By James Hibberd
May 13, 2019 at 09:36 AM EDT
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Spoilers for Episode 5, season 8: In Game of Thrones penultimate episode, Daenerys Targaryen attacked the city of King’s Landing to win the Iron Throne and opted to kill thousands of innocent civilians in the process. The move followed one devastating setback after another for Daenerys, and fans have been debating her dark turn. GoT has been laying the groundwork for this move for years, and there are several scenes that either foreshadow Dany burning down a city or strongly hint that such a rampage is not outside her comfort zone — if not her destiny — just as her Mad King father attempted decades ago.

Here is some of the evidence:

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The prophecy: In the House of the Undying in season 2, Dany has a vision of walking through the Red Keep’s throne room. The ceiling is broken open. Fans assumed the white particles falling into the room was snow and that winter had come to the south. In Sunday’s episode, Dany is finally taking King’s Landing and buildings are indeed being destroyed. But it’s not snowing. It’s raining ash from her dragon’s destruction. The season 2 scene is a vision of Daenerys taking King’s Landing only by becoming the “queen of the ashes.” In the same season she also literally declares, “When my dragons are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me and destroy those who have wronged me. We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground!”

The Mass Crucifixion: On the road to Meereen in season 4, Dany finds 163 slave children crucified. She decides to crucify 163 masters in retaliation without regard for their individual guilt or innocence. Ser Barristan advises her to be more merciful. Later, a son of one of the crucified men insists his father was actually a good man who lobbied against slavery and didn’t deserve his fate.

Revenge for Ser Barristan. Also in season 4, after Ser Barristan was killed by the terror group Sons of the Harpy. In response, Dany brings three masters to her dragonpit. All swear they have nothing to do with the rogue group. She burns one of them alive to send a message to the others. Was the man guilty? Innocent? We don’t know and Dany didn’t seem to mind not knowing.

The Mass Burning: In season 6 in Vaes Dothrak, as punishment for taking her prisoner and refusing her demands, Dany burns all the khals alive and has the remaining Dothraki promise — echoing Khal Drogo in season 1 — that they’ll “kill my enemies in their iron suits and tear down their stone houses.”

Meereen Revenge Plan: Also in season 6, Dany returns to Meereen and finds the city under attack from the slave cities. This is her first instinct: “I will crucify the masters. I will set their fleets afire. I will kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt. That’s my plan.” Tyrion talks her out of it.

Burning the Tarleys: In season 7, Dany is given the choice of killing or imprisoning Lord Tarly and his son Dickon after a battle and decides to execute both against the advice of Tyrion.

King’s Landing Battle Plan: In season 8, Dany is repeatedly urged to not attack King’s Landing to overthrow Cersei. She never seems to be entirely against the idea, but rather agrees with her advisors that it’s rather poor public relations strategy.

Of course, the show has also presented Dany’s actions as heroic even when they’re brutal. How we’ve processed her behavior is partly determined by the show’s performances, direction, music and reactions of the other characters. And we know — or think we know — that Daenerys is largely motivated by good intentions based on so many moments over the years where she’s been presented with a moral choice.

Dany’s benevolent choices tend to be made when she is feeling calm and secure, however. The show has pretty consistently shown that when Daenerys is angered she can rather quickly leap to “kill them all” as the best solution regardless of whether it’s entirely justified or not. Ultimately the show has used the final season to put its heroine to the ultimate test and bring the question of her morality into the foreground. When Dany decides to “rule by fear” in episode 5 she’s making a choice to not simply claim the Iron Throne, but make an example of King’s Landing’s resistance and all those who might doubt her claim, a claim that she now knows isn’t the strongest one for the throne.

Many more thoughts about “The Bells” in our deep-dive recap.

Read our episode 5 “The Bells” coverage:
Lena Headey on that King’s Landing battle ending: ‘The first time Cersei has been at peace…
The Hound actor breaks down that Game of Thrones Cleganebowl fight
Game of Thrones actor on his surprise death: ‘Nothing could console me’
Game of Thrones recap for season 8, episode 5: Queens of the ashes

Episode Recaps

HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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  • 8
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  • 73
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  • 04/17/11-05/19/19
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