This post will be discussing plot points from the third season of HBO’s fantastic series Game of Thrones. If you are not caught up on the show and don’t want to be sullied by spoilers then stop reading. Go watch the show. Then come back. DO IT!
Okay, we can’t wait for those clowns. Let’s get started.
While most of the action in Game of Thrones takes place on the Medieval European-esque continent of Westeros, a major storyline is taking place across the Narrow Sea, following the adventures of the socially-conscious Daenerys Targaryen as she navigates the Byzantine locales of Essos.
Dany starts off the series relatively powerless. Under the control of her brother, the (sarcasm alert) ever-charming and gracious Viserys, Dany is used as a bargaining chip in a trade between her brother and the powerful warlord Khal Drogo. But despite her relatively weak opening hand in the game of thrones, Daenerys has a knack for attracting support.
Neither Viserys nor Drogo survive the first season, but Dany acquired allies and resources: a loyal remnant of Khal Drogo’s khalasar, three baby dragons, and her advisor Ser Jorah Mormont.
Ser Jorah’s Choice: Daenerys
Ser Jorah started out his journey with a less than hospitable agenda towards Viserys and Daenerys. On the run for selling some poachers into slavery to help support an expensive wife, Ser Jorah ended up part of Lord Varys’ spy network, keeping tabs on the last of the Targaryen dynasty.
When Dany’s pregnancy was revealed, Jorah was quick to send word back to Kings Landing. In return, he was granted a pardon (yay) but figured out that the wine-seller offering the Khaleesi a special vintage of wine would probably end the Dothraki-Targaryen agreement with a nice carafe of death (boo.)
Jorah probably had seconds to make his decision:
- walk away with a pardon and let little miss sunshine die, or
- save her life and cut off his ties to King’s Landing and his pardon.
Sure, it’s conceivable that Jorah could have saved her life and gone back to Westeros with his pardon, but that just sounds very dangerous to me.
Jorah: Woohoo! Back home.
Varys: Yessss… welcome back. Muchas gracias for all of the fruitful information during your journeys abroad.
Jorah: You got it, chubby. Hey, I hate to be rude, but I need to get back to Bear Island and say hi to my aunt.
Varys: Oh, of course. But there is a small matter I’d like to discuss with you. It appears your pardon was declared null and void the moment you foiled the assassination attempt on Daenerys Targaryen.
Jorah: Whaaaaat? What are you talking about?
Varys: Oh, don’t deny it. One of my undercover artists in Vaes Dothrak painted the entire scene for me. In pastels.
Jorah: This couldn’t have gone worse for me…
Varys: As a special bonus he painted you sans trousers…
ANYWAY… there was something about waif-like Dany that was more compelling than coming back to Westeros as Lord of Bear Island. Just what was it that drove Jorah’s decision?
If Maester Aemon were nearby, he’d perk up to say that love is the bane of honor, the death of duty.
It’s not hard to see that Ser Jorah is in love with Dany. (Not necessarily the safest emotion to have in regards to the young Khaleesi, the bride of the tongue-extracting-probably-jealous-type Drogo.)
It’s consistent with his character. It was love of a woman that got him into his mess. (Straight up… in no way does this excuse Jorah for selling poachers into slavery.) And it was love of a woman that got him to pass up his pardon.
Daenerys is just lovable.
Dany starts off Season Three appreciably better off than in Season Two. She’s not out in the middle of a wasteland starving or with three newborn dragons (also starving.)
Instead she’s sailing with her followers, her advisor Jorah, and three growing and healthy dragons, to the city of Astapor.
Astapor, where she’s planning on buying an army of slaves.
Besides being the location for 8000 Unsullied for sale, Astapor was also the site of another assassination attempt on Dany, this time from the weakened and not all that magical Warlocks of Qarth.
(What is it about Dany that everyone goes with the poison? Poison wine, poison super-scorpions…)
Dany is saved by another Westerosi knight, Ser Barristan Selmy.
Ser Barristan’s Choice: Daenerys
Selmy quickly offers his service to Daenerys as her Queensguard. After all, he’d been a Kingsguard for her father. And he had all the experience being the Lord Commander Kingsguard for the guy who deposed her father. Hmmm. Maybe he didn’t bold that part of the resume.
I mentioned that Ser Barristan quickly made his offer, but that’s only in regards to actually meeting Dany post-Warlock-assassination attempt. Selmy had had a lot of time to consider his choice.
With the death of King Robert and the coronation of (mad) King Joffrey, Ser Barristan found himself unexpectedly retired. He did get a nice severance package offer, which he refused. Fleeing from King’s Landing, the old knight actually had a fair amount of job prospects he could pursue.
- Stannis, the rightful king, would probably grudgingly agree to employ his brother’s former chief bodyguard.
- Renly would have been delighted to have taken in Ser Barristan as Lord Commander of his Rainbow Guard. (Yep, that’s what he called them in the books. Named after the rainbow symbol of the Seven Gods. Legit!) Having Selmy on the royal payroll would help legitimize his less-than-watertight claim.
- Had Ser Barristan wanted to work for a royal start-up, he could have traveled up to the Riverlands and pledged fealty to Robb Stark, who would have probably beamed handsomely (because Robb did everything handsomely) and signed him up. Ned Stark was a big fan of Ser Barristan, so you know Robb had some Kingsguard trading cards he’d like autographed.
But instead, Ser Barristan opted to travel east in search of the last Targaryen. Why would that be? Why go off hunting for someone you don’t know, when there was honorable service nearby?
