“The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends…it is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace…they never are.”
Synopsis: Daenerys learns how to adapt both to the rigors of riding across the Dothraki sea and life as a khaleesi; after being attacked by her brother Viserys, she rebels for the first time and orders that he be made to walk, shaming him in front of the khalasar. She discusses political theory with Jorah, and magic and dragons with her handmaidens. After introducing Khal Drogo to the cowgirl position, Dany celebrates her 14th birthday with a pregnancy.
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.
If some chapters are rich with political allusions or subtle advancements of the plot, Daenerys III is positively stuffed with characters openly debating political theory and its implications for their lives and the lives of millions of people in Essos and Westeros alike who have no idea how their futures might revolve around the fortunes of an exiled princess riding off into the trackless east. Just a warning: this may be a long one.
First off, we get an intriguing detail that raises some interesting questions about the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy – that “Maester Illyrio had urged [Viserys] to wait in Pentos, had offered him the hospitality of his manse, but Viserys would have none of it.” Illyrio’s motives in trying to keep Viserys from following Drogo’s khalassar to Vaes Dothrak are worth speculating on:
- it’s possible that Illyrio’s understanding of the exiled prince’s character and psychology led him to believe that the young man would not bond with the Dothraki and would possible quarrel with Khal Drogo (whose psychology Illyrio understands quite well) and thus the offer is meant to keep Viserys safe. On the other hand, it’s quite clear from ADWD that Illyrio considers Viserys “a vain young man, and greedy…Mad Aerys’s son,” and his overall solicitude for the siblings is further undercut by his comment that he did not expect Daenerys to survive.
- it’s possible therefore that Illyrio wanted to keep Viserys in his manse in Pentos in order to keep Viserys under his thumb. The question then becomes why Illyrio wanted the young man handy. It’s possible that this was in order to follow through on Doran Martell’s offer of marriage to Arianne Martell, as we found out in AFFC. However, the existence of Aegon VI under Varys and Illyrio’s protection suggests a darker motive: perhaps Illyrio wanted Viserys safely under lock and key so that a consummated and fruitful union between Drogo and Daenerys could return to lead their army to Westeros in his name rather than her brother’s (especially since, as Rhaegar’s son, Aegon’s claim if genuine would trump Viserys’s, making the unstable young man extremely dangerous), with Viserys having quietly died offstage, as it were.
- this suggests an alternate explanation for Illyrio’s remarkable passivity in the face of Viserys’ refusal (“Illyrio had blinked at that and wished him good fortune”): rather than an uncharacteristic moment of weakness, Illyrio’s mildness might have been cover for a cool-headed decision that, with Aegon hidden, Viserys was simply disposable.
The second major political event in this chapter is the first major step in Daenerys’ transformation from an outwardly-traumatized yet inwardly perceptive child bride to a real political actor on the world stage. When Daenerys commands the khalasar to stop, in her own words she begins to speak “not [like] a queen” but rather “a khaleesi,” a person who commands rather than gives commands. A khaleesi doesn’t put up with even brothers manhandling her and shoves them back – her first act of rebellion in her life. A key theme underpinning this transformation is the importance of seeing: when Viserys screams at her to look at herself, she sees not “some horselord’s slut” but someone who “looks as though she belonged here;” likewise, her rebellion is prompted not simply by pique but by a sudden realization that Viserys “was a pitiful thing…had always been a pitiful thing.” And ultimately, a khaleesi is one who is one who makes things seen – her order to take Viserys’ horse is less a punishment, since Viserys is incapable of understanding that he might be in the wrong, but rather a lesson directed at the Dothraki.
Throughout this chapter, assimilation is shown as a source of strength – it is Daenerys, who dresses sensibly, who is beginning to learn their language, who understands their customs and cultural values, who most importantly of all learns to ride like them (there’s a not particularly subtle theme of Daenerys learning to overcome the pains of riding her horse and becoming a true Dothraki rider with her overcoming her marital rape and learning how to ride her husband), who belongs out on the Dothraki Sea. Viserys’ failure to assimilate is a sign of his unworthiness – his impractical silks are rotting off his body, he struggles with new saddles and stirrups, and whose disrespect for Dothraki customs leads him to end up a disgraced figure (the “Cart King”) who cannot possibly lead a khalasar across the Narrow Sea.
Jorah Mormont offers a third model for expatriates- like Daenerys and unlike Viserys, he understands the culture and language of the Dothraki and easily creates for himself a role as interpreter and guide for the new khaleesi; unlike Daenerys, Jorah is still “Jorah the Andal,” still wears his Westerosi garb, and while he lacks the bitterness of Viserys’ refusal to adapt, still prays for home. And just as Dany learns from Irri on how to adapt to the khalasar, she’s also learning from Jorah how to adapt without leaving everything behind. Dany’s vision of King’s Landing and Dragonstone, where “all the doors were red,” shows how Daenerys keeps a part of herself back from the khalasar, that she is extending her conception of “home” across two continents.
