Game of Thrones: The Dothraki Culture & People

The Dothraki were actually fashioned as an amalgam of a number of steppe and plains cultures… Mongols and Huns, certainly, but also Alans, Sioux, Cheyenne, and various other Amerindian tribes… seasoned with a dash of pure fantasy.  So any resemblance to Arabs or Turks is coincidental. Well, except to the extent that the Turks were also originally horsemen of the steppes, not unlike the Alans, Huns, and the rest…

In general, though, while I do draw inspiration from history, I try to avoid direct one-for-one transplants, whether of individuals or of entire cultures.  Just as it not correct to say that Robert was Henry VIII or Edward IV, it would not be correct to say that the Dothraki are Mongols.

-George R. R. Martin, creator of  A Song of Ice and Fire series of books

Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo

In Season 1 of GoT, we hear about the Dothraki when Ilyrio (a very wealthy/respected merchant in the city of Pentos on the island of Essos), brokers a marriage between “the great Khal Drogo” (played by American actor Jason Momoa) and the exiled princess from Westeros, Daenerys Targaryen (played by a British newcomer, Emilia Clarke).  Her older, controlling, brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd, a British actor best known for Doctor Who and Robin Hood) presents his sister with a diaphanous (almost see-through) gown which she’ll wear for the bride viewing.  The girl has no say in the matter, as it’s all been strategically arrranged by her benefactor (Ilyrio) and brother.   

Drogo sees Dany

Khal Drogo, with his bloodriders (men closest to him/sworn to protect him), ride up to Ilyrio’s house (the palace of the president of Malta) and take a look at (the very scared/worried) Daenerys.  “See how long his hair is? Khal Drogo has never been defeated in battle,” Viserys explains to his sister.  Daenaerys hesitantly walks closer; Drogo says nothing and rides off just as quick as he came.  That is a good sign, Ilyrio reassures the Targaryens.

Drogo and Dany's wedding

Drogo and Dany’s marriage is not only the marriage of two people (strangers), but two very disparate cultures, languages, belief systems.  Dany hails from Westeros, though she was born in exile.  Drogo’s people are horse-worshipping nomads, living in tents, never staying in one place too long.  They travel in large packs (khalasars); Drogo commands about 40,000 total (which Viserys thinks will be a great asset to him).  Though Dothraki fear “any water that a horse cannot drink,” Viserys thinks he can get 10,000 of these warriors to cross the Narrow Sea and retake the Iron Throne (which he says is his right by birth).

Vaes Dothrak

Drogo gives his new wife a beautiful white stallion as a wedding gift.  After Ser Jorah Mormont (veteran Scottish actor Iain Glen) reveals the wine merchant’s deadly plan in Ep 7 (You Win or Die), Drogo says he can have any horse he wishes.  (Glen appeared on Downton Abbey in its second season as one of Mary’s beaus.  You may have seen him in the 1999 miniseries Wives and Daughters.)  The Dothraki don’t build, but have one sacred city (Vaes Dothrak), where bloodshed is forbidden.  “Don’t let them see you carrying a sword here,” Jorah warns Viserys in Ep 6 (A Golden Crown).

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At the wedding (by the seaside), Dany watches the dancing, violence, and other acts w/ horror.  In Ep 1 (Winter is Coming), Ilyrio comments: “A Dothraki wedding without at least 3 deaths is considered a very dull affair.”  Dany’s face brightens a bit when she meets Jorah, who presents her with some books (“songs and stories from the Seven Kingdoms”).  Jorah is a very important character (esp. in S1)- acting as guide/translator/friend to Dany.  After he was exiled from his homeland by Lord Eddard Stark for selling slaves, his “expensive” wife went off w/ another man, and Jorah traveled all over.  The knight knows the Dothraki language and culture very well.

Doreah

Daenaerys has other allies on her journey in S1, including a clever young handmaiden named Doreah (played by Roxanne McKee, a Canadian-British model/actress), who Viserys freed from a “pleasure house.”  Doreah advises Dany to be more assertive with Drogo in Ep 2 (The Kingsroad).  She reassures the hesitant khaleesi: “If he wanted the Dothraki way, he would’ve married a Dothraki.”

irri_rakharo

The young “bloodrider” Rakharo (Elyes Gabel) and handmaiden Irri (Amrita Acharia) are very loyal to/protective of their khaleesi.  When he lashes out at Dany, Viserys is choked and nearly killed by Rakharo, and  forced to walk back to camp in Ep 3 (Lord Snow).  Rakharo knows some of the “common tongue” and has an interest in other cultures, as we learn in a nice scene w/ Jorah in Ep 3.  “Dothraki do not wear steel dresses,” Rakharo proudly says, referring to armor.  Irri is very blunt-spoken, but caring.  (Yes, these actors have South Asian roots, as I suspected!  Gabel is British Asian and Acharia is Indian/Norwegian heritage. Love to see my desis onscreen…)

Dany eats heart

In time, Dany learns Dothraki and accepts (most of) her new people’s ways.  (She insists on saving the Lhazareen women.)  Dany manages to eat the heart of a horse during a crucial ceremony.  Drogo is very proud of his wife.  Viserys becomes angry b/c he feels she’s getting the respect and love that has been denied to him for so many years.  Even after Drogo falls off his horse, and most of the khalasar ride away, Doreah, Irri, and Rakharo stay close to Dany. Jorah tells Dany that “the Dothraki do not honor blood,” like the people of Westeros. She assumed that her child would be their leader once Drogo died.

 drogo1

The Dothraki culture seems like a favorite of many GoT fans, from what I’ve seen!  They are violent (“barbarian” seems as apt word), yet straightforward.  We see how love grows between Drogo and Dany (Momoa and Clarke had terrific chemistry).  They are not ambitious (like a lot of the people in Westeros) and “have no use for money.”  They exchange gifts with the merchant society.  They take slaves; the Lhazareen (“lamb people”) are looked down upon by the Dothraki, as they are shepherds. We get the sense that Dothraki don’t mix too much with outsiders, which keeps their traditions strong.  Dany accepts their ways, because there is no other choice at first, but she grows to admire them, too.  Viserys, on the other hand, saw nothing to admire in these people (felt he was superior since he was a Westerosi).

The death of Khal Drogo:

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Game of Thrones: Season 1 – Memorable Lines

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Ned (to his youngest son, Bran): The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.

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Tyrion (to Jon): Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are.  The rest  of the world will not.  Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.

Tyrion: Well, my brother has a sword, and I have my mind.  And a mind needs books like a  sword needs a whetstone.  That’s why I read so much, Jon Snow.

Arya-and-Jon

Jon (after presenting his little sister w/ a specially-made sword): All the best swords have names you know.
Arya: Sansa can have her sewing  needles.  I have a Needle of my own.

Ned (to Jon): There’s great honor serving in the Night’s Watch.  The Starks have manned  the wall for thousands of years, and you are a Stark.  You may not have my name,  but you have my blood.

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Ned (to Septa): War was easier than daughters.

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Sam (to Jon): On the morning of my eighteenth nameday, my father came to me.  “You’re almost a man now,” he said, “but you are not worthy of my land and title.  Tomorrow, you’re going to take the black, forsake all claim to your inheritance, and start north.  If you do not,” he said, “then we’ll have a hunt, and somewhere in these woods your horse will stumble, and you’ll be thrown from your saddle to die.  Or so I’ll tell your mother.  Nothing would please me more.”

Jon (to other recruits): Sam’s no different from the rest of us.  There was no place for him in the world, so he’s come here.  We’re not gonna hurt him in the training yard anymore.  Never again, no matter what Thorne says.  He’s our brother now, and we’re going to protect him.

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Jorah (to Daenerys): The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends.  It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.  They never are.

Daenerys (finally standing up to her older brother, Viserys): I am a Khaleesi of the Dothraki!  I am the wife of the great Khal and I carry his son inside me.  The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands!

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Jaime (to twin sister, Cersei): The boy [Bran] won’t talk. And if he does, I’ll kill him. Him, Ned Stark, the  King, the whole bloody lot of them until you and I are the only people left in  this world.

Cersei

King Robert (to Cersei): Someone took her [Lyanna Stark] away from me, and seven kingdoms couldn’t fill the hole she left behind.

King Robert: Sometimes I don’t know what holds it together.
Cersei: Our  marriage.  (They both laugh ironically.)
King Robert: So, here we sit, 17 years later, holding it all  together.
Don’t you get tired?
Cersei: Every day.
King Robert: How long  can hate hold a thing together?
Cersei: Well, 17 years is quite a long time. (They drink a toast.)

King Robert (to Lancel re: his armor, which is too small for him): You heard The Hand. Go find the breast plate stretcher. Now!
Ned: The breast plate stretcher?
King Robert: How long before he figures it  out?
Ned: Maybe you should have one invented.

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Robert (to Ned on his deathbed): I never loved my brothers.  Sad thing for a king to admit, but true.  You were the brother I chose.

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Renly (to Ned): He [his older brother, Stannis] inspires no love nor loyalty. He is not a king. I am.

Ned: Stannis is a commander. He’s lead many to war, twice. He destroyed the  Greyjoy fleet.
Renly: Yes, he’s a good soldier. Everyone knows that. So was  Robert. Tell me something. Do you still believe good soldiers make good  kings?
Ned: I will not dishonor Robert’s last hours by shedding blood in his  halls, and dragging frightened children from their beds.

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Samwell (to Jon after the boys get their assignments): Now, listen to me.  The old man is the Lord Commander of the Night’s  Watch.  You’ll be with him day and night.  Yes you’ll clean his clothes, but  you’ll also take his letters, attend him at meetings, squire for him in battle, you’ll know everything, be part of everything.  And he asked for you himself.  He  wants to groom you for command.

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Baelish (to Ned, while holding a dagger to his throat): I did warn you not to trust me.

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Syrio (calmly): What do we say to the God of death?
Arya (very frightened): Not today.
Syrio (facing off against the palace guard w/ his wooden practice sword): Go.

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Tyrion (introducing his companion to his father): And here we have Bronn, son of…
Bronn (with a shrug): You wouldn’t know him.

Maester Aemon: If the day should ever come when your Lord father had to choose  between honor on the one hand and his family on the other, what would he do?
Jon: He would do whatever is right, no matter what.
Maester Aemon: Then Lord  Stark is one man in 10,000.  Most are not so strong.

Daenerys: I have never been nothing.  I am the blood of the dragon.

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Robb (to Jaime): If we do it your way, Kingslayer, you’d win.  We’re not doing it your way.

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Joffrey: I’ll tell you what.  I’m going to give you a present.  After I raise my  armies, and kill your traitor brother, I’ll give you his head as well.
Sansa:  Or maybe he’ll give me yours.  (Then Joffrey has a guard slap Sansa hard on both cheeks.)

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Lord Commander Mormont: Honor made you leave.  Honor brought you back.

Jon: My friends brought me back.

Lord Commander Mormont: I didn’t say it was your honor.

Les Miserables (2012)

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Tom Hooper (just 40 years old) is the British director who brought us these compelling/gorgeous miniseries: John Adams (2008), Elizabeth I (2005), and Daniel Deronda (2002).  Though I haven’t seen it yet, he made a big mark with The King’s Speech (2010), which won 4 Oscars.  He brings a very well-known, large-scale tale down to a (small) human level.  No doubt, the star of Les Mis is American Anne Hathaway, who shed not only 15 lbs., but almost all of her long hair, for the role of Fantine.  Oh, and Hathaway can sing, too!  Wow…  Viewers will want to see more, but she appears in the first third of the film only.

Russell Crowe as Javert

One person who defininitly should not sing is Australian Russell Crowe, I’m sorry to say.  His songs are tolerable (unlike that of Gerard Butler in The Phantom of the Opera), but he doesn’t have a strong voice, and is clearly not very comfortable with this element of the film.  (I love Crowe-a fabulous actor-but the producers/studio should’ve looked for a more suitable voice.  Everyone can’t do any job.)  The film seemed to slow down when Javert came onscreen, aside from the swordfighting scene.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean carrying young Cosette

Hugh Jackman (another Australian; got his start in theater) stars as Jean Valjean, a man who transforms his life by taking Fantine’s young daughter, Cosette, into his care.  Jackman can sing (but you probably knew that already).  In the many close-ups, you can see his emotional range.  I was pleasantly surprised, and feel that he needs to challenge himself even more with his next film roles (no offence to X-Men fans).

The Thenadiers with young Cosette

Students protesting on the streets

The film gets a jolt of energy when we meet the money-grubbing Thenardiers (played by Brits Sascha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter) and young, idealistic men who call for revolution (led by Enjolras, American Aaron Tveit).

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Eddie Redmayne as Marius

Then the love-at-first-sight thing happens between the teenage Cosette (American Amanda Seyfried) and idealistic Marius (Brit Eddie Redmayne).  A few in the audience wanted to see more of Eponine (British newcomer Samantha Barks).  Her voice was lovely!  (She also worked in theater.)

Samantha Barks as Eponine

I felt that Cosette and Marius had good chemistry together; their singing was pretty good, too.  However, the film is too long; editing a bit wouldn’t have hurt.  Why draw things out that most of the audience already knows about?

Colm Wilkinson as The Bishop

Long-time fans of Les Mis are in for a treat- Colm Wilkinson plays The Bishop, the man who gives Valjean the “gift of silver” to “become an honest man.”  Wilkinson, an Irishman, played Valjean onstage for many years; his voice is amazing!