Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis – Daenerys II

“Daenerys Targaryen wed Khal Drogo with fear and barbaric splendor in a field beyond the walls of Pentos, for the Dothraki believed that all things of importance in a man’s life must be done beneath the open sky.

“The horselords might put on rich fabrics and sweet perfumes when they visited the Free Cities, but out under the open sky they kept the old ways.”

Synopsis: Daenerys Targaryen has a lively wedding to Khal Drogo, receives some rather significant wedding gifts from Viserys, Jorah, and Illyrio, and consummates her marriage.

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:

The second Daenerys chapter gives us another short glimpse into the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy, especially regarding the timing, which allows us to refine our model from before. While trying to unruffle Viserys’ feathers (scales?) over the Dothraki tradition of waiting for the crones of Vaes Dothrak to do their divination (although we learn later on that Drogo’s stalling has a lot more do to with wanting Daenerys’ child to be born before he goes on campaign, which adds a layer of wiliness to the khal that’s easy to miss), Illyrio argues that the prince should be willing to wait “another few months” or even “another few years.”

Given what we learn during his later conversation with Varys, Illyrio’s preferred timeline for the outbreak of war is at least nine months after Ned Stark’s installation as Hand. He wants that child to be born so that the Dothraki can be brought into play, but it’s not clear why he wouldn’t want the Starks and Lannisters to wear each other out before the Targaryen forces arrive (possibly he was afraid that one side would win too quickly and have a chance to consolidate its grasp on power).

It may well be that Illyrio wanted to give himself time to get Aegon and the Golden Company the time to unite with the Dothraki, or that part of the illusionists’ plan was to win bloodlessly by dividing the country between the Starks and Lannisters and Baratheon, de-legitimize the sitting monarch by revealing the truth of Joffrey’s birth and then confronting a disunited Westeros with an overwhelming army. This stick would be counterbalanced by a picture perfect Targaryen King, Queen, and heir (possibly Drogo “dies gloriously in battle” and Rhaego is passed off as Aegon’s and Daenerys’ child?).

A second theme we have here is the complication of our view of the Dothraki – presented here as a sophisticated, culturally flexible people who can put on “rich fabrics and sweet perfumes” when they visit their second homes among the palaces of Pentos, yet who still hold to their own culture where everything is done under the open sky. This is also a wealthy culture – Drogo personally owns a thousand horses, an opulent palace, and many slaves – and this wealth comes from not merely from conquest but rather from their integrated role in the Essos economy. The Dothraki act as a kind of outsourced mercenary force, paid tributes by rival city states to go sack a different city; they are the chief producers of slaves for Astapor, Yunkai, and Mereen, who in turn export mercenaries, gladiators, and pleasure slaves for a vast continental marketplace in unfree labor, as well as using their labor to produce wine, olive oil, and other staple crops.

Ironically, both Daenerys and some of the audience miss some of this complexity – in part because George R.R Martin chose to give us our initial glimpse into Dothraki culture through the eyes of a sheltered young woman in the midst of severe culture shock. Despite the fact that Daenerys knows all of these facts, the heightened impression she has is exactly the orientalized image that critics of the  HBO show criticized: “she was afraid of the Dothraki, whose ways seemed alien and monstrous, as if they were beasts in human skin and not true men at all.” As Daenerys begins to acculturate to her new culture, both she and the audience begin to discover the diversity and depth of the Dothraki.

And one thing that Daenerys begins to learn is how the surprising nature of becoming a khaleesi literally elevates her above her brother. While khaleesi do not carry arakh, whip, or bow, she does have her own guards, command over the khalassar through her husband – as the Dothraki say, “her place [is] by the side of the khal,” not behind. (And eventually, as one of the dosh khaleen, she might have wielded enormous spiritual and political power) And it’s appropriate that this is the last chapter where Daenerys is truly afraid of her brother, and yet that fear only comes in dreams and sudden flashbacks where “the fear came back to her then, with her brother’s words. She felt like a child once more, only thirteen and all alone,” because after this day, Daenerys is no longer alone but part of a great khalassar.

Historical Analysis:

One of George R.R Martin’s innovations that sadly didn’t make it onto the screen is the way in which he both displays and subverts the traditional fantasy tropes about barbarians and barbarism. These tropes are one of fantasy’s troubling inheritances from our predecessors – J.R.R Tolkein’s depiction of the Easterlings and Haradrim are at least an unconscious reflection of racial ideas within the British Empire he grew up in; R.E Howard combined his border Texas heritage of animus towards African-Americans and Native Americans with an idiosyncratic form of “noble savage” thinking to create his Hyborian Age.

At the same time, the historical reality is that the Medieval Europe which the fantasy genre was built on was profoundly shaped by invasions of Europe by Arabs (who conquered much of Spain and large parts of southern Italy), Ottoman Turks (who conquered much of south-eastern Europe, all the way up to the gates of Vienna), the Vikings (who terrorized Europe and conquered Normandy, the “Danelaw” in England, coastal Ireland, Sicily and Naples), Mongols, and other peoples. The cultural implications of these invasions were tremendous – the Frankish victory of Charles Martel over the Moors at Tours was critical in limiting the penetration of Islamic culture into Europe and creating a Frankish (and later French) identity as the defenders of a new thing called “Christendom” against outside forces; the Viking invasions spurred apocalyptic and millennial thinking within the Catholic Church; the national myths of the Hungarians, Transylvanians, Romanians, Serbs, Poles, Russians, and more were all built around narratives of resistance to foreign conquerors.

Attila the Hun had suspiciously good taste in interior decorating for a barbarian warlord.

Any fantasy work with a foot in the Middle Ages has to reflect this history. And yet, the line between “Christendom” and “barbarism” was never simple – Medieval Europe was built out of the invasions of Goths, Franks, and Vandals into the Roman Empire, just as Westeros was built out of the invasions of the First Men, Andals, Rhoynar, and Valaryians.

Rather than a climactic fall into a Dark Age that historians from the Renaissance era pictured it as (in part, reacting to contemporary invasions of Italy by the French, Spanish, and the Holy Roman Emperor), there was an enormous amount of acculturation both before and after the fall of Rome – and many Goths, Franks, and Vandals spent quite some time living in the Roman Empire before they took it over. Alaric the Goth, who sacked Rome in 410 C.E, had served in the Imperial auxiliaries and sought the position of commander-in-chief of the Roman army as part of his demands during the second siege of Rome. When the Ostragoths under their king Flavius Odoacer completed the conquest of  Rome in 476, they kept the Senate in place, formally acknowledged the suzerainty of the Eastern Roman Empire, took on Latin names and Roman dress.

Will the real Flavius Odoacer please stand up?

And it went on and on – Spanish and Italian cultures were deeply influenced by Moorish and Arabian art, architecture, agriculture, and language, as were their peers to the east. Despite our rather schematic view of European relations with other cultures summed up in the image of the Crusades, the reality was that there was just as much commerce and cultural exchange as there was conquest. It’s that complexity of experience, the blurring of the lines between two civilizations, the ambiguity between “invasion” and “internal political coup,” that Martin hinted at in his depiction of the Dothraki, and that Benioff and Weiss didn’t manage to get across in their depiction of the Dothraki arriving in Pentos.

What If?

Unfortunately, I don’t really see any hypotheticals here that I didn’t cover in Daenerys I. Perhaps some readers could suggest some?

Book vs. TV:

As I’ve already suggested, the wedding and the bedding are one of the biggest divergences between the book and the TV show. However, unlike certain podcasts that I normally quite like, I think the outcome is more complex than a flat failure. It’s true that they’ve excised much of the complexity of the Dothraki culture; however, I don’t think it’s the multiculturalism that’s the problem. The Dothraki are a slave-owning culture, and any slave culture is going to have a large, multi-ethnic population of slaves. The problem is that we don’t get to see the Dothraki in Pentos as sophisticated, wealthy, acculturated people – and then the reveal of their maintenance of their original culture, with all of its violent, rapey, and slave-owning rough edges.

