- Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Game of Thrones” season eight, episode five, “The Bells.”
- On the penultimate episode of the HBO series, Daenerys Targaryen decided to ignore the Lannister army’s surrender and firebomb King’s Landing.
- Many fans had long theorised that Dany was becoming “mad” like her father, King Aerys II, who once threatened to burn down King’s Landing.
- Here’s every clue we spotted over the past eight seasons that teased her sharp descent.
- Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.
“Mercy is our strength,” Daenerys Targaryen declared on Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones” – a mere 25 minutes before she decided to ignore the Lannister army’s surrender and mercilessly destroy King’s Landing, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
How did we get here?
Daenerys once seemed like Westeros’ best chance of a worthy, revolutionary leader: She was the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains. But she had also become a symbol of tension and contradiction, toggling between empathy and her desire for power.
Indeed, the penultimate episode of HBO’s hit show, titled “The Bells,” leaned into a longstanding theory about Daenerys becoming a “Mad Queen.”
In the eyes of many fans, the Mother of Dragons has always harbored bloodthirsty, tyrannical tendencies – just like her father, the infamous “Mad King,” who loved killing his enemies with wildfire and once threatened to burn down King’s Landing.
Here’s every clue we spotted over the past eight seasons that teased Dany’s sharp descent into madness, in chronological order.
“He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.”
In a behind-the-scenes video, showrunner David Benioff used Dany’s cold reaction to her brother’s death as evidence of her long-simmering madness.
“I mean, he was a terrible brother, so I don’t think anyone out there was crying when Viserys died,” he said. “But there is something kind of chilling about the way that Dany has responded to the death of her enemies.”
Dany’s memorable line after her brother’s death also underscores how she sees her own power as superior and righteous – how she she interprets her inflammable body as a kind of divinity.
Daenerys rarely shied away from the idea of collateral damage — and displayed an early affinity for vengeful violence.
Daenerys had a very telling reaction to Khal Drogo’s speech about conquering the Seven Kingdoms, when he promised to give their unborn son the “iron chair.”
“I will kill the men in iron suits and tear down their stone houses,” Drogo said. “I will rape their women, take their children as slaves.”
Dany smiled as her husband promised to commit a variety of war crimes with his khalasar – many of which ended up coming to pass when she finally attacked King’s Landing. Dany used Drogon to kill every last Lannister soldier and blast through the stone buildings with dragonfire. Her soldiers on the ground, including whoever remains of the Dothraki, killed innocents and assaulted women at random.
In the very next scene, she exacted revenge on a wine seller who attempted to poison her – by stripping him naked, tying him to her horse, making him walk until he collapsed, and dragging him to death.
Of course, attempted murder of a pregnant woman is a horrific crime. But as INSIDER’s Kim Renfro noted, Dany’s form of punishment went beyond justice. It was a specific brand of vengeful violence.
She named Drogon after Khal Drogo, who rose to power by raping and pillaging innocent villages.
When Dany’s dragons were born on the season one finale, she named each of them after an important man in her life: Viserion for her brother Viserys, Rhaegal for her eldest brother Rhaegar, and Drogon for her husband Khal Drogo.
Viserion’s namesake was cold and cruel towards her, which may have foreshadowed his death and rebirth at the hands of the Night King. Rhaegal was killed by Euron Greyjoy on orders from Cersei Lannister, the widow of Robert Baratheon, who killed Dany’s brother Rhaegar.
In retrospect, it makes sense that Drogon fulfilled Drogo’s promise to her back on season one.
In some ways, Drogon also fulfilled the Dothraki prophecy about “The Stallion Who Mounts the World,” which was supposed to refer to Dany’s son: “Swift as the wind he rides. His enemies will cower before him, and their wives will weep tears of blood.”
“I am the dragon’s daughter. And I swear to you that who would harm you will die screaming.”
Daenerys displayed an early understanding of mercy and empathy when she ordered her husband’s Dothraki horde to stop raping and enslaving innocent women. Most notably, she claimed Mirri Maz Duur in order to protect her.
But as soon as Mirri Maz Duur betrayed her and took Khal Drogo’s life away, Daenerys unflinchingly ordered Jorah to burn her with Drogo’s funeral pyre. She spoke to the remaining members of Drogo’s khalasar, promising to give their enemies gruesome deaths.
When Mirri Maz Duur announced that Dany would not hear her scream as she died, Dany replied swiftly, “I will.”
“We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground.”
When Daenerys arrived outside of Qarth with her khalasar, everyone on the edge of death, she threatened the city’s gatekeepers with an ominous prophecy.
“When my dragons are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me and destroy those who have wronged me,” she said. “We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground. Turn us away, and we will burn you first.”
“I am Daenerys Stormborn of the blood of Old Valyria, and I will take what is mine — with fire and blood, I will take it.”
Throughout season two, Daenerys tried to convince the wealthiest men in Qarth to give her ships to sail to Westeros.
In a very telling exchange with Qarth’s sceptical Spice King, Dany spelled out her belief in the Iron Throne as her “birthright” – and the lengths she would go to in order to take it.
This scene also made it clear that she was already convinced of her own power and sanctity.
“I dreamt that if I carried those eggs into a great fire, they would hatch. When I stepped into the fire, my own people thought I was mad. But when the fire burnt out, I was unhurt,” she said. “Do you understand? I’m no ordinary woman. My dreams come true.”
Cersei revealed the consequences of incest in Westeros: “Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.”
Cersei always had difficulty acknowledging the faults in her son, Joffrey, who was fathered by Cersei’s twin brother.
On season two, however, she confided in Tyrion that she wondered whether Joffrey’s behaviour is “the price for what we’ve done,” drawing a direct connection between babies born from incest and cruelty.
Tyrion rightly pointed out that incest was common in the Daenerys’ family for generations. Indeed, Dany’s father and mother were brother and sister.
“Half the Targaryens went mad, didn’t they?” Cersei replied. “What’s the saying? Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.”
Dany is quick to turn on former friends and allies if they betray her.
On the season two finale, Daenerys discovered the betrayals of her supposed ally Xaro Xhoan Daxos and her handmaiden Doreah. So she locked them inside of Xaro’s empty vault and left them to die.
Dany’s treatment of Doreah was particularly brutal here. Doreah loyally served Dany throughout her time on the show and taught her how to take control in her marriage to Khal Drogo. It’s even unclear whether Doreah played a large role in Xaro’s plan to double-cross Dany – but Dany gave her a slow and excruciating death regardless, without even blinking an eye.
“If blood is your desire, blood shall flow,” a slave master told Dany. “But why?”
When Daenerys set her sights on Yunkai, intending to conquer the city and liberate its slaves, she met with a slave lord to discuss terms of surrender.
Dany told him that he and his fellow lords could keep their lives, as long as they agreed to release every slave in Yunkai and give them reparations: “Reject this gift,” she told him, “And I shall show you no mercy.”
“You are mad,” he replied.
Naturally, this scene didn’t raise many red flags at the time. Daenerys was threatening a slave master with a clear, reasonable, and noble goal. But it did serve to remind viewers that Dany could slaughter people and draw blood from any city at any time, if she so chose.
Daario gave Daenerys a red flower, which he described as “beautiful but poisonous.”
On the season four premiere, after his role was noticeably recast, Daario Naharis presented Daenerys with three flowers: Dusk Rose, Lady’s Lace, and Harpy’s Gold.
The last flower, Harpy’s Gold, is bright red. Daario described it as “beautiful but poisonous.”
This may not seem like much, even in retrospect, but flowers are symbolic in many works of fiction – particularly in old works like Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” since Victorians would often use bouquets to send secret messages. George R. R. Martin has used blue flowers, similar to Daario’s Dusk Rose, to represent the House Stark.
Additionally, the number three is significant in Daenerys’ family history: There are three heads on the dragon in the Targaryen sigil because Aegon, Visenya, and Rhaenys were the siblings who conquered Westeros. Dany is also one of three siblings, and she “gave birth” to three dragons.
So it’s not unreasonable to assume that there may have been some symbolism at work in this scene. The Harpy’s Gold flower could represent Daenerys, whose house colour is red and who’s often described as the most beautiful woman in the world in the books. As we see later in the show, her beauty and charm may have helped obscure her “poisonous” nature – especially in the eyes of her various suitors, like Jorah, Tyrion, and Jon Snow.
“I will answer injustice with justice.”
After the slaves turned against their masters and helped Daenerys conquer Meereen, she asked how many slave children were nailed to the posts on the road leading to the city. Jorah answered, “163, your grace.”
Dany immediately ordered her army to take the same amount of slave masters, seemingly at random, and condemn them to the same fate.
