Why the “Mad Queen” plot twist on GOT breaks my heart.
When I first heard Daenerys Targaryen's now infamous line, “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel”, I was reminded of a quote from French philosopher, political activist, and feminist — Simone de Bouvier.
“The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands, since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question precisely of destroying that notion of power.”
This, to me, has always been Dany’s core motivation. I never saw her as a vicious Targaryen like her brother or her father. Her Targaryen blood, if anything, seemed to be simply an excuse (a tool, really) for her to rise up against her own oppressors and liberate the oppressed.
I guess I was wrong.
Listen, I’m a massive Game of Thrones fan but I haven’t read the books and I’m not going to pretend to remember everybody’s names and the whole history of Westeros. I’m also not going to pretend to know all the differences between the show and the books. But I felt compelled to talk about why I think this sudden turn of events on the show has struck such an unsettling chord for me and many other women out there. And it doesn’t have anything to do with the writing style.
This isn’t an article about good or bad writing.
I have a degree in screenwriting so we could easily go back and forth about pacing, character arcs, and foreshadowing, but there are plenty of other articles about that and it’s not why I felt compelled to write this.
I want to talk about Daenerys as the feminist icon she’s become over the last eight years and why, whether this was her intended fate all along or not, those of us who identified with her are heartbroken.
When we first met Dany, she was mistreated and violated by her own brother, married off in exchange for an army, raped, brutalized … underestimated. Over the seasons, we had the privilege of watching her take charge of her sexual pleasure, learn a new language and culture, defy her abusive brother, become a mother and a Khaleesi. Daenerys was calculating, a survivor, a leader, a loyal friend, and she was also kind.
Dany was a role model for many of us. Even in the moments that are being pointed to now as signs (foreshadowing) of her ruthlessness.
We honestly didn’t mind so much when her brother received his “golden crown”. A tiny part of us lived vicariously as we thought about the punishment so many of our own oppressors and abusers would never get. This was a violent fantasy world, after all. By Game of Thrones standards, Viserys’s death wasn’t that alarming. But it was cathartic.
We understood when she screamed at men that she would “take what is mine, with fire and blood!” because we know what it’s like to have to put on a show of strength for men who don’t listen otherwise. I’d never scream that exact phrase at work, but — again — this is Game of Thrones. A woman’s gotta front how she’s gotta front. It never occurred to me that this was an actual threat. To me, it sounded like the tactic of a woman trying to learn how to get shit done and be taken seriously in a man’s world.
Last year, 560 babies were named Khaleesi, making it the 549th most popular name for girls in the U.S. Laugh all you want, but women named their daughters after the Queen of Dragons in the hopes of instilling a sense of feminine strength in their child.
It’s become popular in the U.S. for women to jokingly call each other Khaleesi when we’re proud of each other, when we do something brave, when we stand up for ourselves.
“DAMN, Khaleesi! Slay, Queen!”
When Daenerys insisted that she was not like her father, we believed her. Dany wasn’t raised by her father. Dany spent her childhood among the common people and, as a woman, she’d been treated like an object. She knew what it was like to be oppressed. She saw first-hand what happened to women and children and the poor when selfish, toxic, or dismissive men were in charge. She grew up very aware of her father’s terrible legacy and insisted, time and time again, that she wanted a different world.
So many of us identified with this quest because we’re living it ourselves right now.
Over the last 7 seasons, we’ve fought her fight.
Game of Thrones’ first season aired in 2011. Here’s a list of what’s been going on in the world of gender equality since Dany first graced our screens. Thanks to Victoria Morgan on Quora for a good portion of this list and I’m gonna apologize in advance for being so U.S.-centric:
2012 — The Paycheck Fairness Act, meant to fight gender discrimination in the workplace, fails in the Senate on a party-line vote. Two years later, Republicans filibuster the bill (twice).
2012 — Australian Prime Minister Julia Guillard gives a truly, historically EPIC speech, calling out the misogyny of then-opposition leader Tony Abbott.
2013 — The U.S. ban against women in military combat positions is removed, overturning a 1994 Pentagon decision restricting women from combat roles.
