Apr 7 2011 1:06pm

The Women in Game of Thrones: Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen

Daenerys TargaryenWhy would romance readers be interested in George R.R. Martin's fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire? Because George R.R. Martin's series is full of relationships, and there's nothing romance readers like better than that, is there? The the loyalty or treachery associated with each of myriad relationships propels every action occuring within the pages—and will soon do the same on the small screen (for an in-depth read of the books themselves, visit our sister site,, for their Game of Thrones series). HBO debuts its miniseries version of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones on April 17th, and so we point the Heroes & Heartbreakers spotlight on Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, the woman who considers herself the rightful ruler of Westeros.

(The following post contains spoilers for Book 1, A Game of Thrones.)

“You are the one who forgets himself,” Dany said to [Viserys]. “Didn’t you learn anything that day in the grass? Leave me now, before I summon khas to drag you out. And pray that Khal Drogo does not hear of this, or he will cut open your belly and feed you your own entrails.”

Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen is, in many ways, a traditional heroine whose story has been told many different times. A young woman, from a difficult family situation, who finds herself married to an older stranger. Many a historical romance has started out in similar fashion.

But Game of Thrones isn’t a romance; Dany’s story begins well before her birth. Her older brother Viserys and her mother, who is pregnant with her, flee King's Landing. Her mother dies while giving birth to Dany, leaving her and her brother to fend mostly for themselves. Viserys, intent on regaining the kingdom that has been taken from his family and avenging his father and brother’s death, has nothing with which to bargain. He needs an army to regain a crown he already envisions on his head.

So Viserys sells his sister to a foreign ruler who promises an army of fierce warriors to help him. As usual, Daenerys has no say in what happens to her. She has grown up both clinging to her brother as her only living relative, and being afraid of him as he terrorizes her. When he tells her she has to marry Khal Drogo of the Dothraki, she begs him to relent. She doesn’t even remember this “Iron Throne” that seems to be not only her brother’s obsession, but the dictator of her life as well. She doesn’t want it. All she wants is to go back to one of her favorite places where they’d lived in their exile, and lead a simple life.

Her brother, of course, who's dreaming of glory in battle much more than actually ruling a people, forces her to go through with the wedding. Much like a historical romance, however, the marriage turns out better than expected.

The Dothraki are a fierce and strange people to Daenerys, the culture completely different. They are a nomadic people who live their lives on horseback. The culture is definitely survival of the fittest, not the divine right of kings and queens. The language is harsh and unfamiliar and those are just the gentle customs. They are a people who battle often, against other clans and sometimes against each other. At Khal Drogo and Dany’s wedding, twelve people die during the festivities! One hell of a party, right?

Viserys doesn't care what kind of people he is selling his sister to, as long as he gets what he wants out of the deal. If Drogo beats her to death at the wedding reception, which would have been his right, that would have been an acceptable loss. As it happens, though, the “other” of the Dothraki are more palatable (both to the reader and to Daenerys) to the brother she’s known her entire life. Her brother continues to treat her as he always had, disregarding how their relative situations had changed. How that ends is no surprise, although how he ends is inventive to say the least!

New husband. New Pregnancy. Beloved queen...what could possibly go wrong?

This article and its ensuing discussion originally appeared on our sister romance site Heroes & Heartbreakers.

Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, a longtime lover of words. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or read the backlist at Obiter Dictum.

Tricia Irish
1. Tektonica

One could hardly blame Daenerys for dreading her forced marriage to Drogo. But what a surprise relief from her treatment by her brother.

I would have to say that I probably have more conflicted responses to Daenerys than any other character in the book(s). She is smart. She makes the most of her situation. She learns. She becomes a leader. She's not particularly manipulative (at least at first) and I want so badly to root for her.

But something makes me not like her. The edge? The hardness? The ends she must go to in order to save herself? Her desire to get back to Westeros and claim her birthright....which she didn't really care about before? The Dothraki culture in general? I can't put my finger on it....maybe this reread will help.

I'm curious to hear what you all think about her.

And I am really enjoying these character posts....lots of good viewpoints! Thanks Tor.
2. icantthinkofanything

What really disturbs me about the Daenerys scenes is her age (which I see has been revised significantly upward for the TV version). I know standards were different in medieval culture, but 13 is so young to have a major sexual awakening, especially with a partner who's twice that. I feel gross reading the scenes about Dany's sex life, though they would have been interesting if the character was just a little older. The fact that I've taught middle school doesn't help.
3. denari6
@1 tektonica,

I agree with you. There is something that makes me dislike her as well. I think it is that I became so attached to the Starks who are diametrically opposed to Targaryen.


She is a sympathetic character. Her brother, her only relative abuses her and she is perpetually in fear of "waking the dragon" (I have to admit that GRRM gave a fitting end to him). She embraces the role as wife to the Khal only to have the Khal killed and through the use of dark magic loses the Khal's child and the ability to have future children (presumed). She takes the rememants of the Khals people and builds a vast army. With the addition of Tyrion, (if memory serves) and the passing of so many Starks I could feel my sympathy swing to herside. Either way I just hope GRRM finishes the darn story, ha!
Marcus W
4. toryx
Here there be SPOILERS :

I've always liked Daenerys and consider her one of my three favorite characters. She's hard but I respect that about her. She's a real leader rather than a bumbling lout like Robert or a sadistic power monger like Cersai.

So far her perspective has been tarnished by her upbringing but I've always believed that she will allow herself to see the truth of things when she is exposed to them. I don't believe she'll be as blind by virtue of her prejudices as so many other characters have been.

I hope I don't turn out to be wrong about that.
5. cranscape
*****S P O I L E R S *****

I think what has always made me feel a little uncomfortable about cheering for Daenerys is that her end game is killing all of the characters I like in the rest of the series. She's got not love for Starks or Jaime in particular or anyone else who went against her family or made a play for the throne since then instead of seeking her as the rightful queen. If she wins it is at the expense of everyone else we like. Maybe not the Greyjoys. They are one of the few families that might see a resurgence when she arrives.

Otherwise, I've grown her like her as the series progressed. With the war from the north approaching she is the only one taking things seriously enough to maybe save everyone...well, after she kills most of them herself. I hope she grows up enough to at least give them a choice. Open your gates or be destroyed would be a start.
James Whitehead
7. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard

@4toryx, I'm right there with you regarding Daenerys. I liked her from the beginning & definitely think she is far more perceptive than Robert, who didn't want to see the truth, or Cersei, who saw the truth as she wanted it to be.

I'm rooting for her but unfortunately, most of the characters I've liked/rooted for have, well, fallen by the wayside, so to speak. So let's hope I don't jinx her as well. ;-)


PS - @3denari6, I loved Drogo's gift to Viserys as well.
Rob Munnelly
8. RobMRobM

I'm also a big Dany fan. Brave, tough, smart and full of leadership qualities. (I love in ACOK when Strong Belwas is insulting Dothrakis, she tells him to drop it or leave with her service immediately and bearign more scars than he has now, but adds a smile to soften the potential harshness of the words.) I also love the humor - especially in SOS when she says words to the effect of "I'm just a young girl with no experience in war but perhaps we should do X" - which is clever and devastatingly effective. I also love her humanity, some of which bites her on the butt. She reaches out to save Miri the sorceror, expects kindness back, uses her as a medical resource - only to discover that Miri hates the Dothraki and exacts a terrible revenge on Drogo and the baby. A painful lesson that some do not respond to personal kindness. Can't wait to see her in DoD.

10. peachy

I'm hopeful that Selmy (one of my favourite minor characters, BTW) can give her the straight dope on Westeros, and - more importantly - that she'll be willing to listen and believe... if she can't let go of all the junk her brother taught her, that's going to be the shortest restoration in history.
Claire de Trafford
12. Booksnhorses
Loved her from the start; think it helps that Dany gets to experience most of the 'fantasy' in this series. She is definitely more open to reality than many others and is being pushed towards a destiny that she isn't sure that she wants. GRRM has promised us a 'bittersweet' ending, and I want her to have the sweet bit please - he can kill off any other character (excepting Arya who is my top fav) if she ends up happy.

I agree about the age issue, and tend to gloss that over in my reading of AGOT (although Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mum, was 13 when she had Henry I think from memory). I feel that the ages of the children was GRMMs biggest mistake in the series, particularly given the fact that the infamous '5 year gap' has never materialised. I like to think of her as being about 16 at the start of the book.

