Jon Snow vs Daenerys Targaryen: What Makes True Leadership
Beyond A Song of Ice and Fire’s constant string of squabbles over claiming the Iron Throne looms the climatic storyline within the heart of the series, being echoed numerously through marketing and advertising of both the novel series and the TV adaptation, Game of Thrones. It is, of course, the fact that winter is coming, and with it, the return of the Long Night which will entail the Night King leading an army of Others to conquer Westeros. To defend Westeros, it has been prophesized that a legendary champion of R’hllor, known as Azor Ahai, will stand against the Others during the Long Night. Hardcore fans of the novel series know there are two frontrunners for who could be Azor Ahai when the Long Night comes to Westeros, being Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. This article is not about who is more likely to become Azor Ahai come again, but who in fact possesses the most important quality that any prophesized champion would need to defend the living against the dead, true leadership.
Azor Ahai or not, there is an important question that needs to be answered regarding the coming of the Long Night, who throughout the course of the series has proven themself worthy to lead those who would stand against their enemies. Both Daenerys and Jon has suffered through significant adversities during their adventures, but have some adversities been more insufferable than others? Both Daenerys and Jon have amassed a following of loyal stalwarts, but has one earned the respect of their followers rather than simply received it? There is also no doubt that both candidates have had their fair share of conflict and battle, but there may be a case that one of them fought on the front lines and spilled blood among their fellows, while the other arguably has not. Taking all of this into account, whether it be for control of the Iron Throne and rule over Westeros, or to champion the army of the living against the Night King’s army of Others, Jon Snow has shown that he has the better qualities of true leadership than Daenerys Targaryen.
The Differences Between Their Adversities
There is no doubt about whether or not Daenerys has suffered through ordeals since she was of an early age. Her parents were murdered during Robert’s Rebellion, and she was raised in exile across the Narrow Sea, never living in the same place for long enough to call any place a true home. During the events of A Game of Thrones, Daenerys ends up in a marriage with the powerful Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo, in an exchange to promise her brother Viserys an army to reclaim the Iron Throne, subsequently attaining a position of high power through effectively no effort of her own. Despite this, she suffers constant pain, both physically from her long horseback rides with the khalasar and her ‘intimate’ nights with her husband Khal Drogo, and emotionally being somewhat isolated, from Drogo and the rest of the khalasar because of the language barrier. She is also tormented by her deranged brother Viserys, but effectively deals with this issue by asserting the authority of her position through ordering him to leave her alone, and ultimately orchestrates his death by allowing Khal Drogo and his bloodriders to kills him with molten gold in Vaes Dothrak.
However, Khal Drogo’s untimely death leads to Daenerys leading a fractured and unsustainable khalasar. During the events of A Clash of Kings, she struggles to find a means of building and transporting her proposed army across to Westeros, and suffers through numerous plots by the Pureborn of Qarth to steal her dragons. When all seems lost towards the end of the book, and Daenerys has no way to get out of Qarth, while also being under attack from a manticore, Daenerys does not save herself. She is saved by two strangers sent by her old guardian, Magister Illyrio, who also happen to have ships to deliver her from Qarth. During the events of A Storm of Swords, Daenerys receives advice from her advisor Jorah Mormont to travel to Astapor instead of Pentos, to purchase an army of Unsullied for herself. It turns out that the reason for Jorah’s loyalty to Daenerys can be derived from the fact that he loves her because of her beauty. Daenerys arrives in Astapor and effectively sacks the city to claim the Unsullied, but does not face the army herself, and instead deceives the Good Masters and relies on her dragons to liberate the city and free the slaves.
Daenerys has suffered through ordeals on her way to becoming who she is today, but a large part of that is arguably due to the efforts of her followers, rather than purely her own effort. In stark contrast, Jon Snow has had to transform himself into a leader to survive the ordeals he has faced. Jon Snow had a reasonably more pleasant earlier life than Daenerys, being raised among his half-sibling Starks at Winterfell, with the exception of his social-status as a bastard. This infamous title would haunt Jon throughout the rest of the series, being denied any title or lands that would be inherited by his half-siblings, and receiving universal ridicule from everyone around him. This includes not being welcome to dine at Robert Baratheon’s feast with his half-siblings in A Game of Thrones. This attitude towards him continued when he became a brother of the Night’s Watch, as the other recruits initially despised Jon when he first arrived at the Wall. His abuse at Castle Black includes continuous obloquy from senior members of the Night’s Watch, including Ser Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt.
