Danaerys Targaryen Caesar: A Theory on the Unburnt’s Story Arc
Because I was trying to promote my last article, an atypical article not about politics but rather about Game of Thrones, I joined a few Game of Thrones discussion groups on Facebook. This led to me having many more discussions about Game of Thrones than normal as the new group popped up heavily in my Facebook feed. This led to me coming across a conversation topic regarding how the original poster, and several others, disliked Danaerys Targaryen. She was cruel, supposedly, including crucifying masters of Mereen every mile along the road, just like they had done to slaves as she approached.
When I first viewed the episode, it crossed my mind that it was a reference to that of Gaius Julius Caesar, but I didn’t take it any further than that at the time. Yet, I paused to reflect upon that again and realized that this was not a one-off similarity between the stories of the Mother of Dragons and the man considered to be Rome’s greatest general who was posthumously deified by his enemies. In fact, I now believe that the story of Gaius Julius Caesar is actually the primary influence for Danaerys and her own story – a realization that made my heart drop.
Before going into what this means for Danaerys’ fate, I do want to cover the analogies we have already seen to the life of Caesar.
As a young man, Caesar was abducted by Cilician pirates who set a ransom of twenty talents for his safety – a ransom Caesar himself raised to fifty. He sent out his companions to raise the ransom and berated the pirates during his captivity. As soon as it was raised and he was freed, he commandeered some ships of his own and set out after his previous captors and captured them himself. After some discussion with the governor of Asia (then basically the Anatolian Peninsula we now think of as Turkey), he ignored the governor and set back to Rome crucifying a pirate every mile along the way. Popular lore, at least, has him doing it every mile – the first account by Livius merely said he had them crucified.
Now, this story isn’t quite the story of Danaerys Targaryen – she isn’t nearly as haughty and self-centered as Caesar was. For her, she saw the masters of Mereen crucify a slave every mile on her way to conquer them, as a sign to turn back, and she replaced every slave with a master once she conquered them. It is much more relatable of a vengeance story than that of Caesar.
However, we may have seen more of this story play out after Danaerys is enslaved by Dothraki and then taken to Vaes Dothrak after it is discovered that she is the widow of Khal Drogo. She offered a ransom of horses for her return to Mereen, but the ransom is ignored – unlike with Caesar – but she ends up burning all the Khals alive and seizing their followers as spoils of war. It isn’t clean – George R. R. Martin isn’t a hack and can write something original – but it is analogous.
Affection for the Lowest in Society
Another similarity between the two comes from their family’s fall from grace and how this shaped them. Caesar’s family was noble, but he grew up in poverty, or at least near poverty, as his family had lost their wealth and lived among the poor. Caesar’s friends growing up were not nobles, but common Romans, and this shaped him in one way or another. His proponents would say that he felt for the common pleb because of this, while his detractors would say he realized how to manipulate the plebs as a result – but either way, his political agenda was always favorable to the plebs.
Danaerys’ family was overthrown violently and fled to Essos to flee assassins which were always a step behind them. It wasn’t the same disgrace, but a different and perhaps more severe disgrace. As a result, her brat of a brother, Viserys ruled over her and essentially treated her as property, as his slave and bargaining chip to regain the Iron Throne. While Khal Drogo took her as his wife and equal – I cannot stress enough the difference between the show where Drogo’s repeated insistence of “No!” on their wedding night differs from the book where each “no” was essentially a question of “is this okay” – Viserys traded her as property. Accordingly, she empathized with slaves and it became so essential to her that she earned the title Breaker of Chains.
Both certainly felt their names commanded respect despite the disgrace of their families, as is often seen in the proclamations from both – though Danaerys at least had the humility to ask why people would follow her if she could not keep the slaves she freed from being in chains once again.
It is clear George R. R. Martin and I differ significantly on our views of Caesar here – because I believe Caesar, a man who once exclaimed he’d rather be the first man in a Gallic village, something he held in no esteem, than second man in Rome, to have only sought power, not justice. Danaerys clearly feels earnestly for the plight of the enslaved, so I can only presume that Martin feels Caesar felt earnestly for the plight of the plebs.
