I know there are so many parts to what I have to say about a book I didn’t even like, but I have a lot of thoughts because I’m sort of being forced to continue thinking about this book. It’s my partner’s favourite series, and we’re often going back and forth about it. It’s more of a joke for us, but it keeps a lot of these ideas fresh in my head.

So I just need to say this: I can’t stand the Dothraki in this book.

It’s not because I can’t stand the culture or the few Dothraki characters but because I cannot stand the fact that they have no input in their own story, in their own existence, they’re the only people shown to be sexually violent (and directly called out for it), and that the entirety of their story is handled by Daenerys who doesn’t even give them decent characterisation.

Savages and Barbarians
They are often described in the racist ways that people describe indigenous peoples or nomadic peoples in Asia: savage, barbarous, and uncivilised. Even their own queen doesn’t take the time to really get to know them in her own chapters; even after she acknowledges and claims that they’re “her people now,” she doesn’t even defend them when people talk disparagingly about them.

And it’s no wonder, because they were inspired by both Native American peoples and Mongols(among other peoples). GRRM even focuses on Genghis Khan being cruel, though it lacks some nuance in the ways that towns were able to negotiate or surrender without there being some excess of blood. He neglects to realise that Khan was actually open to peoples he conquered maintaining their own religions and valuing religious tolerance, which runs entirely counter to the horrible ways the Dothraki talk about the ‘Sheep People’. (Yes, I also get that it’s a fantasy novel. I’m referring more to the interview, in particular, with hints toward the book as a result of his inspiration.)

That’s all without mentioning one thing, by the way: The Dothraki are among the few people in the book who are characterised as being not white and receive the brunt of the extremely negative (and generally unforgivable) characterisations, with very few exceptions. The only other explicitly non-white person who is mentioned is a prostitute in a brothel, who is explicitly a black woman without a name. This is one more case of the trope aimed at black women, even if in the minute: The Hypersexual Jezebel.

Sexual Violence
Most of the mentions and direct depictions of rape and sexual violence in the story take place in Daenerys’s chapters, ranging from the non-consensual nights after her wedding night (though, I’d make arguments to say that even her wedding night should be considered sexual coercion), to both Irri and Doreah either screaming or being bruised due to Qotho’s ‘having his way with them’, to the women being straight up raped and murdered during the raids on the non-Dothraki villages (and then being “saved” by being enslaved, though that’s a questionable form of logic). And even worse: One of the women, Eroeh, who was raped and then saved by Daenerys enslaving her was later raped repeatedly and murdered after Drogo’s death and Daenerys’s apparent illness (and may become some Call to Arms for Daenerys, without any genuine relationship between the two).

Sexual violence has often been something that has been used in war, though the Mongol Empire under Ghenghis Khan did have some laws regarding that, too. So I find it disigenuous that he names Genghis Khan as inspiration when discussing these topics, as he should’ve named Ogodei Khan, who blatantly violated the laws of his predecessors.

This doesn’t say that Genghis Khan was, you know, perfect. I don’t know the exact kinds of sexual violence that might have taken place under his rule, but this ‘barbaric’ empire actually had a lot more happening under the surface than most people are aware of. So often we’re getting the same kind of history about the Mongols over and over again, when they did a lot more than just going to war everywhere. Part of that is because there’s a huge problem with Mongol-related history in the Western world, and it’s largely that we have a lot of writing about them from those on the outside or those being who might have potentially been conquered or forced to surrender than we do from those inside of the empire itself.

That’s not to say that sexual warfare didn’t occur; I already said that Ogodei Khan was known for blatantly ignoring the laws set in place prior to his ascension. Rape as a weapon of war is far more common than we’re prepared to admit: indigenous women in Bangladesh are subject to rape due to land conflicts, women in Vietnam were raped or abused throughout the Vietnam war by American soldiers and officers, Korean ‘comfort women’ were used as sex slaves during WWII by Japan, there are accounts of sexual assault in Australia’s off-shore detention center for asylum seekers in Nauru, there’s a lot of information about sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide, also during the Bosnian War, and Native American and First Nations women have a long history of sexual violence being used against them (even now). It’s still used today, in Myanmar against the Rohingya and children being assaulted in Trump’s detention camps.

