Considering the fact that “Khaleesi” has been the face of female empowerment on television for more than half a decade, we (Kylie and Julia) think it’s more than fair to critically examine her character and plotline, from a feminist perspective, with particular scrutiny. And we must say, unlike last year, we think they actually tried to make it meaningful for her this time.
That said, there’s still quite a few issues with the supposed feminist credentials of Deadpan Targaryen’s Season 6 story. And they’re the same problems we have with “feminism” on this show in general. If you haven’t already, please read Part 1 of this retrospective, which recaps everything that happened, so that you’ll understand fully as we dissect it.
I choose violence
On Game of Thrones capacity to rule is always established by displays of “strength”. And for showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D), strength always, always means violence. Kylie has already written at length about how this a problem, from a feminist perspective, because it perpetuates both the harmful concept of toxic masculinity, as well as the notion that women have to be exactly like (those toxically masculine) men in order to be empowered. (But possibly more sexy.)
“Women on the show get hurt/abused/killed, so they hurt/abuse/kill men in return, and this is how they end up being Women on Top™. The “feminist” message of the Season 6 was that violent women are empowered because violence is respected (and male-coded), and apparently feminism is when women demonstrate that they can be just like patriarchy-approved men. Which is an understanding feminism straight out of either the 80’s or an MRA meeting.” —Kylie, “The Fallacy of GoT’s ‘Women on Top’ Part 3”
The centerpiece of Deadpan’s arc this year is very clearly the moment when she burns down the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen with all the khals inside, thereby absorbing their essence to become Super-Khaleesi (somehow) and winning the loyalty of all the assembled Dothraki.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but we think it’s fair to say that the motivation for this scenario playing out the way it did was the writers’ desire to make her “earn” becoming queen in the least infantilizing way possible. In fact, they even say as much:
“Dany can be strong when she is not in a position of power. Dany, an unarmed little woman killed them all herself. She didn’t have a dragon fly in and do it. It was all Dany.” –David Benioff, “Inside the Episode #4”
And yes, in that moment, Deadpan had all the agency. She got herself to that moment all on her own, and we’re all for it on a theoretical level (and in isolation of everything else that happens). Had Drogon swooped in to save her, you can bet we’d be talking about the continuation of her “damsel in distress” scripting that featured so strongly last year. It was subverted instead, so we should be fist-pumping and CSI screaming here. The only issue is that this moment is heavily undermined, by several things, not to mention laden with unfortunate implications.
For us, the lowest-hanging fruit is always the contrivances—the utter breakdown of logic.
The problem in explaining these, however, is that this situation was so heavily dependent on retcons and magically invented rules about the Dothraki people, specifically. And unlike D&D, we believe the Dothraki are worthy of their own consideration, so we’ll hold off on dissecting the exploitative and illogical ways in which their culture was presented until the next section.
But even just looking at Deadpan’s actions, everything just feels so random. She’s being treated like crap in the first episode, but she mysteriously withheld her identity because…? Because she knew it’d be more dramatically satisfying to say it to Khal Moro rather than some random moops? Was she hoping to simply impress everyone with her Queen of Meereen title, but thought she could keep the whole former-khaleesi thing from them a secret so she wouldn’t be ordered to Vaes Dothrak? Did she know that they’d all be uninformed idiots who couldn’t connect the lady the Masters of Yunkapor wanted to buy with the woman who hatched dragons on Drogo’s bier? Did she feel like she needed to walk off those calories from her off-screen wedding feast to Hizdahr?
Of course, this is all just a drop in the bucket compared to her decision to burn down the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen during the Dothraki Regional Conference. When she formulated her firebending idea is beyond us; it seemed like she had the plan in mind when Faabio and Jorah showed up, so was she about to ask Nice Khaleesi if she could be the one to bar the door with a stick? Should we also just assume her boys found a large bush to hide in for the full day before she was brought before the khals?