Having said that I think that we could play a pretty successful drinking game based on the number of times Dany says something like 'blood of the dragon' or 'the dragon has three heads' and the Starks say 'winter is coming'. Not feeling quite the love I had for those phrases now:)
Marcus W
13. toryx
I still love "Winter is Coming." That one never gets old for me. :)

Anyway, Dany's age has never bothered me, perhaps because I knew so many 13 and 14 year olds when I was a kid who were having sex and getting pregnant. Sure, it shocked me at the time but after a while I just accepted it. From everything I've heard in the last ten years, kids that age are even more sexually adventurous now than they were when I was their age, which really kind of shocks me. Comparatively, the scenes in ASoIaF have little of shock value left to them.
14. JoeCrow

I dunno, the way things are going in Westeros these days, even the Starks (what's left of them) might welcome the Targaryens back. Realistically, how much worse could they be than what's happening now?
James Hogan
15. Sonofthunder

Tek@ 1, I know what you mean...I also don't really like her, and I'm not sure why? It may be partly because her whole journey is aimed towards the re-conquest of Westeros, and I don't want her to succeed in that. I really did enjoy her earlier chapters, especially her growing relationship with the Khal. And I loved seeing her come into herself and her strong leadership of "her" people. But I think the knowledge that she was eventually going to return to Westeros and wreak havoc on the people there tempered my enjoyment of her story...maybe you're right, Tek - it is just the way she decides to come back and conquer even though she had never really cared about that previously. And her disregard for the consequences on the people of Westeros. In a way, she reminds me of Stannis - the throne belongs to her, so she will take it. The end. Ahh, I don't know! Thanks for making me think about this, Tek.

Also, the age difference is sorta weird when I think about it, but wasn't this fairly typical of "medieval" times? I think when I read her sections, she's 15-16 in my mental image of her, so it doesn't bother me overmuch.
16. Innbranna
I'm having the same problem as #1. I love the Daenerys chapters for their otherness and feeling of adventure, but after the first book, I've had difficulties identifying with her. I think it may have to do with the way she takes her right/duty to lead other people as a given. The ease with which she makes huge decisions for others. I suppose my democracy-soaked upbringing makes that part feel strange. I think she's different in this respect from leaders like Ned, Tyrion, Robb and Stannis, because they always seem aware that they might make the wrong decisions, that they don't see the whole picture. They have doubts. I wonder if Daenerys' lack of doubt is what bothers me about her. She may doubt the outcome, but she doesn't doubt her own actions.
Maiane Bakroeva
17. Isilel
Sonofthunder @15:

And her disregard for the consequences on the people of Westeros.

How does it make her different from everybody else, including the Starks?
Smallfolk had it better under Aerys, after all (lower taxes, the Crown not in debt and while mad, he didn't bother the populace at large), and the latest war didn't improve commoners' quality of life ;).

In fact, the well-being of the people was never even a consideration for Robb. Cat was the one who spared some thought on it and Edmure went about it in a pretty muddled, contradictory sort of way typical for him.

Anyway, from what she currently knows it makes just as much sense for Dany to want to re-take Westeros as for Starks to avenge their various relatives, etc.

But then, Dany, along with Tyrion, is my favorite character.

Speaking of the 5-year-gap - IMHO, it is a pity that Martin didn't manage to incorporate it, but it is even more of a pity that he had certain things happen implausibly quickly in the books so far. All the huge armies trudging through a continent the size of South America should have really taken considerably more time.
The books so far could have easily covered 4-5 years rather than 2.5 if he'd kept the pace of events to a bit more realistic speeds and the gap wouldn't have been needed in the first place.
James Hogan
18. Sonofthunder
Isilel @17...yeah, you're right. I guess the reason really is just that I like the Starks(what's left of them) better and don't want to see another player throw a wrench in the works...that probably colors my perception of her. I liked her a lot more before I realized she was going to go all dragon on Westeros at some point..
Gerd K
19. Kah-thurak
@18 Sonofthunder
I think the safest prediction to make in Martin's series is that there will be dire need for those Dragons in Westeros at some point.
Marcus W
20. toryx
Spoilers, probably.

I think it's interesting that so many people don't want Dany to succeed in her conquest. As much as I like(d) the Starks, I don't think they'd be so well suited to ruling the entire Seven Kingdoms. Their home is in the North and that's where they rightfully belong.