Conquest of Barbarians
Caesar gained his fame through his wars, deemed illegal by the Senate, against the Gauls primarily in modern France and Spain. He maneuvered politically to be placed in the position so he could win glory and the love of the masses, as well as the wealth of the spoils of war. There is no doubt that Caesar proved himself a brilliant military commander – it was his legacy – and the Gallic tribes not allied with Rome – as well as some who betrayed that alliance – fell before him and his legions. Furthermore, though coming from those recruited from Rome and Italy, he gained his army loyal to him from these conquests.
Danaerys, while not a military commander herself – despite her brilliance in Astapor where she kept her dragon while using Astapor’s own army to slay the masters – has seen an analogous rise to her power. She was cast out of Westeros and had to do her battles deep in Essos where she conquered barbarians – the masters of Slaver’s Bay who seem to be based upon early Mesopotamian city-states, and the Dothraki who seem to be based upon the Mongols of the Steppes. She then turned those enslaved by the masters and the Dothraki into her army who were awed by her and have every bit of love for her as Caesar’s army had for Caesar (other than the historic Titus Pullo who fought for Pompeii against Caesar according to Caesar’s diary).
The Die is Cast
Caesar faced a symbolic barrier which no Roman army would cross – the Rubicon. There was nothing naturally treacherous about the river, but it created the border between Italy and the Roman territories beyond and to cross it without disbanding first was treasonous – though we know from the slave rebellion of Sparticus, crushed by Caesar’s ally, son-in-law, then rival Pompeii when Caesar was still young, there were exceptions when the Senate so deemed. Caesar cultivated such love from his armies that they crossed that symbolic barrier, not by senate invitation or imploration, but for regime change. They crossed the waters that no Roman Army would previously dare.
Essos is not under Westerosi control, so there wasn’t a practical political prohibition for the Dothraki to cross the Narrow Sea, they were legitimately terrified of the idea of boarding ships and crossing water. However, the Narrow Sea, perhaps narrow to bring up the imagery of a river, is the Rubicon of the world Danaerys finds herself in. Never before had a Dothraki army crossed it; the proposition was unheard of. Yet, because a small group of Dothraki saw their Khaleesi emerge from the flames of Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre bearing three dragons and a much larger group of Dothraki saw her emerge from the flames of the temple of Vaes Dothrak as their old leaders were burnt inside, the Unburnt gained the awe of the Dothraki and convinced them what readers and viewers alike doubted even the undefeated Khal Drogo would have been able to convince them to do: cross the narrow sea. Season 6 ended with Danaerys crossing her Rubicon with dragons, unsullied, a contingent from Dorne, and the terrified but willing Dothraki to march on Westeros and institute regime change.
Caesar had his triumph, a public spectacle rather than simply a feeling, after taking Rome. He was named dictator and eventually dictator for life while possibly toying with the idea of taking the name of King with Marcus Antonius – historians disagree whether the spectacle of Marcus declaring the people wanting Caesar to be king and him turning down the crown was engineered to reassure the populace that he didn’t want to be King or if he was testing the waters. But the triumph was a huge parade including the parading of the proud Gallic leader Vincengetorix, who was executed at the event.
While in the House of the Undying, Danaerys had visions of things happening in the world and that would come to pass. Among these visions was a cloth dragon on poles being paraded by a cheering crowd. Rest assured, it seems this is a vision of her taking the Iron Throne in Season 7 – I would bet early in the season. The people, not overjoyed by her family name, but by her program of reform which you know is coming as she seeks to smash the wheel of rise and fall of Westerosi houses. The people will celebrate her; she is their queen and she promises salvation just as she delivered it in Slavers’ Bay.
Et Tu, Varys?
This is the part that made my heart drop – Caesar took Rome, but on the Ides of March, before he set out on an even greater war to conquer India, he was slain by the Senate and called tyrant. I do not cry for him, but I do tear up when I think that Danaerys will see a similar fate befall her as she prepares to set out on an even greater battle against the Night King.
Tempered by Tyrion and Varys, she will seek to bring the houses of Westeros under her wing by working with the houses she seeks to smash rather than staying true. It is replacing revolution with reform à la Bernie Sanders (who has long given up on actual socialism, promoting a welfare capitalism instead). She will invite these houses to help her rule, they will fill her small council out of pragmatism but she does want the wheel smashed and that is why the people will rally to her.
