“Princess…you have a gentle heart, but you do not understand. This is how it has always been.”
Synopsis: Khal Drogo and his khalasar sack a Lhazarene village in the process of being sacked by a different khalasar to raid slaves for their trip across the ocean, and Khal Drogo slays Khal Ogo and Khal Fogo to do it. Dany insists that his wound be treated by Mirri Maz Duur.
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.
It’s interesting that so many fans of ASOIAF were frustrated by Daenerys’ plotline in A Dance With Dragons, given how much of its seems to be prefigured in this chapter. The return of the rightful heir to the throne, a fantasy trope older than Ivanhoe and Tolkein and so often made out to be a relatively bloodless affair in which the evil usurper and some presumably evil guards dies, here brings abut the slaughter of innocent Lhazarene and raiding Dothraki alike.
And for those who argue that Dany is not responsible for what’s happening here, it is explicitly stated by Daenerys herself that “this is the price of the Iron Throne.” It is not even the case that the Lhazarene are “collateral damage” in an otherwise justified war for the throne. The Lhazarene are paying for the ships that will take Dany’s army across the sea: “I’ve told the khal he ought to make for Meereen..they’ll pay a better price than he’d get from a slaving caravan. Illyrio writes that they had a plague last year, so the brothels are paying double for healthy young girls, and triple for boys under ten. If enough children survive the journey, the gold will buy us all the ships we need, and hire men to sail them.”
While I would argue that George R.R Martin’s pacifist critique of war is tempered by his understanding of both the romantic allure of warfare and the realities of geopolitics, there is little ambiguity in this moment: “this is the way of war. These women are our slaves now to do with as we please.” This is not simply war as we have seen it at the Green Fork or even in the Riverlands; this is systematized war on a defenseless people to produce slaves for the Essosi economy that Jorah, Drogo, Illyrio, and Dany intend to make use of. Pay attention tot he description of the Unsullied Daenerys liberated in Astapor, or the slaves freed at Yunkai or Meereen – there as Lhazarene faces in those crowds and Dothraki put them there. The next time you see a gifset on Tumblr that seeks to equate Dany with an imperialist ignorant of Ghiscari culture, remember that the Lhazarenes aren’t part of that culture.
Moreover, this is slavery explicitly justified by Dothraki racism: “they were herders of sheep and eaters of vegetables, and Khal Drogo said they belonged south of the river bend. The grass of the Dothraki sea was not meant for sheep…The Lamb Men lay with sheep it is known…does the horse breed with the sheep?” If you recall from earlier, the Dothraki believe they have a manifest destiny to rule over the lesser peoples of Essos; here we see this manifest destiny in action, and it’s just as ugly as any imperialist conception from our own history. And as I’ll discuss later, this attitude has more than a few historic parallels.
- Manifest Destiny by Carises Horn
Dany’s reaction to this organized human misery is quite instructive; she “hardened her heart” against murder and slavery, but when she is faced with the reality of the sexual slavery of children, something that comes far too close to her own situation sans-Stockholm Syndrome, she can’t help herself: “make them stop….I want no rape.” Her moral reaction, however driven by selfish motives, nevertheless serves to move Dany away from her position as an assimilated Dothraki to becoming once again Rhaegar’s sister. And yet, what often gets overlooked is that Daenerys’ actions immediately lead to violence because she has broken with Dothraki custom: “Johqo’s arakh flashed, and the man went tumbling from his shoulders. Laugher turned to curses as the horsemen reached for weapons…the readers looked at her with cold black eyes.” The seeds of Mago and Jhaqo’s defection, which will undo all of Dany’s humanitarian hopes, are sewn here. All of this happens because Dany cannot see the impossibility of the romantic vision that “if your warriors would mount these women, let them take them gently and keep them for wives.” For her own sanity, Dany has willingly forgotten that she herself was a slave and that the Dothraki are not figures out of a romance novel.
It’s not an accident that her attempt to sanitize Dothraki culture is immeidately followed up by one of her most fateful decisions in A Game of Thrones: to have her husband healed by Mirri Maz Duur. Dany knows that this goes against taboo, that to the Dothraki “a maegi was a woman who lay with demons and practiced the blackest of sorceries, a vile thing, evil and soulless, who came to men in the dark of night and sucked life and strength from their bodies.” It was bad enough when Dany was suggesting that Dothraki and Lamb Men were symbolically equals, but this decision will completely undo her position and kill her husband.
