If you’re a fan of the show, you know what I’m talking about…..
Okay, let’s tackle this puppy– Dany and Jon. Such a cute couple. I mean, these guys are obviously made for each other. Two dynamic leaders meeting after both have struggled and suffered and lost, and then triumphed, but who need each other. Two youngsters with oodles and gobs of chemistry and probably lots of compatible psychological profile stuff and major inter-fertility and all the jazz that Make Relationships Work.
Except that she’s his aunt.
By most modern standards, we have entered serious no-no, uh-huh, hands off the girl-or-boy territory. This is despite the fact that the Dany and Jon are about the same age, and have no idea, at least at this point in the show’s story arc, that they share anything other than leadership qualities and hormones. In 21st Century American society we have been conditioned to consider anything that smacks of incest to be taboo, to be universally rejected and and even criminalized. In my lifetime there has been a growing recognition of the terrible price incest and child-abuse exacts from its victims, and we rightly reject attempts to normalize it.
Well, here’s the deal. We’re talking about a television show. We’re talking about television show set in a fantasy world. We’re talking about a television show set in a fantasy world with distinctly different rules about sexuality, consent and what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. That has to alter the way we talk about this.
Allow me to digress for a moment to talk about the show’s source material– George R. R. Martin’s five (and counting– c’mon, George, Rome was built faster than this) books of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Admittedly the show long ago diverged from the precise story- line of the books, but the universe Martin created, and the general story arc, remain its guidance system. It is well known that Martin has drunk deeply from the well of history to inform his work, and particularly the history of Medieval Britain. And part of that historical understanding is that the rules about sexuality, consent and incest that nowadays we think are set in stone were often very, very different in ancient or medieval societies.
Take, for example, age of consent. In Martin’s universe, girls who have their first menses are immediately considered marriage material, which means thirteen year-olds are getting married. In the books, Dany is, in fact, thirteen when she marries Khal Drogo (this was changed in the show to sixteen, for obvious legal reasons). This attitude is distinctly at odds with modern sensibilities, but was actually common in previous eras, and is still prevalent in certain non-Western societies. And the shift in Western attitudes is actually a comparatively recent phenomenon– the age of consent in Texas was ten– ten— as recently as 1880, and that was not unusual among American states in that period.
Even what has been considered incest has varied from time to time and place to place. Before the American Civil War it was legal in every state for first cousins to wed. It still is in some states (e.g. California) while it is restricted in some and outright illegal in others (Texas– go figure).
Bear in mind, as well, the cross-cultural weirdness of how elites and nobles in different eras and cultures determined who could get hitched to who. It’s well-known that the rulers of Ancient Egypt and Pre-Conquest Peru both permitted brothers and sisters of royal lineages to marry, to keep bloodlines “royal”. Martin drew on this history directly when he created the Targaryens, whose kings often wed their own sisters.
And then there is the startling institution of “avunculate marriage“, which was a piece of history unknown to me before I started thinking about this subject. Apparently this custom had a heyday among European royals in the Middle Ages and afterwards, in which uncles and nieces, and occasionally aunts and nephews (ding!) were wed to one another, again in the interest of keep bloodlines pure, and wealth and power in the family. Unfortunately, it had the at least occasional effect of producing children with major mental and physical defects, such as Carlos II, the last Hapsburg king of Spain–
Rather more startling, avunculate marriage is actually legal, sometimes with restrictions, in several modern countries, including Russia, Argentina, and the Netherlands.
Give me just a second– gotta slow down my brain’s RPMs. Whew, that makes me dizzy….
Okay, so what does this all mean for Dany and Jon, two fictional characters in a fictional universe with way different rules about sex and marriage and such like? And how wound up should we get that these two probably related characters may– and it’s still just potential at this point, folks– be doing the mambo sometime in the near future?
In all of this the saving grace is that there is no hint or suggestion of abuse, which, aside from genetic risks, is the most destructive aspect of sex between close kinsfolk. Dany and Jon are consenting adults, even by American standards, and doubly so by Westerosi. They have met as equals, however much Dany wants Jon to bend the knee, and the story-line so far gives every indication that their mutual respect and attraction will grow. If Jon’s little secret never came out they would have nothing to cloud their budding relationship, aside, that is, from civil war, invasion, winter, the Night King and his hordes of White Walkers and undead. You know, the little things that every couple has to put up with.
I think, in the final analysis, fans of the show (including me), whether pro-Dany-Jon or anti, all need to take a big calm pill and chill out. This is fiction– moreover, it’s fiction about a time and place with its own rules. We need to trust Martin and the showrunners Benioff and Weiss to take us where the story needs to go.
Of course, given that this is Game of Thrones, where heartbreak and disappointment are daily meat and drink, this may all be a lot of worrying about a whole lot of not much. Westeros is not devoid of rules about incest– certainly Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is widely censured. It may be that Dany and Jon will get really close, only to pull back with the aforementioned heartbreak and disappointment when Jon’s true heritage is revealed. That’s one way this could go. Another way, and maybe more likely, is that they establish a relationship, and then one of them (I’m betting Jon) dies heroically/tragically/spectacularly in the show’s finale, or close to it. Either way, given the nature of this show and its willingness to impose suffering on its characters, the odds are way stacked against Dany and Jon walking hand-in-hand off into the sunset in the closing minutes of Season Eight, Episode Six.
And if, by chance, they do– well, I think I could deal with that.
So….everybody calm down (me, too). Let the story unfold. And brace yourself.