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butterbumps!

Let’s Change the Conversation: Remapping Dany

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Good heavens.

I'm 100% taking into account her past. The point is that in taking into account her past, I've consolidated these points into their takeaways, so that we're not still debating these things in their mind-numbingly overplayed specifics.

So by "move on" I am saying that let's not waste time arguing over the specifics of her actions (do we really need another blessed debate about the 163?), take account that she committed atrocities, and apply that to a broader picture.

I'm not sure why this is so appalling a concept.

Other than the expectations for her future, what exactly does this view change?

We know she has created chaos, whether we view this through the prism of 'change agent' or 'poor ruler'. We don't know yet whether the instability she created is going to yield a more positive social structure or not.

So, if I go on the premise of viewing her only as an agent of change, how does that really change any discussion of her character other than what that view might mean for what she brings to Westeros? Unless the purpose is to stop discussing her failures as a ruler by the shorthand that it's irrevelent because her role is a change agent?

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I'm genuinely curious what you're trying to "move on" to without taking her past and her motivations into account. Yes, she's primed to play a destructive role in the story, there's not a whole lot to do from there if we don't flesh out her future with information from her personality and her past.

Nothing in the OP involves absolving Dany of anything or forgetting her past. It involves presupposing as a requirement of this thread's analysis that we not relitigate the same few contentious decisions Dany has made as a ruler. The idea is to set those issues aside so that we can discuss her through an oft-neglected lens, Dany as a catalyst and representation of 'fire.' If you're not interested in seeing and interpreting Dany's role in the series as an agent of change, and would rather discuss her failures as a ruler, there are many dozens of threads every week or so in which you might do so. I know this because I post in many of them, rather critically of Dany, and yet this hasn't prevented me from accepting the framework that the OP of this thread asks us to consider and discussing it under those terms.

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I agree with !butterbumps Dany's role is for change, even at the very beginning of her story, her character brings about change of old customs and cultures. There are also connection between Dany and "moon" which also represents change, since the moon is always changing and brings changes.


In other words she brings about a literary aura that brings change to things and other characters around her are also effected by such change.


AGOT- first time Dothraki take a Khaleesi as a Khal, Viserys might be the first to draw a weapon at Vaes Dothrak, the return of the dragons, first time magic is used to try and save a khal (magic is frowned upon in the Dothraki society) . These are just a bit.

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So by "move on" I am saying that let's not waste time arguing over the specifics of her actions (do we really need another blessed debate about the 163?), take account that she committed atrocities, and apply that to a broader picture.

I'm not sure why this is so appalling a concept.

From the moment it became clear that Dany was one of the "big three" PoVs, we knew her actions were going to have far-reaching consequences on the story. Her character arc provides ample evidence that she can be a disruptive, highly destructive force. However, the way that Martin is telling the story, we're not likely to have access to a Westeros far enough removed from the story's present to evaluate her legacy.

We know she's going to be a force for destruction, as are many of the other power players in the story. The events and the particulars of her journey are what make her interesting.

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So, if I go on the premise of viewing her only as an agent of change, how does that really change any discussion of her character other than what that view might mean for what she brings to Westeros? Unless the purpose is to stop discussing her failures as a ruler by the shorthand that it's irrevelent because her role is a change agent?

I'll offer some food for thought.

Dany has always had her sights set on Westeros. She also has a strong opposition to slavery, and her intentions in that regard are what keep her from descending into pure "villain" territory, IMHO.

Westerns is a feudal society. Feudalism is a type of bondage, perhaps a half-step up from slavery. In all likelihood, many of the smallfolk in Westeros working tenant farms under a lord have worse living conditions than some of the slaves Dany is freeing in Slaver's Bay. (That's not to make excuses for SB -- to my mind, both systems are abhorrent.)

One might ask how Dany, as an agent of change and abolitionist, might make changes to the underlying social structure of Westeros.

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One might ask how Dany, as an agent of change and abolitionist, might make changes to the underlying social structure of Westeros.

Dany won't be making any change, because according to OP, Dany is incompetent. Dany will cause mass destruction and then somebody else (a ruler) will make the change.

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From the moment it became clear that Dany was one of the "big three" PoVs, we knew her actions were going to have far-reaching consequences on the story. Her character arc provides ample evidence that she can be a disruptive, highly destructive force. However, the way that Martin is telling the story, we're not likely to have access to a Westeros far enough removed from the story's present to evaluate her legacy.

We know she's going to be a force for destruction, as are many of the other power players in the story. The events and the particulars of her journey are what make her interesting.

I don't know that. There is a good chance of it, but she could just as well have a Stannis like epiphany that her true mission is to save the people of Westeros from the Others and use all of her power and dragons in an epic battle of fire and ice where she's destroying the forces that would destroy Westeros....rather than, going in and burning various Houses to the ground and creating general chaos and killing usupers and their dogs or some such to create some kind of future societal change.

