Pretty much everyone will agree that the man had some serious issues. He was quick to anger and violence, vengeful, enjoyed killing things, a drunkard, terrible at governing a kingdom, was never faithful to his women, fathered at least sixteen children out of wedlock, and thoroughly earned his rapacious reputation.
I say again: issues.
However, it’s pretty well stated that Robert’s real “madness” lay in his hatred of the Targaryens. Most of them have already been killed by the beginning of the story, but he craves the deaths of the last two. Then he quivers in fear when he learns the girl, Daenerys, is set to marry a Dothraki warlord, Khal Drogo. He can see the shape of that: a Dothraki horde coming to upset his kingdom and his crown.
Now, when Robert and his best friend, Ned Stark, are arguing over the morality of killing the girl out of fear of her unborn babe, most of us side with Ned. Robert is, after all, afraid of a girl and a child that hasn’t even been born yet, while the Dothraki are just a bunch of horse-riding savages. If the Dothraki come, says Ned, they’ll just throw them back into the sea. Indeed, when Robert’s agents try and fail to kill the pregnant Daenerys, that is the very act which drives Khal Drogo to declare that he will cross the sea with his horde and take the Iron Throne his wife’s father once sat upon.
So, it’s pretty clear cut, right? Ned is right, Robert is wrong, yes?
Then I read up on the Dothraki in The World of Ice and Fire, and King Robert’s fears suddenly achieved some validation.
Let me hasten to make it clear, I know Robert’s motivations were impure, such that, on his death bed, he begged his friend Ned to save Daenerys from what Robert himself set in motion. But that does not mean he was wrong to fear a Targaryen at the head of a Dothraki horde.
You want proof? Let’s take a look at Dothraki history. Learning from the past, and all that.
The Dothraki are really very young, only three or four centuries old. They’re younger than the Doom of Valyria. Yet, for all their youth, they have complete domination over the vast grasslands which take up a substantial portion of Essos. You have Westeros, the Narrow Sea, a few city-kingdoms, and then an ocean-sized grassland. When people talk about what’s really, really far away, they mean, “on the other side of the grasslands.”
That’s a lot of space. A lot of land for the Dothraki to dominate. Yet they are so young, not thousands of years old. So who had the land before them?
The previous inhabitants of the grasslands are remembered in Westeros as “the Sarnori.” They called themselves the Tagaez Fen, or the Tall Men. And they were a great and mighty people who had many wars amongst themselves and with their neighbors, including their original conquest of the grasslands, wresting it away from previous rulers and strange peoples.
You remember Valyria? The oh-so-powerful freehold that dominated the world because they rode dragons? You ever wonder why they were called “the freehold?” I mean, what were they “free” from? One possible answer: the Tall Men. That is how powerful the Tall Men were with their several kingdoms, such that not being under their rule was very distinct. The Valyrians rode freaking dragons, yet they weren’t “the empire,” they were “the freehold.” That’s how much clout the Tall Men carried.
And they were very diverse, among other things. They had scores of gods to worship and… well, actually, not much else is known about the Tall Men. All record of them is gone. All that’s left are some lingering historical records, written by those who interacted with the Tall Men in some way. Nothing else.
Because the Dothraki wiped them out.
Before the Doom of Valyria, the ancestors of the Dothraki were a tiny, insignificant tribe among threescore quarreling tribes, horse riders of the far eastern steppes. After the Doom, one chieftain, Khal Mengo, forced all of the horse-riding tribes to unite under his rule, forming a single khalasar, a Dothraki riding horde.
Before: the horse-lords were insignificant thorns in the sides of a few local kings of the Tall Men.
After: the Tall Men are all dead, save a very small remnant of a few thousand on some out-of-the-way spit of land, and the Dothraki are still riding around, pillaging as they please.
