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Let’s Change the Conversation: Remapping Dany

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(I brought this up before, recently in the current “Dany is insane” thread, but I thought if it might be time to open a thread about it directly.)




My basic proposal is to re-evaluate the way we think about and debate over Daenerys. That is, I think it might be productive to deconstruct and reframe the way we’ve been understanding her role within ASOIAF.



In particular, I do not believe we are supposed to see her as a ruler. Despite her being one of the major claimants to the IT, and her self-appointment as queen in Slaver’s Bay, I think DwD confirms that ruling is simply not her destiny. Administration is not something that she’s not particularly good at, it doesn’t afford her the opportunity to use her natural talents, and importantly, it’s not something she finds fulfilling or desirable.



Ruling is not the same thing as being a compelling leader—MLK, John the Baptist, even Damphair serve to illustrate this. Dany’s natural talent is best expressed in a role of leadership, while ruling has been shown to slowly destroy her. A leader can rouse people to their cause; a ruler excels at administration, implementation, and maintenance of order.



I believe that her major virtue lies in having tremendous power (dragons and leadership), and from that power, the ability to overturn social order-- but not necessarily restore and maintain a new order.



That is, I believe rather than evaluate her against the rubric of “ruler,” we look at Dany instead as an “agent of change,” a “catalyst.”



Once we dismantle our expectations of her as a ruler, I think we might get a renewed appreciation for her arc, one that doesn’t stumble over examination of each of her actions against a notion of suitability for rule, which inevitably solicits moral interrogation.



For example, I don’t personally think we ought to be caught up in whether or not freeing slaves was her original goal, or in the particulars of mismanagement and chaos that followed abolition, or arguing whether she ought to have freed slaves at all. Conversely, I think excusing her performance in SB (in terms of the ruling) due to her intentions is also perhaps missing the point.



Instead, I think the takeaway from this is that Dany's strength is in shaking things up, but not in setting them back down again. And I do believe we’re supposed to see the fact it was shaken at all (it’s slavery, guys—an objectively reprehensible system) to be positive, if not the cost.



Without a catalyst, some things simply won't change, and while we can hate the catalyst itself, I think looking at the fact that there was a catalyst at all is something to appreciate, knowing that without it, however negative it may be, things would have stayed the same. As it pertains to Dany, the fact that she's the only character with enough power to fairly singularly overcome the inertia of social systems is something I've started to see as positive, broadly speaking. I think there's a sore need for some social progress in a lot of places that could benefit from a bit of shaking.



I think for most of us, myself very much included, we tend to favor concepts like order, stability, and maintenance over change and chaos, and as it pertains to Dany’s specific implication of “the dragon” as said catalyst, we tend to prefer building over razing, creation over destruction. I do think it’s very difficult to appreciate the catalyst in and of itself; the Black Death was a catalyst, after all, though, unlike a simple force of nature, Dany’s catalysis has intentionality, in that she recognized a vile system and sought to challenge it.



But let’s put our biases about chaos and order into the perspective of the series as a whole.



Order, in and of itself, is not inherently good. The status quo of Westeros has been breaking down because the order itself is fundamentally flawed. Though it’s devolving into chaos, it’s not the chaos that’s the issue; it’s the fact that the order itself was so flawed that it’s rotting under its own weight. This principle is marvelously illustrated by the smaller-scale examples of the Watch and Slaver’s Bay; the order behind both of these systems is so flawed and unsustainable that it threatens to destroy their very existence.



Westeros, the Watch and SB (pre-abolition, I mean) are three good examples of organizations with an ordered status quo, which is fundamentally flawed on some moral and/ or sustainable grounds, but with too much inertia to effect conditions for change. Without destroying at least some part of this problematic order, there can be no “rebuilding” or creation, just a continuation of the same lumbering, problematic order that’s threatening to destroy itself. For an example of trying to reform without some cleansing beforehand, I’d point to Jon’s attempts with the Watch.



At the risk of making this even more controversial, I think there’s value in foiling Dany to a couple of other characters for precision (and “foils” aren’t about determining who’s better, it’s about putting traits into relief). I think Dany, Stannis and Jon are the pertinent foils here. Stannis represents the side of pure order, “ice,” as it pertains. He’s fundamentally determined to uphold order as his highest ideal, and specifically, preservation of the current order. Though he bucks the system a bit with his appointments of Davos and Mel, he’s not looking at the system itself with a critical eye, seeking any sort of change to the status quo. I see him as a representation of stability, order, and inertia. That is to say, I see him as Dany’s opposite.



