On Daenerys Being a White Savior
A little feminist thought on Dany. It’s understandable why Daenerys is a fan favorite. She’s a girl who kicks ass!!! You want to root for her and her cause, which shifts from wanting to take the Iron Throne of Westeros to wanting to free the enslaved people of Essos (I mean, she also wants to do the former still, but the latter takes temporary precedent). Sold to the Dothraki at the age of thirteen (she was aged up, alongside many other characters, for the TV show) she has been enslaved in her own life. Through magic and sacrifice she has come into her own dei ex machina by way of dragons that have the potential to burn down all her enemies.
Where do the problems lie? Well, for starters, even if age isn’t a factor as to blame for poorly thought out decision-making—Dany isn’t from Essos. Despite being sold to the Dothraki culture, raped, and developing a surprisingly Stolkholm-Syndrome-y relationship with her captor—I mean—husband, Dany is still a foreigner. She is gifted a silver horse to match her light skin and hair. The story progresses. Dragons, army-building, etc. The desire to free slaves!
She basically walks into cities, without fully knowing their culture or socio-economic situation, and “liberates” people. I mean, you kind of want to give her props for doing whatever the hell she wants and often ignoring the advice of her [predominately male] advisors. It’s inspiring. But the decisions aren’t really all that good. I criticized this long ago in the book. Westeros always was Eurocentric, Essos having flavors of the “exotic”—each territory borrowing cultural ideas from Africa, Eastern and Western Asia. Years ago, on ASoIaF forums, I proposed the idea that Dany’s story-line, while intended to be anti-imperial, had strong sensations of imperialism. GRRM is not perfect. Even in his desire to make a statement, he can fuck up.
I was met with rebuttals that I assumed too much about the race of the people of Essos—that I was projecting. I had hoped so. It would have been better that way—for the slaves of Astapor and other cities to be made of a wealth/family-based caste where race was irrelevant. This is a fantasy world after all! You don’t get to say “oh it’s based on history,” when the situation suits your argument but then neglect the fact that there’s fucking zombies and dragons and murdery shadow monsters. But I digress—in the final episode of Season 3, a crowd of brown people run out of Astapor’s gates, and she crowd-surfs onto them, a star of pearly skin glowing against the sea of dark-skinned freed slaves. THIS IS PROBLEMATIC. It comes across that these people of color are unable to free/save themselves, and they need Dany, a white foreigner, to come in and save them. Even though surely the slaves know more about their living situation than Dany does! Not to mention a lot of people end up dying because of Dany’s whims. It’s pure entitlement on Dany’s part—she feels like it’s her right to access these spaces, these people, to “free” them. These “freed” people are often lead into deserts to die of starvation, disease, or both.
I also never found Dany’s reliance on her dragons particularly empowering. I mean, there is much to be said about the “magic woman” in literature. A woman’s own magic, as part of her wit. Think of Granny Weatherwax in the Discworld series. A woman who has enough power in her little finger to blow a wagon up, but relies on wits and problem-solving skills to get out of 99% of troubling situations. Just because Dany had the element of surprise against incompetent adversaries, doesn’t mean she’s actually competent! Dany’s dragons seems to strip away her own intelligence and power by relying on this third party save her. Of course, and I will avoid spoilers, the dragons end up growing very large in the books and becoming somewhat unruly, which allows for an interesting character growth. But this is why the Dothraki follow her! Because of the dragons. This is how she acquires the broken, eunuch Unsullied, who she holds the whip to, technically! And that’s why they follow her! Her army of followers and slaves generally always relates back to either her dragons or her white savior complex—neither of which relate to Dany’s personal power. Sure, she is “kick-ass” in the extent that she can conquer with mythical beasts and an army she acquired by questionable means—but beyond that, what else is there?
As we find out in a later book (once again, avoiding spoilers)—there might be other people better suited to the Iron Throne. People who have learned humbleness, who don’t come pre-packaged with “I will take what is mine” entitledness. I don’t know if GRRM has been setting Dany up all along to be a Crazy!Targaryen, or imperialism disguised as anti-imperialism. I would not like to condemn her character all-together. There are examples, especially in A Game of Thrones (the first book, not the series) where Dany tries to stop women from being raped (that sure didn’t end well). She wants to do good. It is incredibly easy to have an emotional reaction and feel the justification that Dany is going to kill in retribution for every slave hung on the cross as she passes the Walk of Punishment. But Dany’s personal enslavement at the hands of the Dothraki does not mean she gains instant knowledge and access of all slavery in Essos, nor the ability to tackle this massive problem through violence. She is young and has had a fucked up life. I feel for her character, and understand why people want to cheer her on.
The books aren’t over yet. I applaud Dany for being adaptable, for trying to do good by her own means (although her inconsistent morality and leadership makes her more questionable), but the longer the story goes on, the more I fall out of love with her plot. Especially, later on, when she becomes too attached to her decisions (cough, Meereen, cough). I suppose, for now, all we can do is watch and wait. Maybe Dany will learn from her entitlement, maybe this white savior complex will be addressed in GRRM’s writing (although probably not). I don’t criticize Dany because I dislike her. I want to love her. I want strong female characters equal to the male characters that are portrayed with extreme mental acumen. I want the show to make up for some of the fuck-upped-ness of the book. So far, I’m still left wanting.
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