Daenerys Targaryen was born to burn the Others with dragonfire, let it be known. By the end of the first book, we can see that it was, at the very least, her destiny to wake dragons from stone, and what are dragons good for? Burning the Others, I say – let’s not overthink this one. Using dragons to conquer other men is essentially the temptation Dany must avoid – it’s one thing to use the dragons to burn slave masters and free slaves, which I fully endorse, but it seems clear to me that using the dragons to reconquer the land of her ancestors by force is a trap and path to destruction.
But here’s the thing – Dany’s habit of using her dragons to free slaves and protect the weak is not only only one of her best qualities and a great reason why she could never become a butcher of innocent civilians, it’s also one of the key foreshadowings of her ultimate destiny, which is using her dragon power to help defeat the Others. The Others, as you may have noticed, hold the dead in eternal bondage… which you could certainly consider magical slavery. Indeed, the wights as called the “thralls” of the Others, with the implication being that some part of the dead person’s soul is trapped inside their enchanted corpse, unable to find eternal peace and perhaps even condemned to watch the horror being wrought with their own dead hands. It’s quite the abomination, a problem in search of a solution – and then along comes Daenerys Targaryen, with her dragons and her penchant for burning slave masters with dragonfire. It seems like a good match, an abolitionist dragonlord and ice demons who make the dead their slaves… and yea, i say unto thee, burning the Others and freeing the wights from icy servitude would make a most fitting climax to the strong abolitionist arc of Dany’s story. And when I took a look, I found that it’s in Dany’s most important scenes of freeing slaves and protecting the weak that we find the foreshadowing of Dany using the dragons to burn – or more likely melt – the Others. We’ll take a look at those scenes today, and you’ll see how nicely these two ideas have been woven together to foreshadow the true destiny of Daenerys Targaryen.
Let’s start with the basics. Does dragonfire melt Others? HBO says no, but that doesn’t make any sense, frankly. Their Night King was impervious to Drogon’s full furnace blast, but popped like a porcelain statue dropped from a third-story balcony the moment a small dragonglass dagger touched his icy skin… even though he already has an identical dragonglass knife lodged in his chest. So yeah, like I said, none of this shit really made sense, and without beating the dead horse any further, I’ll just say that we can’t let the things that happened on the show overly influence what we think about the books, especially where it concerns magical elements like the white walkers and the dragons, because the showrunners frankly didn’t have any appreciation or understanding of those things, by their own admission.
Returning to question of whether dragonfire might be a potent weapon against the Others, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion from Dany’s dream in ASOS, which she has aboard the ship named after Balerion the Black Dread, the dragon of Aegon the Conqueror:
That night she dreamt that she was Rhaegar, riding to the Trident. But she was mounted on a dragon, not a horse. When she saw the Usurper’s rebel host across the river they were armored all in ice, but she bathed them in dragonfire and they melted away like dew and turned the Trident into a torrent. Some small part of her knew that she was dreaming, but another part exulted. This is how it was meant to be. The other was a nightmare, and I have only now awakened.
Enemies armored in ice are obviously meant to represent the Others, and melting them with dragonfire is “how it was meant to be.” It’s likely this dream is partially or fully implanted by Quaithe, who appears in the cabin of Balerion via glass candle astral projection the moment Dany wakes from this dream. Quaithe is consistently encouraging Dany to embrace her dragon nature, so it makes sense that Quaithe is trying to plant in Dany’s mind the notion of using her dragons to melt “enemies armored in ice,” trying to ‘warm her up’ to the idea, if you will. She’s also constantly telling Dany “to go north, you must go south,” and why would Dany need to go north? To melt Others with her dragons, presumably. It seems unlikely Quaithe would just be wrong about dragonfire being effective against the white walkers, I mean that would be kind of stupid. What would even be the point of the dragons in that case? No, I think that what’s likely to be true is that if dragonglass slays white walkers, as we’ve seen it do in the hands of “Sam the Slayer,” and if the last hero’s ‘dragonsteel’ sword slew the Others as legends say it did, then the unbelievably hot fire of a full-grown dragon should definitely do the trick. I do think the Others will have weapons to hurt the dragons, be that weapons made of magical ice or those nasty cold winds, so I’m expecting a good fight, but if the dragons can’t melt Others, there wouldn’t be a fight at all and Dany might as well save herself a lot of trouble and fly her dragons to the Summer Isles and retire.
