Daenerys sends her people to find wood for a pyre. She has Aggo slay one of the best horses remaining and add it to the wood. She then lays Drogo on the pyre with all his most prized possessions. Ser Jorah comes to her and tells her not to sacrifice herself, but she assures him that is not her intent. She names the remaining Dothraki her khalasar and frees those that are slaves. She next gives Jhogo the whip that was her bridal gift and names him ko and asks him to be her bloodrider. He refuses because she is a woman, but she presses on, gifting Aggo the bow and Rakharo the arakh and asking the same, but they both also refuse. She next turns to Ser Jorah, who swears an oath of fealty to her as queen, and names him the first of her Queensguard. Next, she has Irri, Jhiqui and Doreah bathe her and dress her before bathing and dressing Drogo’s corpse. She has him placed on the pyre and then has her dragon eggs arrayed around him. Mirri Maz Duur, still bound, says she is mad, but Daenerys disagrees and then has the woman placed on the pyre too. A red comet appears in the sky right before she gives the order to light the pyre. As Drogo burns and Mirri dies, Daenerys walks into the fire, yet is not burned by it. Three large cracks are heard as her dragon eggs hatch. When it is over, Daenerys’s clothes and hair have been entirely burned away, but she is unhurt and suckling her dragons1 at her breasts. Aggo, Jhogo and Rakharo quickly swear themselves to her as for the first time in hundreds of years, the night comes alive with the song of dragons.
And so, here it is, the big one! Before we talk about this chapter, which is not only my favourite Dany chapter but also one of my favourite chapters in all five currently published books, let me take a moment to thanks any of you who might have followed me through this re-read so far. I hope at least some of my ramblings were entertaining and please don’t hesitate to share your own thoughts as well. So, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the chapter that in one simple step (well, not that simple) turns Dany’s situation around a clean 180. I haven’t read this in advance before writing this so this particular writeup will probably end up a lot longer and less focused than usual (which is saying something!)
Mirri Maz Duur watched from the dust with disquiet in her black eyes.
I like to think that at this point, she has a suspicion that Dany knows what she’s doing and it troubles her. If she were fully confident of Dany’s ignorance, she would not really bother to even offer to help Dany. What I am a lot more curious about though is how exactly Dany knows what to do. The whole chapter is described ritualistically and by their very nature most rituals are precise procedures, where priests and participants take the utmost care to make sure the conditions are right and the omens are favourable and so on. Yet, Dany’s preparation for this particular ceremony consists more of ignorance than knowledge. I know it’s a little counterproductive to question the mechanics and the petty details of her every action but I am a little bugged by which parts of the ceremony were actually crucial to its success and which parts were just ‘dressing’ for the main course, so to speak. For instance, how important really was it that they kill a horse? Was that more to appease the Dothraki culture that Dany was trying to respect Drogo with? Or was that in fact an important part of the blood magic that’s going on here? I don’t think we will ever know and nor do I think that we were ever supposed to fully understand it. It’s clear by now that Martin’s view on magic and the reader’s understanding of it is that we are supposed to be as awed by it as the characters themselves are. This is a little troublesome when it comes to characters like Dany (especially in this instance) because she herself is in complete control of the situation and what awe there is comes purely from external sources yet despite being in her head, we have next to idea of what exactly is going on aside from the vague big picture of blood magic, dragons, awesomeness.
How many had Aegon started with? she wondered.
How many had he started with? Well, that aside, I really like this line. If you read it without knowing how the chapter ends, you might actually be wondering why on Earth she’s thinking of Aegon now of all times and the best answer would be that her grip on sanity is more tenuous than it seems (and it seems tenuous enough even with full knowledge of the series). However, if you think in terms of dragons, it makes perfect sense that she would parallel her situation with Aegon’s – after all, that’s what Martin himself has been doing with her character from the first minute.
“You are the first of my Queensguard.”
Ah well, poor Jorah. Easy come, easy go as they say, though I wouldn’t really say that he doesn’t deserve the honour of being the Lord Commander of Dany’s Queensguard. Of course, he’s Lord Commander by default at this point but still, he’s been a good right hand man for the most part and he’s earned this.
If I look back I am lost.
This line is repeated throughout not just this chapter but also the previous one. There is a desperation to this line, tinged with just a little bit of hope, that I absolutely adore. It works on a few levels (for me at least); on the most literal level, it’s like Dany is telling us that she’s betting it all on this one roll of the dice but on a more emotional level, it’s like she’s conveying her own acknowledgement of her mistakes in the last few chapters and coming to terms with what it has cost her and what it could still cost her. Also, it’s frequency in the chapter builds up the tension and one of the reasons I think this really works in context is because once Ned died (not too many chapters ago, remember) the reader is made acutely aware that all bets are off on characters dying. Sure, if you read this chapter slowly and carefully, you might have time to think that Dany’s entire arc in this book itself is all for nothing if she just dies here – all that character development and ‘screen time’ spent on her would then all have been for nothing. But who the hell read this chapter slowly in the first place?
“Is it so far from madness to wisdom?” Dany asked.
These could quite literally be the most appropriate words for House Targaryen. Am I an idiot? Or am I oh so very clever that I’m actually beyond your comprehension? Spoiler alert: 9 times out of 10, it’s the former and that just makes this one instance all the more precious. Still, it is worth discussing that Dany herself acknowledges that there is a certain hint of madness to this entire affair but it’s almost as if she’s justifying it with her mantra of ‘If I look back I am lost’ which, now that I think about it, also has a certain suicidal connotation to it.
“You will not hear me scream,” Mirri responded
Famous last words, though I wonder if she knows some kind of spell to keep the pain from affecting her. She sings a song as she burns but my first impression was that the song was more of a dying ritual, a last prayer for her soul rather than a spell.
Then there was nothing to be done but watch the sun and look for the first star.
So this is it. This is the part where I sort of stop understanding what the hell is going on. You see, the way this is phrased implies that there is a reason why Dany is looking out for the first star. Clearly, it is important to the ritual that she is conducting but why and more importantly, how does she know this? The star that turns up is obviously the red comet and from the context it seems like Dany did not know that the comet would appear, but then I have to ask – was it the comet that made the dragons appear? Was the blood magic taking place here by itself enough to ensure that the dragons would hatch? If not, then the conclusion to Dany’s story here seems a lot less satisfying – it’s nothing but dumb luck. I ask a lot of these questions, but in the end my stand on the matter is fairly simple: Dany has an instinctive understanding, perhaps born from her Targaryen heritage (yes, I know that genetics don’t work like), which combined with some interesting dreams inspire her into using Mirri’s blood magic to return the dead eggs to life. The fire is key since there are dragons involved and the sacrifice of human life is important to the Maegi’s ritual but the rest might just be the window dressing that Martin is using to obfuscate the actual details of what’s going on. For instance, the bath that Dany takes and the spice scent she applies both serve ritualize the procedure but at the end of the day, I don’t honestly think that was an important part of the equation.
She had sensed the truth of it long ago, Dany thought as she took a step closer to the conflagration, but the brazier had not been hot enough.
This line supports me partially though it implies that Dany could have performed the ceremony way back when with the brazier, which just feels wrong though it might well be the case. Anyway, there are three cracks, for the three dragons and I have to wonder whether the three lives were payment for the three dragons?
The horse, Drogo (who was technically alive) and Mirri all were sacrifices for the dragons which would mean that Viserion was born of the horse (so to speak), Rhaegal was born of Drogo (like Rhaego would have been I guess?) and Drogon was, perhaps ironically or perhaps ominously, born of Mirri’s death. Or, and this is much more likely, I’ve misread and misinterpreted the whole thing and have no idea what I’m talking about. In any case, I think this is a good place to end this discussion. This is the first time we really see Dany as the mother of dragons and a reincarnation of the true Targaryen blood. Look at everything she is in this chapter – decisive, ruthless and determined and compare it to what she is by the time of ADWD. Here’s hoping that she returns to actually being the mother of dragons by the time the winter winds blow.