However, I do think (and I’m aware that this is going to be controversial, so bear with me) that the change to the consummation between Daenerys and Drogo makes sense dramatically. I’ve always found it a bit odd that the two of them have this rather tender albeit awkward first night, then Drogo relentlessly rapes her, then she learns how to “tame” him into accepting a more consensual relationship. The HBO version by contrast has a more realistic and consistent arc, and actually gives Daenerys more agency than in the book.

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38 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis – Daenerys II

  1. I have one What If? I don’t think you covered in the first chapter: What if Viserys had succeeded in convincing Drogo to invade Westeros immediately instead of waiting? At this point Robert is still alive, Ned has just become Hand, and the 7 Kingdoms are pretty much as united as they’re ever going to be.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Hadn’t thought of that. In that case, the chances are the Dothraki lose at the hands of a Stark/Baratheon/Lannister/Tully force, and the Targaryen dynasty bar Aegon VI and Aemon die out.

  2. Brett says:

    I think the final wedding night scene between Daenerys and Drogo makes sense in the book. Daenerys spends the whole chapter in increasing dread, becoming more and more frightened about what the actual consummation will amount to – and then Drogo is unexpectedly gentle, and there’s a huge sense of relief on her part. He reverts to form later, true, but I can understand why he might be like that on his first night with his wife.

    • stevenattewell says:

      If he’s unexpectedly gentle then, why not be so later? That doesn’t make sense to me.

      • Brett says:

        Aren’t you usually nicer than normal with new people you want to meet? Drogo may have been extra-nice because it was his new wife’s first time with him. After that, and once the business of guiding the Khalasar across the Dothraki Waste became paramount, he went back to the usual way of doing things.

      • Rape in marriage is sadly not uncommon, but the men who do it have probably been considerate and consensual with their wives at other times. So I don’t know that a dichotomy between “kind and gentle lover” and “brutal rapist” is all that useful. Like many things in Martin’s world, people are pretty complicated.
        Perhaps the Drogo of the book had the same idea of making the first time special that is important to so many people in the real world. I don’t think it’s unfathomable that such an idea could exist in a people as violent as the Dothraki.

        There’s also the possibility that in the book, Drogo regards the virginal Daenerys as more “pure” and thus worthy of care, whereas after he has taken her, she is used and dirtied, and therefore less worthy. This is a theme that is central to the view of women in societies that are very patriarchal.

      • Brett says:

        Sorry, “Dothraki Sea“. I got that and the Red Waste mixed up.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Brett – I don’t really buy it, given the Dothraki’s behavior at the wedding.
        ES – possible, but it seems to me as if there’s a disjuncture between Drogo’s actions at the wedding and the idea that the khaleesi’s place is at the khal’s side, as opposed to hidden away.

      • Lars says:

        I agree. I’m pretty sure that this was GRRM’s way of soft-pedalling the marriage of a 13 year old. Drogo’s actions on the wedding night is in stark contrast to his other actions.

        But it was all a trick to get us to not hate the Dothraki & Drogo. And judging by the fan response, it worked. But it is still GRRM’s weakest moment as a writer in book 1, where he decides to “cheat” instead of letting natural consequences occur.

        • stevenattewell says:

          To not hate Drogo, certainly. I think with the Dothraki, GRRM avoided most of the traps of writing about “barbarians.”

          In general, GRRM tends to avoid “smooth” character arcs – in general, characters tend to backslide back into old habits quite often (Daenerys is a good example of this). While this might be more “realistic” in a psychological sense, it does ask a lot of patience from the reader (although I’d argue it heightens the payoffs when characters actually make breakthroughs). It’s a technique that wouldn’t work for TV, given the more limited attention span and episodic delivery.

  3. Steve about illyrio that caught my eye on my last reread- i finished game of thrones
    last week- is that he seems to be a follower of the lord of light. In dany’s first chapter he says to her “may the lord of light shower you with blessing.”

    In the first two daenerys chapters I think he mentions the lord of light a few times… Now I think Illyrio is certainly out for his own gains, but could it be he know about the prophecy we know so little about? Rhaegar certainly believed his son Aegon was the prince that was promised… Could it be that Illyrio and Varys believe in this prophypecy too? Could that be a reason behind Varys’s decision to save Aegon in the first place?

    • stevenattewell says:

      I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into it, given Illyrio’s general cynicism. R’hllor seems to be the largest faith in Essos, so I think he’s just going with the standard religious blessing of Pentos.

  4. corejay says:

    I think where Martin’s understanding of the ambiguity of invasion and political coup really shines through is the Andal conquest. While the Andals pretty much succeded in taking over the Vale, the Westerlands, pre-Rhoynish Dorne and large parts of the Riverlands, the situation is much more complicated in the other kingdoms. The Iron Islands were conquered by the Andals, but they kept their distinctive culture and successfully assimilated the invaders. The Reach and Storm Lands are even more interesting: These two reagions are among the two most Andalized regions, with a clear commitment to the Faith, knighthood and similar clearly Andal customs and traditions. But many of the most powerful houses of these regions prior to the Targaryen conquest have distinctly descriptive First Man names – the Storm and Gardener Kings, the houses Hightower, Redwyne, Swann, Meadows, Oakheart, just to name a few. So it seems that while the Andals took over culturally, the power stayed in the hands of the original First Men elite families, even if they most probably intermarried with Andals soon enough.

    • stevenattewell says:

      An excellent point.

    • Brett says:

      It’s certainly true in the case of the Hightowers. Their entry in A Feast for Crows says that they welcomed the Andals when they arrived, and submitted to the Kings of the Reach in exchange for keeping some ancient privileges.

  5. scarlett45 says:

    I agree with you about the tv version of the bedding. IMO the tenderness Khal Drogo displayed in the book version was akin to “taming a horse”. He wanted to be gentle and sweet with Dany to establish trust and then dominance. Just my take on it though.

  6. Haven says:

    However, I do think (and I’m aware that this is going to be controversial, so bear with me) that the change to the consummation between Daenerys and Drogo makes sense dramatically. I’ve always found it a bit odd that the two of them have this rather tender albeit awkward first night, then Drogo relentlessly rapes her, then she learns how to “tame” him into accepting a more consensual relationship. The HBO version by contrast has a more realistic and consistent arc, and actually gives Daenerys more agency than in the book.

    The first time I watched the scene of their first wedding night and the subsequent sex scenes, I didn’t think it was rape. I thought the writers were trying to show the rough and seemingly insensitive aspects of Dothraki sexuality and Daenery’s youthful understanding of sex. I also thought it skirted to close to a type of racist view of cultures of color. However, after reading the sex scenes in the book, I think the writers ended up giving more power to Daenery’s by making her the seducer. In addition, it seems to show that she is really falling for her husband Drogo.

  7. Haven says:

    One more thing, Jhora’s comment, that “it” will get easier, upon noticing her discomfort, seemed to stress Daenery’s youth. That is, the experience of sex and intimacy was both physically and emotionally bruising, because of her youth.

  8. […] I’ve pointed out earlier, the fall of the Roman Empire was really less of a catastrophic break with the past and more of a […]

  9. […] the khalasar as a social institution. While I’ve already discussed how the Dothraki’s cosmopolitanism is a critical and under-appreciated aspect of their culture, there is a difference between the […]

  10. […] the Dothraki disdain city-dwellers and peaceful occupations, they are also a structural link in the economy of Essos. Only a nomadic warrior people of the Dothraki’s size could raid and conquer the thousands […]

  11. Odon says:

    There’s another factor: a woman who uses sex to influence men is traditionally presented as evil, manipulative or sluttish. By having the martial rape scene, the TV series shows how Dany has been thrown in the deep end and has to use the only weapon she has to survive, thus subverting this idea.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I guess…except that Dany doesn’t really use sex to influence Drogo outside of getting him to stop raping her.

