Why Daenerys' dark decision made perfect sense despite the obvious questions
Fire and blood has always been coming
The most recent episode in Game of Thrones has seen the landscape in Westeros dramatically change after Daenerys Targaryen rained fire on the capital and at this moment, we can't help but dwell on Ramsay Bolton's most famous line: "If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention".
The Mad Queen is here and while that narrative decision has justifiably left plenty of people perplexed, here's why it makes perfect sense despite the obvious issues.
On this note, we're going to examine Daenerys' dramatic decision from three aspects 1) What Daenerys has actually said throughout the show, 2) what she has done, 3) the writing for Daenerys in Season 8.
1) The North remembers.
Here's a sample of lines that Daenerys has said over the years.
Of course, anything can be taken out of context and 99% of characters in Game of Thrones have some blood on their hands, but they're quite telling.
On this point, it's worth noting that not every single Game of Thrones fan has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the show, however, The Mad Queen signs were always there. These lines may have been directed towards 'evil' or 'bad' characters, but they're important in showing Dany's attitude to death and passing the fatal sentence.
"When my dragons are grown… we will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground" - Season 2, episode 4
"I will take what is mine with fire and blood" - Season 2, episode 6.
They're obvious indicators.
In Season 4, Jorah implores her to show mercy to the masters of Yunkai. "I wouldn’t be here to help you if Ned Stark had done to me what you want to do to the masters of Yunkai,” he said.
In the same episode, Dany replies to Jorah by saying: “They can live in my new world or they can die in their old one.”
In Season 6, Dario Naharis puts it bluntly, “You weren’t made to sit on a chair in a palace. You’re a conquerer, Daenerys Stormborn.” This hints at a very important distinction that needs to be made. In Essos, Dany was seen as a liberator but in Westeros, she's an invader.
After crossing The Narrow Sea, she might have the best intentions of breaking the wheel and ending slavery, but the last Targaryen in Westeros was her father and we know how his reign ended.
When you look at things logically, the people of the Seven Kingdoms viewed him as a tyrant that wanted to "burn them all" - why would his daughter be viewed any differently?
Compare this attitude with the respect, admiration, and love that Jon Snow inspires.
This point is echoed in Season 8 when she tells Jon that: "I saw them gathered around you. I saw the way they looked at you. I know that look. So many people have looked at me that way but never here."
In the most recent episode, she says that: "Far more people in Westeros love you than love me. I don’t have love here. I only have fear.”
To compound matters, Daenerys also sent her forces to fight alongside Jon in the war against the army of the dead. She lost thousands of Dothraki, Unsullied, and her dragon, Viserion.
What does she have to show for it? A lack of respect, loyalty and trust. That's what.
Elsewhere, after the Masters broke their promise and tried to retake Mereen, Daenerys' plan is to "crucify the masters. I will set their fleets afire. I will kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt. That’s my plan.”
Tyrion talks her out of it.
When Dany lands in Dragonstone, she forms a small council and has Olenna Tyrell as one of her advisors. The Queen of Thorns tells Dany that: “Commoners and nobles are all children really. They won’t obey you unless they fear you. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
In Season 7, episode 4, when Tyrion's plan to take Casterly Rock fails, Daenerys says: "Enough with the clever plans. I have three large dragons. I’m going to fly them to the Red Keep.”
In one of the most recent episodes, Tormund exclaims, “What kind of person climbs on a fucking dragon? A madman, or a king!” On the word “madman” the camera cuts to Daenerys before focusing on Jon for “king" - an extremely clever bit of foreshadowing.
2) "He was no dragon."
Here are some of the things that Daenerys has done over the years that could portray her in a very different light.
Yet again, the majority of these deaths involved characters who we perceived as 'evil' or 'bad'. On that note, it's worth noting that Seasons 7 and 8 are massively different than what came before because we're viewing Dany's decisions through the prisms of the other 'hero' characters that we love.
Jorah, Missandei, and Barristan were all devoted to her. Tyrion, Varys, Sansa and Jon all have very different perspectives, experiences, and loyalties. Nothing was ever done to persuade the viewer that she could be wrong.
Similarly, almost every character in Game of Thrones has some blood on their hands, Dany is no different to anyone else, but the following examples are interesting when trying to understand her psyche prior to the destruction of King's Landing...
In the aftermath of the most recent episode, the showrunners overtly mentioned the fact that Dany remained cold, emotionless, and unmoved by Viserys' death.
This was the first red flag but we all ignored it because her brother was a bit of a bastard.
Mirri Maz Duur
When Khal Drogo got sick, Mirri Maz Duur saved his life but deliberately left him in a vegetative state. In order to save Drogo's life, the witch performed a ritual that drew its power from the death of Daenerys' son, causing her child's stillbirth and monstrous appearance.
Daenerys burned Mirri Maz Duur alive in a pyre.
The handmaiden in Qarth
After a plot to kill her soldiers and abduct her dragons failed, Dany exacted her revenge by locking her handmaiden and Xaro in an empty vault to die.
The Mass crucifixion
On the road to Meereen in Season 4, Daenerys found 163 slave children that were crucified. She decided to crucify 163 masters in retaliation without regard for their individual guilt or innocence.
Ser Barristan advised her to be more merciful but she ignored him.
On a similar note, she once said the following to Ser Jorah: “You counselled me against rashness once in Qarth. I didn’t listen. It all worked out well.”
Revenge for Ser Barristan
After Ser Barristan is killed by The Sons of the Harpy in Season 5, Daenerys angrily rounds up each of the leaders of Meereen's noble families in the catacombs where Viserion and Rhaegal reside. She feeds two of them to her dragons in order to intimidate the rest.
Was the man guilty? Innocent? We don’t know and Dany didn’t seem to care.
In Mereen, Dany's authority was only solidified through violence and her leadership was a bit of a mess. She wanted to be kind and just, but violence was the only way to succeed.
She crushed the rebellion from The Sons of the Harpy through violence. She killed the Masters with violence. Prior to this, she burned the leaders of Astapor alive and took their army. Her only major military success in Westeros was when she unleashed the full power of Drogon against the Lannister and Tyrell forces during the Loot Train Attack sequence.
Violence, fire and blood has been successful for her.
Why would anyone think that her tactic to take the Iron Throne would be any different?
We all know the famous vision that she experiences while imprisoned in the House of the Undying.
Dany sees herself walking through the Red Keep’s throne room. The ceilings are destroyed and it's snowing - perhaps it's ash after her recent destruction of the capital?
Daenerys seemed destined to become the queen of the ashes - something that she was vehemently opposed to in previous seasons.
The Mass Burning
In Season 6, she's captured by the Dothraki and taken hostage to Vaes Dothrak.
Dany proceeds to burn all the khals alive and she has the remaining Dothraki promise that they’ll “kill my enemies in their iron suits and tear down their stone houses.”
Daenerys executes Randal and Dickon Tarly after they refused to bend the knee and accept her rule. Tyrion implored her to let them take the black, or send them to prison.
In the Season 8 opener when Sam meets Daenerys, John Bradley described the Mother of Dragons as "psychopathic" and that his character finally learned "the lengths that she’ll go to if somebody decides to disobey her and how her quest for power seems to know no moral code when it comes to that."
We know exactly what he means.
In the most recent episodes, Daenerys' psychological state has deteriorated after a series of deaths, betrayals, and decisions.
Ser Jorah, Melisandre, and Rhaegal have all died. Varys and Tyrion have conspired against her. She has learned that Jon has the better claim to the Iron Throne. To compound matters, the man she loves has now spurned her affections and she now understands that she'll never be loved by the people of Westeros.
In Dany's mind, if she can't be loved as a ruler on the Iron Throne, she'll choose fear.
3) Did Dave and Dan do Dany dirty?
To begin with, we're incredibly aware that Game of Thrones is a fantasy show with dragons, magic, ice zombies, and resurrection.
However, there's a reason why it's the biggest show in the world and after seven seasons of audience participation and emotional investment, fans deserve to have their voices heard and plenty of Daenerys fans think that the show's creators, David Benioff and D.B Weiss, have botched Dany's arc.
That's fair but it's worth noting that both men are working from the broad instructions of George R.R. Martin.
After moving past the original source material, the show is currently in unexplored terrain and while there will be differences between the upcoming books and the TV show, the main points will be the same.
We can assume that Martin's book will feature the same arc with Daenerys as The Mad Queen.
Martin choose this route, not Benioff and Weiss.
Similarly, one of the main reasons why we all love Game of Thrones is because it's a show that constantly subverts expectations. Christ, Martin decided to kill off Ned Stark at the end of the first book and he topped this at The Red Wedding.
Shocks, twists, and drama is the norm.
The decision to turn Daenerys evil isn't all that surprising when viewed against the dramatic history of the show.
However, the majority of viewers still cant shake the feeling that Dany's transition just feels a bit hollow.
Breaker of chains, liberator of cities, a saviour to those that were born into servitude, Daenerys Targaryen has consistently been portrayed as a strong, kind, but steel-hearted leader.
When we first meet her, she's treated like a piece of meat by her brother and sold off like an animal.
Eight seasons later and she's the Dragon Queen, a leader who conquered lands and amassed faithful followers, however, the recent series of losses and threats to her potential position as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, has caused her to snap and become The Mad Queen.
Simply put, the show hasn't done enough in Season 8 to justify this seismic shift but that's not to say that the signs weren't there already.
We know that the losses of Jorah, Missandei, and Rhaegal have been a massive factor in her changing psychology. Added to this, there's the fact that she has now learned that her new lover has a better claim to the Iron Throne - a pursuit that has defined her life and been the most important thing to her since birth.
Emilia Clarke has previously said that Daenerys' decision can't simply be defined by 'Targareyn madness' because "it's just grief. It’s hurt and she has this ability to make this hurt feel a little bit less for a minute. And the feeling is to fucking kill her (Cersei). When you feel that much failure, disappointment, shame, hurt, and lost love, there’s only so much pain that you can handle before you snap."
The thing is, it's not the responsibility of an actor to explain what's happening in the plot during an interview, that should be apparent during the episode itself.
Similarly, not every fan is going to remember Maester Aemon's throwback line that "A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing" or a conversation that Dany had with Jorah/Ser Barristan in Meereen.
Prior to the destruction of King's Landing, the TV show rapidly turned Dany into a mess of stereotypes in a bid to explain her horrific motivations.
Spurned lover after Jon turned down her advances. A paranoid leader who's concerned about traitors in her council - she was proven to be right. A ruler that's unfit to lead because she hates having her authority challenged. A woman that's mourning the loss of her friends, advisors and "children."
All this without mentioning the Targaryen bloodline and their history of madness.
The storyline was always destined to end this way. Sadly, Ramsay Bolton was right.
How many people were paying attention, though?