Game of Throne’s “The Bells” episode had many surprises for fans watching the showdown between Daenerys and Cersei unfold and, if you watched past the end of the episode, show writers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff explained how they arrived at what may be the most controversial moment in the entire season.
[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5]
As Tyrion Lannister tells it, the plan is for Daenerys’ forces to overtake The Red Keep and then wait for Cersei to surrender, avoiding the slaughter of the innocents within the city walls. The hope is that Daenerys can take the city with minimal bloodshed after an overwhelming show of initial force. If Cersei gives in, no one else will need to die, and Tyrion all but begs Daenerys to call off the attack if she hears the sound of the bells, signaling Cersei’s surrender. Hence the name of the episode.
Everything goes according to plan, and the bells do indeed ring. But, for some reason, Daenerys doesn’t give up the fight. Instead, she proceeds to torch what’s left of the Red Keep, intentionally taking down anyone and everyone in it. In that moment, it very much appears that she has become the Mad Queen, living up to the Targaryen name.
According to David Benioff, Daenerys goes into the fight feeling “very much alone.” Even Jon Snow, the person who is supposed to love her most, is unwilling to show her affection. Rejected, she tells Jon that the only thing she’s got left to rule over Westeros is fear. “As far as she’s concerned, by this point, Jon has betrayed her by telling people about his true identity,” Benioff says.
Despite her isolation, the writers say that Daenerys doesn’t actually go into the battle with the aim of destroying everything.
“And then she sees the Red Keep, which is, to her, the home that her family built when they first came over to this country 300 years ago,” D.B. Weiss says. “It’s in that moment, on the walls of King’s Landing, where she’s looking at that symbol of everything that was taken from her, when she makes the decision to make it personal.”
Judging from the reaction on social media, viewers seem split on whether or not Daenerys’ turn to darkness feels earned. But, in a way, Daenerys has always had a startling streak to her, Benioff says, in reference to how she reacts when she watches her brother die.
“There is something kind of chilling about the way that Dany has responded to the death of her enemies,” he says. According to the writers, it was possible for things to turn out a different way, had Cersei not killed Missandei, or had Jon not told her the truth. Instead, Daenerys’ losses got the best of her, despite her overall victory.