A third theme in this chapter is 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 Dothraki in their tribute-mansions and in the “city on the march.” Chiefly, the khalasar is a community whose members are seeing and being seen, in the same way that John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” was supposed to be both an example to the world of a righteous community but also constantly observed by the world and its own inhabitants for how closely it hewed to its own examples. In a place where everyone lives in such close proximity without true walls to divide themselves, where the presence of slaves and servants and bloodriders and kos mean that people are always living in the presence of other people, “there are no secrets in a khalasar…no privacy in the heart of a khalasar.”
The purpose of this surveillance is not, as we 21st century people might think, so much a matter of control and dominance, but more a mechanism for producing truths through acts of collective judgement, in a society structured by honor. And the khalasar need to know that because their society functions on the basis of honor relationships – a man is honored as khal because his strength and cunning are witnessed by the khalasar, and his reign lasts as long as his reputation does in the eyes of his people; a khal can rely on his kos and his bloodriders and honor them with his possessions because their oaths have been witnessed by the khalasar so that violating that oath makes one a pariah; and so on down the social order to the lowest slave, witnessing acts of honor and dishonor gives the collective a sense of character and the capacity to sanction through reputation. The Dothraki see Viserys for a walker so that they know the truth about his character; the Dothraki see Danaerys becoming a khaleesi so that they know the truth about hers.
A fourth theme is our introduction to Jorah Mormont’s theory of politics. Following his decision to switch his loyalty from king to khaleesi, Jorah implicitly argues for what we might call a meritocratic monarchism, albeit a version that is extremely realistic or cynical about the peasant masses who are both ignorant of and continual victims of high politics. Rather than purely following the line of succession, Mormont seems to be arguing (and Danaerys accepts) that a true monarch has to live up to certain minimal standards – the monarch must have sufficient force of personality and strength of character that he or she inspires respect and loyalty both from the lords and knights who swear direct fealty and from the armies the moanrchs seek to lead – without that, the monarch may lose their mandate to another. More on this as later chapters explore Jorah’s relationship to his new monarch.
A final theme is the relationship between magic and dragons that had been hinted at vaguely before. In this chapter, we learn that it is common belief among the Targaryens that “magic had died in the west when the Doom fell on Valyria…and neither spell-forged steel nor stormsingers nor dragons could hold it back, but Dany had already heard that the east was different.” This suggests that the standard narrative held by fans of the series – that magic returns to the world because Danaerys gives birth to three dragons – is not quite accurate; magic can die even in the presence of dragons, although the presence of dragons like the appearance of the red comet is both a sign of the rebirth of dragons and in some way a vector for the strengthening of magic. It also adds more weight to the idea that there is some localizing effect going on – the Long Night seems to have happened only in Westeros; just as the Doom has settled on Valyria rather than all of Essos, and Asshai seems to be an opposite pole to the “heart of true winter,” a place where dragons and magic are still strong. (Incidentally, Daenerys points to bloodmagic and shadowbinding as arts that exist in Asshai, which suggests that much of what Melisandre is doing is using secular magic in service of religion, although pure R’hllorism does seem to have supernatural force in the form of resurrection, laying on hands, remote combustion, clairvoyance, and the capacity to do without sleep or food)
The khalasar very much resembles many different nomadic peoples, from the Mongols to the Huns, but given the theme of assimilation in Dany III, I wanted to bring in the historical parallel of the Comanche. As Professor Hamalainen describes in Comanche Empire, the Comanche were a horse-based nomadic society that maintained a vast empire in the American Southwest from the beginning of the 18th through to the late 19th century, managing to hold back the Spanish, Mexican, and American governments and to conquer and assimilate other southwestern Indian tribes, and building a vast economic trade network across the region. All of this – horse-based nomads who build cavalry-based military machines that raid at will and trade the resources gained through raiding and the tributes gained from refraining from raiding – very much resembles the Dothraki.
A further similarity is suggested by James F. Brook’s Captives and Cousins, which points out that the raiding and trading of slaves (especially women and children) was a crucial aspect of this borderlands empire, in no small part because the ethnic and linguistic mixing were one of the few ways that interpreters and negotiators could be acquired. This is probably the case with the Dothraki – given that Drogo’s marriage to a non-Dothraki is expected to give birth to a Dothraki child, the Dothraki do not require both parents of a Dothraki child to be of Dothraki blood; hence the children of slaves sired by Dothraki are likely to be treated as part of the khalasar, suggesting a certain degree of cultural and ethnic diversity that would help to explain how the Dothraki are able to manage such a complex continent-spanning commercial empire of tribute and exchange with so many different cultures.
