Most who saw the eighth season of Game of Thrones came away from the show angry with the lazy and ridiculous writing it ended the show with, as the dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen burns the capitol city of Westeros after it had surrendered to her forces. The scene was to prove hereditary madness courses through the Targaryen bloodline.
It’s the reason some of Daenerys’s closest allies turn against her, and her lover Jon Snow (also her nephew), stabs her in the stomach in order to prevent another mad and cruel ruler from taking the throne. It was a tragic yet necessary move, as Daenerys proved she was willing to brutally kill and torture undeserving men, women, and even children.
However, not everyone seems to agree with this.
Matt Yglesias at Vox argues that Dany was right to burn innocents as she did, due to the fact that she did it in the name of forming a central government. Yglesias is showing a few cards here, the most notable card is the fact that he’s willing to allow atrocities to occur in the name of statism.
Yglesias starts by saying Dany was not a “mad queen,” and that Jon was wrong for stabbing her. He even went so far as to call the great council of lords that select a king among them a step backward in political development for the nation of Westeros. He then mounts a defense, saying that the burning of King’s Landing squelched any future rebellion:
If Daenerys had simply allowed King’s Landing to surrender without consequences only after she evaded its air defenses, then every other recalcitrant lord in the Seven Kingdoms would have incentive to resist her. After all, it only takes a lucky shot or two to bring down the dragon — and the Queen riding him — and if she manages to burn your scorpions, you can always just surrender.
The Breaker of Chains can be legitimately faulted for not explaining the strategic logic of her actions to key subordinates before the battle began. But in her defense, those same key subordinates had spent the previous days spreading treasonous talk about Jon Snow being the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, so she can perhaps be forgiven for not fully taking them into her confidence.
Making an example of King’s Landing was a harsh decision. It was a cruel decision. And it’s certainly a decision whose morality one could question. But it wasn’t a “crazy” decision or the act of a Mad Queen — it was a rational calculation based on a clear-eyed assessment of the strategic situation.
A few points before I tackle the main issue here.
For one, it was clear that Dany had gone mad. This was clearly shown during the course of the story, and you’re even given reason to somewhat sympathize with her. Yglesias’s claims that she hadn’t gone mad is mere headcanon at this point. Jon was absolutely right to stab her in order to prevent what was a clear and established pattern from members of the Targaryen line.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that the city had surrendered. Dany had destroyed the anti-air weaponry and eliminated the bulk of the opposing forces, and she did this rather quickly. The battle really only took a handful of minutes before she had won it with a single dragon and nothing else. If any opposing forces still thought about rising up, the tale of the dragon queen who took the most well-defended city in the land without breaking a sweat and just in time for lunch would be enough to make them sit down.
Yglesias may say that the north, currently ruled by Sansa Stark in Winterfell, fully intended to be an independent nation out of bounds of the iron throne and that war would have come anyway. However, one thing that’s not considered is that by burning innocent civilians in King’s Landing after it had surrendered, you foster a deep hatred amongst many. Perhaps a deal could have been worked out with Winterfell, or Sansa eventually convinced that Dany was not the kind of tyrant she feared would rule. Whatever could have happened, it was all ruined the moment Dany began barbequing King’s Landing.
Had she not been killed then and there, a rebellion would doubtless spring up with the madness in Dany driving her further into paranoia. Soon she’d consider those close to her are in on it just like her father did, and she may even be right. No matter how you slice it, Dany was going to die. If it’s a matter of when and where, then and there was the best time.
But that’s all just fiction. Here, in reality, Yglesias completely approved the idea of killing innocent people in order to establish a stable central government. He even justifies it by saying that this is okay because the other countries proved to be imperfect and crime-ridden based on a line by a villain.
Even taking out the idea that Dany had succumbed to madness, this is nothing short of disturbing. Would Yglesias be okay with this kind of thing happening in real life in order to achieve a centralized government? How far are people like him, and those who agree with him, okay with going in order to achieve a utopia like the kind Yglesias seemed to think Dany would bring?
Yglesias can’t even seem to understand that Dany had gone mad, and even filled in the blanks on Dany’s intent in an effort to justify her attempts at creating a centralized government. He approved of her, and thus approved of whatever steps were necessary — or in this case unnecessary — to establish her rule. It didn’t matter how many mothers were holding their children tightly as they were burned alive for no good reason.
I know the left yearns for utopia, but I feel we just got a disturbing look at how far some of them are willing to go to achieve something unobtainable anyway.