Returning to Dany’s dream of fighting the Battle of the Trident on dragonback, it’s easy to see how the archetypal struggle against the Others would be grafted on to Rhaegar’s fateful battle with the dreaded “Usurper” at the Trident in Dany’s mind. She compares herself to Rhaegar often, especially in key moments, such as her climatic “wake the dragon” dream in AGOT:
And saw her brother Rhaegar, mounted on a stallion as black as his armor. Fire glimmered red through the narrow eye slit of his helm. “The last dragon,” Ser Jorah’s voice whispered faintly. “The last, the last.” Dany lifted his polished black visor. The face within was her own.
After that, for a long time, there was only the pain, the fire within her, and the whisperings of stars.
The whisperings of stars, aye? Hi Quaithe! In any case, we can see that Dany’s transformation into the “last dragon” is conceptualized as her becoming Rhaegar, as stepping into his fiery shoes and armor, so to speak. In another vision from this “wake the dragon dream,” Dany even sprouts dragon wings and flies herself, so she’s “becoming the dragon” in every sense here. Then two books later, after having hatched the dragons, she’s dreaming of fighting Rhaegar’s famous battle, but as a dragonlord confronting enemies armored in ice. The message being sent is clear: Dany was born to wake dragons and to become the dragon specifically so she can do battle with the Others. That will be here Battle of the trident, her defining and penultimate battle.
Dany dreaming of bathing the Others in dragonfire is certainly sweet, but what’s really insightful is that she has this Rhaegar / Trident dragon dream the night before she frees the Unsullied and burns the so-called ‘Wise Masters’ of Astapor. Here are the lines leading up to the Rhaegar dream:
“I was alone for a long time, Jorah. All alone but for my brother. I was such a small scared thing. Viserys should have protected me, but instead he hurt me and scared me worse. He shouldn’t have done that. He wasn’t just my brother, he was my king. Why do the gods make kings and queens, if not to protect the ones who can’t protect themselves?”
“Some kings make themselves. Robert did.”
“He was no true king,” Dany said scornfully. “He did no justice. Justice … that’s what kings are for.” Ser Jorah had no answer. He only smiled, and touched her hair, so lightly. It was enough.
Dany is reflecting upon one of the central questions of ASOIAF, which is ‘how to do justice as a leader,’ and arrives at the answer that she must protect the weak. This is the thinking which underlies her decision to turn the Unsullied against the slave masters; it’s not enough for her to buy the Unsullied and treat them better, she decides she must end the practice entirely and deliver a death sentence to the masters, so that no young boys are ever again made to strangle puppies or kill infants in front of their mothers. I think it will be the same when she faces the Others; Dany will be going for the jugular and trying to make sure no one is ever again turned into a wight, that no women like Gilly have their sons taken from them by men like Craster and given to the Others.
So after talking of justice and defending the weak, Queen Daenerys dreams of fighting the Others on dragonback as Rhaegar, and the next day when she burns the slave masters, she once again sees herself as Rhaegar:
Dany mounted her silver. She could feel her heart thumping in her chest. She felt desperately afraid. Was this what my brother would have done? She wondered if Prince Rhaegar had been this anxious when he saw the Usurper’s host formed up across the Trident with all their banners floating on the wind.
On the way to meet the masters, Dany also thinks about having a Targaryen banner sewn, “a banner such as Rhaegar might have borne.” Then, after taking command of the Unsullied and turning to face the slave masters, she thinks “it is time to cross the Trident.” All of these quotes invite the reader to draw a comparison between Dany’s burning of the slave masters and Rhaegar’s battle of the Trident, just as Daenerys herself is doing… and more specifically, we’re being encouraged to think about Dany burning the ice armored foes in her Trident dream when she burns the Masters and frees the Unsullied.