A second historical topic that comes up in this chapter is the character of Viserys. Judging simply from his personality – weak and bullying, paranoid and driven to fits of rage, prone to delusions about his political future and his own worth, his Oedipal obsession with his sister “killing” their mother – he seems a soul-mate for the Emperor Nero, the music and theater aficionado who cheerfully poisoned his adopted brother, assassinated his mother (after many unsuccessful and overly-theatrical attempts), who was accused of “fiddling while Rome burned,” and who was easily dethroned. On the other hand, his rather gruesome passing is more clearly modeled on that of Marcus Licinius Crassus (who in all other respects doesn’t resemble the young Targaryen at all).
At the same time, we can also view Viserys as part of a general historical trend of exiled royal pretenders whose exile shaped them to the point where they were no longer truly viable candidates for their nation’s throne. James II’s exile in France following the English Civil War meant that he spent the formative years of his life fighting for the absolutist monarchy of Louis XIV; thus, when he became King, he sought a large standing army, the proroguing of Parliament (too much like the Parlements that had led to the Fronde), and the relaxation of prohibitions on Catholicism, prompting his overthrow in 1688. Likewise, his son James III, was ultimately hamstrung in his efforts to regain the throne by his refusal to recant his Catholic faith, which might have swayed otherwise pro-Stuart Tories who were staunch Anglicans. Like these figures, Viserys’ experience of exile changed him – much of his paranoia can ultimately be traced back to his fear of (non-existent) Baratheon assassins, his vanity, delusions, and bullying towards the one person he could dominate something of a response to the repeated humiliations of a “Beggar Prince.”
One could argue that it was Daenerys’ own exile experience – her longing for the “red door” of home more than the Throne itself, her oppression at the hands of a would-be tyrant, her experience of slavery (however genteel it might be) – that inverted the usual trend of the royal exile.
What If? Ironically for a chapter that focuses intently on Daenerys’ growth as a character, most of the hypotheticals that arise have more to do with Viserys, given his increasingly erratic behavior:
- Viserys had stayed in Pentos? As already discussed above, there are a couple different things that would have happened: Viserys might have gotten married off, he could have been quietly killed and replaced by Aegon, etc. However, the interesting question is what would have happened to Daenerys. Without Viserys attacking her in this scene and providing the catalyst for a personal revelation, it’s quite possible that, however much she comes to see herself as a khaleesi, that she never comes to see herself as also the rightful Queen of Westeros.
- Viserys had (accidentally?) killed Daenerys (at this point in time)? I’ll come back to this more when we get to Viserys’ death, but the interesting thing is to see how close Viserys comes to destroying his chances (and Varys and Illyrio’s plans) for a Dothraki alliance, again and again on the journey to Vaes Dothrak. The consequences would be quite interesting – while Varys and Illyrio would still have Aegon VI as backup (Viserys would definitely die a hideous death in this scenario), their potential invasion force would be reduced by several tens of thousands. One of the things we see is how contingent Dany’s awakening of the dragons was – she had to avoid death but still be threatened with death (thus raising Drogo’s attachment to the point where he’s willing to invade Westeros), Drogo has to raid the Lhazareen and enslave Miri Maz Dur, and so on and so forth. If Viserys had cut off that thread of the timeline ahead of schedule, then the dragons aren’t reborn. Whatever that does to magic, the history of Essos is greatly changed: the House of the Undying goes unburnt, Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen are not attacked, which means that the tigers don’t seize power in Volantis, and so on and so forth.
- Viserys had been killed then and there? This is a more subtle one. In OTL, Viserys dies at the hands of Khal Drogo after threatening Dany’s life and the life of her unborn son, which gives Dany a way to process this otherwise traumatic event. But if Viserys was to die by Daenerys’ orders, this changes things dramatically; while Dany arguably had been physically threatened, she’s still a kinslayer. That’s bound to have a psychological (if not a metaphysical) impact on Daenerys, possibly prompting her more towards the “mad” side of the family.
Book vs. Show:
This is played fairly straight on the show, with one rather consequential change: in the book, taking Viserys’ horse is Dany’s idea, whereas in the show it’s Rakharo’s decision. On the one hand, I understand that unlike in the book, where George R.R Martin has to re-emphasize certain themes because it’s been a while since you’ve read a Dany chapter, that the TV show can focus more on a consistent character arc – from the Dany who still protects her brother to the Dany who hits him in the face with a belt. On the other hand, we lose the connection between Daenerys’ assimilation and her rebellion against her brother and a more realistic transition.