And then we have the flammable dirt. Let’s ignore the possibility of a day meeting, ignore the fact that the khals booted the Dosh Khaleen out of their own temple for this scene (and not a single one with all her valued wisdom was even allowed to watch), and ignore that the stick with which Jorah and Faabio barred the door should have reasonably broken when three burly dudes were pushing against it with all their strength. We were seriously supposed to accept the fact that tipping a brazier over onto a dirt floor would result in instant immolation…and target-tracking flames.
Not to mention Contrivance Prime, which is that this action would automatically make Deadpan “Super Khaleesi” (or the Stallion Who Mounts the World, though why bother with Season 1 world-building?) in the first place.
“The act of stepping out of that burning temple in which all that Dothraki power structure just perished pretty much just makes her Queen of the Dothraki in one fell swoop.” –Dan Weiss, “Inside the Episode #4”
To be fair, khals are continually fighting one another, and there’s sort of this “right of conquest” element to it, where a khal that kills another khal comes to command the other’s khalasar as a result (this is an oversimplification: there’s usually break-aways). The Dothraki follow the “strong,” in the very strict, martial sense of the word. However, given the overwhelmingly superstitious nature of the Dothraki, something very well established in this show (it is known), we actually feel like this is the one instance where Deadpan’s triumph would not necessarily earn her the Dothraki’s loyalty. Certainly not all of them, at least, to the extent where she unites the khalasars and fulfills the prophecy (that’s never mentioned). It just feels remarkably convenient.
There’s also the issue that this seems to be how D&D truly believe ascension works, because it’s the exact same rationale that seated Cheryl on the Iron Throne in “The Winds of Winter” (fuck you). And don’t give us any “right of conquest” nonsense in that plotline; Cheryl had one blue dude with her, and Qyburn. She had no claim to the throne, especially not with a living brother who was currently the one controlling the entire Lannister army.
So we have nothing to think other than for D&D, burning down a religious institution means that you automatically become the ruler.
They wanted Deadpan to become Queen of the Dothraki, and in their mind, it necessitated her murdering the other khals. Because violence is the one path to leadership in Game of Thrones. We see this over and over again, be it Jon swinging a sword to serve as his character development for two seasons in a row, or Euron bragging about murdering his brother to rave reviews. The issue is that for our protagonists, it’s at the cost of having them actually grow and come across as political leaders.
Fans of the books likely noticed the rather meticulous way in which Daenerys and Jon Snow parallel one another in A Dance with Dragons. How nice for us that this carried over into GoT! Jonny and Deadpan both have exhibited officially zero moments of competency when it comes to governance, and even moments of staggering incompetence: Jonny ran headfirst into a trap and failed to give a single battle command during “Battle of the Bastards”, and Deadpan was completely unable to pacify the Strawmen of the Harpy last season, despite the situation being exceedingly straight-forward. But they’re both able to murder designated bad guys really, really well, so we’re supposed to cheer along with their supporters.
And see, this is the reason this show grinds our gears. We could probably forgive the complete idiocy of the flammable dirt if this wasn’t the same exact narrative we’re force-fed in every other plotline: the worship at the altar of the toxically masculine conception of strength, logic be damned. Of course Deadpan had to murder everyone! But why on Earth would we care that she does, when this is how everyone behaves? Why is Deadpan the feminist icon of the show, but Cheryl is the designated villain?
Most of it is branding we suppose. Jon swung his sword really, really well against the EVIL Ramsay, who has been handed a countless string of victims by the narrative for at least two years now. Cheryl, however, blew up Marg. We like Marg.
Which means we’re only able to seal clap for Deadpan because she burned down…
Those Wacky Dothraki
It should probably not come as a surprise that Season 6 was less than successful in its portrayal of this culture: the Dothraki that remained loyal to Deadpan in Season 1 were unceremoniously dumped from the narrative the following year in Qarth, where her bloodriders and handmaidens were all murdered. Though on occasion you could play the fun game of “spot the extra” into Season 4, before their total disappearance in Season 5.
