Warning: The following article contains “Game of Thrones” spoilers; video clips may contain explicit content.
“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
One of the most famous lines foreshadowing the conclusion of “Game of Thrones” is stuck in our heads this season, as characters seemingly on a track for redemption or glory promptly turn around and reveal their true colors.
One of the most devastating to watch has been Daenerys Targaryen — who has been built up as a merciful and just ruler — instead turning to fire and brimstone to punish King’s Landing in Sunday’s episode, ‘The Bells.”
Some fans doubted that her character arc could lead to such a horrifying moment, but the series has dropped hints for years that this could be her fate. Here’s a look at some of the main clues.
1. The Targaryens’ love affair with wildfire
In Season 2, the audience first learned about the destructive weapon known as wildfire as Tyrion turned to it in an effort to defeat Stannis Baratheon. A pyromancer told him: “After the dragons died, wildfire was the key to Targaryen power.”
In Season 3, we learn more about the Mad King’s obsession with wildfire, as Jaime Lannister explains to Brienne how he earned the title “Kingslayer.”
“Mad King was obsessed with it,” Jaime said of Aerys Targaryen’s fascination. “He loved to watch people burn. The way their skin blackened, blisters melted off their bones. He burned lords he didn’t like. He burned Hands that disobeyed him. He burned anyone who was against him. Before long, half the country was against him. Aerys saw traitors everywhere. So he had his pyromancer place caches of wildfire all over the city. Beneath the Sept of Baelor, the slums of Flea Bottom, under houses, stables, taverns. Finally, the day of reckoning came. ... I urged him to surrender peacefully. But the king didn’t listen to me. He didn’t listen to Varys, who tried to warn him.”
Jaime continued his recounting of the city falling, saying that the king then turned to his pyromancer.
“‘Burn them all,’ he said. ‘Burn them in their homes. Burn them in their beds.’ ... He kept saying, ‘Burn them all.’ I don’t think he expected to die. He meant to burn with the rest of us and rise again.”
The whole scene is chilling because Jaime’s flashback is a harbinger of what was yet to come — Aerys’s own daughter, who indeed rose from flames in Season 1 as the mother of three dragons, seemed to follow in her father’s footsteps as she disregarded the surrender of King’s Landing, instead opting to burn the whole metropolis.
And sprinkled in throughout the destruction were bursts of green flames — presumably, the wildfire that Aerys planted throughout the city during his reign, ultimately fulfilling her father’s wish to burn the city to the ground.
2. ‘Fire and blood’
When Daenerys, in Season 2, tried to jockey for ships to sail to Westeros, a wealthy merchant in Qarth looked down his nose at her, telling her he couldn’t bank on her wishes and dreams for repayment.
Daenerys shouts back, “I’m no ordinary woman. My dreams come true. ... I am not your little princess. I am Daenerys Stormborn of the blood of old Valyria. And I will take what is mine. With fire and blood, I will take it.”
At the time, the merchant’s perspective was somewhat understandable, since Dany had no army. However, the “fire and blood” line — which is also the Targaryen family motto (not to mention the title of one of the books penned by George R. R. Martin) — shows that Dany hasn’t exactly been shy about the methods she would use to regain the Iron Throne.
“She has said repeatedly throughout the show, ‘I will take what’s mine with fire and blood.’ And in this episode, she does it,” co-showrunner David Benioff said in a clip about the most recent episode posted Monday.
3. Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying
In Season 2, after Dany’s dragons are stolen, she enters the mystical House of the Undying in Qarth to try and get them back. Along the way, she has a vision of the Red Keep in King’s Landing, standing before the Iron Throne in a room with a damaged roof, wading through what appears to be snow to stand before the throne. She reaches out to touch the throne, but turns away before actually making contact, walking through the northern Wall’s gates to a wintry scene.
At the time, it was widely believed that the vision was a harbinger of the White Walkers storming the Seven Kingdoms.
However, after Sunday’s episode, a look back at the vision seems to make sense. The roof is gone because Dany destroyed the castle, and the snow on the ground and fluttering around her is actually ash from Drogon’s fiery breath. The fact that she gets so close to the throne before touching it might also indicate that even though Dany is thisclose to becoming ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, she never will actually get to sit on the throne.
The ashes falling around her also seem to line up with another line she uttered recently: “I am not here to be queen of the ashes,” she told her allies in Season 7.
But now, it looks like that assertion might have been a bit off.
4. Bran’s vision
Dany’s not the only ones with visions. In one of the eerier montages of the show during Season 6, Bran saw a series of flashbacks that included the White Walkers, the Mad King, and the Red Wedding.
But one of the most interesting scenes in the flashback was only shown quickly: A clip of a dragon, flying over a city, as well as Daenerys and the birth of her dragons. (Those dovetailed pretty symbolically into Daenerys’s father shouting, “Burn them all!”)
So was it the past? Or the future? While there are lots of fan theories involving Bran floating around, one thing has proven true: The guy’s visions are something to take notice of, and this could very well have been a premonition of what the future held.
5. ‘A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing’
In Season 5, as Samwell Tarly reads aloud a message to Aemon Targaryen — the maester at Castle Black — about how Daenerys aimed to free those enslaved overseas, Samwell muses, “She sounds like quite a woman.”
The elder Targaryen, however, seemed worried.
“She’s alone. Under siege. No family to guide her or protect her. Her last relation thousands of miles away. Useless. Dying.”
He continued, with the camera panning to frame him against the backdrop of a fire crackling behind him: “A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.”
That moment — which originally aired more than four years ago — appears to have hearkened to a key moment in Sunday’s episode, as the dragon queen perches atop Drogon.
In a clip posted to YouTube Monday, showrunners acknowledged that Dany’s pivot to an unmerciful conqueror was more profound because she was, in fact, alone: Ser Jorah and Missandei are dead; she believes Jon and Tyrion have betrayed her; and she feels no love from the people of Westeros.
“She feels empty. It wasn’t what she thought it was. It’s not enough,” episode director Miguel Sapochnik said of the moment Dany paused high above the city before continuing her attack.
Actress Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys, summed it up succinctly: “Every single thing that’s led her to this point, and here she is, alone.”
“Ultimately, she is who she is, and that’s a Targaryen,” Benioff said.
6. The death of the Tarleys
Long before Sunday’s episode, Dany has shown a penchant for burning those who defy her.
In Season 7 Episode 5, after Daenerys defeated a Lannister army, she asks the remaining soldiers to swear fealty or die — except Samwell’s father, Randyll Tarly, refuses to do so, telling Tyrion: “Say what you will about your sister [Cersei Lannister], she was born in Westeros. She’s lived here all her life.”
Although Tyrion pleads with Daenerys to punish Randyll and his son, Dickon, instead of taking their lives, she decides instead for a show of force.
“I gave them a choice. They made it,” Dany tells Tyrion.
“Your Grace, you start beheading entire families —” he tried to reason back, referring to the traditional method of execution in Westeros, before she cut in: “I’m not beheading any,” instead using her dragons to burn the two alive.
The incident is one of many in which she uses her dragons or fire to destroy her enemies — she did so in Meereen and with Dothraki leaders who teased her. But this particular scene is held up by some as Dany’s first major action in Westeros that led to her spiral into madness — and the whole scene basically serves as a smaller-scale story arc for Sundays episode, in which Tyrion and Dany’s other Westeros advisers try gallantly to spare as many lives as they can. . . a request that ultimately goes unheeded, as Daenerys orders Drogon to torch the city.
7. ‘You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.’
In Season 7, after losing her beloved grandchildren in Cersei’s wildfire attack in the capitol, the matriarch of Highgarden meets with Daenerys to discuss how to take back the throne.
After dismissing her advisers so that she can have a moment alone with Olenna, Daenerys vows to bring peace back to Westeros — leading Olenna to scoff.
“Peace? You think that’s what we had under your father, or his father, or his? Peace never lasts, my dear. Will you take a bit of advice from an old woman? He’s a clever man, your hand. I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them.
“The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
The audience could see it plain as day on Dany’s face: The death of her beloved friend Missandei, a warm, kind character who has shown nothing but loyalty to Daenerys, in episode 4 seemed to be a breaking point for the mother of dragons.
Right before ordering her execution, Cersei told Missandei, “If you have any last words, now is the time.”
A tearful Missandei opts not to tell Grey Worm she loves him, or to rain positivity upon her queen; instead, she defiantly shouts, “Dracarys,” the command Dany gives to her dragons before they breathe fire.
Dany, it seems, took that last request to heart.
9. ‘I hope I’m wrong’
Although the buildup has been there over eight seasons, “The Bells” used both cinematography and the in-episode story arc to prelude the fiery ending. Several shots in the first few planning scenes — when Dany and Jon talk privately about the ensuing battle, for example — seem to center on the fire crackling in the background, and Varys is seen burning a message before he is hauled off to answer to the queen.
There’s also how Varys literally met a fiery death for his treasonous actions amid his concerns over Dany. The Master of Whisperers seems to know what he’s gotten himself into, saying before Dany unleashes Drogon on him: “I hope I deserve this. Truly, I do. I hope I’m wrong.”
Unfortunately, it seems that Varys was a soothsayer from beyond the grave.
What did you think of Episode 5? Do you think Daenerys’s character shift was too sudden? Who do you think will capture the Iron Throne? Let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.