhaego son of Drogo, the stallion who will mount the world…to him I will give this iron chair his mother’s father sat in.”

Synopsis: Despite Dany’s entreating, Drogo refuses to march west and invade the Seven Kingdoms. Dany visits the Western Market, where she suffers mild peril from a hapless amateur assassin before being saved by Jorah. Drogo changes his mind and gives a stirring WWF Smackdown promo.

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

Drogo and the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy

Daenerys VI is a slightly unusual chapter for A Game of Thrones in that it largely centers around the political side of her story – especially how events in Essos are intersecting with the King’s Landing plotline. To begin with, it’s interesting that the chapter begins with Dany failing to persuade Khal Drogo of the virtue of crossing “the black salt sea” with “wooden horses with a thousand legs” in order to regain an “iron chair,” despite the conversation taking just after Drogo takes “pleasure” in her. It’s a sign, however oblique, that Dany isn’t going to fit into the role of a political wife who acts through her husband (in the same way that say, Margaery excells in), that her skills and her story are otherwise.

This failure is also significant in that Drogo’s flat refusal to envision crossing the Narrow Sea calls into question his part in the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy: namely, did Drogo ever intend to lead an army to Westeros in the name of his wife and her family? If not, what was the unseen negotiation between Illyrio and Drogo about, even if it wasn’t understood as a bargain of a bride for an army? Illyrio’s involvement in the exchange is somewhat inexplicable if that last wasn’t part of the point, given his investment in a Targaryen restoration. On the other hand, while Jorah seems confident that Drogo will change his mind eventually, as “the Dothraki do things in their own time for their own reasons,” Drogo’s refusal seems quite emphatic.

Given that both Varys and Illyrio are intelligent men, and how far back Varys informed King Robert of the wedding (the best Game of Thrones timeline I’ve seen estimates Varys’ information as being passed on six months after the wedding and it is now six months since that happened), it may well have been the case that Varys and Illyrio had always planned to use a failed assassination attempt against Dany to force Drogo’s hand, and that the only difference that the attempts on Bran’s life made were to accelerate the timeline somewhat. It would very much fit Varys’ style as a conspirator – hands-off to an extreme, using the resources of others to do his work for him while remaining out of sight, and a high degree of precision and delicacy (after all, the attempt has to be both credible but not successful, which is difficult to gauge from a continent away). More on this below where I talk about the assassination.

 The Egg and the Blood of the Dragons

It’s not just a thematic signposting that Dany fails to act as a political wife – it’s also a subtly important plot point. It is Dany’s sense of frustration and despair that causes her to breath new life into “the fading memory of a red door” and to once again think to herself as “blood of the dragon…the last, the very last…the seed of kings and conquerors,” who cannot ultimately be at home among the Dothraki (again, back to our old theme of assimilation). Daenerys could be content to just be the mother of the Stallion Who Mounts the World, but the dragon cannot be. And it’s this feeling that drives Dany to react to an attempt on her life by putting dragon eggs in a charcoal brazier.

It’s also telling that, right around when she makes the decision to do this, Dany feels a moment of disassociation, literally “hear[ing] her own voice saying, “Ser Jorah, light the brazier,”” as if from outside her body and wonders later whether “was it madness that seized her then, born of fear? Or some strange wisdom buried in her blood?” Someone more versed in the darker side of Targaryen history might have answered both, since the Targaryens have shared a common obsession with awakening dragon eggs since the time of Aegon III. Aegon III summoned nine eastern mages to hatch the remaining eggs; his son Baelor sought the intercession of the Seven through prayer to no avail; Aegon IV attempted to create mechanical dragons; Aerion Brightflame sought to drink wildfire to become a dragon, and Aerys II may have sought to do the same on a larger scale with his collaboration with the Alchemists’ Guild (given Hallyne’s comments). Even a “good” Targaryen like Aegon V ultimately destroyed himself and much of his family in the attempt to waken dragons at Summerhall.

Why and how Dany succeeded where they failed is something I’ll discuss in the future, but I did find it interesting (given Melisandre’s prophecies about Azor Ahai) that Dany thinks that “a dragon was air and fire…not dead stone,” which suggests that the stone dragon breathing shadowflame is somehow a perversion of the natural order.

Vaes Dothrak 

To set the stage for the major event of this chapter, we are treated to a more in-depth look at Vaes Dothrak as the place where east and west meet: “the caravans made their way to Vaes Dothrak not so much to sell with the Dothraki as to trade with each other.”  As England was once the workshop of the world, Vaes Dothrak is the world’s marketplace. Notably, it’s also where commercial culture intersects with gift culture, with neither truly dominating; while Dany believes that the Dothraki may “not truly comprehend this business of buying and selling,” it’s telling that the Dothraki manage to get themselves paid in salt and silver (two universal commodities of the ancient world) without having to incur any of the normal risks of long-distance trade.

At the same time, we also get something of a portrait of intercontinental commerce. The West (which, in a show of trans-cultural relativism, here includes the Free Cities of Essos’ western coast) brings garlic and pepper (spices historically being one of the most profit-intensive by volume commodities of the premodern era); Lysene perfumes, Pentoshi dyes, Myrish lace and textiles (the Free Cities’ predominance in luxury manufactured goods suggests their advanced economies relative to Westeros, much in the way that the Benelux region outpaced much of the rest of Europe in the early Modern period); Lannisport goldworks (whose relatively advanced manufacturing might explain why Lannisport is a thriving port despite being on the wrong side of Westeros for commercial purposes); and of course wine.

