X
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Game of Thrones Daenerys fan fury, explained by a clinical psychologist

Janina Scarlet, a Game of Thrones geek and psychologist, has thoughts on why the Breaker of Chains' deed has some fans feeling so bummed.

img-20200924-185317
img-20200924-185317
Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/ Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack
3 min read
game-of-thrones-season-8-episode-5-daenerys-damanged

What happened to you, Dany?

HBO

On the path to ruling the seven kingdoms, a true superstar of the realm took a dramatic turn in Sunday's episode that has lots of fans feeling uneasy. Upset about it? Janina Scarlet, a clinical psychologist, author and dedicated fantasy fan, says the Game of Thrones letdown is real. 

But first, if you haven't yet heard what went down on "The Bells," the penultimate episode of HBO's hit series, take a moment to go watch season 8, episode 5. Then meet me back here.

Because there are spoilers aplenty ahead! Got that? OK. 

Great, you're back. So, Queen Daenerys and her dragon-baby Drogon easily force Cersei's troops to surrender and then torch the town anyway. WTH, right?

The one-time breaker of chains and leading contender for both the Iron Throne and our hearts has very rapidly descended toward becoming the Mad Queen, or at least the "Queen of the Ashes," she once swore she'd never be. 

scarlet

Licensed clinical psychologist Janina Scarlet incorporates geeky characters into her therapy. 

Janina Scarlet

Clinical psychologist Janina Scarlet says Game of Thrones has functioned as a kind of refuge for trauma survivors who were able to feel and establish a sense of connection with characters who endured suffering from physical disfigurement to the loss of multiple loved ones. 

So Khaleesi's heel turn is particularly troubling for fans who might have felt a true sense of connection to her character following her epic story arc, which has seen Dany escape some awful circumstances to literally walk through fire, free the slaves, bring Dragons to the north and help rally the troops to defeat the Night King. She has basically been Abraham Lincoln, Hercules and Winston Churchill combined into one person riding a dragon.

Scarlet uses the term "parasocial relationship" to describe the bond a fan might form with a fictional character or celebrity. 

"Parasocial relationships can help fans to feel less alone in their mental health struggles, can inspire hope, and create a dialogue about trauma and recovery," Scarlet explained. "Seeing a person who came from an abusive childhood, experienced violence, assault and tragedy can inspire many other trauma survivors, especially women, to better understand and process their traumatic experiences as well."

got-s08e05-cnet-au-reax-thumb
Watch this: Game of Thrones season 8 episode 5: Everybody hurts

Scarlet is also a self-proclaimed geek, author and creator of Superhero Therapy, which integrates beloved characters from comics, science fiction, fantasy and video games into certain types of therapy. Scarlet, who's based in San Diego, works with clients to identify their own skills and strengths using characters like Veronica Mars, who has a talent for detective work, as role models.

Scarlet agreed with countless fans on social media -- and everybody watching in my household -- that the Mother of Dragons' slaughter of thousands at King's Landing doesn't exactly jibe with the image of Daenerys Targaryen we've become familiar with from the good old, chain-breaking days in Meereen and beyond.

"For many fans, especially women, who might identify with Daenerys in terms of being a survivor, this sudden change can be both confusing and emotionally distressing. Such story arc can appear to take away from agency that many trauma survivors may develop through parasocial relationships."

The most evil Game Of Thrones characters ranked

See all photos

She's also concerned the depiction of extreme violence against a multitude of unnamed characters in "The Bells" could trigger fans.

"It is my hope that in the future, writers of television and films will consider having cultural and/or mental health consultants on staff, especially when writing storylines dealing with trauma, shock, and horror in order to be conscientious about the potential effects the particular episode or scene may have on the viewers."

HBO did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Sunday's Game of Thrones finale is likely to come with more violence and shocking turns, but in the future perhaps we'll see more heroes who make mistakes and who still serve as role models when they do.

See all the Game of Thrones season 8 photos

See all photos

Originally published May 13.