Daughter of Death: A Song of Ice and Fire’s Shakespearean Tragic Hero

Introduction

Lear. Hamlet. Othello…

And Daenerys.

GRRM draws explicit connections between these three timeless tragedies and Daenerys Targaryen, lighting the path for us to understand the trajectory of her story.

And when the bleak dawn broke over an empty horizon, Dany knew that he was truly lost to her. “When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east,” she said sadly. “When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When my womb quickens again, and I bear a living child. Then you will return, my sun-and-stars, and not before.”

Never, the darkness cried, never never never.

Inside the tent Dany found a cushion, soft silk stuffed with feathers. She clutched it to her breasts as she walked back out to Drogo, to her sun-and-stars. If I look back I am lost. It hurt even to walk, and she wanted to sleep, to sleep and not to dream.

She knelt, kissed Drogo on the lips, and pressed the cushion down across his face. (AGOT, Daenerys IX)

Here the text makes clear references to three of Shakespeare’s tragedies:

King Lear

Never, the darkness cried, never never never.

As Lear says his final words clutching his beloved daughter, Cordelia’s dead body, he laments the time when Cordelia will return:

Never, never, never, never, never! (King Lear, 5.3.207)

Hamlet

Then, Dany speaks of the pain she feels, from the birth but also from losing her sun-and-stars:

She wanted to sleep, to sleep and not to dream.

Everyone knows the famous lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy, in which he muses “to be or not to be.” Hamlet ruminates on suicide, and contemplates ending his life. Here, he says:

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

(Hamlet, 3.1.72–74)

Again, Dany puts a slight twist on it. In her grief, we see her echo Hamlet’s words and long for her own death as well. She, too, wants to sleep, wants to die and for there to be no more dreams—and so no more suffering. But Dany stands in contrast to Hamlet, despite referencing him, because Hamlet shows both curiosity and fear of death and its dreams.

Othello

And finally, we come to Drogo’s death. The text here speaks only of Dany’s actions, and not how she feels. We see that she kisses him before she finally smothers him to death.

She knelt, kissed Drogo on the lips, and pressed the cushion down across his face.

In Othello, the titular character battles with himself as he nurses his jealousy, his love and his hate for his wife Desdemona, whom he falsely believes to have cheated on him with one of his closest captains. His jealousy, stoked by Iago, drives him to believe that Desdemona has wronged him, and he thinks on how he must kill her.

O balmy breath, that dost almost persuade

Justice to break her sword! [He kisses her.] One

more, one more.

Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee

And love thee after. One more, and <this> the last.

<He kisses her.>

(Othello, 5.2.17–21)

As Othello resigns himself to kill his beloved, the stage direction shows that he kisses Desdemona in her sleep before he confronts Desdemona, then kills her.

It is too late.

<He> smothers her.

(Othello, 5.2.105)

The stage direction shows us the method which Othello uses to kill Desdemona: He smothers her in their bed—just as Daenerys does for Drogo.

By making explicit reference to these three plays, the text places Daenerys in a specific context and teaches the reader how to interpret her character, her storyline and its trajectory.

Defining The Shakespearean Tragedy

As we know, there are many ideas of what constitutes a tragic performance. Aristotle listed his rules in Poetics, and we see some of these facets in Tyrion’s storyline.

Like the old Greek playwrights, Shakespeare had his own elements to crafting his plays. For example, most people are familiar with how these tragedy plays end: Death.

And while that’s true, Shakespeare’s tragedies retain their power because they speak of more than just death. They bring to light the humanity of his characters through tragedy. Throughout Daenerys’s story, we see many of these same elements.

Literary scholar A.C. Bradley classifies the Shakespearean tragedy in his aptly named book, Shakespearean Tragedy. Tragedy, he says, is a story about “human actions producing exceptional calamity and ending in the death of such a man [in high estate].” Humanity leads to the hero, who has risen high in position, to make choices that lead to their own demise.

The hero being someone who has risen high in position is crucial to Shakespeare’s tragedy.

“Tragedy with Shakespeare is concerned always with persons of ‘high degree’; often with kings or princes; if not, with leaders in the state like Coriolanus, Brutus, Antony; at the least, as in Romeo and Juliet, with members of great houses, whose quarrels are of public moment.”

Throughout her storyline, Daenerys continues to ascend, becoming “Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Shackles, and Mother of Dragons.”

Besides the high position of the main character, Bradley defines other factors that can aid in providing the action—or the conflict—of the story:

  • temporary abnormal conditions of mind, such as Lear’s episode in the wilderness
  • supernatural encounters that provide knowledge, such as Macbeth’s encounter with the witches or the ghost of Hamlet’s father
  • influential accidents, such as Romeo missing the friar’s message about Juliet’s ruse or Desdemona’s unfortunate missing handkerchief

These factors all manifest in Dany’s storyline, as well. For example, we see Daenerys exhibit that abnormal condition of the mind when she is in the Dothraki Sea at the end of A Dance with Dragons, hallucinating her brother and Jorah.

We see Dany encounter supernatural knowledge many times, from Quaithe to the prophecies from the House of the Undying.

As Tyrion makes his way westward, he convinces Aegon to head West without Dany, coinciding with Quentyn’s untimely arrival—and demise—creating these accidents that affect our main character’s circumstances, and are outside of her control, like many facts of life.

But all these actions on their own aren’t what make Dany’s storyline into a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s how they all contribute to the conflict. Bradley says of these tragic conflicts:

“The conflict may quite naturally be conceived as lying between two persons, of whom the hero is one; or, more fully, as lying between two parties or groups, in one of which the hero is the leading figure.”

We clearly see Daenerys in many conflicts, from overcoming her brother to wrestling with the Slavers—and in time, her war for Westeros. In each of these conflicts, Dany is the leading figure.

But the true power of these tragedies lies not in external conflicts:

“There is an outward conflict of persons and groups, there is also a conflict of forces in the hero’s soul; and even in Julius Caesar and Macbeth the interest of the former can hardly be said to exceed that of the latter.

The truth is, that the type of tragedy in which the hero opposes to a hostile force an undivided soul, is not the Shakespearean type. The souls of those who contend with the hero may be thus undivided; they generally are; but, as a rule, the hero, though he pursues his fated way, is, at least at some point in the action, and sometimes at many, torn by an inward struggle; and it is frequently at such points that Shakespeare shows his most extraordinary power.”

Here we see an intersection between the “inward struggle” of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes and GRRM’s own philosophy on writing:

The human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about. I’ve always taken that as my guiding principle, and the rest is just set dressing. I mean, you can have a dragon… or even literary fiction—and ultimately you’re still writing about the human heart in conflict with itself. — George R. R. Martin

On his blog the Meereenese Blot, Adam Feldman dissects the inner struggle Daenerys has in Meereen. Dany wavers between using peaceful methods to create constructive good in Meereen versus the temptation to use violence to take what she wants. Meereen tests Dany’s values, with Daario and Drogon representing her violent side. In the test of these values, Dany resembles Macbeth, whose “treasonous ambition… collides with loyalty and patriotism in Macduff and Malcolm: here is the outward conflict. But these powers or principles equally collide in the soul of Macbeth himself: here is the inner. And neither by itself could make the tragedy.”

But Dany’s values and her wavering between peace and violence are also symptoms of her greater ambitions, which run opposite one another and provide the main internal conflict of her story. The first of these ambitions is explicit: Westeros and the Iron Throne. The other is represented by the red door.

One interpretation says that the red door symbolizes a simple life, a life where Daenerys settles down for peacefulness. It suggests that Daenerys yearns for her childhood when she didn’t have to worry about anything, fear anyone and where she felt safe, a world apart from pursuing the Iron Throne or before her abusive brother’s deteriorating mental state.

The images and feelings Daenerys associates with the red door, however, suggest otherwise.

“Home,” he said. His voice was thick with longing.

I pray for home too,” she told him, believing it.

Ser Jorah laughed. “Look around you then, Khaleesi.”

But it was not the plains Dany saw then. It was King’s Landing and the great Red Keep that Aegon the Conqueror had built. It was Dragonstone where she had been born. In her mind’s eye they burned with a thousand lights, a fire blazing in every window. In her mind’s eye, all the doors were red. (AGOT, Dany III)

Jorah tells Dany that her home is on the Dothraki Sea and among its plains. Instead, Daenerys’s idea of home manifests as King’s Landing and the Red Keep, established by the repeated imagery of the red doors.

The red door represents more than just a physical idea of home. Daenerys’s dreams, thoughts and words reveal something deeper about what Daenerys believes the red door promises, what she wants from it. Most of Daenerys’s vision of waking the dragon and the red door is below, followed by a breakdown of each section.

Wings shadowed her fever dreams.

“You don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?”

She was walking down a long hall beneath high stone arches. She could not look behind her, must not look behind her. There was a door ahead of her, tiny with distance, but even from afar, she saw that it was painted red. She walked faster, and her bare feet left bloody footprints on the stone.

“You don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?”

She saw sunlight on the Dothraki sea, the living plain, rich with the smells of earth and death. Wind stirred the grasses, and they rippled like water. Drogo held her in strong arms, and his hand stroked her sex and opened her and woke that sweet wetness that was his alone, and the stars smiled down on them, stars in a daylight sky. “Home,” she whispered as he entered her and filled her with his seed, but suddenly the stars were gone, and across the blue sky swept the great wings, and the world took flame.

“… don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?”

Ser Jorah’s face was drawn and sorrowful. “Rhaegar was the last dragon,” he told her. He warmed translucent hands over a glowing brazier where stone eggs smouldered red as coals. One moment he was there and the next he was fading, his flesh colorless, less substantial than the wind. “The last dragon,” he whispered, thin as a wisp, and was gone. She felt the dark behind her, and the red door seemed farther away than ever.

“… don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?”

The red door was so far ahead of her, and she could feel the icy breath behind, sweeping up on her. If it caught her she would die a death that was more than death, howling forever alone in the darkness. She began to run.

“… wake the dragon …”

The door loomed before her, the red door, so close, so close, the hall was a blur around her, the cold receding behind. And now the stone was gone and she flew across the Dothraki sea, high and higher, the green rippling beneath, and all that lived and breathed fled in terror from the shadow of her wings. She could smell home, she could see it, there, just beyond that door, green fields and great stone houses and arms to keep her warm, there. She threw open the door.

