Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Game Of Thrones, Season 8
It’s no secret that many Game of Thrones fans are disappointed by this past Sunday’s episode. Particularly by the sense that Daenerys’ most recent actions seem unbelievable or contrived. But Dany’s arc is not contrived or “coming out of nowhere” or “out of character”. This is precisely the character that she has shown herself to be from as far back as season two. She has made selfish and rash decisions one after another. She has failed to recognize the larger picture and the true needs of the people around her more times than can be chalked up to “youthful” mistakes. The seeds have been laid, the decisions have been made, and her thoughtlessness towards others and zeal for her own destiny have distorted her intentions. That doesn’t mean that her whole character is now thrown out the window or that she is now devoid of humanity. Precisely the opposite, she has succumbed to her own worst impulses – one of the most human stories to tell. At the same time, it does not make her a worthy leader.
Her arc is honest and real and logical. It is a coherent response to her given circumstances and follows her narrative thread coupled with her inherent lust for her own destiny. It both pushes against her gender and is inherently shaped by how others have treated her due to her gender. It is both a result of her victimization and in spite of her trials. She is self-absorbed and self-servicing, and the human tension between ego and selflessness is a huge fulcrum for the story thematically across the board. In fact, I believe it’s where the tension of Game of Thrones lies.
But are her failings “not good for women”?
She is not a trope, nor does her fall from grace betray females and feminism in general. I appreciate that this story is being told as honestly and as un-gendered as possible. I believe that telling a story that is honest to women’s experiences and does not shy away from showing a myriad of different aspects of women and womanhood is what is truly empowering storytelling. Not implying that all women need to break stereotype and fight in a typically masculine way in order for the story to be “beyond gender”. The story lives “beyond gender” because it allows all these women to be what they are honestly and doesn’t (for the most part) manipulate that to play into or out of gender roles or inhibit their story. The show just attempts to tell their honest story (as honest as a show can be with dragons). This is what I believe makes it both compelling and genuinely gender empowering.
I personally am pleased that I can both find the gender roles irrelevant, and also quite prescient; regarding Jon Snow and Dany. I think that’s honest storytelling that actually allows women to be whatever it is that they are, and that that’s okay. Besides, GoT runs the gamut of displaying highs and lows and ins and outs of “ideal” gender characteristics as well as “beyond” those stereotypes, so they can focus on telling their story regardless of whether or not Jon Snow is a man (and also not regardless of it). I think the storytelling is nuanced enough and gender is handled well enough that it’s, in fact, satisfying, as a woman, for that realness in serving the story to happen. Jon Snow is the ‘best’ because of his character and honor and that’s okay. I think the show has crafted enough nuance for it to be about his character and not (solely) his gender. And that has been amazing (and empowering as a woman, yes) to witness.
Dany’s true downfall is one of ego, impulse control and rage – and that is a human story, not a gendered story. She has become obsessed with destiny. It seems she doesn’t even have one except in helping set up others, more deserving, to lead. This certainly shows the folly of ego, presumption and dominion without listening and learning. And in fact, the person not chasing ego and ambition (Jon) actually deserves the throne, because he actually cares for others and puts others before himself in a real way. And in this way, Jon acquiescing to Dany’s desires are not contrived, but honest, and consistent with his lack of toxic ego or hubris. As unpleasant as it is, this narrative does indeed subvert gender roles – freeing narrative choices from cliche and stereotype. This storytelling lets women and men be real, raw human people full of flaws and full of wonder at the same time. Dany is not only her flaws or only her strengths – she is a human woman full of a thousand contradictory things at the same time. And watching her fail, and understanding why she fails, is valuable. She can be many things at once, and she can succumb to her own weakness, and that can be both human and understandable.
Regardless of the horror Dany unleashed on Sunday, ultimately she remains a piece of a larger reality that she so often fails to see. If only she could have recognized that she did not need to achieve dominion over, but partnership with, the world she believed she was destined to be a part of. Ultimately, I believe this is where a great truth of Game of Thrones lies – we need to work towards being a cooperative and humble world of parts and parcels moving towards peace; not saviors in ends but in means.