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Game of Thrones Episode 3 — When Excessive Pride Meets Unwise Understatement

Beware, spoilers below.

Last week I called out Daenerys’s classic military blunder — splitting a superior force and allowing its elements to be defeated piecemeal — and this week the chickens truly came home to roost. For those keeping score, since her triumphant landing at Dragonstone, Dany has lost her navy, Dorne has been neutralized, she’s lost the Reach (the wealthiest region in Westeros), and her prized infantry is rotting away in Casterly Rock with dwindling food supplies, separated from the main force by a continent and an ocean.

Oh, and her advisors pointed out the tiny flaw in her angry plan to mount her dragon, fly for weeks across the ocean until she found Euron’s fleet, and burn it to ashes. The dragons are largely impervious to arrows, but she is not. Take out the Mother of Dragons, and her beasts become little more than unstoppable, uncontrollable wild animals.

Did I also mention that Dany also completely botched her introduction to Jon Snow (though she repaired some damage later)? When a man’s been dead, seen the Army of the Dead, and fought and won his own share of battles, broadcasting to the audiobook version of Dany’s CV (“Stormborn,” “Breaker of Chains,” “Mother of Dragons,” blah blah blah) and then demanding that he kneel is hardly the best way to forge an alliance. 

As lots of folks have noticed, Daenerys is on a troubling story arc. Increasingly she has “mad queen” instincts that are only tempered after she receives more sober advice. She doesn’t want to be her father, plainly, but as she gains power she seems instinctively drawn to his total-destruction, “burn them all” world view. She has become high-handed and bloodthirsty by default. Tyrion can still talk her down, but for how long — especially since his own war plan has thus far failed so miserably?

Finally, one thing that I’ve always loved about Game of Thrones is how it always grounds characters in their own frame of reference. It doesn’t indulge the cheap fiction trick of granting heroes an almost supernatural level of insight. For the viewer — knowing what we know — an alliance of ice (Jon Snow) and fire (Daenerys) is the obvious best resolution for the characters and for Westeros. But the characters don’t know that. The characters are limited by their own history and their own knowledge, and for them an alliance is anything but obvious. The first meeting between Daenerys and Jon was crackling with tension for precisely that reason.

It was also beautifully played. Daenerys burns with ambition. Jon is the reluctant king. Both of their first instincts are often wrong. They indulged in their flaws, and the contrast between Daenerys’s unwise pride and Snow’s unwise and excessive humility — followed by their mutual realizations that they’d misplayed their hands — was truly something to see. There are folks lurking on Twitter who are hating this season. Those people are wrong. Each week it’s strong, and each week it’s getting better. I hate to wish time away, but is it next Sunday yet?

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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