Game of Thrones' badass queen has turned out to be a disappointment.
Coming into the HBO series' fifth season, this was supposed to be the year of the Khaleesi since Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) stopped her march across the giant continent of Essos to put down roots in Meereen, the latest city where she abolished slavery. The intent was to practice how to be a ruler and better prepare herself for eventually taking her rightful place on the Iron Throne in Westeros. Unfortunately, all of her strength and potential seem to have crumbled, leaving her supporters to wonder: What happened to Daenerys? TVGuide.com breaks down the Mother of Dragons' rise and fall with a little help from her friends.
A promising start
Despite being sold into marriage to the Dothraki by her own brother, Daenerys rallied and not only outlived her brother and husband, but became the first female leader of a Dothraki horde, aka khalasar. Simultaneously, she was also "reborn" as the Mother of Dragons when she survived a funeral pyre that also hatched three dragon eggs. The platinum hair and ability to handle the legendary creatures marked her as a true Targaryen, whose birthright was ruling Westeros.
Her resilience, courage and bloodline all made her a leading candidate for the Iron Throne, and gave former Kingsguard knight Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) a purpose. "He spent his life serving bad kings," McElhinney tells TVGuide.com. "First of all, there was [Aerys] who was mad, and then there was Robert, who was a man he obviously liked and a soldier he admired, but unfortunately not a good king. [After being dismissed by Joffrey], he's come all this way to find Daenerys because he wanted to serve somebody he thought he could believe in."
From survivor to savior
Daenerys' might could not be denied, and by simply uttering "dracarys," she had her dragons render her foes into sizzling bits of human barbecue. Despite this advantage, however, Dany didn't use her power for mere conquest but to also free countless slaves, among them Astapor's Unsullied — eunuchs who've been trained since childhood to be soldiers unmatched in skill and obedience. Jacob Anderson, who plays an Unsullied named Grey Worm who has become the leader of her armed forces, understands Daenerys' anti-slavery stance. "She's had a taste of slavery in a smaller way than the Unsullied," he explains. "She was passed around and she was basically her brother's slave for a really long time and completely beholden to men. She was owned. So I think she can identify with [the slaves]."
Despite having his freedom, Grey Worm has reason to stick by Daenerys' side. "She introduced him to the idea of being a human being," Anderson says. "She's almost like some sort of angel that has come in and given all of these traumatized young men their their lives back. He's trying to work out how to be a human being, which is again such a weird, incomprehensible thing, that this is somebody who has never thought of themselves as an individual, or thought about their needs or their desires or who they are."
Although the character of Daenerys had been accused of being a "white savior," especially in response to the disturbing image of the blonde crowd-surfing on a sea of darker-skinned ex-slaves, this season's unfortunate events have upended those concerns.
No good deed goes unpunished
Anyone with a claim to the Iron Throne is a target, and Dany has survived her share of assassination attempts. In Meereen, however, she gained a whole new slew of opponents after killing many of the masters who owned slaves. Now a mysterious group known as the Sons of the Harpy, who wear gold masks, have begun a shadow war on her occupying forces. One of their trademarks is to leave a gold mask behind on a victim.
"They represent at least a fraction of the masters community," Anderson says. McElhinney adds, "The Sons of the Harpy are basically the people who represent the old regime. They don't want Daenerys in there governing them. Daenerys has this attitude about the fighting pits being reopened, which is part of their tradition. There's quite a considerable resentment to the fact that she doesn't want this to happen. There's just a naturally rebellious community there. The advantage they have is because they wear these masks, of course we don't know who they are. We don't necessarily have a system of intelligence to point us in that direction. So there's that resistance, and it seems quite substantial, quite widespread."
This season, having her Unsullied picked off one by one has unsettled Daenerys, and she made one of her biggest blunders to date as a result. After her Unsullied adviser Mossador (Reece Noi) killed an imprisoned Harpy conspirator who was awaiting trial, Dany had Mossador beheaded publicly, earning the displeasure of the Meereenese ex-slaves. Now that the former masters and newly freed men are united in their resentment of Dany, how can she possibly rule the city?
"I think the whole thing with beheading Mossador was her having to be the law and pragmatic about something that she was emotionally connected to," Anderson says. "She quite clearly cared about this person and what this person represents. She's their mother. It's one of her children. I think she's finding it difficult to separate her personal feelings and the responsibility she now has governing a society of people." McElhinney says, "She obviously felt, 'I need to make a statement of intent here.' Barristan himself is very much a man of principle, but I suspect if he were given free rein to speak his mind, he may say, 'It's time to temper that a little.'"
Daenerys has also suffered without her best weapons — her dragons — to back up her decisions. She chained up two of them in the fighting pits, and her remaining dragon Drogon has been flying free, frying up various goats and people for food. "I think she was starting to get comfortable with the idea that she's the Mother of Dragons and she can do what she wants," Anderson observes. "In Season 3, when she first got the Unsullied, that gave her a confidence boost. But that's maybe her downfall now because she can't control them. She thought they would always be her children; now she's realizing that they're wild animals. They can only be tamed to a certain extent."
Chances for redemption
Frankly, the situation seems pretty grim since Daenerys has lost the trust of most of the native Meereenese. She will have to make a grand gesture to demonstrate that she's not just a foreign conqueror, bent on eradicating their ways. McElhinney says, "She's obviously got a battle on her hands. She's going to need to find some way in which to pacify these people."
Somehow getting her dragons under control will go a long way in reestablishing confidence not only within herself but with her people as well, who revere the legendary creatures tied to the Targaryen kings and queens.
We still hold out hope for Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to reach her despite being kidnapped at a brothel. With his head for politics, knowledge of Westeros and the weaknesses of his sister Cersei (Lena Headey), he could be a powerful ally to Dany, who needs a savvy operator who's used to taking the less obvious path.
Finally, these recent setbacks could be exactly what Daenerys needs to learn how to deal with the upheaval in the Seven Kingdoms. McElhinney says, " Meereen is, I guess, necessarily teaching her some lessons about how to govern. Some of them are not easy lessons to learn." Anderson agrees and adds, "Of all the potential candidates, she is getting the best lesson... She's not just after the prize. She wants to be good at [ruling]. For that obviously, you have to make some mistakes. You have to break some eggs to make an omelet. She's breaking a few eggs."
Do you still think Daenerys has the potential to rule Westeros? What can she do to fix her situation?
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.
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