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Westerns is a feudal society. Feudalism is a type of bondage, perhaps a half-step up from slavery. In all likelihood, many of the smallfolk in Westeros working tenant farms under a lord have worse living conditions than some of the slaves Dany is freeing in Slaver's Bay. (That's not to make excuses for SB -- to my mind, both systems are abhorrent.)

One might ask how Dany, as an agent of change and abolitionist, might make changes to the underlying social structure of Westeros.

She might well, but I'm not sure that this is the major point of her involvement in the story. Westeros is a land of missed opportunities for reform, and the types of reforms you're talking about take a long time to solidify. This is why I'm skeptical of this as the main thrust of her participation in the story. We'd have to see a Westeros quite a bit down the line to know if what she may want to do there is taking hold or not.

What we do know is that we have a war coming between the humans of Westeros and the Others. Dany's association with dragons seems to be an important factor in that war, although we're not sure exactly what role they'll play and how they'll be used. As a leader, she might get to the point where she has to make a choice to use her power to pursue her personal/familial goals or in the defense of the realm she wants to rule. I see that as a defining character moment for her, more than just an "agent of change."

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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.

Just wanted to say great post Butterbumps! Your insight, knowledge, and even wisdom all become directly apparent through your writing and observations. (Disclaimer: I have not read the thread, only the first post) In your dissection of Dany’s arc Chaos Theory seems to be touched upon but never directly mentioned, I wonder if you’re familiar with the theory, and, perhaps more importantly, if GRRM is familiar with it (probably) and consciously utilizes it in the ASOIAF series?

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Other than the expectations for her future, what exactly does this view change?

We know she has created chaos, whether we view this through the prism of 'change agent' or 'poor ruler'. We don't know yet whether the instability she created is going to yield a more positive social structure or not.

So, if I go on the premise of viewing her only as an agent of change, how does that really change any discussion of her character other than what that view might mean for what she brings to Westeros? Unless the purpose is to stop discussing her failures as a ruler by the shorthand that it's irrevelent because her role is a change agent?

Well, the thesis here is that I think when you examine Dany's arc, everything adds up to the conclusion that she is an agent of change-- that this is her "role." So, to be clear, I'm not trying to impose a framework on her, but rather came to the conclusion that that this is what her role truly is.

For me, this is important from an analytical standpoint-- in terms of "getting" her character, and on a very personal level, how I made "peace" with Dany as a character (because I absolutely hated her, and still dislike much about her subjectively). I'm not looking at this as a way of seeing her more positively necessarily, but in terms of discussing her character-- and I mean, really getting to the grit of what she's about-- I think remapping her as an agent of change helps put a lot of things into perspective.

Interrogating her against the rubric of "ruler" gets us nowhere; ruling almost destroys her personally, she doesn't succeed at it, and it doesn't take into account her actuals strengths, and yes, she does possess some. Ruling is a failed mask she's worn; focusing on this misses her broader character.

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I'll offer some food for thought.

Dany has always had her sights set on Westeros. She also has a strong opposition to slavery, and her intentions in that regard are what keep her from descending into pure "villain" territory, IMHO.

Westerns is a feudal society. Feudalism is a type of bondage, perhaps a half-step up from slavery. In all likelihood, many of the smallfolk in Westeros working tenant farms under a lord have worse living conditions than some of the slaves Dany is freeing in Slaver's Bay. (That's not to make excuses for SB -- to my mind, both systems are abhorrent.)

One might ask how Dany, as an agent of change and abolitionist, might make changes to the underlying social structure of Westeros.

i would find that extremely strange since Westeros looks much more like a middle ages Europe with a small middle class of shop keepers, merchants and skilled artisans than some kind of Russian serf society where everyone but the rich are barely alive, the small folks lives have been depicted as difficult and very much at the whim of greater events, but nothing close to slavery. Even villans like Roose Bolton seem to want to see his people peaceful and happy. I don't see that we've been set up at all to see Westeros as a society that is so fundamentally unjust it needs to be burned down and recreated from the ground up.

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Dany won't be making any change, because according to OP, Dany is incompetent. Dany will cause mass destruction and then somebody else (a ruler) will make the change.

But I didn't say any of that. I said she was incompetent at ruling, and I also pointed out that the imposition of order and ruling on her nearly destroyed her.

She's a fantastic and compelling leader, and in that capacity, I think this is largely where her talents are expressed.

And no, I specifically said Dany is the person able to actually change things, the one who has the will and power to disrupt systems that need disruption. But she's not a builder; I suspect the role of implementing reform will fall to someone else.

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I'm not looking at this as a way of seeing her more positively necessarily, but in terms of discussing her character-- and I mean, really getting to the grit of what she's about-- I think remapping her as an agent of change helps put a lot of things into perspective.

Interrogating her against the rubric of "ruler" gets us nowhere; ruling almost destroys her personally, she doesn't succeed at it, and it doesn't take into account her actuals strengths, and yes, she does possess some. Ruling is a failed mask she's worn; focusing on this misses her broader character.

I think the thing that's problematic about this view for me is that we already know she's going to be important to the story, and that, as a powerful character with access to creatures unseen in Westeros for 150 years, she's going to have a dramatic impact on the situation in Westeros. So the "change" thing is a bit of a given, and doesn't seem to shed much light on the character.

