So, being a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, I have read the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series several times. Maybe… 10 times so far. I reread my favorite books pretty often, and can count the number of weeks in my life without a book in hand on one finger. I read all the time. Yea babe, I’ll listen to your song in a minute but I have to finish this paragraph, Fitz is getting stabbed and I need to know if he lives, one sec… *several hours later* Oh yea, your song! Coming!
I also enjoy the over-wrought Hollywood-ified Game of Throne show, though never as much as the book; it’s like a Hostess fruit pie compared to home-baked goodness, ya know? And as GOT/ASOIF are one shared enjoyment between me and the hubs, we watched episode 5, “The Bells”, together. While we both wholeheartedly agree that the show has lost a lot of depth compared to the books, we don’t agree on what that episode was trying to do at all. He saw it as a convenient wrapping-up of story lines, since there’s only one episode left, with a huge overdose of “war is bad dun do war, power is bad it corrupts/makes your crazy”.
That’s something very obvious and rather preachy, but the episode’s destruction DID echo a lot of the traumatic footage from the bombings of Baghdad during the “War on Terror”… I certainly wouldn’t want to participate in creating that kind of chaos and agony in others. And Danny did certainly SEEM to “snap” and “abuse” her power by using the dragon to barbecue a lot of innocent people. Or did she? I feel like there still might be an interesting message hidden a bit deeper. A moral, if you will.
Going suddenly nuts may explain why
Daenerys burned the people and their city despite their surrender, but it seems too easy. Did she really snap? Did her mind actually break, right then and there? Or did she simply realize something powerful? I’m leaning with option 2. Daenerys has been the ultra-moral protagonist for most of her story, the ultimate idealist striving to save the world and deliver true justice. Justice means people get what they bring upon themselves, and the innocent go free. So true innocence is extremely important, and Daenerys focuses on saving the innocent more than simply being kind. And Westeros has no true innocents. What I think Danny sees is the fact that everyone in Westeros has either stood aside and allowed terrible things to happen, or actively participated in them.
In Meereen, she was never kind with the nobles (hello being strung up to die, threatened with dragon fire) whether or not they directly killed slave children or conspired against her. She cared less for their safety and well being because as a group, they had allowed atrocities to happen. They may have been innocent of any singular crime, but they were far from “innocent” in the sense Daenerys cared about. This is really key to her worldview and character. She frees the slaves because their lack of choice in their lives makes them very innocent, not because she cares about people in general. Having been forced by circumstances to do things she hated, she can empathize with them.
Ruling Meereen really tempers Danny’s naivety. Here, she finally sees that most people pursue power for themselves no matter the expense to others. And she also finds that good intentions will not sway all, or even the majority, of people when idealism means real sacrifice and disorder, even if eventually everyone does benefit. Governing the city is a true challenge despite the very brave and helpful lower-classes. The adulation of the poor does keep Danny striving despite how hard it is (again, their childlike innocence and need of her are key), but even with their support she comes close to breaking. She cannot stand the horrors people perpetuate on one another for simple personal gain. It is her kryptonite.
And therein lies the issue for Westoros when she eventually comes; here again she is faced with people who may be innocent of specific crimes, but who have none the less participated in terrible injustices. Her empathy is not engaged by nobles who overthrow their monarch and cut each other to pieces in order to benefit themselves. They are at best uneasy allies who might betray her themselves, and Danny sees that quickly. And she is faced by a completely different general population, one that neither cries out for her aid nor really recognizes the justice of her cause. The Westrosi peasants regard her with fear or suspicion at Winterfell, even though she is risking everything to stop the armies of the dead and is (as far as anyone really knows at this point) the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. And they have done (and continue to do) nothing about the impostors on the throne and the petty wars surrounding them. When the nobles call their vassals, they come, whether or not the cause makes any sense. And unlike slaves, they do have (some) choice. Heck, when Danny came to Slaver’s Bay, the slaves rose with her. The Westrosi must seem very apathetic to her.
And so we come to King’s Landing, now filled to the brim with people who believe and follow Cersei. Can Danny see them as innocent..? They had all participated in the situation at hand and done nothing to oppose the rule of Cersei, just as they had done nothing to oppose the overthrow of her own family’s rule and subsequent slaughter. The people of the seven kingdoms, as Tyrion reminds us, did not truly care who ruled them. They never actively participated in upholding the government of their own country; Robert’s rebellion was a coup, after all. They followed the easiest, most selfish path, putting their own well being and safety above everything else. And while it’s hard to fault peasants for not defying their lords and acting on principal, it might also be hard for Daenerys (who has repeatedly sacrificed all to do the right thing) to accept that these people are “owed” her protection and mercy.
Indeed, the city doesn’t immediately ring the bells to signal their surrender. They forced her to put herself and her last dragon in danger yet again, they allowed the execution of Missandei, and they did not aide her troops when they entered. They surrender from pure self-interest. I think this proves to Daenerys that the people of King’s Landing, and perhaps the entire Seven Kingdoms, do not deserve mercy at all. They are guilty in the same way the Meereenese nobles were – of abiding, if not perpetrating, untold horrors upon her family, each other, and ultimately themselves.
What’s the moral to this? In governing, you often hear of “rights and responsibilities”. Many, many people focus on rights and overlook or understate the importance of responsibilities. The most important responsibility of citizens in any country is to actively participate and hold one’s government to the laws and ideals of that country. Simple inaction can be seen as a form of complicity, and everyone will share the consequences. As King’s Landing learned pretty harshly.
John Stuart Mill said in 1867: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” (Which has been quoted again as, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” (Edmund Burke).)
Pretty heavy stuff, but scarily true.
Am I reaching here? Was it simply about the evils of war?