Not to mention that the remaining members of the family aren't really suited to rule.

I think that Dany is more likely to be suited to rule than anything. Far more so than Stannis or Cersei. I want her to succeed in her return to Westeros. I also want her to be wise enough to focus her attention on the enemy to the North as well, which I think she will.

Isilel: The difference between Westeros and South America is probably made up of well established roads, and no tangles of jungle in the way. I think of travel in the Seven Kingdoms to be similar to that in the Roman Empire. With all the roads they have established (as well as ships) they can cover a lot of ground quickly and efficiently.

I also wish Martin had been able to pull off the 5 year gap but it is what it is.

Edit: I have the tendency to get Catelyn and Cersei's names mixed up. I have no idea why. So I had to change that.
Valentin M
21. ValMar

I really like Daenerys too, toryx and others stated the reasons why already.

I don't get it why rooting for the Starks (as I do too) would make you dislike Dany? Especially if you've read all the books so far. I think it's pretty certain that if/by the time Dany gets to Westeros she'll have more info/knowledge and the situation there would've changed even more.

One last thing. IIRC, as far as empathy/care for the "little people" by the Westeros nobility goes, Daenerys shows more than anyone else.

ps. I second toryx @ 20
James Whitehead
22. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard

Don't forget that Dany is still very young & learning as she goes, especially compared to Ned & even Stannis; Cersei always seemed to think she was far too clever for evertone else. I do think toryx is right & that the Starks belong in the North. Robert dangerously weakened the North when he made Ned his Hand.

I was saddened by what happened to Dany but then remembered that this is a GRRM series and there aren't any happily ever afters - no matter what the storybooks say. ;-) I think she took on the mantle of 'taking back what's rightfully mine' when the eggs come. That changes her whole focus.

As to the young age of Dany, and others, we do have to remember that Westeros is more or less equivalent to medieval Europe. Children were not children long, especially by today's standards. Don't forget that Ned has Rickon (sp?) watch the beheading in GoT so that he learns what it truly means to rule; that you have to face up to the unpleasant aspects of being a ruler - a lesson Robert, sadly, forgot.

By the end of the final book published so far, I am definitely rooting for Dany. Maybe I'm drawn in by the dragon imagery and all that comes with it but there is a certain symmetry in her coming to power again. I have, however, read somewhere that GRRM promises a bittersweet ending so I could see the end of the final book with Dany on the throne wearing her crown as a heavy burden (a la the end of the first Conan movie).

23. Carolyn h
I like Dany a lot, but for me, at least so far, it has never quite made sense that she wanted so much to return to Westeros. And that has made it hard for me to keep liking her. Her success in life begins the day she leaves Westeros, there's no one back in Westeros who cares for or about her. The whole returning to rule thing seemed more suited to the pipedreams of her clueless brother than to ever-practical Dany.

I'm just not seeing why her desire to return and conquer is so strong. I also don't see her as being comfortable any longer in the more "civilized" lifestyle of the court of Westeros. She's turned into a warrior queen if ever there was one.
24. cranscape
You have to remember not only has she been brainwashed by her brother all of her life she has been hearing updates on unrest and mistreatment of small people there who she is told wants her back. She has seen "signs" that point to a certain, unavoidable destiny ever since the eggs hatched. With dragons returning to a near magicless world how could she ignore what seems like fate? She has seen and done too much to ignore all of that. Robb wasn't that much older than she and had similar aspirations though his experience is actually much less than hers by the time she is able to make her own choices. It isn't that much of a stretch she would get caught up in it similarly.

When she is queen she will get to decide what that means. I doubt she will live as King Robert did and get fat. Personally I can't think of a better Queen when winter is coming. The only question is about how she will handle the other characters. Will she accept them for the sake of the coming war from the north or make herself weaker by seeking revenge.
Joseph Kingsmill
25. JFKingsmill16
@17. Isilel


People didn't really have it any better under Aerys. Yes, the kingdom's coffers were full but he was still insane. Remember that there was a reason Jaime killed him. He was about to murder everyone (500,000 people) in King's Landing with wildfire rather than lose the throne.

And odds are that with his increasing madness coupled with his fascination with fire that he may have burned the whole city on a whim at some point in the future. Of course that is just speculation on my part.
Tricia Irish
26. Tektonica
CarolynH@23: Spoilers Abound....

