Cross-Franchise Analysis: Daenerys and Aragorn, Exile Legacies
Aragorn and Daenerys. These two arguably have more in common than the pairing with Jon Snow. Both are the last of their lines, live in exile, and fight to reclaim their title. And yet their approaches are drastically different and take the characters in radically different directions. Like my comparison with Aragorn and Jon Snow, I will be taking the portrayals from TV and the movies instead of the books.
The Dragon Queen of the East
Daenerys Targaryen comes from a long line of rulers that had ruled Westeros until a rebellion overthrew her family, killing all of them except her and her older brother, Viserys. They siblings lived in exile in Essos for many years, but Viserys always had intentions of returning back to Westeros to reclaim the Iron Throne. He initially tried to have Daenerys married off to Khal Drogo to gain his armies, but he was killed after the marriage because he felt disrespected. This left Daenerys as the sole heir. Daenerys slowly rises to power as the queen of the Dothraki and eventually sole ruler when her husband dies. He also gets another army with the Unsullied, along with three dragons that she calls her children.
Daenerys sets out to free the slaves of Slaver’s Bay. Though she conquers them, she also finds ruling to be a different story, having great difficulty and often wanting to default to her family motto, “fire and blood” before her advisers calm her down. She also has issues with a mixture of both good and bad advisers. Despite this, she eventually sails for Westeros to fulfill her family dream. However, she finds it more difficult than Essos. Convinced into not sacking the capital, she tries to win over the local lords but to no avail. Plus, despite some victories, she also suffers setbacks that frustrate her even more.
She appears to finally make headway when the King of the North, Jon Snow, submits to her for her aid in the war against the White Walkers and her love. Yet she finds an even colder reception there. Daenerys seems genuinely perplexed why Westerosi’s don’t understand her intentions and just submit to what's rightfully hers anyways. Though Essos gave the dragon queen her share of difficulties in accepting her, she always found the average people and slaves welcoming. Not so here as was shown when she watched how people responded to Jon Snow after the the victory over the White Walkers, and then finding out that he had a better claim to the throne than herself.
Yet the dragon queen finally succeeds by sacking Kings Landing via the family tradition of burning it down in a fit of madness. Afterwards, she declares her intentions of spreading her rule far and wide in the name of liberation, but is soon after killed by Jon Snow, finally seeing that the would-be-savior has become what she fought so hard not to be.
The Heir of Gondor
Like Daenerys, Aragorn was also born to a noble family that once ruled over an empire. Also like her, that family was violently removed from power, though their people were still free, if threatened, and operated in secret to protect the north of Middle-earth. Aragorn also spent time in exile, undergoing trials and tribulations while knowing his heritage.
Aragorn, however, desired exile and didn’t want power because of how it corrupted his ancestors. While he fights in a series of battles during the War of the Ring and even before that, he only takes on leadership out of need. He does not demand other rulers submit to him, though he does have the right and often will conflict with their choices if he believes them to be bad. Many are initially reluctant to follow him, being loyal to their own rulers, but eventually accept him as a peer and then as a superior because of his humility.
That said, he is tempted by the power of the Ring and early on tends to look down on humans for their susceptibility to corruption, as he had been raised by elves. When Boromir calls him out on his prejudice, Aragorn shuts him out. It’s only after Boromir’s death that he begins to recognize the potential in his own race. Aragorn fights during the War of the Ring as a tactical leader rather than a king, but eventually accepts the role of king when low on reinforcements and the only ones are available are the Army of the Dead. And they only answer to the King of Gondor. The final days of the war establish to everyone that Aragorn is the rightful king and by its end is crowned and accepted by all rather than resisted as before.
"What should also be said though is the how differences in gender could affect Daenerys and Aragorn’s experiences"
The Legacy of Bloodlines
The contrast between these two is how they approach their lineage. While both come from exiled royalty, Daenerys has been raised to feel that she deserves it and by that right, people should bow to her anyway. That she wants to “break the wheel” is a secondary concern. The reason why I say that is because that when pushed, Daenerys refers to her entitlement and many titles first, before ever mentioning anything about freeing slaves. This isn't to say that her intentions were evil or did not care at all. Rather that was where her priorities were. When Jon Snow is being urged to take up the Iron Throne as its true heir, the argument thrown at him most is his commitment to others before himself: something they felt Daenerys lacks. In contrast, those who came with her from Essos by full into her self-belief, having benefited from her back east.
Aragorn too wants to break the cycle as well, but he considers himself as part of an ensemble. He never took up the quest to destroy the Ring as part of an attempt to reclaim the throne of Gondor, which some initially believed. It just happens anyway as a result of it. At the same time, he does consider himself as separate from average humans because of both his Numenorean heritage and his tutelage under the Elves. Elves don’t hate average humans, but that they dont trust them because of their weak will to Sauron’s influence. Aragorn, however, eventually begins to shift his thinking, seeing himself as one of the people rather than above the people, equally weak. It endears Aragorn to all around him and why becoming king wasn’t an issue when he finally accepted it.
Daenerys, whether due to madness or not, considers any means legitimate to regain her birthright, even after learning that her birthright is not really her birthright. This reveals that Daenerys’ attitude towards her claim isn't just about bloodline. She is destined to be the ruler by right of who she is. Daenerys believes herself to be above everyone else and this is something most nobles sense about her because they are the same way, but to a lesser degree of narcissism. The closer she gets to reclaiming the Iron Throne, the more corrupted and extreme her self-belief becomes.
Freed slaves and average people in Essos don’t pick this up because Daenerys does liberate them and they love her for it. In their eyes forever afterwards, the Dragon Queen can do no wrong: even massacre. This feeds Daenerys’ belief, and also why she’s so rattled when she didn't receive the same treatment in Westeros, though she was warned of this by her Westerosi advisers.
What should also be said though is the how differences in gender could affect Daenerys and Aragorn’s experiences. As a woman in the world of Game of Thrones, Daenerys has a much more uphill battle than Aragorn would have. She was forced into an arranged marriage and raped after all: traumas the Numenorean heir never experienced. And while both were initially not taken seriously, Daenerys had two strikes against her compared with Aragorn’s one. So being fair, her clinging to her birthright and belief that she is the messiah of Game of Thrones, as well as receiving the three dragons as super-weapons and children, would have been crucial for her own personal identity. This would help to explain why she begged Jon Snow never to reveal that he was the rightful Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne. All of her hellish experiences would have been for nothing and that can also drive a person mad.
Aragorn has had his own fair share of bad times, being marked for death his entire life and living in the wild and on the run, while defending northern Middle-earth. His race is also almost extinct, considered to be mere legends. Yet he was able to forge an identity for himself separate from his title and lineage. If he had never been made king and there was no War of the Ring, it wouldn’t have affected him one way or the other. He’s never had to be at the mercy of others. So a need for power was never created in him, whereas with Daenerys it was the opposite.
Ultimately, the difference between Daenerys and Aragorn is that while both are tempted by their upbringing to become corrupted by their inherited power, one falls headlong into it while the other resisted it.
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© 2019 Jamal Smith