2014 — Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for girls’ education who was shot in the face for attending school, wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
2015 — The #SayHerName campaign, a branch of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, highlights the value of black women who have died at the hands of police.
2016 — Hilary Clinton, the most politically qualified U.S. presidential candidate, possibly EVER, is defeated by Donald Trump, the spokespig of misogyny — despite winning the popular vote.
2017 — Lebanon’s Parliament repeals an archaic law that allowed men accused of rape to be exonerated and escape punishment if they married the individual they raped.
2017 — The 1st Women’s March is attended by more than five million people in 81 countries worldwide. It’s the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.
2017 — The #metoo and Time’s Up movements encourage millions of women to come forward with their stories of rape and sexual harassment.
2018 — Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford testifies in Congress to warn the American public about Brett Kavanaugh’s disturbing treatment of women. Kavanaugh is placed on the Supreme Court anyway.
2018 — More women run for political office than ever in the history of the U.S. 476 women run in Democratic or Republican primaries. 113 women currently serve in Congress.
2019 — The Sudanese government, after realizing that women make up 70% of anti-regime protesters, decide to ”Break the girls, because if you break the girls, you break the men.” They beat and rape women in the streets, detain them, force them to shave their heads and to take naked pictures. Incredibly, the women never back down and Omar al-Bashir is deposed by his own generals.
Happening Right the Eff Now — Alabama and Georgia have joined Ohio, Mississippi, and Kentucky in passing archaic abortion ban bills which will likely be overturned in lower courts and sent to the Supreme Court so that Brett Kavanaugh can shoot his shot at overturning Roe v. Wade.
And who has been there through it all? What has been the biggest cultural phenomenon in the world all this time? What do people gather together in house parties and pubs to watch religiously? The Dragon Queen, and her journey to liberating the 7 kingdoms.
Women be cray.
On a personal level, I’ve spent many years of my life dealing with a hormone imbalance which causes monthly mood swings.
Every month, just before my period, my serotonin drops, my adrenaline spikes, and fight-or-flight hormones give me a sense that there’s danger in the vicinity. For one week, I get severely anxious and depressed, even if I was completely content just the week before. This is a freaky sensation that causes me to wonder sometimes if I’m crazy.
But I’m not alone.
Severe mood swings are fairly common in women these days. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 80% of women are dealing with hormone imbalances. But I want to stress that just because something is common doesn’t mean that it’s normal.
Studies show that stress is a major factor in today’s extreme spike in hormone imbalances.
“In the modern environment, one is exposed to various stressful conditions. Stress can lead to changes in the serum level of many hormones... Some of these changes are necessary for the fight or flight response to protect oneself. Some of these stressful responses can lead to endocrine disorders like Graves’ disease, gonadal dysfunction, psychosexual dwarfism and obesity. Stress can also alter the clinical status of many preexisting endocrine disorders such as precipitation of adrenal crisis (adrenaline) and thyroid storm.”
I recently started treating my hormone imbalance with birth control pills. The hope is that this will prevent major fluctuations in hormone levels and balance out my moods. Thank god I have access to that sort of care, huh?
Meanwhile, my friends and family assure me that I’m not crazy and that they love me. A pounding heart and a tendency to cry a lot once a month does not a mad woman make, they say.
But the fear of being seen as crazy extends far beyond my health. As a woman, I’ve been seen as crazy at the tiniest hint of emotion. I was crazy for not wanting to go to breakfast alone with my creepy boss who kept patting my knee and making sexual jokes. I was crazy for writing statuses on Facebook about civil rights and gender equality. When I reported a coworker for sexual harassment after he pulled me onto his lap and told everyone I was his “birthday present”, my report was passed around the office like a joke and I became known as “that crazy bitch”.
Daenerys is grieving. We can understand that. We can empathize with that. Grief can cause a lot of people to do rash things. Usually to themselves.
But does grief make someone crazy? Not usually. Most of us have known grief at some point in our lives and we keep truckin’ as best we can. Some people have mental breakdowns due to grief. Does mental illness make someone want to commit violence against random, innocent people? Not if they weren’t violent before. In fact, mentally ill people are usually the victims of violence, not the perpetrators.
