Hey there! Hi. You’re probably in a really good mood right now. Woah, Dany flying off on Drogon, that’s cool! Or did you think it looked shitty? Idk, but I mean, hey, dragons! This is what we’ve wanted from Dany’s storyline since the Season 1 finale! And can you believe what happened with Jorah in the pit? Or Tyrion’s quips as he watched from his place of high honor?
I actually have zero ideas of what Jorah did, or if this scene landed or not in general. I expect it did, in the way the Battle Spectacular! of Hardhome managed to. If it was done well, then it was quite the “omg” moment, and probably pretty cool-looking to boot. I was not able to watch this episode live, however. So what am I even doing here? Why am I insisting on shitting all over such a fine moment?
For a while now, Game of Thrones has made it perfectly clear that it is doing whatever it damn-well pleases. Calling itself an “adaptation” of ASOIAF is getting less and less appropriate, given the complete divergence in plots (or the stripping down of all nuances in the ones it left the “same”), a casual dismissal of all themes, and the utter disregard to characterizations or internal logic. In fact, Hardhome, the episode praised by many, was the final nail in the coffin for anyone thinking these two mediums even remotely resemble each other.
So then why am I not content to “let the show be the show and the books be the books”? Because here’s the problem: at the end of the day, GoT comes back to rely on the work that Martin’s done to get them through. Whether it’s to cower behind the books and say “well there’s nudity and violence against women in there,” or to use Martin’s world building to deliver a super duper fight scene (however out of place it may be), showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) continually profit off of another’s work, yet it’s within their own divergent and incredibly problematic narrative. My good friend theculturalvacuum said it best: “it’s not an adaptation, it’s identity theft.”
And that brings us nicely to Daznak’s Pit (did the show even call it that?). Yes, Dany finally hopping on Drogon’s back and taking off was indeed an amazing moment to read about, and I have no doubt something that was really cool to watch as well. But like most of Mr. Martin’s best ideas, D&D only chose to adapt the bare bones of the plot, without actually providing any context. To them, Dany’s arc was “girl tries to rule Meereen. It’s hard. She makes some good decisions, some bad. Then she gets engaged, opens fighting pits, and flies off on dragon.”
Now, I am aware that Mr. Benioff has asserted the notion that “themes are for 8th grade book reports,” but ask any 8th grader to whom you gave the SparkNotes of A Dance with Dragons, and they could probably tell you that Dany’s arc is one where she navigates through a complex political situation in which she ends up making more and more moral concessions in the name of peace, to the point where she loses touch with herself. Her moment of realization about how wrong everything she’s done feels occurs in Daznak’s Pit, when suddenly the full weight of her decisions hits her. As she is troubled by the violence in the fighting ring, she tears off her tokar, the cultural and impractical garb of Meereenese nobles, and demands to leave, demonstrating a rejection of their values and traditions. Poetically, this is the moment that Drogon swoops down, solidifying Dany’s reconnection with who she is: Daenerys Targaryen, blood of the dragon.
Then she whips in in the face and they fly off (ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧.
So wait, isn’t that similar to what you just watched? Well no. For one, it is a rather essential detail that Dany locks up Rhaegal and Viseron, and only ever visits them as a litmus test for a suitor. She certainly never uses them to roast a slaver she randomly has an issue with. In fact, she continually agonizes over her confinement of them, but at the end forces those thoughts from her mind:
She could hear the dragons screaming as she led the boy back to the door, and see the play of light against the bricks, reflections of their fires. If I look back, I am lost.
For that reason, when Dany and Drogon finally reunite, to the reader it’s almost this relief…it’s when she reunites with herself as well. And that point is furthered by the very symbiotic nature of her relationship with Drogon that Martin quickly establishes:
The hero leapt onto his back and drove the iron spearpoint down at the base of the dragon’s long scaled neck.
Dany and Drogon screamed as one.
So…yeah. Maybe the show tried to seed that in 5×02 when Drogon appeared on Dany’s rooftop and she pet him for 3 seconds. But if that was the case, its impact was somewhat lessened when a few episodes later, Dany uses Rhaegal and Viseron for a good ol’ game of “scare the shit out of these slavers,” and apparently has tamed them to the point where they’ll contentedly hide out of sight for dramatic effect. If anything, the show has almost painted Dany as being closer to them.
Further, let’s talk about Book!Dany’s series of moral concessions and slowly falling out of touch with her aims and identity (only to be strongly shaken out of this mentality in the pit). Because we kind of got…none of that in the show. It’s true that in both mediums, some of her choices were effective, and some less so. And perhaps on the surface, these arcs look similar. But in the books, Dany’s decisions were well reasoned and took the concerns of her advisors into account. The times when she would reject all advice were usually reserved for when the subject matter was the anguish and distress of the former slaves. And even then, Dany’s aims were consistent: peaceful rule of Meereen that caused the least amount of suffering to the benefit of the most amount of people. Each decision she made, too, played out with respect to her characterization. For instance, she refused to kill the child-hostages from the Meereenese nobles, even when the killings were increased. Instead, she offered Hizdahr her hand if he could bring peace for ninety days (and this was a union that had already been suggested to her).
