Twitchy has been having fun with this since the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones aired yesterday. (There will be spoilers so if you care about that, this is your one warning.) It seems a number of progressives were upset with the turn last night when Daenerys quickly overran the defenses at King’s Landing but then seemed to lose her mind and burned the entire city to the ground using her fire-breathing dragon. (As an aside, it bothers me that fire breathing dragons have an unlimited quantity of fire. If they are essentially spitting out a flammable liquid, there ought to be a practical limit.) The New Republic had a roundtable write-up of the episode in which Josephine Livingstone complained the show’s moral lessons were problematic:
Sexual rejection is the culprit once again. Dany burns the city because Jon rejects her, no? We see the iron enter her soul, as the saying goes. This seems to have also been the spark for all of the major past wars, including Robert’s Rebellion. The show seems to teach the lesson that the sexual whims and grievances of very powerful people result in a lot of bloodshed and suffering for a vast quantity of ordinary people, whose lives are generally very shit anyway…
The other moral is that women are guilty of all the worst things: violence, impetuosity, vanity, overreaction. Those are my twin takeaways.
The second moral seems a bit silly. Plenty of the show’s villains have been evil, vain, violent men. Why shouldn’t powerful women be the same?
The first moral—that sexual whims of the powerful is the root of a lot of suffering—isn’t such a stretch. In fact, I think that’s a fairly accurate summary of much of the set up for this massive story. It’s why Jon Snow exists. It’s why Jaime defends Cersei even though he knows she’s a monster. It’s why Bran got pushed out a window. Sexual frustration explains much of Littlefinger’s behavior. Humiliation and jealousy is why Tyrion killed Tywin. And so on. Sex and lust and jealousy definitely play a big role in the events. And many of the best characters seem to be those who are more focused on something other than sex: The Hound, Arya, Sansa, Varys, Brienne, Tyrion (who seems to have given up on it) and Jon who briefly got involved with Daenerys but then backed away after learning she was his aunt. But some viewers only saw a story about the patriarchy driving a sane woman mad:
The moral here is that war makes everyone look bad. But it’s unfortunate that the showrunners had to turn a female lead into the stereotypical “crazy woman” to get this message across…
Daenerys would almost certainly have been better served by being able to narrate her own thought process ahead of her apparent moment of madness. Instead, bells rang and a woman who had been hanging by a thread, driven to the brink by a patriarchy that does not want her, snapped.
Yeah, except the person opposing her at that moment was Queen Cersei. The person who murdered her friend the week before, Queen Cersei. The person who lied to her and failed to show up to fight the Night King, was also Queen Cersei. I’m not sure how all of that gets turned into the patriarchy suddenly. Still, some people see an unacceptable message behind it all:
I'm still trying to process that we have moved from the women being badasses to the women either going mad or becoming weepy messes. Because THAT IS NOT OK in the year of our lord two thousand nineteen.
— Christina Reynolds (@creynoldsnc) May 13, 2019
It would have been a more satisfying conclusion for some feminists if Daenerys had taken power and ruled justly for life. She was, after all, one of the chief voices for a kind of progressivism in this fantasy world, i.e. she brought an end to slavery in the cities she conquered. But as a result of destiny, or bad genes, or rage, the progressive champion became the show’s deadliest villain. The “breaker of chains” is now the slayer of innocents. No wonder progressives don’t like that outcome.
Daenerys is a good argument for the idea that power corrupts and the best way to avoid that is to prevent any one person from having too much power for too long.