Apr 7 2011 12:00pm

The Women in Game of Thrones: Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen

Daenerys TargaryenWhy 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,, 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?


Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, a longtime lover of words. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or read the backlist at Obiter Dictum

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I remember I wasn't too sure how much I was going to like Daenerys at first, but by the end of Book 1 she'd really come into her own. I'm only on Book 3 at the moment but am looking forward to the rest of her journey.
Clare 2e
2. clare2e
I found her such a brat for the first couple thousand pages!
Robin Bradford
3. RobinBradford
@Clare2e It was hard for me to relate to her because she was so young. It was hard for me to write this even, because it's hard to conceive of a romance between her and Drogo, when she was barely fourteen! But, you know, that's how it goes. I like her a little better now that they've aged her.
4. LindaR
I just found this site a few days ago (I don't remember where, I think it was SwagBucks) but I just wanted to say that I love it! You have a regular visitor here. :)
Heather Waters
5. HeatherWaters
@LindaR -- Yay! Thanks for letting us know--we're so glad you're enjoying!
Regina Thorne
7. reginathorn
I think Danaerys is one of the characters I'm going to like better in the tv series than in the books, because Emilia Clarke has a wonderfully expressive face and I've just loved her in all the trailers and previews and "making of ..." features.

In the books, I think she (and Jon Snow) are the most traditionally fantasy characters and in some ways, I think Dany suffers more than Jon for this because she is the only POV we see for the events that occur off to the east. The POV structure of the books ensures that almost all of the other characters are seen from multiple different angles, so we never quite know whether we're getting the whole story, but in Dany's case, she's it. Her version of events is all we know. And something about that makes her sections of the book seem less fully realized to me.
Rachel Hyland
8. RachelHyland
@ 7. reginathorn

What a wonderfully considered angle on the books, and on Dany herself. You're absolutely right, and thank you for putting your finger on something that has been bugging me no end about the whole Dothraki subplot... not that I would have wanted to see inside Viserys's head, but maybe we should have? I would certainly like to have heard from Drogo! Great point.

As an aside: I love Jon Snow. He and Arya are my favorites; perhaps, like you said, because they are such traditional Fantasy characters. (Which Arya totally is, you must concede: a high born tomboy who would rather learn to fight than sit around doing stitchery? Everyone from Tolkien to Mercedes Lackey has tackled that trope...)
Carrie Strickler
9. DyslexicSquirrel
I think I'm going to have to read the books. I hadn't heard of the series until I saw the previews for the series on HBO and I was intreigued. But it is in a different section of the book store than I normally peruse lol
Robin Bradford
10. RobinBradford
@Reginathorn Yes, I'm hoping I like her more on tv than in the books. While I was re-reading specifically for this post, I came to like her more than I had the first few times through the book. But, that isn't really saying much. I think her age helped alienate her from me as well. Once I had it in my head that she was older (via the tv series) it went smoother. I don't know. I think with so many other interesting characters, she was not nearly as compelling for me.

@RachelHyland Yes, I would have liked to hear from Drogo's point of view as well.
11. nisha
Does khal drogo really die in the series I actually like his character. There's just something about him in the series.
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