I also think we need to consider Dany in terms of how she performs according to her values and her goals. We know that she values the possession of the Iron Throne, "avenging" her family, and bringing down the current rulers of Westeros. It would require a drastic character change for her to let go of these core parts of her identity and motives. Such a change is possible, and it would represent a focal point of her future arc. Dismissing the things that Dany tells us are important to her doesn't get us anything useful, in my view.

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Meh.



I’m fascinated so many people seem to see sense in this OP. I can’t understand it all.



Just another piece of Jon stanning and Dany bashing, but slightly more cunningly disguised than usual.


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But I didn't say any of that. I said she was incompetent at ruling, and I also pointed out that the imposition of order and ruling on her nearly destroyed her.

She's a fantastic and compelling leader, and in that capacity, I think this is largely where her talents are expressed.

And no, I specifically said Dany is the person able to actually change things, the one who has the will and power to disrupt systems that need disruption. But she's not a builder; I suspect the role of implementing reform will fall to someone else.

You called Dany a catalyst. A catalyst only speeds up a change/reaction that is already happening.

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Dany won't be making any change, because according to OP, Dany is incompetent. Dany will cause mass destruction and then somebody else (a ruler) will make the change.

I think the thing that's problematic about this view for me is that we already know she's going to be important to the story, and that, as a powerful character with access to creatures unseen in Westeros for 150 years, she's going to have a dramatic impact on the situation in Westeros. So the "change" thing is a bit of a given, and doesn't seem to shed much light on the character.

I also think we need to consider Dany in terms of how she performs according to her values and her goals. We know that she values the possession of the Iron Throne, "avenging" her family, and bringing down the current rulers of Westeros. It would require a drastic character change for her to let go of these core parts of her identity and motives. Such a change is possible, and it would represent a focal point of her future arc. Dismissing the things that Dany tells us are important to her doesn't get us anything useful, in my view.

Oy vey.

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FWIW, I fully agree with this concept. Very nice analysis, butterbumps! I wish we could all agree and move on.






This is pretty much what I'm saying as well. We hold all kinds of characters and their actions up for moral scrutiny and to exclude Dany because she sometimes claims to act according to ideals we'd agree with is to uniquely let her off the hook. Under close examination, we can see that most of her big decisions are driven by self-interest and advancing her personal goals instead of the high-minded ideals she sometimes claims, like most other players in the game.




What decisions are you exactly referencing?



If Daenerys was all about advancing herself for personal gain, I think she would already be in Westeros. God knows she has had plenty of opportunities.






Every successful ruler needs level-headed counselors. No one person possesses the knowledge and experience to rule successfully alone, so it's natural to expect Dany to learn the value of good advice if she does end up in a position to rule. I just don't see her relinquishing power after committing a series of massive destructive actions in the series (short of her dying in the process) in some sort of Westerosi equivalent of Sulla. She's not invested in a system enough to be able to step back and hand over power to those who have the knowledge and skills to rule. She can't even build a system or see the value of one on her own.








Dany's entire character arc to date has shown she's not good at this kind of analysis. The very core of her character is an assumption that she is due the queenship of Westeros, while she has done next to nothing to prepare herself for the task of ruling. As long as ruling remains her goal, we have to take it into account when discussing her actions and her role in the story, however much we might want her to give up on it. She hasn't learned the lesson yet.





Yet you are contradicting yourself. To break this down, consider that before marrying Khal Drogo, Daenerys spent her life under the rule of Viserys and often only at the mercy of those who dared to host the siblings. How would one be prepared for the task of ruling (classically, mentored by other rulers/maester/teacher) in this case? And now, how to presume to teach someone already styled Queen? Also, you can take into account the lack of reliability and usefulness of basically anyone she has ever come into contact with. As a positive, Dany has done something to prepare herself for the task of ruling AKA the queenship of Westeros: be queen of Meereen.



Daenerys WAS invested in abolishing slavery, by your own definition: when she sacks Astapor, killing all the slavers, she does in fact step back and hand over the power.



What happened in Meereen is not to be forgotten but I think it is important that Daenerys is not the sum of just that situation. Butterbumps' OP is a good reminder that whatever Daenerys' title is, she is more than that - whether positive or negative. Some of us get stuck in a rut when discussing her, I do see people only taking her as her value as queen of Meereen.


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Very good OP and very good thread following, but I am amazed once again that Tyrion is not even considered as an alternative as a true game changer (sending Aegon to Westeros for instance) or even a potential good ruler? Let's see how effective the Danny / Tyrion pair will be in the next book...


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Interrogating her against the rubric of "ruler" gets us nowhere; ruling almost destroys her personally, she doesn't succeed at it, and it doesn't take into account her actuals strengths, and yes, she does possess some. Ruling is a failed mask she's worn; focusing on this misses her broader character.

I like the use of the word mask, I always suspected GRRM used TheWomanWearingTheQueenlyMask trope, as it fits her arc very well.

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