[Spoilers ADWD] Daenerys Demurred: A look into the dangers of Dany’s journey into Westeros
“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” – Oscar Wilde
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It is known. She will touch down in Westeros, she will conquer King’s Landing, and she will sit the Iron Throne.
But instead of being victorious, this will lead to her own undoing.
(i) For her army is in danger of imploding once it lands in Westeros due to the lack of food and treasure, (ii) her motives to head west were born from the bias of her brother and will eventually be dispelled, (iii) King’s landing will be a new source of antagonism instead of a new home, and (iv) winter will overwhelm her prospects of ruling. (v) But it can still be worth it all.
(i) THE IMPERILED ARMY
With dragons at its center, Dany’s army is a veritable katamari of power, having accrued numerous factions towards a formidable stature and may continue to grow more. But the composition of her army will become a malady as they wade into Westeros, for the lack of food and treasure will cause her forces to dissent and operate against her wishes. Without local support to stave off the rising consternation within her retinue, Daenerys will watch her forces be torn asunder without any external opposition.
The dire need for local support and the failure to garner it
There is currently a food crisis in Westeros (chiefly at King’s Landing) due to the War of the Five Kings in conjunction with the advent of winter. It started early and grew to the point where, despite aid from House Tyrell, food prices became “shockingly high”. Even if she anticipates this problem, it is questionable that Daenerys would be able to ship enough food across the Narrow Sea for her campaign (conducting marches and sieges) and post-campaign (upkeep for garrison), let alone to help feed a starving population. To help mitigate this, Dany must either (a) forcibly take provisions from another castle and condemn them to starvation, (b) autonomously forage & hunt for food in the face of slim pickings, and/or (c) establish alliances for some local support.
This is where (f)Aegon creates some real problems for Daenerys, as he will be the one who galvanizes the latent supporters for House Targaryen due to his early arrival. Before Daenerys will have her chance to wrest them back, these supporters will have met Jon Connington, who carries a plague for those who were loyal enough to have been the first-responders to the Targaryen banner. Potential supporters that did not yet rush out to meet the “mummer’s dragon” will have to consider how the first new Targaryen brought grayscale to Westeros, damaging the Targaryen brand. Although the ownership of dragons may serve to vindicate Dany’s bloodline to any doubters, it may also serve as a false proof to any who have contested (f)Aegon’s real identity by conflating their sequential arrivals.
Even if Daenerys gets her foot in the door, she will find that there is a large gap to bridge for any diplomacy, as potential supporters will have difficulty in finding a common identity with Daenerys and her forces, even against a mutual enemy, and are more likely to unite against her instead.
This is due to the fact that Dany’s army is an amalgam of distinctly different groups that are all alien to Westeros: multiple mercenary companies, unsullied eunuchs, undisciplined freemen, and Dothraki screamers. Any Westerosi interaction with Dany’s army would likely be a harrowing experience due to, not only cultural differences, but also a language barrier. Daenerys may find difficulty in being the face for a foreign army and must restrain herself from allowing her temper to flare, for she may easily earn the title of “Daughter of the Mad King” should any diplomatic missions go awry.
The mercenaries within Dany’s army are the same as any other mercenary groups; they have little loyalty in their buyers and are namely concerned with plundering. These mercenaries are bound to discover that King’s Landing is in such dire straits that they have sold all of their finest goods and have emptied their vaults in order to keep themselves fed. These mercenaries will have traveled across the world for riches, only to have arrived into a nation of extreme debt. If they cannot find anything to loot, the mercenaries will resort to other spoils of war, such as raping and pillaging the folk that Daenerys seeks to rule over.
Daenerys may be lined up to acquire more forces for her army, such as Khal Jhaqo’s khalasar and/or Victarion’s Iron Fleet, but she will be significantly increasing the percentage of her army that will be sorely disappointed from the lack of plunder in the Crownlands, as well as increasing the number of mouths to feed.
