As we embark upon a new season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" (Sundays, 9 p.m.), it is hard to erase the indelible imagery of the show's shocking third season. While most viewers will think I am referring to the infamous "Red Wedding" in the penultimate episode in Season 3, there were other shocking moments dispersed throughout.
One such moment was provided by Daenerys Targaryen, the formidable young leader who, among her many distinctions, happens to have birthed three dragons. As a woman of power, poise and presence, it is easy to imagine her taking it all -- including the coveted Iron Throne -- from her male counterparts. To do so, Daenerys needs an army, and at the beginning of Season 3 she sets her sights on the Unsullied, the "greatest slave soldiers in the world."
In this cutthroat world where ruthless men jostle mercilessly for power, Daenerys' drive and ambition are often overlooked and her intelligence underestimated. She is living in a society where "intelligent women" are those who do "what they're told" (according to King Joffrey). Instead of trumpeting and boasting her strengths, Daenerys is shrewd enough to "fall in line" with this thinking when necessary; but only temporarily and only as a means to an end.
The master of the army and the soldiers themselves speak High Valyrian, an older and increasingly antiquated tongue. Using an interpreter, Daenerys barters for control of the Unsullied.
Subtitles reveal the master to be misogynistic and cruel-hearted. The master calls Daenerys the c-word, the b-word and everything in between (although the interpreter is kind enough to omit these words in her translations to Daenerys). He has no respect for the young leader, and since she can't understand him anyway, he spares her no insult.
Against the advice of her closest counsel, Daenerys eventually offers the wicked man one of her children (a fire-breathing dragon!), in exchange for full control of the Unsullied. It is a dangerous exchange. In this fictional world, dragons are extremely powerful, and all but extinct. Giving one of the only dragons remaining to such an evil man can only lead to trouble.
I watched the exchange -- a dragon for an army -- with a sinking heart. Daenerys removed one of her precious dragons from its cage and handed the chain leash to the evil army master. In turn, he gave Daenerys a small whip.
This whip was symbolic; the Unsullied army will only heed the commands of the person holding it.
I cringed as I watched the evil master attempt to gain control of his newly-acquired possession. I knew Daenerys would never willingly choose to give away one of her beloved dragons. And yet, this terrible man was actually holding the young dragon's leash.
What had Daenerys done?
Grasping the army's whip, Daenerys turned and addressed the Unsullied for the first time. She addressed them as their master and, to the shock of everyone present, she addressed them in their native tongue.
"You speak Valyrian?" the evil master hissed.
During their earlier negotiations, whenever the wicked man insulted her, Daenerys had shown no sign of comprehension, but she had understood every word! This despicable man made a premature assumption that she was uneducated (or at least, not educated enough to understand High Valyrian), and Daenerys had allowed him to believe that. It was only upon gaining full control of the army that Daenerys revealed her high-born ancestry, and indicated that Valyrian was actually her "mother tongue."
The army's former master demanded that the Unsullied kill her, but his commands went unheeded. He was no longer in command; Daenerys was.
She looked up at her dragon baby, flapping its wings wildly in resistance to its new owner. "Dracarys," she said. Dragonfire. With a simple word, her child opened its fiery mouth and set the evil master ablaze.
Daenerys had won. She had established herself as the rightful ruler of the Unsullied, outwitted her predecessor and kept her dragon family intact. Ironically, it was her willingness to "play dumb" that ultimately put her in a position of power.
In life, you will sometimes be underestimated -- as a woman, as the youngest person in the room, as the soft-spoken one, etc. Being dismissed and discounted isn't always a bad thing, though -- especially when you know your own strengths. Daenerys was confident in hers. Rather than begging for his approval, Daenerys curbed her ego and used the former master's dismissive attitude to her advantage.
There is an amazing lesson in that.
Often, we are so quick to move into proving our worth that we lose sight of our goal. It is not our job to make ourselves worthy in the eyes of our detractors or visible in the eyes of those who overlook us. To the contrary, our job is to fulfill a greater purpose.
Daenerys' ability to put her pride aside -- for the good of a greater vision and purpose -- showcases her incredible strength, determination and focus. When someone fails to recognize your brilliance, your greatness or your worth, it can be easier to fly under the radar. Use that to your advantage. Allow the naysayers in your life to underestimate you, while silencing the inner voice that cares what they think. Operate deliberately within your purpose and stay the course. There is no need to verbally demand respect from those who are too weak to show it -- nor to reveal your hand in an effort to win them over.
Instead, allow your actions and your accomplishments to win the respect you already know you deserve. It is not always the loudest voice that wins the war. Invariably, it is an unyielding determination and an unwavering vision that ultimately takes the crown.