Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 45 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 71 (“Daenerys”).
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 71: Daenerys
Missandei serves Dany wine on the terrace atop Meereen’s Great Pyramid while Dany reflects on the nature of gods. She promises Missandei that she will return her to her native island of Naath someday, but Missandei replies that she is content to stay with Dany. She dresses with her maids’ help, and wonders if she looks like a conqueror yet; she doesn’t feel like one, even though she had taken Meereen in less than a day. She thinks back to the brief but bloody battle. She thinks on how she’d had the former leaders of the city crucified after for their crimes, but now that her anger has died down she wonders if she did the right thing.
In the throne room, she looks upon her followers and wonders which one of them will betray her next. She thinks that there are two men in the world she can trust, and the three of them will be like Aegon and his sisters if she can find them. She is pleased that the night went peacefully, thanks to the harsh penalties she had decreed for pillage and rapine. She orders that the corpses of those she executed be returned to their families in a respectful manner.
An envoy from Astapor named Ghael arrives, and brings her greetings from “King Cleon of Astapor, Cleon the Great”. Dany says she left a council in charge of Astapor, not a king, and Ghael claims that the council was plotting to restore the Great Masters, and Cleon exposed and then executed them. Missandei explains sotto voce that Cleon was a butcher in Grazdan’s kitchen, and Dany reflects bitterly that she has given Astapor “a butcher king”. Ghael says Cleon proposes an alliance with her against the Yunkai’i, who he claims are also plotting against her, and marriage to seal it. Dany says she will consider it, and dismisses Ghael. She reflects that all her victories have “turned to dross”, and wonders what to do if the news of Astapor inspires the newly freed slaves in Meereen to abandon the city and go with her when she leaves, and how she would feed them all if they did.
Next comes a Qartheen slaver ship captain, who weeps for the atrocities he says the Cleaver King is wreaking in Astapor, including the seizing of every highborn boy to make into new Unsullied. Dany thinks it will be the same in Meereen once she leaves, but tells herself there’s nothing she can do about it. Dany tells the captain she has no slaves to sell him, but Daario tells her, to her shock, that there are crowds of Meereenese begging to be sold to the Qartheen. He explains that their lives as slaves in the Free Cities will be idyllic compared to their lives here. Dany reflects, and decides that any man or woman who chooses to sell themselves may do so, but forbids the sale of children. Missandei points out that the city usually took a tenth of the sale price, and Dany decides to do that too.
After the slaver leaves, Dany steels herself and orders Jorah and Barristan brought before her; she notes that Barristan looks proud while Jorah looks ashamed. She tells them that she’d hoped they would not survive the sewers of Meereen. Jorah says they won her the city; Dany thinks it is probably true, but only admits that they helped. She says they have saved her often, yet also betrayed her.
She demands of Barristan why he chose to follow Robert rather than Viserys, and Barristan confesses that it seemed to him that even as a child, Viserys was more like his father “the Mad King” than like Rhaegar. He further confesses that he’d wanted to watch Dany for a time before revealing himself, to ensure she was not also “tainted” with the Targaryens’ hereditary madness, but now is sure she is not, and pledges to be her faithful knight, or her servant in whatever capacity she chooses. Dany accepts his pledge and gives him a sword.
Then she turns to Jorah, and demands he explain himself as well. Instead of being humble, though, Jorah blusters. Dany is dismayed to learn that he had still been spying for Varys as late as their stay in Qarth. Barristan says that he was there when Robert declared Dany and her child by Drogo must die, and that Jorah must have been the one supposed to do it. Jorah protests that he stopped her from drinking the poisoned wine, but Dany returns that the assassination attempt would not have happened without his informing on her pregnancy.
Jorah says that she must forgive him, and Dany thinks he should have started by begging for forgiveness. She tells him she cannot forgive him. He protests that he protected her, killed for her, and that he loved her.
And there it was. Three treasons will you know. Once for blood and once for gold and once for love.
She tells him he must be out of Meereen by dawn or die. He tries to reach for her, and she slaps him away and turns her back on him, commanding herself not to weep. Belwas drags Jorah out. Daario offers to kill him anyway, but Dany tells him to leave Jorah be, and escapes to her chambers. She thinks that Daario was right, that she should either have kept Jorah or killed him. She is annoyed when Ser Barristan appears, but he tells her that he thought she might have questions for him, given how privy he was to her father’s counsels. She asks if her father was truly mad, but then decides she doesn’t want to hear the answer yet. He promises her to tell her about all the good in her family as well, particularly of Rhaegar and her grandfather Jaehaerys, and leaves.
She sleeps with Irri that night, and thinks about inviting Daario into her bed. She wakes near dawn and goes to look out on the city, wishing a silent farewell to her “old bear”, Jorah. Missandei joins her, and Dany tells her she is looking for a house with a red door. She begs Missandei never to betray her, and Missandei promises not to. They hold hands as the sun rises.
Later she summons her captains to the garden and tells them that she feels that she has been more khal than queen, bringing death and ruin rather than peace and justice. Missandei protests she has brought freedom, and Dany asks “Freedom to starve?”. She wonders how she is to rule the Seven Kingdoms when she cannot rule a single city. No one has an answer to that. She says she must give her children and her dragons time to grow and rest. She will not abandon Meereen the way she did Astapor.
“I will not march.”
“What will you do then, Khaleesi?” asked Rakharo.
“Stay,” she said. “Rule. And be a queen.”
Without diminishing in the slightest my feels for Dany—because I have many feels for her, she damn near broke my heart in this chapter—this whole endeavor screams to me of bad choices, which are inevitably going to come back to roost. Some of which already have, of course.
