In the final season of the television adaptation of George R. R Martin’s fantasy series, Game of Thrones, viewers watch as the series-favorite protagonist Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, reaches the end of her journey in reclaiming the Iron Throne of Westeros. When Daenerys, the peace-keeping and proverbial “Mother of Dragons,” arrives at the final destination of her conquest, the capital city Kings Landing, she decides to burn the city and all its occupants to the ground (Game of Thrones). Initially, the highly controversial move seemed out of character for the soft-spoken Targaryen princess who was known for conquering cities ruled by power hungry warlords for the purpose of freeing the enslaved citizens. But upon further examination and the application of several tenets of Western philosophy, her rationale and claim to the Iron Throne is in fact, entirely justified. Using Thomas Aquinas’ three qualifications for a “just” war, chapter twenty in the Book of Deuteronomy and Thucydides “Melian Dialogue,” the argument can be made for both Daenerys Targaryen’s right to rule Westeros as well as her destruction of Kings Landing.
Thirteenth century Dominican friar and philosopher Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica with the intention of consolidating the main theological teachings of the Catholic Church into one text (Reichberg 169). Within Summa Theologica, Aquinas breaks down these teachings into questions, the most famous of which is question forty, which outlines a set trio of criteria for a “just” war (169). The first of these qualifications is that the “authority of the prince by whose command the war is to be waged,”is that of the rightful sovereign (Aquinas 177). Daenerys Targaryen is the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms for several reasons. The first is that she is descended from one of the longest ruling dynasties in the history of Westeros, House Targaryen of Dragonstone (Game of Thrones). The Targaryen dynasty ruled Westeros for nearly three centuries and was only removed from the throne when Daenerys’ father, Aerys the “Mad” King, fell to Robert Baratheon and his rebellion (GoT). The second reason is that, apart from her nephew Jon Snow, Daenerys is the last remaining Targaryen who was born and raised to rule, so she has the education and experience to successfully rule an entire country. Finally, Jon Snow, who according to male-line primogeniture is the rightful heir to House Targaryen, does not want the Iron Throne and supports Daenerys in her quest to reclaim what is rightfully hers (GoT).
The second of Aquinas’ qualifications for a “just” war is that “a just cause is required, namely those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault (culpa),” (Aquinas 177). Apart from the fact that Daenerys has a legal right to the throne, she also has just cause in her attack on Kings Landing because of the grave failings of the current ruling family, House Baratheon, which, in reality, is ruled and controlled by House Lannister (GoT). House Baratheon only had one legitimate monarch, Robert the First, who was the original usurper of House Targaryen. While Robert I was not the worst monarch, he was an unwitting puppet in the machinations of the Lannisters through his wife, Cersei. Unknown to King Robert, all of the Baratheon children were illegitimate, as they were the product of Cersei’s incestuous affair with her twin brother, Jamie Lannister (GoT). After the death of of both Robert and Tommen Baratheon, the son of Jamie and Cersei, Cersei illegally claims the Iron Throne for herself. This, however, is not the most egregious of failings on the part of Queen Cersei and the Lannisters. These failings include the massacres at the Battle of Blackwater Bay using artificial wildfire, the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor which, at the time had thousands of innocent people inside it, the murder of Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, and numerous political and financial machinations behind closed doors that ensured that the House of Lannister would remain on the throne despite the well-known fact that they had no legitimate claim to it (GoT). The House of Lannister had effectively plunged the Seven Kingdoms into financial and political ruin all within one generation.
The third reason for a “just” war as outlined in Summa Theologica, is that “it is necessary that those waging war should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil…”(Aquinas 177). Great houses across Westeros had become extinct, like the benevolent and powerful House Stark, which had successfully protected and supported the entire North region of the continent for a millennia (GoT). Citizens of Westeros were rapidly migrating out of the country and fleeing across the Narrow Sea to avoid persecution and destitution at the hands of the Lannister’s and the Seven Kingdoms were rapidly disintegrating into waring city-states as opposed to one united country. Daenerys hoped to reunite the Seven Kingdoms, not only for the continued success of one nation, but to protect her millions of subjects from the rapidly approaching White Walkers north of the Wall, who marched on Westeros with the intention (and capability) of annihilating the entire population – something Queen Cersei and the Lannisters paid no mind to (GoT). What better [good] intention is there to wage war than in the effort to save an entire country from certain death brought on by the very incarnation of evil, the undead White Walkers?
