Game of Thrones: A Lesson From Daenerys Targaryen

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A model of one of Daenerys Targaryen's dragons from the Game of Thrones outside the Sydney Opera House (Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
A model of one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons from the Game of Thrones outside the Sydney Opera House (Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

HBO’s Game of Thrones’ stunning finale became a lesson in preventing violent extremism when one of it’s lead characters, Daenerys Targaryen, suffered a fatal ending. Brimming from the imagination of George R.R. Martin, Games of Thrones is book-to-TV series that looked at the lives of the characters in fictional Westeros.

Over the last eight years, Game of Thrones has gripped audiences with stunning and powerful characters, but none quite as spectacular in their ascension into power as Daenerys Targaryen.

Once alienated and cast out from a position of power in the kingdom, spending her life on the fringe of society, Daenerys Targaryen became the show’s feminist icon before shifting into darker waters as it’s anti-hero and finally (in the last two episodes) as its war criminal and dictator.

The “Mother of Dragons,” as she was often referred to, shifted from becoming the abused to become the abuser.

The character’s transformation wasn’t something most audience members saw coming until Season 8 of Game of Thrones. A pivotal point in the story captured Daenerys’ descent into rage and retribution (all of which she justified) during a moment where she had the ability to stop waging war or continue on the path of her own ideological leanings. She leaned into rage.

The Game of Thrones scene featuring King’s Landing was horrifying all around, but it’s the first 14 seconds of the scene above that really drive Daenerys’ story.

No matter how much she evolved as a character, the strength she developed, the battles she won or the people she liberated, she ultimately never dealt with any of the trauma she suffered. In turn, she became a violent extremist.

Though Game of Thrones Season 8 pivoted the zombie Night King as a monster, forewarning that “winter is coming,” it was Daenerys Targaryen who was no less a monster, bringing the winter of falling ash in the aftermath of a city sacked and brutally burned to the ground.

Much like any other violent extremist, Daenerys Targaryen believed she was right. She believed she was a liberator and intended to go on “liberating” others. Despite all the carnage and wreckage around her, Daenerys could only see her own ideology of “break the wheel” — in other words, break the system of oppression.

It is the most powerful lesson in the making of a violent extremist that we have in pop culture at this hour. This is the heart of preventing violent extremism (PVE).

Millions of people have moved forward season by season over the last eight years, growing with and coming to know and love these characters. Millions who will never read a single PVE report nor attend a single seminar will have watched Daenerys Targaryen’s descent into rage and madness after years of feeling alienated, oppressed and losing loved ones to violence and cruelty.

If they know her story, they’ll better understand the story of many violent extremists.

No one likes what Daenerys became, but we understand her. We might even have sympathy for her. Daenerys Targaryen is a fictional character in Game of Thrones, but thousands of people descending into rage after waves of alienation and oppression are very, very real.



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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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