This isn’t even an issue of book knowledge, though certainly being familiar with Martin’s worldbuilding in this department (which has its own issues, by the way) doesn’t exactly help the show’s cause. It’s more the issue that on the show, Dothraki culture magically adapts to the needs of the plot, not only ignoring what was established in Season 1, but what might have been established one or two scenes prior.
The best sense we can make of this is that D&D wanted to remove any sort of moral ambiguity from Deadpan burning everyone alive. So these masters of subtlety gave us continual reminders about how rapey and awful the Dothraki are. Deadpan’s opening scene had two random Dothraki bros musing about her pubes and telling her that they’d have a turn with her after their khal, who upon being introduced, also instantly began talking about how much he couldn’t wait to start raping her.
But wait, problem #1: they’re not supposed to know who Deadpan is yet. Why do they need permission from their khal to rape some random person they found standing in a field (especially when we’ve seen Season 1… Deadpan ordered Drogo’s men to stop raping the people near Qohor and it led to a fight and stuff…)? And why the hell were they so excited about finding her in the first place if they didn’t recognize her?
Then, after meeting Khal Moro and rattling her titles off, Deadpan is still in danger of being raped, because apparently the Dothraki don’t know that Khal Drogo’s wife who hatched dragons is the same person who disrupted the entire regional economy—despite learning at the Regional Conference that Moro knows the story of Drogo’s death. Yet it’s not until she mentions Drogo explicitly that Moro backs off. This is a nitpick, of course, but it paints the image of the Dothraki being these uninformed savages.
The size and design of Vaes Dothrak plays into this as well, though we’re afraid that this is getting into book-knowledge nitpickery, which is an exercise in futility. However, a far bigger problem is the fact that on multiple occasions, the “strangeness” of Deadpan being a white chick with blonde hair is mentioned, often in tandem with her being considered something of a “witch.” This is furthered with the way that Faabio and Jorah are somehow seen as suspicious for merely existing in Vaes Dothrak, as if the Dothraki are an incredibly homogeneous and insular society. But…we’ve known since the start of this show that they kind of ride around sacking cities and taking slaves. They’re incredibly diverse for this reason, and have certainly come across white women before. Also, Vaes Dothrak is a major city with trade. There’s a reason it has two different markets, which Jorah talked about. If they racially profile every white person in the city, then we can’t imagine many merchants who would keep coming back.
But these pesky worldbuilding details must be less important than perpetuating the savage stereotypes, so that we can feel really good when Deadpan claims her victory.
Speaking of worldbuilding, we actually didn’t realize what a piss-poor job GoT’s done from the start with respect to the Dothraki. We assumed that the Dosh Khaleen had been established in Season 1, but…no. At least, they were never properly introduced. They’re just randomly there for the fun, heart-eating times. It is clear these are women making quasi-religious pronouncements that the Dothraki take seriously, but the fact that the Dosh Khaleen are supposed to be the closest thing to a central authority was entirely absent. Heck, even Vaes Dothrak was just presented as “the city of the horselords”, though we at least learn about the weapon ban before Viserys got his crown.
Also absent was the meaning of “blood of my blood.” We see that Khal Drogo has bloodriders, but we don’t really know what that means past “besties.” For that reason, it’s hard for us not to bring in book knowledge when Deadpan casually wrecks this detail of Dothraki culture with her speech, because naming everyone a bloodrider actually comes with rather heavy implications for them. Like “they have to kill themselves when she dies” kind of implications. (Incidentally, was there a massive pile of thirty-odd corpses just off-frame when they left Vaes Dothrak after all the barbequed khal’s bloodriders committed suicide? How convenient for us that we didn’t have to see it.)
So while we don’t think that the worldbuilding was particularly Emmy-worthy this season, we do have to fully admit that some book-knowledge is coloring this. However, we were still presented, rather clearly, with the idea that the Dosh Khaleen are of some importance.