To continue on in the vein of the biblical perspective of a “just” war, one can turn to the Book of Deuteronomy. It is valid for one to question whether or not Daenerys really needed to burn down and destroy the entirety of Kings Landing due to the collateral damage and loss of innocent life. The death of innocents should be avoided at all costs except, “however, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God,” (NIV, Deu. 20.16-18). With this passage in mind, it can be established that Daenerys had no choice but to destroy the symbolic seat of power for the Lannisters because she knew the city founded by her ancestors was a lost cause. While she could have limited the destruction just to the palace and saved the rest of the city, Daenerys knew that the Seven Kingdoms would have to be rebuilt from the ground up, both symbolically and literally, in order to completely eliminate the scourge of corruption that permeated throughout Kings Landing, since most of the remaining occupants were loyal to the Lannisters. And perhaps in a bit of irony, Daenerys’ dragon Drogon’s dragon-fire causes the wildfire caches, which were hidden by the Lannisters around the city, to ignite and consume the capital, so in a way the Lannisters sealed their fate and ensured their own demise (GoT).
Within the pages of the History of the Peloponnesian War, written by Athenian general and philosopher Thucydides, lies “The Melian Dialogue” which is a dramatized version of the negotiations between Athens and the governing body of the island of Melos. When applied to Daenerys Targaryen’s final conquest of Kings Landing, her rationale for the siege of the city becomes clear. Despite numerous attempts to peacefully negotiate with Queen Cersei, Daenerys gains nothing. To quote the Council of the Melians, Daenerys and her advisors realize that Cersei has “come prepared to judge the argument [herself], and that the likely end of it all will be either war, if we prove that we are in the right, and so refuse to surrender, or else [death]”(Thucydides). Queen Cersei and her Lannister brethren are so consumed with power, greed and the survival of their House that they turn a blind eye to the truth (and proof) that Daenerys and her council provide to the Lannisters (GoT). Despite Daenerys and her team bringing one of the wights to Kings Landing as hard evidence of the impending arrival of the White Walkers from the North, Cersei and the Lannisters are unfazed at the prospect that all of Westeros will succumb to the same fate if they do not surrender to Daenerys, as Daenerys and her dragons are one of the few weapons that can actually destroy the White Walkers and their zombie horde (GoT). Cersei’s refusal to surrender absolutely gives Daenerys the right to lay siege to Kings Landing, despite the inevitable collateral damage and loss of innocent civilian life. This is also in line with the Utilitarian theory of “The Greater Good” which “aim[s] to maximize aggregate welfare,” for the sake “of humanity as a whole [and] the good of all sentient beings,” (Kahane et al.).
While the destruction of Kings Landing may have seemed out of character for the beloved Mother of Dragons, Daenerys really did not have any choice if she was to succeed in her mission to reclaim the Iron Throne and save the people of Westeros from certain death. Up to the point in which she arrives on the shore of Kings Landing, Daenerys has been no stranger to personal sacrifice and loss, particularly at the hands of the Lannisters. She fights on behalf of the people who live under extreme tyranny and oppression and sometimes the only way to overcome an obstacle is to remove it from ones’ path entirely. By burning Kings Landing to ash, Daenerys is clearing the path for a more just and equitable society to rise from the flames.
Throughout her journey, she has learned that there are times for mercy and for retribution. Her acts of mercy can be seen when she frees the army of Unsullied soldiers and lets them choose to serve her or live freely in peace. Her acts of retribution are carried out when her attempts at peace are denied, as evidenced by her allowance of the citizens of Meereen to rise up and kill the Masters who formerly ruled the city (GoT).
With the aforementioned qualifications written by Thomas Aquinas, the stipulations discussed in the Book of Deuteronomy and the conversations detailed in “The Melian Dialogue,” the case for Daenerys Targaryen’s right to the Iron Throne of Westeros and her decision to destroy Kings Landing can be successfully argued and the controversial matter put to rest.