So, yes, I know it’s a thing that happens (back to GRRM’s ‘historical accuracy’ claims, I guess). But it’s interesting to note that it’s only depicted in this manner with the only non-white group of people; it’s described in far more ‘savage’ tones and has a higher frequency, with Daenerys being ‘so upset’ by it that she enslaves the victims to save them (only to ‘free’ them once she gains the Power of the Dragons and is in need of ‘her own’ people).

It’s frustrating because why did he make those decisions? Why does he directly call what the Dothraki do ‘rape’ while the actions mentioned of the other characters doesn’t even get called as such? (Which it should.) As the few non-white characters, it’s worth remembering that non-white people in our own world are often charged with rape when it isn’t even true. The alleged (and false) accusations of raping white women was a large reason for why Black men, like Emmett Till (whose accuser admitted last year that she lied 60 years ago), were lynched (especially after the Reconstruction era and during Jim Crow).

So even though it’s not a false accusation for the Dothraki, who were committing acts of sexual warfare on their victims, it still conjures an image that the only people capable of raping are not white. Tyrion clearly has a moment where he’s talking about his past and participated in a (forced) gang-rape of a girl he loved; at no point is this described as rape, and it’s used to make the reader sympathise with Tyrion while leaving the victim entirely nameless.

A Lack of Their Own Story
There’s a part of an interview with GRRM that I find bothersome:

Interviewer: People complain that the Dothraki are this one-dimensional barbarian society.

GRRM: I haven’t had a Dothraki viewpoint character though.

Interviewer: I guess it’s too late to introduce one now.

GRRM: I could introduce a Dothraki viewpoint character, but I already have like sixteen viewpoint characters.

Before I say what I have to say, I have to specify that I haven’t yet gotten to the other books (though I’m planning to). So just looking at the few viewpoint characters in AGoT, I feel like he did the Dothraki a disservice and made them less interesting than they could’ve been. We have Eddard, Catelyn, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Jon, and Tyrion all running around the same general locations with very little difference between their viewpoints. Of these, the most valuable viewpoints are Eddard, Jon, and Tyrion because they are mostly in different locations and they are doing things.

Among the Dothraki? We only have Daenerys, who is an outsider. The way her chapters were written do ‘her people’ a total disservice. She learns almost nothing about them and barely is shown interacting with their culture, other than what they wear, eat, and couple of traditional events that Drogo makes her do. She interacts with them on the most superficial level, giving the reader access to very little. We might get to see what they do in terms of their culture and traditions, but we don’t get how they feel about it or how they interact with it. And we definitely don’t see any attempt to create a fictional language for the people, but we have to pretend certain in-English lines are really said in Dothraki.

We don’t even get a Dothraki perspective on Daenerys being Drogo’s wife and a non-Dothraki ruler. Just basing this on the amount of ridiculousness that happened when Meghan Markle married Prince Harry this year, I find it incredibly illogical that we’d have a lot of Dothraki being pretty quiet about this outsider marrying into a high and powerful position. As far as we’re aware, the Dothraki just shrug and deal with it; the only person they seem to be fed up with is Viserys, especially since he ends up dead (due to his own actions). It’s weird, though, because they don’t want to interact with non-Dothraki peoples, cultures, and traditions; Drogo doesn’t even want to cross the sea until Daenerys is nearly killed. They’re very isolationist in many of their manners, so it feels weird to have them just be fine with their new outsider queen (and Jorah, other than teasing him for his armour).

So why don’t we get a Dothraki viewpoint? In many ways, even if it were from the perspective of Irri or Jhiqui, it would’ve provided a lot of information that would’ve built the world better and made the reader more sympathetic of the Dothraki (if done correctly), which is entirely lacking at this point. From Daenerys’s perspective, much of her story that connected with the Dothraki was very superficial; there’s no reason any of the Dothraki should like her because she’s not shown to be really interacting with any of them (including her servants and protectors). She doesn’t know anything about who they are, and this doesn’t even seem to bother her (as she’s kind of obsessed with dragon eggs).

And yet… those who remain pledge to stay with her after her dragons are born. This still leaves me with a lot of questions, most of which just lead to the same one: Why?

There are just so many things in this book that I feel could’ve been done better. We didn’t need some of the viewpoints we had; the viewpoints we needed to keep could’ve been done better, especially for characters that were often relegated to observation; there was too much happening in this book that so much of it feels entirely disconnected between the three primary stories; and there are elements that are used as plot devices, for whatever reason, that aren’t even necessary to the narrative.

I’m still going to read the other books, but it’s not because I enjoyed this installment of the series. It’s because I have an outside motivation to do so.

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