“We are not queens here, but the khals depend on us for our wisdom.”
This is also furthered by the reverence they seem to hold for the Dosh Khaleen, which is why those rape threats instantly went away for Deadpan after evoking Drogo’s name. Not that it got her a horse or a hairbrush.
However, for all the respect their wisdom garners, it was certainly never called upon, even when a clear opportunity was given. Couldn’t the khals have at least asked Mama Dosh “Hey, do you think Deadpan should join your ranks?” before dismissing her during the Regional Conference? Also, why the hell were the khals using Temple of the Dosh Khaleen? Yeah, in Season 1 we saw Drogo chilling in it, but that’s because the Dosh Khaleen were conducting a religious ceremony about his fetus, and everyone was participating.
What pisses us off the most, though, is that Mama Dosh outright references this Season 1 scene, and yet it was just to the effect of “oh yeah, fun times.” Why couldn’t D&D have used that? Why couldn’t Deadpan have somehow impressed Mama Dosh with her empowerment and her dragons and her slave-freeing campaign, so that Mama Dosh (and Nice Khaleesi) wanted to advocate for her? Maybe even some of the other women too, because this requirement that cattiness be a womanly default is not actually a thing, no matter how much D&D seem to think so. Maybe Mama Dosh could have made another prophecy… you know, her job? Or it could have even been the same damn prophecy as before, but she’d say something to the effect of, “Our bad—it wasn’t the fetus, it was you.” It’s actually a rather elegant solution to getting the Dothraki to follow her without murdering anyone. Or at least without losing her sacred temple.
Not to mention, we were explicitly shown Nice Khaleesi and Mama Dosh bonding with Deadpan about how awful the Dothraki patriarchy is, and sort of bemoaning their lot in life. This was the opportunity for them to elicit change. It would have been women lifting up women, and it could have avoided at least some of the absolutely horrific racial implications of how it played out. What we were given was that an outsider came in and saved the savage culture by destroying it, and it was only then that they realized their oppression and bowed to her. The Dothraki themselves provided no positive contributions to this story: just a sob story. In other words, they were wholly objectified and lacking in agency.
This is really about as racially exploitative a story as you can get, and it would have taken so little effort for it not to be. Hell, even if everything went the same, including Deadpan’s kerosene fun-times, if we had at least had Mama Dosh remain standing when Deadpan exited the temple, and then proclaim “the stallion who mounts the world!”, it would have been some kind of step in the right direction. Or couldn’t Nice Khaleesi have been the one to bar the door with the stick? Anything!
And then, adding insult to injury, every single female Dothraki just vanishes after Episode 4. Why couldn’t Mama Dosh or Nice Khaleesi come with her and maybe even serve on her council? But no, they just stay in Vaes Dothrak. Which either means that they’re not that important after all, or that they’re still expected to stay there, and Deadpan didn’t smash any damn patriarchy at all. Take your pick of which you prefer, though in our opinion, the true question is whether or not Catty Khaleesi joined them.
We’re left with no other conclusion than that D&D did not consider this storyline from the point-of-view of the Dosh Khaleen, or any Dothraki for that matter, in the slightest. The Dothraki just exist in so far as they serve Deadpan and the plot. (Sound familiar?) The clearest example of this is the speech at the end of “Blood of my Blood”.
We’re just plain confused by this scene all together. Firstly, the (very nice) dragon CGI probably swallowed a non-trivial chunk of the budget, so this scene must have been in the works from quite early on in the production process of season. But, it feels like a scene that was slapped together at the last minute in a desperate attempt to pad out a very short episode.
Please tell us, what function does this scene serve exactly? The closest we can think of is that it reunites Deadpan with Drogon, but that just raises the question, “where hell was he for the past few episodes?” We get (and oddly appreciate) the fact that they wanted Deadpan to save her own damn self and all that, but this just stinks of contrivance. Why would he magically appear now? And suddenly be completely trained. We understand why it was done, but we can’t argue that it was done well.
But to get back to the Dothraki, they really may as well be weaponized bunny-rabbits for all they’re used after Episode 4. Not a single Dothraki character has a line after that, in the dragon-back speech scene they’re just kind of there as Deadpan talks logistics with Faabio, and they went on to cheer her mindlessly when she talked. There’s no indication at all that there are any Dothraki on her council, or who have any opinions at all about this plan to go half-way across the world apart from “yay!”
Maybe all this will change next season, but after six years of watching this show, we’re not going to hold our breath. Especially given the fact that the only time they pop up after the speech, they’re being lead by Faabio into attacking the Strawmen of the Harpy. Because those wacky savages can’t even kill people without guidance from a white dude. Faabio, who when he heard Jorah use the word “horde” in the middle of the damned Dothraki Sea, asked “Dothraki?” for clarification. As if there were Bulgars and Xiongnu also wandering around.
This is exactly why our biggest debate over the course of the season had been whether or not the show was more racist or sexist. But why not have a value package?
The Buddy Trip of Infantilization
We understand that Game of Thrones really loves its bro-trips. We definitely got that vibe last year, when Grey Worm and Faabio were super-sleuthing around the city together. Normally we can just roll our eyes at the wacky boy-ish antics D&D think they’re so skilled at writing, but in the case of this plotline, Faabio and Jorah’s buddy time undercut the very very few (very very white) feminist credentials that even existed here.
When we set out to write these analyses this year, we were actually quite determined to give D&D as much of the benefit of the doubt, and generous interpretations where we can. This is why we allowed the possibility of Lancel not telling the High Grandpa about the time Cheryl chose violence, because it would have made everyone’s actions completely inexplicable, instead of mostly inexplicable. This is what’s called “steel-manning”: the opposite of straw-manning.
The reason we’re explaining this is because the steelman for this bro-trip is actually that D&D didn’t plan ahead last year when they set this up, and then had to awkwardly figure out a place for them in the narrative. It’s quite clear based on everything inside and outside the episode that they didn’t want Faabio and Jorah to save Deadpan—she needed to burn everyone herself to be “strong.” But then, they didn’t seem to figure out how to use these two men without them rescuing her, so they just kind of went for both options at the same time, which resulted in neither option really panning out.
Like… Guys. Jorah and Faabio didn’t actually contribute anything to this plotline. Not to Deadpan’s escape from Vaes Dothrak, not to her winning over the Dothraki, and not even to her winning the Battle of Meereen, unless there’s some horrific honeypot that the Dothraki are actually incapable of riding down the Strawmen without Faabio at their helm. The best we can say is that they barred the door to the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen with a stick, so that Deadpan’s firebending would be sure to kill everyone. But to that, we refer you back to our comments on the wasted potential of Mama Dosh and Nice Khaleesi. We also have every confidence that D&D have the skill to write a scene where Deadpan still burns everyone to death without the stick logistics even needing to come up.
There’s officially nothing even worthy of comment, by the way, for the part of their trip before they reach Deadpan. We’re treated to two scenes of making jokes about Jorah’s hilarious friend-zoning, as well as some of the lamest mystery solving we’ve ever seen, followed by racial profiling within Vaes Dothrak, and the complete idiocy of “some blood is always spilled.” There’s a reason the “golden crown” was a thing that had to happen.
The entire focus was on Deadpan burning down the temple, from what we could tell. And in some ways, Faabio and Jorah’s presence served to further prove how D&D subverted the “damsel in distress” trope that they’ve formerly been fond of. Which would have earned mild snaps from us, at least.
But then they seemed to forget that they did subvert this trope (even if it was at the expense of a sea of brown people), because they spent the better chunk of the following episode trying to convince us that Jorah saved Deadpan’s life.
Deadpan: I banished you twice. You came back twice. And you saved my life. So I can’t take you back and I can’t send you away.
Jorah: You must send me away.