“… the dragon …”

And saw her brother Rhaegar, mounted on a stallion as black as his armor. Fire glimmered red through the narrow eye slit of his helm. “The last dragon,” Ser Jorah’s voice whispered faintly. “The last, the last.” Dany lifted his polished black visor. The face within was her own.

After that, for a long time, there was only the pain, the fire within her, and the whisperings of stars.

She woke to the taste of ashes. (AGOT, Dany IX)

There’s a lot to unpack about Dany’s hopes and expectations in this passage. Starting from the beginning of the passage, we first see Dany distant from the red door.

She was walking down a long hall beneath high stone arches. She could not look behind her, must not look behind her. There was a door ahead of her, tiny with distance, but even from afar, she saw that it was painted red. She walked faster, and her bare feet left bloody footprints on the stone.

The red door being ahead of her positions it as an object Dany desires. That she can clearly see “even from afar, she saw that it was painted red,” shows that Dany always holds this idea, this goal in sight.

Next and importantly, we get an idea of what “home” means for Dany:

She saw sunlight on the Dothraki sea, the living plain, rich with the smells of earth and death. Wind stirred the grasses, and they rippled like water. Drogo held her in strong arms, and his hand stroked her sex and opened her and woke that sweet wetness that was his alone, and the stars smiled down on them, stars in a daylight sky. “Home,” she whispered as he entered her and filled her with his seed, but suddenly the stars were gone, and across the blue sky swept the great wings, and the world took flame.

Home is more than just a physical place or her childhood. She names the scene “home” when she is in Drogo’s embrace and making love to him. Home may be somewhere she belongs—but most importantly, it is a place where there is someone who will hold her, be with her and love her.

This idea is echoed further down the passage:

The door loomed before her, the red door, so close, so close, the hall was a blur around her, the cold receding behind… She could smell home, she could see it, there, just beyond that door, green fields and great stone houses and arms to keep her warm, there. She threw open the door.

Behind the red door, she associates the smell of home with “arms to keep her warm,” contrasting with the cold, dark hall. Repetition of the image of arms to hold Dany and keep her warm reinforces her desire for companionship.

Language describing the contrast in temperature reveals what she hopes lies behind the red door, and language about the fate that she knows awaits her in the dark hall reveals Dany’s fears:

The red door was so far ahead of her, and she could feel the icy breath behind, sweeping up on her. If it caught her she would die a death that was more than death, howling forever alone in the darkness. She began to run.

The “icy breath” of the hallway contrasts with the promise of “arms to keep her warm.” By understanding that the concept of warmth is tied to companionship, we can understand that the cold, “icy breath” must represent the opposite: loneliness. The next sentence affirms this idea, warning that should the cold touch Dany, she would die “howling forever alone in the darkness.” In fact, Dany longs for companionship so strongly that loneliness is worse than merely dying, describing it as “a death that was more than death.”

Dany desperately wants a home as a place to belong among people. She seeks this companionship, as shown by this dream and other moments associated with the red door.

In the House of the Undying, the red door tempts her:

She fled from him, but only as far as the next open door. I know this room, she thought. She remembered those great wooden beams and the carved animal faces that adorned them. And there outside the window, a lemon tree! The sight of it made her heart ache with longing. It is the house with the red door, the house in Braavos. No sooner had she thought it than old Ser Willem came into the room, leaning heavily on his stick. “Little princess, there you are,” he said in his gruff kind voice. “Come,” he said, “come to me, my lady, you’re home now, you’re safe now.” His big wrinkled hand reached for her, soft as old leather, and Dany wanted to take it and hold it and kiss it, she wanted that as much as she had ever wanted anything. Her foot edged forward, and then she thought, He’s dead, he’s dead, the sweet old bear, he died a long time ago. She backed away and ran. (ACOK, Daenerys IV)

Inside the house with the red door was the closest thing Daenerys ever had to a parent. Darry promises Dany a home, safety and a hand to hold that would love her, what she wants more than anything.

In another dream about the red door, Dany again associates it with love, with someone she can call her husband:

“Is it Daario? What’s happened?” In her dream they had been man and wife, simple folk who lived a simple life in a tall stone house with a red door. (ADWD, Dany II)

Home is not just a house but people who love her whom she loves.

This is true when Daenerys thinks of the only time she felt the same happiness the house with the red door brought her in her last chapter of Dance:

The sight of all that grass stretching out before her had taken her breath away. The sky was blue, the grass was green, and I was full of hope. Ser Jorah had been with her then, her gruff old bear. She’d had Irri and Jhiqui and Doreah to care for her, her sun-and-stars to hold her in the night, his child growing inside her. Rhaego. I was going to name him Rhaego, and the dosh khaleen said he would be the Stallion Who Mounts the World. Not since those half-remembered days in Braavos when she lived in the house with the red door had she been as happy. (ADWD, Dany X)

The grass reminds her of the family she and Drogo were starting. And the happiness comes not from the Dothraki Sea: It comes from the people who had surrounded her.

Again, Daenerys’s true idea of home centers the feeling of belonging through love and companionship. If Daenerys sees Westeros as home, as a place where “all the doors were red,” then she ultimately hopes that returning to Westeros will bring her that sense of belonging.

And therein lies the rub, the internal conflict so central to the Shakespearean tragic hero: Returning to Westeros means ruling Westeros—and ruling means loneliness.

Power at the cost of personal relationships occurs throughout the series. Robb becomes more isolated from the people around him, spending hours alone in his room. Catelyn wants to hold and comfort her son, but she knows that it will tarnish the manly image Robb’s bannermen have of him. Robert Baratheon has few close friends as king, and Ned’s interactions with his best friend feel like walking on eggshells.

When Jon ascends to Lord Commander, his friends on the Night’s Watch move away from him, both physically and emotionally. Sam thinks of Jon, “Jon was gone. It was Lord Snow who faced him now, grey eyes as hard as ice” (AFFC, Sam I). His friends must follow Jon’s orders, even if they disagree, even if it means being stationed far from their Lord Commander, widening the gap between a brother of the Watch and the leader.

Daenerys’s storyline provides a first-hand exploration of the isolation of power. Upon winning Meereen, she mourns how distant she feels from the people around her.

Up here in her garden Dany sometimes felt like a god, living atop the highest mountain in the world.

Do all gods feel so lonely? Some must, surely. Missandei had told her of the Lord of Harmony, worshiped by the Peaceful People of Naath; he was the only true god, her little scribe said, the god who always was and always would be, who made the moon and stars and earth, and all the creatures that dwelt upon them. Poor Lord of Harmony. Dany pitied him. It must be terrible to be alone for all time, attended by hordes of butterfly women you could make or unmake at a word. (ASOS, Dany VI)

While Westerosi rulers are still made of mortal stuff, likening them to gods and the ability to “make or unmake” creates a discussion about power. By nature, power breeds inequality, when one party has the ability to decide the fate of another. That inequality creates distance.  

As a queen Dany wields absolute power over the rest of her subjects and her court. And as the Mother of Dragons, Dany wields unmatched power that can “make or unmake at a word”—Dracarys—villages, armies and kingdoms, as shown by how Aegon the Conqueror bent the will of Seven Kingdoms into one Westeros.

ASOIAF shows that Dany’s two desires of queenship and companionship run counter and cannot coexist—at least, not easily. Along with the isolating effect of power, a home built on companionship and belonging necessitates trust. The story repeatedly shows how trusting the wrong people can lead to both the loss of power and the loss of one’s life.

Within the same chapter that Dany muses upon godhood, she faces a loss of trust from Jorah, one of her closest confidantes. She later asks Missandei for loyalty:

“Your Grace?” Missandei stood at her elbow wrapped in a bedrobe, wooden sandals on her feet. “I woke, and saw that you were gone. Did you sleep well? What are you looking at?”

“My city,” said Dany. “I was looking for a house with a red door, but by night all the doors are black.”

“A red door?” Missandei was puzzled. “What house is this?”

“No house. It does not matter.” Dany took the younger girl by the hand. “Never lie to me, Missandei. Never betray me.” (ASOS, Dany VI)

Daenerys has woken from “half-remembered nightmares,” where she cannot find trust and companionship after suffering the loss of Jorah. The red door is lost to her. But this passage ends with the embodiment of her conflict: While she looks down upon “her city” as a queen, she attempts to dismiss the red door and what it means in terms of home and belonging yet in the same breath asks it from Missandei.

Throughout Dany’s storyline, she encounters other elements of the Shakespearean tragedy—supernatural encounters, temporary abnormal conditions and influential accidents—that deepen both the inner conflict she experiences while affecting the external politics of ASOIAF.

Tragic Elements in Daenerys’s Storyline

The most obvious of these elements is Dany’s supernatural encounters. In A Clash of Kings, relatively early in Dany’s storyline, she visits the House of the Undying, who function similarly to the three witches in Macbeth. Dany leaves the House of the Undying with many prophecies but only one echoes throughout her story:

“Three treasons will you know . . . once for blood and once for gold and once for love.” (ACOK, Dany IV)

“He was not born wealthy. In the world as I have seen it, no man grows rich by kindness. The warlocks said the second treason would be for gold. What does Illyrio Mopatis love more than gold?” (ASOS, Dany I)

“‘The warlocks in Qarth told you that you would be betrayed three times,’ the exile knight reminded her, as Viserion and Rhaegal began to snap and claw at each other.’” (ASOS, Dany I)

“‘All loyalties are uncertain in such times as these,” Dany reminded him. And I shall be betrayed twice more, once for gold and once for love.” (ASOS, Dany IV)

“‘Do not say that word!’ She backed away from him. ‘How could you? What did the Usurper promise you? Gold, was it gold?’ The Undying had said she would be betrayed twice more, once for gold and once for love. ‘Tell me what you were promised?’” (ASOS, Dany VI)

“‘Daenerys,’ he said, ‘I have loved you.’

And there it was. Three treasons will you know. Once for blood and once for gold and once for love.” (ASOS, Dany VI)

“The Undying of Qarth had told her she would be thrice betrayed. Mirri Maz Duur had been the first, Ser Jorah the second. Would Reznak be the third? The Shavepate? Daario? Or will it be someone I would never suspect, Ser Barristan or Grey Worm or Missandei?” (ADWD, Dany I)

“‘’What if Daario has betrayed me and gone over to my enemies?’ Three treasons will you know. ‘What if he met another woman, some princess of the Lhazarene?’” (ADWD, Dany II)

“She remembered Ben’s face the last time she had seen it. It was a warm face, a face I trusted. Dark skin and white hair, the broken nose, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Even the dragons had been fond of old Brown Ben, who liked to boast that he had a drop of dragon blood himself. Three treasons will you know. Once for gold and once for blood and once for love. Was Plumm the third treason, or the second? And what did that make Ser Jorah, her gruff old bear? Would she never have a friend that she could trust? What good are prophecies if you cannot make sense of them? If I marry Hizdahr before the sun comes up, will all these armies melt away like morning dew and let me rule in peace?” (ADWD, Dany VI)

“His hair smelled of blood and smoke and horse, and his mouth was hard and hot on hers. Dany trembled in his arms. When they broke apart, she said, ‘I thought you would be the one to betray me. Once for blood and once for gold and once for love, the warlocks said. I thought … I never thought Brown Ben. Even my dragons seemed to trust him.’ She clutched her captain by the shoulders. ‘Promise me that you will never turn against me. I could not bear that. Promise me.’” (ADWD, Dany VI)

“‘Khrazz believes the hearts of brave men make him stronger,’ said Hizdahr. Jhiqui murmured her approval. Dany had once eaten a stallion’s heart to give strength to her unborn son … but that had not saved Rhaego when the maegi murdered him in her womb. Three treasons shall you know. She was the first, Jorah was the second, Brown Ben Plumm the third. Was she done with betrayals?” (ADWD, Dany IX)

The extent to which fear of treason and betrayal rears its head in Dany’s story is staggering. These passages only represent those fears in the context of the Undying Ones’ prophecies, ignoring all the other times that Daenerys dwells on the fear for its own sake.

The effect of this prophecy on Daenerys is multifaceted: In the same hand that it promises greatness with titles such as “bride of fire,” “mother of dragons” and fates of lighting important fires, the prophecy begins to push Daenerys further from the people who surround her. She recontextualizes Mirri Maz Dur’s actions as one of the three treasons, and with every subsequent suspicion or betrayal, begins to wonder who will be the next.

Suspicion is the death of trust. Without trust, the red door and the promise of love and intimacy dissolve. Even after bringing Daario into her bed, her suspicion of him, driven by the prophecy of three treasons, divides them.

Quaithe’s appearances only exacerbate those fears. Besides her opaque recitation of compass directions, Quaithe mostly offers Daenerys warnings. First:

Last of the three seekers to depart was Quaithe the shadowbinder. From her Dany received only a warning. “Beware,” the woman in the red lacquer mask said.

“Of whom?”

“Of all. They shall come day and night to see the wonder that has been born again into the world, and when they see they shall lust. For dragons are fire made flesh, and fire is power.” (ACOK, Dany II)

This warning precedes Dany’s visit with the Undying. But Quaithe makes a reprisal in Dance, where she warns Daenerys once more:

“The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.” (ADWD, Dany II)

The effect on Dany’s trust is similar. The prophecy of the Undying feels to Dany like a surety, and she regards everyone who is already around her with suspicion. But Quaithe’s new riddle-warning drives a wedge between Daenerys and everyone she will meet, not just those who are already in her court. Quaithe’s warning also multiplies the effect of the Undying Ones’ prophecy.

And while the Undying Ones were in their building in Qarth and while Quaithe did appear before Daenerys and other characters like Jorah in Clash, which confirms that they existed externally of Dany, Quaithe’s later appearances are not quite as solid. Quaithe appears only to Daenerys, and in waking the queen and causing her to walk and talk alone at night, gives Dany an appearance of madness. This madness is ambiguous even to the readers, as Dany also sees Quaithe out in the Dothraki Sea, this time with the advice to remember herself.

But of this, A.C. Bradley says of the supernatural:

This supernatural element certainly cannot in most cases, if in any, be explained away as an illusion in the mind of one of the characters. And further, it does contribute to the action, and is in more than one instance an indispensable part of it: so that to describe human character, with circumstances, as always the sole motive force in this action would be a serious error. But the supernatural is always placed in the closest relation with character. It gives a confirmation and a distinct form to inward movements already present and exerting an influence; to the sense of failure in Brutus, to the stifled workings of conscience in Richard, to the half-formed thought or the horrified memory of guilt in Macbeth, to suspicion in Hamlet. Moreover, its influence is never of a compulsive kind. It forms no more than an element, however important, in the problem which the hero has to face; and we are never allowed to feel that it has removed his capacity or responsibility for dealing with this problem.

Just like the three witches in Macbeth and the father’s ghost in Hamlet, the Undying and Quaithe cannot be simply waved away as illusions. They propel the central conflict while casting a light on how it manifests internally. Because ultimately, Daenerys is the one nursing these anxieties about the treasons, and mistrust breeds more mistrust, both from Daenerys and those around her. The action is not “tragic” if it comes solely from an external force or fate. It must come from the tragic hero’s own doing. As Dany gains more power, which like the dragons engender lust and jealousy from others, her focus on the treasons causes her to push people away, widening the gap between rulership and companionship.

And though the ghosts of Banquo in Macbeth and the father in Hamlet may be more than illusions, there are moments when their appearances are ambiguous. The effect on the reader and surrounding characters is to question the hero’s sanity. The specter of madness, after all, hangs over Daenerys’s storyline and the Targaryens’ history.

Scholars and other characters debate Hamlet’s sanity as he launches into deathwish soliloquies and speaks to a ghost his mother cannot see (but that the audience can). Lear suffers a spell of madness in the wilderness. The tension between madness and greatness takes weight when Daenerys is contextualized with characters like Hamlet and Lear.

Of these temporary abnormal conditions, Bradley says:

Shakespeare…represents abnormal conditions of mind; insanity, for example, somnambulism, hallucinations. And deeds issuing from these are certainly not what we called deeds in the fullest sense, deeds expressive of character. No; but these abnormal conditions are never introduced as the origin of deeds of any dramatic moment. Lady Macbeth’s sleep-walking has no influence whatever on the events that follow it. Macbeth did not murder Duncan because he saw a dagger in the air: he saw the dagger because he was about to murder Duncan. Lear’s insanity is not the cause of a tragic conflict any more than Ophelia’s; it is, like Ophelia’s, the result of a conflict; and in both cases the effect is mainly pathetic [note: to inspire pathos, evoking pity or sadness]. If Lear were really mad when he divided his kingdom, if Hamlet were really mad at any time in the story, they would cease to be tragic characters.

Dance closes with Daenerys herself lost in the wilderness of the Dothraki Sea. After consuming poison berries, diseased water or both or something else, Dany’s state of tiredness and hunger worsens from an illness that causes further dehydration and presumably a miscarriage. During this state, she sees hallucinations of Quaithe, Viserys and Jorah.

Quaithe’s narrative connection to betrayal is already established. That Dany’s subconscious summons Viserys and Jorah is as intentional as Macbeth’s vision of the dagger reflecting his mental state. In the wilderness, with the exception of Drogon, Daenerys is truly alone, and Viserys and the Jorah were some of the first people to inspire true loneliness in Daenerys.

Once, he said, so bitterly it made her shudder. You were supposed to be my wife, to bear me children with silver hair and purple eyes, to keep the blood of the dragon pure. I took care of you. I taught you who you were. I fed you. I sold our mother’s crown to keep you fed.

“You hurt me. You frightened me.”

Only when you woke the dragon. I loved you. “You sold me. You betrayed me.”

No. You were the betrayer. You turned against me, against your own blood. They cheated me. Your horsey husband and his stinking savages. They were cheats and liars. They promised me a golden crown and gave me this. He touched the molten gold that was creeping down his face, and smoke rose from his finger. (ADWD, Dany IX)

As Dany’s brother, Viserys ought to have protected her. Instead, he hurt her: He exerted his power over Daenerys until the dynamics changed. As Daenerys rose in Dothraki esteem, Viserys coveted power—within the Dothraki society but also that he once held over her.

Through Viserys, Dany learns a lesson in isolation: To gain power, her brother would sell her. To protect herself and her child, she would need power. And that power would leave her as the (presumably) last Targaryen.

Jorah’s betrayal stings more:

My bear, she thought, my old sweet bear, who loved me and betrayed me. She had missed him so. She wanted to see his ugly face, to wrap her arms around him and press herself against his chest, but she knew that if she turned around Ser Jorah would be gone. “I am dreaming,” she said. “A waking dream, a walking dream. I am alone and lost.”

Lost, because you lingered, in a place that you were never meant to be, murmured Ser Jorah, as softly as the wind. Alone, because you sent me from your side.

“You betrayed me. You informed on me, for gold.”

For home. Home was all I ever wanted. “And me. You wanted me.” Dany had seen it in his eyes. (ADWD, Dany IX)

In Jorah, we see that love and the risk of betrayal are intrinsically intertwined for Dany. And Jorah, like Dany, longed for home. His actions born from that longing drive a wedge between him and Dany. Each betrayal leaves her more alone, further from the house with the red door.

Bradley says that neither Hamlet nor Lear could be truly mad during pivotal moments of the central character conflict because it would nullify their tragedy. Again, there must be true agency on the part of the character. Out in the wilderness and even as she returns to Westeros with fire and blood, Daenerys is not mad. These visions are a culmination of her arc since taking Meereen at the end of Storm.

On his blog The Meereenese Blot, Adam Feldman analyzes Daenerys’s Meereenese arc and how the last chapter signals a darker turn for her character and her choice of violence over peace. So it’s noteworthy that the moment that Daenerys makes her choice is when she is truly alone: There is no one with her but her dragon, symbolizing violence.

The decision that “dragons plant no trees” is as much from her frustration with Meereenese politics as it is her isolation in Meereen. She has no equals. She cannot relate to the citizens of her city or her court. Between her husband and her lover, she trusts neither.

And it’s no coincidence that the phrase Dany lands on is that “dragons plant no trees” when the dream of the red door is so tied to the lemon tree. The tree represents adjacent ideas to the red door’s promise of home and companionship, including safety, stability but also roots—a family. This is logical for her considering that Dany has just rehashed that the only family she had known betrayed her.

Dany’s rejection of peace and family will collide with the influential accidents sprouting in Dance. But because of the structure of ASOIAF and GRRM’s own narrative interests—which however influenced by other writers is still very much his own—Bradley’s definition of influential accidents becomes complicated within the frame of ASOIAF.

Chance or accident here will be found…to mean any occurrence (not supernatural, of course) which enters the dramatic sequence neither from the agency of a character, nor from the obvious surrounding circumstances. It may be called an accident, in this sense, that Romeo never got the Friar’s message about the potion, and that Juliet did not awake from her long sleep a minute sooner; an accident that Edgar arrived at the prison just too late to save Cordelia’s life; an accident that Desdemona dropped her handkerchief at the most fatal of moments; an accident that the pirate ship attacked Hamlet’s ship, so that he was able to return forthwith to Denmark. Now this operation of accident is a fact, and a prominent fact, of human life. To exclude it wholly from tragedy, therefore, would be, we may say, to fail in truth. And, besides, it is not merely a fact. That men may start a course of events but can neither calculate nor control it, is a tragic fact. The dramatist may use accident so as to make us feel this; and there are also other dramatic uses to which it may be put. Shakespeare accordingly admits it. On the other hand, any large admission of chance into the tragic sequence would certainly weaken, and might destroy, the sense of the causal connection of character, deed, and catastrophe. And Shakespeare really uses it very sparingly. We seldom find ourselves exclaiming, ‘What an unlucky accident!’ I believe most readers would have to search painfully for instances. It is, further, frequently easy to see the dramatic intention of an accident; and some things which look like accidents have really a connection with character, and are therefore not in the full sense accidents. Finally, I believe it will be found that almost all the prominent accidents occur when the action is well advanced and the impression of the causal sequence is too firmly fixed to be impaired.

There are two candidates for these influential accidents in Dance that will impact Dany’s later storyline and will serve similar functions. The complication with these candidates is that the Shakespearean influential accident truly is one without the will of a character. But here the writers differ, because while many of Shakespeare’s characters show great complexity, GRRM explores multiple narrators and is explicitly interested in actions that arise because of character agency. I argue for either of these candidates as the accident not because they are uncontrollable but because they seem unfortunate: Though they have roots in a character’s motivation, they have the sense of “if only this had not happened.”

The first candidate is Aegon VI turning his course from Slaver’s Bay to arrive in Westeros before Daenerys. Tyrion suggests it to the prince on a lark and gives it little thought until Jorah shares the gossip.

“Last night the talk here was all of Westeros. Some exiled lord has hired the Golden Company to win back his lands for him. Half the captains in Volantis are racing upriver to Volon Therys to offer him their ships.”

Tyrion had just swallowed another locust. He almost choked on it. Is he mocking me? How much could he know of Griff and Aegon? “Bugger,” he said. “I meant to hire the Golden Company myself, to win me Casterly Rock.” Could this be some ploy of Griff’s, false reports deliberately spread? Unless … Could the pretty princeling have swallowed the bait? Turned them west instead of east, abandoning his hopes of wedding Queen Daenerys? Abandoning the dragons … would Griff allow that? (ADWD, Tyrion VII)

That Tyrion questions this information and initially disbelieves it shows that he never truly intended or thought that Aegon would abandon Daenerys and the dragons to first win Westeros. And had Aegon been so foolish—because Tyrion does see it as foolish, considering he defines the suggestion as “bait” and his advice to keep your dragon close—Tyrion had assumed Jon Connington would keep them on this course.

The second candidate is the death of Quentyn. Everything leading up to his death in the final chapter seems unfortunate, from having the wrong password that leads to a scuffle to a trigger-happy Windblown who incenses Viserion before Quentyn can calm him. And finally, his fatal misstep of turning his back and forgetting the other dragon.

Neither of these perfectly match Bradley’s definition because they result from a character’s actions, whether that be Tyrion, Aegon or Quentyn. But so, too, do the pirates that attack Hamlet’s ship, the difference being that GRRM as an author is interested in spotlighting the motivations of characters like those pirates. There is also the explanation that with ASOIAF being unfinished, this sort of influential accident has yet to occur.

Again, I choose these two candidates because they will have a similar narrative effect on the story: A second Dance of the Dragons civil war. More specifically, Aegon arriving in Westeros before Daenerys and the death of Quentyn move the goal of “home” even further away.

“Where are the dragons?” Doran asked. “Where is Daenerys?” and Arianne knew that he was really saying, “Where is my son?” (TWOW, Arianne I)

In his Blood of the Conqueror essay series, BryndenBFish analyzes the factions and factors that will coalesce to crown Aegon VI. Naturally, Aegon VI’s decision to arrive before Daenerys gives him the opportunity to broker these alliances before Daenerys even gets to the starting line. Quentyn’s death will lose Daenerys the support of the Dornish, who under the influence of Arianne, are already likely to throw in with Aegon.

The result is that the promise Westeros holds for Daenerys is overturned. Again:

But it was not the plains Dany saw then. It was King’s Landing and the great Red Keep that Aegon the Conqueror had built. It was Dragonstone where she had been born. In her mind’s eye they burned with a thousand lights, a fire blazing in every window. In her mind’s eye, all the doors were red. (AGOT, Dany III)

Daenerys is pinning the hopes represented by the house with the red door on Westeros as her new home. She hopes that a land of people she has never met will open their arms to embrace her as queen. She hopes that in Westeros, she will finally belong.

But Daenerys has just finished uprooting the lemon tree from her vision of the red door. Combined with a resolution for violence, the potential joy of finding new family will turn to ashes in her mouth as “Aegon” wrests the return she thought was meant for her.

Because instead of finding a home, Daenerys will arrive in Westeros to find further loneliness because there she won’t be needed. There is no queenship for her but an entire nation of people who see her as an outsider, a brutal warlord when they already have their gallant Prince Aegon VI there. Instead of the loneliness of isolation, Westeros will be the loneliness of the crowd and rejection.

The loss of these alliances and Westeros to what may potentially be Aegon VI heightens the dramatic tragedy of Dany’s central conflict: Family and enemy—or betrayer—have become one and the same for Daenerys, through Aegon’s separate faction but also beginning with Viserys.

The internal conflict of rulership versus companionship manifests externally with war. As long as the goal of Westeros is represented by the Iron Throne, Westeros and home will not be the same. It injects irony into Daenerys’s story as the promise of home turns her into an outside invader. And GRRM confirms there will be a second Dance together with Teora Tolland in Winds also prophesying it:

Teora gave a tiny nod, chin trembling. “They were dancing. In my dream. And everywhere the dragons danced the people died.” (TWOW, Arianne I)

Could Daenerys acquiesce to Aegon and choose to share rulership with him or become his (second) wife if Aegon ends up wedding Arianne?

Of course but to do so would lessen Daenerys—in status, in character and especially as a Shakespearean tragic hero. The intensity of the tragic hero elevates them to be “exceptional beings,” a necessity for the dramatic effect of the reversal of fortune and to evoke awe at the greatness and piteousness of humanity.

Mother of Dragons, Bride of Fire, Slayer of Lies, The Silver Queen, Myhsa, the Unburnt, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea

“I know that she spent her childhood in exile, impoverished, living on dreams and schemes, running from one city to the next, always fearful, never safe, friendless but for a brother who was by all accounts half-mad… a brother who sold her maidenhood to the Dothraki for the promise of an army. I know that somewhere upon the grass, her dragons hatched, and so did she. I know she is proud. How not? What else was left her but pride? I know she is strong. How not? The Dothraki despise weakness. If Daenerys had been weak, she would have perished with Viserys. I know she is fierce. Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen are proof enough of that. She has survived assassins and conspiracies and fell sorceries, grieved for a brother and a husband and a son, trod the cities of the slavers to dust beneath her dainty sandaled feet.” (ADWD, Tyrion VI)

There have been criticisms that Daenerys too easily ascends to a position of power. From being homeless and the sister of a Beggar King—not even the queen—she rose to become the beloved khaleesi of a renowned khal. Even in Drogo’s fall, she birthed dragons, and overcame each obstacle that came her way. Daenerys crossed the barren Red Waste, conquered Slaver’s Bay, and eventually became Queen of Meereen.

But if the story of Dany is to be a tragedy, there is a dramatic function to how “easily” she becomes “Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Shackles, and Mother of Dragons.” Again, as Bradley says:

They are exceptional beings. We have seen already that the hero, with Shakespeare, is a person of high degree or of public importance, and that his actions or sufferings are of an unusual kind. But this is not all. His nature also is exceptional, and generally raises him in some respect much above the average level of humanity. This does not mean that he is an eccentric or a paragon. Shakespeare never drew monstrosities of virtue; some of his heroes are far from being ‘good’; and if he drew eccentrics he gave them a subordinate position in the plot. His tragic characters are made of the stuff we find within ourselves and within the persons who surround them. But, by an intensification of the life which they share with others, they are raised above them; and the greatest are raised so far that, if we fully realise all that is implied in their words and actions, we become conscious that in real life we have known scarcely any one resembling them.

Complaints that Robb and Jon paid for their mistakes while Dany did not means that Dany’s fall is meant to stand in contrast as something grander than just one slip-up. We are meant to feel something larger than we did for Ned or Robb, whose failures were used to set up the storyline and the plot. When Daenerys finally fails, it will be a defining moment that drives home what GRRM is constantly stating to be the point of his novels: the human heart in conflict with itself.

Dany’s ascension intensifies the stakes of her internal and external conflicts, and acts as a slingshot that will increase the impact of her descent:

A total reverse of fortune, coming unawares upon a man who ‘stood in high degree,’ happy and apparently secure,—such was the tragic fact to the mediaeval mind. It appealed strongly to common human sympathy and pity; it startled also another feeling, that of fear. It frightened men and awed them.

Dany’s storyline almost seems to nod at this idea that the higher she rises, the harder she will fall through the literal manifestation of riding on dragonback:

Up and up and up he’d borne her, high above the pyramids and pits, his wings outstretched to catch the warm air rising from the city’s sun baked bricks. If I fall and die, it will still have been worth it, she had thought. (ADWD, Dany IX)

And it is worth it.

The trajectory of Dany’s rise to power and the “sufferings of unusual kind” she faces inform the choices she makes and the subsequent, further challenges that arise as a result. Her leadership in Slaver’s Bay and the choice to stay in Meereen demonstrate this: Because of how she suffered under her brother and being sold to the Dothraki, she becomes set on abolishing slavery in the Slaver’s Bay.

