Daenerys’ dreams of worldly glory serve to corrupt the Dothraki. Raiding and pillaging every tribal village they happen across, she learns these people who once did not believe in money are now imperialists hell-bent on acquiring slaves and gold solely to fulfill her dreams of buying ships to sail back to Westeros. Wherever gold and crowns are involved, the land is left a burning wasteland. Daenerys has become the lowest of the low in her own estimation, a slave trader. Despite the other ways she tries to blend in with the native Dothraki culture, this is one barbaric practice she won’t abide, chancing to anger the horse soldiers by freeing the women taken captive during their raid on the Lamb village, placing them under her personal protection. Told she can’t save the world “You can’t claim them all princess,” she begs to differ, “I can, and I will… I have claimed many daughters this day so they cannot be mounted.” In a scene that plays like something out of Solomon in biblical times, or at the very least the Rape of the Sabine Women, the Dothraki argue before Drogo “This is the way of war…” that “These women are slaves now to do with as we please.” But having experienced firsthand what it’s like to be sexually exploited in a man’s world, an innocent Lamb led to the slaughter, Daenerys dares assert the rights of other women as well, “It pleases me to keep them safe. If your riders would mount them let them take them for wives.”
Challenged by Drogo’s men as a foreigner, a woman (“A Khal who takes orders from a foreign whore is no Khal.”), who can’t command them to marry outside their tribe with “Does the horse mate with the lamb?” she shoots back “The dragon feeds on horse and lamb alike… I am your Khaleesi. I do command you.” Having threatened to cut out the wailing captives’ tongues if their cries offended her, the dissident ends up having his own tongue ripped out, as Daenerys gives the women a voice in the world (“She is mine. Let her speak.”). Daenerys’ position confuses the issue of how power is distributed in Dothraki culture, which worships the warlike masculine virtues of brute force.
“This isn’t Westeros,” Mormont warns, “Where men honor blood. Here they only honor strength,” and later “A Khal who cannot ride is no Khal. The Dothraki follow only the strong.” The authority Daenerys holds as ruler presents an interesting little problem to patriarchal societies that either deny women the throne, as Westeros does, or are populated by cavemen who have been taught as the natural order of things to look down on the weaker sex as inferior. It’s a world where might makes right. When she no longer has the threat of Khal Drogo to hang over her subjects’ heads for instance, there’s nothing to force them to follow her orders.
Mirri (Mia Soteriou), the captive witch doctor Daenerys takes under her wing, spouts a philosophy that sounds so pseudo-Christian in its imagery (“All men are but one flock so my people believe. The Great Shepherd sent me to earth to heal…”), we’re persuaded to trust in her, so we can’t blame Daenerys for being likewise taken in. But her honorable act in trying to save the captured women will end up biting her as badly as Ned’s do him, coming back to haunt her in unforgiving ways. The Dothraki are correct in placing blame for Khal Drogo’s illness on her, and while these people may not believe in money, the way they barter and haggle and dicker, it’s only the goods being traded that seem to differ. Nothing in this world is free and even the witch demands a price, “It’s not a matter of gold. This is blood magic. Only death pays for life.” But same as everyone else, Mirri proves to have been playacting by offering her aid, merely assuming a virtuous mask and, gloating at having avenged her people reminds Daenerys, “I warned you… You knew the price,” much as Littlefinger warned Ned not to trust him. Wicked though she may be (she deserved to be burned at the stake), Mirri reasonably justifies her actions when Daenerys claims to have saved her life and that her child was innocent. “Innocent?” she scoffs, “He would have been the stallion who mounts the world. Now he will burn no cities. Now his khalasar will trample no nations into dust… I saw my god’s house burn. There where I had healed men and women beyond counting… So tell me again exactly what it was that you saved? … Why don’t you take a look at your khal. Then you will see exactly what life is worth when all the rest has gone.” With Drogo a vegetable subsisting in a catatonic state of living death, Daerneys finds that what she “bought,” proves only a semblance of the real thing (“This is not life. When will he be as he was?”). Mirri may be referring to herself and Drogo when she claims life isn’t worth living after losing everything else, but she could just as easily be referring to Daenerys as well. Having lost son, husband and khalasar, she’s reduced to the same state as her captives, brought face to face with utter desolation in this barren desert wasteland. Having hit rock bottom, she has nothing more to fear from the sorceress, since there’s nothing left to lose.
Players in these lethal ‘games’ repeatedly see their lives crumble to dust but reconstitute themselves and go on maneuvering their chess pieces. This same battle for power is shown to exist even in the most primitive cultures like the Dothraki, with Mormont laying out what will occur when Drogo dies, “There will be fighting… Whoever wins that fight will become the new Khal. He won’t want any rivals. Your boy will be plucked from your breast and given to the dogs.” It’s not so very different from what happens during the violent coups and upheavals we’ve been witness to in Westeros.
The Dothraki caution Daenerys that she is their khaleesi only so long as Drogo lives, but after that she is nothing to them, to which she fumes “I have never been nothing. I am the blood of the dragon.” But the dragons are all dead which means her ancestral name has withered away along with the fear and respect it once commanded. As Tywin observes of the Lannisters’ own prospects, “The future of our family will be determined in these next few months. We could establish a dynasty that will last a thousand years. Or we could collapse into nothing as the Targaryens did.” As aspirants vie for a seat on the throne, one of the series’ reoccurring themes concerns the qualifications required of a good sovereign. “Where is it written that power is the sole province of the worst?” Loras asks Renley, “That thrones are only made for the hated and the feared?” Later Renley will question Ned if “you still think good soldiers make good kings?” Though she assures Mormont she doesn’t have a gentle heart, which is believed to mitigate against one’s capability to be a strong leader as Joffrey points out when he ignores the pleas of ‘softhearted’ women like Sansa and Cersei to let Ned live, we can’t help feeling that Daenerys, dragons or not, would be preferable to the men currently in power. One of the series’ more fascinating accomplishments is in manipulating us into siding with her and her despotic desire to storm the country and seize the throne.
Accepting the witch’s curse that life without soul is not worth living, she takes back the one she gave, telling Drogo when the sun rises in the West and sets in the East he will return to her, as he in fact seems to do, his strength and power reincarnated in the three dragon eggs placed on his funeral pyre, which will grow to become her mighty champions same as Drogo, whose name forms the first few syllables of the word dragon, once was. Having lost everything, Mormont fears Daenerys intends to climb onto the burning pyre and immolate herself as is custom for women considered part of their husband’s house, being buried alive along with his other possessions. But as she is well aware, there’s no need for him to fear her being harmed. Having learned that she had, in essence, already given birth to a dragon, her stillborn child being “monstrous, twisted… he was scaled like a lizard. Blind, with leather wings like a bat,” generations of ancestral voices are whispering to her what she must do with the dragon eggs, something inside instinctively guiding her hand as to how to hatch those petrified fossils she carries around like cocooned spores, the fruit of her family tree. Pineapple sized, with armored skin the texture of mottled reptile hide, Daenerys cradles them lovingly, contemplating the eggs as if they had given her the germ of a thought. Though we hope she isn’t planning on incubating them like a mother hen, somewhere down deep she’s subconsciously aware that they represent the genesis of her ascension to the heights. They’re the means by which she’ll become a true dragon lady.
As she assures the straggling remnants of the Dothraki tribe that deserted her in her darkest hour, “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen of the blood of old Valyria. I am the Dragon’s daughter and I swear to you that those who would harm you will die screaming.” We might feel bad that she binds her victim to the pyre if she didn’t subsequently walk into the inferno herself, taking as good as she gives, her silk dress fluttering behind her like a living flame. It’s no wonder her mad father died raving about burning them all, his dragon blood causing a fever in his brain. Daenerys feels the same blood coursing through her own veins now that she is procuring the power herself to set the world on fire. Rather than following her husband in death by committing ritualistic suicide she is reborn, a phoenix rising triumphantly from the ashes. Her dragon offspring, forged in the furnace of a thousand suns alight on her shoulders, imparting Daenerys with the appearance of wings ready to take flight and reclaim all that was taken from her. Initially cast in the guise of a damsel in distress, a virgin offering for the brutish Dothraki horse lord, as the season progressed this archetype was reversed. Instead of the fair-haired maiden being sacrificed to the dragon, at the end Daenerys became mother to dragons herself, exerting a hold over her brood which will bend them to her will, the hand that rocks the cradle ruling the world. While her brother prattled on about his divine right to be king, Daenerys proved her legitimate entitlement by leading the Dothraki as their new khaleesi, gaining invaluable on-the-job experience. Despite Viserys’ gilded dreams and well-laid plans, it’s poetic justice that Daenerys should be the one to get the fire rather than him, proving the dormant dragon has finally been awakened in her. The signs were there all along if we’d picked up on them. When Daenerys walked into her steaming hot bath in the very first episode we’d just assumed she was trying to hurt herself in her tortured state of self-loathing, but looking back she didn’t feel the scalding water at all any more than she was burned by the heat from the dragon egg she lifted out the glowing coal pit. It is she who was chosen to restore her deposed family to the throne as the true Targaryen heir, realizing her own identity in embracing this glorious destiny. “Your ancestor, Aegon the Conqueror did not seize six of the seven kingdoms because he had a right to them,” Mormont lectures, “He had no right to them. He seized them because he could.” “And because he had dragons,” she adds.
Not believing in dragons, any more than Tyrion believes in White Walkers, Mormont asks Daenerys if she’s ever seen one and says he believes only what his eyes and ears report. “Three hundred years ago who knows what really happened.” In a fascinating bit of lore, we’re told that the last dragon died many years before Viserys was born but their skulls were kept in the throne room, with the last ones they were able to hatch merely remnants of the proud race, stunted and no larger than dogs, but increasing in size the closer one got to the Iron Throne.
Viserys assumes the skulls were crushed to powder and scattered to the winds when his father was killed, but Arya stumbles across an enormous one still housed in the deepest bowels of the dungeon. As measure of scale, when she hides in the T-Rex’s mouth to keep from being observed, one tooth proves about the length of her body. Like the pleasure house whore who was fixated on dragons because they had the power to ‘just up and fly away whenever they get the notion and burn away anyone who tries to hurt them,’ for Daenerys they represent ultimate empowerment. By harnessing such primeval forces, she presents an imposing threat to all the imperial powers that be. Playing with fire in this manner, she’s like Kriemheld in the Nibelung saga, who gave herself in marriage to Attila the Hun merely to use him to exact revenge on her true love’s assassins. By hatching the dragon eggs, bringing such extinct manifestations of prehistoric demons back to life, Daenerys has now become death, the destroyer of worlds, raining down fiery annihilation from the heavens on all those who would defy her. And since we know that fire is the only thing that can kill a White Walker, and ice the mortal enemy of fire-breathing dragons, we just wait for unstoppable force to collide with immovable object. A song of ice and fire indeed.