We suppose it’s possible that she’s only implying that he saved her life last year in this moment:
But that completely flies in the face of the structure of her sentence, and we would argue that most viewers hearing this would connect “you came back twice” with “you saved my life” (implication: this time too). Maybe we’re being overly pedantic? Are we really supposed to just be viewing this as the conversation they never got to have in the pit? In which case, it was an exceedingly strange writing choice to not mention said pit (or even have that moment in the “Previously on”). We’re sorry, but there’s no getting away from the immediate implication that it is about recent events, and unless a viewer is willing to take the time we’re taking to completely dissect this moment, we have to think that Jorah saving her life in Vaes Dothrak is a perfectly reasonable, and likely common take-away.
What it comes down to is that D&D wanted a nice moment for this unproblematic pairing and they didn’t both to think through the implications. We should be so touched that Ser Friendzone escaped the friendzone, while her boyfriend was awkwardly watching.
But even if undercutting Deadpan saving herself was unintentional, and this conversation was obviously supposed to be about Daznak’s Pit, there’s the fact that in her very next scene, she needs to be told by Faabio that she’s a conqueror. Which… She’s demonstrated this to herself and the audience multiple times, including the burning-the-khals thing that just happened. Perhaps this was supposed to be for the audience’s benefit, but then why couldn’t she have said “I’m a conqueror” to him? In fact, that might have even made more sense for when she goes galloping around the corner and pops back on Drogon. It’d be like her dragon-senses were tingling, so she embraces the whole “fire and blood” aspect of her identity. Though maybe Faabio randomly blurting this out at her is more cinematic. What would we know.
Truthfully, we’re at a loss to explain why Faabio and Jorah even needed to find her in Vaes Dothrak in the first place, especially if the goal was to maximize Deadpan’s empowerment. How cool would it have been if they had still been fumbling around the Dothraki Sea looking for clues, and then turned a corner to find her at the head of the khalasar? (And if we’re rewriting this, we’d also have her being flanked by Mama Dosh and Nice Khaleesi. Maybe she’d keep the three bloodriders thing and add Catty Khaleesi to her posse.) Or at the very least, have Jorah and Faabio find Drogon, so it’s not just this poof of dirt ass-pull, and then their tracking skills wouldn’t be questioned.
But the complete carelessness with which Faabio and Jorah were utilized, as well as how incidental they were to the actual plot, leaves us with no other conclusion that while D&D wanted a female-centered plotline, they had no clue how to do it without dudes. Which is why we’re going to pretend they simply didn’t plan ahead, because if they had, surely Jorah and Faabio would be back in Meereen rather than sucking up our screen-time by solving a nonexistent mystery, and fulfilling a nonexistent narrative hole.
The True Protagonist Appears
If there are concerns that the buddy trip resulted in the intentional infantilization of Deadpan, it pales in comparison to what happens when she arrives back in Meereen. Because, you see, Simplified Bay is not big enough for two protagonists, and Saint Tyrion had already taken over her book plot anyway. Really, there was nothing for her to do in Meereen.
And it shows. Deadpan barely does anything once she returns to the city. And the little she does do is all at the behest of Tyrion. She’s talked out of burning everything to the ground, by Tyrion, then goes with his plan to force a peace by burning a sample of the fleet. The next action is the alliance with the Greyjoys. But this scene is at least as much about Tyrion and his imagined slights as it is about Deadpan getting a new ally. And then she decides she’s not a conqueror after all. She actually wants to make the world a better place. We guess interacting with Saint Tyrion for a few hours and seeing the brilliance of his “alternative approach” managed to magically change her entire motivation. Again.
And also the infamous Male Nod of Approval.
Afterwards, she breaks up with Faabio, again on Tyrion’s advice, then she makes Tyrion her Hand. And that’s kind of it. She becomes little more than an instrument through which Tyrion can express his own agency and receive validation.
Her revelation that she’s a “conqueror,” ostensibly the great result of her time away from the city, is almost instantly invalidated by Tyrion telling her that she’s becoming just like her crazy father, and that’s bad. Her suggestion in that scene, that they burn everything to the ground, was only there so that Tyrion can display his own abilities by talking her out of it. The scene is about how much she needs him.
Rewatching the slavers negotiation, it’s a little shocking how quickly Deadpan is out of there. She goes off for some action and then, you guessed it, the whole thing becomes about Tyrion. And it’s clear that this is his achievement, not hers. Tyrion saved Meereen, and Deadpan was just the mouthpiece (and weapon) he was forced to use, because, as Varys said last season, “People follow leaders and they will never follow us. They find us repulsive.”
The two next scenes are just more of Deadpan studiously following Tyrion’s advice, while the script informs us again and again what a wonderful ruler she’s become, and how she’s earned the right to be Queen of Wiesseroff. But we can’t get over the troubling implication this creates; her “fitness” to rule seems to be the same thing as her willingness to accept and reward Tyrion.
We have a lot more to say about how the world bends around the needs of Saint Tyrion, and we’ll discuss it in detail in the final part of this retrospective, but suffice to say, making your “empowered” female lead nothing more than an accessory for a male character’s growth rather undermines the feminist messaging that was the obvious intention for the first half of Deadpan’s season. And the fact that she, for two entire seasons in Meereen, failed to arrive at a single governance or strategy-based decision without the help of a man (the one exception being her off-screen marriage to Hizdahr that affected nothing) undermines everything Deadpan is supposed to be. Her supposed positive qualities boil down to her “badassery” when she can murder without emoting, or how much she listens to Tyrion.
She’s basically his puppet, now that we think about it. For a second it looked like she might ally with Yara without his help, but even that required a check-in. Faabio’s right…she’s not meant to sit in a chair. And fine, maybe there’s a honeymoon period for advisors, but could at least one idea have originated from her? Even just painting the sails?
And I felt nothing
Here’s the problem we’re always running into, and we feel very bad repeating it to the point where it’s lost meaning: it’s very difficult for us to derive any meaning from something so carelessly written. This isn’t just about if they spent 2 weeks or 2 months in the Dothraki Sea, or the flammable dirt, or about the Dothraki culture conforming to the needs of the scene. It’s the whole of it…it’s the effect when all these little contrivances add up. We can tell that D&D wanted to write a plotline where Deadpan seemed Strong™ to the audience, and thus worthy of the army she earned. We can tell that they even wanted to do it in a way where she was accorded the most agency possible.
However, the pathway to her act of “strength” was so ridiculous, not to mention the assumption that she is, in fact, a qualified leader because of her murderous rampage, that we’re just left with the inescapable conclusion that she didn’t earn any of this.
Aside from smirking in the middle of an inferno, what did she do that is supposed to make us think “Wow, this is someone to be respected”? She kills people, and we’re told this means that she is a qualified leader, and maybe that would have any weight at all if it wasn’t the exact same thing everyone on this show does.
Oddly, we respected Deadpan’s authority back in Season 3 when this happened:
Sure, this may have been the inception of Deadpan’s Face of No Movement, and yes, this was also an act of violence. But it was something that flowed from the story they were telling. It was a decision she came to, which we saw her grappling with. We understood why she was at Astapor in the first place and we were shown her refusal to be infantilized when Barry and Jorah tried to talk over her. And by the way, we’re not saying this was done perfectly.
Deadpan: And what about you? You know that I’m taking you to war. You may go hungry. You may fall sick. You may be killed.
Missandei: Valar morghulis.
Deadpan: Yes, all men must die. But we are not men.
On the surface, her burning down the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen might look similar. However, the contortions D&D had to perform to even get her to that damn temple in the first place can’t be ignored. Each on their own might seem like a nitpick, sure, but when you put everything together, you’re left with an utterly incoherent story. And one that betrays the total lack of effort that went into writing it.
