How Do You Solve a Problem Like Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen?

It could be convincingly argued that Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are the most important characters in both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, the HBO series based upon the novels.  Jon Snow is, it is widely believed by readers, the bastard son of Rhaegar (the model prince), while Daenerys is the last legal heir of the Targaryen dynasty.  Further, each represents a part of the ice/fire dyad, with Jon Snow occupying his position as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, while Daenerys has overseen the hatching of the world’s last three dragons.

Clearly, these two characters, though they occupy the fringes of the series’ worlds, are nevertheless two poles around which the rest of the events (of the novels, at least) implicitly revolve.  Unfortunately, both of these characters, both in Martin’s novels and in the HBO series, have gotten so mired down in their respective quagmires–both of them are learning the hard rules of ruling over others–that their chapters become somewhat repetitive.  This is definitely the case with the two most recent novels, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, to such a point that as a reader (and as a viewer of the series, which has started to draw from those novels), I often tune out during those sequences.  This truly frustrates me, because as an avid reader and over-thinker of the series, I know that these characters are vitally important, but it becomes increasingly hard to care about them or to find their chapters compelling reading, or viewing.

Though I love much of what HBO has done with Game of Thrones, they have definitely stumbled a bit with Jon’s story this season.  Kit Harrington is only moderately charismatic at the best of times, and he has not been helped this season by a slogging series of scenes that basically features him saying, in his usual husky voice, that the Wildlings are coming.  Thus, although the battle at the Wall in the penultimate episode was visually well-done (if ultimately anticlimactic), as a viewer I was still left wanting more from this important character.  Hopefully, the series will be able to make more of his narrative than the books have so far done.

The HBO series also compounds the Daenerys ennui problem by completely flattening out the parts of Essos to which she travels.  So far, we have seen both Qarth and Meereen in a great deal of detail, and neither even comes within a hairs-breadth of the complexity and visual beauty evoked in Martin’s novels.  Lest anyone think this is purist complaining, I don’t have much of a problem with how they have changed the plots of Daenerys’ storylines.  I’m annoyed that a series that has so much money thrown at it is consistently unwilling to paint Essos with any depth.  To take just one example, in the novel the citizens of Meereen are given a great deal of complexity, with priestesses known as Graces, wild hairstyles, and complex political relationships.  All of this complexity, like that of Qarth, is completely eschewed by the series, and Dany’s already-frustratingly scattershot storyline is even more hamstrung than it is in the novels.  Surely the scion of a powerful dynasty who commands three dragons deserves some better treatment.

If both the novels and the TV series want to make these storylines more compelling than they are in their current form, they are going to have to start moving them to the center of the narrative in more meaningful ways.  Perhaps that is going to happen shortly, now that the pieces are beginning to move in some surprisingly dynamic directions.  In my view, this is the only fitting way to salvage the problematic storylines that Dany and Jon now occupy in their respective parts of the world.

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