Jon’s in between, opposite to neither. Unlike Stannis, Jon does examine the status quo critically, and unlike Dany, he is suited to the task of administrating and keeping order. But before it seems as though he’s superior to either because he negotiates between, it should be noted that he lacks Dany’s significant power and freedom to actually shake things up enough to effect the progressive aims he seeks. Without someone like Dany, or at least the sort of deconstruction she brings, Jon can’t manifest his virtue of being someone who’s both reformer and administrator. So my point is that none of these 3 characters or representations is inherently better than the others, but truly necessary in the greater context of the series.



This dovetails directly into the basic theme of the series: ice vs. fire, symbolically, the conflict between preservation, inertia and order versus destruction, change, and chaos. Neither side is sustainable on its own, and neither side inherently more evil than the other.

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Just chiming in to say that I agree with Bumps.



I wonder if Ned's death is symbolic of the death of the Old Ways. He was after all killed by a symbol of his own beliefs-Ice-and for insisting upon clinging to the old chestnut that is patrilinear inheritance.


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Good essay as usual. Dany is a catalyst for change. The problem is she is in way over her head and in the end I doubt she will make any real change. Take slavery for example. I doubt when everything is done that slavery will be abolished. It's to ingrained into the system and culture in Essos. Dany may want change but she isn't competent or strong enough to change the system IMO. She is trying to do good yet she is doing as much hard as she is good. The communists thought they were doing good also yet they killed millions to enact their vision of a just and good society. Dany is killing and destroying to make change that she sees as good. While her intentions are good she just isn't capable of making things better. When it's all said and done I think Dany will have made things much worse.




Also it's hard not to look at Dany as a ruler. She is both a ruler and an agent of change. She is a ruler by choice though. She crowned herself and took on the responsibility of being a ruler herself. She wants to be viewed as a ruler. I don't see how we can't put expectations on her ruling ability. I get what your saying though and agree with most of it. Dany is just in way over her head and naive to the complex issues at work.


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I agree in general with the gist that she isn't going to be a ruler, and that was never her destiny, she's embracing her true destiny as a conqueror only now, at the end of the last book. You could even say the author has been beating us over the head with this from the beginning, she has been telling us, she's going to take what is her with fire and blood since the beginning....it's only now...she seems to realize what that means...the dragon does not plant. She, herself, has been and still is conflicted over the use of power and the negatives that come with it, as well as over what she really wants..is it the house with the red door or the iron throne.



I'm not sure that means she shouldn't also be evaluated for her actions as a ruler, and be given a pass due to her meta role as a change agent, especially since we don't yet even know if she is going to have effected any positive change in Slaver's Bay or not. So, far she created a lot of chaos, but there is not much reason to see hope for the emergency of a new more positive structure, it looks much more likely it's going to lapse back into slavery, but that could all change on a dime.


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Wow, just wow. Very good job on the analysis of the series and the theme of change vs stability, I absolutely love it, and agree with it. Also I think you're pretty spot on with the Stannis, Jon and Dany analysis. Dany is Fire and destroys everything in her path, but can't build anything (as fire is purely destructive), and will slowly burn herself out ( I do believe she won't survive the series) and Stannis being Ice seems very right considering his character ( Which in itself is strange considering he is supposed to be the champion that fights Ice and darkness). If Jon really is Rhaegar's son, this theory of yours gives yet another reason to consider Jon "The Song of Ice and Fire".



Beautifully done, I can't add much because you've already said everything and even in this short post I've mostly just repeated what you said, besides showing my appreciation.

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Very good essay, I agree. Dany just isn't a ruler, and if she realises that herself, I think she might come of quite a bit more sympathic. Good comparison of Stannis, Dany and Jon, even though I belive that at the end of ADWD the last thing Jon needs is Dany with her three dragons shaking things up...


