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. First up this week is culture editor Todd VanDerWerff.
Todd VanDerWerff: So, uh, how many episodes of Game of Thrones are going to end with Daenerys giving a speech to her followers, only to be drowned out by their cries of endless support? Because over the course of this show, there have been a lot.
And these speeches usually follow roughly the same trajectory: "I'm the Mother of Dragons, and you're not. Look at how great I am. Now you must sacrifice your lives for me. It might not be very fun at first, but I will ultimately lead you to greater glory." And then there is much stamping of feet and shouting for joy.
Is it safe to say that for as many good moments as she's had on the show, Dany is ultimately the weakest major character now that Jon is surprisingly compelling (something that wasn't true for a long while)? And that's probably true in the books as well.
There have been some terrific Dany bits here and there throughout Game of Thrones' run, but she tends to function as a character who's perpetually about to do something — namely, invade Westeros — rather than a character who's actually accomplishing much. She's the ultimate "When are we gonna get to the fireworks factory?" character (so named because of a famous Simpsons gag about an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon that promises an explosive good time at a fireworks factory the characters never get to because they're derailed by other things).
What's sort of ridiculous about Dany's lack of "results" is that her main objective other than taking the Iron Throne — attempting to end slavery in Slaver's Bay — is pretty damn impressive and important. But neither books nor show have done a terribly good job of making "slavery" in this universe feel like anything other than an obvious evil that Dany can attempt to set right.
This means Dany primarily exists as a sort of attitude. And on that level, she's a lot of fun. The scene in season three when she orders her dragon to toast a bunch of men is great, and I loved seeing her burn the khals earlier this season. When she's taking matters into her own hands and setting things on fire, she's about as fun to watch as anybody else on the show.
But it also feels like we've seen the same Dany story over and over and over again. She seems like she's in over her head. She reveals she wasn't in over her head after all. She consolidates her power in an unexpected fashion. One of her dragons shows up as the ultimate deterrent. She gives a big speech about how she's the best. Rinse. Repeat.
The character is in sore need of some other story beat, but because of where Game of Thrones has stranded her, it's unlikely the show will find it anytime soon. For that reason, I would be willing to bet she's on her way to Westeros by the end of this season (the presence of her giant khalasar, along with the approaching ships that Yara and Theon are bringing, suggest as much), and it won't be a moment too soon.
Really, Dany is almost unique in TV history. Yes, she's had certain allies and other characters who have been at her side. And, yes, she and Tyrion finally met up last season. (And I continue to think she will meet up with Arya sooner or later — even though Essos is huge, the series has always portrayed it as roughly the size of New England.) But she's almost entirely off by herself, in her very own storyline, doing things that have little bearing on the main action back in Westeros.
Put simply, she exists almost entirely to get us to speculate about what she adds to the story as a whole. That's a dangerous gambit to play for one season of a show, to say nothing of two or three.
But Game of Thrones has been playing it for six years now, and even if it hasn't always been successful and has repeated itself a lot, it's gotten a lot further than I ever would have expected. It has Emilia Clarke to thank for that, and George R.R. Martin. But it mostly has the story's general need to feel like everything is headed somewhere — we might not know where Dany is going, but because she's been so important for so long, we assume it's somewhere important.