      • yvonne says:

        I have just finished the first 5 books and just discovered this website, so I am playing catchup. I have begun again reading the series waiting for book 6.
        I don’t think Dany uses sex to just get Drogo to stop raping her. Drogo’s approach had always been from the rear and Dany gets him to look into her eyes while having sex. At first this is just more intimate, but eventually Dany gets Drogo to fall deeply in love with her turning sex into love-making. Dany also falls in love and wants to learn ways to please her husband, and not just in bed. The results are the huge power Dany comes to possess. This also boosts her self – confidence enormously.

        • I guess what I find odd is that in the books – that’s not what Drogo does at first. He starts off as someone interested in getting consent and then reverts to a steady pattern of marital rape.

          • yvonne says:

            But Drogo only takes time with her on their wedding night. It takes place outside because “the Dothraki believed that all things of importance in a man’s life must be done beneath the open sky.”
            The morning after their wedding, the khalasar broke camp to go east. Drogo ignored her when they rode and during almost all other times. Dany was left to eat alone or with Ser Jorah and her brother, and afterward to cry herself to sleep. Every night before dawn Drogo came to her tent (not outside) “to ride her as relentlessly as he rode his stallion. He always took her from behind, Dothraki fashion…” [Daenerys III] Drogo was not raping her, but just doing what was Dothraki custom. Afterward Drogo would close his eyes and begin to snore softly, lying beside Dany. It never occurs to Drogo to act differently until Dany teaches him; he doesn’t resist her the first time but called out her name when the moment of his pleasure came.
            If anyone has been raping Dany it is her own brother, emotionally not physically. Rape is an act of violence motivated by anger. I don’t see this in Drogo at all.

  12. yvonne says:

    Thank you for all your insights. I am learning so much.

  13. What if Dany never got the dragon eggs? 😀

  14. […] polymorphously perverse is the social norm. The contrast to the simplicity (at least on the Dothraki Sea) and sharply divided gender roles of the Dothraki is quite […]

  15. […] gone naked. Perhaps I should have.” The problem that she’s run into is that, unlike the culturally multi-lingual Dothraki who are happy to have other peoples assimilate into their culture (albeit through […]

  16. […] in the chapter. But the second is more confusing. Why does Robb Stark look to Daenerys Targaryen, who hates House Stark for their participation in Robert’s Rebellion, for justice for the Red Wedding? If Dany is […]

  17. Alexis Taylor says:

    Thinking during the equivalent time-period in the real world would say that he never raped her, as a man can not (according to ideas at the time) rape his wife as she belongs to him. In his mind he has never done anything wrong to her.

    He may also be frustrated with her during these acts. After the loss of virginity Dany rather pulls away from him, she is saddle-sore, miserable, and just generally unhappy with her life among the Khalasar. Drogo has very little to do with her, outside of sex, during this time; this is as much her fault as it is his as we never see her reaching out to him. They speak different languages, which doesn’t help, but once Dany decides to embrace Dothraki culture and speak with her husband, he behaves much more warmly to her, perhaps this is what he’s been waiting for, and was frustrated with her lack of (even attempted) communication after their first night.

  18. […] think of the Sack of Rome in 476 as the end of a civilization, but as I’ve discussed before, Odoacer didn’t harm the city as much as he did one element of its political order in order to get […]

  19. s.t. says:

    This blog is incredible. Thank you so much for your insight into Martin’s work.
    I must say that, while generally impressed by Martin’s understanding of human psychology and sociology, one detail in this chapter has always rubbed me the wrong way. It is Illyrio’s remark that a Dothraki wedding with fewer than three deaths is considered a dull affair, coupled with Dany’s observation that 12 men died on her wedding night, and no one seemed to care.
    This just seems completely implausible detail for a functional society. If it were the death of slaves or some lower caste, or outsiders, I could totally buy it. But the basic social contract for any community is to allow non-kin to cooperate and trust one another. Deaths during weddings seems to me like a huge source of grievance for any group of humans.
    This is one instance in which I can see Martin painting his “barbarians” as gross inhuman caricatures rather than a complicated but humane portrait of a misunderstood population (like the wildlings). Am I wrong here? Is there precedence for something like this?

  20. […] the past I’ve written about Alaric and Odoacer as examples of how the fall of Rome was perhaps not as dramatic as Renaissance […]

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