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Good essay as usual. Dany is a catalyst for change. The problem is she is in way over her head and in the end I doubt she will make any real change. Take slavery for example. I doubt when everything is done that slavery will be abolished. It's to ingrained into the system and culture in Essos. Dany may want change but she isn't competent or strong enough to change the system IMO. She is trying to do good yet she is doing as much hard as she is good. The communists thought they were doing good also yet they killed millions to enact their vision of a just and good society. Dany is killing and destroying to make change that she sees as good. While her intentions are good she just isn't capable of making things better. When it's all said and done I think Dany will have made things much worse.

Also it's hard not to look at Dany as a ruler. She is both a ruler and an agent of change. She is a ruler by choice though. She crowned herself and took on the responsibility of being a ruler herself. She wants to be viewed as a ruler. I don't see how we can't put expectations on her ruling ability. I get what your saying though and agree with most of it. Dany is just in way over her head and naive to the complex issues at work.

Thanks!

I'd still say that "ruler" is not her true role, despite, as you point out, it's a role she took on for herself. At the risk of making this even more controversial, I think one of the major takeaways, especially of DwD, is that when you view her as a ruler, she looks like an abject failure (the Learning to Lead reread a couple of summers ago kind of brought this into relief). I think accepting that she's unable to fulfill the responsibilities of ruling, and importantly, that the imposition of such order on herself destroys her, that we ought to steer away from the specifics of her ruling mistakes or a ruling rubric of any sort.

On whether slavery was abolished completely, no, I agree that it hasn't been. But I don't think it can be denied that it has changed completely-- that is, it's never going to be the same again.

I'm not sure that means she shouldn't also be evaluated for her actions as a ruler, and be given a pass due to her meta role as a change agent, especially since we don't yet even know if she is going to have effected any positive change in Slaver's Bay or not. So, far she created a lot of chaos, but there is not much reason to see hope for the emergency of a new more positive structure, it looks much more likely it's going to lapse back into slavery, but that could all change on a dime.

I might have touched on this a bit in the above response, but I generally agree we can still evaluate her time in Meereen. I think in terms of proving she's not suited for (or fullfilled by) the role of ruler is just so clearly written that I was more trying to start from that as a point of departure and reframe it-- so I'm already presupposing a certain degree of failure there.

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Very interesting essay, I agree with a lot of it.

Dany is an agent of change and as we have seen both Essos and Westeros have been stagnant for thousands of years. Technological, social, and cultural development have been stuck in a medieval setting for a very long time. I think this in part due to the instability of the seasons but also to the inability of its various leader to question the status quo.

With the arrival of winter and the upcoming war against the Others you'll need a leader like Dany that can mobilize large groups of people, and that people want to rally behind. On the other hand you'll need someone like Jon who understand what and how to use the mobilization and gear it towards a goal. They would be a good team in that respect. Dany has the power, the resources (dragons) and the people, but Jon has the plan and how to intact it.

I always saw fire as both a source of destruction and creation. I think of a volcano after the chaos of it's eruption, once it cools down we get new land created by the lava.

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I think it would be worthwhile to change the conversation. Thanks for the nice framing.



Westeros is like our Medieval history. There were were all the small and large battles for power among the Kingdoms of Europe or China. And then outside forces came in to force radical changes. Sometimes it was a plague (I think Greyscale will represent this) and sometimes a new religion. Other times it was a new conquering force--and this is the role that Dany will play.



I think the best historical figure to compare her to would be Genghis Khan. Like her he had a chlidhood on the run. Like her he was sold as a slave. Like her he led a small band of followers to the wastelands just to survive. Like her he began a campaign of conquest. Like her he tried to settle down just to rule. Like her, he had problems with the elites of conquered territories when they rebelled.



Genghis Kahn responded with fire and blood. I expect that Dany will as well and that when she comes to Westeros she will be seen as something different and more frightening than a returning Targaryen. I expect that Westeros will look at her army of foreigners, her record of conquest in Esso and her Dragons much the same way that Medieval Europe look at the arrival of the Moguls.



She will be radical change as represented by fire. I find her narrative arc from frighten child to her acceptance of Fire and Blood at the end of ADWD to be one of the best in the books.I do not know if she'll be one of those conquerors who burn out quickly or one of those who conquer and then rule wisely for years. I could see it going either way.




The Others will be radical change as represent by Ice. Perhaps The Song of Ice and Fire is how to balance the two.

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That is, I believe rather than evaluate her against the rubric of “ruler,” we look at Dany instead as an “agent of change,” a “catalyst.”

