clock menu more-arrow no yes

Game of Thrones' Daenerys shows how women can do everything and still be ignored

How many times must she literally walk through fire before people start listening to her?

Fire walk with Dany.
HBO

Every week throughout season six, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Before you dig in, check out our recap of Sunday's episode, as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, culture writers Alex Abad-Santos and Caroline Framke, and executive editor Matt Yglesias. Come back throughout the week for more entries.

Alex Abad-Santos: The most comical element of Game of Thrones, a show in which dragons exist and women are often far more naked than they need to be, is that you can watch someone get pawned off in exchange for an army and then subsequently rise to power, kill her enemies with fire multiple times, emerge ferocious and unburned from a fire pit/flames on two occasions, liberate a fearsome squad of eunuchs, and, after all that, still not be taken seriously.

That is the fate of one Daenerys Targaryen.

In "Book of the Stranger," when it's time for her "hearing" with the Dothraki leadership, Dany goes in tits blazing and turns the most fearsome of Khal's men into smoldering piles of burnt hair and leather. Then she emerges to a wave of genuflection; if you look closely, you can tell that several of the Dothraki are mouthing "yass kween" under their breath.

It's a powerful scene, but it only exists because her fellow Game of Thrones characters are acting like they forgot about the last time she was literally set on fire and remained unscathed.

It's not like Dany hasn't tried remind them — every time this poor woman shows up to an event, she's constantly talking about being Stormborn, being the unburnt, being the mother of dragons. And every time, people laugh off that introduction as a bunch of hot air.

I suppose it drives home the point that Dany is often overlooked. Game of Thrones isn't a meritocracy. And Dany is a woman, in a world that is especially tough on women. Cersei, Margaery, Melisandre, Brienne, Arya, and Sansa can all attest to that.

Westeros has an unspoken rule that the last thing a woman should do is brandish her power — women are better served by weaving intricate plots or manipulating puppets to do their bidding in order to achieve real power. We've seen Cersei, Margaery, and, to some extent, Melisandre follow this rule and thrive. But as Cersei's recent experience shows, one "wrong" move can change everything. In the world of Game of Thrones, a woman's potency is brittle and unpredictable.

What fascinates me with Dany is that she's not afraid to be strong for everyone to see. Some of Game of Thrones' most satisfying moments occur when the world stops to watch her conquer those who oppose her. That happened in "Book of the Stranger" as she set fire to the designer impostor Khal Drogo and emerged with not a hair out of place.

Like Cersei or Margaery, Dany has been punished, but in a much different way. She's never been stripped of her powers, but no one can seem to remember or respect that she has them. It seems she's trapped in a rinse-and-repeat cycle where she'll have a moment like she did on Sunday, gain respect from everyone in sight, and then for some odd reason spend the next several episodes reminding people that she's fireproof, has three angry dragons who answer to her, and is willing to literally burn her enemies to the ground.

Based on what we've seen on Game of Thrones in the past, the effect of her power move in Vaes Dothrak on Sunday won't last; no one will believe Dany is capable of being a leader until she's forced to remind them yet again.

Read the recap. Come back tomorrow for more discussion.

Previous entry