Dany = Jon or Stannis? The Double Parallels in the Mother of Dragons

It would be nice to say that the fury over Dany has abated, but if anything, things are getting worse. People apparently need grief counseling because they’re so traumatized by the “betrayal” of Dany’s character and the “unacceptable” Game of Thrones finale. Seriously.

There has been no shortage of excellent articles underscoring everyone’s stupidity: Amanda Marcotte’s
Don’t Be Shocked by Daenerys catalogs the mountains of evidence showing Dany’s innate cruelty; John Elledge’s Stop Whining About It shows Dany a political game-player as much as Cersei; Sean Collins’s The Tragedy of Daenerys Targaryen compares Dany to Frodo Baggins, who betrayed everything he and his friends fought and suffered for; and James Crossley’s The Khaleesi of the Liberals compares Dany to war-hawk Hillary Clinton, whose supporters during the 2016 election were in blatant denial of her bad traits — in the same way that Jon and Tyrion persisted in defending their indefensible queen.

What these articles don’t address is how fans were misled to esteem Dany so highly. They lay out the facts, but leave us wondering why the facts are still resisted. The closest we get to a reason is in Marcotte’s article:

“Fans lived in denial for the same reason that the almost exclusively male characters that surround Daenerys — Tyrion, Jorah, Jon — live in denial: Dany is young and she’s pretty and she embraces the nurturing title of ‘Mother.’ It’s tempting to see her good side and ignore her bad side, and the same fans who are scorning Jon Snow for not seeing it before fell into the same trap that ensnared him.”

But I think there’s a stronger reason than that. Physical attraction may have something to do with it (and for some more than others), but ultimately it’s too superficial an explanation for the mass hysteria that has resulted in 1.3 million signatures petitioning for a do-over of season 8. I would submit that the major reason lies in the double alignment of Dany’s character.

By the end of book 5 and season 5, the character of Dany has been developed in very clear parallel to Jon. She does for the Dothraki what he does for the Wildlings, each empowering “inferior” tribal groups and bringing them beyond their homelands in the service of progressive causes — whether to liberate slaves or fight against the dead. Their passion for justice gets them into serious trouble; in essence both Dany and Jon become captives of their own command: Slaver’s Bay collapses around Dany’s ears, because the world isn’t ready for abolition; the Night’s Watch rebels against Jon and kills him, because no matter how noble his intentions as Lord Commander, he has committed treason.

It’s this — more than anything else, I believe — that steers us into thinking of Dany as an analog to Jon. He’s the righteous ice of the north, she’s the liberating fire of the east, and that is, after all, the title of Martin’s series. So Dany must be a hero like Jon; she will ultimately transcend her genetic cruelty. Jon — as most of us long suspected by the point of book 5/series 5 — has those Targaryen genes too, so how bad can they really be? Fans had all but made up their minds on Jon and Dany by the end of the fifth act. They were the heroes we could count on.

However, I’m convinced that Martin (and the show writers) also constructed Dany in deliberate parallel to Stannis Baratheon. From Dragonstone, each plotted to seize the Iron Throne at all costs. Each is a militant egomaniac with an inflated sense of royal entitlement. Like Stannis, Dany has absolute zero tolerance for those who question her authority. They have a passion for justice, but it’s a justice that proves (unlike Jon’s) to be inflexibly merciless. Stannis rewarded Davos with a knighthood for saving the city of Storm’s End and rescuing Stannis — while also promptly cutting off Davos’s fingers for smuggling food in that very act of liberation. Like Dany would later do, Stannis came to the north’s rescue (saving the Night’s Watch in the battle against the Wildlings) and took seriously the threat beyond the Wall. Unlike most rulers, Stannis and Dany can see the forest for the trees; they can look beyond petty politics to address eternal threats.

But they’re also capable of cruelty and evil. Dany watched her brother die hideously (at the hands of Drogo) without a trace of empathy; Stannis arranged for his brother to die (by the sorcery of Melisandre) when Renly refused to accept his royal claim. Dany killed the raped victim Mirri Maz Duur in order to hatch her dragons; Stannis burnt his daughter alive to survive the war against Ramsay Bolton. Dany likes crucifixions; Stannis likes dungeons and executions. Dany is as much like Stannis as she is like Jon.

These double parallels probably have a lot to do with the misunderstanding of Dany. Fans see the Jon parallels all too clearly, but hardly the Stannis ones at all. We see what we want, and viewers who are outraged have made it pretty clear that they’re not really Game of Thrones fans after all. If they were, they would have seen both sides of Dany and accepted them impartially; and they certainly would have heeded the lesson which George Martin has been pushing from the first pages: that there are no true heroes in Westeros — least of all the ones we like.

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