In exchange, the East brings exotic animals (manticores, elephants, and the zorses of the Jogos Nhai, who seem to be a semi-nomadic people that live north of Yi Ti); wine, safrron, and jade from Yi Ti; amber and dragonglass from Asshai; spices from Qarth (one of the few products made by a city otherwise built on export-import); and the gods alone know from the exotic cities of Bayasbhad, Shamyriana, and Kayakayanaya. We also get a sense of a truly rich diversity of ethnicities and cultures: the Jogos Nhai are plainsdwelling zorsemen whose moonsinging religion somehow is the largest denomination in Braavos; the people of Asshai are “dark and solemn,” but noticeably not the same as the Shadow Men who wear tattoos and masks (which corrects the common misconception that Quaithe is of Asshai); the pale people of Qarth who we’ll get to know more of later (their pale skin may be a sign of Valyrian ethnic heritage or not, but it does point to the fact that Essos is incredibly racially diverse, but not predominantly of color as far as we know – a point that will be important when we come to Dany’s campaign against the slavers later); the people of Yi Ti whose queues, jade, and poetry suggest an analogue to China under the Manchu; and Bayasbhad, Shamyriana, and Kayakaynaya, who seem to have a strong tradition of women mercenaries and body-piercing.

The reason I take the time to describe all of these different cultures is to point out that people who take GRRM to task for creating a “savage and brutish monolith” in Essos really haven’t paid close attention to his writing. While Martin certainly does exoticize the East to an extent (in part I would surmise because of his love of older historical fiction and fantasy works that borrowed liberally from Orientalist traditions in Western literature), he clearly has paid attention to how his world works and made these cultures far more than caricatures. Essos is a place of staggering diversity, but it’s also a continent whose history, geography, culture, and economy are actually logically connected – think of the interactions between Valyrian and Ghiscari cultures and their influence hundreds of years later, or how the Dothraki play such a critical role in creating and maintaining inter-continental trade routes). It’s also a place, not to put too fine a point on it, that is materially, economically, and culturally far more advanced than Westeros and always has been – which means that as readers, we have to be very very careful about making assumptions about racial privilege and colonial mentality in a world whose history is not our own.

The Assassination Attempt

And now to the main event, the assassination “attempt” by the hapless wineseller. I use scare quotes there, because of how clearly staged this seems in retrospect: Dany is lured to the market where an assassination attempt is about t0 take place because Jorah informs her of a caravan of 400 horses under the command of a merchant captain from Pentos has arrived bearing letters from Illyrio. The moment Jorah gets his letter from Illyrio in private, he knows what’s going to happen – pegging this one wine merchant out of a huge crowd as the specific threat to Dany. While Jorah says “I did not know..until the man refused to drink, but once I read Magister Illyrio’s letter,” I highly doubt the letter only warned of King Robert’s offer. I think the letter quite explicitly named the assassin so that Jorah would save her, thus ingratiating himself with Daenerys and Drogo as Varys and Illyrio’s controller on the inside of the khalasar. Further evidence of the set-up is seen in the fact that when Merchant Captain Byan Votyris arrives on the scene, “he seemed to know what had happened without a word being spoken.”

Another detail that points to the fakery of this attack is how completely incompetent the assassin is – he seems not to recognize Daenerys until she is named right in front of him, he makes a clumsy switch between wine casks, he hesitates and stalls when challenged, he’s a terrible liar with a bad case of the flopsweats, and so on and so forth. It all screams patsy.

And keep in mind, this is an assassination attempt by Varys. As we see from A Dance With Dragons (and as I will argue with regards to Tywin, A Storm of Swords as well), when Varys wants someone dead, he attacks with precision, thoroughness, and utmost stealth. When you see him being this sloppy, you know it’s on purpose. And lo and behold, the outcome of this attack is to accomplish precisely what he wanted back in Arya III – Drogo changes his policy on a dime and will now invade Westeros.

And what I like about Drogo’s oath is that it already sets up the idea that we’re not going to get a sanitized, heroic “rightful heir overthrowing heroic usurper” narrative – Drogo comes to give his son the Iron Throne not out of any sense of justice, but because of a personal vendetta; he comes not to liberate Westeros, but to bring destruction, mass rape, slavery, and cultural destruction to its people. And Dany bears full culpability for this.

Historical Analysis:

In the past, I briefly compared Vaes Dothrak to Genghis Khan’s capital city of Karakoroum. In this section, I’m going to briefly discuss the Silk Road, before focusing more specifically on the history of silver and salt as trade goods. Historically, the Silk Road is the closest equivalent we have of the way in which Vaes Dothrak unites two continents. First linked up around 130 BC when the Han Dynasty defeated the nomadic Xiongnu and linked China to the Hellenized Bactrian kingdoms in modern-day Afghanistan (and thus to Persia and points west), the Silk Road stretched for 4,000 miles from Turkey to China and lasted as a major trade route for around 1500 years.

While silk might be quite exotic, the histories of two more mundane commodities – silver and salt – help to explain why the Dothraki take their tribute in these forms (the seed I’ll leave up to your imagination).

In no small part due to its abundance, silver was the practical currency of  both the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire (Rome also used gold, but it tended to be for higher denominations, while the humble silver denarius became so ubiquitous that it serves as the origins of the Spanish dinero, the Arabic dinar, and the d used for British pennies up until 1971). Silver was just rare enough (and pretty) to be widely considered valuable and common enough to be serve as a basis for currency (in the second century AD, Rome circulated more silver than all of Europe and the Abbasid Caliphate combined five times over in the 9th century AD). It also posed some of the first problems of trade imbalances in world history – the strong Roman demand for Chinese silks (there’s the Silk Road again!) caused a significant drain of silver eastward that frequently destabilized Roman currency values. The Chinese insistence on silver in exchange for tea, silk, and porcelain in the 19th century caused a similar currency drain from Western Europe, which led to the adoption of opium from India as a product that generated its own demand, and then the Opium Wars.

Salt seems a far more humble commodity, but no less influential on world history. Prior to the modern age, with our mass productions systems and easy access to refrigeration, salting was one of the few technologies available to preserve food – which led to it being considered universally valuable. As a result, many fortunes were founded on salt: Rome itself was founded on top of an ancient salt road, which helped the settlement grow from a tiny hillfort community into the master of Italy. The “Old Salt Route” between Lübeck and Lüneburg produced so much “white gold” that it helped to provide the foundation for the Hanseatic League and massively undermined the economic strength of 16th century Poland, whose prosperity had relied heavily on salt exports. Genoa and Venice fought wars over control of the salt trade; the salt tax (known as the gabelle) was so despised in 18th century France that it was a leading complaint during the French Revolution. The British East India Company levied a high tax on Indian salt in 1835 to force India to import salt from Britain (where there was a center of salt production in Cheshire), and thus the salt tax was one of Mohatma Ghandi’s major targets in his noncooperation campaigns of the 1930s.

Needless to say, the Dothraki seem to have a pretty sweet (or is that salty?) deal worked out for them in Vaes Dothrak.

What If?

I only see two conceivable hypothetical alternatives to the events (really, just the event) of this chapter:

  • the attempt had succeeded? In the highly unlikely event that Varys hadn’t completely scripted out the wineseller’s failure, let’s say Dany and Drogo drink the wine as Dany had intended. With both of them dead, the geopolitics of Essos change dramatically. Slaver’s Bay is never destabilized with the conquest of Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen; Varys and Illyrio have to move on their Aegon/Golden Company plan much, much sooner (possibly by maneuvering to try to bring Pentos and/or Tyrosh in on their side, in a recapitulation of the War of Ninepenny Kings); Volantis doesn’t shift towards the tigers; and Euron Crowseye has to come up with a different plan, which potentially makes the Ironborn far more dangerous than they are to Westeros in OTL. The metaphysics are more uncertain but more momentous – the dragons are never reborn, which may mean that magic doesn’t regain its strength (it’s not entirely clear whether they’re cause or consequence of magic’s revival), which might tip the balance of the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and it may well be that the entire world is doomed.
  • Drogo never decides to go to Westeros? The wineseller somehow kills himself out of pure stupidity, or never sees Dany in the market. Potentially history changes once again – with a strong enough butterfly effect, Drogo never takes his wound and never encounters Mirri Maz Dur, so may very well survive – as well might Dany’s son. At some point but much later, the War of Five Kings gets much much worse when a Dothraki army lands in Westeros. Many of the same geopolitical forces change, but it may well be that the rebirth of the dragons still happens; after all, blood magic and dragon lore isn’t unknown in Westeros.

Book vs. Show:

The show did this one pretty much on the nose, with the added wrinkle of showing us Jorah meeting a non-mute little bird (which, wtf?) to make it very clear to show-watchers what’s going on with the assassination attempt.

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58 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Daenerys VI

  1. Abbey Battle says:

    To be fair to the show-runners, it is quite possible that the ‘Little Bird’ in question was briefed to use that phrase as a shibboleth rather than one of Varys hand-picked mutes – which would tend to strengthen the argument underpinning your theory that The Spider doesn’t actually want any dragons caught thrashing in his web.

    A thought; how do we know that it was VARYS who orchestrated the assassination rather than Master Illyrio? (formidable as The Spider is the idea that he can show such a fine degree of manipulation from a separate content a bit much to swallow – whereas Master Illyrio is not only closer, he has more invested in Daenarys and would logically have a better reason to preserve her).

    An interesting question; given that The Spider and his partner in conspiracy have been working separately, in rather distinct circumstances and on separate continents (in a world where communication relies on horsepower, oar-power and the wind), just how can we even assume that these two remain of one mind regarding precise end goals and the methods best applied to secure them?

    (I hope my meaning is transparent, but if my wording makes it opaque, please forgive me and request clarification).

    By the way, Maester Steven, the article above is another fine one!

    • stevenattewell says:

      Maaaybe. But it seems a stretch for Varys to send a mute thousands of miles to Vaes Dothrak when he really doesn’t have to.

      Obviously Illyrio was involved, but the reason why Varys is most likely the primary author: 1. he’s the one who wants to move up the schedule during his convo with Illyrio, 2. he’s the one who informs Robert and who’s in charge of finding an assassin.

      The question of coordination is a tricky one. We know Illyrio can and has made the trip to King’s Landing; it’s only a week-long trip by ship, so it’s quite doable as a commute. Moreover, a raven can make the trip in only a day, so communication isn’t that bad.

      The larger issue is one of divergent motives. One potential explanation of the divergent information about Aegon VI is that Varys genuinely smuggled out baby Aegon (since he’s been shown to do so with Gendry and tried to with Ned), but that Illyrio then made the swap in Pentos for his own Blackfyre son.

      • David Hunt says:

        ” but that Illyrio then made the swap in Pentos for his own Blackfyre son.”

        That’s a dangerous move when you’re having Jon Connington raise the kid. He was Raegar’s best friend as far as I know. Granted, Lord Jon had never seen the child, but Illyrio hasn’t struck me as someone who really cares about bloodlines per se as opposed to the power of the Targaryen name. If the kid’s gong to be raised from infancy to be your image of the perfect prince, what does it matter if he’s the son of Raegar vs the decendant of one of the Blackfyres?

        I can see the worry that a grandson of Old Scab might have inherited some of his grandfathers more…exotic habits, but Aegon VI really looks the part of a Targaryen with little to none of the stereotypical features of his House being watered down by however many generations of Essos ancestors from the alleged Blackfyre to Aegon VI. Plus, if Connington didn’t see any resemblance to his old friend Raegar, I’d think that might have caused a problem. Where’d they get a kid that would grow up to look so like a stereotypical Targaryen and how’s they know that he’d so look the part when they started on him as an infant? Or are the using Warlock illusion on the kid? i’d think that would be doomed to fail spectacularly at the exact wrong time.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Why wouldn’t Illyrio want his own son to be King of Westeros?

        As for the danger of having Jon Connington; if the kid favors a Blackfyre mother, he’s going to look like Rhaegar anyway. Pentoshi are Valyrian descendants, and Blackfyres are Targaryens, genetically speaking.

        The suggestion is that his mother was a Blackfyre; and given the predilection for incest (how else do you get a Maelys?), there’s no necessity for the blood to have been watered down at all.

      • David Hunt says:

        Oh. I missed the suggestion the Aegon was, in fact, Illyrio’s son as opposed to some Blackfyre scion that he had gotten his hands on. His motives for that are more clear.

      • Andrew says:

        Aegon’s descent from House Targaryen being much like the case of Henry VII who was descended from House Lancaster through his mother’s side from House Beaufort which was founded by a bastard of House Lancaster.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Yeah, that is more similar.

  2. Brett says:

    he metaphysics are more uncertain but more momentous – the dragons are never reborn, which may mean that magic doesn’t regain its strength (it’s not entirely clear whether they’re cause or consequence of magic’s revival), which might tip the balance of the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and it may well be that the entire world is doomed.

    The world’s probably doomed at that point, since all fire magic everywhere seemed to start growing in power again after they were reborn. And although it’s never explicitly stated when the Others started pushing into wildling territory (but Osha’s and Mance’s remarks suggest decades at least), I wouldn’t be surprised if it started happening after the last dragon died and the “fire” side of things was weakened.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Eh. Bit of a stretch. The last of the dragons died 170ish years ago, so that’s a long lead-up time.

      I’m less convinced that the dragons caused the magic to re-enter the world as much as they were a consequence and accelerator of same. For example, according to the best timeline I’ve seen, Beric was resurrected about 2 months before the dragons hatched.

    • David Hunt says:

      Yes, but didn’t fire magic weaken because the dragon’s died and the strengthen because they returned or did the dragons die when fire magic (or magic in general) weakened and then return when the magic strengthen on its own. The events are correlated to each other, but I don’t recall anything to say convincingly which is the cause of the other.

      • stevenattewell says:

        The lines of causality are unclear.

        It could be that the dragons dying weakened the magic, or it could have been reinforcing an already-extant process, or it could have been the weakening of the magic that brought about the death of the dragons.

  3. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, having actually re-watched the scene from Game of Thrones in question, I see no particular indication that the lad is anything but a messenger boy recruited locally by an agent of an intermediary of an agent of Master Illyrio acting on some dispatch of Lord Varys (a lad given a written pardon and an oral message that seem calculated to convey his bone fides and quite possibly tip Ser Jorah off to the assassination attempt more than anything).

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well, this is a discrepancy between the show and book – we don’t see Jorah meeting an agent. But given the kid says “the Spider sends his regards” rather than “Ilyrio,” I’m going to say he’s one of Varys’ agents.

  4. Abbey Battle says:

    He is clearly working on behalf of Varys in this instance, but I would be surprised if he were a genuine agent, rather than some messenger boy employed to cover the tracks of The Master of Whisper’s man in Vaes Dothrak.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Possibly. Or the show decided to elide the tongue thing because it’s gruesome and not that relevant in the long-term.

  5. Abbey Battle says:

    Until, of course, The Master of Westeros pulls off ANOTHER of those Guns he seems to have purchased in bulk from the Chekov estate in order to shoot our modest hopes and dreams to pieces with, then puts it to the fiendish use for which it was designed!

    (I swear that sometimes the irrational suspicion Master Martin has already written A Song of Ice and Fire to a conclusion, but delays it’s release until he has finished working out his quota of Plot Twists! – all the better to savour the succulent mixture of fury and despair and confusion that fills out soul when we come across them …).