The Dothraki (gained from Khal Jhaqo) are more likely to ride out into the realms of Westeros than help provide a garrison for a ‘sitting’ queen. Regardless of where they are when winter comes, their horses will die from starvation and/or become their only food, killing off their source of cultural and spiritual identity. If they do remain in the Crownlands, then there may very well be some disgruntled Dothraki trapped within the walls of King’s Landing by the end of the series.
Meanwhile, Dany’s dragons are in danger from..
..Euron Greyjoy, the ironborn king who intends to ensnare Dany’s dragons with Dragonbinder via its bearer, Victarion, and Marwyn the Mage, an archmaester of questionable history who has left his post at Oldtown for the allure of dragons. Marwyn’s motive is not transparent like Euron’s, but it is difficult to paint him in a benevolent role that would offer selfless aid to Daenerys due to being a dabbler in bloodmagic and having anti-establishment views.
Brown Ben Plumm moved his Second Sons to the banners of Yunkai when he believed that Dany’s dragons cannot be controlled. If Daenerys were to lose more than the mere control of her dragons, such as having one captured or killed, her trappings of power will be tarnished, the morale of her troops will be squelched, and she must bear the loss of one or more of her coveted children.
(ii) THE UNDERMINED MOTIVE
Little does Dany know how deluded she has become by growing up with her brother during their mutual flight across the Free Cities. Her brother’s obsession with the west has enabled her to romanticize a land unknown to her and to misunderstand the dichotomy between her father and his alleged killers. As Daenerys progresses into Westeros, the motives that originally belonged to Viserys will begin to betray her.
The revelation about “The Mad King” is still pending
Dany does recognize that her knowledge of Aerys II has been almost entirely dependent on her brother, Viserys, and that Barristan Selmy could be the person to help her discover who her father really was. But Barristan has failed before and since to mention anything substantive when given the opportunity. Daenerys is overdue for some proper disclosure about the true nature of The Mad King and of the likelihood that she was born from Aerys raping his wife. Depending on from whom this information comes from, Dany’s sense of identity in being a Targaryen will likely sour and inflict damage on her psyche.
Westeros has been on a pedestal
Daenerys was smuggled to Braavos immediately after her birth. Including her first chapter in Pentos (where she had stayed for only a relatively short time), Dany had seen seven of the nine Free Cities in her thirteen years of age. Since then, she has visited the ruins of Sarnath within the Dothraki Sea, has perused through the two markets of Vaes Dothrak, has experienced the wonders that live in Qarth, and has made a sojourn in each surviving city of the Ghis empire (Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen). This means that Daenerys has personally seen a lot of what Essos has to offer, including five of the nine Wonders Made by Man.
On the other hand, Dany’s knowledge of Westeros is limited to the bias of Viserys and the stories he often told. The lands of the Seven Kingdoms were just words to her that were later colored in by a book of tales for children. She has set herself up to believe that her western heading will take her to kinder lands.
Daenerys will soon discover that Westeros is actually the lesser prize between the two continents:
Arguably, Essos is economically, culturally and politically more advanced than its counterpart, which may be illustrated by using analogues from real-life history. This can be ascribed to having historical foundations under the great empires of Ghis and Valyria, and to have had prospered under an era of relative peace for the past three hundred years (between its last major war and Dany’s emergence in aCoK) as signified by the lengthy incumbency of the elephant party in Volantis and the recent majority of the tigers.
The past three hundred years in Westeros can be interpreted as the fiery installment of the Targaryen dynasty and its subsequent, numerous civil wars & rebellions across generations. Apart from Arbor wine, there is no demand for Westerosi exports across the Narrow Sea. The lush Riverlands are currently scorched and rife with gallows. All of Westeros is crawling with rebellion while its capital cannot keep itself adequately fed. Additionally, Westeros is routinely stifled by brutal winters and is about to experience its most damning one yet.
Using her brother’s torch to search for home
When Daenerys is in the Western Market of Vaes Dothrak, she thought that it had “smelled of home.” But when the market is being described, she is reminded of the Free Cities:
The Eastern Market was a place of wonder and magic for Dany.
But the Western Market smelled of home.
As Irri and Jhiqui helped her from her litter, she sniffed, and recognized the sharp odors of garlic and pepper, scents that reminded Dany of days long gone in the alleys of Tyrosh and Myr and brought a fond smile to her face. Under that she smelled the heady sweet perfumes of Lys.
[aGoT Daenerys VI]
So how does Westeros come into play?
Daenerys’ primordial motive is to “go home”, or to return to the house with the red door, which represents the freedom from danger that she once briefly had and still yearns for. It is arguably the basis for her other motives, such as her motive for revenge, as the Usurper had constantly chased her for virtually all of her life, driving her out sanctuary and diminishing her chances to find a new one, gradually robbing her of her sense of security.
It is also the basis for her motive to take Westeros, for Viserys had effectively asserted his own desire for reclamation over Dany’s uncertainty on where home might truly lie, so that when she things of “home”, she images of places she has never seen before (ie Dragonstone, King’s Landing), then paints all the doors red. Ultimately, when she mourns the death of her ‘Sun and Stars’, she is also mourning the lost opportunity of finally going home to Westeros, not the Free Cities.
This conflation, between her claim to the Iron Throne and wanting to make a home for herself, will discombobulate Daenerys soon after she takes King’s Landing, as it will have lead her to contrive the further suffering of its citizens by inserting an army that is starved from food and material victory. As Dany had once believed that her wish to go home had blinded her from the safety of those she left behind, she will find herself in a similar situation when the act of “going home” will directly endanger those who she had sought to rule.
The bitter taste of hijacked vengeance with leftover Lannisters
Daenerys is not entirely certain in her quest for vengeance. Yet oddly enough, despite having confirmation on the deaths of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark, revenge still persists as one of Dany’s driving motives. To learn of Tywin Lannister’s demise will further occlude her vengeance as it clinches the deaths of almost everyone that Viserys had named as the “Usurper’s Dogs”. Daenerys may seek vengeance by hunting down the remaining “golden Lannisters”, but she will be unable to fully satiate her supposed thirst:
Cersei has been deposed, disparaged and declawed, giving Daenerys little else than the sole role of executioner.
Jaime may be the Kingslayer, but the truth is on his side; Aerys II was a terrible king and Jaime put an end to his madness, saving King’s Landing. To kill Jaime would metaphorically be an assault on the truth. Jaime won’t be looking for forgiveness and may very well lash out if his back is against the wall, provoking the assault from Daenerys if his words are more sharp than her liking.
Tommen is in the optimal place to receive retribution as he currently sits the throne and bears both the Baratheon and Lannister insignia. However, he is defined in his innocence; vengeance upon this child would be misguided.
On one hand, Tyrion has a significant amount of needed field intelligence, is willingly submitting himself to Dany’s service, and can be considered as the Anti-Lannister. On the other hand, he is ripe for retribution, for he openly desires to rape and kill his sister, he still boldly wields the Lannister name, and he is a misshaped dwarf with unsettling mismatched eyes, made all the more uglier by a missing nose. To acquire one hand, Daenerys must disregard the other.
(iii) PERSONA NON GRATA
There will not be a single element in King’s Landing that comports with Dany’s idyllic images of a happy kingdom, for the capital will be rife with unrest and Daenerys herself will exacerbate existing tribulations. Brittle relationships will follow a cold reception, where Dany will find herself attempting to subjugate a people that do not want her there. The remains from previous Targaryen rule will poignantly reveal that Daenerys is following in the footsteps of her ancestors and is on the road to repeating their mistakes.
The air is foul and stretches for miles
King’s Landing smells pretty bad.
It.. smells something awful.
To be more precise, it smells like an unwashed whore.
And war has not made the stench any better. A flood of common folk from across the realms have gathered within the walls of King’s Landing, contributing to a spike of homelessness.
A clash with the Faith Militant lies ahead
Even before the Faith Militant had existed, mobs had formed over the price of bread and have rioted directly against authority. Since then, over the course of multiple books, more and more refugees have flocked towards the capital to seek shelter from the cruelties of war and are not inclined to tolerate any further transgressions, especially after having been given the right to bear arms.
If Dany’s first impression of the city is of its smell and disproportionate living conditions, then the city’s first impression of Daenerys will be of her incommunicable, ravaging army. Without proper plunder, Dany’s army will seek other fruits of warfare, inciting a response from the Faith Militant.
To be crowned is to wear “floppy ears”
Daenerys needs the Faith’s blessing in order to be officially crowned as ‘Queen of the Seven Kingdoms’; the crown is not something that Daenerys can simply take, but rather it is something that the High Septon gives. Aegon the Conquerer had set the precedent by kneeling to the Faith of the Seven, and Daenerys must do so as well.
The current High Septon (a.k.a. the ‘High Sparrow’) had leveraged the crown before by withholding his blessing of Tommen (which lead to the repeal of Maegor’s law), as he was concerned about injustices against septs across the land. Daenerys has a large gap to fill in order to curry favor with the Faith, as her army will have directly antagonized the population, and she is unable to fulfill their greatest need: food, for now and for winter.
Daenerys will be expected, at the very least, to display a sense of piety towards the Seven. The problem is is that Daenerys has never felt imbued by or has expressed reverence towards any particular god.
Without any real piety to offer or to draw from, Daenerys must adorn the floppy ears that she had grown to detest during her rule in Meereen in order to propitiate her pious underlords. Can Daenerys maintain control of her troops with some mere express commands? Will she be able to properly and/or effectively adjudicate any altercations between the Faith Militant and her own army?
‘How to Chain Your Dragon’
The ruins of the Dragonpit are a sizable landmark in King’s Landing that stand as a testament to:
the ancestral failure of chaining dragons, as made evident by the tapering line of dragon skulls beneath the Red Keep.
the strife within the Targaryen dynasty, as the story of how the Dragonpit became a ruin will attest to.
the dilemma of how Daenerys can keep Drogon free & unbound while ensuring the safety of King’s Landing and the safety of Drogon from the people.
The antithesis between acquisition and success
Daenerys had once envisioned for herself a prosperous kingdom. In order see this vision into fruition, “she must conquer.” And now she has earned the very symbol of conquest, which will be a sharp contrast to the ornate chairs in Qarth and her cushioned seat in Meereen.
Her ultimate prize will be representative of her dark path towards “victory”; a towering monstrosity with a haunting visage, while being straight up dangerous to sit in. It is unlikely she will find any consolation in something so cold and uninviting, in this sole reward of all her efforts.
Daenerys will be compelled to reflect on her conquest in the abhorrent nature of the Iron Throne and recognize the miasma of war & suffering that radiates from it, as indicated by the squalor & destitution of her new subjects.
(iv) THE UNSEEN TSUNAMI
It is no longer coming; it is here. Winter will stop all trade, blanket the realms with an impenetrable fog of war, freeze people in their homes, and dissolve the rule of law as everyone fights for the last scraps of food that they can find. But the largest threat is that of which has been largely unknown to all, especially to our heroine. If nothing before has dissuaded Daenerys to call King’s Landing her home (a place that provides security), winter will ensure that it is an impossibility.
Leaping before she looks
If one were to only read Daenerys’ chapters as if it were a standalone novel, never once glancing at the rest of the book, the reader would not know what winter actually means in Westeros. For instance, only two mentions of snow exist: once as a reference to a color, and the other in the phrase, “rare as summer snows.”
In four mentions of winter, only one actually refers to a winter in Westeros, where Jorah calls it “more terrible than you can imagine”. But Jorah only speaks for Bear Island far in the North and never expands on it, and Daenerys does not contemplate on it nor revisit the concept later.
All the while, winter’s reach has been steadily growing. Stannis’ army has already been “kissed” by autumn above the Neck, while in King’s Landing, the members of the Small Council retreat to their fires to escape the abnormal cold. By the time Daenerys lands in Westeros, winter will be settling in, transforming the landscape and cursing Dany’s quest.
At what point will Daenerys realize what she is getting into? As of right now, there is nothing stopping it from being when she actually lands in Westeros.
There is little and less to suggest that Daenerys will have a modicum of knowledge about the once-dormant, supernatural threat beyond the Wall until she encounters it herself. For example, The Night’s Watch was mentioned two times, but only describing it as a prison sentence and a life of duty respectively.
There are zero mentions of any wights, wildings, snarks or grumkins from Dany’s POV. When it comes to The Others, there are two mentions within a single exchange, taking place before the invasion of Meereen in aSoS. Jorah says, “The Others take you, Selmy.”
Daenerys herself says, “The Others can have you both.” And that’s it. But this is an instance of colloquialism, not knowledge of an ancient menace or of its looming arrival.
If the Others do present themselves later in Dany’s chapters, it will (arguably) be in the form of a Diabolus ex Machina, the evil counterpart of a Deus ex Machina; a literary device that would bring in a new plot & adversary from completely outside of Dany’s scope to make her bad situation worse.
It can be suggested that Daenerys needs a new motive to undertake after her old motives had begun to buckle. By introducing a new scenario, such as ‘The Other War’, Daenerys can repurpose her presence in King’s Landing to be the leader in an all-stakes battle for the seven realms. This would be incongruous for two reasons: (1) Targaryens bear no relevance to the battles endured by the First Men during the first Long Night. The Others had last come ~8000 years ago, while the reign of Targaryens had only recently lasted for almost 300 years. For Dany to assume this responsibility of being the savior of Westeros is, thematically speaking, a large stretch to fill in to a new role. (2) To suddenly & forcibly inject a new plot in order to supersede the old plot would totally t-bone any meaningful momentum to Dany’s arc.
Instead of replacing her motives, the Diabolus ex Machina can instead serve Daenerys by ensuring that she expunges her old motives, as the Others are an insurmountable threat and give credence to the idea that staying in King’s Landing is ultimately an untenable goal. Her motives and means to rule Westeros have been deteriorating, and the Other’s can assist in finalizing this process.
(v) FULMINATION OF DESTINY
It will be an enervating experience for Daenerys having her mission become upended, especially when it has been such a costly endeavor and inextricably tied to her self-identity. It is inevitable that she will reevaluate her presence in King’s Landing and the role of Targaryens in Westeros, leading her to uproot her own kingdom. All that is left is to engage the mystery ahead that lies eastward, but only after eliminating any sources of doubt.
Admission of the end
Although she is barren, Daenerys is expected to produce an heir with Hizdahr zo Loraq. When her husband whispered a prayer into her ear, wishing to produce a son, Dany did not respond, and allowed him to “keep his hopes.” There were not any emotional consequences for this, as (1) Dany’s true commitment lies in Westeros, not in ruling Meereen, and (2) she only married him to broker peace, not for how she might feel about him. But how will she feel when it’s regarding someone closer to ‘home’?
Somewhere in King’s Landing, there is likely someone who has been surreptitiously toasting to fond memories of House Targaryen, who will have their hearts soar when Daenerys comes in, riding on her black dragon, to revive their spirits & cheer and to reestablish the ancient Valyrian lineage. Daenerys will likely let this person “keep their hopes” as she did with Hizdahr, but the difference this time is that she implicitly seeks the approval of this earnest loyalist. And when this loyalist smiles at her, it will reflect her lie. The shame of being unable to fulfill these expectations will incline Dany to review the reasons on why she came to Westeros, only to find that they all have been undone.
For her conquest was not for revenge, as there were no ripe fruit to reap it from. It was not for reprisal of her father’s death, for he had deserved his end. It was not to save King’s Landing, for she has inflicted more damage than if she had never come at all. She has not come to restore the Targaryen dynasty, as she is unable to have a child. And she did not come for those who had stayed true to her family, for she will be unable to be true to them.
For all intents and purposes, Dany’s mission has been whittled down to an exercise in vanity, which will be in accordance with the furtive truth that the Targaryen dynasty ends with her, that she is the last dragon.
‘I Have Faith in Quaithe’
Not only must Daenerys accept the end of the Targaryen dynasty, but she must construct a new narrative to help her move forward from her greatest upset. There are two people that can offer Daenerys such a resolution, representing their respective sides of the choice between staying in Westeros and to simply fly away into the unknown.
Varys has invested a great deal of time and effort to install a new Targaryen to sit the Iron Throne. There is great probability (if the two should meet) that he will try to sway a dejected Daenerys into embracing the Iron Throne, to convince her that she is duty-bound to its responsibilities. Daenerys has the capacity to see through someone when they attempt to cajole her, but Varys only uses flattery to disarm, not to persuade. There is always truth in his speech, and his ability to persuade someone with choice words justifies Quaithe’s lingering warning to Dany to “beware the perfumed seneschal.”
Although Quaithe herself has been enshrouded in mystery, her purpose can be interpreted through her actions:
- Quaithe has told Daenerys that she has revived magic in the world through the birth of her dragons. There will be those who seek out Dany’s dragons, and that she should remain wary “of all”, of everyone. Nonetheless, Quaithe has dropped some clues of some particular people, allowing Daenerys to make up her own mind by withholding specific names
- Quaithe offers to show Daenerys the path towards the “truth” that waits for her in Asshai. The current ambiguity of what this truth actually represents is an opportunity for Dany to have an open ending.
Daenerys has instinctively heeded Quaithe’s warning to “beware” by keeping her guard up and has remained cautious of those who fall under Quaithe’s descriptions. Due to how Dany has taken stock in Quaithe’s words, while hoping to see her again, Daenerys will likely refuse Varys’ offer and head to Asshai at the end of the series.
The Hard Reset
If Daenerys should abandon Westeros to head for Asshai, she must decide the fate for the Iron Throne, for if she leaves it behind, it will be used by future generations in another game of thrones, as it is a monument of conquest that beckons others to play a political “king of the hill”. It is Dany’s prerogative to say whether or not someone else can stand atop of the achievements made by her ancestors, for it was the power of dragons that united the kingdoms and forged the throne.. and it is the power of dragons that can destroy the throne and divide the land into seven kingdoms.
Destroying the Iron Throne will ensure that Daenerys moves forward without any chance of her looking back. Once it is gone, winter promises to sweep away the vestigial remains of the royal dominion that binds the seven realms together. When spring finally comes, no one will be able to use the Iron Throne to attempt to unite the kingdoms during its period of convalescence. If they want to do so, they must conquer in their own name.
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Daenerys will succeed to take the Iron Throne, but her mission to conquer Westeros is doomed from the start. Her means will crumble, her motives will dissolve, King's Landing will push her away, and winter will demand her departure. Daenerys will head to Asshai after leaving her mark.
Without any food to sustain their bellies and without treasure to fulfill their hearts, Dany's army will seek other fruits of war such as raping and pillaging the folk that Daenerys seeks to rule over, inciting riots and other entanglements with the city's Faith Militant. Daenerys will be faced with the unrealistic task of adjudicating all of these altercations, either siding with her own army and losing favor of her own subjects, or siding with the people and face dissension of her own army due to broken promises.
Her motives are rife with illusions, all stemmed from growing up with her brother, Viserys. Her westward journey is bound to reveal to her that Westeros is in the pits (more now than ever), she will not find a home there, her quest for vengeance can never find a conclusion, and that her father was indeed mad and did not deserve to rule.
King's Landing will repulse Daenerys as she reflects in the ruins of the Dragonpit, the abhorrent nature of the Iron Throne, the squalor and stench of the city, and her inability to resonate with its people & faith.
Dany is unaware of the dangers of winter, let alone of the evil that comes with this particular winter. If she were to take on this impossible challenge of fending of the Others, it will stray from Dany's arc of her finding a home and peace of mind. Instead, Daenerys will allow this purge herself of her motives & means to stay in King's Landing.
Varys will likely be the one to try and influence Daenerys to stay in King's Landing. On the other hand, Quaithe has had an exit plan for Dany this whole time, to head to Asshai. After admitting the end, and before leaving, Daenerys will destroy the Iron Throne, denying it to all future pretenders and usurpers, and allowing the Seven Kingdoms to be seven separate kingdoms once spring comes.