Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Daenerys III, ACOK

“They said no…they said it with great courtesy, to be sure, but under all the lovely words, it was still no.”

…Xaro sighed. “You ought to have wept.” The Qartheen wept often and easily; it was considered the mark of the civilized man.

Synopsis: Dany asks the Pureborn for assistance and gets turned down. Xaro Xhoan Daxos asks her to marry him and gets turned down. Dany meets Quaithe and gets some information, a prophecy, and a warning. Jorah suggests a plan and gets turned down. Dany decides to reach out to Pyat Pree.

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:

When I started my recap of A Clash of Kings, it had been a long time since I’d read the book, and in the intervening time you naturally forget things. In this case, I’d forgotten how little time Dany spends in Qarth – having arrived in the city last chapter, she’s going to the House of the Undying next chapter (going to have to bring my A game to that recap), and be on her way out of the city and the book in the next. At the same time, there’s a richness of detail in the description of Qarth that makes me wish we’d been able to linger a little while longer in the city.

Qartheen Culture, Cultural Power, and the Pureborn

As I mentioned last time, a running theme in Dany’s storyline in ASOIAF is the idea of cultural literacy as power. In this chapter, we see Dany using the same assimilation trick that worked for her before with the Pureborn, “descendants of the ancient kings and queens of Qarth…[who] commanded the Civic Guard and the fleet of ornate galleys that ruled the straits between the seas. Daenerys Targaryen had wanted that fleet, or part of it, and some of their soldiers as well.” Dany tries a number of different techniques to accomplish her aims.

First, Dany goes to the meeting “garbed after the Qartheen fashion…in flowing green samite with one breast bared, silvered sandals on her feet, with a belt of black-and-white pearls about her waist.” This allows her to downplay the damaging association between herself and the Dothraki – given the role that the Dothraki played in destroying the Qaathi empire during the Century of Blood, it’s no wonder that “Xaro had warned her that the Enthroned would never listen to a Dothraki” – by showing a willingness to adapt to the culture of her hosts. It also allows her to play into the Qartheens’ taste for erotic display by showing off her Valyrian features.

by Carrie Best

Unfortunately for Dany, “for all the help they offered, I could have 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 conquest and slavery), the Pureborn are inherently exclusionary – they know that Dany’s not one of them, and they’re not going to look favorably on a nouvelle arrivante trying to copy them. At the same time, Dany’s running into the problem that the elite of the Qartheen are so used to exotic displays that they’ve become de-sensitized to them. While other Qartheen and foreign passersby might be so enthralled by the sight of an exotic beauty and living dragons, the Pureborn can barely muster any excitement:

They never saw me for a queen, she thought bitterly. I was only an afternoon’s amusement, a horse girl with a curious pet…

The Pureborn heard her pleas from the great wooden seats of their ancestors, rising in curved tiers from a marble floor to a high-domed ceiling painted with scenes of Qarth’s vanished glory. The chairs were immense, fantastically carved, bright with goldwork and studded with amber, onyx, lapis, and jade, each one different from all the others, and each striving to be the most fabulous. Yet the men who sat in them seemed so listless and world-weary that they might have been asleep. They listened, but they did not hear, or care, she thought. They are Milk Men indeed. They never meant to help me. They came because they were curious. They came because they were bored, and the dragon on my shoulder interested them more than I did…

As we’ll see repeated later, GRRM’s worldbuilding is moving very quickly here, as he strives to make the culture of Qarth come to life despite the short time he has to spend here, hammering on similar themes until they take on the status of cultural commonalities. As with Volantis, there is a strong emphasis on ostentation and opulence – everything in Qarth is huge and made out of multiple precious – but there’s  an unpleasant aftertaste of an unhealthy fixation with past glories that are fading. Here, the ostentation of the Pureborn’s chairs is all about competitive display (it’s a room with a thousand thrones because each of the Pureborn refuse to recognize anyone else being more important than themselves), with no one really taking pleasure in the things themselves, or indeed in what should be an awe-inspiring sight.

Second, Dany follows the Qartheen traditions of bribery and corruption. And she’s quite thorough about it. Not only does she make:

…the traditional sacrifice in the Temple of Memory, offered the traditional bribe to the Keeper of the Long List, sent the traditional persimmon to the Opener of the Door, and finally received the traditional blue silk slippers summoning her to the Hall of a Thousand Thrones…

she follows this up with carefully bribing key members of the Pureborn – “Mathos Mallarawan, Wendello Qar Deeth, and Egon Emeros the Exquisite” – who are supposed to speak for her in the Hall of a Thousand Thrones and lobby their fellow Pureborn on behalf. This is a pretty good strategy: as an outsider, Dany has little information about the Pureborn, whereas these three men would likely know their peers well; likewise, Dany has very limited means of moving the Pureborn, whereas these men have their prior relationships, their votes for trade, and so on. Again, Dany runs into a problem of insufficient cultural understanding. Namely, she doesn’t understand that the Pureborn are so corrupt as to not just take bribes but refuse to follow through on them, because the game is rigged:

…”The men we bought, what did they say?”

“Mathos said nothing. Wendello praised the way I spoke. The Exquisite refused me with the rest, but he wept afterward.”

“Alas, that Qartheen should be so faithless.” Xaro was not himself of the Pureborn, but he had told her whom to bribe and how much to offer. “Weep, weep for the treachery of men.”

“Suppose I sent Ser Jorah to demand the return of my gifts?” she asked.

