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Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Daenerys and Walter White: Same Characters, Different Shows

Daenerys Targaryen and Walter White are two of the most compelling, well-written anti-heroes in TV history in my not-so-humble opinion. They also star in two of the world's greatest TV shows. In the last episode of Thrones, I thought about how incredible Daenerys is as a character. She's brilliant, brave, and strong, but also arrogant, ruthless, and dangerously single-minded. She and Walter represent the ultimate bad and good that lies in us all.

Both characters are fundamentally good inside, and are capable of love, empathy and kindness. Neither are truly 'evil' people in the way characters like Tuco or Joffrey Lannister are. They start off as downtrodden by those around them. Daenerys is a helpless girl who just wants to go home. She is emotionally abused by her brother and thrust into a marriage with no say. Yet she quickly adapts, becoming bold and courageous, and learning to lead her Khalasar. She grows to love Drogo and the two become a force for inner strength and ambition.

Likewise, Walter is ridiculed by his Chemistry students, his family members, and his colleagues. At the start of the show he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His instant worry is how he will provide for his family. The traditional symbol of masculinity is financial provision for one's family, and Walt feels that as the man of the house, he must provide. This becomes a driving factor behind many of his decisions; the need to 'prove' his power and his masculinity, by demonstrating his financial prowess.

I believe that both Walt and Dany have repressed anger, fear and resentment writhing inside of them. Their dark natures occur early in both shows. In GOT Season 1 Episode 6, Dany mercilessly watches as her brother is killed. Yes, Viserys was an arsehole. Yes, I cheered when he was killed and he got what he deserved. But what's disturbing is how Dany expressionlessly watched her brother have molten gold poured onto his head.

A similar moment occurs in the first episode of BB, when Walt kicks a guy in the clothing store for making fun of his son. That episode gives us a glimpse of Heinsenburg, the angry, ruthless man lurking underneath Walt's respectable mask. Again, it is cathartic to watch; the man was in the wrong, he was making fun of a disabled person which is frowned upon in polite society. We probably all fantasize about hurting those who have wronged us.

These events don't happen halfway through the series, they happen at the beginning. They foreshadow the festering darkness lying inside both Walt and Dany.

And this is partly why we, as the viewers, love them. These two downtrodden people who are mocked, abused and ridiculed by society. We root for them for two reasons; because they are placed as primary focuses of their stories (Dany is one of GOT's main protagonists, although in actuality she's an antagonist, and Walter is the protagonist of BB). The audience naturally roots for whoever is placed at the forefront of a story, even if they are nasty or evil. This is because we see them the most, we follow their thoughts and actions, we understand their motives. 

A story told from the perspective of Ramsay Bolton may have us empathizing with him, because when we're at the forefront, everything we do is justified. This is why heinous characters - Patrick Bateman, Amy Dunne, the Joker, Steven Stelfox, Tyler Durden, become loved by audiences. It's not because we agree with them, but because we empathize with them by being at the foreground of their actions.

Dany and Walter are also important symbols of how power corrupts. As both shows go on, both characters gain more power, and thus want more power. They do questionable things, yet claim the ends justify their means. Walt insists he is doing everything to protect his family. Dany insists she is there to break the wheel and free the world from tyrants, even though she IS a tyrant and becomes the most dangerous one by the end.

When someone believes something intensely about themselves, they can convince others of the same. Dictators throughout history have used fierce self-determination and charisma to convince others that they are 'saviours'. They use their ideological principles as a way to justify acts of cruelty. Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Mussolini, Castro - these men may have committed vile acts, but they had millions of supporters. How?

Because they presented their perspective as the right way, thus inspiring millions to agree with them.

This is why I believe rigid absolutism and single-mindedness is so dangerous. It is what kills both Dany and Walt in the end. Characters in GOT who survive, like Tyrion and Arya, are ones who adapt to things as they occur and accept things for what they are. We all have to remember that we're just humans, a tiny speck of dust floating in an enormous, indifferent universe. None of us are invincible and none of us can conquer the world. It's fitting that both Dany and Walt die in the final episodes of their shows, because that is the only way their stories could end. Both are tragic, brilliantly-created characters whose desire and lust for power by any means necessary becomes the literal deaths of them.

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