Game of Thrones “Dany’s Agony: Purification Through Fire”

Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.

Aemon Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen is at Dragonstone, isolated and refusing to eat, looking worn out, pale, exhausted beyond recognition. She is well aware of Jon’s betrayal and the choice to confide with her sister, which resulted in Varys plotting to destroy her, possibly poisoning her in the process. She loses her trust in Tyrion, who confided with Varys, without consulting her first. Jon pledges his loyalty through obssessive repetitions that she is his queen, but refuses tenderness and showing his love toward her. Her advisers who respected her and were loyal, are now a source of suspicion and unease. Missandei, her dearest friend and the most trusted adviser was murdered. Her loneliness is now complete, executing Varys, an adviser not to be trusted from the beginning, is a necessity. It is important to note that in the eighth season the show suddenly turned from a sociological narrative which emphasized the relations of power in the context of feudal institutions, to the pyschologically based narrative. I believe that this is justified since one can observe tyrants and aspiring rulers only from a psychological point of view. What was once a complex set of norms is now reduced to the mind of a sole person, her decisions, courage and mental stability.

She can tell herself the same thing the Romanian author Emile Cioran told himself at the age of twenty-two: “Shocked witless by your own catastrophe, unable to think or to act, caught in cold and heavy darkness, solitary as in moments of profound regret, you have reached  the negative limit of life, its absolute temperature where the last illusions about life freeze. The true meaning of agony, which is not a struggle of pure passions or gratuitous fantasy, but life’s hopeless struggle in the claws of death, is revealed in this feeling of great weariness.” The dreams of spring in the youth are now replaced by the icy winds in the soul. The goal is the same, winning the Iron Throne, but her list of companions is growing thinner by the hour, it is virtually extinguished. Zeal and fierce energy are replaced with agony. The well of the soul is poisoned, not from within, but from without. To the left, the room’s emptiness, to the right, memories of betrayal, in front of her the table with the map of Westeros engraved and one obsessive thought remaining –  winning the throne.

King’s Landing is assaulted, the Iron Fleet is burned, the Unsullied and the Dothraki march through the walls killing everyone in the path. For the moment, there is silence. The deal was that in the case the bells are ringing, the attack will stop, destruction will not commence. We see Dany’s face, agony is written on it, it is as if Emil Cioran’s thoughts about the horror we would feel if our faces would show the sufferings of our souls, are coming to life in the agony etched on Dany’s face. She looks at the Red Keep, a symbol which embodies the life once lost, which needs to be regained, a seat of her fathers’ power, now occupied by the enemy. It is her obsession, a place which caused nights without sleep, and fueled the fire which keeps her alive. The city surrendered, Cersei could have been killed or captured and her army could easily storm the city and take it. Dany starts burning the city to the ground, along with its inhabitants, innocent or otherwise.

In his book On the Heights of Despair, Emile Cioran wrote: “If I could, I would drive the entire world to agony to achieve a radical purification of life; I would set a fire burning insidiously at the roots of life, not to destroy them but to give them new and different sap, and a new heat. The fire I would set to the world would not bring ruin but cosmic transfiguration.” Dany could drive the entire city inhabited by a million people to agony and did it. Her act is in structure remarkably similar to Cioran’s fantasy. She sees her act not as an act of mindless annihilation, but a form of purification. Cioran wants to rid the world of mediocrity and Dany to free it from tyranny. She wants to break the wheel, similarly as Cioran wants to disrupt the normal course of things to bring about the new order out of the ashes. Dany’s goal is thus not destroying for the sake of pleasure in inflicting death and agony, but an act of purification through fire. It is important that both Cioran’s fantasy and Dany’s act must be understood in the context of experiencing agony. Cioran writes: “I call agonic only those dramatic moments in the battle between life and death when the presence of death is experienced consciously and painfully. True agony occurs when you pass into nothingness through death…”

In this fantasy, for a new world to be built, the old one must die, itself in agony. The only meaningful line poor Euron had in the whole show was: “That is the sound of a city dying”. The city is dying, it is groaning, the sound of buildings burning and the screams is the sound of a slow and painful death, in solitude. Ser Gregor’s and the Hound’s battle on the top of the castle, mirrors the situation on the field. Ser Gregor is identified with Death itself, since he cannot be killed, but can only murder others, he can only be destroyed by fire. Cioran concludes his fantasy: “And maybe in this dream, death too would cease to be immanent in life.” It does not cease to be immanent, as it is shown in the final shot when Arya is riding on a white horse, which is a Biblical motif representing death.

References:

E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Game of Thrones “Dany’s Agony: Purification Through Fire”

  1. Alt Shift X had an interesting video on this episode, and I think I agree with their assertion that the white horse shown at the end of this episode, which Arya rides to freedom, represents *life*, not death. That’s one of the few script elements of this season that worked for me — out of the ashes of so much death, suffering, and misery (e.g. the Black Death, the Holocaust, colonialism, various wars throughout history, etc.), society inevitably rebuilds itself, and often for the better.

    You make an astute observation: “It is important to note that in the eighth season the show suddenly turned from a sociological narrative which emphasized the relations of power in the context of feudal institutions, to the pyschologically based narrative. I believe that this is justified since one can observe tyrants and aspiring rulers only from a psychological point of view. What was once a complex set of norms is now reduced to the mind of a sole person, her decisions, courage and mental stability.”

    That may be the best explanation for why S8 *feels* (re: tone) so different from the rest of the series, even S7. The show’s POV suddenly shifted overwhelmingly to 2-3 characters (Jon, Tyrion, Dany), a jarring transition whose abruptness can of course be blamed on the now mega-controversial D&D.

    Your writings help make sense of a season of a great television show about which I am now conflicted. Both “The Last of the Starks” and “The Bells” left a bad taste in my mouth, and are probably my least favorite episodes of the show not counting those subplots with the Sandsnakes or Dany’s plot from Seasons 3-5. Still, it’s worth putting the show’s thematic conclusion in perspective, as you have done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the input about the white horse. In mythology black horse specifically is associated with death so white could very well mean – life.
      Well yes, I believe that it is true, about the nature of the show. One 20th century dictator said that all of them lose their heads in the clouds, in other words, absolute power makes you at least a little bit mad. That is the meaning of the psychologically based narrative. I picked up the thing about the sociological narrative somewhere on the net but couldn’t quote it since I forgot where the source was. This is in fact my reply to the thesis that the show became bad because it discarded the sociologically based narrative. I don’t agree, Hollywood-esque psychological spectacle was the only way to wrap up the show, but the writing was extremely sloppy at times so the show lost much of its potency, yes.

      Like

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