In a Mary Sue article, the writer laments the fact that two queens who wielded power then proceeded to fall into madness. Women succumbing to madness is a pretty common trope in film and literature. The word hysteria comes from the Greek word “hysterika”, which translates to uterus; essentially, women are inclined to madness because it comes from our own bodies.
We see it dated as early back as Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth urges her husband to kill so that he can be king. She takes matters into her own hands as well, taking the lives of others, and after which, is tortured by her actions. She cannot unsee the metaphorical blood on her hands, and we lose her as she is overcome by her madness.
In the reading of this, many see it as Lady Macbeth being weak, where she attempts to enter the masculine world of violence and dominance, yet cannot cut it. But you see, how is being tormented by acts of murder a sign of weakness? Rather, it shows the emergence of a moral sense, which could not reconcile such actions as justified.
We see madness as weakness, a loss of rationality and a refusal to acknowledge the concept of the status quo. To be mad is to deviate from societal rules and norms, and to not accept that these are areas you need to function in.
However, that is not the only way to look at it. Madness is also freeing. It frees you from the burden of structures as you let your true self roam free. Dany’s characterisation has been transgressive from the start. She sacrifices the life of her unborn child to save Drogo, and births dragons instead. This already establishes her alignment towards power, violence and aggression – dragons are far from peaceful creatures. However, she imprisons this self to pursue an acceptable sense of self with Jon.
She fights for him, her dragons fight for him, but she gets nothing in return. He gets the adoration and love of the people, she gets the madness label. She also gets nothing from Jon, who cannot look past the fact that they are related. She returns to King’s Landing to finish what she started, where she loses Missandei and one of her dragons. The madness then reclaims her and it comes pouring out in a flood of fire and blood. Even though the bells toll, she lays waste to everything and everyone. She destroys the image of the perfect queen she was trying to be, and accepts the reality of her mad state. From the burning and destruction, she emerges free and unrestrained — society is hers for the making and taking.
However, as we saw with Lady Macbeth and the mad women who came before and after her, a mad woman must be contained, destroyed or reprogrammed in some way – order must be reestablished. This is why we have Jon, the last male heir of the house of Targaryen, taking her life. She is viewed as an abomination, a woman with no mercy to give, and must be eliminated.
We see this narrative decision as a waste and one that ruins Dany’s character. I see it as the final tilt of a woman who spent years being oppressed by her brother, her body traded for an alliance – that same body defiled night after night. Let us not forget all the loss she experienced along the way.
If we can accept Harvey Dent’s switch from morally upright to moral decay after Rachel’s death, then why is Dany’s descent any different? Why do we wish for her a hero’s death or a tame domestic space as Jon’s wife while he sits on the Iron Throne? Her madness leaks and corrodes the labels and the boxes; she dies having defied expectation all the way. She is not the mere woman we wanted her to be: she is fire and destruction, a mad woman absolutely visible, no longer oppressed but free.