Jon Snow’s problems with the Night’s Watch transcend from social acceptance to moral ambiguity as he is ordered by Qhorin Halfhand to join the Wildlings through Jon having to fell the Halfhand himself. The bearings on his true allegiance are spun drastically out of control after he is collected by Mance Rayder into the fold of the Wildlings, due to falling in love with Ygritte, causing him to question whether or not he would really be better off with the Wildlings. Jon eventually suffers suffer psychological and emotional heartbreak, after escaping Styr’s vanguard raiders to end up fighting them and witnessing the death of Ygritte, showing his affection among the Night’s Watch, who infamously have vows of chastity. Upon returning to the wall, he is immediately captured by his senior brothers of the Night’s Watch, and is only spared from swinging due to his newfound popularity at the Wall. Even after Jon and the Night’s Watch are saved by Stannis Baratheon from Mance’s army, his men harass him while he is sheltering them at Castle Black. Jon also diminishes any hope of a prolonged alliance with Stannis by declining his offer to make Jon Lord of Winterfell, instead claiming the title of the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Jon’s reign as Lord Commander does not meet a fortunate ending either after Jon decides to take the controversial moral position of seeking an alliance between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings. He also controversially decides to ultimately abandon his post to lead an attack against Ramsay Bolton, which results in Jon being stabbed to death by his own brothers of the Night’s Watch. Overall, it can be argued that Daenerys’s struggles with attaining wealth and warriors for her conquest of the Seven Kingdoms pales in comparison to the woes that Jon Snow has to deal with during his lifetime.
Earning Respect Rather than Receiving It
It can be argued that the Daenerys has been remarkably fortunate in the formation of her army beyond the Narrow Sea, to the point where sometimes she doesn’t even have to try at all. A substantial amount of Daenerys’ success in her adventures could arguably be attributed purely to her Targaryen lineage. The only reason she and her brother were sheltered by Illyrio initially was to eventually reclaim the Seven Kingdoms under the Targaryen banner. She initially receives the stone dragon eggs that would ultimately become her most powerful asserts simply as wedding gifts due to her Targaryen heritage. Her marriage to Khal Drogo, effectively cementing her a fruitful position in charge of a large khalasar, was to secure an army for her brother’s conquest of the Seven Kingdoms. It could be argued that through no effort of her own she assumed command of a particularly large, yet fractured, khalasar following the death of both her brother Viserys and her husband Khal Drogo. Later on in the series, she eventually receives the service of Arstan Whitebeard who is revealed to be the legendary Ser Barristan Selmy who she had never met before, and simply pledged his allegiance to her, because she is a Targaryen. There appear to be many instances where Daenerys’ namesake allows her to bypass earning the respect of colleagues and simply receives it.
Another critical part of Daenerys’ large following is her command of her three dragons, hatched from the stone eggs she received at her wedding with Khal Drogo. After the hatching of the eggs, there have been no instances where Daenerys has had to train the dragons to do her bidding, and they have simply obeyed her commands and fulfilled her wishes. The dragon’s loyalty to Daenerys could be arguably attributed to the fact that Daenerys did feed the dragons when they were young and nurtured their adolescence. However this would hardly be a solid argument once the dragons were large enough to not only fly, but to kill animals to sustain themselves. Throughout the course of the books, the dragons simply seem to obey the commands of Daenerys, with the exception of Drogon in some cases, when he decides to act a little more independently and aggressively. Even after Daenerys orders her three dragons imprisoned in the pit under her Great Pyramid, Drogon returns to Daenerys after having escaped his capture, and flies her to safety from the Fighting Pits, seemingly forgiving Daenerys’ decision to imprison him. It seems that Daenerys simply receives the respect and loyalty of her dragons, which appears to be completely exclusive to herself, which is arguably only because of her bloodline.
On the other side of the world, Jon Snow has time and time again had to prove himself either simply loyal or as a leader to many different factions that he has come across. From the very beginning of arriving at Castle Black, Jon had to put aside his differences with his antagonizing fellow recruits of the Night’s Watch, and earns their respect by helping them how to fight in the yard. Despite his fighting prowess and Stark bloodline, Jon is further humbled by his appointment to the stewards following being sworn in the Night’s Watch. In his role as steward, Jon earns his Lord Commander’s respect by defending him against the undead members of the Night’s Watch retrieved from beyond the Wall, and is granted the Valryian sword of Longclaw for his valiance. Jon also goes to great lengths to earn the respect of the Wildlings, first forcing himself to kill Qhorin Halfhand, a trusted brother of the Night’s Watch, as well as living among them, facing the ridicule of being a deserter of the Night’s Watch, the Wilding’s greatest enemies beyond the Others.
