The last chapter! We started this book north of the Wall and we’re ending it across the Narrow Sea. I think this is symbolic of the series as a whole, since I suspect that it will come down to dragons versus ice-zombies. Well, it’ll be a long time before the series gets there, meanwhile we’re on Essos, getting ready for Dany to finish her transformation from scared little girl into ass-kicking warrior queen.
In preparation for Drogo’s funeral, Dany’s people find wood and kill a horse. MMD, now bound and awaiting Dany’s judgment, immediately assumes that horse-killing means Dany will try to replicate her blood magic and starts babbling nonsense that comes down to: you need me, so untie me. I’m thinking despite all her protestations of having lost everything and so not fearing anything, she’s pretty afraid right now.
The horse is actually part of the Dothraki funeral rites. Like the Ancient Egyptians, and I’m sure many other real cultures ripe for fantasy epic fodder, the Dothraki believe into setting people, khals in any case, up for the afterlife. This includes a horse and his bloodriders, but luckily not his wife. Unluckily, the wife has to become a dosh khaleen, but we know that Dany isn’t planning anything of the sort. Jorah also knows that Dany isn’t planning anything of the sort, instead he assumes she plans to throw herself onto the funeral pyre along with the horse and various treasures, so he tries to talk her out of it by offering to help her flee to various exotic locales. Give it up, Jorah, after Drogo’s luscious locks, Dany’s not going anywhere with a man who has a receding hairline.
Dany reassures him that sati is not one of the funeral practices adapted for the purposes of this novel and demands that he stop calling her “princess” and start calling her “queen.” I think, for pretty much the entire book, both the characters around her and Dany herself have made the assumption that what she wants is a life of quiet wealth somewhere in the Free Cities. Dany’s not fooling herself any longer, though, what she wants is the Targaryen throne back and she’s not letting Drogo’s death spell the death of her plans for re-conquest as well.
Gathering her tiny “khalasar” at the funeral pyre, Dany makes a concise but rousing speech declaring them her people. She gives the three weapons she got as bride-gifts to her guards, declaring them her bloodriders; they all refuse because she’s not a man and therefore not a khal, but she knows better than to engage them in a debate, she just acts like she doesn’t hear them. Jorah, she officially swears in as the first of her Queensguard. Aw, Dany is bridging cultures and merging traditions, and breaking the glass ceiling, all at the same time.
It seems like the good time to make this speech would’ve been straight before lighting the pyre, but instead Dany walks off to take a bath and get made-up and dressed. The process of being made up includes her slavegirls fingering her so that her nether regions smell of perfume. Oh, us girls, we can’t help it, whenever we’re alone together, pillow fights and lesbian sex just happen! (Look, I do love the books, but you can’t argue that the gore and the sex, especially sex, aren’t just a tad gratuitous at times.)
She prepares Drogo’s body herself and alone, a final goodbye, then all is set for the funeral. When she orders her dragon eggs brought and placed on the pyre, Jorah speaks up again to try and talk her out of it, appalled by the waste of something so valuable, and once again tries to talk her into leaving with him. Why don’t you lecture her about turning the slaves into free men and women of the khalasar, Jorah, after all people are so much more valuable when you can sell them, right? Shut up, you creepy weasel.
After the eggs are placed on the pyre with Drogo’s body, she orders MMD bound to it. Hey, Dany pays her debts almost as well as a Lannister. According to custom, they wait for the first star to light the fire, and it happens to be a comet with a red tail. Might as well take it for a good sign as not, so Dany does so. She then sets the entire construction on fire and watches it, and MMD, burn. The Dothraki and Jorah move away from the heat, but Dany stays close to the flames, and then walks into them.
She’s not committing suicide as Jorah feared, instead she’s added all the little things, such as her liking scalding hot water and being able to touch a brazier, together and realized that she has nothing to fear from fire. Her clothes burn, so she gets rid of them as she steps further into the flames. A “chunk of curved rock” with colouring suspiciously like one of her dragon eggs bounces to her feet. “Only death can pay for life.” I could sound very clever by saying I know exactly what’s happening here, but I don’t think I did on my first read through, I just raced ahead to find out how the book would end. That said, it’s not really that hard to guess, with all the attention that was given to the dragon eggs.
The descriptions, though poetic, aren’t that enigmatic either. Dany thinks of herself as “mother of dragons” and then steps towards the collapsing pyre, “calling to her children.” By the time they find her, after the fire subsides, among the embers, her hair has burnt away just like her clothes, but she’s unhurt and not alone. All three dragons have hatched, two of them suckling. I will say that despite my earlier comment, I do not think this scene has anything to do with gratuitous titillation, this is fairly straight forward: Dany lost her child and her husband, and has embraced instead the path of war and conquest. Targaryens conquer with dragons, and so she will adopt her baby dragons in place of her baby son, and nurture them.
The Targaryens tried to breed dragons to stop them from dying out, back on Westeros, but with no success. Aegon V, “Egg” from the Dunk and Egg stories and Maester Aemon’s brother, died in a fire resulting from his efforts to hatch his dragon egg. Presumably, what they never tried was to add a human sacrifice to their experiments. It’s a good thing MMD pissed Dany off.
Aside: Aemon joined the Night’s Watch in order to ensure he couldn’t be used in plotting against his brother, whose succession was somewhat murky. Aegon sent several prisoners as an “honour guard” to join the Watch along with Aemon, including a Targaryen bastard named Brynden Rivers, known as Bloodraven, who eventually became Lord Commander. If you do not fear spoilers, look him up on A Wiki of Ice and Fire. If GRRM ever publishes a book just on Targaryen history, I will be the first in line to buy it and then demand and HBO adaptation.
Dany has always maintained that as a “dragon” she considers herself above “horses,” that their internal hierarchies mean nothing to her. Having actual dragons finally convinces the Dothraki of this, so the three men she chose to be her bloodriders immediately change their minds and give her their loyalty oaths.
You know, maybe if the Kingsguard knights had to kill themselves whenever their king died, they would be taken much more seriously. Just a thought.
No one can ever be taken more seriously than Dany is at this very moment by people who are now and forever her people. She rises like a dragon-phoenix from the ashes of the funeral pyre, bearing the new life of an extinct race and the promise of awesomeness in future books. The air fills with the music of dragons and we add our voices to theirs in satisfaction of what has been and anticipation of what is to come: Fuck yeah!