The road to the series finale of Game of Thrones was intense. Many fans critical of the final season hit their breaking point in the penultimate episode, entitled “The Bells.” From that point on, Game of Thrones found itself embroiled in controversy. In the installment, Daenerys fulfilled her destiny as her father’s daughter by becoming the so-called “Mad Queen.”
“The Bells” director Miguel Sapochnik discussed the state that Daenerys was in when the episode began. It picked up with her reaction to Missandei getting killed on Cersei’s orders. Referring to Daenerys’ appearance at that point, Sapochnik told IndieWire:
We said, ‘You’ve never been like this.' It was this idea of us trying to piece her back together, but something’s broken.
At that point, Daenerys had suffered a lot of personal loss. These comments indicate that Miguel Sapochnik felt the break in Daenerys’ psyche had already occurred by the time “The Bells” began. It certainly didn't help that Varys was trying to assassinate her. Daenerys’ sinister turn was a widely predicted twist. Many viewers accurately believed that she would eventually live up to her father's legacy.
However, critics of the Season 8 twist felt there was not enough lead time dedicated to explaining and building to it. Game of Thrones allocated six episodes to the series’ final bow. They had shorter run times than expected.
It was up to the preceding four episodes to set the stage for Daenerys’ descent into madness. “The Bells” and “The Battle of the Bastards” director Miguel Sapochnik weighed in on what led to Daenerys’ actions, saying:
The way she has treated humans, and the conviction she has, means that conviction is eventually going to fall afoul. She’s not questioning herself anymore, which is the difference between somebody who, I think, has kind of lost their mind. That’s part of what makes us human, is we question whether we’ve made the right decisions or not.
I would argue that Daenerys’ struggle with any self-doubt sort of ended with the dawn of Season 8. One of the last vestiges came through when Jon Snow bent the knee to her in Season 7. Referring to the Iron Throne, she asked, “Do I deserve it?” To which Jon said that she did. It was a rare beat of wondering from her.
Following several issues with Tyrion, she had lost much faith in his counsel. Before his death in “The Long Night,” Jorah made a strong case for Tyrion to remain as her Hand. However, things continued to be tense. He was not able to get through to her anymore.
Daenerys lived by the idea of “I will take what is mine by fire and blood.” Those are not peacemaking words by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually, she ended up taking them to King’s Landing. Despite surrender, Daenerys swooped down on her dragon and began destroying everything in sight.
The heartrending spectacle that ensued had been foreshadowed in Season 7, when Daenerys contemplated ending Cersei’s reign using her then-three dragons. Bringing the scene to fruition, Miguel Sapochnik explained the decision to not show Daenerys actually carry out the attack. Viewers only saw the dragon. Of the choice to approach it that way, Sapochnik said:
At that point, you don’t need to see her. We decided not to cut back to her. When she makes that decision, she and the dragon become one.
I think what Miguel Sapochnik is saying about Daenerys’ lack of introspection leading to her mass destruction of King’s Landing makes sense. If you look back on the past eight seasons, you can see where the entire series was spent building to her actions in “The Bells.” Because in all of that time, she did not demonstrate a lot of doubt when it came to her decision-making.
Her obliteration of King’s Landing did not happen as the result of one episode or in a vacuum. Daenerys always exhibited a lot of confidence, to the point where she seldom showed any conflicted emotions. Or fear that she would turn into her father. She seemed to just infer it would not happen without explaining why she was different. In the end, she was not.
Now looking back, there is a lot of clarity to the events that led to the horror of “The Bells.” If you require further reflection, Game of Thrones’ final season is already available on digital. With so much to still contemplate about it, summer television is providing a chance to get some distance.