Yeah, I don't get her wanting to return to "civilization". She is a warrior queen of a less "civilized" society...tongue firmly in cheek. How will her Dothraki army work in Westeros? Will they conquer for her and then return home? And if they do, where will that leave her?

Also, I always saw she and Jon getting together, either as allies or lovers, etc.....there is some magic in the Starks, remember....there is Jon's as yet unconfirmed heritage....Jon knows the north, and is a warrior as well, who has had many disadvantages, like Dany has. I see a lot of sympatico there.

If she returns to Westeros and allies with the Starks, or what's left of them, it could work out.

I'm not anti-Dany, just a bit confused by her motivations.
27. carolynh
Tektonica: I always figured Jon and Dany were well-suited for each other too. Maybe they will clear things out north of the Wall together. I just don't see Dany fitting in or being happy with the clearly more "civilized" culture of southern court life.
Marcus W
28. toryx

Tektonica @ 26 (and others Re: Dany's motivations)

I'm doing a very slow re-read of Game of Thrones right now and I just reached a Dany chapter (the one where her brother gets schooled with a whip) where she questions the meaning of home. Basically she's looking at the beauty of the Dothraki Sea and inside she's seeing King's Landing and Dragonsmount, dreaming of the Seven Kingdoms. This is right when she realizes that she's not a powerless little girl anymore, and she doesn't have to suffer the Dragon's waking. It's also when she realizes that Viserys is never going to rule.

It's still fairly early on in the novel and it's when things really begin to change for her. It's also when the dragon eggs begin to stir and she starts to dream of them. I think all of this is when she first starts to think of returning to Westeros and ruling. Personally, I think it's set up pretty well.
Tricia Irish
29. Tektonica
Thanks Toryx.....

I am pondering from memory, as I am in the middle of a major house move/renovation and rereading Memories of Ice on the Malazan thread while trying to finish that series....hard to keep it all straight....but good escapes ALL!

What I'm trying to say is, I appreciate these details. Thank you!
Brian Kaul
30. bkaul
FWIW, a linguistic rabbit trail: I don't think there's any need for euphemism quotes around the word "civilized": civil (and citizen) derive from the Latin words for city and city-dweller. The Dothraki are, by definition, uncivilized, since they're nomadic and don't live in cities. It's not a value judgment, just an accurate descriptive term, so while maybe not intended that way in @23 & @26, etc., I think it's unintentionally a very apt description of the distinctions. Those in Westeros, even if no more moral, live a settled lifestyle in cities, and are thus civilized.

It's true that in modern English, we have a contextual implication of politeness attached to the term "civil," but really, the culture of the Dothraki isn't exactly polite in the ways we think of there either. It has different norms, which are better suited to their nomadic lifestyle than to close-quartered city-dwelling. "Civilized" vs "uncivilized" is an entirely appropriate and accurate distinction between the Westeros and Dothraki peoples and cultures; this holds even if you conclude that the Dothraki are more honorable and morally superior in some ways. Ethics and morals aren't a consequence of civilization, and (necessarily) preceded it historically.

Not really related to the story; just a thought that occurred to me when I saw the quotes there.
Birgit F
31. birgit
If she wins it is at the expense of everyone else we like. Maybe not the Greyjoys.

Does anyone like the Greyjoys?
I also don't really care about Dany but am not sure why. Maybe it is because her story has too little to do with that of the rest of the characters. It is clear that that will change eventually, but it just takes too long until the storylines come together. Her conquests of lands that are off the map somehow don't seem to matter for the main story about Westeros.
The dragons will probably be needed to fight the Others.
Joseph Kingsmill
32. JFKingsmill16

@31. birgit

I hope for the Greyjoys and the Freys to be wiped out.
Robin Bradford
33. RobinBradford
Love all the great comments on this! It's funny, this was one of the hardest "profiles" to write because of her age. When reading the book, I never gave it a second thought. I mean, yes, it was terrible that she was bartered away at such a young age, but I never focused on that. But once you start making it a little more real and live action, it became "OMG, she's only 13!" Instead of what a nice little romance to take her away from her brother, it was more get away from her you pervert! She's only 13! I'm so glad they aged the characters for the series, although I don't see how they could have gotten away with not doing that.

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