On that topic, it’s really quite clear that Mirri Maz Duur plans to take revenge from the outset: “The Great Shepherd sent me to earth to heal his lambs,” she says and immediately Qotho denies her statement of spiritual equality with a slap and the statement that “we are no sheep.” The next time that she says “the Great Shepherd guards the flock,” she’s not referring to Khal Drogo. To be clear, Mirri Maz Dur had motive, means, and opportunity to kill Khal Drogo and Rhaego.
The relationship between the Dothraki and the Lhazarene echoes a persistent trend in Eurasian history and pre-history in which nomadic horse-riding peoples warred against and (mostly) conquered settled agricultural peoples. The ancient Scythians, who conquered a territory from the Black Sea to the Caucuses and beyond into Central Asia from the 7th century B.C into the 2nd century A.D when they were largely defeated by the Goths, successfully held off the Persian Emperor Darius the Great through a series of guerrilla campaigns, fought a series of (unsuccessful) wars against Phillip II and Alexander of Macedon, and warred against Mithridates the Great for control of the Crimea.
- credit to Angus McBride
Their wealth ultimately came from their control of the slave trade that stretched from the basins of the Danube and the Don south down to the Black Sea to Greek ports, and it’s for this reason that Scythians are often depicted as carrying both bows (given the natural combination of horse cavalry and archery) and whips – much like the Dothraki. In his history, Herodotus describes the Scythians triumphing over a slave revolt as follows:
“…by fighting against them we deplete both our forces and the number of our slaves. Let us drop our spears and bows and take up whips. Seeing us weapon in hand, they imagined that they were our equals…but when they see us with whips instead of weapons they will understand that they are only our slaves, and will not be able to resist us.”
A similarly antagonism between horse nomads and settled farmers equally describes the relationship between the Mongols and the Slavic peoples from the invasion of 1223, which brought down Kievan Rus’, through to the rise of Moscow through a complicated series of wars and diplomatic alliances against the various Khanates in the 13th and 14th centuries, to the victories of Ivan III and Ivan the Terrible in the 15th century that broke the power of the Khanates. While the legend of the “Tartar yoke” owes more to tsarist propaganda than historical evidence, the Mongol invasion of 1223 reduced the Russian population by 500,000 (or 6.6% of the total).
Likewise, much of the history of China could be described as a series of wars between the various empires of the river basins and various horse-riding nomadic tribes: the Xirong (the Chinese name for these people, which literally means “western warlike peoples) who bedeviled the Zhou Dynasty in the 10th through 8th century B.C.E and many of the warring states before being defeated by the Qin in the 4th century; the Xiong-nu who warred with the Han in the 2nd century B.C.E and whose defeat allowed for the completion of the Silk Road; the Wu Hu who brought on “the throwing of China into disorder by the five barbarian tribes” in the 4th century; the Mongols, who conquered China in the 13th century C.E; and the Manchu, who built the Qing dynasty that ruled China for almost three hundred years before being overthrown.
In general, if you’re thinking that GRRM is being particularly brutal, he’s probably cribbing from history.
- Drogo gets healed by the eunuch men? Granted, there’s still a possibility that Drogo still would have died of infection, but Dany would probably still turned to Mirri Maz Dur to save her “sun-and-stars,” which leads us back to the OTL. But let’s say a simple cauterization and stitching works, and Drogo heals from his wounds. In this scenario, Dany visits Slaver’s Bay not as a conqueror and a liberator but as a buyer and seller. Given the approximately 500 miles from the Lhazarene village to Slaver’s Bay, she’d arrive in Meereen around the time that Drogo dies in OTL, some nineteen days from now. Given a week for the selling of people and the buying and provisioning of a fleet, and the distance between Meereen and Westeros on a mostly coastal route taking one safely around Valyria, Dany might have arrived in Westeros as early as Tyrion’s arrival in King’s Landing as Hand of the King. Most likely landing in Dorne, what would have happened there is unclear. 40,000 Dothraki are a mighty force, but not enough to take on the roughly 400,000 soldiers of Westeros and succeed…but enough to bloody all participants sufficiently that when Aegon and the Golden Company arrive and defeat the foreign invader, no one’s left to dispute his claim to the Iron Throne.
Book vs. Show:
The major difference between the book and the show is that Qotho outright challenges Drogo over the issue, leading to an epic duel between the two. This scene, invented at the behest of Jason Momoa, is one of those great examples of the difference between media: in the book, we can read easily about how great a warrior Khal Drogo was without ever having to see it on the page, because our imaginations are used to filling in the details. In a visual medium like television, however, the audience expects to be shown rather than told about these kind of things, and it gives a great sendoff for a character who, let’s face it, doesn’t really accomplish much despite being quite important for Dany’s development as a character.
So I’ll just leave this here: