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Meereen and the Soviet Union


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#1 falcotron

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 05:37 PM

After rereading A Dance with Dragons, I was struck by the parallels with the early Soviet Union.

 

Obviously the events aren't a direct copy, any more than the War of the Five Kings is of the War of the Roses, or than Aegon is of William. And I'm not sure GRRM even had any parallels consciously in mind when writing his way through the Meereenese Knot. But I think the connections are there, and they're interesting.

 

Unlike Yunkai, where Dany arrives as an invader with an unstoppable army and demands the freedom of the slaves as tribute, in Meereen, Dany is bringing class war and revolution, as the vanguard of an inevitable historical process, and the masters fall easily. (The TV show makes this even more obvious: first she and Daario demonstrate that traditional national warfare is no longer relevant, and then she literally shows the slaves that they have nothing to lose but their chains. And of course she has an army who have turned on their leaders to fight for the freedom of the people, and elected their own new officers.)

 

But revolutions don't end when the old regime is overthrown, and that's where the story gets interesting.

 

Dany first has to deal with the moral dilemmas of revolutionary terror (crucifying the masters) and what it takes to fight a counter-revolution (taking the children hostage).

 

She then needs to rebuild an economy that had already been untenable before she completely overturned its supports. She handles this by instituting a top-down plan of agricultural and trade reforms, but clearly things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

 

Ultimately, in order to resolve both the counter-revolution and the economic problems, Dany is forced to accept Hizdahr's proposed compromise, restoring many pre-revolutionary institutions, albeit with (sometimes major, sometimes only token) reforms. This is effectively the New Economic Plan of 1921. The arguments for it are those of Stalin and Bukharin, and against it are those of Trotsky and company. Like Lenin, Dany accepts the proposal but recharacterizes it as a temporary and partial retreat, not a long-term goal-driven policy.

 

Finally, to deal with the external threat of war with Yunkai and their allies, Dany agrees to not interfere with their slave trade. This parallels the debate between Trotsky and Stalin on international revolution vs. Socialism in One Country, and again she comes down on the same side as the USSR.

 

And of course the only thing holding it all together is a Cult of Personality around Dany, Hero of the People.

 

Obviously this isn't GRRM painting Dany as becoming a bad guy because she's like Stalin (or whitewashing Stalin by showing that he made hard but correct choices like his hero Dany!). If there's any intentional parallel there (which there probably isn't), it's meant to point out that nothing is ever black and white. After all, Stalin brutally repressed a nation, and his paranoia led to the deaths of millions of innocents, and yet he's still the guy who stopped Hitler; you don't get one or the other, you get both, and you have to deal with that.

 

What makes this interesting is that the two sides represented by Trotsky and Stalin in history are both internal to Dany in the story. Yes, sometimes there are people like Shavepate and Hizdahr suggesting them, but her internal monologue always shows her struggling with both sides of the argument, and with how they relate to her own moral sense. Crucifying the masters isn't just a question of whether it will pacify or exacerbate a possible counter-insurgency, but of whether it's righteous justice or destructive vengeance. Agreeing to the Yunkai slave trade isn't just a question of whether revolution in one country is a recipe for success or failure, but of whether accepting the injustice is tolerable if it can bring peace, prosperity, and freedom to her people.

 

In The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky said that only someone who had come to identify with the Party as a person could truly understand the tragedy of what Stalin had done. In A Dance with Dragons, that's effectively what GRRM does for us: He forces us to see these political questions as personal by making it as personal as possible. Lenin may have had to metaphorically get into bed with the NEPmen, but Dany has to literally get into bed with Hizdahr. But GRRM is not using Dany to show the tragedy of the Revolution, he's using the political story to show us the tragedy of Dany's character. Because ultimately, whether it turns out that Dany was a misguided fool, an unknowing puppet of the Littlefinger-esque Shavepate, or the best hero Slaver's Bay could hope for, the story of Dany's internal conflicts is the part that's interesting to GRRM.



#2 Pod The Impaler

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 06:45 PM



After rereading A Dance with Dragons, I was struck by the parallels with the early Soviet Union.

 

... in Meereen, Dany is bringing class war and revolution, as the vanguard of an inevitable historical process, and the masters fall easily. (The TV show makes this even more obvious: first she and Daario demonstrate that traditional national warfare is no longer relevant, and then she literally shows the slaves that they have nothing to lose but their chains. And of course she has an army who have turned on their leaders to fight for the freedom of the people, and elected their own new officers.)

 

But revolutions don't end when the old regime is overthrown, and that's where the story gets interesting.

 

Dany first has to deal with the moral dilemmas of revolutionary terror (crucifying the masters) and what it takes to fight a counter-revolution (taking the children hostage).

 

She then needs to rebuild an economy that had already been untenable before she completely overturned its supports. She handles this by instituting a top-down plan of agricultural and trade reforms, but clearly things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

 

Ultimately, in order to resolve both the counter-revolution and the economic problems, Dany is forced to accept Hizdahr's proposed compromise, restoring many pre-revolutionary institutions, albeit with (sometimes major, sometimes only token) reforms. This is effectively the New Economic Plan of 1921. The arguments for it are those of Stalin and Bukharin, and against it are those of Trotsky and company. Like Lenin, Dany accepts the proposal but recharacterizes it as a temporary and partial retreat, not a long-term goal-driven policy.

 

Finally, to deal with the external threat of war with Yunkai and their allies, Dany agrees to not interfere with their slave trade. This parallels the debate between Trotsky and Stalin on international revolution vs. Socialism in One Country, and again she comes down on the same side as the USSR.

 

And of course the only thing holding it all together is a Cult of Personality around Dany, Hero of the People.

 

... Agreeing to the Yunkai slave trade isn't just a question of whether revolution in one country is a recipe for success or failure, but of whether accepting the injustice is tolerable if it can bring peace, prosperity, and freedom to her people.

 

In The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky said that only someone who had come to identify with the Party as a person could truly understand the tragedy of what Stalin had done. In A Dance with Dragons, that's effectively what GRRM does for us: He forces us to see these political questions as personal by making it as personal as possible. Lenin may have had to metaphorically get into bed with the NEPmen, but Dany has to literally get into bed with Hizdahr. But GRRM is not using Dany to show the tragedy of the Revolution, he's using the political story to show us the tragedy of Dany's character. Because ultimately, whether it turns out that Dany was a misguided fool, an unknowing puppet of the Littlefinger-esque Shavepate, or the best hero Slaver's Bay could hope for, the story of Dany's internal conflicts is the part that's interesting to GRRM.

 

 

A lot of this may be so, though I am not sure if GRRM intended it that way. Many revolutions and upheavals go this way. (That old saying about revolutions, that "the dragonslayer becomes the dragon", would be hilariously altered in this case.)

 

I like the fact that you point out the rotten underpinnings of the Slaver's Bay economy was something that preceded Dany's arrival. It is an argument that I wanted to make in this thread, but only to counter the point that Slaver's Bay was written with the slaver's being "catoonish" villains. I think my point fits better here than there.

 

The elite masters of Slaver's Bay (Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen) show a society that is ripe for a fall in any case. It is a society that's decadent and callous to the point of absurdity, and it has been living on borrowed time only thanks to the warped brutality of slavery. The slaves take all the risk and do all the productive work in the economy, but the rewards are reaped by an elite who are so far gone, they can do nothing for themselves and are functionally useless.

 

Look at how the Ghiscari fight wars - they either don't, and pay their way out (paying the Dothraki to go away), or when they do mobilize, it is paid mercenaries doing all the work. It is not like they can't summon up troops - they have slave soldiers. But if you look at the way they manage those troops, two things become clear:

1 ) The masters can only trust their slave soldiers to a limited degree.These are slaves conscripts pressed into risking their lives thanks only to the threat of brutality if they do not obey; poor morale is an understatement, for if the risk to life and limb exceeds that which their masters can threaten, why would they not desert, or worse, rebel ? It is folly to arm the very people who likely hate you the most, then rely on them for your protection. (Volantis seems to have the same problem; we shall see how their reliance on slave soldiers backfires.)

2 ) The masters' military leadership seems to depend on non-merit principles of wealth and social prestige - they are led by "political generals", and that is often a recipe for failure. Westeros has a few, but the virtual menagerie that the Yunkai lead into battle take the prize. The Little Pigeon, the Clanker Lords, and so on, are nothing but a joke to the real leaders of Yunkai's military force, the sellswords.

So, the Ghiscari slavers military hopes basically rest on rotten foundations. This can be compared to the WW1 situation, and as it relates to the Russian Empire, the same sort of situation where the common soldiers turn against their officers, becoming their own liberators (and taking some measure of bloody revenge, more out of rage than ideology). 

 

As for Dany, she is definitely a sort of revolutionary figure, with a cult of personality growing around her, but I'm not sure she shares Lenin's fondness for liquidating entire classes of foes  - in fact, avoiding it when advised to do so. (Then again, she may be more willing when or if she returns from her period of isolation.)

If there is a "Trotsky" of Meereen, so far I would say it is the Shavepate. He's uncompromising towards the revolution's foes, and favours decisive actions. Perhaps this makes Hizdahr the "Stalin" figure, deviously twisting and turning in his positions to suit the moment, while really playing just to eliminate his rivals and enhance his power until he can be the unchallenged "tsar" of the new regime. 



#3 Stormland's Fury

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 06:46 PM

Mentioning Dany in the same paragraph as Stalin can get you in a lot of trouble...



#4 Pod The Impaler

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 06:51 PM

Dany is not Stalin in my opinion. She seems a cross between Spartacus and Alexander the Great. Still ... "spartacist" comes from that root name.  :commie:

 

 

But if anyone is a Stalin in ASOIAF, my #1 choice is Tywin Lannister.



#5 Stormland's Fury

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 06:53 PM

But if anyone is a Stalin in ASOIAF, my #1 choice is Tywin Lannister.

 

Tywin qualifies, I agree.



#6 OldGimletEye

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 06:57 PM

Mentioning Dany in the same paragraph as Stalin can get you in a lot of trouble...

I have no idea where you would get this notion.  :lol:



#7 iridescence

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:00 PM

Napoleon is probably a better analogy I think (although Dany doesn't have any of his military skill obviously). I think GRRM is definitely making a comment on massive revolutions in general and the fact that a lot more is required than just having noble goals.



#8 iridescence

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:02 PM

 

Tywin qualifies, I agree.

No, he really doesn't. Stalin would be more like a somewhat smarter Cersei. He was extremely paranoid and really made a lot of blunders that hurt his own side due to this. 



#9 Ziggy Targdust

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:04 PM

In Soviet Russia, thread troll you!

#10 Fat Trell

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:10 PM

As mentioned before, all 'true' revolutions follow some basic steps.

 

Though the economic plan is an interesting observation.



#11 BitsOfBrains

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:19 PM

I think that a closer analogy would be the recent invasion of Iraq.

 

After initially being greeted as liberators by some, the population quickly turn on the foreign occupiers. The regions that have been, "liberated" are now horror shows of brutality and neighbor killing neighbor and the regions abandoned by the "liberators" are a hell on earth.

 

The foreign invader tries to force a foreign morality and value system on a region that has been set in its own culture for time immemorial and the locals just get more and more resentful. 

 

All kinds of rhetoric is used to justify the deaths, but the truth is that the invader wanted something from the locals. Oil in Iraq, soldiers in Meereen.

 

The locals are now "free" to toil and die for the profit of their "liberator".



#12 Drake Heath

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:23 PM

I think that a closer analogy would be the recent invasion of Iraq.

 

After initially being greeted as liberators by some, the population quickly turn on the foreign occupiers. The regions that have been, "liberated" are now horror shows of brutality and neighbor killing neighbor and the regions abandoned by the "liberators" are a hell on earth.

 

The foreign invader tries to force a foreign morality and value system on a region that has been set in its own culture for time immemorial and the locals just get more and more resentful. 

 

All kinds of rhetoric is used to justify the deaths, but the truth is that the invader wanted something from the locals. Oil in Iraq, soldiers in Meereen.

 

The locals are now "free" to toil and die for the profit of their "liberator".

Yeah, I always viewed Dany as kinda a Westerosi George Bush when it comes to the Slaver's Bay.



#13 Roddy the Ruin

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:27 PM

In Meereen, slave whips you!



....I feel bad all around for the awful joke.....

Edited by Ulysses of the Divide, 24 April 2014 - 08:27 PM.


#14 Bedwyck

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:44 PM

I think that a closer analogy would be the recent invasion of Iraq.

 

After initially being greeted as liberators by some, the population quickly turn on the foreign occupiers. The regions that have been, "liberated" are now horror shows of brutality and neighbor killing neighbor and the regions abandoned by the "liberators" are a hell on earth.

 

The foreign invader tries to force a foreign morality and value system on a region that has been set in its own culture for time immemorial and the locals just get more and more resentful. 

 

All kinds of rhetoric is used to justify the deaths, but the truth is that the invader wanted something from the locals. Oil in Iraq, soldiers in Meereen.

 

The locals are now "free" to toil and die for the profit of their "liberator".

The people who granted Dany as liberators are not the ones who are opposing her now.  That is/was the case in Iraq, but not with Dany.  Almost all the freedmen (maybe minus the pit fighters loyal to Hizdahr) and even some of the nobles (like the Shavepate) are loyal to Dany to this day.  The Sons of the Harpy never wanted her there in the first place.  They never saw her as a liberator.  Furthermore, she did not take over and rule Meeren just so she could have soilders.  If that was her motivation then she would have taken the brazen beasts and the companies of freedmen then left.  She genuinely wants to rule and reform Meereen.  



#15 Pod The Impaler

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 08:44 PM

I think that a closer analogy would be the recent invasion of Iraq.

 

After initially being greeted as liberators by some, the population quickly turn on the foreign occupiers. The regions that have been, "liberated" are now horror shows of brutality and neighbor killing neighbor and the regions abandoned by the "liberators" are a hell on earth.

 

The foreign invader tries to force a foreign morality and value system on a region that has been set in its own culture for time immemorial and the locals just get more and more resentful. 

 

All kinds of rhetoric is used to justify the deaths, but the truth is that the invader wanted something from the locals. Oil in Iraq, soldiers in Meereen.

 

The locals are now "free" to toil and die for the profit of their "liberator".

 

 

Recent politics is a subject best left to that other section, so let me just say: It's been already stated that GRRM did not seek to make commentary on that.



#16 falcotron

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 09:45 PM

Mentioning Dany in the same paragraph as Stalin can get you in a lot of trouble...

Well, I was careful to say that Dany is definitely not Stalin: "Obviously this isn't GRRM painting Dany as becoming a bad guy because she's like Stalin".

 

But it looks like you were right, most of the replies to the thread are "Dany isn't Stalin, X is Stalin" or "Dany isn't Stalin, she's Y". Still, there's some good stuff to respond to, so I'll go do that…



#17 falcotron

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 11:50 PM

A lot of this may be so, though I am not sure if GRRM intended it that way.

Well, I did start off by saying "And I'm not sure GRRM even had any parallels consciously in mind…"

Many revolutions and upheavals go this way.

And today, everyone knows that, as an obvious fact, primarily because of Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution and a century of other writings founded on it…

But there are specific features here that really are specific to the October Revolution. I don't want to repeat myself, but look at the Socialism in One Country parallel—probably the hardest struggle for both Dany and Trotsky—and look for anything like it in, say, the American Revolution. When Thomas Paine, one of the most radical revolutionaries, suggested going to the Kings of France and Spain for allies, neither he nor anyone else saw any contradiction or betrayal in that idea, because they weren't fighting against Monarchy, they were fighting against the British monarch.

I like the fact that you point out the rotten underpinnings of the Slaver's Bay economy was something that preceded Dany's arrival. It is an argument that I wanted to make in this thread, but only to counter the point that Slaver's Bay was written with the slaver's being "catoonish" villains. I think my point fits better here than there. <snip>

I didn't think that through in as much depth as you, but I think you're right on the money.

Honestly, I have no idea whether you intended that as a Marxist case study, but either way, it works as a better case study that Marx's own.

And that's kind of my point about the book: ADwD is in many ways a better book about Stalinism than, say, Animal Farm.

Of course now that you've painted your picture so well, Slaver's Bay also makes a great parallel to the antebellum American South (propping up an unsupportable economy through slavery), Borgian Italy (utterly dependent on mercenaries because of a lack of any real projectable power), etc., and it's certainly possible you could find something just as interesting there as well…

As for Dany, she is definitely a sort of revolutionary figure, with a cult of personality growing around her, but I'm not sure she shares Lenin's fondness for liquidating entire classes of foes… <snip>

Yes, I think if you wanted to identify the characters directly, that's how you'd do it (especially since Hizdahr wasn't just a power-hungry schemer; even if you take everything he said at face value, he was a conservative and a nationalist with the same ideas as Stalin).

But I think that's only superficially interesting. The more interesting point is the way Dany embodies the entire Party, internalizing the struggles between the left and right wings. (And notice that in some cases, she doesn't even need Hizdahr and the Shavepate to set up the debate; the question of "liquidating entire classes of foes" is raised by Daario, and answered in her head without the need to hear the other side.)

That's what makes everything play out as a personal and moral issue rather than a political one. On top of that, Dany's "left wing" instincts can't stand outside, avoiding responsibility for everything that happened, the way Trotsky could.

#18 falcotron

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Posted 24 April 2014 - 11:54 PM

Napoleon is probably a better analogy I think (although Dany doesn't have any of his military skill obviously).

I disagree; I can't think of any parallels between Napoleonic France and Danyrific Meereen that aren't common to all revolutionary states, while I think I've pointed out some very strong parallels to early Soviet Russia. If I'm missing something, of course I'd love to hear it.

But now that you bring this up, Astapor actually has some parallels to the French Revolution. Which makes Yunkai the antithesis and Meereen the synthesis in Trotsky's terms. Which means Dany actually embodies not just a revolution, but the entire concept of Revolution. There may be something interesting there, but I'd have to think it through.

I think GRRM is definitely making a comment on massive revolutions in general and the fact that a lot more is required than just having noble goals.

As I said in my reply to Pod, I think there are specific parallels in the tough choices Dany has to make and those the Community Party had to make which don't fit any other revolution.

And I also think it's larger than just a comment on revolutions. Making the revolution personal allows us to see politics in a moral and personal light, and also to see personal moral decisions in a political light. It's not just in revolutions that a lot more is required than just noble goals (which is a pretty commonplace idea nowadays), it's in everything you do.

#19 falcotron

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Posted 25 April 2014 - 12:26 AM

I think that a closer analogy would be the recent invasion of Iraq.

I think there's something there, but not as much as you've painted.

After initially being greeted as liberators by some, the population quickly turn on the foreign occupiers.

Except they don't. The former slaves are not the ones turning on her, it's the remnants of the old guard that she overthrew.

The regions that have been, "liberated" are now horror shows of brutality and neighbor killing neighbor and the regions abandoned by the "liberators" are a hell on earth.

Well, Astapor can stand for post-US-withdrawal Iraq. But I think Afghanistan serves better, and Somalia after Ethiopian intervention maybe even better; there's nothing really specific to the US in Iraq here. And it's not even really specific to foreign invaders; look at post-Tito Yugoslavia for an entirely internal example.

Also, while it remains to be seen what will happen in Meereen in the aftermath of Dany's disappearance, but so far in ADwD, it doesn't fit the pattern you're drawing.

The foreign invader tries to force a foreign morality and value system on a region that has been set in its own culture for time immemorial and the locals just get more and more resentful.

This, on the other hand, is interesting. Hizdahr doesn't play up this angle with Dany because he knows it's not what will win her over, but you're right, it's what prevents Dany from winning over Meereen, and Hizdahr knows it. Even Daario, who advocates just wiping out all the people who might be insurgents, knows it. The fact that Dany can't see it is why she's doomed to failure. And it's easy to draw a parallel there with America and W.

But, this being GRRM, it's not just about the people of Meereen being unwilling or unable to swallow Dany's culture, it's even more about Dany being unwilling or unable to swallow theirs. Her final scene in Meereen is a perfect example of this. Dany has come promising freedom. All Barsena ever wanted was to be able to fight and risk her life equally to the male fighters. Dany can't understand this, but grudgingly gives in. But when Barsena gets her chance to fight, and dies a fighter's death, Dany is sickened; she can't breathe, and runs away saying she's "taking off my floppy ears." At this point, she knows she can never be a Meereenese queen, and will always be a Targaryen. (Is it a coincidence that this is exactly when her dragon reappears?)

So, if GRRM is commenting on US misadventures, I think he's saying something a little more than the commonplace "They don't want us there," he's also saying "And we don't want to be there either." You can argue about cultural relativism vs. moral absolutism, but no matter which side is "right", clearly you can't impose someone else's culture on them; you can only adapt to theirs or impose your own.

All kinds of rhetoric is used to justify the deaths, but the truth is that the invader wanted something from the locals. Oil in Iraq, soldiers in Meereen.
 
The locals are now "free" to toil and die for the profit of their "liberator".

Here I think you're not just stretching, you're way off. Meereen has no soldiers, which is why they're defended by sellswords. In fact, they have absolutely nothing that Dany wants to take. The only thing they have is the slave trade, and she doesn't want to own that, she wants to destroy it. And she and her people certainly aren't making any profit off the invasion, nor did they expect to.

ADwD is not at all a critique of the US's ulterior motives in going into Iraq. If anything, it could be read as showing that, even taking the Bush administration at face value and assuming their motives were pure, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Which is of course true, but also obvious.

#20 iridescence

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Posted 25 April 2014 - 12:40 AM

I disagree; I can't think of any parallels between Napoleonic France and Danyrific Meereen that aren't common to all revolutionary states, while I think I've pointed out some very strong parallels to early Soviet Russia. If I'm missing something, of course I'd love to hear it.

But now that you bring this up, Astapor actually has some parallels to the French Revolution. Which makes Yunkai the antithesis and Meereen the synthesis in Trotsky's terms. Which means Dany actually embodies not just a revolution, but the entire concept of Revolution. There may be something interesting there, but I'd have to think it through.
 

I wasn't saying that there is a cultural parallel between Mereen and pre-revolution France (besides the lower classes being exploited terribly by a few elites). The parallels I see are that Dany sees herself as a liberator but her actual record is far more mixed and she often seems hypocritical.  She is fighting to totally remake society according to more progressive enlightened ideals and  she goes on the march from place to place with a vast army of formerly exploited people behind her "liberating" huge areas and she eventually faces a huge coalition of states who want to keep the status quo.


Edited by iridescence, 25 April 2014 - 12:40 AM.