Spoiler alert: This story contains significant details about Sunday’s episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Since “Game of Thrones” aired its penultimate episode on Sunday night, my social media feeds have been filled with articles, blogs and opinion columns speculating that parents might be regretting naming their daughters after one of the HBO series’ most central characters.
Last week, the Social Security Administration released its annual ranking of popular U.S. baby names and noted that, once again, names like “Arya,” “Jaime,” “Jon” and “Khaleesi” ranked in their top 1,000 list. This has been a trend for several years now.
But suddenly, these blogs would have us believe that “Khaleesi” or “Daenerys” should be verboten. Why? Because in Sunday’s episode, entitled “The Bells,” the Mother of Dragons used her last remaining dragon child to burn all of King’s Landing to the ground, killing thousands of innocents, even after the Red Keep and the armies defending it surrendered.
See? Women can’t be trusted, they say. Sigh.
Cue the arrival of “the Mad Queen.” Because obviously, if a woman who has been betrayed on all fronts seizes absolute power, she must be crazy, right?
I get that the speed with which HBO turned Dany from potentially-strong-but-benevolent ruler to fire-using tyrant is more than a bit disconcerting, and to many, seems completely out of character. But this is a TV show built on fantasy, and not the kind with a happy ending. “Game of Thrones” has always been about power. About survival. About finding your place in a cruel world.
People don’t like Dany’s character arc because they expected her to behave in a certain way. A way befitting modern-day society’s vision of a queen: with a certain gentleness, humanity and grace.
But when media and bloggers suggest that parents should regret naming their kids after a “mad queen,” it plays into an age-old stereotype that women can’t be trusted because they will always, ultimately, be at the mercy of their emotions.
Remember ‘Star Wars?’
This is hardly the first time parents have named their children after villainous pop culture characters.
“Star Wars,” like “Game of Thrones,” spawned a surge in the popularity of baby names — including two boys’ names that represent torment and evil.
Anakin moved into the top 1000 baby names beginning in 2014, the year before “The Force Awakens” hit the big screen. It’s remained there each year since. Darth Vader’s true name — Anakin Skywalker — was revealed as far back as 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” So the thousand or more parents who named their sons Anakin in the past five years clearly knew that they were doing so after one of the greatest light-turned-dark-side pop culture villains of all time.
Remember how he massacred all the Younglings? Or blew up an entire planet?
In 2016, the fastest growing baby nameaccording to Social Security data was Kylo … yet another good-turned-bad villain in the “Star Wars” franchise. The moniker, taken by the son of Princess Leia and Han Solo after he turned to the Dark Side, jumped in rank from 3,269 to 901 that year.
Is anyone questioning the motivations of those parents, saying they “may” or “should” be regretting their choice for a boy’s name? I haven’t heard of any backlash.
Not to mention psychopaths
And while we are on the subject, let’s not forget one of TV’s greatest psychopaths.
The name Dexter began steadily increasing in popularity beginning in 2007, the year after Showtime began airing it’s much-watched show with the same name. In 2012, more than 841 boys were given the name. Dexter, for those who don’t recall is a vigilante serial killer. According to IMDb, Dexter murdered at least 100 people during the drama’s seven-year run, with at least 55 of those kills occurring on screen, while he wrestled with his inner demons (frequently referred to as his “dark passenger” during his many inner monologues).
In the show, Dexter was tormented and flawed because he witnessed his mother die via a chainsaw as a young child. Trauma is real, and on the show, Dexter’s childhood trauma is used as a way to build sympathy for Dexter’s actions. After all, he only kills other bad guys under a self-enforced “code.” (Except of course, when he doesn’t.)
Which brings me to Khaleesi, aka Daenerys.
This is a woman who, over the course of seven seasons, had to flee into exile after the rebellion that ousted her father, is forced into an arranged marriage to a man who rapes her on their honeymoon, watches her husband murder her brother, gives birth to a stillborn child and then — in the span of the last two episodes — loses the second of her three dragon “children,” goes through a breakup with her nephew/love interest who may ultimately decide to usurp her claim to the Iron Throne and sees her most trusted confidant brutally executed.
All this is to say that my girl Daenerys has been through some trauma, too.
Maybe she overreacted, but …
Certainly Daenerys was enraged. Yes, one could argue that what she did amounted to a war crime. But she is hardly the first on GOT to use violence to maintain, or even seize, power.
“Game of Thrones” has always been about brutality. Those who are savage survive in the cruel landscape. (How many people has Arya, a bona fide assassin, killed at this point?)
The fact is Khaleesi has always been a complex character. Through most of her character arc, she’s balanced strength and a desire to rule with compassion. In this last episode, the hardness that had been hinted at during earlier seasons gives way to full-on rage and determination.
“Let it be fear,” she tells former lover Jon Snow.
Richly drawn female characters have only recently become more commonplace in the mainstream media. Those complex women on TV and in the movies should be celebrated — even when the actions they take are not popular.
Khaleesi/Daerneys is one of the best female characters to grace the small screen in some time.
Suggesting that parents should regret naming their daughters after such a pivotal figure in a wildly popular role plays into a decades-old stereotype that women, when they act in an unexpected way, are “hysterical” or “overcome with emotion” or “mad/crazy.”
Here’s hoping the show’s writers do right by the one of my other favorite female protagonists in the final episode: All hail Arya.
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