M.Y.O.P.I.A. #34: Discarding Daenerys (What Still Bugs Me About the Game of Thrones Ending)

Were I to ask you to name your favorite fantasy-genre hero, the answer might come easily. If not, there are many choices to contemplate: Frodo, Arthur, Harry Potter, Atreyu, Willow. What might soon become evident is the lack of women who occupy the main hero’s role in the fantasy genre. There have been some exceptions though, and that’s especially where the Game of Thrones series comes into the fray.

The first Song of Ice and Fire book, A Game of Thrones, came out back in the mid 90s. The more recent TV series, Game of Thrones (GoT), brought the story to a wider audience. Both the books and show are fantasy based and geared toward mature audiences. One very noteworthy aspect of the series is that it aimed to develop a wide cast of characters. Even among developed cast, fans tended to gravitate toward some standouts: Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Gregor Samsa, well, there are way too many to mention, but that’s okay because my main focus is going to be on one character in particular: Daenerys Targaryen.

Without summarizing the entirety of an enormous story, Daenerys was an outcast princess who was exploited by her older brother into an arranged marriage. She adapted to her circumstances, rose above exploitation, and became not only a highly respected leader of people who gathered around her, but she became the aptly titled “Mother of Dragons” when she hatched and raised three dragons. Eventually, Daenerys seemed to face a necessary destiny of returning to the land she’d been outcast from as a child. She fought her family’s old enemies and faced new and powerful threats.

Her character arc is one of learning to be strong and fair while also learning to crush oppression. She upends entire kingdoms as she leads a fight against injustice. The end of her character arc is where I have my gripe. After Daenerys grew into a respected leader and admirable character, after she worked to overcome all her weaknesses and became one of the most noble and honorable heroes ever to appear in the fantasy genre, she made a choice to kill many innocent people. She became as vile as the characters she’d often stood up to. To me personally, probably to many fans in general, her later actions seemed to go against everything else we were led to believe she stood for.

Perhaps it is important to note that series author, George Martin hasn’t finished his last book and so this act, guided by the men in charge of the TV series, came both as a rather jarring surprise to fans, and one where I think people still want to question if it’s legitimate. The overall opinion seemed to be that the writing quality declined by the last season. After the finale, many critics focused on what they felt was a rushed storyline that didn’t quite make sense for Daenerys turning villain. I’d say that no story-arc would have made sense for her turning her into a villain. I mainly hated the last episodes because I had to watch she who’d become my favorite character of the series, not only ruin what she stood for, but she ruined what I had been arguing made her the greatest female-hero of the entire fantasy genre.

Quick disclaimer, I am not trying to use the term, female-hero, as one that distinguishes in a way that is less meaningful. I’m trying to point out a lack of female representation in heroic roles of the fantasy genre. There are many great fantasy books which feature female heroes (The Blue Sword, and Cerci are some of my favorites). Go back to my original question about thinking up fantasy-genre heroes. Did any women come to mind initially? Often enough, female-heroes seem to be on the younger side, like Dorothy Gale, or Hermione Granger. Perhaps if people thought hard, they might think back to Red Sonja, or Xena, both entertaining and admirable, but they aren’t exactly front and center in the mainstream.

That’s where Game of Thrones could have altered the balance. The franchise is huge, and I don’t doubt it will often be referenced as one of the best fantasy series. In establishing such a mainstream presence, it could have established a character who I’d say was not only the best female-hero in a fantasy story, but perhaps the greatest fantasy hero of all.

What made Daeneryus so great was that she atypically, was not a warrior. She found her way by being clever, by being kind and holding true to her values. When her dragons hatched, she was a growing threat because of the growing dragons. Still, she rose to far more power by making wise choices, by aligning herself with people of similar value and by not caving to her basest fears. She navigated some tough decisions, but she always seemed to hold true to doing what she believed was right.

The series had many character arcs, sometimes where villains turned to heroes, sometimes where villains did something noble. For Daeneryus, she had a past to work against in the form of a family-legacy marred by madness and brutality. For nearly the entire story, she worked to be better than this legacy. Just as the huge series was about to reach a conclusion, one where Daenaryus found her happy ending, it was all ripped asunder. What an unfortunate loss it was then, for her character, for her fans, for the series in general, and for the whole fantasy genre, that the people in charge of deciding her story decided she was not in fact strong enough to overcome base emotions and pointless revenge–like her character had for so many incidents prior. Though she might only be considered a character in a book series, on a TV show, Daenerys deserved a far better fate.