    Ahem … I DID mention that it was an IRRATIONAL suspicion, eh? (On a slightly more realistic note, I do sometimes suspect that poor Mister Martin just wants to finish this vast alternate history he’s written for himself – let’s face the facts, if A Song of Ice and Fire is a Fantasy novel it’s deeply in denial about the fact – but keeps getting dragged away from putting the finishing touches to his creation by the peculiar desires of his fans who keep insisting that it be finished in Novel form!).

  6. David Hunt says:

    It’s amazing what can be missed on a first read. I’ve gone through the five books once and saw this events in this chapter in the TV show before any of it, so various items that might stand out knowing what’s coming, seem entirely natural. It never even occurred to me that Jorah was playing the part assigned to him by foiling the assassination. I had thought that he had simply switched his loyalties. The assassin being set up to fail makes Varys/Illyrio conspiracy make a bit more sense. The presence of young Aegon still seems to confuse matters more than clarify them for me. I have a hard time seeing he and Dany fit together in the schemes, save perhaps literally. My best guess is that Drogo and the Dothraki are meant to be an external threat the Aegon will unite Westeros to fight

    I’m not sure if I’m entirely confident in that surmise, however. Dany’s memories of her childhood seem to indicate that neither Varys nor Illyrio cared whether she and her brother lived or died. Maybe when Illyrio met them in Pentos, he and Varys modified their scheme. A certain amount on improvisation and adaptation HAS to be part of their plans. No scheme that started 15 years prior can be used as it was originally conceived and anyone who works successfully in the timeframes the Varys does would know that. My guess would be that the original plan was to simply incite a Civil War in Westeros and have Aegon unite the Kingdoms after everyone was disgusted with all the players that had been making their lives miserable for years. The best use of Dany would be for Illyrio to show his “support” for Dany’s endeavor by providing her with the ships needed to move her army across the Narrow Sea, but make sure that where they were going to land was known to the Golden Company. They could then be there to greet them like the Greeks vs the Persians at Marathon and destroy them before they could get ashore and mounted for combat. If Dany’s alive, she could be captured and married off to Aegon and she wouldn’t have the bad PR of having actually ridden in an invading army. Viserys would have to go as he wasn’t useful for anything to anyone in power at that point (if by some miracle he hadn’t managed to get himself killed by doing something incredibly stupid…like threatening the Khal’s wife and child), but Dany could be sold off to the new king to breed royal children. Since she’d gone along with being sold off as a wife once already, they had every reason to believe she’d do it again to save her life. Or maybe Aegon would marry into once of the Great Houses depending on the situation on the ground and Dany would be killed or married off as a prize to some especially useful supporter of Aegon’s. Or maybe she was set to be safely killed off to avoid any possible doubt as to who had the rightful claim to the throne. Of course, any such plans would be dust blowing on the wind now…

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think initially, Dany and Viserys were useful decoys to give Aegon cover.

      Then they realized they could get the Dothraki to soften up Westeros and act as the “heel” against which Aegon (the “face”) could unify the nation. Dany was pretty expendable initially (Illyrio says he didn’t expect her to live), I’m pretty sure Viserys was either going to be wedded to Arianne or executed and replaced by Aegon, etc.

      • David Hunt says:

        Yeah, I remember that Illyio said that about not expecting her to survive…which made me immediately doubt it. My impression of him is that the way to tell if he’s lying is to check whether his lips are moving or if he’s writing somethng. This is probably a bit extreme due to my seeing him through Tyrion’s eyes. I can’t see anything that Illyrio would gain by telling such a lie, but I intensely distrust anything that comes from him.

        Also, do you really believe that they thought they’d find a use for Viserys other than fertilizer? He’d been Illyrio ‘s guest for some length of time. I don’t remember how long, but it was long enough to know that Viserys was not manageable. Illyio claims he had to use armed guards to keep him from raping Dany the night before her wedding. He entire identity was built on being the True Heir to the Iron Throne and I don’t see how he could step aside when his nephew arrives out of nowhere to take the throne he been dreaming about since he was…seven? He’d be talking up his right to the Throne to anyone who’d listen. The only excuse I can see for them keeping him alive is that he’d be too incompetent a conspirator to succeed at any plots. However he’d be a dangerous figure for others to rally around and/or manipulate.

        Or am I falling victim to Presentism by knowing how he utterly failed to prosper or even survive outside of Illyrio’s protection?

        • stevenattewell says:

          I think Illyrio had a pretty good sense of Viserys’ personality from his time at his manor; I think the plan was to make him a useful martyr.

    • This actually brings up an interesting what if possibility. If Viserys had stayed in Pentos as he was bid that may have resulted in an actual assassination instead of a staged attempt. With Dany dead would Drogo feel honor bound to inform her brother in person giving Ilyrio more control over when, how, and where the Dothraki cross the sea? Then you got a “savage” group with a crazy Targaryen creating havoc leaving “Aegon” and the Golden Company to play savior.

      Viserys being an oblivious idiot may have saved Dany’s life

  7. priddy says:

    Hey Steven,

    thank you for another great analysis of a chapter of “A Game of Thrones.” May I ask a question that has probabily been adressed already a few times, – so my apology, should I annoy you – but when is the fifth and final chapter of your essay “Hollow Crowns and Deadly Thrones” going to be posted. I’ve just enjoyed your work so much, and I am very interessed to know what you are going to write about Joffrey Baratheon and Aegon Targaryen.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Glad you liked it!