“Suppose a Sorrowful Man came to my palace one night and killed you as you slept,” said Xaro. The Sorrowful Men were an ancient sacred guild of assassins, so named because they always whispered, “I am so sorry,” to their victims before they killed them. The Qartheen were nothing if not polite.

There’s no way to win against the Pureborn, because they’ve set up the rules in their favor. Ask them for something straight up, and you’ll find that “it is easier to milk the Stone Cow of Faros than to wring gold from the Pureborn.” Offer them bribes to change their minds, and they’ll pocket them without doing anything. Try to take the money back, and they’ll send assassins after you to punish you for your rudeness. So ruthless, so unbound by conventional morality, are the Pureborn that they’ll even violate guest right, as they’re “notorious for offering poisoned wine to those they thought dangerous.”

Qarth by Martina Pilcerova

A City of Fairy Gold

Dany’s trip to the Hall of a Thousand Thrones gives us a strong impression of Qartheen culture – opulence, a constant struggle between ennui and novelty, and false displays of emotion and loyalty. This falseness is key, because Qarth is beginning to resemble your classic fairy kingdom – everyone’s terminally (and lethally) bored despite being surrounded by constant splendor and sensory excess, and you’re constantly surrounded by riches that turn into leaves come the morning. Consider where Dany’s bribe money came from and what happened to it:

Dany would sooner have wept for her gold. The bribes she’d tendered to Mathos Mallarawan, Wendello Qar Deeth, and Egon Emeros the Exquisite might have bought her a ship, or hired a score of sellswords. 
…She would have been lost without Xaro. The gold that she had squandered to open the doors of the Hall of a Thousand Thrones was largely a product of the merchant’s generosity and quick wits. As the rumor of living dragons had spread through the east, ever more seekers had come to learn if the tale was true—and Xaro Xhoan Daxos saw to it that the great and the humble alike offered some token to the Mother of Dragons.
The trickle he started soon swelled to a flood. Trader captains brought lace from Myr, chests of saffron from Yi Ti, amber and dragonglass out of Asshai. Merchants offered bags of coin, silversmiths rings and chains. Pipers piped for her, tumblers tumbled, and jugglers juggled, while dyers draped her in colors she had never known existed. A pair of Jogos Nhai presented her with one of their striped zorses, black and white and fierce. A widow brought the dried corpse of her husband, covered with a crust of silvered leaves; such remnants were believed to have great power, especially if the deceased had been a sorcerer, as this one had. And the Tourmaline Brotherhood pressed on her a crown wrought in the shape of a three-headed dragon; the coils were yellow gold, the wings silver, the heads carved from jade, ivory, and onyx.
In a sudden, dizzying slide, Dany goes from the poverty and simplicity of the desert to enormous riches. And it’s not just a matter of cash on hand – she’s being offered the assembled trade goods of all of Essos, from the Free Cities on the west coast to as far east as Asshai, everything that makes Qarth what it is, she’s being offered dark magical power, and she’s being offered the trappings of power. In other words, she’s being tempted by the appearance of everything she wants, but with none of the actual substance; in return she has to turn herself into a glorified sideshow performer. The money that might have been a ship or the beginnings of an army – the stuff she actually wants – goes into bribes that get her nothing, leaving her with almost nothing:

As with any good temptation, Dany is being made to examine herself and decide what’s most important to her – here, she’s choosing her identity as queen above all else, which helps to explain why she turns down Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ offer to stay  in Qarth (succumbing to the surface appeal of unlimited wealth) and Jorah’s offer to leave for the east (succumbing to her fears and desire for a normal life).

by Sir Other-in-Law

Qartheeen Politics

Another example of the fairy kingdom nature of Qarth is what we learn of its political culture, which is both byzantine and pointlessly so:

…it seemed to her that Qarth was full of stone cows. The merchant princes, grown vastly rich off the trade between the seas, were divided into three jealous factions: the Ancient Guild of Spicers, the Tourmaline Brotherhood, and the Thirteen, to which Xaro belonged. Each vied with the others for dominance, and all three contended endlessly with the Pureborn.
Given that we have almost no information about these organizations (aside from the fact that they’re all rich and all untrustworthy), there’s nothing to differentiate the Spicers, the Tourmaline Brotherhood, and the Thirteen or to give their internecine struggle any meaning. At the same time, none of these groups are of any use to Dany:
“If each of the Thirteen would lend me ten ships-“
“You would have one hundred thirty ships, and no crew to sail them…”
“If the Thirteen will not aid me, perhaps I should ask the Guild of Spicers or the Tourmaline Brotherhood?”
Xaro gave a languid shrug. “They will give you nothing but flattery and lies. The Spices are dissemblers and braggarts and the Brotherhood is full of pirates.”
There’s something weirdly reminiscent of a stress dream in all this – Dany is trapped in a complex, insidery world where there’s wealth and power all around her, but she can’t actually access any of it, and the guy who’s supposed to be her guide and aid isn’t of any use. It might seem a bit pointless, except that on the second read-through you can see that it’s meant to push Dany in the direction of the warlocks:
And brooding over all were the warlocks, with their blue lips and dread powers, seldom seen but much feared…
“Then I must heed Pyat Pree, and go to the Warlocks.”
“Heed the wisdom of one who loves you. Warlocks are bitter creatures who eat dust and drink of shadows. They will give you naught. They have naught to give.”

“Marry me, bright light, and sail the ship of my heart. I cannot sleep at night for thinking of your beauty.”

Dany smiled. Xaro’s flowery protestations of passion amused her, but his manner was at odds with his words. While Ser Jorah had scarcely been able to keep his eyes from her bare breast when he’d helped her into the palanquin, Xaro hardly deigned to notice it, even in these close confines. And she had seen the beautiful boys who surrounded the merchant prince, flitting through his palace halls in wisps of silk. “You speak sweetly, Xaro, but under your words I hear another no.”

As with those prior groups, Xaro is personifying Qarth’s deceptive and frustrating nature – Xaro is wealthy but pretends poverty, Daxos proposes marriage but shows no desire for Dany (which is a sign that there’s something he’s not telling her), Xaro promises help but doesn’t produce any results. All of this feeds into the way Xaro is acting as the chief tempter in Qarth, trying to persuade Dany to accept material wealth and an easy life rather than the hard work of achieving her true destiny, to buy into surface appearance rather than inquire into the true nature of Qarth:

“Let this be your kingdom, most exquisite of queens, and let me be your king. I will give you a throne of gold, if you like. When Qarth begins to pall, we can journey round Yi Ti and search for the dreaming city of the poets, to sip the wine of wisdom from a dead man’s skull.”

“I mean to sail to Westeros, and drink the wine of vengeance from the skull of the Usurper.” 

…”I have given you my home and heart, do they mean nothing to you? I have given you perfume and pomegrantes, tumbling monkeys and spitting snakes, scrolls from lost Valyria, an idol’s head and a serpent’s foot. I have given you this palanquin of ebony and gold and a matched set of bullocks to bear it, one as white as ivory, and one black as jet, with horns inlaid with jewels.”
“Yes,” Dany said. “But it was ships and soldiers I wanted.”
In rebuttal, Daxos notes that he gave Dany a thousand soldiers – in miniature, made out of gold, silver, and precious jewels. To me, this image perfectly symbolizes Qarth – it’s a gaudy mockery of something useful kept just out of your reach, and the price to get your hands on it is to give up on your original goals. However, XXD isn’t engaging in this delaying tactic simply out of some mad whimsy, but rather out of a hidden self-interest (as with the Pureborn and their open hands and sticky palms). He wants to frustrate Dany into agreeing to his marriage proposal (in an oddly roundabout form of gaslighting, which also calls into question whether he’s genuinely helping Dany with the Pureborn and the merchant guilds or if he’s deliberately undermining her efforts to get help from third parties), not because he wants Dany herself (it’s pretty clear that BookXaro is gay):
“…there’s one thing he failed to mention. The Qartheen have a curious wedding custom, my queen. On the day of their union, a wife may ask a token of love from her husband. Whatsoever she desires of his worldly goods, he must grant. And he may ask the same of her. One thing only may be asked, but whatever is named may not be denied.”
“…with one dragon, Xaro Xhoan Daxos would rule this city, but one ship will further our cause but little.” 
Once again, we’re seeing fairy-tale logic at work, with the request you can’t refuse always coming back to bite you in the ass (in part because fairy tales are trying to teach kids the importance of keeping your oath in a time before contract law had developed the idea of “unconscionable” clauses barring enforcement). At the same time, Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ plan to achieve power through becoming Mr. Mother of Dragons (oddly similar to that of fellow rich slave-owner Hizdahr zo Loraq) are an important parallel to what we’ll see of the warlocks in the next Dany chapters – all of these forces are conspiring, for their own selfish motives, to keep Dany trapped in the Land of the Lotus-Easters, for their own reasons.

by Carolina Eade

A Bizarre Encounter in the Bazaar

On an entirely different level than XXD’s schemes, Dany III is also where George R.R Martin addresses the growing prominence of magic – after all, it’s only been a few chapters since Renly was murdered by shadows and Arya made a deal with a murder genie – in a narrative where magic had been confined to the margins in AGOT. In a seemingly random encounter in the Qartheen bazaar, Dany sees a magic show:

The mage was gesturing, urging the flames higher and higher with broad sweeps of his arms. As the watchers craned their necks upward, the cutpurses squirmed through the press, small blades hidden in their palms. They relieved the prosperous of their coin with one hand while pointing upward with the other.

When the fiery ladder stood forty feet high, the mage leapt forward and began to climb it, scrambling up hand over hand as quick as a monkey. Each rung he touched dissolved behind him, leaving no more than a wisp of silver smoke. When he reached the top, the ladder was gone and so was he.

“No trick,” a woman said in the Common Tongue.

Dany had not noticed Quaithe in the crowd, yet there she stood, eyes wet and shiny behind the implacable red lacquer mask. “What mean you, my lady?”

“Half a year gone, that man could scarcely wake fire from dragonglass. He had some small skill with powders and wildfire, sufficient to entrance a crowd while his cutpurses did their work. He could walk across hot coals and make burning roses bloom in the air, but he could no more aspire to climb the fiery ladder than a common fisherman could hope to catch a kraken in his nets.”

Dany looked uneasily at where the ladder had stood. Even the smoke was gone now, and the crowd was breaking up, each man going about his business. In a moment more than a few would find their purses flat and empty. “And now?”

“And now his powers grow, Khaleesi. And you are the cause of it.”

This revelation alone makes Dany III one of the most important chapters in all of A Song of Ice and Fire, in it’s own low-key way, because of how rarely we actually get explanations from GRRM about the larger forces shaping the world (although to be fair, that’s part of a deliberate strategy to keep the magic irrational, primal, and occult rather than “I cast Magic Missile at the darkness.”). At the same time, it’s a pretty ambiguous statement; we don’t really know whether the dragons have caused magic to return to the world, or whether the return of magic allowed the return of dragons to the world after so many failures to bring that about. After all, magic was clearly extant to some extent  prior to the birth of Dany’s dragons: White Walkers and zombies appear in the Prologue, Bran Stark’s visions and the first signs of warging come in early in AGOT, Mirri Maz Duur’s spells worked, and so on. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that the dragons are acting as a kind of catalyst – even if they aren’t the prime mover, they intensify magic around the world.

It’s also a revelation that raises more questions than it really answers – for example, the difficult question of R’hllorism (more on this in Davos II) and whether Melisandre and her peers are genuinely channeling the divine or whether they’re just really religious mages. We know from Dany III of AGOT that shadowbinding is practiced in Asshai; here we learn that the fire magic (as practiced by Melisandre at the Battle of Castle Black and Benerro in ADWD) isn’t exclusive to the faith either. So at the moment the only forms of magic that are genuinely unique to R’hllorism are clairvoyance through pyromancy, healing via laying on hand, and fire-based resurrection. And even then, the only piece of evidence that there’s something here other than spells-as-prayers is Beric Dondarrion, but that’s a subject for another day.

Finally, on re-read I’m curious what was meant, precisely, by “waking fire from dragonglass.” On a mundane level, obsidian is a good firestarting material, but given the “ice and fire” part of the series title, and the idea that dragons are not just beasties but “fire made flesh,” I’m a little suspicious GRRM was merely giving some good wilderness survival tips. On the other hand, if there’s a deeper meaning there, I’m not sure what it is.

But once she’s done updating Dany on the state of the magical union, Quaithe of the Shadow (clearly the Zelig of ASOIAF) is on hand to give Dany an important warning: “You must leave this city soon, Daenerys Targaryen, or you will never be permitted to leave it at all.”  This warning (confirmed by the plots of Xaro Xhoan Daxos and Pyat Pree) is a big part of the reason why I’ve been hammering on and on about Qarth-as-Fairie. The essence of  Fairie is that if you succumb to the temptation of glamour and enchantment (and I’m always reminded of Terry Pratchett’s introduction to Lords and Ladies about the underlying meanings of the adjectives we use to describe things that are beautiful), you’re going to accidentally eat the pomegranate seeds or the lotus-leaves and you’re going to be trapped.

But that’s not all: Quaithe also has a prophecy to give Dany! And that’s really important, because as I’ve been arguing, Dany in ACOK is a prophet figure. This is Dany’s reward for looking past the surface level and seeing the truth about Qarth – she gets to continue on her destiny rather than getting trapped and forced to live a life of unimaginable luxury high off her gourd as sorcerous vampires slowly eat her soul. And what is her destiny?

“Where would you have me go?”

“To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.”

“What is there in Asshai that I will not find in Qarth?”

“Truth.”

Now, this prophecy is a mere amuse-bouche compared to the Caligula-esque all-you-can-gorge buffet that is the next Dany chapter, but there’s some interesting things we can pull out of it:

  • First, we can learn about where Dany is going – she’s going West to Westeros because everything about her family and her childhood will drive her to do so, and she’s going to the North because the White Walkers are going to break come streaming over the ruins of the Wall and Dany’s conception of queen-as-mother will drive her to do so, and she’s going back to deal with the Dothraki because GRRM doesn’t like leaving loose ends untied (although it’s interesting that Dany takes up the mantra “if I look back, I am lost” when prophecy is telling her to do the complete opposite).
  • Second, we can see that Dany’s already done a lot of this prophecy – in her trip from Pentos to Vaes Dothrak to the Lhazareen to Qarth, she’s already gone south and east, and along the way has become the Mother of Dragons and the Breaker of Chains. This is one of the main reasons, by the way, that I don’t hold with the circumnavigation theory – Dany’s already done that part of the prophecy, there’s no need to re-do it.
  • Third, and this is probably the more controversial of my opinions on this section, I think the reference to the light and the shadow shows that GRRM originally intended Dany to go to Asshai – and has since realized that his gardener-like writing style means he can no longer do that. If Dany’s time in Slaver’s Bay had taken up less time, there might have been enough time for her to get to Asshai and all the way back to Westeros without putting the entire North plot on hold for way too long, but as it stands, I think Asshai is now out of the picture.

However, I do want to leave you with this disquieting thought. As I’ve described the layout of Dany III (and IV), Quaithe serves as the third who breaks the pattern, the one “wise man” who’s actually trying to help Dany achieve her destiny and not pursue her own agenda. But what if instead the structure is that Quaithe is just like the other two, and actually out for her own ends? After all, as we’ve seen the prophecies that Dany learns have a negative impact on her future behavior, with the best example being the way that the three betrayals prophecy has made her far more paranoid than she was before. So what if Quaithe is using Dany as a blunt instrument of prophecy, even if she knows that doing so will be the worse for Dany personally?

What Was Jorah’s Original Plan?

The final point I want to address before I jump into the historical stuff is the role that Jorah plays. Now, granted that Jorah’s selfish paranoid attitude towards other men is not a good basis for any kind of relationship (romantic or otherwise) between himself and Dany, but ironically in Qarth it actually works for Dany. Because he’s such a suspicious bastard, Jorah’s the one who figures out Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ scheme, and who keeps Dany looking for the razor blade hidden in the candy (which will be vitally important for her in the House of the Undying).

At the same time, we know from ASOS that Jorah is still spying on Dany while claiming loyalty to her – however, I think the situation might be somewhat more complicated than rank betrayal. To begin with, we know that Varys and Illyrio are part of a conspiracy to put a Targaryen on the Iron Throne, so that sending reports to Varys doesn’t necessarily mean sending reports to Robert Baratheon – unless Varys thinks that he can hurry up the invasion that way. However, this chapter gives us reason to question Jorah’s loyalty to the Varys/Illyrio Conspiracy:

“I would be glad to leave this city, if truth be told…but not for Asshai.”

“Where, then?”

“East…Illyrio would sell you as quickly as he would a slave.”

For a paid informant, Jorah works awfully hard in this chapter (and indeed, all the way through ASOS) to undermine Dany’s trust in Illyrio and disrupt Illyrio’s plans. I think that the same avaricious attitude that led him to try to drive away XXD, Daario, and Ser Barristan was also leading Jorah to try out his own conspiracy. Namely, Jorah was hoping to sever Dany from anyone else’s plans so that he could marry her himself and either become the power behind her throne or get her to settle for the easy life as he’d proposed previously. It may well be that one of the temptations of Qarth was made on Bear Island.

Historical Analysis:

So let’s talk about the politics of Qarth and some potential historical parallels. On the one hand, the deviousness, corruption, and seemingly meaningless competition between the various factions is quite reminiscent of the Byzantine tradition of mediating politics through the demes – professional fan clubs for the chariot racing teams of Constantinople:

After all, at the end of the day, what precisely is the difference between a Blue or a Green? And yet, despite the inherent meaningless of these divisions, thousands of people died because of these divisions.

On the other hand, the deep interconnections between commerce and politics are highly reminiscent of Renaissance Italy. The Pureborn, for example, could see a parallel with the nobility who claimed unbroken (and highly dubious) lines of descent from the Roman Republic, and held themselves above the mere merchants and bankers. At the same time, just as there is little that practically divides the Pureborn from the merchant guilds (especially in the desire for money), many of these same families claiming ancient ennoblement were up to their necks in commerce and mercenary work as they were in statecraft or the church.

What If?

So there’s a couple interesting hypotheticals here:

  • the Qartheen said yes? If Dany got her fleet at this moment, a lot of things change. On a character level, just as Stannis’ defeat at the Blackwater is key in forcing him to undergo character growth without which he would have been an absolutely awful king, short-circuiting Dany’s rise to power would have made her a far less politically capable ruler, and critically one without much of an idea of what to do with power once she got it. Speaking of which, one of the major changes that would have come from this is that Slaver’s Bay would have remained unliberated. In addition to changing the lives of tens of thousands for the worse and better, this would dramatically reshape Volantine politics (link), as well as rerouting the lives of Tyrion and Jorah, Victarion and Moqorro, Quentyn and Co. and many other characters.
  • Dany had said yes to Xaro Xhoan Daxos? A bad marriage promise isn’t impossible to get around – usually people in fairy-tales who try to trap other people with promises demanded in ill faith come to bad ends, and it’s quite likely that Drogon would have been no more willing to call the Qartheen merchant his master than he was with Kraznys mo Nakloz. On the other hand, I wonder if Dany getting burned by a bad political marriage would have made her a little bit more cautious about Hizdahr zo Loraq or any of her other future husbands.
  • Dany went to Asshai? Here’s one where I don’t really have very much in the way of answers, because we know almost nothing about Asshai. However, my guess is that GRRM set up Asshai as a city of sorcery as a kind of threefold revelation thing about Dany’s destiny and the truth of her past – first she gets some hints at the House of the Undying, then Quaithe and Ser Barristan fill in more of the details, then she gets the motherload in Asshai. Ultimately, I think GRRM is going to arrive at the same place – namely, Dany going through a process of enlightenment – but just do it in a different place through different means. Possibly this is why Marwyn the Mage became so much more prominent later in the series?

Book vs. Show:

As I said last time, Benioff and Weiss badly mishandled this section in Season 2, and it’s a case where decisions made early in the production process have negative implications later on. Here, because they’d set up that the Qartheen aren’t interested in Dany, they can’t set up the situation where Dany becomes a universal object of fascination and desire to the point where she’s got enough cash that she can offer inducements to people to try to get ships. When Dany’s pleas to the Pureborn are foregrounded by the fact that they’ve taken bribes and reneged, you’re on her side; when Dany is simply shouting at the Spice King that he should give her ships because she’s special, she seems like an entitled Viserys clone. Likewise, the loss of this context robs character moments of foreshadowing – if we’re shown ahead of time that the Qartheen are false dealers, then XXD’s betrayal carries greater resonance; if we’re shown ahead of time that Dany’s dragons are bringing magic back into the world, then Pyat Pree’s plans to capture her and the dragons to use as an eternal magical battery make more sense.

And what makes all of this so frustrating is that, when you look at what I call the David Lynch Garden Party, and you look at the costuming, the set design, the simple bit of camera magic to produce the Pyat Prees, there really was the potential to make Qarth the bizarre, dreamlike place of temptation and revelation that it should have been.

Such a waste.

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52 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Daenerys III, ACOK

  1. Iñigo says:

    Great work!

    Funny how Qartheen failing to help Dany provoques a revolution that could end their precious status quo and their life of luxuries.

    • winnie says:

      The series has always had its share of irony. By throwing Selmy out of the KG for instance Joff and Cersei may have saved Dany’s life from a manticore bite.