If Maester Aemon was nearby, he’d perk up and say love is the bane of honor! The death of duty! But that wouldn’t really apply. Ser Barristan was resurrecting his old duty to the Targaryen family. And he probably had the desire to work off the shame of serving an old drunken Baratheon bum.
A bum who’d also killed Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, one of the finest men Ser Barristan had known. So in a way, love and duty weren’t at odds. Maester Aemon will have to noodle this one through.
Really, without even trying that hard, Daenerys proved to be someone that inspired men to serve. Not only to serve but to put aside ease or better prospects without necessarily hope of reward.
This didn’t work so well with merchants, like in Qarth or Astapor.
But there was success with sellswords, as demonstrated when Daenerys met with the mercenary captains outside of Yunkai. One of those she treated with was a young lover-of-beauty named Daario Naharis.
Daario’s Choice: Daenerys
Yunkai had contracted with two mercenary companies, the Stormcrows and Second Sons to defend their walls. On meeting Dany, the senior sellsword Mero suggested an assassination of Daenerys would solve their problems. (No poisoning was mentioned. Perhaps they’ve learned that trying to poison Dany was just bad karma.)
Daario was chosen to be the hitman.
Instead, Daario decided to sever his ties with his commanding officers (and sever their heads from their necks) and offer his service and the services of the sellsword troops to the Mother of Dragons.
You might say Dany had a transformative effect on Daario.
But why did he make this choice? Why betray his comrades and set aside his contracted duty to Yunkai? We know what Maester Aemon would say.
We don’t really know Daario’s thought processes, but Daenerys is beautiful, and pretty badass with an army of super-loyal and competent eunuch soldiers. And a trio of DRAGONS.
Besides, Mero the Titan’s Bastard was a complete ass. Killing him was probably very satisfying.
Whoa, I nearly forgot about the Unsullied.
The Unsullied of Astapor represented an almost inhuman force of soldiers. An army of eunuch slaves, their entire lives had been spent in training their martial skills and having their humanity destroyed. The translator Missandei had summed this up: all questions have been removed from them, they can only obey.
With their stoic dedication, their lack of fear, and their faceless armored appearance, they might as well have been army ants.
At Astapor, Dany grappled with the idea of buying slaves to support her. Her advisors were divided: Ser Jorah “I’m Okay With Slavery if You Are” Mormont supported having an army of Unsullied, Ser Barristan was against it.
In the end, Daenerys offered up her largest dragon as payment for all available Unsullied. Then ordered the Unsullied to attack the slave city. Which they did.
At the conclusion of the battle, reunited with Drogon, Daenerys addressed her host of soldiers. She would not be the commander of a slave army. Her Unsullied warriors could either serve her as free men or choose to leave to pursue their own destiny. As free men.
The Unsullied chose to serve her. But realistically, they were still slaves.
The Unsullied’s “Choice”: …
An Unsullied was the product of years of horrifying abuse. Their operating instinct was to serve and to serve blindly. When Daenerys offered the Unsullied their choice, I feel it broke down like this in their minds:
- Serve Daenerys freely
- Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah (for extra emphasis, insert Charlie Brown adult conversation noises.)
In my opinion, the concept of not serving couldn’t reasonably be considered. An Unsullied had no skills but warfare, no experience in making decisions, and they hardly had an individual identity (since they were forced to choose new names regularly by lot.)
There was very little practical difference whether Daenerys gave the Unsullied this choice or just marched them off to Yunkai, holding her whip.
This is relevant because it weakens Daenerys’ position as the social justice character. It’s hypocritical for her to be Babraham Lincoln and insist that everyone free their slaves when her army is made up of de facto slaves.
I’ve read blog postings of people who despise Daenerys for this very reason.
But there is a difference.
Danaerys’ offer to the Unsullied wasn’t entirely a sham. It’s not like she had elections with literally only one candidate on the ballot. There can be worse false-choice scenarios.
By her action of asking the Unsullied what they want to do, Danaerys established that although the Unsullied might be slaves to their conditioning, they weren’t enslaved by her.
Going forward, Daenerys did take steps to continue the Unsullied’s path to reclaiming their humanity. She worked to get them used to their own autonomy. She had them elect their own representative leader.
They were allowed to once again have a most basic human attribute, a persistent identity of their choosing.
Given time, with patience, the Unsullied might be able to re-actualize as human beings to the point where if given the option to choose between serving Daenerys or heading off on their own, they’ll do the rational thing: choose Daenerys anyway.
Because, hey, she’s awesome. She has freaking dragons. And she just has this way about her that has people choosing her over other options. But it would at least be a true choice they made.
So why am I hung up on Daenerys and choices? It boils down to this: Daenerys has yet to truly give anyone a choice and then abide by the consequences.
Ser Jorah, Ser Barristan, and Daario all made their choices without her involvement.
The Unsullied’s choice was not that compelling.
Other than that, the kind of choices Daenerys seems to be used to offering are this:
You can do what I want, or you can die.
This was basically the offer to Yunkai in Season Three.
In the trailers for Season Four, we’ve heard Daenerys put forth a similar statement.
They have a choice. They can live in my new world, or they can die in their old one.
I’m sure Dany is probably on the right side of history in this, but rulers who deal constantly in It’s My Way or the Highway (to Hell) type of ultimatums often end up with a particular designation: Tyrant.
Time for a completely well-thought out and methodologically-sound poll:
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.
I make no claim to the artwork, but some claims to the text here, so there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved