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).

Daenerys-Ser-Jorah

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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