On Fear: Who will ride the dragons?
At the very beginning of A Game of Thrones, Bran Stark and his father, Ned, have a conversation about fear and bravery. Bran asks, “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” Ned replies, “That is the only time a man can be brave.”
This is only the first quotable quote from the series, but it introduces a theme that runs throughout. The characters who are the bravest are the ones who are most likely to feel afraid.
Daenerys Targaryen is the first, introduced as a cowed 13-year-old girl who is being physically and emotionally abused by her older brother while the two of them are in exile after their family is deposed from the throne. She is always afraid, and afraid of everything — and yet, her fear forces her to be strong. Because she fears her brother more than anything else, she weds a terrifying Dothraki leader, whose love eventually makes her strong enough to face her brother. Once her brother dies, and once her husband dies, Daenerys is strong enough to know that her fear won’t destroy her.
Daenerys is most frightened than when she faces her dragon, Drogon. Drogon is named for her Dothraki husband, and terrifies her much the same way he did at first. He is an enormous black and red dragon, the colors of old Valyria and her house’s sigil. He’s the one Daenerys is terrified of never controlling, the one who never seems to cuddle with her even as an infant dragon (the others are constantly on her shoulders). He eats children; he eats adults, actually, as we discover.
And yet, when he returns from the wilds of the Free Cities and begins to lay waste to a fighting pit, Daenerys runs toward him, telling herself she cannot let him see her fear. He tries to eat her head; she grabs a whip and forces him to lie down as she climbs on his back. As she learned to become a bold and brave queen to the Dothraki and wife to Drogo (mounting him, as well, side note) she proves to Drogon that she is worthy to be his rider.
This scene gave me absolute chills. At the same time, it made me wonder — who else in this series is that brave? The dragon has three heads; the sphinx is missing her king; and Daenerys has two dragons waiting for their riders. She can’t do it, we learn in A Dance with Dragons, as a person can only ride one dragon — whether or not she is their mother.
We already know that Quentyn Martell had the requisite fear needed to be brave, but his problem was that he wasn’t able to master it. Perhaps it takes “the blood of the dragon” to be able to master that fear. Maybe not.
So. Who so far has mastered fear? Who has at least the spiritual blood of the dragon? Maybe Bran, though Bran seems to be well on his way to being eaten by a tree. Maybe Jon, but Jon would have to forswear a lot of various vows to make that happen (and can direwolves ride dragons? And isn’t he dead, anyway, maybe?) and I suspect he and Arya are destined to remain in the North. Aegon feels like a red herring; he doesn’t feel truly brave to me.
Tyrion comes the closest to Dany’s situation, constantly being made vulnerable by virtue of his size (as Dany is by her gender) and pushing through, regardless. Combine Tyrion’s brains with Dany’s royal bearing, and you would have a truly formidable team. And Samwell Tarly, who describes himself as a “coward,” is consistently the bravest one of them all — and the kindest. He would have the ability to balance Tyrion and Dany’s brains and bravado with kindness and mercy.
But that’s only my theory — and it’s deeply rooted in the notions that Starks belong in the north, that Sam won’t become a maester, and that Targaryen blood means little to nothing. What do you all think?