An Unusual Way to Break Chains (Game of Thrones Season 7)

I’m going to be simulposting this on both blogs at the same time. As much as I wanted (and still want) to do a post on each episode of the end of Game of Thrones Season 7, it’s pretty clear with my schedule that it’s not happening. This will be my last (for the time being) post about Game of Thrones Season 7.

For those who have forgotten or haven’t read my blogs from the summer, I’m doing my best to avoid repeating what others have said unless I feel I have something to add or really need to get off my chest. It does no good for me to talk about fast travel, poor character motivation, Aegon and Jaehaerys, or any of that, if I don’t have anything to say. If I had reread A Dance With Dragons recently, I might have some worthwhile comments.

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So instead this article, like much of the discussion about this season, will be about Daenerys. The next episode I was to write about involved a widely discussed scene: Daenerys Targaryen ordering the executions of Randyll and Dickon Tarly. The discussion about this has been pretty varied – that this made her as bad as Stannis, or Aerys, or Cersei, or that this proved there was no good choice, or that she was power mad – but none of it seems to touch on what I think are some key points.

Let’s start with a brief refresher of Dany’s history. She attempted to inherit her husband’s kingdom when he died, but the culture immediately discredited her claim, and almost all of his loyal forces abandoned her. She traveled with a small band until, through an act of deception, she obtained a force that was both large and loyal. She conquered her way through a number of cities, finally settling in the last in the line as her seat of power. Within a short amount of time, each and every one of the cities she conquered returned to the hands of those she had taken them from. It quickly became apparent to her that she could not retaliate without opening her new seat of power to the same threat. She went through a series of trials, consolidating her power before deciding it was time to conquer Westeros. Within days of her first offensive, she lost effective access to all of the fully stocked castles she expected to have access to.

Much like when Drogo’s forces abandoned her, Daenerys lacks the personnel to do anything other than drive forward and conquer. Much like in Mereen, Daenerys’s power is focused in one place, and any meaningful assault is likely to cost her this place. The Targaryen forces completely lack the logistical capacity to hold prisoners. Unless they’re going to be chained and dragged behind one of her armies, a constant escape risk, they need to either be let free (to attack her from the rear) or disposed of.

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This moves on to her choice of execution method. I’m fairly certain it was brought up around the time Rattleshirt was burned in Mance’s place (or perhaps earlier) just how terrible of a death it is to be burnt at the stake. You burn by degrees and the flames slowly climb higher – I believe flames licking at your genitals was mentioned; there is just nothing redeeming about the experience.

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Not only is this not technically what Daenerys did – she had her prisoners executed by dragon rather than burnt at the stake – but, more importantly, it’s not functionally what she did. Drogon’s flames are much hotter than even a bonfire; the Tarlys – Tarlies? – were incinerated within seconds. I’m not saying their death was completely painless – even that it’s as painless as a beheading would have been – but it’s certainly one of the least resource-intensive executions possible. While the Dothraki certainly could have killed the . . . Randyll and Dickon . . . they lack the culture of execution of Westeros. An honorable Dothraki probably would have freed Randyll and fought him to the death rather than kill him while in chains, and that would have ended poorly for everyone. Ned Stark might have allowed this . . . but there’s also a good chance the campaign would have fallen apart there on the Rose Road.

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Is it possible that Daenerys is taking a dark turn? Absolutely. She fought in Essos with noble intentions, but now she’s looking upon something more primal: a land where slavery was already illegal (meaning her noble goals matter little) and that she spent her entire life being told was her birthright. It’s entirely possible that she will lose sight of the mission and come to believe the ends justify the means. There’s not enough evidence here to tell the future, but my point is just that: this doesn’t tell the future. Desperate measures in desperate circumstances do not a despot make; she has thus far avoided killing non-combatants. Whether she will continue to do so may be in the air (though I think her alliance with the Starks will finally seal that), but this one action is far from an act worthy of condemning her.

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