I know I may get some flack for saying this, but Daenerys Targaryen has never been my favorite character on Game of Thrones. Double that for A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin's series that spawned the show, where she spends roughly two entire novels aimlessly crossing through the desert. While her story arc in Season 1 was terrific — I too loved seeing her grow into her womanhood and become the mother of dragons — her character struggled under the burden of Season 2's clunky Qarth plot line, especially when the script turned Daenerys into a bit of a petulant brat. (For a great example, rewatch that scene in front of Qarth's gates where she tries to use the Reese Witherspoon defense to gain entry.) Basically, for an entire year, while the nation reveled in Dany's countless fruitless pursuits, I just simply did not get it. This was not the person I wanted sitting on my ideal Iron Throne.
Thankfully, last night changed all that. Of the many powerful, graphic images that were burned into my skull during Sunday night's Game of Thrones — the massacre at Craster's Cabin, Jaime's hand dangling from his neck, Theon's moment of agony — the one that sticks out the most is the almost comically Die Hard-esque shot where Dany looks stoically into the camera, her dragons' flames raging behind her. I was half expecting some sort of explosion that Dany would, of course, walk away from unharmed. Like a boss.
The reason Dany's expert manipulation (and subsequent murder) of the slave trader was so great was because it was the first true act of power that Dany created all by herself. Yes she got her dragons back in Season 2 and grew into a woman back in Season 1, but last night was the first time that Dany played the role of brutal, competent leader. Without the help of the two men who serve as her trusted counselors, she managed to solve her biggest problem (not having an army) without losing her dragons or her soul. She concocted a scheme to obtain said army by earning their loyalty and admiration — loyalty and admiration that came from her killing the slavers (well, putting out the order to kill the slavers) then freeing all of the slaves. Meanwhile, Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy stood beside her, completely aghast.
This show of brute force and expert gameplay marked the first time I became convinced that Dany actually could (and might) win and sit on the Iron Throne of Westeros. Yes, she's had dragons. Yes, she has the name. But the Dany of Seasons 1 and 2 could not have competed with women as dangerous and cunning as Margaery Tyrell and Cersei Lannister. As Varys would say, she just didn't have the stomach for it — she was no Sansa, but she wasn't exactly a Littlefinger, either. To succeed in Westeros you have to be able to be both vicious with your enemies and loyal to your supporters, and Dany demonstrated both last night, with aplomb. Compare that to Cersei, who inspires no love from the people, or Margaery, who is brilliant, but only in the arts of flattery and manipulation. She can make any man do whatever she wants, but a military leader she is not.
I know that I can be harsh on Dany, but it's only because her character has so much potential to be truly great. And when given a solid story arc, she flourishes — becoming one of the most engaging characters on the show. When she's wandering willy-nilly through the desert trying not to starve, she becomes somewhat of a pain to watch. A strong Dany is a lovable Dany, and the only kind of Dany I'll root for (over such personal favorites like Margaery and Arya Stark) to sit on that damn throne everyone cares about so much.
Oh, and yes — I fully realize that I'm only naming female characters when it comes down to the battle for the Throne. Because even though we're in the midst of the War of the Five Kings — Joffrey (my fave), Robb Stark, Renly (RIP), Stannis, and the typically absent Balon Greyjoy — I believe that Westeros is a woman's world to win. Between Margaery and Cersei and Dany and even Sansa (who is extremely adaptable and great at not getting killed), both Martin's books and the TV series have set up a remarkable string of strong (in various ways) female characters, who stand by planning their own takeover while the men run around killing each other.
But of those women, Dany is now the one with an army of thousands upon thousands of expertly trained soldiers who will stand by her side through thick and thin. The one most capable of making extremely tough decisions all on her own, and then completely standing by them. The one who doesn't want or need a marriage to help her political standing. What she'll do with all of this newfound power is up to her (and Martin) — and there's always the chance that we'll be stuck with another year of indecisive desert roaming and general inaction. But at least now, on this day, we have someone great to root for. Our Khaleesi is finally back.
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