“The Bells” was a very interesting episode on multiple levels. Generally, it was a wipeout of the Lannister forces and an easy win for Daenerys. If she could do that with one dragon, what could she have done with two? Would Jon have joined in if Rhaegal were still alive and being ridden? Interesting questions that we will never have the answers to.
But despite the overwhelming success, Daenerys did take big hits to her cause during the sacking of King’s Landing. First, Varys was outed as a traitor (by Tyrion – which I did not see happening though I probably should have), sentenced, and then put to the … torch? Dragon flame? He burned. He dead. Then, Tyrion half turned on the Dragon Queen by freeing his brother and begging Jaime to talk reason into Cersei and make sure they both get the hell out of Dodge. Finally, Jon realized that Daenerys is not the leader he wants to follow.
Jon’s arc in this episode began as being completely, 100% faithful to Daenerys. He still renounced his name and title and declared that he did not want to be king and take Daenerys’ throne. However, when Daenerys wanted to get cute, sexy, and lovey-dovey, Jon was unable to – probably due to him being her nephew and he was raised where that was not OK. Jon then readily helped Daenerys’ ground forces (YES there were some Dothraki still alive) storm the no-longer-in-existence gate and begin the sack of the city. And until this point, he was a loyal military advisor.
When the bells rang though, like Tyrion said they would if the City surrendered, the violence was supposed to stop. It was in this ringing silence that Daenerys decided to say “fuck it” and unleash the dragon upon the world. This action made Jon pause and think. Kit Harrington’s facial expressions beautifully portrayed how Jon realized what was happening and who Daenerys truly was: not the hero. He turned and tried to get his own forces to retreat and save themselves. Perhaps with this betrayal, Daenerys is doomed after all (if we had the screen time to see it…) because the North will never follow her.
With that short recap of the Targaryen story in episode five, I now want to propose something that I’ve thought for the last few seasons but have never really felt confident voicing out loud until this episode.
We need to stop classifying Daenerys as the “Mad Queen” and instead, we need to use a word or phrase that is more aptly fits the reality of the situation as well as the character.
I propose: “Dark Dany”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines madness as “the state of having a serious mental illness, extremely foolish behavior, or a state of wild or chaotic activity”. Merriam-Webster defines mad as being “completely unrestrained by reason and judgement, unable to think in a clear or sensible way, incapable of being explained or accounted for, and intensely angry or displeased”. Synonyms include instability, mania, hysteria, schizophrenia, and rabid.
Do any of these definitions fit for Daenerys Targaryen? In my opinion, no.
Daenerys does not have a mental illness, in the books or in the show, and nor does she exhibit foolish behavior. Sure, I’ll concede that some of her actions and decisions are not exactly… civilized, but they are not foolish either. Nor is she in a wild state or in a state of chaotic activity. Sometimes Daenerys does not always have a plan of action and she wings it as things happen. If that is our classification of chaotic activity and therefore madness, then aren’t we all mad queens and kings too? No, we are not. Therefore we should not call her mad for that reason either.
Furthermore, Daenerys is restrained by reason and judgement. That is, until this episode when she said “fuck it” and let loose all of the anger she has been harbouring for most of her life. (I’ll come back to this.) But even then, she paused and really considered her actions when the bells began tolling. She thought about Tyrion’s plan. And until this episode, she has listened to Tyrion and his reasoning.
Lately however, that reasoning has not been the best advice but that is a whole other matter. And throughout her story in Game of Thrones, Dany has listened to logic and judgement because she knew she herself had not yet developed these skills. Jorah, Ser Barristan, Jon, Tyrion, Missandei, the council she kept in Meereen – all of these individuals around her offered their judgement. And Dany has listened to them. That is not being unrestrained. Sure, she hasn’t always listened to what they advise but then again she’s a queen and does not have to. The point is: she heard them out and considered their opinions.
Listening to advisors also demonstrates an ability to think in a clear and sensible way. It shows an ability to be held accountable. Remember the reparations she was trying to make in Meereen? Maybe she didn’t handle the situation as well as it could have been and maybe she didn’t make the right decisions – that’s not up for debate at this moment – but these examples show her trying and failing or succeeding, but trying nonetheless. A mad queen does not try. She only does. *wink wink nudge nudge at Cersei*
And until this season, and arguable really it wasn’t until episode five “The Bells”, when she started to attempt to integrate with the Westerosi people. Daenerys has not been intensely angry or displeased in an unrealistic or constant manner. When she did snap this past episode, she is pissed. Not crazy. Again, burning the city and the small folk instead of going straight for the Red Keep was not the humane thing to do (and if I had to guess it’s probably a war crime, even by the standards of the Seven Kingdoms). But she wasn’t “mad” when she burned the city. The madness everyone is claiming is just her villainous turn. She is able to control it and keep it in check.
The one Merriam-Webster definition of “mad” that has applied to Daenerys the whole time is being “carried away by enthusiasm or desire”. However, on its own, without the other definitions and conditions, this is a fairly harmless quality to have. Seven Hells, we all should be “mad fans” if we go by this definition. We are clearly carried away by enthusiasm for a book franchise and a TV series. Thus, I do not think we can call Dany a “mad queen” for having a strong desire for a throne.
If Not Mad, Then Why Dark?
By definition and example, we can’t classify Daenerys as a “Mad Queen”. She simply does not fit the definitions of madness. You may then ask, what about her actions over the seasons that have led up to her losing her mind and loosing Drogon on the city – what is that called?
Not only does Dark Dany have a nice ring to it, it implies that Daenerys is a completely sane, yet evil person. But she wasn’t always this way.
Prior to her marriage to Khal Drogo, Daenerys was a victim and utterly powerless. When she was sold off to the Dothraki, she instantly became a Khaleesi in name and status but not in mindset. Then, when Dany began to fill the mold she had been placed in, her confidence and power grew. She stood up to Viserys (who was mad) on numerous occasions, ate a horse heart, and took an active role in her marriage. At this point, she was still not evil.
But she begins to encounter evil things that open her eyes to the real world. She’s horrified by the way the Dothraki treat the peoples they conquer. And when Drogo is dying of an infection, a vindictive Maegi curses her and kills her baby. She is forced to put her husband out of his misery. The darkness starts to creep in when she decides to have a giant funeral pyre. It’s evil to burn someone alive (yes, even Stannis and Melisandre are evil for what they did to Shireen) and it’s suicidal to walk into the flames yourself, not knowing what will happen to you. It’s some dark stuff to consider.
From there, Daenerys has dragons and uses them and her name as a Get Out of Jail Free card to climb the ladder of success and power. With each step she takes, there is a little bit of destruction behind her. Each city conquered is perhaps morally left for the better because slavery is a terrible thing that should be stopped, but each city is also left in chaos with no clear ruler and enforcer of the new ways.
That’s not to say Dany isn’t trying. She is trying to make the world a better place based on her viewpoint. But what she views as the right way, is not necessarily the right way for everyone else. Again, case in point, the cities in Slaver’s Bay and across Essos. As a result, Daenerys slowly slips into being the villain when all she is trying to do is good.
The flip we see in King’s Landing in the most recent episode is not Daenerys going mad, it’s her accepting that she is viewed as the enemy, the villain.
And I understand what could drive a person to say “fuck it, let’s burn this place to the ground.” If you have been constantly told to be careful, that you don’t want to become the Mad Queen, daughter of the Mad King, you bottle things up because you’re trying to be a good person and queen. But when those you love and trust most, who are your rock and foundation, start dropping like flies, and when your trusted advisors are conspiring against you openly or behind your back, it is easy to succumb to the darkness. It’s easy to become the villain if everyone already thinks you are one. Sometimes the easy thing to do is to give the people what they want and stop trying to change minds that will never change.
The reason I believe we are so quick to call Dany the “Mad Queen” now is because for eight seasons we’ve been conditioned to carefully look upon her and watch for signs of madness. But what we are seeing is cold, calculated ambition, hurt and anger. We don’t see the instability, hysteria, and foolishness we were told we might. Daenerys is a villain, not a mad queen. And I propose we call her Dark Dany instead.
Grey Worm is descending into a grief-filled madness in my opinion. And I am really liking Dark Worm’s passion compared to Grey Worm’s passive nature.
What do you think? Is Dany a mad queen or simply embracing her dark side in an intentional way?