Spoiler warning: Please note this discusses the final episode of Game of Thrones.
Perhaps one of the most chilling pieces of dialogue in the series finale of Game of Thrones belongs to Daenerys as she speaks to Jon about creating a better world, now that the war is over. It’s inevitable that, with threats like the Night King conveniently destroyed and tyrants like Cersei Lannister unceremoniously killed, our protagonists start envisioning a better world. That’s just what you do when you have the power to change things for the better.
I feel very strongly about Daenerys’s sudden descent into madness, but her death scene does a better job at showing that madness than her sudden decision to burn King’s Landing to the ground. It shows her madness even better than her speech to the Dothraki and Unsullied about beginning yet another war. Daenerys suddenly believes that she knows morality better than anyone else.
“What about everyone else? All the other people who think they know what’s good?”
“They don’t get to choose.”
It’s madness because in earlier seasons, Daenerys did not believe she alone knew intrinsically what was “good.” She listened to those she should have considered “beneath” her: the Dothraki, initially, and then the slaves. And she learned from her mistakes. Yes, she freed the slaves from Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen. That was good. Then she believed it was right to crucify the Masters at Meereen, and despite arguments from her advisors, she did so anyway. That was not as good, and later, when it backfires, Daenerys listens to her councilors on how to best deal with the situation, who tell her to listen to the Masters, if only to placate them where possible. Now, she forgets the lesson she learned in Meereen, and is willing to metaphorically crucify those who wronged her, without caring if it is right or wrong, because to her, King’s Landing as a whole has wronged her, and it will burn.
However much of a travesty the last season was, the two scenes highlight distinct approaches when it comes to morality. There are those who believe they know what is right and what is wrong, and they will not be dissuaded. Unfortunately, these tend to be the loudest, as they’re not afraid to commit to their world-view. Then there are those who recognize that morality is hardly ever easy, even under the best circumstances, and they listen to other perspectives in order to form their own opinions. While they make up their minds on what’s right and wrong, however, the others have already made up their mind and act upon it.
In the video, Daenerys plays the role of the Moral Judge, while Jon hesitates. Yet even as the show vilifies Dany’s point of view, it does not applaud Jon for his hesitance. After all, when there are so many bad things in the world, so many “wheels” needing “broken,” sometimes you have to act. You have to trust your gut. In season 4, episode 7, Daenerys says to Sir Jorah:
Let the priests argue over good and evil! Slavery is real. I can end it. I will end it. And I will end those behind it…
The ones at a true disadvantage are the slaves of Slaver’s Bay, and Dany doesn’t do them any good by trying to weigh out, on the whole, if compromising with the Masters and preventing that bloodshed is better than killing them as a display of force so that the freed slaves don’t have to fear landing back in chains. Additionally, the Masters must not believe slavery is immoral; if they did, they would not have slaves. In Dany’s new world, then, her good world, is it right to completely discredit people like the Masters’ ideals on morality?
Following John Stuart Mill’s philosophy on censorship (chapter 2 of his book, On Liberty), we cannot silence people just because we think what they say is wrong. To do so is to deny people the opportunity to realize why it is wrong, and discover the truth for themselves. Morality is such a difficult issue because what is right in one situation may be wrong in another, and it is only by hearing as many perspectives as possible on morality do we have any hope of getting a better understanding of what truly constitutes as a good world.
Focusing on the needs of the people who are at the biggest disadvantage is the best way to start building that good world, like Daenerys did when she acted against the Masters in Slaver’s Bay. There are so many minority communities whose needs are not only not being met, they’re also being compounded by legislation and by people who can get away with breaking the law. Most of the time, those people are from the majority group who believes they know with utter certainty what is good and what is not. They are like Daenerys in her final scene, willing to silence any who disagrees with her view of morality.
That is the biggest danger. It is not people like Daenerys who wish to bring equality to those who have been kept down for too long. It is not people like Daenerys who has a strong ethical code that has been built by listening to those she would not have initially wanted to listen to. It is only those who share Daenerys’s final assumption that only they know what goodness is, no matter what everyone else thinks.
How can any one person know intrinsically what is best for everyone?
That belief sealed Daenerys’s fate. Unfortunately, our own world seems overrun by people who believe the same, or worse. The only way to combat them, too, is listen to as many perspectives as possible, and hope that our collective efforts can break the wheel as effectively as Daenerys had in Slaver’s Bay.