“The city is yours. All these people are your subjects now,” Ser Barristan Selmy advised. “Sometimes it is better to answer injustice with mercy.”
“I will answer injustice with justice,” she replied.
The following shot, as described by an episode recap from the Washington Post, was rather chilling: Daenerys “peers out over her newly conquered city, screams of dying former-masters ringing in the air. All righteousness must be balanced with at least a hint of cruelty or sadism in this universe.”
On a later episode, we discovered that some of those crucified masters had actively fought against the city’s cruel traditions.
“They can live in my new world, or they can die in their old one.”
Dany’s approach to the masters in Slaver’s Bay is one example of her violent impulses, reigned in by one of her trusted advisors. When she told Ser Jorah she had ordered the execution of every slave master in Yunkai, he implored her to reconsider.
“The slaves you freed – brutality is all they have ever known. If you want them to know something else, you’ll have to show it to them,” he told her. “It’s tempting to see your enemies as evil, all of them. But there’s good and evil on both sides in every war ever fought.”
He managed to change her mind, but Dany still expressed an arguably harsh outlook on the situation.
“The Mad King gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved,” Barristan Selmy told her.
Daenerys had always believed that her father’s enemies lied about his cruelty and dubbed him “The Mad King” as propaganda. But Ser Barristan Selmy revealed the truth.
“I served in his Kingsguard. Your enemies did not lie,” he said. “When the people rose and revolted against him, your father set their towns and castles aflame. He murdered sons in front of their fathers. He burned men alive with wildfire and laughed as they screamed.”
Most importantly, Barristan made it clear that Dany’s father never thought of himself as “mad.” He always delivered the punishment that he saw fit – just as Dany always has – and “each time, it made him feel powerful and right.” One could argue that with every act of revenge, these two Targaryens grew more and more sure of their own cruelty.
Daenerys has seemed to genuinely enjoy watching her enemies burn.
It makes sense for Daenerys to prefer burning people as a form of execution, considering her dragons are the symbol of her power and Targaryen blood. But that doesn’t make it less troubling.
Other characters who have seen bodies burn have spoken about the horrific smell, the way that sight has haunted them. Dany has never expressed anything even remotely similar. Rather, she has seemed to revel in the sight of her enemies aflame.
“A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing,” Maester Aemon told Sam.
Believing himself to be her last living relative, Aemon Targaryen lamented Dany being “alone in the world.”
Although he wasn’t correct about Dany being the last Targaryen, Aemon’s ominous statement foreshadowed the deep, abiding sense of loneliness that Daenerys felt when she crossed the sea to Westeros. She didn’t feel love or support from the Northerners and slowly lost each and every one of her closest friends and advisers – leaving her to feel truly alone in the world and partly triggering her “terrible” impulses.
“All rulers are either butchers or meat,” Daario told Dany.
Daario advised Daenerys to “slaughter” every master in Slaver’s Bay that she could find.
“I’m a queen, not a butcher,” she replied.
But Daario’s vision of all rulers as “either butchers or meat” likely stuck with Dany – especially after those very masters he told her to kill ended up trying to kill her first, and very nearly succeeded.
“What great thing has ever been accomplished without killing or cruelty?” Hizdahr zo Loraq declared.
Dany seemed to disagreed with Hizdahr zo Loraq’s worldview – but only because he was defending the fighting pits in Meereen, a tradition that she didn’t see as “great.”
“One day, your great city will return to the dirt,” Dany told Hizdahr.
“At your command?” he asked.
“If need be,” she replied.
“You’re not going to serve. You’re going to die.”
When Daenerys set aflame to the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, killing every Dothraki khal inside, it was framed as a triumphant moment. The khals had taken her captive and threatened to rape her, after all.
But the scene also made clear that Dany takes great pleasure in killing her enemies and using fire to solve her problems.
“You weren’t made to sit on a chair in a palace,” Daario told her. “You’re a conqueror, Daenerys Stormborn.”
Daario may have offered an early clue about Dany’s actions in King’s Landing. In burning the city to the ground, she likely destroyed the Red Keep’s throne room and the Iron Throne with it – the very thing she always dreamed about.
In the very next scene, she asked her khalasar to kill her enemies and give her the Seven Kingdoms.
As Joanna Robinson wrote for Vanity Fair at the time, her speech was taken by many fans as evidence of her descent into madness.
