This past weekend, before the Game of Thrones season finale, I spent time with my parents. Inevitably, the conversation steered towards Game of Thrones and my mom had mentioned, based on Girl Power, that her favorite character is Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains. While I can appreciate women cozying up to a strong feminine presence, putting the feminist movement in the hands of this particular teenager seems risky.
With its frank and arguably overdone depiction of rape, Game of Thrones has come under fire for being misogynistic. It’s hard to argue that the women in Westeros have a tough life, but one thing you have to give it credit for is the strength of the female leads. Even in a world in which you’re either a whore or high born, the women of Game of Thrones manage to climb to the top and own, at the very least, their own microcosm of the world written by George RR Martin. This includes Dany. I won’t diminish the fact that she basically goes from a glorified sex hole for Khal Drogo to a self-appointed queen in a few seasons and books, but how good of a leader is she?
There’s an episode of The Simpsons (“Hurricane Neddy”) in which Ned Flanders’ home is destroyed by a hurricane and the whole town bans together to rebuild his home as shoddy as only the residents of Springfield could accomplish. This causes Ned Flanders to snap, triggering Marge to scold him because they had good intentions. Ned’s answer: “Well my family and I can’t live in good intentions, Marge.” And this is the rub with Dany as a leader. Sure, she wants to free slaves, but at what price glory? It’s not enough that you free them; you need to figure out what the hell you’re going to do with them afterwards. This is her shortsightedness at its worst. She gives the slaves a “choice”, telling them they are free to choose to fight for her or be on their merry way. But she also leaves every city a burnt out crater in the desert. Now, where are the slaves that don’t want to fight with her supposed to go? What is her exit strategy? (Note: I’ve already talked about this in my review of the episode “Breaker of Chains“)
It’s easy to conquer cities with a sea of troops behind you and dragons flying overhead, but being a leader is much more than conquering those around you. It is also about leading, and that is where she fails. Dany can’t help but make the wrong decision; it’s like she’s asked to call the outcome of a two-headed coin, but she can’t help but call tails. Part of the problem is that she relies too heavily on her dragons, letting them basically run free without any supervision. She’s the dog owner at the dog park that has that dog that is a little unfriendly to other dogs, but she still brings it, forcing you to keep an extra keen eye on your own dog. But it’s different, because her dog is enormous, flies, and breathes fire. She wants to be the mother of dragons, but she doesn’t want to mother these dragons. (#realtalk) Now she’s stuck answering for the charred corpses of children and the freed slaves are looking to their former masters for work. Meereen is Baghdad after Saddam; it’s not enough to be free. There needs to be a place to be free.
I’m not making these points to prove that she’s a shitty leader because she’s a woman. I’m saying that, in this show, she’s the worst feminine icon. Take a look at Arya Stark. From a young age, she’s been on her own. Since the end of season one, she’s traveled all around Westeros, watched family members and anyone close to her die, and she’s only gotten stronger. Or Brienne of Tarth. Despite not having a precedence of a female knight, she’s been able to show how strong a woman could be despite the odds. She’s like Joan of Arc minus the crazy. Or, dare I say, Cersei Lannister. Sure, she’s a brother-humping sociopath, but she’s strong-willed and doesn’t take crap from anyone… except, maybe, her father. In the grand scheme of it all, I’d say Dany would be the safety school of female heroes within the world of Westeros. If you’re okay with Towson, then by all means, go with Towson.
For my money, I’m putting the fate of feminism in the hands of Arya, despite the fact that her last name is Stark, which leads me to believe that I’m in for a world of hurt somewhere down the road. She’s spunky, strong-willed, and a master of her own fate. She’s the epitome of what makes the Starks the most likable families in the realm, regardless of how prone they are to dying.
Anyway, root for whomever you’re going to root for; eventually Dany will have to figure it all out, right? She’ll be able to decide when to rule and when to lead and when to strike and when to show mercy. Otherwise, she will fail. But for the love of the new Gods, do something interesting for a change.