Can a young, beautiful, charismatic leader be a tyrant in Westeros? That seems to be the question the “Game of Thrones” writers set out to answer. In the final two episodes of the final season, we learned that someone many GOT fans have rooted for longer than seven and half years—Daenerys Targaryen, breaker of chains, mother of three dragons, and the heroine who saved Westeros from a tyrannical Queen Cersei Lannister—turned out to be a tyrant herself.
How could this be? More than 1 million disappointed GOT fans aren’t buying this outcome and are demanding that HBO remake the last season.
But a good question for those disappointed fans is: Why can’t they accept Dany being a tyrant? Is it because she’s young and pretty? Or because she’s a woman and our leftist society desperately wants to see a woman get her turn at the highest position? Or because her intentions are so morally right that they rationalize her murderous behavior?
Many of us like to believe we know a villain when we see one. In the past seven years, we have met many villains and tyrants in this show. From Littlefinger to Cersei, they were all willing to do any harm to anyone for their own survival and advancement. They never pretended they did what they did for some higher calling, such as the greater good of others.
They knew what they did to others was wrong, whether by the moral standards of the day or by the teaching of old gods and new gods. They simply didn’t care. To them, their own survival and power were sufficient justifications for their behaviors.
Power Corrupts, Remember?
Many of us probably cheered when they all deservingly met their bitter end and some in the most horrible way (such as Ramsay Bolton becoming the dinner of his hungry hounds). None of them were likable nor had Dany’s charisma and beauty. Above all, none of them had Dany’s good intentions: they were all consumed by how to benefit themselves and their houses, while all Dany wanted was to build a better world for all mankind and set all people free.
Yet in the end, we realize that Dany was not only a tyrant, but also the worst and the most dangerous one in all seven kingdoms. She didn’t suddenly become a tyrant in season eight. She was on her way to becoming one right in front of our very own eyes for several seasons now. But, like her suitors in the show, many of us were so blindsided by her beauty, charm, and noble cause that we made excuses on her behalf again and again and refused to see who she really was.
To her credit, early in her quest for power she did free all slaves in Slaver’s Bay (it’s not unusual to have a honeymoon period with a tyrant at the beginning). From the nailing of 163 slave owners in Meereen to the burning of Dothraki Khals, everywhere she went, evil men died and we cheered her for it.
The more she was confident that she was good and right, the more her ambition grew too. She was no longer satisfied with taking the Iron Throne back. She sincerely believed that she was a force for the good of mankind.
We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Chains
In Season 5, Episode 8, she laid out her mission statement to Tyrion: “Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell – they’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top, then that one’s on top, and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”
Her wheel speech reminded me of a famous quote from Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto”: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”
What’s this new world Dany wants to build after she breaks the wheel? A world in which only she (later she included Jon Snow) got to decide what is good for everyone else. We got a glimpse of Dany’s new world in season three. As Daniel D’Addario, the chief TV critic of Variety, reminded us, at the end of season three, Daenerys was celebrated as a liberator of slaves as she was carried by the slaves of Yunkai, the very ones she freed.
It seems these slaves simply traded their old masters for a new one, albeit an initially benevolent one. Unfortunately, that irony was lost on many fans because they were caught up in the euphoria of the dawn of Dany’s revolution, a revolution for good.
What if someone doesn’t want to embrace this new world Dany tried to build? What she said to the slave masters of Yunkai applied to everyone else too: “They can live in my new world, or they can die in their old one.” In the final episode, when Jon asked Daenerys what if other people think they know what’s good, Dany responded in a cold-blooded way: “They don’t get to choose.”
Out with the Old, In with the New
With the assistance of three weapons of mass destruction—three fire-breathing dragons—Danny let plenty of people and cities perish in what she considered an old world by burning them to ashes. In her eyes, since she is a force for good, anyone who opposes her must be for evil, so their killing is justified. She rationalized such deaths as acceptable prices to pay for the new and a better world she was going to build for future generations. She envisioned having plenty of time to show mercy in the future—just not right now.
This is why Dany is the most dangerous tyrant in Westeros. She believed so much in her own good intentions that she was not bothered by the atrocity and destruction she caused. Of course, she wouldn’t become such a tyrant without supporters who were enchanted by her charm and vision to cheer her on until it was almost too late.
Art often mirrors real life. The 20th century saw some of the most murderous tyrants such as China’s Mao Zedong and Cambodia’s Pol Pot. They were also charismatic leaders who believed they were destined to do good and to build a new, equal, and just world for their people.
Like Dany, they regarded anyone who dared to disagree or even had the capacity to think differently as obstacles to utopia that must be removed by any means. Robespierre, an utopian himself who led the French Revolution and was responsible for many deaths, enlightened us about this mindset by saying, “To make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs.” So what if the road to utopia is paved by blood?
Today we have our own charismatic public figures who want to sell us on utopia. The charming utopians in our time seem so harmless. They only want to decide for us what transportation to take, what type of houses to live in, what diet to have, and what type of straw to use. If we follow their lead, they promise all of us will have jobs we want and access to free college and health care. Oh, we also get to save the planet.
What’s wrong with this picture? Maybe we should ask, like Jon did, what if someone disagrees with this vision and doesn’t want it? Will she be told that she doesn’t get to choose? Ask yourself if you really want to live in a utopia in which you don’t get to choose.
GOT is a fantasy with real-life implications. In an interview, Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth, was asked about her thoughts on Dany, and said: “It’s an interesting illustration that people in pursuit of power can come in many different forms, and we need to question everything.” In the end, a bad idea is a bad idea, not matter how charming the salesperson is.