Why Dany Snapped When She Heard the Bells Ringing

game of thrones
Alex Van Mecl, HBO
This post contains spoilers up through Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5, "The Bells." Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

Daenerys Targaryen spent her entire life rejecting her father. Raised on a steady diet of horror stories about Mad King Aerys fed to her by a sadistic brother, she grew up knowing what madness can do to a country, and vowed to be a different sort of ruler. The entire time we've known her on Game of Thrones she was Mhysa, the Breaker of Chains… uuuuuuntil episode 5 of the final season, the penultimate installment of the entire series.

The end of this week's "Previously On…" segment, as it often is, was a not-so-subtle hint at what was to come. It ended with a chorus of every line ever spoken on the show about Daenerys and her Targaryen parentage: Whenever a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin. Either they'll be sweet as a lamb, or obsessed with burning their enemies, their perceived enemies, and sometimes their friends. Daenerys and her brother Viserys seemed to be two sides of one coin: Viserys the vicious, unstable side, and Dany the sweeter, softer, saner side. But even the safe ones, according to this show, can lose their minds in an instant, which is why, as soon as she heard those surrender bells, Daenerys snapped.

The plan WAS to take King's Landing without any collateral damage; logic suggests that the innocent citizens would respect a new queen more if she didn't spend too much of her time, you know, killing them. As soon as the city's bells were rung, that would be it, and the battle would be over. This was why Tyrion went through all the trouble of freeing Jaime, telling him to convince Cersei to ring the surrender bells (it's so their unborn child can live a full and happy life!), then had Jon and Dany agree to halt the battle if and when they heard those bells. Everyone wins, and Tyrion is a hero again.

But Cersei made one mistake: executing Missandei, literally the only woman who has ever truly liked Daenerys at all. As this episode opened, we saw our Khaleesi back at Dragonstone with her hair in disarray, her braids undone, and dark circles under her eyes after refusing to eat or drink, as happens after you witness your closest friend getting decapitated by an undead giant right in front of your eyes.

Missandei's final word was "dracarys," and boy did Dany take that message to heart. After destroying Euron Greyjoy's fleet, the mother-and-dragon-son pair handily took out every single scorpion crossbow set up along King's Landing's ramparts. The battle having seemingly been won, Daenerys and Drogon sat perched on the far wall, waiting for the call to surrender. It was a tense moment: The shot cut back and forth between Tyrion, Daenerys, Cersei, and Jon Snow for what felt like two hours before the first peals rang out and it was all over.

Except it wasn't over at all.

Staring straight at King's Landing, seemingly making eye contact with Cersei herself (though that would be impossible), Daenerys made a decision. It's probably the decision that will ultimately doom her in the show's finale, if there's any justice left in Westeros. Instead of turning her armies back and claiming her throne peacefully, she commanded Drogon to burn everything down. The Unsullied, the Dothraki, and the Northern forces followed suit, sacking the hell out of the entire city. Jon Snow did his best to stop some of the violence, but then he was mostly just fighting for his life. Maybe it was her precarious Targaryen heritage that tipped her over the edge; maybe it was the fact that she remembered her ancestors built the Red Keep, as the showrunners claimed (though we've learned not to trust them); or maybe it was the loss of two of her closest friends (Missandei and Jorah Mormont), plus another dragon, within weeks of each other, but tonight Daenerys revealed her true colors, and they're the colors you see right at the moment a dragon burns you alive. 

To say that this show has been setting this up from the beginning would be a lie, since this final season has a lot of insane plot moles just popping up out of nowhere, needing to be whacked down by the next action sequence. But, if there's one thing everyone following Daenerys should have remembered, it's that Varys is always right. There has never been a moment in this show when Varys has steered anyone wrong, and we should have known as soon as Daenerys said, "Dracarys," that this battle was not going to end in her favor. She might have won that "last war," but she lost the respect of her closest -- and most dangerous -- allies. Once again, it's up to the Starks to try to set things right.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.