“Before, when we’ve seen Daenerys address a huge crowd, she’s done so with a very sympathetic message,” Robinson wrote. “She’s been freeing the enslaved of Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen while toppling their rulers. But in this week’s episode, it’s all about what Daenerys wants. She doesn’t even promise her new blood riders a better life, she just promises to work them harder than any khalasar has ever been worked.”
Bran’s vision illustrated the true cruelty of the Mad King.
Bran Stark saw a series of images, both past and future, during a vision on season six. Details of Dany’s rise to power – like the birth of her dragons and Drogon in flight – were interspersed with flashbacks to her father’s reign, who repeatedly screamed, “Burn them all.”
“I will crucify the masters. I will set their fleets afire, kill every last one of their soldiers, and return their cities to the dirt.”
Dany agreed to reopen Meereen’s fighting pits as a sign of goodwill and respect of the city’s history – but she was attacked and nearly killed as she was in the midst of compromise. The slave masters went on to kill random civilians and burn Dany’s ships.
“I will crucify the Masters. I will set their fleets afire, kill every last one of their soldiers, and return their cities to the dirt,” she decided. “That is my plan. You don’t approve?”
“You once told me you knew what your father was,” Tyrion responded. “He had caches of wildfire hidden under the Red Keep, the Guildhalls, the Sept of Baelor, all the major thoroughfares. He would have burned every one of his citizens. The loyal ones and the traitors. Every man, woman, and child. That’s why Jaime killed him.”
“This is entirely different,” Dany said.
“You’re talking about destroying cities,” he replied. “It’s not entirely different.”
Dany did give the masters an opportunity to surrender first, but this scene proved to be important. Not only did Tyrion draw a clear connection between Dany and her father, she also went on demonstrate her willingness to ignore his peaceful counsel.
Ultimately, Daenerys only managed to end her conflict with the masters of Slaver’s Bay when she let go of her advisors’ strategies and decided to simply burn them and their resources. She learned that her enemies take mercy as a sign of weakness, and that power – especially in the form of dragonfire – is extremely effective.
“If you ever betray me, I’ll burn you alive.”
“Swear this to me, Varys: If you ever think I’m failing the people, you won’t conspire behind my back,” Daenerys asks, after they arrived at Dragonstone. “You’ll look me in the eye, as you have done today, and you’ll tell me how I’m failing them.”
“I swear it, my queen,” he replied.
“And I swear this: If you ever betray me, I’ll burn you alive,” she said.
Both of these people eventually kept their promises – but only because when Varys told Daenerys how she was failing the people, she didn’t listen.
“Be a dragon,” Olenna advised.
“We will bring peace back to Westeros,” Daenerys promised Olenna Tyrell.
“Peace? Do you think that’s what we had under your father? Or his father, or his? Peace never lasts, my dear,” Olenna responded.
The Lady of Highgarden went on to give Daenerys some strikingly prophetic counsel.
“He’s a clever man, your hand,” she said, referring to Tyrion. “I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? Because I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
“Enough with the clever plans. I have three large dragons.”
When Daenerys’ allies were ambushed and killed, their plan thwarted by Tyrion’s lousy foresight, she leaned on the strategy she learned in Essos: Using her dragons to burn armies and destroy her enemies’ resources. She has seen, time after time, that taking matters into her own hands has proved most effective.
“Your strategy has lost us Dorne, the Iron Islands, and the Reach,” she told Tyrion. “Enough with the clever plans. I have three large dragons.”
Although Tyrion and Jon Snow were able to convince her not to fly her dragons directly to the Red Keep, she still gained ground in the war by using them against Lannister armies. And until she did, the show had never truly illustrated the devastation that dragonfire could cause.
On earlier seasons, when Dany burned her enemies, these moments were framed as triumphant and righteous. But when Dany burned the Lannister forces, we saw the death and destruction from the perspective of characters we trust: Jaime, Tyrion, and Bronn. It’s frankly horrifying.
“I’m not beheading anyone.”
“I offer you a choice,” Daenerys told Jaime’s remaining Lannister soldiers. “Bend the knee and join me. Together, we will leave the world a better place than we found it. Or refuse and die.”
When Lord Randyll Tarly and his son, Dickon Tarly, refused to betray Cersei, Tyrion begged Daenerys to reconsider.
“I meant what I said. I’m not here to put men in chains,” she replied. “I gave them a choice. They made it.”
“Your grace,” Tyrion said, “if you stop beheading entire families -“
“I’m not beheading anyone,” she interrupted, just before instructing Drogon to burn them alive.
This is notable because beheading is widely considered the most humane way to execute someone for a crime. This is why Ned Stark, the most honorable man in Westeros, always swung the sword himself.
In executing the Tarlys, Daenerys proved once again that she prefers to set people on fire, one of the most brutal ways to dispatch her enemies. She also proved that she has little patience or mercy left for people who refuse to call her queen.
“Which war was won without deceit and mass murder?”
When talking strategy with Tyrion – who had rapidly become the show’s most obvious moral compass – Dany echoed Hizdahr zo Loraq’s philosophy from Meereen’s fighting pits.
“You need to inspire a degree of fear,” Tyrion agreed. “But fear is all Cersei has. It’s all my father had, and Joffrey. It makes their power brittle, because everyone beneath them longs to see them dead.”
“Aegon Targaryen got quite a long way with fear,” she replied.
Tyrion also mentioned that he promised Jaime he’d keep Daenerys from doing anything impulsive.
“Impulsive?” she replied – but little more was said. Tyrion added that she’s been “known to lose her temper,” which seemed strange at the time, since Dany hadn’t been depicted as an impulsive person. Looking back, this seemingly throwaway adjective is exactly how Dany’s decimation of King’s Landing played out.
When Dany told Sam Tarly that she executed his brother and father, she showed little emotion.
Dany’s delivery of the news was, to many fans, more egregious than the execution itself.
Many leaders on the show have punished people who betrayed them, or refused to bend to their will. But when Dany informed her victims’ family member of their deaths – already knowing Sam to be a kind, decent person – she barely showed sympathy and certainly didn’t apologise.
Sansa warned Jon Snow that he couldn’t see Dany’s true nature.
“She’ll be a good queen. For all of us,” Jon, who could sense Sansa’s discomfort with Daenerys, told his sister on the season eight premiere. “She’s not her father.”
“No,” Sansa replied. “She’s much prettier.”
Sansa’s distrust of Dany throughout the final season was a major clue to viewers that Dany may not be the saviour she’s claimed to be – but this line is particularly telling. We’ve seen that men can easily fall in love with Daenerys, and Sansa suggested that Jon had been fooled by her facade.
It appears Daenerys has maintained some respect for her father and brother.
Dany has said multiple times that her father was evil and her brother was cruel. But her reception of Jaime Lannister at Winterfell indicated that she still has love and respect for her tyrannical family members – even after Tyrion told her that Jaime killed the Mad King to save King’s Landing.
“So many people have looked at me that way, but never here. Never on this side of the sea.”
“I saw them gathered around you. I saw the way they looked at you,” Dany told Jon. “I know that look. So many people have looked at me that way, but never here. Never on this side of the sea.”
Daenerys’ isolation in Winterfell hearkened back to Aegon’s comment on season five, but how she expressed her jealousy of Jon also echoed her brother’s jealousy on season one.
Viserys sold his sister to Khal Drogo because he thought it would bring him closer to the Iron Throne. But Daenerys commanded the respect of the Dothraki and they rallied around her as their Khaleesi.
“I’m the last hope of a dynasty,” Viserys told Jorah. “The greatest dynasty the world has ever seen, on my shoulders since I was 5 years old – and no one has ever given me what they gave to her in that tent.”
“I’m here to free the world from tyrants. That is my destiny. And I will serve it, no matter the cost.”
After Euron killed Dany’s dragon and kidnapped Missandei, she became determined to attack King’s Landing.
“If we attack King’s Landing with Drogon and the Unsullied and the Dothraki, tens of thousands of innocents will die,” Varys warned. “These are the people you came here to protect. I beg you, your grace, do not destroy the city you came here to save. Do not become what you have always struggled to defeat.”
“Do you believe we’re here for a reason, Lord Varys?” Daenerys responded. “I’m here to free the world from tyrants. That is my destiny. And I will serve it, no matter the cost.”
This isn’t unlike statements that Daenerys has made before, but in this case, she said she would achieve her goal “no matter the cost” – directly after Varys warned her that innocents would die.
Not only did she express little concern for those people, but she seemed intent on a bloody victory: “They should know who to blame when the sky falls down upon them.”
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