Seen through someone else’s eyes

For anyone who isn’t totally obsessed with the Game of Thrones television series and books and differences between, I apologize in advance for two posts in a row about Westeros. I also assure you that there’s no huge spoilers involved, this is more about perception than the actual show. I think.

Hmm. Anyway, we all lie to ourselves. We’ve all got blind spots. Even the great saints spend years prying the scales from their eyes and trying to banish those last deceptions.

I’m no different than anyone else in this regard. I don’t perceive myself as the person I truly am– in my head, for example, I am a blonde. So what that my hair turned from blonde to brown at puberty; I grew up a blonde and I will eternally be a towhead with my hair turning green in the summer from the chlorine in the pool. Totally delusional, unless I decide to lop off my black dyed tresses and go for a radical bleach job. But, hey, it’s just one of my less serious quirks. I’ve got plenty that are worse!

I’m sure you have your own personal examples and doubtless you know someone whose little blind spots are more like beams in their eyes than motes. And we usually need help with the big flaws– it’s hard to see them without someone pointing them out, either gently in a spirit of love or in a manner less than loving. Usually the loving way is best– our denial mechanism is strong and we’re awfully good at ignoring things we don’t want to see.

There’s a very good example of this in Daenerys Targaryen, one of the big movers and shakers in the Song of Ice and Fire series. In the books, we never see Dany from the outside. Every single chapter that involves her is told through her point of view. The other characters in the books are much too tangled to be the sole set of eyes describing them. We see Queen Cersei’s madness and manipulations quite clearly through the eyes of those around her and their own feelings, opinions, and descriptions of her. Queen Daenerys, well, we only have her word for what happens.

In the books, this leads to casual readers just blithely reading through Dany’s impressions and taking her at her word. In a chapter told in a character’s own “voice”, this is a tempting thing to do. Agatha Christie used it to good effect in one of her most famous books. Blink and you miss the part where the narrator kills the victim. In the “Game of Thrones” universe, you can blink and miss the telltale self-deceptions.

Daenerys tells us things, repeatedly, because she is telling herself these lies. She seems to believe them, discounting evidence of their falsity and skimming over it in her representation of her world. It’s only when you go back and read through it again that you pick up on those discrepancies. They range from mote to beam sized, so to speak. A lot of them have to do with the way other people view her, her abilities as a ruler, and her heritage from her family. And since we never see her from another’s eyes, we have no way of knowing for sure if she’s lying. She could just choose not to tell herself these things, after all.

Don’t get me wrong, Dany is a huge favorite of many readers and lots of viewers of the television series. Her lies aren’t seemingly malicious ones. They are, as I’ve said, self-deceptions. For whatever reason, she lies to herself about herself. But, then, we all do it, don’t we? So we can maybe forgive her. . ..

In the television series, the character has actually been massively popular, even if people seem to have the impression that her name is Khaleesi instead. She’s been shown in a heroic manner, her travails have been noble, and her path towards victory has seemed assured. There were a couple of moments in the first four seasons where those around her seemed to indicate that things weren’t all well. They were minor things and mostly things only book readers would pick up– a minor spoiler of no import here– for example, Dany thinks that her command of the Dothraki language is perfect, because her husband told her it was. Later, however, her handmaiden/advisor quietly corrects her pronunciation of a word. It’s just a beat . . . but it’s a revelation that Dany’s self-deceptions are indeed deceptions and not the absolute truth.

And that’s the joy and strength of the television portrayal in a nutshell. We can actually see Daenerys through the eyes of other people. We can see the reactions of the other characters, the condemnation or approval in their expressions, hear the words that Dany herself never wants to hear, and see her in a much starker light than she has been portrayed in the novels.

The current season, Season 5, has been ramping this up a bit. Things are not all well in the state of Denmark, so to speak. Because we’re not forced to see it all through her eyes, there’s more of a sense of foreboding, more of a sense of doom at times. I suspect that some of the people who have been very pro-Daenerys will find this season to be frustrating, maybe boring or a letdown. The golden idol has feet of clay.

But I think that’s a good thing, and certainly what GRRM was trying to accomplish with his series. He set out to turn some of the stale fantasy tropes on their head. The wonderful hero with hardly any flaws was a very stale trope. Maybe people don’t want a hero who screws up, but we certainly need them. It’s one of the most vivid and relatable things about the saints of the Catholic Church– they’re not perfect. They try to be, sure, but they are wholly human and wholly fallible people. They are people who try to do the right thing, the just thing, the good thing.

It remains to be seen if Dany is a person like that . . . or if she will be, in the end, the Mad Queen. As the series goes on, we’ll find out . . . without having to see it through her sad little lies.


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