I have to hand it to Martin: he captures with flawless accuracy the monumental shitshow it must be to be in a position of power while possessing even the smallest amount of conscience or human decency.
And I know that wielding power more often involves choosing the least evil option from a veritable array of evils than it does getting to choose to do the right thing, but I am very dismayed at Dany’s decision to even partially reinstitute the slave trade. I totally see all the factors that led to it seeming like the best choice, even, but ugh, no, don’t go there, Dany! I hate to bring up the slippery slope argument, because it is a logical fallacy to ignore the possibility of a middle ground and I know it, but when it comes to slavery, even the middle ground is too extreme in my opinion.
But, we all know I am not completely rational when it comes to this particular subject, so for now I will just make a very sad and worried face at this development, and move on.
I’m not sure how I feel about her decision to stay put in Meereen. Because on the one hand, regrouping and recuperating is a good thing, and I guess it could be viewed as the only responsible thing to do after coming in there and smashing the place apart. And it would probably be good for Dany to get some actual ruling experience under her belt. On the other hand, inertia is an insidious thing, and Dany may regret losing the momentum she had if she ever wants to get around to actually invading Westeros. (Something which I’m still not sure if I actually want her to do, honestly, but still.)
Plus, this now means there’s a lot of repetition of the word “Meereen” in my future, and aaaaggggh. Worst city name in the whole series thus far, and she’s putting down roots there! Figures.
I wonder if she’s going to go overthrow this Butcher King dude? I mean, as long as she’s staying in the area, she might as well. I mean, maybe it would be better for her just to build her empire here and give Westeros a miss altogether.
Because seriously, Dany, it is a hot mess over there. Or, er, a rapidly-getting-colder mess, because Winter Is Coming, dontcha know, but you know what I mean! When it comes down to choosing between trying to repair a culture steeped in centuries of institutionalized slavery, and fighting off a horde of apocalyptic frozen zombies, I would choose….
Um. Is there an Option C? No? Crap.
(Speaking of which, is Winter coming everywhere, or just to the Seven Kingdoms? I mean, proper apocalypti tend to not be localized phenomenons, but the only evidence I think we’ve really seen outside of Westeros itself that Things Are Happening on that front is the reemergence of actual functional magic. And dragons. Which… okay, that’s probably good enough, but what are the other continents’ version of the Others, I wonder?)
She was Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, khaleesi and queen, Mother of Dragons, slayer of warlocks, breaker of chains, and there was no one in the world that she could trust.
Except for two people, apparently, and I’m feeling really stupid right now because I feel like I ought to know who Dany was referring to there, and I am drawing a total blank, because the only people I can think of who Dany would have cause to trust completely are already dead. So, um, dunno. But I hope she finds them, I guess?
And then there’s Jorah, which, wow, way to shoot yourself in the foot there, bro. I’m not a fan of people needing to grovel as a general thing, but there are certain circumstances where you just fucking eat your crow and like it, dude, and this was unquestionably one of them. You basically gave Dany no choice but to reject your “apology,” you dumbass. Is it so important that your pride trump hers? Yeah, don’t answer that.
So, good riddance, though I rather agree with Daario that leaving a resentful and feeling-wronged Jorah out there as a free agent is probably not the smartest idea. But it seems, again, that wielding power is ironically a constant state of being forced to compromise. You know you’ve probably done as close to the right thing as possible when absolutely no one is happy with the results.
Also: so Jorah was all three of Dany’s prophesied betrayals: blood, gold, and love? Am I reading that right? Well… okay, then. I… guess it’s good we got them all out of the way at once? Huh. I thought that would be strung out quite a bit longer, honestly. I can’t decide if it’s good or bad that it wasn’t. Probably good. (Of course, Dany could be wrong in her interpretation, as well. Always a possibility!)
(I really should go back and look at that acid trip chapter again, because I’m pretty sure Dany’s mention of “a house with a red door” is also a reference to that whole thing, and I am a little confused. I think I thought at the time that that was a reference to Illyrio’s house—didn’t it have a red door?—but I guess I was wrong if Dany’s still looking for it. *scratches head*)
Meanwhile you have to be in a little bit of awe of good Ser Selmy, who is either a heartbreaking icon of sincerity, or an Olympic gold medalist in shrewd manipulation, because he did everything exactly right in this chapter to win back Dany’s approbation. Considering the setting, the smart bettor would go with the latter option, but I guess there’s no reason he can’t be both sincere and savvy.
Speaking of, Dany hit me right in the feels this chapter, as I said, in wondering who was going to betray her next, and how she straight-up begged Missandei to be her friend. That is one achingly lonely girl, y’all.
I just hope she keeps sleeping with Irri and doesn’t give in to the temptation to bed Daario, because NO. I have some consent issues with her relationship with Irri, but I am somewhat appeased by the fact that Irri was in fact the one who initiated the sex to begin with, and at least on the surface, she seems to be into it. And I do approve of the fact that Dany’s getting some desperately-needed tension relief and companionship out of it. Plus, at least Irri can (probably) be trusted not to take advantage of the situation, whereas Daario really, really cannot.
And… I’m betting this is goodbye to Dany for the rest of this book, since this is just about as obvious a cutting-off place for her particular story arc as can be imagined. ASOS for Dany was travel, and all the consequences that brought, so I’m wagering the next book for her will be dealing with all the consequences of stopping.
And I’m sure there’ll be aplenty of those.
And that’s our show, kids! Come on back next Thursday as we creep up on wrapping up Book 3! Cheers!