It’s certainly easy to see the Unsullied as stand-ins for wights. Dany flat out thinks of them as “eight thousand brick eunuchs with dead eyes that never move,” which makes the Unsullied sound very wight-like. Going further, we can observe that they’ve had their names taken from them and their personality suppressed to the point of being almost erased, very like a person’s soul being trapped inside their own corpse but unable to have any agency. The Unsullied are presented as robotically obedient, with slave master Kraznys mo Nakloz saying “tell her that these have been standing here for a day and a night, with no food nor water. Tell her that they will stand until they drop if I should command it,” which is exactly what the how the wights behave, remaining completely motionless until their masters command. Kraznys goes on to call them “absolutely obedient, absolutely loyal, and utterly without fear” and says that “death means nothing to them, and maiming less than nothing.” Those descriptions could once again apply equally well to the ice wights, as you can can see.
Finally, we can never forget that the Unsullied are of course victims of unbelievable atrocity, and the same is true of the dead people turned into wights. Once again I will point out that Dany frees the Unsullied and gives them a choice to go their own way. The Unsullied also reclaim names and self-identity, which are important thematic nods to the idea of freeing the wights from bondage so that their souls can find peace.
As for the Wise Masters of Astapor, well, they aren’t armored in ice, but they do sweat profusely all through the scenes their in, so I suppose we should think about melting white walkers. I mean they are encrusted in jewelry, so we can say that they “came through drippin’ (drip drip),” but that’s neither here nor there. More importantly, we have the chilling fact that slave masters steal children to make into soldiers, just as the Others do. And finally, there’s the matter of what they were trying to get from Dany – her dragon.
And get her dragon they did:
The black dragon spread his wings and roared.
A lance of swirling dark flame took Kraznys full in the face. His eyes melted and ran down his cheeks, and the oil in his hair and beard burst so fiercely into fire that for an instant the slaver wore a burning crown twice as tall as his head. The sudden stench of charred meat overwhelmed even his perfume, and his wail seemed to drown all other sound.
You’ll note that the slaver’s eyes melt here, just as Dany melted her icy foes in her dream the night before. As for that tall fiery crown, well that’s a clear symbol of Azor Ahai, which might seem weird unless you’ve seen my videos about how Azor Ahai became the first Night’s King and created the Others with Night’s Queen. This is similar to the way the “eyes like cold blue stars” and “burning ice” language used to describe the Others gives a clue about their having been created from the seed of a fiery dragonlord, but let’s stay on topic and move on to our next group of symbolic Others trying to harass Dany and steal her fire.
Our next scene of foreshadowing brings us to the Undying Ones of Qarth, and they’re pretty easy to identify as symbolic Others. When Dany enters their inner sanctum, she addresses them as “those who have conquered death,” as their Undying monicker implies, and certainly the same is true of the Others. They’re even presented as living shadows, like the Others:
A long stone table filled this room. Above it floated a human heart, swollen and blue with corruption, yet still alive. It beat, a deep ponderous throb of sound, and each pulse sent out a wash of indigo light. The figures around the table were no more than blue shadows.
The Others are white shadows or pale shadows with blue eyes and blue swords, while the Undying are blue shadows with, well, blue everything, including their eyes. These blue shadows are gathered around a corrupt blue heart, which I think makes for a terrific symbol of the Heart of Winter. The Heart of Winter seems to serve as a focal point for the threat of the Others in Bran’s coma dream vision from AGOT, so it makes sense to see the Other-like, blue shadow Undying gathered around it.
Most tellingly, these blue shadows are in fact cold, and this line comes as her Shade of the Evening visions dissolve into a physical attack by the Undying:
But then black wings buffeted her round the head, and a scream of fury cut the indigo air, and suddenly the visions were gone, ripped away, and Dany’s gasp turned to horror. The Undying were all around her, blue and cold, whispering as they reached for her, pulling, stroking, tugging at her clothes, touching her with their dry cold hands, twining their fingers through her hair.
This all seems like pretty clear symbolism – these blue and cold undying shadows are attacking Dany and trying to steal “her fire, her life.” Fortunately Drogon is nearby once again, and he knows just what to do:
Then indigo turned to orange, and whispers turned to screams. Her heart was pounding, racing, the hands and mouths were gone, heat washed over her skin, and Dany blinked at a sudden glare. Perched above her, the dragon spread his wings and tore at the terrible dark heart, ripping the rotten flesh to ribbons, and when his head snapped forward, fire flew from his open jaws, bright and hot. She could hear the shrieks of the Undying as they burned, their high thin papery voices crying out in tongues long dead. Their flesh was crumbling parchment, their bones dry wood soaked in tallow. They danced as the flames consumed them; they staggered and writhed and spun and raised blazing hands on high, their fingers bright as torches.
It sure is fun to read this as Drogon whooping ass on the Others at the Heart of Winter, and I think we can. The Undying Ones don’t melt like Kraznys the slaver, but the description of them burning like crumbling parchment, dry wood, or candle wax or tallow, as well as staggering and dancing around while on fire, matches the description of wights catching on fire. Consider Jon’s memory of the wight he and Ghost fought in Lord Commander Mormont’s chambers in AGOT:
Truly, the gods had heard Jon’s prayer that night; the fire had caught in the dead man’s clothing and consumed him as if his flesh were candle wax and his bones old dry wood. Jon had only to close his eyes to see the thing staggering across the solar, crashing against the furniture and flailing at the flames. It was the face that haunted him most; surrounded by a nimbus of fire, hair blazing like straw, the dead flesh melting away and sloughing off its skull to reveal the gleam of bone beneath.
Bones like old dry wood, candle wax or tallow, straw this time instead of parchment, staggering and flailing and writhing, hair blazing and hands raised. When Bran sees a wight burn in ADWD, the dancing descriptor is brought in, and there are scenes with fiery dancers that link to this idea which we don’t have time for today (but check out the Weirwood Compendium for the scoop on that). The point for now is that the burning of the Undying is meant to evoke both the idea of melting the Others and freeing the wights from bondage, because burning the Others will have the effect of freeing the wights.
Additionally, it seems like burning the wights is also a way of freeing them from bondage – that’s why they’re dancing and raising their hands! Seriously though, have a look at this scene from ASOS featuring Samwell Tarly – Sam the Slayer! – setting fire to a wighted Small Paul, his former brother of the Night’s Watch:
Sam sucked in air, and rolled feebly away. The wight was burning, hoarfrost dripping from his beard as the flesh beneath blackened. Sam heard the raven shriek, but Paul himself made no sound. When his mouth opened, only flames came out. And his eyes . . . It’s gone, the blue glow is gone.
This is especially meaningful because Small Paul was the only one who helped Sam when he was ready to give in a death by frostbite after the Fist of the First Men, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking for Sam to see him wighted – he attempts to plead with the wighted Paul for Mercy when he first appears, saying “Small Paul. Do you know me? I’m Sam, fat Sam, Sam the Scared, you saved me in the woods. You carried me when I couldn’t walk another step. No one else could have done that, but you did.” The emotional beat is important here, because it’s showing us the human tragedy of the cold wighting phenomena, thus emphasizing the need for a fiery abolitionist like Daenerys Targaryen (and maybe Jon too, of course).
As for the idea of burning the wights to save their souls, this is also suggested by the religious beliefs of the R’hllorists, twisted as they are:
“R’hllor,” Ser Godry sang, “we give you now four evil men. With glad hearts and true, we give them to your cleansing fires, that the darkness in their souls might be burned away. Let their vile flesh be seared and blackened, that their spirits might rise free and pure to ascend into the light. Accept their blood, Oh lord, and melt the icy chains that bind your servants.”
Really interesting wording here: fire is offered as a cleansing agent, purifying the flesh and releasing the soul, and this also involves melting icy chains that bind servants. Ser Godry is referring to the winter snows as icy chains that are bogging down Stannis’s army, but the potential double-meaning makes a lot of sense when we think about the wights as the ones who need purification by fire, because they are enslaved by icy chains, so to speak.
Daenerys herself already understands magical fire to have the power to purify, because she’s undergone just such a process! This is her second “dragon dream” from AGOT:
There was only her and the dragon. Its scales were black as night, wet and slick with blood. Her blood, Dany sensed. Its eyes were pools of molten magma, and when it opened its mouth, the flame came roaring out in a hot jet. She could hear it singing to her. She opened her arms to the fire, embraced it, let it swallow her whole, let it cleanse her and temper her and scour her clean. She could feel her flesh sear and blacken and slough away, could feel her blood boil and turn to steam, and yet there was no pain. She felt strong and new and fierce.
Not only does dragonfire seem to cleanse and renew Daenerys in this dream, she actually does wake the next morning with renewed strength and spirit. This language is also echoed when Daenerys walks into the pyre to fulfill the prophecy of Azor Ahai’s rebirth and wake the dragons from their stone eggs, and I can’t help but wonder if these experiences with cleansing dragonfire might clue her in to the idea of freeing the wights from magical bondage with fire. At the very least, the reader is being presented early on with the general idea that dragonfire can purify, and even if Dany’s dragon dream is primarily poetic language, it’s only a book and a half later that we see Sam actually drive “the blue glow” from a wight’s eyes with fire.
Returning to that shady house of wine-drinking warlocks, there’s one other important way that Dany burning the Undying foreshadows her freeing the wights. Check out Dany’s very last Shade of the Evening vision before waking to the Undying’s attack:
Ten thousand slaves lifted bloodstained hands as she raced by on her silver, riding like the wind. “Mother!” they cried. “Mother, mother!” They were reaching for her, touching her, tugging at her cloak, the hem of her skirt, her foot, her leg, her breast. They wanted her, needed her, the fire, the life, and Dany gasped and opened her arms to give herself to them …
This is a prophetic glimpse of her freeing the slaves in Slaver’s Bay and being recognized as Mhysa, the mother, but notice the specific language about the “ten thousand bloodstained hands” of the slaves. The wights, famously, have hands which turn black with congealed blood, which runs into the extremities upon death, thus sayeth the living wight known as Coldhands. Ergo, the slaves with bloody hands sound a lot like the wights, calling out to Dany for freedom. They need her fire to be free, and perhaps Dany’s life – and I fully expect Dany’s story to end with heroic self-sacrifice, by the way. And as you can see, Dany is fully prepared to give herself up to save those who cry out to her. That’s true in this scene and in countless other scenes which I outlined in my “True Character of Daenerys Targaryen”series.
Setting aside her death foreshadowing for now, Dany’s fire will indeed set the wights free, and immediately upon being woken from the vision by Drogon, Drogon proceeds to burn the Undying and their rotten blue heart to ashes. That’s very like the sequence of events in Astapor; once again we have the idea of melting the Others with dragonfire combined with the idea of freeing slaves who are described like wights. That’s what I call grade A foreshadowing, and it all points to the very sensible idea that Daenerys was given three dragons so that she can fight the Others.
One bonus round clue about the Undying as stand-ins for the Others: when Pyatt Pree first greets Dany, he promises to petition the Undying Ones for an audience, which he refers to as “A honor rare as summer snows.” Meeting the Undying is like getting snow in the summer – this really makes Dany’s confrontation with the Undying seem even more like her giving battle to the Others during the Long Night. It also reminds me of this famous exchange between Ned and Robert where the Others are invoked:
“Late summer snows are common enough,” Ned said. “I hope they did not trouble you. They are usually mild.”
“The Others take your mild snows,” Robert swore. “What will this place be like in winter? I shudder to think.”
The Others don’t take Summer Snows, they give them. Hopefully we have some dragonlords around by that time! I think the chances are good.
The final thing I’d like to show you is the where of Dany’s impending confrontation with the Others. Her Trident / Rhaegar dream has her fighting the Others at the Trident, but I suspect that is simply because Rhaegar fought at the Trident. If the blue heart in the House of the Undying Ones is meant to represent the Heart of Winter, that could indicate Dany journeying north – very far north. Of course the “Heart of Winter” could merely be representing “the power of the Others” here as opposed to suggesting Dany has to go to the North pole, so it’s still not clear.
But then we have this scene from A Dance with Dragons, and this is from Dany’s final chapter of that book where she wanders the Dothraki Sea after riding Drogon out of Daznak’s Pit in Meereen. She lies down to sleep by a low stone wall and has a Quaithe dream – Dany finds herself flying amongst the stars with all her cares and burdens falling away, and through a mask made of starlight, Quaithe is once more telling her that “to go north, you must journey south,” and then “remember who you are Daenerys… the dragons know, do you?” It seems that once again again Quaithe is trying to link the idea of going north to embracing the power of her dragons, and when she wakes up, we see that idea acted out in miniature:
The next morning she woke stiff and sore and aching, with ants crawling on her arms and legs and face. When she realized what they were, she kicked aside the stalks of dry brown grass that had served as her bed and blanket and struggled to her feet. She had bites all over her, little red bumps, itchy and inflamed. Where did all the ants come from? Dany brushed them from her arms and legs and belly. She ran a hand across her stubbly scalp where her hair had burned away, and felt more ants on her head, and one crawling down the back of her neck. She knocked them off and crushed them under her bare feet. There were so many …
It turned out that their anthill was on the other side of her wall. She wondered how the ants had managed to climb over it and find her. To them these tumbledown stones must loom as huge as the Wall of Westeros.
Alright, so an army comes over a wall that is like the Wall of Westeros and attacks Dany, which prompts her to cross over the Wall to their side to find their source, their home. I think this is exactly what will happen in Westeros proper; the Others will invade Westeros, but Dany and probably Jon will have to journey north – perhaps to the heart of Winter itself – to do something of critical importance to defeating or neutralizing the Others. It’s definitely promising how Dany has no problem brushing off the ants and crushing them underfoot, just as she had no problem roasting the Undying once they presented a danger to her.
Now if the ants are the Others, they Dany is like some sort of giant mech-warrior here, which is of course a little silly – I mean it would be fun to see her go supersized like Dr. Manhattan, but that’s not going to happen. I’m pretty sure we are supposed to see Dany crushing the ants as Dany fighting the Others from dragonback, because earlier in the chapter, she remembers flying on Drogon’s back and seeing horses far below, but they look like ants to her. Ergo, when Dany’s looking down at these ant enemies pouring over the “Wall,” we should no doubt imagine her on dragonback looking down at the Others and wights somewhere near the Wall, or beyond it.
There’s another line from this chapter that points the same direction – north.
North they flew, beyond the river, Drogon gliding on torn and tattered wings through clouds that whipped by like the banners of some ghostly army.
So Dany is on her dragon and going north, and look, it’s the banners of some ghost army – I wonder who that could be. Taken together with the scene with the ants at the “Wall,” it seems this chapter is showing us quite a bit of what the “to go north” part of Quaithe’s mysterious instructions is all about – bringing fire and blood to the Others.
So there you have it my friends. Dany’s journey to the Heart of Winter to deal with the threat of the Others for once and all will be the ultimate realization of her “burn the masters and free the slaves” ethos. It’s likely that this monumental task will require her dragons, her fire, and her very life – but she’ll be both saving the world and freeing tens of thousands of souls from magical bondage. We’ve seen that Dany is always willing to commit everything she has to protecting and saving her people, always ready to lay her own life on the line for what she believes in, so I can think of no more heroic and honorable conclusion to her story than this. Think about it – by using the dragons she was given to melt the Others, she will be protecting every living AND dead soul in Westeros. It’s the perfect harmonization of her “mhysa” and “dragon” identities… and quite frankly, melting the ice demons really is the only thing to do with huge fire breathing dragons.