      My favorite is still that honest to a fault Ned did a much MUCH better job of hiding a bombshell revelation of royal paternity than practiced schemers Jaime and Cersei.

  2. Thank you for noting that Quaithe might not be on the up and up either. I see way too much assumption that she’s the one truly on Dany’s side and it drives me nuts.

    • Winnie says:

      It’s not that she’s necessarily deceiving Dany or not on the up and up-it’s that she (like everyone else in this series) has her own agenda and it may not be identical with Dany’s. I could easily see Quaithe accurately reporting the shadow end of the prophecy but doing so through the lens of having reasons of her own for wanting Dany in Asshai, (possibly for the good of the Shadow lands,) and this coloring her advice. Like Jorah might well believe its better for Dany to rebuild Vaes Tolorro, instead of conquering the Seven Kingdoms but subconsciously he’s advancing his own interests.

      And prophecy by definition is always a two edged sword.

  3. winnie says:

    Great analysis as always Steve. Gotta say Season 2 in Qarth doesn’t make me optimistix for Dany roaming the Dothraki sea on Season 6. (And now its officially 8 seasons!)

    Though, to be fair to D&D the vault reveal was a classic take on fairyland tropes and I did like the idea of them raiding Xaro’s place for the ship cash better than Dany getting the ships from Illyrio. It was more proactive of her.

    Yeah no Asshai but I think there will be a metaphorical shadow-perhaps in a vision?

  4. John says:

    Good points about Asshai and Marwyn. Seems like Moqorro could have an impact in that regards as well.

    • Winnie says:

      My guess is Moqorro’s gonna rig the horn so Dany can finally get some much needed control over those dragons.

      Don’t know if they’ll still bother with Moqorro and/or the horn in the show. But it is safe to say that they won’t need Vic to be the go between there.

      FYI, I’m NOT excited about another season/book of Dany wandering the Dothraki sea-but maybe just maybe they’ll keep the interlude short or find a way to pleasantly surprise me with something really cool. I wouldn’t be averse to Dany conceiving a living heir for instance…

  5. They will bend the knee says:

    Good read, as always.

    Those past few years I was worried the show GoT would catch up with the ASOIAF books. Now I worry you will finish your CpC analysis before TWoW is being published. 😉

    • Winnie says:

      If we’re lucky, then Martin will be announcing the TWOW release date as Sasquen, and get Book 6 before Season 6 at least.

      Ideally I would like to get TWOW before Steve got to Sansa’s chapters in Blackwater or at least Sansa Book 3, because I suspect that what happened there was important build-up for the direction of Alayne’s story (wherever that leads) and I’d like that perspective. ESPECIALLY if I’m right about Sansa being the YMBQ, then Book Six could give us some clarity on that or not. (Dany after all is always possible as well.) For that matter the show Season 6, even without TWOW (and even with 8 seasons) might offer up some hints-they do like foreshadowing.

  6. Grant says:

    A few links missing presently:

    To begin with, we know that Varys and Illyrio are part of a conspiracy (link) to put a Targaryen on the Iron Throne, so that sending reports to Varys doesn’t necessarily mean sending reports to Robert Baratheon – unless Varys thinks that he can hurry up the invasion that way (link).

    And Martin certainly crammed in a lot more details and setup in the early books than there was room for with the number of books that are planned for. I have to wonder if some things like the Drowned God and possible undersea people mentioned by the WOIAF and Patchface were other things originally planned that aren’t going to be realized now.

  7. Chinoiserie says:

    Daenerys’s husband Hizzy zo Lizzy (as I call him) has the most difficult name of all the Essosi chacarcters, not Xaro.

    I feel it is good that we are left with the feeling after Quarth that while we did not excaply like the place it was interesting we would have liked to see a bit more. It is better to be left wanting than to be sick of something like we are with Meereen even of GRRM probably made that partly on purpose so we will feel like Dany.
    And I enjoyed show Quarth. I feel maybe the Spice King should have been more unlikeable and Dany not complain about him to his face and a few more visions in the House of Undying but I feel it worked dispite being different. I do not think show audience would have responded to book Quarth storyline better and I feel show Quarth had a pretty low budget so we would not have seen more of the city.

    • Winnie says:

      Yeah, its not clear the book’s version of Qarth would have worked on screen anyway either. (Existential dreamy spiritual crises seldom do.) And it was always going to seem jarringly disconnected from Westeros. The most interesting part anyway was all the prophecies in the House of the Undying and there’s a limit to how many of those the show could do without giving the whole game away anyway.

      It’s kinda like the situation for Dorne in Season 5-yes it was clearly the worst part by far, but it’s not like they had the best source material to work with hence the problems. Hell Qarth was actually better material than Dorne-and Dany Season 2 is of course still better than Dorne Season 5. So I can sort of forgive D&D for that one and even understand why they sent Jaime and Bronn there in an attempt to improve the storyline. (And to be fair Jaime/Bronn *were* great together even if they couldn’t salvage the overall subplot.)

      It’s things like putting poor Sansa in Jeyne Poole’s role, that I truly can’t forgive.

      • Amestria says:

        Maybe if they had completely changed the genre and animated the Qartheen segments as a psychedelic dream experience (the actors becoming voice actors)?

  8. Haku says:

    About waking fire from obsidian, we learn in AFFC that the final lesson to be a maester is to try to light an obsidian candle, but no one was able to do it. Yet it appears that it’s one of the most basic magics…

    • AHA! Yes, I thought there was something there.