      As for Part V, that’s on the stack of things to do. At the moment, I want to see if I can finish AGOT before the New Year.

  8. John W says:

    I don’t know if you’ve discussed this before but did Illyrio/Varys give the dragon eggs to Dany on purpose? Knowing that she would hatch them?

  9. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, don’t worry about my attempt at levity further up the thread; I was not posing a question, merely falling prey to one of those outbursts stemming from the Delusions of Humour from which I suffer.

    Please forgive me – I’ll do my best to keep them from cluttering up your threads in future!

  10. Andrew says:

    I like the work you put into this one. Venetians did note that while man can live witohut gold and silver, he can’t live without salt. The empires in West Africa were based on control of the salt trade as well as the gold trade.

    I don’t think the stone dragon refers to Melisandre as Stannis was already brought up so another vision relating to him would be redundant, making three visions for two lies instead of three visions for three lies.

    “Rubies flew like drops of blood from the chest of a dying prince, and he sank to his knees in the water and with his last breath murmured a woman’s name.”

    “A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness.”

    The third vision in each of the sets of visions seems to refer to Jon in some way. Also, when in hiding Sansa takes the alias Alayne Stone, Rickon hides on Skagos which means “stone” in the Old Tongue, and Arya hides Needle under a stone in the stairs in the HoBW. Stone refers to hiding something, so a stone dragon could refer to a hidden dragon (Targaryen), Jon. I think the last lie Dany will help slay is the lie of Jon’s identity, i.e. he is Ned’s bastard.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Maaybe…I dunno.

      • Andrew says:

        I’m not saying it is something she knows about, but that she contributes to that lie being slain unintentionally when Jon bumps into her at WF when she comes North. My guess is it would be after he is told his heritage, and her realizes he needs her dragons and army to deal with the Long Night when the Wall falls, and he can command her as he is her house’s rightful heir. Dany would of course be skeptical since she already dealt with a boy claiming to be Rhaegar’s son. HR may provides testimony, and find evidence in Lyanna’s crypt.

        She comes up with the perfect solution to the problem Jon presents. She states that if Jon is who he truly says he is then with the blood of the dragon, he will have little trouble mounting one of her dragons without a dragon horn, like she did. She knows that if Jon backs down he will hurt his credibility, if he is fake he may back down and relinquish his claim to save his skin, or if he is fake and tries to mount one of her dragons he will end up like Quentyn, with his death eliminating any doubt others might have about his claim as well as Jon himself. Jon knows there is too much at stake for him to refuse and accepts. I think that is where his warging comes in handy.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I’m skeptical that’s how the “dragon has three heads” is going to go down. If Jon comes back from the dead, his credibility is pretty damn ironclad.

      • Andrew says:

        GRRM hinted that Jon is still alive. If Jon were dead than that would make his secret royal heritage pointless. What was the point of him having such a heritage if it isn’t going to impact the story somehow? Here’s the theory:

        http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/85752-the-rundown-of-the-dance-of-dragons-20/page-7#entry4686267

        My guess is not that he’s dead but comatose. Bloodraven may visit while he is in a coma like he did Bran. Jon may go down the steps into the crypt in his dream, and have his heritage revealed.

        Now to get back on topic, I think it is possible Illyrio may have meant for Viserys to die on the Dothraki Sea. Dany said he tried to convince Viserys to stay in Pentos, but remember Cersei telling Robert not to fight in the melee. Ned knew that if you told Robert not to do something he would do it. Illyrio may have been practicing reverse psychology on Viserys.

        • stevenattewell says:

          He’s dead and going to rise from the grave. Will take all bets.

          Illyrio clearly intended for Viserys to stay and said so later as well; it was Dany he thought would die with the Dothraki.

      • Andrew says:

        To borrow from The Princess Bride, he’s mostly dead, not all dead. GRRM doesn’t do clean full-scale resurrections as exemplified by Beric, Cat and Coldhands. I don’t think Jon will be completely dead, but in a near-death state.

        Also, while the Dothraki are called savages by Westerosi, they do share more in common with them than the Westerosi are willing to admit. The Dothraki do have a few social rules such as swords must be put away and no drop of a free man’s blood be spilled in Vaes Dothrak, much like the Westerosi guest right. What atrocities occur in Dothraki warfare (rapes, infanticide, captives being made into slaves etc.) is not too far from Westerosi warfare with what we’ve seen Tywin do in the riverlands as exemplified by the brutality of Clegane and Lorch along with bringing peasants back to Harrenhal as forced labor. Dothraki in a khalasar are also bound to serve their khal like smallfolk to their lords and bannermen to their liege lords.

        I think a few people might have seen Viserys come out of Dany’s tent with a bloody cut on his face from when Dany hit him with the belt. I think Khal Jhaqo will take her back to Vaes Dothrak for trial by the dosh khaleen for not just using forbidden shadow magic with the maegi, but breaking one of the most sacred rules in Vaes Dothrak: not spilling any man’s blood. That is regarded as a serious offense by the Dothraki.

      • stevenattewell says:

        1. Given that ADWD opened with a Prologue about warg resurrection and Melisandre has a vision of Jon turning from a man to a wolf then a man again, I’m going to go ahead and bet on resurrection.

        2. I didn’t say anything about the Dothraki being savages – I said that Illyrio said he didn’t expect Dany to survive on the Dothraki Sea.

        2a. Tywin is the worst possible example of the Westerosi way of war. While war crimes have absolutely been known to happen, the systematic enslavement of civilian populations is not something anyone else does. It happens because Tywin believes in total war and doesn’t care that he has a reputation as a war criminal.

      • Andrew says:

        I nowhere said that you called the Dothraki savages. I said, clearly, that the Westerosi consider the Dothraki to be savages.

        I was saying that the Dothraki bear similarities to the Westerosi in terms of social rules and society.

        • I think those similarities are more cosmetic.

          Dothraki society is a nomadic, slave-based, meritocratic society. Westeros is a settlement agriculture, free labor (as far as we know, peasants are not chattel), and feudal/aristocratic.

      • Andrew says:

        I didn’t say entirely, just a few similarities between otherwise two completely different cultures.

        Your description of the Dothraki could fit the Ironborn given their use of thralls, and having some meritocracy. Although, the meritocracy doesn’t overshadow the feudal structure.

    • אפרים says:

      wow. interesting.
      note also that some stone dragons (gargoyles) fell from the castle wall of dragonstone on the day she was born. From the storm.
      Shireen is afraid that those dragons come back to life. Maybe for a good reason

  11. “It’s also a place, not to put too fine a point on it, that is materially, economically, and culturally far more advanced than Westeros and always has been – which means that as readers, we have to be very very careful about making assumptions about racial privilege and colonial mentality in a world whose history is not our own.”

    Yep. And this is another way GRRM demonstrates that he knows his history – it’s fairly solid to argue that the East, both near and far, was far more materially and culturally advanced than Europe from basically the beginning of the Iron Age all the way through Gutenberg.

    • stevenattewell says:

      You can go further than Gutenberg – China had a higher per capita gdp than Western Europe until the 18th century.

  12. Roger_Raven says:

    So Mormont was so deeply involved into the Varys plot? From my first read, I believed Mormont wasn’t acting when he saved Daenerys.

    So what’s the SPider’s plan, so long? Having Young Grif and Daenerys join forces? Seems difficult. YG and Dany are relatives, but also competition, to some point. With Drogo alive, they can’t marry, and without Droggo there is no Khalassar. Perhaps they hope the horde will fail, but weaken Robert enough for YG to win a second war.

    Good analysis about the Silk Route and comparing it to Westeros!

    It’s a curious thing that Lannisport is an important port, considering it’s so close to the Iron Islands and its pirates and so far from Essos. But Oldtown has the same problem. Probably the Westerlands and the Reach have a better sailing base in that cities than traveling to King’s Landing.

    • He wasn’t acting – Varys doesn’t have to tell him it was a fake attempt; all he has to do is make sure to hire a patsy and then warn Mormont. It looks more real if Mormont thinks it’s real.

      The initial plan is difficult to see, given how later events changed things: certainly, Illyrio’s comment that he didn’t expect Dany to survive the Dothraki Sea suggests that she wasn’t a vital part in the plan (and it may have been the case that her martyrdom was an option all along). I definitely think Drogo’s khalasar was intended to be the “bad cop” to Aegon VI’s “good cop.”

      As for Lannisport, the manufacturing specialty is the only thing that makes sense. Oldtown may be on the wrong side, but you have to consider some other factors:
      1. It predates Andal civilization; Oldtown was built by the First Men. So it probably was the case that its longevity meant that later civilizations just built on an already-existing city in a path-dependent process, in the same way that Paris dominates France despite not being the most well situated geographically. Same thing goes for trade – merchants tend to stick to existing routes, so you go to Oldtown.
      2. It’s a natural entrepot for internal commerce. Transportation is extremely difficult and costly – and the Oldtown has access to two huge river systems that allows it to penetrate deep into the interior; river trade allows for the movement of goods in bulk much faster than with roads. Moreover, the rivers that Oldtown has easy access to lead into the richest agricultural area in Westeros. Thus, it’s got a rich supply of goods that are always in demand and can be sold in bulk (as opposed to luxury goods that tend to have a limited volume, or durable goods that people have episodic demand for).

      • David Hunt says:

        Steven, just because the assassination attempt was meant to fail, what makes you say that it wasn’t real? Given what happened to the wine merchant (I just re-watched the HBO version so I’m going by that version for details), I have a hard time believing that he hadn’t intended to be long gone from Vaes Dothrak by the time that the poison wine had killed Dany. You’ve convinced me that the man was a patsy, but he obviously didn’t intend to be caught and executed. That type of loyalty just can’t be counted on. He had to believe his actual job was to kill Dany.

        I continually have trouble reconciling Young Griff’s role in Varys and Illyrio’s plans with how Dany seems to have fit into them before Drogo’s death and the birth of the dragons sent her entirely off their script. The way that makes the most sense to me is that Viserys and Dany were recent additions to the plot. I think the Good Cop/Bad Cop analogy works for their general plans, but that the original plan to “simply” start a civil war in Westeros and turn all the ruling houses in the Bad Cop and have Aegon come in to rally the people around him once whole continent was thoroughly disgusted with the lords of the Great Houses. Dany and the Dothraki would have been woven in at a later date when they came into Illyrio’s sphere of influence. I even think that her role was being subject to revision after the wedding when it turned out that Drogo actually loved her she was thriving among the Dothraki.

        Something that really confuses me is the dragon eggs. It’s my understanding that they were so stupendously valuable that even someone as rich as Illyrio would be loath throw them away on a girl that he didn’t expect to survive long…and even though I wouldn’t trust Illyrio as far as I could through him, I think he was telling the truth about his expectations of her life expectancy at the time of the wedding. Dany was an abused girl living under the thumb of her idiot brother at the time. Although Illyrio’s crafty, I don’t think he foresaw her thriving in that environment. So why did he give her the eggs? The best guess I’ve got is that he didn’t believe Drogo was aware of their value and figured that after Dany was dead, he could get them back from him if gave the Khal some appropriate gift, like some prize horses…or (this just occurred to me) maybe he thought they’d be Drogo’s payment to him for all the ships that he’d need to invade Westeros on his quest to avenge the assassination of his unborn son.

        • I mean fake in the sense that the attempt wasn’t meant to succeed.

          It could be a sign of how staggeringly wealthy he is, but it’s not like he couldn’t have recovered them after her death.

      • Roger_Raven says:

        very interesting points!

      • Andrew says:

        There is also the chance that Varys recovered the eggs from the secret Targaryen hoard, and sent them to Illyrio where he would only have had to pay for transportation.

  13. Roger_Raven says:

    Dragon eggs are a symbol of Targeryen power and royalty. Giving the eggs to Daenerys, Illyrio makes the girl look like an even more legimate threat to Robert Baratheon. Who hates both Targaryen and dragon symbols (he couldn’t stand the dragon skulls in the throne room). The possibility that a dragon could hatch from the egg was very remote to be acounted.
    (English isn’t my first language, so I hope hatch means what I think).
    If Daenerys was killed… Well, the killer would like to sell the eggs, and nobody could pay more than Illyrio.

    • Agreed. I think the parallel here is with Daemon II in Mystery Knight; the possession of a dragon egg raises the profile of a Targaryen claimant. Giving Dany a dragon egg may well have been designed to draw Robert’s attention to her and keep it there, with Robert fearing her child, as opposed to keeping an eye on Aegon and the Golden Company.

  14. Anaphora says:

    Seems a little unfair to lay the blame for the damage of Dothraki invasion squarely at Dany’s feet. She’s in full support of invading, but that doesn’t mean she’s in support of any possible consequence of the action. The methods matter a great deal to her.

    And besides, she seems genuinely shocked at the events of the following Daenerys chapter. I doubt she knew what she was tacitly endorsing.

    And as for Dany’s failure at being a political wife– it’s nice idea, but not wholly supported by the text, I think. She does succeed at saving Viserys skin a couple Dany chapters ago via “pillow tricks.” Crossing the Narrow Sea is probably just a bridge too far. Anyways, it seems to be more a statement of the limits of Dany’s power as a political wife. She gets quite a lot done by threatening to tell Drogo, but once he’s gone, it quickly falls apart. She appears to have power, but it’s mostly an illusion.

    • “doesn’t mean she’s in support of any possible consequence of the action” – that’s a cop-out. Dany has been lobbying her husband to invade Westeros, and he’s invading Westeros in her name. There is no bloodless way to do that and no Lharazene (or Westerosi) cares that she didn’t think it through. And remember, even though Dany stops the rapists (as we’ll discuss later), she’s not stopping people from being sold into slavery to pay for her ships.

      • Anaphora says:

        “no Lharazene (or Westerosi) cares that she didn’t think it through”

        Intentions/knowledge of the situation don’t matter is bad ethics. There are very few ethicists who are legitimately consequentialists and there are very good reasons for that– one of which is that our predictive power about the consequences of our actions is oftentimes very poor. They are especially poor if you are fourteen, have never seen an actual war in your life, and have tunnel vision about your goals vs. the consequences of trying accomplish your goals.

        Dany makes it very clear later on that if she had absolute control over the situation, she wouldn’t be raping and pillaging her way through Essos. I don’t think her not stopping people from being sold into slavery means anything– she also didn’t stop children being killed and both those things easily top Dany’s list of absolutely unacceptable things. (Even in Meereen, after crucifying 163 slavers, what Dany can’t do is kill those noble children she took as hostages/cupbearers.) Basically, 101 bad things were happening and she tried to stop one of them. As most everyone would do in that situation.

        You’re right in that she could’ve (maybe) called the whole thing off because the cost was too high. She didn’t. She is absolutely willing to wage war for power, so she bears responsibility for the inevitable negative consequences. However, she is not responsible for what others do in her name, especially when it is explicit in the text that she doesn’t want to them to and when it is totally possible to achieve her goals without doing them. Being for war and against rape/the slaughter of children/slavery is not an untenable position– and is of different moral value than being for war and all associated atrocities.

        • Raping? No. Pillaging, yes. She’s completely down with that.

          Keep in mind, it’s not that she’s not stopping people – she’s asking her husband to get her to King’s Landing, he’s enslaving people in order to buy the ships she’s persuaded him is a way for his khalasar to do what they would not normally do, and Dany’s response is “this is the price for the Iron Throne.”

          And while I agree that pure consequentialism isn’t good, neither is pure intentionalism. Road to hell and all that.

  15. […] Dany VI (the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy, assassination attempts, false flag operations, and more) […]

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