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The major Game of Thrones character shift most viewers and critics missed

All those repetitive Daenerys Targaryen scenes had an ultimate point.

Game of Thrones
Daenerys is ready for war.
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. Next up this week is politics writer Andrew Prokop.

Andrew Prokop: Todd, I totally understand how it may feel like Dany has been trapped in Groundhog Day for the past several seasons, endlessly repeating a cycle of seeming setbacks that are followed by inspiring triumphs.

But I do think that as of this episode we're finally — finally — at a turning point for her character, where she's ready to go down the dark path I've predicted.

To understand why, I think we have to think back to the Dany storyline that didn't fit the pattern you described — the one from last year's fifth season, when she tried to peacefully rebuild and rule her conquered, liberated city of Meereen.

Her effort was, frankly, a disaster. Dany completely failed to restore stability to the city, failing to stop a vicious insurgency led by the old slave masters while hemorrhaging support even from the slaves she freed. In her storyline's climax for the season, the insurgents violently ruined a ceremony that was supposed to mark a new era of peace, and Dany didn't defeat them — she merely survived because her dragon showed up and flew her away.

Since then, Dany has been away from Meereen, and it hasn't been at all clear how she feels about what's happened. But her conversation with Daario at the close of this week's episode clears up some of the mystery. She has now abandoned her desire to "fix" Meereen and has instead resolved to return there, gather her forces, and leave to go conquer Westeros.

Daario approves:

"You weren't made to sit on a chair in a palace."

"What was I made for?"

"You're a conqueror, Daenerys Stormborn."

This exchange is followed by Dany's dramatic speech, on dragonback, in which she urges the Dothraki to follow her and kill all her enemies. But I think viewers who read this speech in a straightforwardly heroic way are kinda missing the point here — this is dark and violent stuff.

Indeed, the director of the episode, Jack Bender, has said that "at the end of the scene, you should be somewhat roused by her, and a little horrified. She's not Hitler at Nuremberg, but she's got the power."

Kinda scary!
HBO

Dany's new resolve to leave Meereen and go take Westeros is also a complete reversal of everything she was trying to do last season. She's given up the path of peacemaking and rebuilding — derided by Daario as "sit[ting] on a chair in a palace" — in favor of violently taking what is hers. She's set aside her quest to free slaves on one continent in favor of claiming her "birthright" on a different continent.

Here's the problem: The show hasn't portrayed this change in Dany's character particularly well. Indeed, my interpretation of what's happening here is mainly informed by my reading of Martin's books.

In Dany's final chapter in A Dance With Dragons, while she's stranded alone far away from Meereen, she has a crisis of confidence and comes to a similar resolution that she must abandon her efforts to pacify the city, go back to Westeros, and focus on "fire and blood" rather than "planting trees."

The storyline ends with Dany standing triumphantly by her giant dragon and embracing her identity as a conqueror, just as the Dothraki horde first discovers her. This reads to me as a major turning point for her character … but we've been left in suspense about what comes next, since Martin hasn't completed the next book.

The HBO adaptation instead chose to have her captured by the Dothraki and sidelined for half a season before having her belatedly embrace her identity as a conqueror. This added drama on the surface by placing Dany in peril, but hurt our understanding of her because we've really had no idea what she's been thinking lately. (This is in keeping with the series' overreliance on big action set pieces and dramatic "moments" over character development, theme, or basic storytelling logic.)

But both versions eventually reach the same endpoint: Dany is tired of messing around with this peacemaking nonsense and ready for all-out war. Bring it on.


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