We could go back through each issue, but what’s the point? Heck, we could point out that Deadpan didn’t even need to be a prisoner at all this year; Drogon’s inexplicable disappearance from last year, which Weiss explained to be due to the fact that the dragon “mostly wants to sleep and get better”, would have been fixed in two seconds, had they decided to go in a different direction this year. But of course they didn’t, because they always feel the need to put women in gendered peril. That’s why despite the fact that Deadpan should have had a high standing among the Dothraki, we were instead treated to an opening scene where two random bros mused about her pubic hair, and the culminating scene in the temple involving the threat of her being raped by horses.
Yet it’s supposed to be more forgivable since she escaped this complete straw-man of a situation herself. Though, to be fair, the straw might at least explain the instant immolation. It’s telling that this is the route D&D chose to take, though frankly we can’t imagine them realizing that they had other options, especially given how well this fits into the pattern across the entire show.
Maybe that’s unfair; after all, Tyrion talks his way out of situations. But he really does stand alone against Jon and Cheryl and Larry and Brienne and Faullaria and Arya and even Sansa now and… Please don’t make us continue. And we fully unpack Tyrion in our next section. When you’re the most important character, you tend to bleed over into everything.
The meaningless that we’re the most uncomfortable with, however, is that of the Dothraki. Why are we supposed to want her to be their queen? What does this mean to her, at this point? Her blood riders died in Qarth, and the other extras stopped showing up two years ago. We think she was supposed to be bonding with Mama Dosh and Nice Khaleesi—after all, we saw her empathizing with both of them—and yet neither of them were even consequential enough remain standing as the sea of brown people fell to their knees, the way Jorah and Faabio did.
Their disappearance from the screen was even worse, along with the fact that the Dothraki became nothing more than an indistinguishable part of her army; a cavalry unit to be led into battle by Faabio Naharis.
What were we supposed to think it meant, when she announced that everyone was a bloodrider? That she has a lot of friends? That she’s good at making speeches? That she was embracing her role of a conqueror, a role that Faabio had to tell her about 20 seconds before?
While we’re speaking of that, we have to reiterate the ways in which this plotline was just…not feminist. The racial implications alone sort of take it out of the running for this, but even if we want to cling to some weird shred of “girl power” (good job, you murdered them yourself!), there’s the fact that everything following undercuts this. Again, it’s not just about her telling Jorah that he saved his life, or Faabio telling her how she should conceive of herself, or how every single action once she’s in Meereen is done either at the behest of, or with the approval from Saint Tyrion. It’s the sum total.
Deadpan’s arc was being shoved into a box of contrived rape threats, burning her way out of it, and then being completely swallowed by the needs of the men around her. How feminist.
What was her character development? We guess realizing that she was a conqueror? Because Faabio told her so. But she also wants to leave the world a better place. So truthfully, we have no idea what to make of her “growth.” She learned how to completely control Drogon, we suppose. Off-screen. That’s something.
What’s weird is that even this might be somewhat forgivable, if everything that happened wasn’t a damn rehash of what we’ve already seen. D&D say that the theme of this season is “rebirth,” and good gods are they right. Deadpan burned things down and stood naked before bowing people, just like Season 1! She plagiarized Khal Drogo’s speech to rouse the Dothraki troops. Just like Season 1! These lazy reboots only intensify with Tyrion’s plotline, but we’re still left with the idea that D&D thought this was exciting storytelling because it was the same…only bigger.
“When she did it the first time, you know, only a few score of people witnessed this miracle of Daenerys Targaryen emerging unscathed from the flames. Now it’s the Dothraki, as a people, who witnessed this.” —David Benioff, “Inside the Episode #4”
Well good job, D&D. The first time Deadpan stepped out of the flames, only 3 million viewers were tuning in, and this time you had close to 8. You must be doing something right, though far be it from us to understand what.
Be sure to check out the rousing conclusion of this retrospective, where we talk about the absolute perfect protagonist and D&D’s great skill at writing him.