Without a catalyst, some things simply won't change, and while we can hate the catalyst itself, I think looking at the fact that there was a catalyst at all is something to appreciate, knowing that without it, however negative it may be, things would have stayed the same. As it pertains to Dany, the fact that she's the only character with enough power to fairly singularly overcome the inertia of social systems is something I've started to see as positive, broadly speaking. I think there's a sore need for some social progress in a lot of places that could benefit from a bit of shaking.

This is an interesting idea, but I think the major problem is that it fails to call Dany to responsibility for her destructive behavior. Although neither the task of changing a society, nor the task of ruling one are objectively easy, but compared to each other, it's much easier to upend the table and walk away than it is to right it and try to reassemble all of the pieces.

It's not enough to act with the goal of creating change if you're not going to walk away in the resulting chaos. Societies are extremely vulnerable during these time periods, with a high likelihood of returning to conflict as groups with different visions of that society battle for mastery. The best kind of leader for a society in transition is one like Jaehaerys I, someone who understands nuance, possesses patience, and can deal effectively and honestly with parties representing many points of view. No, these are not Dany's talents, but I don't think that we, as readers, can excuse Dany's actions as an "agent of change" and absolve her of any duty to rebuild what she has destroyed.

While Dany may be moving away from an identity based on being a successful ruler, she's probably not the kind to admit her own ignorance, nor embark on a path of improvement. It would be better for her, instead, to agree to be led by someone who has talents she lacks.

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Very good essay, I agree. Dany just isn't a ruler, and if she realises that herself, I think she might come of quite a bit more sympathic. Good comparison of Stannis, Dany and Jon, even though I belive that at the end of ADWD the last thing Jon needs is Dany with her three dragons shaking things up...

I think Dany is exactly what Jon needs.

The Watch is bogged down in millenia of tradition, diseased, gangrened. Fire and blood is exactly what he needs to cleanse it.

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I think Dany is exactly what Jon needs.

The Watch is bogged down in millenia of tradition, diseased, gangrened. Fire and blood is exactly what he needs to cleanse it.

:agree: I think this is what the story is gearing up to.

ETA: at the end of Dany's last chapter in ADWD she says for the first time "to go forward, I must go back" when to that very moment her motto had been "if I look back I am lost". It made me wonder if Dany will learn how to best enact change learning from her last mistakes.

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Genghis Kahn responded with fire and blood. I expect that Dany will as well and that when she comes to Westeros she will be seen as something different and more frightening than a returning Targaryen. I expect that Westeros will look at her army of foreigners, her record of conquest in Esso and her Dragons much the same way that Medieval Europe look at the arrival of the Moguls.

Even Genghis Khan, a tremendously destructive individual and rightly controversial for some of his practices toward conquered peoples, knew enough to a pursue a policy of standardization and stability. He was not a purely destructive influence. He was far from just ruthless, and his success is due as much to his choices as an astute political actor as his fearsome reputation. He setup a state that could endure because he thought ahead and made decisions that contributed to his long-term goals instead of going with how he felt in the moment, as Dany is prone to do. That's something that happens to get missed in a lot of these discussions.

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Interesting thread. I dont really have anything to add to this, other then I think it would be super surprising/fucking awesome if jon dany and Stannis teamed up.






This is an interesting idea, but I think the major problem is that it fails to call Dany to responsibility for her destructive behavior. Although neither the task of changing a society, nor the task of ruling one are objectively easy, but compared to each other, it's much easier to upend the table and walk away than it is to right it and try to reassemble all of the pieces.



It's not enough to act with the goal of creating change if you're not going to walk away in the resulting chaos. Societies are extremely vulnerable during these time periods, with a high likelihood of returning to conflict as groups with different visions of that society battle for mastery. The best kind of leader for a society in transition is one like Jaehaerys I, someone who understands nuance, possesses patience, and can deal effectively and honestly with parties representing many points of view. No, these are not Dany's talents, but I don't think that we, as readers, can excuse Dany's actions as an "agent of change" and absolve her of any duty to rebuild what she has destroyed.



While Dany may be moving away from an identity based on being a successful ruler, she's probably not the kind to admit her own ignorance, nor embark on a path of improvement. It would be better for her, instead, to agree to be led by someone who has talents she lacks.




I think this is exact;y what the op is saying? That dany is good at creating change but not ruling after said change? Hence the need for people like Stannis and jon.


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Sevumar, on 12 Jan 2014 - 12:36 PM, said:

This is an interesting idea, but I think the major problem is that it fails to call Dany to responsibility for her destructive behavior. Although neither the task of changing a society, nor the task of ruling one are objectively easy, but compared to each other, it's much easier to upend the table and walk away than it is to right it and try to reassemble all of the pieces.

It's not enough to act with the goal of creating change if you're not going to walk away in the resulting chaos. Societies are extremely vulnerable during these time periods, with a high likelihood of returning to conflict as groups with different visions of that society battle for mastery. The best kind of leader for a society in transition is one like Jaehaerys I, someone who understands nuance, possesses patience, and can deal effectively and honestly with parties representing many points of view. No, these are not Dany's talents, but I don't think that we, as readers, can excuse Dany's actions as an "agent of change" and absolve her of any duty to rebuild what she has destroyed.

While Dany may be moving away from an identity based on being a successful ruler, she's probably not the kind to admit her own ignorance, nor embark on a path of improvement. It would be better for her, instead, to agree to be led by someone who has talents she lacks.

I think the point was that change always requires massive upheaval. Even if Dany doesn't always make moral choices and even if her actions are destructive, in the long term the change could end up being positive. So it's kind of pointless to focus on the details.

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Interesting thread. I dont really have anything to add to this, other then I think it would be super surprising/fucking awesome if jon dany and Stannis teamed up.

I think this is exact;y what the op is saying? That dany is good at creating change but not ruling after said change? Hence the need for people like Stannis and jon.

Brah! That's largely where I ended the "manifesto," exactly. She (and Westeros) needs them (or people like them, or the virtues they bring) as much as they (and Westeros) require what she can bring to the table.

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Without a catalyst, some things simply won't change, and while we can hate the catalyst itself, I think looking at the fact that there was a catalyst at all is something to appreciate, knowing that without it, however negative it may be, things would have stayed the same.

Something for everyone to bear in mind the next time they slag off The Great One (Baelish for those who don't know).

For me, the major problem with assessing (or attempting to "reassess") Daenerys in this way is that it still does nothing for her. She remains as steadfastly self-righteous, hypocritical and incompetent as ever.

It think it's interesting though that those characters who are looking to change the respective systems they dwell in are almost exclusively some of the most entertaining and thought provoking. Baelish, Doran, Jon, even Euron/Aeron.

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I think the point was that change always requires massive upheaval. Even if Dany doesn't always make moral choices and even if her actions are destructive, in the long term the change could end up being positive. So it's kind of pointless to focus on the details.

But if things changed in say 100 years, would that be because of Dany or because of the work did by other people in Slaver's bay ?

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Brah! That's largely where I ended the "manifesto," exactly. She (and Westeros) needs them (or people like them, or the virtues they bring) as much as they (and Westeros) require what she can bring to the table.

lol, yeah thats what I figured. Im unsure of where the contention in sevumars post came from. Since it seemed to be exactly what you were saying.

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I think this is exact;y what the op is saying? That dany is good at creating change but not ruling after said change? Hence the need for people like Stannis and jon.

I disagree. I think as long as a significant part of Dany's thinking and identity are invested in being a ruler and in avenging her family's fall, she's someone who does seem to have an interest in ruling after conquest and that makes it impossible for me to dismiss. Now, there is always the possibility that she may grow as a character and let go of her aspirations to rule, but I don't really see that happening right now. I'm worried that the call to view Dany only as an agent of change absolves her of responsibility for the destruction her short-sighted actions would impose.

"Good at creating change" is simply "destructive without genuine care or concern about the consequences" with a bit of positive spin. We don't let leaders just be "good at change," we expect them to take responsibility for their actions and for the fallout that such destruction creates. It's possible for positive changes to occur after upheaval, but the best way to ensure a return to a stability and to guard against backsliding are with strong, competent leadership, not an "agent of change" who comes in, destroys, and leaves.

I think the point was that change always requires massive upheaval. Even if Dany doesn't always make moral choices and even if her actions are destructive, in the long term the change could end up being positive. So it's kind of pointless to focus on the details.

This isn't always true. To simply shrug our shoulders and say good things could come of massive destruction is to fail to hold Dany to account for her actions, something we routinely do with other characters and real world leaders.

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