Over the past nine years, we’ve all grown to love Daenerys Stormborn. She’s loud, she’s proud, and she doesn’t back away from a challenge. But this is just one side of her — a side of her that the show GAME OF THRONES hits too often. 

game of thrones
Courtesy of HBO

1. Daenerys’ Start

A huge miscommunication between the book and show is Dany’s age. I understand why they aged her up for television (that wedding night scene was already awkward with an adult actress), but they lost a part of her character when they did. You can understand part of Dany’s impulsiveness more easily when you look at her as a child. Show Dany seems less redeemable when you break down her actions through the lens of her as an adult woman. Daenerys’ start in both series is essentially the same — we have this young, frightened girl who Illyrio sells into marriage.

She doesn’t initially want power. In the books, we learn that she wants to return to her childhood home in Braavos (the one with the red door and the lemon tree). Her sexual relationship with Khal Drogo, albeit still gross, was at least more consensual. We don’t really know too much about Show Dany and what she wants until Viserys dies. We also lose certain quirks that you don’t pick up on in the show. When Drogo gives her the white mare on their wedding night, she mentions how beautiful it is.

We lose that she loves that horse and calls it “her silver” when it’s put to screen. 

2. Early Signs Of Breaking Away From The Book

There’s a scene early on where she ventures away from Khalasar. When I watched season 1 the first time through, I thought Daenerys was just lost. I read the books for the first time a year later, and she wasn’t lost—she fell in love with the landscape. She loved how colorful the grasses were, how open they were, how the wind tore across them and made them ripple like water. It was much more whimsical than the show made it out to be. It was an escape from her brother’s constant whining.

game of thrones
Courtesy of HBO

Another instance where the two Danys differ is when her brother finds her in the field. Viserys charges after her and is livid that Dany stopped the Khalasar just to wander. When a man cracks a whip around Viserys’ neck and nearly suffocates him, Show Dany practically begs for the man to spare her brother. In the book, she’s kind of amused by the entire situation. She’s relieved when the Khalasar forces Viserys instead of riding a horse.

3. Split Between Her Drive And Her Nature

It’s easier to know what Daenerys is thinking in the books because we’re in her head. At times she comes off as hypocritical on screen—within the span of four episodes, she (1) convinced the Dothraki to cross the Narrow Sea and pillage the cities of Westeros and (2) told Yara she would only accept an alliance if the Ironborn stopped reaving. As likable as Dany is, this back and forth is jarring.

With the books, this cognitive dissonance is still there, but it’s easier to understand because we can follow along with her rationale. You’re able to see why she thinks pillaging Westeros is different than reaving coastal villages—even if they’re not, really. It demonstrates her drive to be a benevolent queen and the reality of being a violent conqueror. This disconnect is part of her character in the books. There’s this tragedy interwoven into her character, and it’s sad we lost that in the show.

game of thrones
Courtesy of HBO

4. Daenerys Turmoil

Part of the blame is on fan service—people crave that strong, in-your-face woman that Emilia Clarke portrays (I’m certainly guilty). But this doesn’t do justice to the other facets of her character. There’s more to Daenerys than just conquering cities and burning people alive. Take the crucifixion of the wise masters, for example. We can see her internal conflict in the books—she’s struggling with this balancing act of leading and trying to avoid acts of cruelty. She is genuinely concerned about her ruthlessness. There’s a fear that she will eventually turn into her late father.

In the show, though, we don’t get to see this inner turmoil. The whole crucifixion event didn’t offer us that anxiety. Instead, Daenerys seemed proud of herself—some might argue that she was almost smug throughout the entire thing. Each season we’re told that her father was evil and she’s not like him. It would be interesting if we got to see her struggle with her identity (or, at the very least, it would add some much-needed complexity to her character). We really only get this conversation once from Tyrion in the Battle of the Bastards, but it isn’t touched much after that.

5. The Following (And Not Following) Daenerys’ Consequences

The problem with GAME OF THRONES is that it doesn’t give Daenerys enough consequences for her actions. After she locked up Rhaegal and Viserion under the Great Pyramid, nothing bad really happened to her until her encounter with the Night King nearly 3 seasons later. It’s like she’s allowed to do whatever she wants just to keep the audience hooked.

game of thrones
Courtesy of HBO

It is, of course, too much to ask for a television series to have the same amount of world-building as a book series. But the books follow a plot line that the show is unable to — the danger of Daenerys’ bad decisions. As well-intentioned as she is, she’s hypocritical, and her imperial world views get thousands of people killed. She doesn’t bother to stop and ask the people she’s freeing how she should go about things.

She just bursts her way in and establishes a new government, and this is shaky at best. In both stories, Daenerys does mean well. George R. R. Martin’s version is childish, emotional, and haunted by her need to do good. The show’s version is fierce and fireproof and gets out of trouble more easily than she should. Both are strong, both are flawed, and both have their own special nuances. I don’t know what will happen to either version of Dany, but I can only assume neither has an easy path to the Iron Throne.

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