The Dothraki were very numerous, extremely vicious, and highly capable riders. City after city, army after army, kingdom after kingdom, Mengo and his successors ground the Tall Men to dust under their hooves of their horses. Yet, the most critical deciding factor: the Tall Men were agonizingly, stupidly slow to realize the danger they were in. If they had united, especially early on, the Dothraki would have been just a footnote in history. Instead, they fought amongst themselves, refusing to believe the eastern savages could truly pose a threat to them. Result: the Tall Men were rendered virtually extinct within one century.
It took the Targaryens a couple centuries to unite the Seven Kingdoms under their rule. It took the Dothraki less than one century to annihilate an entire civilization that was on par with the whole of Westeros. Westeros is now the pillar of civilization, interacting with only a few “free cities” in Essos, because the Tall Men are gone.
True, there is one last remnant of them, even still. Something along the lines of ten or twenty thousand. As opposed to millions of Dothraki.
Those hundred gods that the Dothraki stole and planted in Vaes Dothrak? Taken from the Tall Men. Because the Tall Men refused to believe the Dothraki were a threat, no matter the evidence dancing naked before their eyes.
And the first, major portion of this heinous damage was done under one Khal, leading the whole of their race, back when it was much smaller, in a crusade to wipe out civilization.
No, seriously, that is their goal. They believe cities and walls are an abomination, a perverting of the flesh of their mother earth. So they destroyed all the cities and ripped down the walls. We don’t even have any surviving records of their own, because the Dothraki destroyed those two, amidst the general, all-encompassing annihilation, the unrestrained slaughter of men, women, children, animals, everything.
You know, it would be such poetic justice of the grasslands all burned in a massive fire, and the Dothraki were unable to escape because they destroyed the cities and walls which could have protected them… but I digress.
It took several things to halt the unending Dothraki advance. Two primary factors in particular.
First, the original khalasar finally broke apart after the death of it’s Khal. They are no longer united. But they do look forward and prophesy of the Khal of Khals, the Stallion That Will Mount the World, uniting them all into one truly massive khalasar again, and they will sweep all civilization away before them.
Still, despite their division, the Dothraki were still grinding the Tall Men beneath them. It wasn’t until they reached the Free Cities that they were finally halted, and then only by, reason number two, the prowess of the Unsullied. You wonder why slavery is so big and so cruel? It’s all to keep providing Unsullied to protect the last few cities in Essos. The scattered, destitute villages who can’t afford them? All of them are being ground further and further into oblivion by the Dothraki.
Now that Dany has ended the practice of creating new Unsullied, I’d say the last few cities in Essos are pretty much doomed. Which means the last, desperate bulwark separating the Dothraki from the coasts, and from Westeros, will soon fail.
The Dothraki have already destroyed one mighty civilization, and intend to destroy all the rest as well.
The Tall Men could have won if they had united, but did not see the Dothraki as a threat, rather like Ned Stark.
The only proven counter-measure against Dothraki hordes is the Unsullied, which are profoundly lacking in Westeros, where slavery is illegal.
And this isn’t even considering that Dany’s son could and would have united the Dothraki into a single khalasar, several million strong. Even Robert didn’t know that.
So an endless, anti-civilization horde, which already has the annihilation of the Tall Men to their credit, is set to come down on the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and it all hinges on one girl and the child in her womb.
As terrible a king as Robert was, it seems he may have had the right of it. I hate to say it, but, now knowing the history of the Dothraki, were I in his place, I would probably give serious thought to doing something utterly reprehensible as well, if it would protect my kingdom.
It’s also been proven that Ned Stark was too cocky. We’ve already seen how his brand of honor, or rather how he handled his honor, got him killed, and arguably his king too. It’s a fair guess that he was wrong about the threat posed by the Targaryen-led Dothraki.
If there’s one thing George R.R. Martin does well, it’s to create situations where right and wrong are not so easily to tell apart.
And oh! Look! What’s happening at the end of the latest novel? Dothraki raiders are making landfall in Westeros and destroying everything in their path, in the name of a surviving Targaryen! Who could have ever seen that coming?