Yet, these old houses will find this unacceptable, including the Tyrells and Martells who helped her take the throne. I see Olenna Tyrell vividly saying “this is simply unacceptable.” Westeros has no Senate, but the nobles gather in the Small Council and thus it will be her small council that will turn on her and slay the “tyrant” who threatens their power base.
Who will play the role of Brutus, whom Caesar saw as a son and to whom Caesar uttered the famous words: “et tu, Brute” after Brutus had orchestrated the entire assassination? Jorah is a thought – he had betrayed her before – but it seems unlikely he will be back in time, let alone have it in him to betray her again so soon after being welcomed back into her fold. Tyrion’s affection for her integrity seems earnest and his faith was clearly restored after having met her. Besides, as Hand of the Queen, he is more likely playing the role of Marcus Antonius.
I propose that Varys – as probably spoiled by the section title – is our Brutus. Yes, he stated that Danaerys was the one possible savior to the realm and led Tyrion to her, but this is the Varys we see after he saves Tyrion from his death – perhaps shifting our view of him. There is no doubt that Varys can be devious – he had long supported murdering Danaerys from afar and was even pushing for addressing it after Rob Stark was defeated and the small council was dismissing her threat across the Narrow Sea. We also know that Varys doesn’t take many risks – he testified against Tyrion – as he told Tyrion, he would not put his own life in danger for Tyrion.
I see two possibilities: the first being a devious Varys doing what he could to bring the Mother of Dragons across the Narrow Sea so that her threat would be taken seriously. He never changed his mind that she needed to die and his saving Tyrion may have been as simple as feeling Tyrion was already dead so he would be a fair pawn in it all. He never believed in the Mother of Dragons and had to see her dead for what he felt was for the good of the Realm.
The second possibility is that Varys is just calculating and sees what is about to unfold as likely unavoidable. He may tip Tyrion off to what was going to happen – the night before – hoping that Tyrion can stop it, but when he fails to stop it there is nothing holding Varys from sticking his knife into Danaerys as well. Push coming to shove, he sides with the winning side so he can keep on working for the Realm.
In either case, Varys is driving his knife into Danaerys (or poison or whatever they might possibly replace the dagger with). In either case, Danaerys must be in shock that someone who came to her in order to serve her, who was instrumental in her rise to power, turns on her.
But as to Tyrion as the Hand of the Queen and playing the role of Marcus Antonius: Marcus did find out about the plot on Caesar the night prior to its execution, but was unable to stop it in time. Tyrion will find out about this shortly before it happens and try to take action to stop it only to arrive to late. I can see him chastising the conspirators as he walks in with Grey Worm and an attachment of Unsullied behind him.
And Her Legacy Lives On
I have to think it wasn’t Danaerys the Mad King hears, as I predicted in the article I originally listed, but rather Jon, named Aegon Targaryen by Rhaegar and proclaimed the Prince that was Promised in Danaerys’ visions. Likely, he will find that the dragons oddly respond to him and will still be instrumental in fighting the White Walkers. Our heroine is gone, but her successors to power will invoke her name as Roman Emperors called themselves Caesar.
I would not be surprised to see a Triumvirate form in the end or in the spinoffs: Jon Snow (in the North), Tyrion Lannister (in the West), and Littlefinger (in the East) – who may very well display the attrocities of that misogynistic piece of shit: Augustus Caesar. Littlefinger is brilliant but evil.
Seeing her as analogous to Caesar, I see her fate as being tragic and her revolution ending in ruin or having to be carried on by Tyrion Lannister, who now has hard experience in the lesson of revolution, not reform. Pragmatism and moderation has failed Tyrion in Mereen and it will fail him in Westeros, though the revolutionary aspects will need to wait until it unfolds for a full analysis. Yet, I hope I am wrong, because the Queen of Dragons is a true hero, and a true feminist icon, unlike Cersei Lannister who is but an accidental replication of Hillary Clinton.
Featured Image used under fair use via HBO.com
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