    • Winnie says:

      Well the Citadel helped kill the dragons and are generally uninterested in magic so that could be part of the problem.

      Also on reflection while you didn’t see it so much in Qarth there did seem to be other indications on the show that magic was returning to the world mostly in the form of how it was guiding events in Westeros, like Bran’s visions, and Mel’s antics.

      • Space Oddity says:

        MAYBE killed the dragons. Marwyn just screams “self-righteous paranoid bastard” to my eyes, and yet almost everyone takes the Grand Maester Conspiracy Theory as gospel…

        • Andrew says:

          How would Marwyn being a “self-righteous paranoid bastard” contribute to the plot? How would a false conspiracy contribute to anything?

          Also, how did the dragons that survive the Dance die off? We aren’t given any mentions of dragonslayers. On top of that, the last dragon was very sickly to the point it couldn’t take flight. That suggests poison to me.

          The attitude of maesters towards magic seems to be generally anti-magic.

          • witlesschum says:

            Natural ebb and flow of magic plus the fact that dragons as made by Valyrians are magical creatures created by blood sorcery, so they’re somewhat unstable.

            And Marwyn being wrong about some things but right about others would make him like most of Martin’s characters. Knowing you can’t trust everything he says makes him and the story more interesting.

    • Andrew says:

      And Marwyn has managed to do it, and as we have later learned, Urrathon Nightwalker in Qarth does as well.

  9. Winnie says:

    And now I’m wondering if (story wise) it wouldn’t have been better to have Dany sail to Asshai instead of Slaver’s Bay and thus avoid the Mereenese knot. But perhaps Dany as breaker of chains was better than whatever the heck she was going to be doing in the Land of Shadows. No way to know.

    Martin has all these prophecies that *must* be fulfilled one way or another and all these Chekhovian guns, (like latecomers to Kingsmoot,) but his gardening style may send the stories someplace else entirely.

  10. Brett says:

    Quaithe manipulating Daenerys to carry out the prophecy seems quite logical. It would make her a counterpart to Melisandre, who is also from Asshai. I also agree with you that Asshai was probably going to be a Major Revelation originally, since the Worldbook makes it clear that’s immensely magical, immensely old, and connected to fire magic (my pet belief is that Ancient Asshai destroyed itself and brought about the Long Night).

    The “fire from the dagger” might be a hint towards Sam killing the Other in the next book, where it’s described as “smoking” after it does its work. Maybe that’s a way to keep warm in the face of Other-driven cold as well, drawing heat from dragonglass.

  11. Keith B says:

    Thoros resurrected Beric Dondarrion for the first time before the dragons hatched. He’d never previously been successful at performing magic. That’s at least some indication that magic getting stronger came first.

    • David Hunt says:

      I thought Thoros mentioned to Arya that he’d had occasional successes at gaining visions via fire-gazing before they sent him off to convert Aerys. Also, I think he mentioned the the Alchemist had better tricks then “his paltry fire magics” or some such, indicating that he had some small capabilities. I hope I’m not imagining that, because I can remember it clearly. If I’m wrong, I’m really mixed up.

      • Keith B says:

        Yes, in ASOS, Arya 8. I remembered that Gendry told Thoros he was a fraud, and Thoros agreed. It’s clear, though, that Thoros has much more magical power than he did, and there doesn’t seem to be an identifiable cause.

  12. Fabrimuch says:

    As a gay man, I never really thought Xaro was gay? I always thought his disinterest in Dany’s bare breast was because Qartheen culture doesn’t erotisize breasts. I mean, the one-breast dress is standard female clothing in Qarth, Xaro probably sees them every day, he wouldn’t be aroused by them for the same reason we are not aroused by bare ankles nowadays (as opposed to in the 1800s, when that part of the body was fetishized).

    It’s one of the things that’s always bothered me about ASOIAF: in interviews Martin says writing gay characters has always been important to him in this saga, but then he buries them so deep in the subtext that most readers were shocked when the show portrayed Renly and Loras as homosexual. Admittedly, he has gotten slightly better at this with that one mercenary in Tyrion’s last ADWD chapter whose “… friend” had died and Myranda openly musing that she’d seduce Royce faster with a plump sausage under her skirt in Alayne’s preview Winds chapter. But it still irks me that in a series where Jaime and Cersei can have incestuous sex next to their son’s corpse and casual rape is thrown around every other chapter as background decoration saying “Oh yeah, Renly and Loras? They’re gay btw” is too squicky for him to write.

    • jpmarchives says:

      It might be simply that the POVs don’t allow Martin to be at least a little more explicit when referring to the sexuality of characters. All the main ones are straight after all.

      Then again, I interpret that Jon Connington is gay, but his avoidance of intimate encounters can also be placed on his greyscale, so maybe there is some unintended squeamishness going on.

    • witlesschum says:

      I think it’s clear we’re supposed to think of Xaro as gay, as the rest of the line is Dany noticing he keeps all sorts of attractive young men around his palace. I did have the same thought, though, that maybe because it’s conventional it’s not hot anymore.

      I guess I have a hard time believing that most readers didn’t notice Renly and Loras. It’s pretty obvious by A Feast for Crows, where it’s clear at least Jaime and Cersei both think Loras and Renly were a couple and Loras calls Renly the sun.

      I think what Martin’s doing is choosing to portray his medieval setting with the interpretation that they didn’t really have a concept of gay and straight as what we’d call orientations. Obviously people felt that way, but society didn’t have a name for it, more or less.

      The World of Ice and Fire is more blatant about gay and lesbian characters from the past, though it still doesn’t use those terms.

      • John says:

        There were obviously some deeply unobservant people who didn’t realize that Renly and Loras were lovers. I don’t think those people qualify as “most book readers.”

  13. Sean C. says:

    Your interpretation of this is quite compelling, I must say. I haven’t thought much about the Qarth story in a long time, it not being a part of the narrative I ever felt keen to revisit.

    From the way you describe Qarth, though, it’s easy to see why GRRM’s depiction of Essos draws a lot of flak for Orientalism.

    • artihcus022 says:

      I would say that Essos, East of Volantis, draws a lot of inspiration from Robert E. Howard which is very much super-orientalist. But GRRM estranges it enough that “orientalism” is by no means the primary or only facet of his portrayal. Qarth is very much an Arabian Nights influenced dreamscape, think City of Brass only here the opulence is still alive.

  14. Benjamin Holm says:

    Interesting analysis. I’m no expert on fantasy, but your discussion of the easy life and temptation that has to be resisted struck home to me, having grown up Catholic that’s a theme that is constantly hammered on. Might just be my personal experience, but i’ve constantly gotten the general idea that entertainment and the good life is bad, and to be avoided to a large extent. Perhaps engage in it to a very limited way, but avoid it as best you can. Not sure if that’s where that theme generally came from or if it’s possible to really know that, but that’s what it reminded me of.

  15. Amestria says:

    Qarth also deadens empathy and makes people treat appearances as everything, consciously and unconsciously. While Dany is staying in Xaro’s mansion she gives nary a thought to his personal slaves, “the beautiful BOYS who surrounded the merchant prince, flitting through his palace halls in wisps of silk.” She only observes her host’s apparent sexual interest in them, which she finds wryly amusing rather then completely horrifying (as they make his protestations of love vaguely ridiculous). In Dance she tells Xaro that his slaves “seemed well treated and content.” Well they would seem that way, wouldn’t they? Qarth is all about that sort of thing. But the reality is that Xaro regularly rapes children:

    “My pleasure barge awaits, even now,” Xaro Xhoan Daxos called out. “Turn away from this folly, most stubborn of queens. I have flutists who will soothe your troubled soul with sweet music, and A SMALL GIRL whose tongue will make you sigh and melt.”

    Dany’s secret amusement is how a Qartheen would respond to Xaro’s predilections (oh Xaro, you kidder, who are you fooling?).

  16. Amestria says:

    Kind of disappointed that your What-If section did not include a section where Dany accepts Xaro’s offer and becomes a fixture of Qartheen society…for a time, until her cute wittle dragons get really big and start scaring/eating people 😛

  17. Amestria says:

    “As with Volantis, there is a strong emphasis on ostentation and opulence – everything in Qarth is huge and made out of multiple [precious –] ”

    There seems to be a typo here at the end

  18. Andrew says:

    Another good recap, Steven.

    1. “For all her Targaryen blood, Dany had not the least idea of how to train a dragon.”
    For the nonce her dragons are swords without hilts. She has the world’s most deadly weapons, but no idea how to control them.

    2. “Rhaegal sniffed at the wine, and drew his head back hissing.”

    Perhaps a way of saying how Dany feels towards Xaro’s offer.

  19. Max says:

    It always puzzled me the “go east to go west” thing, like how was GRRM going to make that happen? But now with your analysis i see that it already happened… Never considered that Dany had already completed some of the prophecy before ever hearing it. This is why I follow your posts; they make realize things I may have missed and make ASOIAF that much more fun to be a fan of.

  20. gavinbyrnes says:

    Great as always, but I have to take issue with one small thing. I was disappointed that you said Pyat Prees instead of Pyats Pree. Never turn down the internal plural opportunity!

  21. Steven Xue says:

    First of all I like to say great work as always. I don’t get much free time these days because of my busy life but reading your stuff has become quite an enjoyable past time.

    Anyway how’s this for a What If?
    What if Dany didn’t appeal to the elites of Qarth for support?

    For one thing rather than squandering the wealth she acquired, she leaves Qarth once she has gathered up enough treasure. This means she will have enough money to pay for a large army of sellswords and ships (so she claims) and could have invaded Westeros in the midst of the War of Five Kings. Also if she still heads for Astapor, she could actually buy the Unsullied with gold this time rather than trading Drogon (although she may not get the entire army and may still turn the tables on the Wise Masters).

    Do you think this hypothetical would of had interesting implications?

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      It says that she could have bought *a* ship, and *scores* of sellswords. A score being 20, *scores* likely means, what, 80? 100? A nice bodyguard with the ability to rotate in fresh bodies and spares, but you need a lot more than that for an army. The gifts she gets, just like the rest of Qarth are ultimately meaningless.

  22. […] how they once appeared, or how they want to appear, the adjectives are as lush and overpowering as Qarth itself – sumptuous, kingly, perfect, handsome – and the visual descriptions are once again a […]

  23. […] knowing more than Tyrion, as GRRM carefully drip-feeds information about Dany, the dragons, and the return of magic to his characters in Westeros. One of the things I disliked about Season 3 of Game of Thrones is […]

  24. […] a weird place for her prophet’s narrative to end. Having survived the ordeal of the desert, passed the test of worldly temptation, and undergone a dream quest in the House of the Undying, she now….dickers around a bit with […]

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