First, some fair warning that the blog posts I’m about to praise were published in late 2013, so they’re not exactly new. But they are new to me, and while I’m not the most rabid follower of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books, I have to be in the top five percent. So if they’re new to me, they’ll be new to many others.
More importantly, they address the most persistent criticism Martin has faced since publishing 2011’s A Dance With Dragons. Namely, that the part of the plot featuring Daenerys in Meereen is nothing more than a boring stall tactic—a pointless, irksome bit of distraction designed to kill time until Tyrion Lannister makes it to Dany’s side. This alleged low point in the book even trickled into the Game of Thrones TV show, where Daenerys’ ongoing quagmire was a target of some pretty intense criticism. Fans of both the book and the show expressed disappointment with how the seemingly endless saga diminished Daenerys’ character, transforming her from a dynamic rising star into an uncertain, hesitant despot.
It was hard not to agree, and it’s still one of the dominant discussion points surrounding the series. In fact, I’d argue it’s more prevalent now than ever, with the show catching up to the book. But a series of five essays called “Untangling the Meereenese Knot,” on a blog started for that specific purpose and named “The Meereenese Blot,” delves so deeply into the text, and contains such incisive, compelling arguments, that it casts a new light on…well, everything. On Daenerys, on the Meereen chapters, on George R.R. Martin, and on A Dance With Dragons in general.
I don’t want to spoil the author’s work, so I’ll limit myself to a brief synopsis of each essay, and encourage you to read for yourself. First, the problem is spelled out:
Meereen. The mere word probably makes you groan. It’s considered to be the weakest, most frustrating plotline in ADWD, and perhaps in in the whole series. It’s thought to be where GRRM lost the plot and spent endless chapters on pointless filler. The solutions seem so obvious, the villains seem obviously evil one-dimensional caricatures. And many fans see it as the plotline that ruined Dany’s character, revealing her to be a naive, incompetent, lovesick girl.
I used to agree with all of those criticisms — but I’ve come to believe that they’re all actually quite wrong. In these essays I’ll debunk them. After a reread (or several), and much productive discussion on various forums, I now firmly believe that ADWD is the smartest, most complex, and most thought-provoking book in the series. It is very carefully constructed, yet quite subtle and therefore rewarding of rereads, close analysis, and an effort to engage. In particular, the Meereen plotline is quite ingeniously constructed by Martin to mislead fans in certain ways. Often, the truth there is the opposite of what it appears on the surface.
In the first essay, the author examines what appears to be a minor problem—who poisoned the locusts in an attempt to assassinate Daenerys? To the average reader (including me), this was a mystery solved. But with plentiful excerpts from the book, the author makes a very convincing case that what we thought we knew was dead wrong, and Martin is playing a very different game with subtext from what we see on the surface.
The second essay examines the so-called peace in Meereen, which was revealed—so we thought—to be a total sham. Not so, says the author. What Daenerys and the Sons of the Harpy was real, and it was only undone by a saboteur that nobody expected.
In the third, he argues that Dany’s Meereen episode is far more than just a piece of filler, and is actually full of robust character development. Daenerys is forced to give up certain principles in order to maintain power, and how she balances this sacrifice with remaining as moral as possible provides the best look yet at her development, and the qualities she’ll need if she does indeed make a play for Westeros.
In number four, the author explores the dark side of Daenerys, and how she’s constitutionally uncomfortable with peace. It increases her paranoia, and forces her to make concessions that feel wrong from a strategic and ethical level. To the point that, subconsciously, she exaggerates threats to propel her back into war. At the point at which she rejects Meereenese culture, her dragon returns, and this is no accident.
Finally, in the fifth essay, the author looks at the choice facing Daenerys between Hizdahr, and the path of political peace, and Daario, who represents war. These are the dueling sides of her nature presented in the form of men, each of them offering a separate path to power. Her choice is for more than just a partner—it determines her path.
Again, these are not new essays, but the content is some of the best Song of Ice and Fire scholarship I’ve ever read, and more than worthy of sharing with those who, like me, haven’t seen them. The author has convinced me totally—I now look at the Meereen chronicles as interesting from both a narrative and character growth perspective, and feel that I have a deeper appreciation for a character who is far more complex than I originally believed.