Despite Jon’s apparent defection to the Wildlings, Jon again goes above and beyond to earn the respect of the Night’s Watch, defending the Wall from both Styr’s raiding part and Mance Rayder’s massive Wildling horde. Following the aftermath, Jon further merits the Night’s Watch’s trust by ultimately refusing Stannis’ offer at being legitimized and becoming Lord of Winterfell, something Jon admits he has always wanted since he grew up with Robb and the rest of the Starks. A controversial decision made in light of defending the living against the dead, leads to Jon Snow offering Tormund Giantsbane and the rest of the defeated Wildlings refuge in The Gift, displeasing the senior members of the Night’s Watch to earn the respect of the Wildlings. It can be argued that Jon Snow’s controverisal decisions and life-threatening situations on behalf of the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings shows that he has ultimately earned the respect of his peers, unlike Daenerys who has arguably simply received it.
Actually Fighting for their Followers
The ironic truth of all of Daenerys’ accomplishments across the Narrow Sea, involving the defeat of several mercenary factions and the freeing of many slaves, is that Daenerys herself did not fight a single person. She has not participated in any of the major conflicts that her armies have been involved with, and on some occasions did not even oversee the battle on top of one of her dragons. Daenerys did not ultimately face her brother even after an entire childhood of torment, but instead simply egged on Khal Drogo to do the dirtywork himself. Daenerys does not fight alongside her husband against Khal Ogo’s khalasar at the Lharareen town. Daenerys is unable to defeat Pyat Pree in the House of the Undying, and instead requires the help of Drogon to escape the clutches of the Pureborn of Qarth. There are several instances where Daenerys’ followers arguably fight her own battles for her. As discussed earlier, Daenerys was not even present during the battle for Yunkai, instead choosing to discuss her brother Rhaegar with Arstan Whitebeard, while her followers died for her. In the siege of Meereen, Daenerys does not answer Oznak zo Pahl’s challenge to face him, but instead leaves the fight to Belwas. Daenerys once again does not participate in a major battle, instead allowing several of her key followers including Belwas, Jorah and Barristan to enter the city through the sewers before taking it, and even exiles Jorah after he has helped taken the city, despite knowing of his treachery before Meereen was beleaguered.
While Daenerys has enjoyed a great view of all her major conflicts from a safe distance, Jon Snow has put his body on the line time and time again in defence of his values and fellows. Jon did not hesitate to defend the Lord Commander against the undead members of the Night’s Watch, despite having no idea that the only weaknesses to such enemies are dragonglass, which he did not possess, and fire. Jon took a remarkably active role in Jeor Mormont’s ranging beyond the wall despite being a steward, eventually taking part in one of Qhorin Halfhands scouting parties, and battling a Wildling scouting party. The skeleton crew left defending Castle Black was saved by Jon’s valiant efforts against Styr’s raiding party, and Jon spared no expense defending the Wall with his few brothers of the Night’s Watch against the massive Wildling army under the command of Mance Raider. There have been numerous occasions where Jon Snow has been in the thick of battle with various factions, putting his life on the line in company of the brother’s of the Night’s Watch or the Wildlings and has clashed swords with a great deal of enemies, include the undead Others.
The looming counter-argument in this case, is that Daenerys does not know how to fight, and that Jon Snow has been trained in battle since he was a young child. To this, it can be said that just because you know how to fight, doesn’t make it any less risk to engage in battle. There have been instances of characters who have little to no battle prowess where they have been brave enough to clash swords, including Samwell Tarly, Jon’s brother of the Night’s Watch, who participated in the battle against Mance Rayder’s Wildling army, and has even fought against a White Walker with Gilly. The fact that Daenerys is a woman is no excuse not to fight for one’s or other’s lives, the clear example in this case being Ygritte, who has been fighting with the Wildlings against the Night’s Watch and the Others all her life. Even if you try to argue that Jon Snow was born to fight in battle, whereas Daenerys is not built in that way, there can be no mistaking that no one is made to fight the armies of the undead, which Jon Snow has done countless times.
Overall, there are many clear arguments of true leadership by Jon Snow. Jon Snow has arguably suffered through harsher social adversities, which have been prolonged throughout his life, than Daenerys. In many instances, Daenerys simply welcomes the support and allegiance of her followers, whereas Jon Snow has had to draw blood on both friends and enemies alike to earn the respect of his fellows. Finally, when it comes to putting their body on the line to fight with their allies on the front lines, it is clear that Jon Snow is the one to do this. Therefore, it is clear that Jon Snow has shown the better qualities of true leadership that Daenerys Targaryen.
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