Why would romance readers be interested in George R.R. Martin's fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire? Because George R.R. Martin's series is full of relationships, and there's nothing romance readers like better than that, is there? The loyalty or treachery associated with each of myriad relationships propels every action occuring within the pages—and will soon do the same on the small screen (for an in-depth read of the books themselves, visit our sister site, Tor.com, for their Game of Thrones series). HBO debuts its miniseries version of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones on April 17th, and so we point the H&H spotlight on Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, the woman who considers herself the rightful ruler of Westeros.
(The following post contains spoilers for Book 1, A Game of Thrones.)
'You are the one who forgets himself,' Dany said to [Viserys]. 'Didn’t you learn anything that day in the grass? Leave me now, before I summon khas to drag you out. And pray that Khal Drogo does not hear of this, or he will cut open your belly and feed you your own entrails.'
Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen is, in many ways, a traditional heroine whose story has been told many different times. A young woman, from a difficult family situation, who finds herself married to an older stranger. Many a historical romance has started out in similar fashion.
But Game of Thrones isn’t a romance; Dany’s story begins well before her birth. Her older brother Viserys and her mother, who is pregnant with her, flee King's Landing. Her mother dies while giving birth to Dany, leaving her and her brother to fend mostly for themselves. Viserys, intent on regaining the kingdom that has been taken from his family and avenging his father and brother’s death, has nothing with which to bargain. He needs an army to regain a crown he already envisions on his head.
So Viserys sells his sister to a foreign ruler who promises an army of fierce warriors to help him. As usual, Daenerys has no say in what happens to her. She has grown up both clinging to her brother as her only living relative, and being afraid of him as he terrorizes her. When he tells her she has to marry Khal Drogo of the Dothraki, she begs him to relent. She doesn’t even remember this “Iron Throne” that seems to be not only her brother’s obsession, but the dictator of her life as well. She doesn’t want it. All she wants is to go back to one of her favorite places where they’d lived in their exile, and lead a simple life.
Her brother, of course, who's dreaming of glory in battle much more than actually ruling a people, forces her to go through with the wedding. Much like a historical romance, however, the marriage turns out better than expected.
The Dothraki are a fierce and strange people to Daenerys, the culture completely different. They are a nomadic people who live their lives on horseback. The culture is definitely survival of the fittest, not the divine right of kings and queens. The language is harsh and unfamiliar and those are just the gentle customs. They are a people who battle often, against other clans and sometimes against each other. At Khal Drogo and Dany’s wedding, twelve people die during the festivities! One hell of a party, right?
Viserys doesn't care what kind of people he is selling his sister to, as long as he gets what he wants out of the deal. If Drogo beats her to death at the wedding reception, which would have been his right, that would have been an acceptable loss. As it happens, though, the “other” of the Dothraki are more palatable (both to the reader and to Daenerys) to the brother she’s known her entire life. Her brother continues to treat her as he always had, disregarding how their relative situations had changed. How that ends is no surprise, although how he ends is inventive to say the least!
New husband. New Pregnancy. Beloved queen . . . what could possibly go wrong?