Now, it’s no secret that Dany had a lot of chapters in ADWD, and that many felt her arc was long and drawn-out. Part of that is because Slaver’s Bay in the books is an infinitely more complicated political landscape than in the show. That in and of itself mattered too though; for every decision Dany made, you could see both the pros and the cons. The path forward was never clear. There were both internal and external threats to the city, with Yunkai lapsing back into slavery, flattening Astapor, and then moving to attack Meereen. This left Astapor to descend into an almost Paris Commune-esque state of disarray. In turn, Astapori refugees fled for Meeren, begging for Dany’s protection. Yet these were weak individuals who couldn’t fight, and who brought with them rapidly spreading dysentery. Within Meereen, there were multiple sellsword groups Dany had to manage, all of whom were likely to turn their cloaks and fight for Yunkai if they thought the pay could be better, an assortment of nobles all of whom had their own take on the situation and their own advice for Dany, and freedmen continually petitioning for what they now felt was owed to them because outlawing slavery meant the casual collapse of the Meereenese economy. Oh and she also had a suitor from Westeros who promised her a large army, but that would have meant cutting and running from her current Meereen, and seeing what happened to Yunkai and Astapor, that was not something she was wont to do so flippantly. Her rejection of that offer was actually rather important for that reason.
The point is, shit was complicated. And Dany, still only a 16-year old was caught in the middle of all of this, navigating it the best she could with the least amount of pain to her subjects as possible. She barely even had time to think about her own end-goals and desires, turning instead to accessible sensory pleasures (Daario). She was stressed, okay? And as much as the reader might have bemoaned the length of time she was in Meereen, it was still obvious that this wasn’t a situation where there could be an easy resolution.
Now, the TV-show version, Simplified Bay, did try to inject a little bit of ambiguity into the situation. Like…when Hizdahr pointed out that his crucified father had spoken out against stringing the children up. That was nuanced. Or when Dany was told to establish due process. But the problem is, the overarching oversimplification gave rise to situations where Dany’s decision making seemed obviously misguided. More so, because D&D’s understanding of Dany’s arc seemed to be reduced to “some of her decisions are good and some are bad,” they needed to invent situations of her own making to showcase this. Instead of having her seem driven by one guiding motivation, she came across as spontaneous, myopic, and slightly demented. She did a downright character about-face in the episode where she fed a slaver to her dragons and then asked to marry one. What’s worse is that Show!Dany (Deadpan Stormborn) is older than her book counterpart, so her errors inherently seem less forgivable.
There’s also the fact that the erratic choices she makes are never actually concessions. She decides things based on her mood. Perhaps offering a trial to the slaver was supposed to be an example of that, but it was undone in the very same episode with the public execution of Mossador. In fact, in the show, Dany just seems to randomly suggest or proclaim things, and then back it up with empty (and anachronistic) lines like “I am a queen, not a politician.”
The marriage to Hizdahr is the perfect example of this. In the books, the marriage is suggested early and often. Dany sees it as being a great compromise, as well as the only thing that can possibly bring internal peace, which is quite important need given the fact that Meereen is about to be attacked by Yunkai. Hizdahr is very much an advocate for the union, but Dany only agrees to it if he can demonstrate that it would guarantee peace. They are betrothed under the condition that he is able to stop the killings of her soldiers for 90 days. In the end, she marries him before this time expires out of necessity of calming the situation.
In the show, the marriage is something that Dany randomly suggests. It was not seeded, nor was its potential effect on Meereen established at all. The fighting pits opening were suggested as a cultural tradition, but the marriage proposal was never even on the table. And when Dany does offer it, it’s when Hizdahr is in a situation of no agency whatsoever. She literally says “thankfully the suitor is already on his knees.” So what was supposed to be something showing her flexibility as a leader, her pragmatism, and her overall commitment to some idea of peace and justice, instead became something random and thrown in, making her seem either daft or deranged given her actions earlier in the episode.
So while she may have ended up sitting in the pits, just like her book counterpart, what meaning did it even have for Show!Dany? When she rushed forward to embrace Drogon, what loss of identity was she rejecting, exactly? Because what should have been a moment of reclaiming an understanding of self, was instead provided only enough context to make it moment evocative of a dog owner whose wondering pup got tired of eating out of trashcans and then returned home, making the owner happy.
^Actually, I just found this image as I was composing this, and wtf even is this? The Sons of the Harpy rush into the ring? So the marriage pact and the opening of the pits didn’t actually do anything? And Drogon just becomes some deus ex machina solution to an outbreak of fighting to spirit the damsel in distress away? Are you fucking kidding me??
I’ll definitely give you my updated comments after I watch about this moment specifically, but this seems like it has the potential to just make no sense whatsoever, and is once again missing the point and playing into sexist tropes. Watch next episode, D&D will just have Rhaegal and Viseron randomly get released, because the reasons for someone opening a door shouldn’t matter as much as the fact that the door gets opened, right? And then that’d totally be “the dance of dragons.” Good gods. These people.
There’s actually much and more I could (and probably will) say on the treatment of Dany’s arc on the show, and how there are pretty significant sexist implications. But I’ll save that for the nonce. My point isn’t that “if you enjoyed this moment on the show you’re stupid.” Far from it. But what gives a moment its impact is the context. Perhaps there are people who would tell you the only important take-away from Dany’s arc is that she tries to rule a city and then flies off on a dragon. And boiling it down to the bare-bones doesn’t mean it can’t look cool. It’s just that when moments are stripped of every thematic element that precedes them, the impact is lost. So while I’m sure critics will be hailing Dany flying off, the fact is, it is utterly unearned by the show. They take the “cooler” plot points from Martin’s work, but strip it of all its significance.
This isn’t an adaptation. It’s identity theft.
“Why What You Just Watched with Dany was Totally Unearned” ©gotgifsandmusings, originally posted 7 June 2015