Spoilers ahead for Episode 5 of Game of Thrones Season 8, called "The Bells."
The end is nigh for Game of Thrones, and the second-to-last episode of the entire series guarantees that the series finale is going to be a doozy. Instead of leaving the battle for control of King's Landing until the last episode, "The Bells" saw the assault and subsequent fall of King's Landing under Cersei's rule. On the one hand, that's all well and good, considering Cersei 100% needed to go down. On the other hand, it happened thanks to a brutal Daenerys twist that could lead to another civil war.
Yes, Game of Thrones just went ahead embraced the concept of "Mad Queen Daenerys" for the penultimate episode, although she did differ from the Mad King in one key way. Aerys only wanted to "burn them all." Dany just went right ahead and did it. Oh, what a difference a dragon does make!
Despite Tyrion and Varys' best efforts to dissuade her, Dany was determined to attack King's Landing, and there was no doubt that she would be victorious, even after all of the losses at the Battle of Winterfell and the death of Rhaegal. As long as Drogon stayed in the air and out of range of the scorpions, Dany was unstoppable. After she and Drogon burned all the scorpions, all she had to do was hang out and wait for the city to fall. It would be bloody and ugly, but not catastrophic.
Well, it seems that the gods just went ahead and flipped the Targaryen coin to "mad" for good old Dany by this point in Season 8. Her job in the battle was theoretically done as soon as she took out the scorpions and burned through the walls to let her armies pour into the city, but she just couldn't look at the Red Keep and stand it being held by Cersei. So, on Drogon's back, Dany proceeded to burn everybody and everything within her path... including civilians.
It was the worst case scenario that Tyrion and others had been hoping against hope wouldn't come to pass. Now, King's Landing is destroyed, a whole lot of people are dead, and the way Dany defeated Cersei may see the realm fall into another civil war. If Varys had been buried instead of roasted, I bet he would be spinning in his grave! Here's why civil war could be nigh.
Dany Probably Lost Some Key Allies
"The Bells" may have focused a great deal on the fire and blood aspect of the assault on King's Landing, but it also took care to show the reactions of several major characters to the turn of events. Notably, Jon and Tyrion had time to react.
Tyrion went to great effort in "The Bells" to prevent the attack altogether, going so far as to free Jaime and send him after Cersei so they could escape together, so long as they rang the bells to surrender the city first. Dany would almost certainly execute him for letting Cersei get away, but he was okay with that if it meant thousands upon thousands of innocent lives being saved.
He was clearly troubled by Dany doing the roasting even before she went all "burn them all" on the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. When she kept on burning even after the bells began to ring, his expression was that of a man who couldn't support her anymore, as far as I could tell. Tyrion may have made a lot of mistakes recently, but I don't see him sticking with her after this.
That her assault killed Jaime on top of all the innocents certainly won't make him more inclined to stick with her. Like Varys before him, Tyrion's focus could be on the realm, and the brutality of the destruction of King's Landing indicates that Dany is not the best choice to lead the realm.
As for Jon, he seemed like he would stick with Dany until the bitter end, both for love of her and his total disinclination to claim the Iron Throne for himself. Although loyal to a fault, Jon almost certainly won't be able to blindly support Daenerys anymore. He was appalled by how she rained fire down on the city, especially once it was clear that a lot of them would rather surrender than hold out against her.
He was also troubled by the fact that Dany's men decided to attack the Lannister soldiers who had dropped their swords in surrender. As much as he doesn't want the Iron Throne, he could stake his claim in order to give the Seven Kingdoms another option than the woman who had just destroyed the capital on the back of her dragon. Hey, better him than Gendry, right?
Dany Probably Lost Some Of The Seven Kingdoms
If Dany lost Jon, then Dany lost the North. He may secretly (or not-so-secretly anymore) be Aegon Targaryen, but he's still Warden of the North and a Stark in all but surname. Even though Sansa was clearly not a Dany fan, Dany could count on Northern support so long as Jon had the final say. The Northerners were the only members of her army who actually hail from Westeros, which made her seem like somewhat less of a foreign invader.
Without the Northerners, Dany is a Dragon Queen who invaded from Essos with Dothraki and Unsullied. Coming across as a foreign invader who just destroyed the capital and murdered a whole lot of people won't help Dany win the hearts of the people. She'll have to keep ruling through fear. The North remembers!
Dany could well have lost more than the North. As Tyrion stated in the previous episode, Sansa has the reach to guarantee that Dany loses the support of the Vale as well, and the riverlands and Reach may be pretty anti-Targaryen as well after Dany burned the loot train last season.
Sansa, Arya, and Bran are all half-Tully on their mother's side as well, which could give them an edge in the riverlands. The North loves the Starks, and the Vale loves Sansa. Soldiers who love their leaders tend to be more loyal than those who fear, based on Game of Thrones history.
She did try to guarantee the loyalty of the last living Baratheon when she legitimized Gendry and granted him Storm's End, but given that Gendry is buddies with Jon, fell in love with Arya (despite the proposal not being his best idea), and doesn't know how to use a fork let alone function as a lord, the new Lord Baratheon might not be inclined to side with her.
Even if Gendry somehow managed to establish himself in the stormlands and win some loyalty based on the Baratheon name, she might not be able to count on support from the stormlands. The people of the westerlands might not be friendly to Dany after her attack on King's Landing resulted in the deaths of two of the three surviving Lannisters. If she loses Tyrion, she could well lose the westerlands as well.
The common folk certainly might not be inclined to want to support a queen who killed thousands of civilians because she really, really wanted to get Cersei. At best, Daenerys can probably count on support from the new (unnamed) prince of Dorne and the Iron Islands.
Does Dany need her armies bolstered by whatever soldiers didn't die already in the War of the Five Kings, the Battle of Winterfell, and her assault on the Lannister army in Season 7? Not really. Her losses of the Unsullied and Dothraki in King's Landing were likely minimal, and the Seven Kingdoms probably aren't overflowing with those dragon-killing scorpions.
Aesthetically, though, she could use all the Westerosi support she can get, and destroying the biggest city in Westeros on her dragon was not the way to win that support.
Dany's Army Is Loyal
The Unsullied and Dothraki follow Dany out of love, although there's undoubtedly a healthy dose of fear in there as well, at least on the part of some of the Dothraki. They will stand and die for her, and as "The Bells" proved, if Dany is going to massacre people who aren't able to defend themselves, then so will they. Grey Worm didn't waste any time in attacking the surrendered Lannister forces after he realized Dany had unleashed Drogon.
Admittedly, part of this is because Grey Worm lost some of his restraint due to Missandei's death, but the battle for King's Landing definitely suggests that Grey Worm is 100% ride or die for Daenerys. If she refuses to give up her claim to the Iron Throne (assuming Jon or somebody else makes a push for it), then I don't see the Unsullied or the Dothraki stepping aside. If Dany feels threatened, then she likely won't hesitate to turn it into war.
Unless, of course, Drogon dies. Then she might need to rethink her strategy. A Targaryen "fire and blood" campaign would be less effective without the actual fire raining down from the skies. As long as she has a shot at winning, I don't see Dany surrendering.
Why Another Civil War Might Be Avoided
Well, the biggest reason why Game of Thrones might be able to avoid a civil war is that there's only one episode left. Even Game of Thrones' pacing issues of the past two seasons haven't been so severe that the show tried to pack an entire war into the span of a single episode. Dany may not be 100% mad anyway, right? Maybe she's reasonable enough to acknowledge that what she did was wrong and steps much be taken to prevent it from happening again.
Alternately, Dany could well die. Jon killing her would put a cruel -- and therefore very Game of Thrones -- twist on the "song of ice and fire." My pet theory at this point is that Arya decides to try and assassinate Dany. She was on ground zero of King's Landing when trying to escape. On top of taking her own injuries, she tried and failed to save some women and children who were hiding.
She experienced what Dany did to the city from deep within the walls, much farther than even Jon made it in. Even though she took The Hound's advice in "The Bells" to give up her quest to fulfill her list, I could see her deciding that Dany needs to die for what she did. I'm not so sure that Game of Thrones would give her two of the three big kills of the series (assuming Dany dies), but anything can happen at this point.
Tune in to HBO on Sunday, April 19 at 9 p.m. ET for the series finale of Game of Thrones.