Even though House of the Dragon obviously doesn’t endorse the marrying of underage child brides, its depiction onscreen represents new territory for the Game of Thrones universe. While Game of Thrones at least attempted to age some of its young characters up to more relatively palatable ages, House of the Dragon‘s treatment of Laena Velaryon dives right into a grim Medieval reality.
In Martin’s fantasy world, which is inspired by real life history, children have to grow up fast. Young noble boys aspire to be knights as soon as they can grasp a sword and young noble girls are expected to be married off into other houses as soon as possible, strengthening the political bonds of their respective families. But Martin and Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss occasionally attempted to soften the blow of that reality in adapting A Game of Thrones.
Robb Stark went from age 14 in the books to 17 in the show. His siblings all aged up as well with Sansa moving from 11 to 13, Arya from 9 to 11, Bran from 7 to 10, and Rickon from 3 to 6, with the Starks’ half-brother Jon Snow moving from around 14 to 16. Just about every other Thrones character followed suit with even the adult characters largely moving from their 30s to their 40s or 50s and the story’s timeline getting adjusted so that a few more years passed since Robert’s Rebellion.
As Martin first described on his LiveJournal blog in a 2009 post, the changes all started with the casting of the young Daenerys Targaryen (who, at the time, was set to be played by Tamzin Merchant but was later recast as Emilia Clarke). Though the Mad King’s daughter starts out around age 13 in the books, keeping her there was simply untenable as one of her first major character moments is being sold off to the Dothraki as a child bride. Martin explained:
“Dany is a very difficult role. She starts out vulnerable and scared, but blooms on the Dothraki sea, and becomes a powerful leader by book’s end. It’s no secret that HBO’s Dany will start out older than Dany does in the book; that was a change that had to be made, if we wanted to keep the sex scenes, and David and Dan and I were all agreed that the sex scenes were essential.”
Even though Daenerys was aged up in Game of Thrones, she was not aged up all the way to age 18, the modern Western world’s commonly accepted age for adulthood and sexual consent. While Emilia Clarke was in her mid twenties during the filming of said sex scenes, Daenerys remained 16. Additionally, season 3 of Game of Thrones saw a roughly 15-year-old Sansa Stark entered unwillingly into a marriage with Tyrion Lannister, though at least Tyrion acknowledges the union as the farce it is and leaves his “wife” alone.