When Astapor and Yunkai descend back into chaos and violence after Dany thinks she has liberated them, she feels a moral imperative to stay in Meereen so it won’t follow the same fate. She sets aside the longer term goal of reclaiming Westeros for the immediate but worthy goal of trying to do right by the people of the cities she sacks.

Of course, Dany’s rule is imperfect and marred by difficulty. But the moral conviction she feels for her abolitionist crusade is part of the greatness that is also her tragic trait. As Bradley writes:

In the circumstances where we see the hero placed, his tragic trait, which is also his greatness, is fatal to him. To meet these circumstances something is required which a smaller man might have given, but which the hero cannot give. He errs, by action or omission; and his error, joining with other causes, brings on him ruin.

A smaller character would have either merely bought the Unsullied or abandoned them. We see these two lesser roads in Jorah and Barristan. Jorah initially advises her to fill out her ranks by purchasing some Unsullied. Barristan publicly questions Daenerys in front of the Masters of Astapor, telling her that buying and using slaves is immoral. One choice is complicit in the system and immoral, the other permits its continuation while preserving individual purity. But neither rises to the level of revolutionary change.

The moment that moves Daenerys most, that convinces her “I will have them all, no matter the price,” is the story of the Unsullied’s training and suffering. Besides her own experiences of abuse and being sold, she thinks:

The brick pyramids were all glimmery with light. But it is dark below, in the streets and plazas and fighting pits. And it is darkest of all in the barracks, where some little boy is feeding scraps to the puppy they gave him when they took away his manhood. (ASOS, Dany II)

Though not explicitly stated, the passage evokes the empathy Daenerys feels for the Unsullied: for a little boy who has been hurt, who is given comfort and a friend that he doesn’t know he must later kill. She feels for the forced loneliness of the Unsullied, and it is loneliness that convinces her to commit violence in the plaza to free the slaves—just as it is in loneliness she chooses violence amidst the Dothraki Sea.

Her loneliness feeds her greatness. Her greatness feeds her loneliness. Of the hero’s tragic flaw, Bradley continues:

As we have seen, the idea of the tragic hero as a being destroyed simply and solely by external forces is quite alien to him; and not less so is the idea of the hero as contributing to his destruction only by acts in which we see no flaw. But the fatal imperfection or error, which is never absent, is of different kinds and degrees… It is important to observe that Shakespeare does admit such heroes, and also that he appears to feel, and exerts himself to meet, the difficulty that arises from their admission. The difficulty is that the spectator must desire their defeat and even their destruction; and yet this desire, and the satisfaction of it, are not tragic feelings…

The tragic hero with Shakespeare, then, need not be ‘good,’ though generally he is ‘good’ and therefore at once wins sympathy in his error. But it is necessary that he should have so much of greatness that in his error and fall we may be vividly conscious of the possibilities of human nature. Hence, in the first place, a Shakespearean tragedy is never, like some miscalled tragedies, depressing. No one ever closes the book with the feeling that man is a poor mean creature. He may be wretched and he may be awful, but he is not small. His lot may be heart-rending and mysterious, but it is not contemptible.

Bradley cites examples of some of these flaws, such as Hamlet neglecting his duty or Antony pursuing a doomed course. For Daenerys, one way it will manifest is through the resolution to use violence to bend the will of the Ghiscari, the other Free Cities and later Westeros.

Through Quentyn’s chapters, we see people are already spreading rumors that the dragonqueen is mad, bathing in the blood of virgins among other vices. Using violence in Essos and later in Westeros will only fuel those rumors. But on the other side of the silver queen’s mythos, Aemon and some of the red priests have begun to believe that Daenerys fulfills prophecies of a promised prince or Azor Ahai.

Besides personal feelings of duty to the Targaryen legacy, part of Dany’s pursuit of the Iron Throne is born from a sense of destiny. But if Daenerys is to be a Shakespearean tragic hero, her demise cannot be rooted in destiny. It must be her own choice and doing. Bradley explains:

We find practically no trace of fatalism in its more primitive, crude and obvious forms. Nothing, again, makes us think of the actions and sufferings of the persons as somehow arbitrarily fixed beforehand without regard to their feelings, thoughts and resolutions. Nor, I believe, are the facts ever so presented that it seems to us as if the supreme power, whatever it may be, had a special spite against a family or an individual.

It’s significant, after all, that up until this point in the books, the prophecies of Daenerys don’t foretell if she becomes queen or if she dies. That itself wouldn’t have precluded Dany as a Shakespearean tragic hero: After all, Macbeth is warned that no man born of a woman could harm him and that he will only fall when Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. It is, however, integral that the character’s nature and actions bring this prophecy to pass, that it feeds the character’s dramatic nature. That another path could be possible is necessary, and that the vision of Dany’s unborn child, Rhaego, does not come to pass helps wipe the feeling of fatalism.

Dany’s rise to power and eventual demise are tragic because they come from her own force of character. As discussed earlier, prophecies serve to heighten and exaggerate what already exists in the tragic hero. So, too, does the elimination of fate:

All this makes us feel the blindness and helplessness of man. Yet by itself it would hardly suggest the idea of fate, because it shows man as in some degree, however slight, the cause of his own undoing… Why is it that a man’s virtues help to destroy him, and that his weakness or defect is so intertwined with everything that is admirable in him that we can hardly separate them even in imagination?

Fire and blood may ignite the revolution the slaves in Ghis and the Free Cities long for but it is not the stability necessary for survival, especially with the Long Night ahead. Similarly, fire and blood may be how Aegon the Conqueror took Westeros 300 years ago, but with an existing Targaryen figurehead in the silver prince’s “son,” Aegon VI, the violence that Daenerys will use to secure a home will only alienate them.

Whether or not she is exactly a villain to the reader is both unimportant and ambiguous. Greatness is not necessarily synonymous with goodness so much as grandeur. But she will feel like a villain to the Westerosi, as she burns their villages and crops ahead of a hard winter.

The more Dany fights to hold them, the more they slip through her fingers. Even for the readers, there’s an understanding that there is a threat rising in the North. Just as Hamlet seems to shirk royal responsibility in pursuance of his uncle’s guilt and vengeance for his father, Daenerys perpetuating a costly war in terms of lives and resources when there is a greater threat will also feel irresponsible to the reader.

Of the death of the tragic hero, Bradley writes that while fate is not the culprit, neither is “poetic justice,” which is about rewarding goodness and punishing badness. ASOIAF has also made clear that as a story, poetic justice is not a driver. However, perhaps there exists what Bradley calls a “moral order” in ASOIAF, which he describes as:

Let us attempt then to re-state the idea that the ultimate power in the tragic world is a moral order. Let us put aside the ideas of justice and merit, and speak simply of good and evil. Let us understand by these words, primarily, moral good and evil, but also everything else in human beings which we take to be excellent or the reverse. Let us understand the statement that the ultimate power or order is ‘moral’ to mean that it does not show itself indifferent to good and evil, or equally favourable or unfavourable to both, but shows itself akin to good and alien from evil.

With the death of “good” characters like Ned, the injury of innocents and moments such as the Red Wedding, ASOIAF as a story is not concerned with justice. But as the story progresses, we see that the way Ned ruled his people and raised his children contrasts with characters like Tywin and his methods. Much of the North seems to continue to rally behind the idea of the Starks, some with less “honorable” methods than others, while Tywin’s legacy begins to fall apart. Like in Shakespeare’s tragic world, there appears to be an order that arcs towards a higher idea of goodness that instills a dramatic satisfaction.

Eventually, the moral order of the story will seek to expel itself of evil but the tragedy is that in the expulsion of evil, good is also lost. Because Shakespeare, like GRRM and his insistence on morally “gray” characters, was also fascinated in those who had both in them:

If we confine our attention to the hero, and to those cases where the gross and palpable evil is not in him but elsewhere, we find that the comparatively innocent hero still shows some marked imperfection or defect… These defects or imperfections are certainly, in the wide sense of the word, evil, and they contribute decisively to the conflict and catastrophe. And the inference is again obvious. The ultimate power which shows itself disturbed by this evil and reacts against it, must have a nature alien to it…

Evil exhibits itself everywhere as something negative, barren, weakening, destructive, a principle of death. It isolates, disunites, and tends to annihilate not only its opposite but itself. That which keeps the evil man prosperous, makes him succeed, even permits him to exist, is the good in him (I do not mean only the obviously ‘moral’ good). When the evil in him masters the good and has its way, it destroys other people through him, but it also destroys him. At the close of the struggle he has vanished, and has left behind him nothing that can stand. What remains is a family, a city, a country, exhausted, pale and feeble, but alive through the principle of good which animates it; and, within it, individuals who, if they have not the brilliance or greatness of the tragic character, still have won our respect and confidence.

Daenerys is neither innocent nor evil. Like the opposing desires of rulership and companionship, she contains many dualities: child and crone, mother and barren, madness and greatness to name some. And like many of the other characters of ASOIAF, good and evil.

To choose indiscriminate destruction over peace tends toward the evil, especially as the means and ends evolve. To delay the call of the North and continue to divide an already weakened realm is to give into dark desires. To nurture a fear of betrayal rather than the courage and vulnerability of faith is to give into the darkness.

But again, Daenerys is not quite Macbeth or Richard III or Iago. There is goodness in her. She has shown strength and perseverance, a desire for justice and abolition, empathy and sympathy for the people she rules. As with Lear realizing his mistake and reconciling with Cordelia or Hamlet pleading Horatio to live on, she will find virtue.

Just as there is an internal conflict of good and evil in Daenerys, there is an external conflict. One presents itself as a pretender and old blood feuds through Aegon VI but the other is the larger antagonist of the Others. Though the books have yet to investigate the origin and motivations of the Others, as Steven Attewell explains, their hostility towards human life marks them as an evil that exists within ASOIAF, and the moral order will likely mean their eventual expulsion.

Dany’s internal and external conflicts will collide. And in this collision will be a “catastrophe” that will lead to the death of the tragic hero. Bradley explains, “There is no tragedy in its expulsion of evil: the tragedy is that this involves the waste of good.”

The readers have followed Daenerys’s story and know that there is goodness in her, and in the death of the tragic hero, the moral order and story will mourn the waste of this goodness, as will the readers.

Daughter of Death: The Narrative Construction of the Shakespearean Tragic Hero

Daenerys’s interiority manifests as through the construction of her narrative: Just as Daenerys feels isolated, so, too, does her narrative. From the start of her first chapter, a driving force of her story is to rejoin the rest of the “main” narrative in Westeros, and other point-of-view characters. Away from Westeros, she climbs higher as a queen and as she moves further east from Westeros, her feelings of loneliness grow.

Rejoining the other stories promises salvation for Daenerys but the satisfaction of companionship will dangle in front of her and the readers, heightening the sense of isolation that Daenerys feels as it continues to be withheld.

The recursivity of Dany’s story isn’t the only vehicle for understanding her loneliness and tragedy. Shakespeare’s plays followed a five-act structure that were defined and used by German playwright Gustav Freytag:

  1. Exposition – introducing and setting up the characters, plots, setting and conflict
  2. Rising Action – building up towards the point of main interest
  3. Climax – the turning point of the story
  4. Falling Action – the characters collide in conflict, with each side alternating in the advantage until one seems poised to win
  5. Dénouement, resolution, revelation, or catastrophe – in the Shakespearean tragedy, this is the catastrophe, where the protagonist undergoes a change in fortune (from where they were in Act IV) to their eventual death

To further complicate things, A.C. Bradley saw the Shakespearean tragedy as composed of three parts, each populated by certain Acts or parts of them. The below table provides a summary of how to imagine where these Acts fall:

Part One: Exposition Part Two: Growth of the Conflict Part Three: Catastrophe
Act 1 (in part or whole) Acts 2, 3, 4 and sometimes 5 or 1 Act 5, occasionally part of Act 4

Dany’s story can also be charted to these Acts, and the narrative objects and characters in Dance provide enough information to see an outline of later Acts. It should also be noted that not every Act takes the same amount of time or space in a narrative, though that does not make each less necessary. For example, sometimes the space of a resolution takes less time than building to the climax or finishing it.

Additionally and again, GRRM is writing his own story with a scope much longer, larger and therefore more complex than a three to four hour play. He does, however, still stick to narrative conventions in the sense that many of his characters, even the ones that seem to die early compared to the length of the full story, have a complete character arc. In a previous essay, I demonstrated that Ned’s story may seem to have been cut short but actually fulfills the necessary components for a complete narrative.

This essay will argue the trajectory of Daenerys’s story through elements that advance the inner and outer conflicts of her character. But just as readers who only had read Game would never be able to foretell the shadow assassin in Clash before the second book was released, so too will this essay miss much of GRRM’s gardening.

Part One: Exposition

“The main business of the Exposition…is to introduce us into a little world of persons; to show us their positions in life, their circumstances, their relations to one another, and perhaps something of their characters; and to leave us keenly interested in the question what will come out of this condition of things…This situation is not one of conflict, but it threatens conflict. For example, we see first the hatred of the Montagues and Capulets; and then we see Romeo ready to fall violently in love; and then we hear talk of a marriage between Juliet and Paris; but the exposition is not complete, and the conflict has not definitely begun to arise, till, in the last scene of the First Act, Romeo the Montague sees Juliet the Capulet and becomes her slave.” (Bradley)

The first act and first part of Dany’s tragedy is the easiest to delineate and encompasses her chapters in the first book, A Game of Thrones. Throughout Game, the reader learns about Essos, Dany’s childhood, her brother and her brother’s goal of returning home to Westeros. The red door and a vision establish one of Dany’s desires.

As the first act progresses, Daenerys realizes that Viserys is incapable of achieving his goal of Westeros:

“My brother will never take back the Seven Kingdoms,” Dany said. She had known that for a long time, she realized. She had known it all her life. Only she had never let herself say the words, even in a whisper, but now she said them for Jorah Mormont and all the world to hear. (AGOT, Dany III)

After admitting this difficult truth to herself, Dany assumes the goal of Westeros for herself (and at the time, her son), establishing a cause for the forward motion of her story. The deaths of Viserys, Drogo and Rhaego leave Daenerys without a family, and alone and powerless as the rest of the khalasar leaves her, their weak and their sick behind.

Alone and without an army, Dany closes her first act by establishing one last trait:

The fire is mine. I am Daenerys Stormborn, daughter of dragons, bride of dragons, mother of dragons, don’t you see? (AGOT, Dany X)

Those left in the khalasar bow to her and the majesty of the dragons, which obviously end up being a powerful object within Dany’s narrative but also signal a new dynamic in the world of Ice and Fire.

The birth of dragons represents the “exciting motion,” as Freytag called it in Die Technik des Dramas:

The beginning of the excited action (complication) occurs at a point where, in the soul of the hero, there arises a feeling or volition which becomes the occasion of what follows; or where the counter-play resolves to use its lever to set the hero in motion. Manifestly, this impelling force will come forward more significantly in those plays in which the chief actor governs the first half by his force of will; but in any arrangement, it remains an important motive force for the action. In Julius Caesar, this impelling force is the thought of killing Caesar, which, by conversation with Cassius, gradually becomes fixed in the soul of Brutus. (Freytag)

Though a motivation in her story will be acquiring an army that gives her enough power to invade Westeros, dragons give Dany the ability to set her story in motion. She can now throw her crown into the ring as a contender for the Iron Throne. And with the first book beginning with an introduction to “ice” and a threat in the North, an ending with “fire” presents the counter to the Others’ force within the larger framework.

Part Two: Growth of the Conflict

Rising Action

Freytag describes the rising movement:

As to the scenes of this rising movement, it may be said, they have to produce a progressive intensity of interest; they must, therefore, not only evince progress in their import, but they must show an enlargement in form and treatment, and, indeed, with variation and shading in execution. (Freytag)

As the section that builds to the climax of the story, the rising action in Daenerys’s story follows her journey through the wilderness of the Red Waste. Surrounded by Christian messianic imagery such as the red comet standing in for the Star of Bethlehem and three “magi” finding Dany, she begins her ascent as Breaker of Chains.

Now barren, the dragons become Dany’s family, her “furious children” as she refers to them in Clash. In Qarth, Xaro beseeches Daenerys to stay and wed him, to sell him a dragon:

“Would you ask a mother to sell one of her children?”

“Whyever not? They can always make more. Mothers sell their children every day.”

“Not the Mother of Dragons.” (ACOK, Dany V)

Despite her desperation for ships and army, this conversation establishes that as her children, Daenerys would not trade a dragon for anything. This claim comes into question and creates dramatic tension during the purchase of the Unsullied but is reinforced when Daenerys shows that a dragon is no slave. In one fell swoop, she solidifies this character trait while externally gaining an army.

Multiple parts of Dany’s personality sharpen in this section, from the loneliness that drives her to free the Unsullied and extending that into a crusade for liberation in Slaver’s Bay; violence as a means for a (hopefully) more peaceful end in that liberation; culminating in her final Storm chapter.

“But how can I rule seven kingdoms if I cannot rule a single city?” He had no answer to that. Dany turned away from them, to gaze out over the city once again. “My children need time to heal and learn. My dragons need time to grow and test their wings. And I need the same. I will not let this city go the way of Astapor. I will not let the harpy of Yunkai chain up those I’ve freed all over again.” She turned back to look at their faces. “I will not march.”

“What will you do then, Khaleesi?” asked Rakharo.

“Stay,” she said. “Rule. And be a queen.” (ASOS, Dany VI)

This decision comes on the heels of Jorah Mormont’s treason and exile, followed shortly by Dany’s aforementioned plea to Missandei. At this point, her story is juggling multiple, conflicting ideas, such as peace and violence, delaying home in the hopes of fostering something similar in Meereen, rulership and companionship.

In this emotional limbo, Daenerys assumes queenship in Meereen, signaling another turn for her story, a rest of seemingly good fortune before the climax.

Climax

As the turning point of the story, the climax frequently represents the reversal of the protagonist’s fortunes.

This outburst of deed from the soul of the hero or the influx of portentous impressions into the soul; the first great result of a sublime struggle, or the beginning of a mortal inward conflict,—must appear inseparably connected with what goes before as well as with what follows; it will be brought into relief through broad treatment or strong effect; but it will, as a rule, be represented in its development from the rising movement and its effect on the environment; therefore, the climax naturally forms the middle point of a group of forces, which, darting in either direction, course upward and downward. (Freytag)

Earlier we defined many aspects of the “sublime struggle” within Daenerys’s soul. The “outburst of deed” jumpstarting the movement begins with Drogon returning to Daenerys in Daznak’s Pit and her resolution that “dragons plant no trees” in her final Dance chapter.

These character moments succeed a period of rest and inner conflict within Daenerys, which could arguably be defined as part of the Rising Action. Because of the elimination of GRRM’s originally intended five-year gap and the complications in unraveling what he calls “the Meereenese Knot,” GRRM had to continually push back Drogon’s return in Daznak’s pit:

There’s a Dany scene in the book which is actually one of the oldest chapters in the book that goes back almost ten years now. When I was contemplating the five year gap [Martin laughs here, with some chagrin], that chapter was supposed to be the first Daenerys chapter in the book. Then it became the second chapter, and then the third chapter, and it kept getting pushed back as I inserted more things into it. I’ve rewritten that chapter so much that it ended in many different ways. (So Spake Martin, July 11, 2011)

In an interview on Asshai.com, GRRM states that this chapter that kept getting pushed back was Daznak’s Pit:

In addition to all this is the return of Drogon, where Dany makes the decision to reopen the sands that have been closed for decades. This decision was going to be at first the first chapter of Dance, before Dance existed as a separate book of Feast, as the fifth installment of the saga. (Archives of Asshai.com)

Based on GRRM’s original intention and the way that the last Storm chapter is written with a resolution to an arc and upward trajectory that began in Clash, I would still consider the entirety of Dany’s Dance chapters to be part of a third act. And again, for how the earlier Dance chapters heighten the result of the sublime struggle between peace and violence within her character, I would refer readers to Feldman’s Meereenese Blot essay series.

The choice for violence is still only one part of Dany’s inner struggle and does not represent the entirety of the climactic nor turning point, so much as the beginning. Othello’s third act and climax manifests as the titular character giving into the belief that Desdemona is unfaithful. GRRM in his ambition has an elongated climax for Daenerys where the internal and external collide.

Armed with fire and blood, Daenerys will continue to ascend as she makes her way to Vaes Dothrak, where she will fulfill the prophecy of the Stallion of the World to unite the Dothraki khalasars under her one banner. Because of Quaithe’s prophecy that Daenerys must go east to return west and that to go forward she must go back, Daenerys may also revisit Qarth, the easternmost city she has already seen. A likely attack on Qarth would be in retaliation for the Qartheen siege of Meereen, referenced in released The Winds of Winter sample chapters, and for the Qartheen’s aid of the Yunkai’i.

After acquiring the strength of the khalasars and potentially more ships from the Qartheen on top of Victarion’s ships which are in Meereen’s bay in Winds, Daenerys finally has enough power and motivation to take Westeros.

So the interior and exterior movements of Daenerys’s storyline converge in this turning point: She begins a path in the opposite direction, west, so externally turning and finally moving towards Westeros with fire and blood. And Dany will be more than a queen—she will be a conqueror.

In Westeros, Young Griff/Aegon may be armed with all the trappings of kingship but Daenerys will be at the height of her power with the trappings of Aegon I the Conqueror. Many kings followed Aegon I and though some may have done great good for the realm such as Jaehaerys the Conciliator, none reach the level of legend and cultural greatness as the first Aegon.

The more power she gains, the greater her isolation and likely her fear of betrayal. The fear of betrayal is, of course, human. But GRRM has stated that he likes to turn dramatic situations up to 11, which is necessary to create the Shakespearean tragic hero. Dany’s fear must be larger than life.

In Dance, Barristan decides a course on behalf of Daenerys:

“What did Prince Quentyn promise the Tattered Prince in return for all this help?… He promised him Pentos… I want you to deliver a message to the Tattered Prince. Tell him that I sent you, that I speak with the queen’s voice. Tell him that we’ll pay his price if he delivers us our hostages, unharmed and whole.” (ADWD, The Queen’s Hand)

This decision conflicts with Daenerys’s current understanding of Pentos through the lens of the help Illyrio gave her:

“House Targaryen has friends in the Free Cities,” she reminded him. “Truer friends than Xaro or the Pureborn.”

“If you mean Illyrio Mopatis, I wonder. For sufficient gold, Illyrio would sell you as quickly as he would a slave.”

“My brother and I were guests in Illyrio’s manse for half a year. If he meant to sell us, he could have done it then.”

“He did sell you,” Ser Jorah said. “To Khal Drogo.”

Dany flushed. He had the truth of it, but she did not like the sharpness with which he put it. “Illyrio protected us from the Usurper’s knives, and he believed in my brother’s cause.”

“Illyrio believes in no cause but Illyrio. Gluttons are greedy men as a rule, and magisters are devious. Illyrio Mopatis is both. What do you truly know of him?”

“I know that he gave me my dragon eggs.”

He snorted. “If he’d known they were like to hatch, he’d would have sat on them himself.” (ACOK, Dany III)

Daenerys’s conviction that Illyrio is her friend repeats itself in Storm and in Dance when Daenerys refuses to meet the Tattered Prince’s price of delivering Pentos. As Dany internally solidifies her connection and debt to Illyrio, she sees him more as a friend rather than with the distrust she viewed him with at the beginning of her first Game chapter.

The reader knows through Tyrion and Jon Connington chapters that Illyrio did have a second claimant. And while Illyrio had hoped to wed his Aegon to the dragon queen’s power, Tyrion’s chapters set those plans awry.

So, Daenerys will head to Westeros, likely through Pentos, and begin a downward trajectory. 

Within Dance and sample chapters of Winds, we see that many other players are beginning to covet or make moves for the Iron Throne. Some are POVs, such as Arianne and Cersei through the claim of her children, and some claimants revolve around other POVs, such as Euron, the Tyrells and Stannis.

Of significance is Arianne, who has tasted a destiny as queen with a pact that once promised her to Viserys. She heads towards a meeting with Aegon VI and will likely secure a marriage alliance with him, tying the forces of Dorne to a different claimant—a decision that will be reinforced by the death of Quentyn.

GRRM has confirmed that Daenerys and Tyrion’s paths will cross. Though Daenerys may initially show anger towards her old knight for reneging on the friendship and “good will” Illyrio showed Daenerys and Viserys, Tyrion will be able to resolve this bind by whispering in Dany’s ear of Young Griff.

With both triumph and treason, as Daenerys majestically lands in a foreign nation that promises home, the third act of her story would end as allies leave her alone—all while another force that counters Dany continues to rise north of the Wall.

Falling Action

The realization that the glory and allies and return meant for her were stolen by Young Griff/Aegon will resonate deeply for Daenerys: Returning as a queen meant she would have a people and nation, hopefully family, to call her own. Instead, her family has deserted her and stolen her crown.

The most difficult part of the drama is the sequence of scenes in the downward movement, or, as it may well be called, the return; specially in powerful plays in which the heroes are the directing force, do these dangers enter most. Up to the climax, the interest has been firmly fixed in the direction in which the chief characters are moving. After the deed is consummated, a pause ensues. Suspense must now be excited in what is new. For this, new forces, perhaps new roles, must be introduced, in which the hearer is to acquire interest… the hostility of the counter-party toward the hero cannot always be easily concentrated in one person nor in one situation; sometimes it is necessary to show how frequently, now and again, it beats upon the soul of the hero; and in this way, in contrast with the unity and firm advance of the first half of the play, the second may be ruptured, in many parts, restless. (Freytag)

As characters introduced in the fourth and fifth books, there can be no denying that Arianne, Young Griff and their parties feel like new forces to oppose our tragic hero. And they are not the only ones; many characters claim crowns or the Iron Throne, including Stannis, Euron, Cersei through her children’s claim, perhaps even the Tyrells. In the North and the Vale, some characters hatch plans to crown different Starks.

The counter-party is not concentrated in one person or situation, but the main conflict will be with Aegon VI, which is significant to Daenerys’s characterization. Through them and Illyrio, who has been with her story from the beginning, Daenerys will feed her fear of betrayal.

Those fears come to life in Aegon VI. Those fears will crystalize when family and enemy become one through the loss of a dragon. The threat of losing a dragon has followed Daenerys since Clash, with the Qartheen expressly desiring one. And it occurs again in Storm when she feigns exchanging one for the Unsullied. In Dance, as she chains Rhaegal and Viserion, Drogon runs away, and Quentyn tries to steal a dragon.

The dragons are Dany’s children. For much of her story prior to Westeros, she sees them as the only family she will ever have.

“I will never have a little girl. I was the Mother of Dragons.”

Aye, the grass said, but you turned against your children. (ADWD, Dany IX)

While we don’t know with absolute certainty that the second Dance between Aegon VI and Daenerys will be fought with dragons, Teora’s vision implies it along with Fire & Blood setting precedence through Aemond One-Eye and the dragonseed stealing dragons. While it failed the first time, it may not the second. Regardless, GRRM has confirmed that readers will get Targaryen civil war:

CONCERNING THE DANCE OF THE DRAGONS

Hi, short question. Will we find out more about the Dance of the Dragons in future books?

The first dance or the second?

The second will be the subject of a book. The first will be mentioned from time to time, I’m sure. (So Spake Martin, November 22, 2003)

Once more: for the Targaryens, for Daenerys, family is enemy. Having to fight her rebellious child would be a huge blow to Daenerys. Having to kill her child, her family, even more so. But the necessity of killing loved ones has occurred in Dany’s story before, through Drogo’s murder of Viserys, having to put down Drogo’s body and the sacrifice of Rhaego in exchange for Drogo. She is no stranger to loss or betrayal but each time it hurts and wears at her a little more.

As she says to her vision of Jorah in the desert,

“I was tired, Jorah. I was weary of war. I wanted to rest, to laugh, to plant trees and see them grow. I am only a young girl” (ADWD, Dany X).

A.C. Bradley describes the Conflict as also characterized by the alternating advance of different parties:

We shall find the principle of alternation at work again… Let us for the sake of brevity call the two sides in the conflict A and B. Now, usually, as we shall see presently, through a considerable part of the play, perhaps the first half, the cause of A is, on the whole, advancing; and through the remaining part it is retiring, while that of B advances in turn. But, underlying this broad movement, all through the conflict we shall find a regular alternation of smaller advances and retirals; first A seeming to win some ground, and then the counter-action of B being shown. And since we always more or less decidedly prefer A to B or B to A, the result of this oscillating movement is a constant alternation of hope and fear, or rather of a mixed state predominantly hopeful and a mixed state predominantly apprehensive.

Dany is only a young girl. She wanted to laugh and to love and to be loved. In that hurt and betrayal, all that is left to her—she will think—is the crown. As seen in Fire & Blood, like Shakespeare’s conflicts, the Targaryen civil war will show the advance and recession of different parties. In the middle, Tyrion Lannister will stoke the flames of war:

“Dragons,” Moqorro said in the Common Tongue of Westeros. He spoke it very well, with hardly a trace of accent. No doubt that was one reason the high priest Benerro had chosen him to bring the faith of R’hllor to Daenerys Targaryen. “Dragons old and young, true and false, bright and dark. And you. A small man with a big shadow, snarling in the midst of all.” (ADWD, Tyrion VIII)

Moqorro’s prophecy shows the duality within the Targaryen family that opposes itself and threatens destruction. And he says that Tyrion will be in the middle of it. After all, he has already “snarled” this knot once by planting ideas of glory and sailing west in Young Griff’s head.

As Tyrion also advances on a darker path following his own tragic storyline, he will feed Dany’s darker whims. He is positioned to reveal Illyrio’s treason but will become like Iago to Othello, whispering fears of jealousy, loneliness, betrayal and ambition into Daenerys’s ears. In so doing, he would fulfill the act of snarling, in multiple definitions of the word—insinuating a mischievous, growl-like grin as well as entangling and impeding this knot. His eyes, after all, are one green and one black, the colors of the two sides of the first Dance of the Dragons.

The fourth act is ultimately about the unraveling of the knot. Daenerys, likely, will triumph over Aegon in this civil war:

Glowing like sunset, a red sword was raised in the hand of a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow. A cloth dragon swayed on poles amidst a cheering crowd. From a smoking tower, a great stone beast took wing, breathing shadow fire. . . . mother of dragons, slayer of lies . . . (ACOK, Dany IV)

The cloth dragon swaying—the mummer’s dragon—combined with the language of “slayer of lies” portends Daenerys’s victory. But it will not be without great cost: Throughout this campaign for Westeros, she will be painted as a villain to the Westerosi people, accompanied by Dothraki screamers, a once-slave army and probably pirates. Along with the loss of the people’s love, to defeat Aegon she may also suffer the loss of one of her children first through its rebellion then through its death.

Beyond public perception, Dany’s great sin within the story’s moral order will have been focusing on the war for Westeros against Aegon VI before she turns to the enemy of the North. The war will weaken the kingdom by destroying crucial resources and people needed to fight off the Others, including a dragon.

Even if Daenerys does not see the civil war through to the end and turns northward in the middle as Stannis Baratheon did, there would still have been damage done. Eventually, however, she will choose to face off against the Others and ally with the Starks and Jon Snow.

Part Three: Catastrophe

The title of the fifth act and third tragic part speaks for itself but to elaborate, Freytag defines the last act as:

The catastrophe of the drama is the closing action; it is what the ancient stage called the exodus… The more profound the strife which has gone forward in the hero’s soul, the more noble its purpose has been, so much more logical will the destruction of the succumbing hero be.

Bradley says:

Shakespeare’s general plan, we have seen, is to show one set of forces advancing, in secret or open opposition to the other, to some decisive success, and then driven downward to defeat by the reaction it provokes. And the advantages of this plan, as seen in such a typical instance as Julius Caesar, are manifest. It conveys the movement of the conflict to the mind with great clearness and force. It helps to produce the impression that in his decline and fall the doer’s act is returning on his own head. And, finally, as used by Shakespeare, it makes the first half of the play intensely interesting and dramatic.

Bradley defines many other elements that may come into the catastrophe, including battle scenes, humor, counter-strokes among other things. He also notes that the catastrophe may be drawn out, which usually is possible only if there is another character who also engages the audience’s interest. And ASOIAF with its many POVs and protagonists can fulfill that for Daenerys.

An interview with Game of Thrones television series director Alan Taylor gives insight into how GRRM sees Jon and Dany’s characters and romance:

“He alluded to the fact that Jon and Dany were the point, kind of. That, at the time, there was a huge, vast array of characters, and Jon was a lowly, you know, bastard son. So it wasn’t clear to us at the time, but he did sort of say things that made it clear that the meeting and the convergence of Jon and Dany were sort of the point of the series.

…There’s still a step further to go with them in terms of the romantic side of things and a lot more to play out in terms of how the politics and the power struggle will work, but it was at least a sort of solid step forward in that major arc.” (Deadspin, “‘Game Of Thrones’ Director On Tonight’s Game-Changing Icy Episode & Season 8”)

Snow and the Bride of Fire: at last in one another these characters find reprieve from their loneliness. As the Starks stood behind the female claimant during the first Dance, so the two may ally to face a larger, deadlier enemy, politically and romantically.

Until the cycle of the narrative conflict within Dany’s storyline reanimates with the revelation that Jon Snow is also the son of Rhaegar Targaryen: if he is trueborn or legitimized through other means, his claim comes before hers.

The internal and external once more fuel each other. Because family and enemy are one and the same, Daenerys will grow to distrust Jon, a disgust deeper than the shock of incest. Did he always know? Did he lie? Was he hiding it from her the whole time? Is he, too, a pretender? A usurper?

Because ASOIAF is a large and ambitious story composed of many narratives within a larger one, there will also be forces pulling on Jon’s story, such as his own family. The Starks represent a different argument in what Dramatica defines as the story mind: If for the Targaryens family is enemy, for the Starks, “the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”

Daenerys must choose between queenship and power versus trust and companionship. In a lesser character or person, this would not need to be a choice. The two could coexist. But the point of a tragic character is to be of such greatness and intensity that these strong forces cannot become one. In setting up Viserys, Young Griff and the repeated wound of betrayal in Dany’s storyline, she will have suffered too much and gone too far to settle and reconcile with Jon Snow, son of Rhaegar Targaryen, heir to the Iron Throne.

In a time when Westerosi forces should unite against the threat of the White Walkers and their army of wights, the internal conflict will nag at Daenerys’s heart. Again, the threat of the Others will become stronger and advance.

Death

Dany’s inability to give into her other heart’s desire of love will spell her doom. Having fought so hard to survive, to make her way back to Westeros, to win it—”I know she is proud. How not? What else was left her but pride?”—she is incapable of acquiescing.

Either choice is death: Daenerys and the readers have wrapped her identity together with queenship and dragons, and in the words of Maester Aemon, “Fire consumes.” Relinquishing queenships belongs to lesser characters and results in the loss of identity.

So Dany moves forward into a grave of her own making. The tragic hero must be the one to set forward the action of their demise.

Obviously at this point, with neither the end of the show or the books released as I write this, I do not know the exact method of how Daenerys dies. But I think that there are certain aspects and emotions that will be conveyed, especially in the books. Because she is a tragic hero, I rule out two possibilities for the death of Daenerys:

  1. She will not die in childbirth.
  2. She will not die in sacrifice of a greater good—and if she does (though I am significantly less keen on the possibility), it will not be so simple and will result from a complication that is her own fault.

Of the first, I do not believe that Daenerys dies in childbirth because it implies a “fault” or mistake on her part for having had sex. Though some readers may feel that death by childbirth would be tragic, it is not tragic in the sense of Shakespearean levels, and I would argue feels out of character for GRRM with a character like Daenerys.

Death by childbirth is a uniquely biologically female phenomenon and would be punishing Daenerys for her sexuality. In the rest of ASOIAF, while sexuality or sexual abuse may be used to paint characters as either having great appetite or evil (respectively), characters are not punished narratively because of sex. Cersei suffers through her own evil deeds and is not punished for having birthed children of incest. Tywin dies not because he slept with Shae but through his cruelty towards his son and others. Even more clearly evil characters like Craster are not punished as a result of their sexual misdeed so much as refusing full hospitality to the Night’s Watch.

And of the second, sacrifice, I personally do not believe such an end would be so simple nor valiant for Daenerys. Yes, the moral order of the story craves the expulsion of evil, which will manifest in the later part of the story through characters like Euron and the White Walkers, and together with it, the loss of good.

But the point is that in a character of such greatness and such tragedy as Daenerys, both exist. “If ice can burn then love and hate can mate” does not merely refer to romantic couplings: Love and hate chase one another within her.

However, I do think there are situations where the death of Daenerys could feel like a sacrifice though it won’t actually be one (Though there are instances of suicide in Shakespeare’s tragedies, they are not done out of a sense of altruism. Self-sacrifice is not tragic in the Shakespearean definition.) and will feel “bittersweet,” as GRRM desires. 

In King Lear, Lear dies saving his beloved daughter Cordelia from the executioner. But Cordelia fell prisoner in a war against her sisters because of Lear’s actions in the first place—and in the end, he fails to save her in time. He enters the last scene with her body in his arms and having used the last of his strength to save his daughter, also dies. His death is his own doing. His daughter’s death was also the result of his own mistakes. While it has elements that may feel like a sacrifice because of the nobility of the final act, it ultimately is not one. 

Daenerys, I believe, will make similar mistakes. Because of her fears with Viserys and Young Griff and the whisperings of Tyrion, she pushes Jon away and commits too late. Like Othello, the death of love, she pushes it away but rather than from jealousy from fear of betrayal and hurt.

Her death may contain nobility, may be in battle against the White Walkers. In a gasp, the story expels both the evil and good within Daenerys. Westeros, the readers and other characters will mourn her.

The Rest of ASOIAF

Daenerys’s death will not be a solution to the issue of the Others. As with Ned Stark having his own complete narrative arc, his death served a larger narrative purpose and complicated the story. Even if Dany’s story is coming to a close, there is the larger overarching narrative of ASOIAF.

The loss of one dragon from the death of Young Griff weakens the strength of side of the living. But in terms of the dramatic stakes, even with two dragons the side of the living still has an advantage, especially with their other weapons. As with any story, the dramatic tension must heighten.

The death of Daenerys represents the loss of good in terms of her values as a queen who sought liberation for slaves and wanted to be better than Viserys, likely better than Young Griff, too. But it also will be a loss of good for the side of the heroes, strengthening the antagonists. Either the forces become more even, making victory less sure, or the Others surpass the side of the living in strength. (I am accounting for two possibilities: That the Others get ahold of Young Griff’s dragon and reanimate it alongside Dany’s, allowing them to grow stronger than the forces of Westeros with two dragons versus one; or that Young Griff’s dragon dies and cannot be reanimated, while the White Walkers gain Drogon, becoming one-on-one but with the White Walkers having the larger dragon.)

Anyone who knows any story is familiar with this tension: It’s the moment the enemy seems about to win, when the bomb’s timer is about to hit zero before the heroes defuse it. Without Daenerys, the destruction of distrust is lost—but so too is hope and her spirit of survival. The expulsion of evil, the mourning of good.

Conclusion

Daenerys exemplifies GRRM’s fascination with “the human heart in conflict with itself” through the lens of a Shakespearean tragic hero. She is a young girl foisted into incredible circumstances, who overcomes many seemingly insurmountable challenges. But as with so many characters—and people—her largest challenge was within her own heart.

Within the many voices that make up A Song of Ice and Fire, Dany’s storyline sharpens other characters’ while also benefiting from their own development, from their ambition for the throne to their struggles with loneliness. She highlights the cruelty of a world where lover and enemy become difficult to distinguish, of being a young girl and young woman who must endure pain and fight harder for her place.

I do not argue for the death of Daenerys as a judgement on her ethical/moral goodness as a character nor of the world she inhabits. I argue it on the strength of her characterization and story, that she should be able to encompass such intensity and greatness as to be considered as complex as all these other single-name headliners in literature.

Juliet, Cleopatra and Cressida share titles and tragedies with their male counterparts. But Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Richard III, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus and Timon get to be a leading figure in their own tragedy.

GRRM has written an ambitious story: Portraying Daenerys as the lead of her Shakespearean tragedy, of bringing the battle between the light and dark inside her, of rulership and companionship, of the love and hate within her to the forefront of the story is also ambitious and worthy. A young girl can soar to great heights and show the magnitude of humanity.

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