Many Game of Thrones fans were shocked and horrified during the latest episode of the series as Queen Daenerys, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, listened to the bells signaling the surrender of the capitol city of Westeros and then launched into the air on her dragon to unleash a final deadly attack…sparing no one.
However, while many fans were disappointed that Queen Daenerys – who so often showed a deep sense of justice and compassion – committed such an atrocity, both the narrative and Daenerys’ character arc have always led this direction. Her childhood was deeply marked by trauma, and children who experience trauma can be affected for the rest of their lives.
Daenerys spent her childhood as a refugee, without any safety or a stable home. Her only family was her emotionally and physically abusive brother, who eventually placed her in an abusive underage marriage. She then lost her brother, her husband and the home she had begun to build – her first ever. As an adult, she continued to experience loss and instability, including in her closest relationships.
Difficulties like Daenerys’ – minus the dragons – are shared by children all over the world. In countries like Syria, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh, refugee children face the risks of violence, abuse, neglect and early marriage – as well as the devastating effects of these traumas.
Children who suffer from traumatic stress – or adults who suffered trauma as children – exhibit characteristics that interfere with daily life. Children and adults may have trouble forming healthy relationships with others, and children who have experienced violence are more likely to use violence themselves as adults. Ultimately, childhood trauma can devastate a person’s ability to function in a healthy way and contribute to their communities.
This is what we see when Daenerys destroys King’s Landing – when she cannot let go of the pain, violence, loss and betrayals she has suffered.
The first years of a child’s development are crucial, and a child who grows up in a supportive family is better equipped to handle life’s challenges. The proof is in Jon Snow. The safety and stability of Jon’s childhood at Winterfell and the loving relationships he has with his family help Jon cope with the trauma he faces throughout the series. Even though Jon experiences war, isolation, betrayal and the loss of loved ones, he has the strong foundation to maintain his moral center and sense of self – unlike Daenerys.
All children need safety, stability and love. When they endure trauma, they need care and support to help them recover.