Checking in on Daenerys Targaryen

Is she really ready to rule Westeros?

SPOILER WARNING!

spoilers 1

As per usual there will be spoilers in the following post for the events of the Game of Thrones TV series up to and including Season 7 Episode 4 – Spoils of War.

Wherever you look on the internet you can find people singing the Dragon Queen’s praises. She’s attractive, determined, fiery (in more ways than one), an idealist, and most everyone in-universe thinks she has the best claim to the Iron Throne. Dany has done a lot of growing throughout the series – she starts off as a meek girl who perceives herself to be sold into slavery to a cruel barbarian in order to purchase his help in securing the Iron Throne for her brother. Since then we’ve seen her gradually progress from this inauspicious beginning to leader of her dead husband’s Khalasar to a commander of vast armies to an empress over several city states.

While she has grown, her time in Mereen showed her to be naive and immature in many ways. Eventually she made her decisions stick and became a stronger person and ruler for her time there. Now that she has decided to return to Westeros and claim what is rightly hers she is ready to be the hero everyone has always known she would become.

Or is she?

She is obsessed with her own rights

The first time we see Daenerys Targaryen in this episode she follows Jon Snow into the cavern of dragonglass. While there, he shows her proof that the white walkers are real in the form of cave drawings that depict the first men and the children of the forest doing battle with the deadly enemy Jon has been trying to warn everyone about. How much “proof” this is is up for debate, but you can see in Dany’s eyes and manner that she believes Jon now. She promises to provide him aid – if he will bend the knee. She believes there is a threat coming that could wipe everyone out and she’s still focused on people giving her what’s she feels she deserves. Dany continually goes on about the indignities she’s endured and her own accomplishments while continually dismissing those of Jon.

This continues the theme from the week before when she allowed Missandei to detail her entire laundry list of titles and accomplishments in an attempt to browbeat Jon Snow into easy submission. She was then dismissive of Ser Davos Seaworth’s attempts to explain that Jon’s people love him very nearly as much as Dany’s love her, and for similar reasons. She also refuses to believe Jon’s wild tales of white walkers because everyone knows they are a fairy tale despite arriving in Westeros with three dragons even though everyone knows that dragons are extinct.

She is quick to turn on her allies

Her first example of turning on allies was when she first found out that Jorah Mormont was originally retained to spy on and potentially assassinate her, several seasons ago. The fact that he never actually did her any harm but repeatedly saved her life and offered her good counsel is only sufficient to see that he is not immediately executed but banished instead. She, as many children do once they finish their temper tantrum, later regrets this decision.

Earlier this season following a strategy meeting with all of her allies and advisors she suddenly and inexplicably turned on Varys and began interrogating him about his role in hiring assassins to kill her when she was just a girl. He gives a very inspirational speech about serving the people rather than blindly following any king or queen. She seems, at first, touched by it. She asks him to promise to confront her first if he ever believes she’s acting against the best interests of the people. Then she promises to burn him alive if he ever turns on her. Considering how she’s behaved in the past Varys would do well to believe her; and probably to turn on her without warning to protect himself should he see the time come.

Finally. in Spoils of War a few minutes after she and Jon exit the cave of dragonglass she’s greeted with some bad news. She immediately flies into a rage. She lashes out at her closest advisor, childishly insinuating that Tyrion Lannister is actually a traitor. This is childish because only children make accusations they know full well aren’t true. If she truly believed he was a traitor she would have him removed or executed. She certainly wouldn’t make her next plans in his presence, much less while still allowing him input – however quickly she dismisses it.

She makes ill-informed, snap decisions

At the start of the show Danaerys was a 14-year-old girl, so it was to be expected that she was perhaps a bit naive. In the first season she blindly trusted a woman she barely knew and paid the price in the blood of an ally who died when he tried to stop her, her son who was sacrificed for dark magic, and ultimately her husband who was not saved as Dany had hoped. That it works out to allowing her to gain leadership of the Khallasar and everything that came after has more to do with accidents of fate than it does her strong decision making ability.

She’s now several years older but it is this kind of willingness to trust people who act friendly without considering their motivations that may have caused her to finally listen to Olenna Tyrell’s advice from earlier this season, “You’re a dragon. Be a dragon!” One could argue that when Dany attacks the Lannister army she’s following that advice but if so she would have done better to consider the source. Yes, Olenna has shown herself to be a master Westerosi politician, but by this point her entire family has been killed. She has nothing left to live for except vengeance. It would serve her purposes just fine for the entire realm to be destroyed so long as Cersei also paid the ultimate price. Her advice should be tainted by that recognition.

Dany’s entire rule of the city states in Essos was marked by hasty decision making with little to no forethought followed by immediate disbelief whenever she discovered her hasty plans had failed. The first two cities she “freed” were very nearly immediately recaptured by slavers and a former slave who decides to set himself up as a despotic king. Even in Meereen it turned out that she failed to adequately plan for the repercussions of freeing all of the slaves. She thought far enough to provide them with roofs and food but not to provide them with any sort of purpose or sense of order. Without any sort of guidance the former slaves often turned to violence or hopelessness; some even begged her to allow them to sell themselves back to their owners.

While in Meereen she continually made decisions without considering the ramifications. One example was when she refused to open the fighting pits – a decision she was eventually convinced to backtrack on. Had she allowed herself to accept advice beforehand she might have made a stronger ruling, whether she ultimately decided to allow them to re-open or not. She was also known for dishing out executions without trials to entire groups of people who may or may not have been innocent of the crimes of their fellows. Ser Barristan Selmy at least temporarily coaxed her off of this dark path but since his death it is unclear if she will be willing to listen to others with the same counsel.

For example, in Spoils of War after literally every person she asks – minus Olenna’s advice from earlier – tells her both that she must be restrained in her campaign and that it is foolish for her to personally lead the fights she attack the Lannister army from dragonback anyway. This is honestly the beginning of a sound strategic decision if she actually had knowledge of their disposition – the army was spread out and in a bad defensive position after a long, undisciplined march from The Reach back toward King’s Landing. Considering she apparently has no scouts in her entire force – otherwise the disasters she’s suffered this far could have been avoided or mitigated – it seems just as likely her force accidentally stumbled upon the Lannisters as that it did so intentionally. In any case, while the battle started out as a sound tactical assault, she appears to be doing it as much to get revenge on the Lannister force as for any strategic benefit. Long after her overwhelming forces have destroyed any hope of resistance by her enemy she allows the Dothraki to slaughter men who could have been taken prisoner and strafes the grain supplies with dragon fire.

If she was really there to do battle strictly for the benefit of her side in the war she probably wouldn’t have brought the dragon that required her to put herself in danger. Generals do not belong on the front lines where they can more easily die and cause breaks in the chain of command and the Dothraki appeared to be more than sufficient to destroy her enemy given their apparent greater experiences, numbers, and the fact that cavalry is stronger than infantry. If one is willing to accept the danger to leadership then it might make sense to deploy the dragon as it would protect allied lives in the fight. However, it would have been sufficient for her to strafe the opponent a handful of times, disrupting their lines, and retreat to safety. There was no tactical advantage to destroying the grain stores; it would have been far wiser to capture them for use by her own forces as well as potentially in a war in the north should convince King Snow to capitulate to her demands. Heck, she could even have just given it back to the people of The Reach to gain some goodwill, there. Sure it made pretty explosions but that is the action of someone who wants to cause pain and suffering, not someone who wants to rule wisely or benevolently.

Daenerys Targaryen has shown at times a willingness to fight for the rights of people who are too weak to fight for themselves. When she listens to her advisors she often makes wise decisions, even when she ultimately goes against their advice. But she’s also shown herself to be rash, self-absorbed, and exceptionally vindictive. There is an opportunity for her to be a good queen or even a great one – no one can deny the potential of her high ideals – but as long as she childishly refuses to learn self-restraint and commands without thinking through the consequences there will always be the danger that she could become the next Mad Queen, instead.

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 1: Dragonstone

Jon and Sansa were both right

You can find excellent recaps all over the internet of just about any show, so I want to try to do a little something different with my TV show analysis. I just want to pick out a moment that struck me and try to dig into it a little bit deeper than you might see in a recap or reaction video which has to cover an entire episode. Sometimes there might be more than one thing, sometimes maybe I’ll even do a regular recap, but for now I want to focus on a single scene from the first episode of Game of Thrones, this season.

spoilers 1

SPOILER ALERT: I will definitely be spoiling large chunks of this episode along with several moments from previous seasons. Continue reading at your own risk!

It’s been a few weeks since this episode aired so let me refresh your memory as to what exactly happens, here. Towards the beginning of the episode Jon holds court in the main hall of Winterfell. Jon starts out by immediately overturning tradition and announcing that not only does everyone need to prepare their fighting forces – again – but that women will have a place in the northern army as well. Since Lyanna Mormont backs him up everybody falls into line. Jon might wear the figurative crown, but she’s the real power. Jon then asks Tormund Giantsbane to take the WIldlings back to the wall and reinforce the Night’s Watch there.

And then we get to the part that matters, today. Jon mentions that Last Hearth and Karhold are likely the first castles in the path of the white walker invasion. Before he can continue to his point, one of the assembled lords (Lord Yohn “Bronze Yohn” Royce, vassal to House Arryn and currently following Petyr “Little Finger” Baelish, if it matters to you) stands up and declares the castles should be torn down since the Umbers and Karstarks, the respective families who claim those castles as homes, betrayed the Starks. Sansa immediately and sensibly points out that the castles did no harm to anyone.

She continues a bit viciously to suggest that instead of destroying them they should be given to families that supported the Starks against the Boltons, because those castles are going to be very important in the coming war. Jon replies that the Umbers and Karstarks have held faith for centuries and argues that the entire houses should not be punished for the sins of a few reckless idiots. They go back and forth for a bit but Jon holds firm and since he’s the King in the North and well regarded as a giver of speeches he gets his way and everyone ultimately approves.

Why Jon is right

First of all, if I had been writing Jon’s lines he would have said something along the lines of, “Just as the castles did nothing wrong, neither did the children of Small John Umber and Harald Karstark. If we aren’t going to punish the castles we shouldn’t punish them, either.”  But maybe there’s a reason I’m writing here instead of for Game of Thrones. In any case, his argument is a good one, especially by a modern sensibility.

Ned Umber and Alys Karstark had no say at all in the decisions of the men who chose to follow Ramsay instead of Jon or Sansa. Given their apparent age and gender, respectively, it’s unlikely they were even given any orders to directly support that choice, either. It makes little sense to punish them for crimes committed by others that they just happen to share blood with. Especially when the North will need as many people to defend those oh-so-important castles as it can find given the nature of the threat and the attrition of their population due to the recent, bloody wars.

Why Sansa is right

If Jon is right, how can Sansa be right? The answer is that while her conclusion was incorrect, it was important to consider such a possibility and the repercussions of the choice. A good ruler will consider many possibilities before making a decision so as to choose best possible course of action. It’s important to note that when she first suggests rewarding the castles to their loyal followers the majority of their audience agrees with her suggestion. This is how things have always been done. This is why you don’t betray your bannerlord; because if you fail your entire family will be stripped of their titles, homes, and possibly their lives. It is necessary to remember how things were done and why if you’re going to start changing them so that you can address the possible concerns of the people following those commands.

In this way, the argument with Sansa ultimately proves to be a boon for Jon. No one else would have stood up to him to question the decision but they all would have questioned it behind his back. Now that he has so publicly and eloquently defended his choice their concerns should be assuaged and it should eliminate a potential avenue of unrest among his people. This is an important consideration because he’s already overturning dozens of centuries-old traditions and asking people to fight what they’ve always believed to be a fairy tale. Remember, only Jon and the wildlings among the people at this meeting have seen the enemy. Everyone else only has Jon’s word to go on. It’s important that they continue to respect his decision making abilities.

Why Sansa is wrong

Sansa is wrong for a lot of the same reasons that Jon is right. She’s focused on punishing people and the past while Jon is focused on the future and the coming war. Her attitude is far from a rare one in Westeros; the assembled northerners did cheer her suggestion when she first made it, but they all must adapt to their current circumstances. Doing things the way they’ve always been done will not allow them to survive the battle with the white walkers.

She’s also wrong because after she makes her suggestion and Jon shoots it down she greatly undercuts his authority and could have caused a terrible rift among their allies with a single statement,

“So there’s no punishment for treason and no reward for loyalty.”

That really stops everyone in their tracks. Instead of being able to continue with the meeting and prepare to face their enemies Jon has to stop and defend his argument to the person who should publicly be his most vocal supporter. Additionally, she refuses to drop the argument for far longer than seems prudent. Fortunately Jon is able to defend his point confidently and ably, but had he been even a tiny bit less sure of himself it could have gone very poorly.

Why Jon is wrong

In a later scene Sansa points out that her father, Ned Stark, and brother, Robb Stark, both died because they were noble men who made stupid decisions. She doesn’t want to see Jon repeat that. Much like Sansa was wrong in the ways that Jon was right, he is also wrong in the ways that she is right. He’s not fully thinking through all the possible consequences of his actions.

After all, do you remember why Harald Karstark sided with the Boltons in the first place? Because Robb Stark had Harald’s father, Rickard Karstark, executed for disobeying orders. Robb had situation where a man betrayed him and then that man died; his son came back to seek vengeance. Jon has a situation where a man betrayed him and then that man died. That man’s son still lives. It seems unlikely to Jon even stopped to consider that his mercy might leave his back exposed to another betrayal. Again, in this way, Sansa’s argument actually helped him out. When Jon asks Ned and Alys to re-pledge their loyalty to him they do so knowing that he actively worked to save their lives. They’re now aware just how much they owe Jon which should preclude a future betrayal from them.

Jon is further wrong because from the moment they were reunited he has refused to acknowledge Sansa as a valuable resource to his rule. Also in the scene where Sansa warns Jon not to be like his “father” or “brother” Jon was quick to point out that Sansa was undercutting his authority with her incessant arguing, and he wasn’t wrong about that. However, she points out that he has not exactly been listening to her advice when she’s tried to offer it in other forums. She offered him some very good advice before the Battle of the Bastards in warning him that Ramsay would try to do something to get him to act stupid. Ramsay did and Jon fell right into the trap – admittedly with the help of a little Stark boy who had the misfortune to live and die before the zig-zag was invented. Had Sansa not stepped in to get help from Little Finger and the forces in The Vale, Jon and all of his allies would have been destroyed. There would have been no one left to rally the troops to face the oncoming invasion.

Had Jon consulted with Sansa before the meeting with the other lords and ladies – and you know he didn’t because the shocked look on her face throughout the meeting proves that she had no idea any of this was coming – they could have already had that argument out in private. She could have properly advised him and he could have prepared himself to properly explain when he issued the decree, reducing the chances it would have been turned against him. Sansa could also have been an ally in any following discussion instead of an antagonist which would have strengthened both of their positions. Instead he chose to disregard her again. In this way he is as much to blame for the near disaster her arguments became as she was.

Ultimately Sansa and Jon are opposites of each other in this scene in multiple ways. Not only are they opposed in this argument but one is focused on the past and one focuses on the future. One uses sound methodology to reach the wrong conclusion while the other uses poor methodology to reach the correct conclusion. One of them ultimately listens and accedes while the other ultimately continues to avoid sound advice and acts stubbornly.

So how about it? What did you think of this episode? Which scene stood out most to you? It was pretty good for a season premiere, I thought. With the benefit of hindsight – having written this after watching the third episode of the season – it is now apparent that the idea of children not being responsible for the actions of their fore-bearers definitely comes up for Jon again, which is also pretty interesting.

Final Fantasy XV’s “Story” DLC Problem

Final Fantasy XV’s DLC is significantly worse than the main game.

SPOILER WARNING – I will be going into detail about a few of the story beats in Final Fantasy XV and it’s downloadable content (DLC). Since the DLC mostly takes place toward the end of the game’s timeline, some of these reveals are pretty important to the story, such as it is.

Let’s start with this: Final Fantasy XV is a perfectly acceptable game. It has gorgeous visuals, fun protagonists, and a cheerful, dapper villain who ranks among the most entertaining the series has ever produced. It has it’s flaws, to be sure – and those flaws do keep it from being great – but it’s still a perfectly acceptable game worth spending a bit of time with.

So how did Square Enix fail so incredibly badly with their story DLC?

Before the game even came out Square announced that there would be at least 4 story DLC releases: The Holiday Pack and an episode titled and featuring each of Noctis’ three traveling companions. There was also announced an “Expansion Pack” but it’s unclear if that will contain more than the ability for on-line co-op play if and when it ever comes out. So far three of these DLC have come out: The Holiday pack plus Episode Gladiolus and Episode Prompto. While the main game is, again, perfectly acceptable and improving all the time with patches that add content the DLC is pretty much garbage. How did this happen?

Cut content or bad storytelling

For many people the first question about story DLC is whether that DLC was actually cut from the main game due to time constraints or simple greed. This is a very important question for the Final Fantasy XV DLC because probably the biggest flaw with the DLC is how it fits into the timeline of the story.

The Holiday Pack takes place in some time that is both undefined and seems impossible. During the course of this DLC Noctis roams the city of Altissia with only Carbuncle for a companion. Players of the game will recall that the city is destroyed very shortly after Noctis arrives and that he is never both conscious and without his companions except for when he is participating in a particularly boring and sloppy boss fight. So it doesn’t seem to fit into the timeline at all and is perhaps some pointless fever dream of Noctis’ sometime after Chapter XIII.

The companion episodes take place during clearly defined times – Episode Gladiolus takes place during Gladio’s departure from the party in the main story and Episode Ignis takes place after Noctis accidentally throws the titular hero from a moving train – but that doesn’t really improve much because while they have timing in-universe their story timing is abysmal.

We learn from his DLC that during Gladio’s departure from the party he went into a deadly cave to prove his strength and/or to earn some more. (Which is a dumb idea to begin with, but if you want to hear more about that, check out my YouTube video on the subject.) At the end of the DLC he returns to his friends and claims to have found that strength along with a new katana. Anyone who has played through the game, however, knows that he didn’t have that katana with him and never really talks about or displays this new strength again.

In Prompto’s DLC we learn the dark truth about his past. He is not a natural citizen of Insomnia or even Lucis. He was originally born in Niffleheim but raised in Lucis without telling anyone else. As it turns out a general/scientist of Niffleheim experimented with babies and demons to create the Magitek Troopers our heroes face throughout the story. And Prompto was one of those babies who was kidnapped/rescued by some Lucian spies, though they never told him. This prompts – no pun intended – an existential crisis in Prompto who now believes himself to be a threat to his friends. That is until Aranea shows up and convinces him to suck it up and choose to be a hero anyway.

Two “timing” problems here: most obviously is that Prompto is thrown from a train and somehow ends up in a snowy, mountainous landscape that I don’t recall ever being seen from the train. He then manages to not only catch up to his friends but pass them so he can be captured and tortured for some period of time. Before his final capture he somehow finds some cold weather gear, tromps through the snowy wilderness on foot for some undefined amount of time, passes out, gets captured, escapes, hides out in a cave, optionally wanders around the wilderness with a companion and a snowmobile for some period of time that can be lengthy, invades an enemy stronghold, and then finally sets off for Niffleheim on his snowmobile.  There doesn’t seem to be enough time for all of those things to happen while Noctis and company make 2 quick train stops.

The other problem is that the “big reveal” of this DLC has already been told to anyone who completed the game. In the main story of Final Fantasy XV toward the end of Chapter XIII Noctis finally finds Prompto strapped to a chair and Prompto, from the perspective of anyone who has not played the DLC, confesses to being bred in a lab to become a Magitek Trooper seemingly out of nowhere. This reveal didn’t work in the original game because there was absolutely no foreshadowing to it and it doesn’t change how anyone acts outside of Prompto becoming a bit more subdued after the revelation – something that might have been expected given everything else that’s happened and will happen, anyway. It further doesn’t work in the DLC because anyone who has beaten the game – which are the vast majority of the players who are going to try out this DLC since, like its fellows, it is locked away in a separate sub menu and so can’t be seen through the normal course of events – already knows what he is going to find out about his past and the emotional impact is completely drained from it.

If you’re looking for a good example of how to fit new story elements into your game through story DLC look no further than Mass Effect 2. In that game BioWare added multiple characters and story missions after the game had been released, but the elements they added were both time and gameplay independent. There was also more to the DLC than the new characters and gameplay elements, they added on small bits of interactions in original areas and quests for the new characters throughout the game to make them feel like they were integrated into the story all along. It also helped that you played the story DLC the exact same way as the main game instead of hiding it in an extra menu option as Square Enix did.

Square Enix doesn’t know or understand the strengths of their game

 Few would argue that the game’s biggest strengths are the relationships between the four main characters and the fun of the fast-paced combat – especially teleporting across the battlefield and destroying your enemies with a variety of weapons and magics as Noctis. It’s also called a role-playing game for a reason: it features all of the components of an RPG. Most notably for the purposes of this discussion characters gain experience, items, and equipment from quests and battling enemies that allow them to grow stronger and expands the gameplay.

Each of the DLC stars only one of the four main characters – Noctis, Gladiolus, and Prompto respectively – which means they lack the charm the game gets from the party interactions and the obvious affection they all share for each other.

They also lack the quick combat featured in the main game – The Holiday Pack is mostly a series of mini-games and only two of them feature any sort of combat whatsoever, while those moments are still pretty fun, it’s probably too little. Episode Gladiolus features the hulking bodyguard and thus features slow combat with a focus on massive sword swings. Episode Prompto attempts to jerk the game into being a third-person shooter and fails miserably with clunky mechanics and poor design choices.

The DLC also lack a lot of primary RPG staples. There is no experience to be gained, no skills to learn, and no new equipment to find and use – unless you count the small variety of guns Prompto picks up and misuses as he flails about his story. Even then you find all the possible weapons fairly early and the rest of the content is just spent picking up whatever weapon you come across as it will likely be the one most suited for the next area.

Episode Prompto also appears to have been shipped out the door in an extremely unfinished state. As previously mentioned the lynch pin of this DLC – third-person shooter combat – was both clunky and unsatisfying. But beyond even that it was a bug riddled mess. There were tons of graphics clipping issues, enemies frequently became stuck for no apparent reason allowing them to be killed with no effort, and on more than one occasion an enemy would simply fall through the ground leaving no way for Prompto to escape combat to interact with his environment. This was eventuall resolved by running far, far away so that the enemy would despawn and allow the story to continue.

Given that the DLC ignores the few things that saved the main game from it’s problems is it any wonder that it’s rated so poorly? While the main game features a solid 81 rating on Metacritic Episode Gladiolus managed only a very disappointing 51. The Episode Prompto DLC reached an uninspiring but surprising 70. It would seem some reviewers were favorably impressed enough by the amount of content that was available with the inclusion of a lot more space and side quests than was available in Episode Gladiolus to ignore it’s other shortcomings.

Square Enix can bring back more of the charm of the character relationships, tell a story that players don’t already know the ending to in an interesting way, and return to the high-quality combat of the main title in their future DLC. If they do so, they can still salvage some fun and send Final Fantasy XV players off with some hope for the next full-game installment.