Women have always had it hard, but they had it extra hard in the Middle Ages, where authority was a male birthright and women had no say in anything, even if they were of noble blood. In the medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones (books and TV), however, female characters of strength are no rare thing. From Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and her daughters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) to the austere queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), there is no lack of strong, determined women who stop at nothing when their loved ones are in danger—after all, “in the game of thrones you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Very aware of this, the Targaryen princess Daenerys (played by Emilia Clarke) grows up away from the home of her forefathers, exiled in the lands beyond the narrow sea that separates her ancestors’ kingdoms from the savage East. Her whole life has been lived in the shadow of her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd), the eldest and (presumably) only surviving male of her clan; she fears him for his terrible temper, but loves him dearly as the only family she has left. Yet she is stronger-willed than him, braver and having not known their ancestral home her motivation is a lot more pure. When Daenerys wishes for home she does so in a childlike manner, envisioning the return to a place that makes her feel safe and happy. Westeros, the land her mad father ruled before he was killed in a revolution, has never been that to her, and in that way her and Viserys’s goals are quite different from one another.
In an attempt to strike pre-emptively, Viserys essentially sells his sister to a horse-lord of the East, a khal of the Dothraki people named Drogo (played by Jason Momoa in the series). Daenerys reluctantly becomes his wife, and their relationship starts fiercely and later sweetens into a strong, loving bond. Despite his gruff appearance, Drogo understands Daenerys’s fear of him very well, and takes care to show her that he is a lot more than his looks on the inside. In the books this side of Drogo is a lot more prominent, but even in the TV series you can see the transformation of Daenerys’s feelings for him from fear to love and respect. Their bond is one of the strongest in Game of Thrones, but unfortunately, as it tends to happens with any happiness George R. R. Martin’s characters encounter, it is short-lived.
When khal Drogo and his horde of horse-riding warriors pillage and burn a village of people very reminiscent of old rural Greece, Daenerys saves a priestess and dark magician by the name of Mirri Maz Duur (played by Mia Soteriou) from being raped and killed—Daenerys treats other women with reverence and respect, often recruiting them to her service by showing them kindness and compassion. Thinking the woman will now be loyal to her, she asks her to heal a trivial wound on Drogo’s chest. The woman is far from grateful, though, and exacts her vengeance for the terrible things that happened to her people by poisoning the wound and letting it fester beyond the point of no return. Drogo almost dies, and Daenerys asks Mirri to perform a dark magic ritual that will bring him back. The ritual fails, and Daenerys loses not only her husband but her unborn son as well, and Drogo is left in a vegetative state, worse than dead.
Losing everything is a recurring pattern in Daenerys’s life; she lost her blood relatives in the revolution of Robert Baratheon (and also Viserys, who makes a move on her life out of impatience and gets killed by Drogo), and now that she’s started her own family in a foreign land, she loses that too. The loss of her son and Drogo fuels her determination, and despite her young age (she’s 14 in the book, around 20 in the series) she knows what she has to do—she has to go home, to the land her bloodline should rightfully rule, and take everything back by force. Like Viserys, she intends to reclaim the throne, yet she is far more terrifying than him because of the pain that fuels her anger, and because she has a weapon everyone considers lost forever: dragons.
Daenerys’s bloodline were said to come from dragons at one point in history; her great-great-grandfather, Aegon the Conqueror, had arrived in Westeros riding a ferocious dragon with his sisters astride two others, and thus managed to unite the Seven Kingdoms into one vast land. Since then the dragons have perished, and are considered mythical, non-existent creatures, the stuff of legends and of ages past. During her wedding to Drogo, she is given three dragon eggs, turned into stone by the aeons passing. She is the only one to care for the eggs and not see them as a valuable commodity to be sold, because the blood of the dragons is coursing through her veins. Reminders of this are interspersed through the series: Daenerys can withstand scalding temperatures while her brother, who calls himself “The Dragon” cannot; she can feel warmth from within the stone-cold eggs, and movement—this prompts her to trade in the lost lives of Drogo and their unborn child, as well as the life of the witch, Mirri Maz Duur, to kickstart life within the dragon eggs. When the eggs hatch and three baby dragons emerge from within, Daenerys becomes the Dragon Queen, abandoned by her husband’s horde but armed with something more precious and vicious than any number of soldiers.
Daenerys is a perfect example of inner strength; she loses everything, time and again, and picks up the pieces by aiming higher. She isn’t the type to surrender, or give up, and definitely doesn’t let others command her (apart from her brother Viserys, because of his birthright to the throne and authority over her, not to mention his vile temper). Because she is a woman, she has to withstand a lot of derogatory remarks (particularly from Drogo’s bloodriders, his sworn brothers and protectors)—but she doesn’t let them get under her skin; in fact, she goes against all prejudices about women when she takes control over the remainder of the khalassar and declares herself a kingless queen.
It is unprecedented, but she doesn’t care. She has the dragons and the blood within her veins, as well as all of the strength her ancestors have passed down to her. She is fearless because she has known fear all too well, and for that she is able to move forward, away from grief and onto hope. Her gender doesn’t make her weaker, but stronger, and she isn’t loath to remind her male companions of all that she’s been able to get through. In my eyes, she is femininity personified: a mother, a woman, a lover, full of wisdom, beauty and strength both inwards and outwards. She is never a victim, never nothing; she is fully aware of her worth, of her strength and power, and doesn’t let men bully her into being anything other than what she is: the embodiment of womanhood, the blood of Old Valyria, and the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Even if she has to walk the earth in order to go home, she will, because she must. And I am certain she will succeed.
Daenerys Targaryen is played by Emilia Clarke on the HBO drama Game of Thrones.
Images copyright of HBO.