Dany is alone now. All of her friends are gone. Her advisors have turned on her. Her lover isn’t into her anymore. “A Targaryen alone is a dangerous thing”. But I’d argue that all powerful women know what it feels like to be alone. That doesn’t make us suddenly violent, it makes us even more empathetic. We have just as much access as men do to powerful, deadly weapons but we don’t shoot up schools or churches. We rise above. And I didn’t realize until my heart was broken, but a big part of me really needed to see Daenerys Stormborn rise above.
“I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. No one knows me or loves me completely. I have only myself.” ― Simone de Beauvoir
Tyrion’s been alone and backed into a corner plenty of times throughout the series. He strangled his own lover to death. He murdered his own father on the toilet. You could argue that his siblings are pretty crazy. He’s got their same genes. Does that make him mad?
Again, we can argue all day about whether Dany was a violent person (relative to GOT standards). I can continue to compare those acts to those of other characters throughout the series and you can continue to point to proof of how this was George R.R. Martin’s plan all along.
But it doesn’t change how I feel about seeing this feminist icon descend into “madness” at the whim of three male writers. I hate to admit it because I know it’s “just a show”, but my feelings are genuinely hurt.
“In the name of the warrior, I charge you to be brave.
In the name of the father, I charge you to be just.
In the name of the mother, I charge you to defend the innocent.”
— Jaime Lannister, knighting Brienne of Tarth.
I don’t think these men quite understood what the Mother of Dragons meant to us.
For years, I’ve been recommending Game of Thrones to my female friends.
“But isn’t it really violent and rapey?” They’d ask. “I can’t handle the rape stuff”.
“Yeah, I know. I have a hard time with it too,” I’d say. Sansa’s rape, in particular, was very traumatic for me to watch.
“But it’s worth it,” I’d tell them. “I can’t tell you this without spoiling stuff a little, but all the women are gaining power now. On all sides, good and evil, the women who had no power whatsoever, in the beginning, are finding their power. The men have either died, stepped aside, or follow them loyally.”
This concept, still so rare in storytelling of any medium, was always enough to convince my friends to watch. In its final years, whether the writers knew it or not, this concept was a major draw for a lot of their audience. Not the violence, not the explosions, not the nudity…
Just the nuanced female characters and the real, measurable power they had.
But what did we get in the end?
They flirted with giving all the women happy endings for the first few episodes of this season, but in the space of two episodes, literally, every powerful female character has been crushed.
- Missandei was going to retire peacefully with her love, but was put back into chains and beheaded to make Dany mad.
- Little Lyanna Mormont got a hell of a heroic death, but she’s still dead. The girl had more talent and intelligence in her pinky finger than most of the men in her world, but power in a woman is finite, apparently, and she already had far too much at far too young an age. Can you imagine her as an adult? Doesn’t matter.
- Newly knighted Brienne sobs in a nightdress as her fuckboi gallops off to his other love.
- Hard-as-nails Cersei dissolves into said fuckboi’s arms as she meets her doom. In the behind-the-scenes commentary, they say, “In the end, she’s just a girl.”
- Sansa was given that dumb line about how she never would have become a badass if she hadn’t been raped and tortured by men. Let’s hope Dany doesn’t go kill her now for conspiring against her.
- Arya’s a war hero and her long-time crush is super into her and wants to be her “family”, but he’s not gonna have time to figure out how to do that on her terms because she’s probably gonna die this week killing Dany anyway.
“Tragedies are all right for a while: you are concerned, you are curious, you feel good. And then it gets repetitive, it doesn’t advance, it grows dreadfully boring: it is so very boring, even for me.” ― Simone de Beauvoir
We get it.
The man has been the hero all along.
The male heroes put their faith in women to be their leaders and now all those women are either dead or insane and the men feel like fools for ever having trusted a woman in the first place.
Moral of the story — Viva el status quo.
I LOVE Game of Thrones. I think the writing and the acting are insanely brilliant. I think the production value is unmatched in television history. I genuinely don’t think that this is the message the show intended to portray, but it’s the message we received.
I’m uncomfortable with how sad I am about it but I’m probably just on my period.
“When I was a child, when I was an adolescent, books saved me from despair: that convinced me that culture was the highest of values.” ― Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed