*SPOILERS FOR SEASON EIGHT, EPISODE FOUR*
Daenerys reveals the side of humanity that we both adore and despise. She’s power-hungry, yet kind. She can wage war, but also break chains. She’s a mother, but also in many ways Aery’s true child. She’s everything her fans and detractors say she is.
Because of that, I love her.
Daenerys Stormborn is a character who walks the tightrope between villainy and heroism. But more importantly, she’s a complex, a well fleshed out character who makes compelling choices. One of them comes at the end of the fourth episode in the final season. She considers laying waste to King’s Landing, which would involve the deaths of smallfolk. As she says:
Perhaps it’s good the people see that Daenerys Stormborn made every effort to avoid bloodshed, and Cersei Lannister refused. They should know whom to blame when the sky falls down upon them.Daenerys Targaryen, S08E04
I’ve made one thing clear on my blog. I’m not interested in merely condemning or praising characters, I wish to understand them and what makes them tick. Just as people in real life don’t fit into boxes of ‘good’ or ‘evil’, fictional characters rarely do. As writers, the most vital thing you can do when crafting characters is to make them authentic. That often means giving them reactions that could be unsettling or disturbing. What I like about Daenerys is that she’s a character that gets the audience thinking about morality, warfare, politics and justice. Do we cheer when she condemns 163 men to painful deaths? Or when she sacks Astapor? For a recent example, do we agree with her destroying King’s Landing?
These aren’t simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, because discussions about morality, warfare, politics and justice can’t always be answered by nodding or shaking your head. We need characters like Daenerys in fiction that make us consider whether or not we are okay with particular actions. Fiction is the ultimate playground for exploring ideas, including those that are unsettling and potentially evil.
In the final two episodes, she may be written as a complete villain or utter hero. But such writing would do the character a disservice. Daenerys has always blended heroic moments (saving Jon and company in Season 7, Episode 6) with villainous (burning a man alive after Barristan’s death). There are, of course, the morally gray moments that divide fans. Was it right for Daenerys to burn the Tarlys? And million-dollar question is of course, is Daenerys right to pursue vengeance against King’s Landing? My point is that Daenerys is a complex character who deserves a lot more than being put in a box of ‘hero’ or ‘villain’. Her ‘bad’ actions do not negate her good ones and vis-versa. Nothing will remove the grey, either. Just like any other human.
Daenerys’ actions may disgust, or cause you to cringe or cheer- but they are human reactions. Fiction that portrays the tragedy of humanity is a lot stronger than stories that parrot clichés. Give me characters like Daenerys. Who we sometimes root for, sometimes hate, sometimes relate to, sometimes we sympathize with but who we always view as a human being with strengths and vulnerabilities. Good writing does not confirm our beliefs, but actively challenges them. I like that I’ve been on this long, thrilling emotional journey with Daenerys. I’m never bored, and I get the impression that her decisions will change the world. That’s excellent writing. When creating characters, you have to make every decision they make count. Therefore, Characters that change the universe will always be more compelling than those who just live in it.
Therefore, Daenerys may bring fire and blood to our screens and on our book pages- but she brings a lot more to the table of characterization and fictional interpretations of real-world issues. Because of that, I’m grateful.
So what are some other writing lessons we can learn from the Mother of Dragons? Well, don’t be afraid to make your heroes do villainous things, and don’t hold back from making villains seem heroic. Portray your characters as human beings who can triumph and also make grave mistakes. Let them have agency, and emotions.
Other characters may strip your protagonist of their humanity, but that doesn’t mean you, as a writer, should.
What are your thoughts about Daenerys, Game of Thrones and how real-life issues are tackled within the small screen? Write your thoughts below!