"Let it be fear," proclaimed Daenerys Targaryen in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. The Dragon Queen said those words to Jon Snow, describing how she could potentially win back the faith of the people, but she could have been talking to any number of characters who she interacted with before soaring into King's Landing on the back of Drogon and laying waste to the Iron Fleet, the Golden Company, and seemingly thousands of innocents in the city below. Instead of being loved by her subjects, she decided to be feared, potentially losing the Iron Throne in the process.
With only mega-sized one episode left, Game of Thrones doesn't have as many narrative options left on the table as it did back in its earlier seasons. When the show began, a significant part of its appeal was its ever-expanding, seemingly limitless scope, which created a sense that each successive hour could introduce the viewer to a fascinating new region on the map, a complicated character, or a bit of layered familial history. Part of the pain some fans have felt in watching showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss's more aggressively plotted recent episodes is rooted in the frustration of seeing all those potential pathways get closed off. When a beloved character like Daenerys commits horrible acts in pursuit of military dominance, it can feel like a betrayal.
From beginning to end, "The Bells" mostly embraced the idea of Daenerys as a Mad Queen. The Mad Queen theory posits that Daenerys Targaryen will follow in the footsteps of her father, Aerys II Targaryen. Don't remember Aerys? He was the last Targaryen to sit on the Iron Throne, and for a period he was a celebrated king, a leader who united the Seven Kingdoms in peace. Like most good times in George R.R. Martin's imaginative universe, it wasn't built to last and eventually the King grew increasingly paranoid, hostile, and isolated. As unrest grew throughout the city, he ordered Wildfire to be planted throughout King's Landing and he had plans to burn it to the ground, hoping to turn himself into a dragon in the process, until he was murdered by Jaime Lannister, an act that earned the knight the nickname Kingslayer.
For viewers who have trouble holding all the show's mythology in their heads during a given episode -- it's hard enough to remember everyone's name -- this history should at least sound vaguely familiar. The chilling after-effects of the Mad King have reverberated throughout the series, particularly in Daenerys's plotlines and in the ongoing power struggles of King's Landing. Also, you might remember Jaime telling his version of the King's demise, including Aerys issuing the command to "burn them all," to Brienne in the bath way back in Season 3. Even creepier, Aerys appeared in one of Bran's visions in Season 6, issuing the same order from the Iron Throne. He remains the ultimate bad leadership cautionary tale.