48

In Game of Thrones S8E5, Daenerys goes on full killing mode and destroys the entire city in spite of the bells ringing, indicating Cersei surrendering. (It's evident everyone knows the bells ringing means surrender, including Dany.) But even after Cersei and King's Landing surrendering, why did Dany go ahead and destroy the entire city?

There is grief, and then there is rage, and then there is madness. We have seen her handle grief and anger almost always well. The only times she's unreasonably ruthless is when she kills the Tarlys.

So why did Dany do this in spite of all the pep talk from all her advisers and the bells ringing?

  • 4
    'cause this is Game of Thrones' sprint to the finish, and they want to have the "bitter plot" of days of old. Seriously - this was just bad writing. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica May 15 at 11:39
  • @T.Sar : The viewers want to see more blood, so they are given more blood. – vsz May 15 at 14:17
  • 1
    This title is a quite a spoiler if you remember partway through the episode that you've seen it. Any way to edit it, especially since it's on the HNQ list? Maybe "why did Dany choose to do this" or something like that? – Kat May 15 at 14:36
79

She has become mad pragmatic

While some will argue she has become as mad as her father, I will argue she has all her mind.

One important element to understand this is the dialogue she had with Jon Snow before the attack

Far more people in Westeros love you than love me. I don't have love here. I only have fear [...] Alright then," she says. "Let it be fear.

She knows she won't earn love from his people. And as Machiavelli says:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both: but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved
the prince (1513)

As Benioff in the "inside the episode":

I think that when she says "let it be fear" she's resigning herself to the fact that she may have to get things done in a way that isn't pleasant and she may have to get things done in a way that is horrible to lots of people.

Why did she react like this to the bells?

However, she is not totally emotionless, and it's true that there is rage inside her when the bells tolls. Because at this moment, she realised that she could have easily take Kings Landing, two seasons ago.

She realized she could have dealt with the Night King threat after becoming Queen.

She lost two dragons, Jorah, Missandei, and a big part of her army, while a simple attack with only one dragon was enough.

She realized all those previous sacrifices were useless.

How can she be such a good ruler in Essos, but so cruel in Westeros?

While it seems odd that the same character rule in a quite different way between two realms, this is not unrealistic. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, political scientist and game theorist, studied the reign of Leopold II, King of Belgium and Congo. The exact same person rules these two kingdoms in very different ways, but there is a reason for this: the power was not held by the same people/structure. Two different kingdoms, two different ways to conquer/keep the power.

Abstract
From 1885 until 1908 Leopold II was not only the King of Belgium but also the personal owner of the Congo Free State. The policy outcomes during his reign turned out to be fundamentally different in the two countries: Whereas in Belgium he improved living conditions, in the Congo he established a brutal tyranny. This paper analyses the reasons for these different leadership styles of Leopold II by means of the 'selectorate theory'. The selectorate theory explains policy outcomes as a function of governance institutions. It assumes that the ruler maximizes his own utility which means first of all to sustain himself in power. Under Belgium's governmental institutions Leopold II required broad support from the general public but in the Congo he only needed a very small group of supporters. To reduce the possibility that Leopold's different leadership styles were caused mainly by racism his period is compared to the reign of the Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko.
Leopold II and the Selectorate: An Account in Contrast to a Racial Explanation, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

The same thing can be said for Essos and Westeros. In Essos, she is seen as a liberator and can earn the love of her people, whereas she is seen as a conqueror in Westeros, and must rule with fear

23

Like father like daughter: Mad.

It's been hinted before too when she burned Dickon Tarly and his father despite Tyrion's attempts to suggest them to put in cells. Also been hinted by her urge to sit in Iron Throne even when she knows Jon is a contender too and will be fair to say more deserving.

She had seen so many losses Husband, unborn son, two dragons, so many Dothraki and unsullied but the loss of Missandei was the last nail in the coffin and she did seem to lose her calm.

Also, remember what Missandei said before dying:

Dracarys

And that's what she did. Also, she was ready to do this before too but Tyrion/Jon, etc stopped her.

Marie Claire tried to bring all the clue/hints that she was always destined to be the mad queen like his father as he was not mad from start either:

  • When she snaps at her evil brother, Viserys, in Season 1, episode 4.

    "The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands."

  • When Khal Drogo kills Viserys, in Season 1, and she is eerily calm about it.

  • When she marches on Qarth at the beginning of Season 2 and threatens to "burn cities to the ground."

    "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."

  • When the merchants in Qarth won't give her ships, she announces she will take what she believes is hers with "fire and blood."

  • When she feeds one of her enemies in Meereen to her dragons.

  • When she decides to burn the Khals to death in Season 6.

  • When she burns the Tarly men to death in Season 7. ( which I already mentioned before in answer)

  • 12
    You could include the brutal crucifixions of the masters. – Todd Wilcox May 13 at 13:08
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    I really don't understand why everyone calls Dany's ruthlessness madness, but doesn't call it madness when similar behaviors are exhibited by others. Tywin Lannister sacked King's Landing during Robert's Rebellion, also killing thousands of innocents for no reason. Ramsay Bolton brutally tortured his prisoners in manner far worse than execution. The Freys murdered their wedding guests. Literally every contender for the Iron Throne has mused about "taking what is theirs". Why is this behavior indicative of "madness" in Dany, but is just everyday intrigue for everyone else? – Nuclear Wang May 13 at 13:54
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    @NuclearWang No one has questioned Bolton's mental health? – Acccumulation May 13 at 14:57
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    Burning the Khals was a power play to show how the khals are not worthy of being called Khals. (Though I agree she didn't have to, lets call her ruthless) the only two instances I agree with are how she threatens the merchants and killing of the Tarlys. I would define mad as "planting wildfire under all of kings landing to destroy the entire city".. she always had been a just and but a ruthless ruler.. mad is just new branding they're giving to this woman. Shes mad now maybe, but old dany never was mad – Anu7 May 13 at 15:07
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    @NuclearWang - because she's not ruthless. Tywin sacked the city, because that was very beneficial to him. He let Mountain kill a bunch of Martells, again, because that's beneficial to him. Danny literally went Hitler on a bunch of civilians for no fucking reason, effectively destroying her chances of ever ruling Westeros. She's gonna get killed next episode. – Davor May 14 at 12:10
5

She was on the brink.

At this point, she is so alone and without many of her long term friends that she is overcome with the isolation and rage that accompanies it.

David Benioff: Dany is an incredibly strong person. She's also someone who has had really close friendships and close advisors for her entire run of the show. You look at these people who have been closest to her for such a long time and almost all of them have either turned on her or died, and she's very much alone. And that's a dangerous thing for someone who's got so much power, to feel that isolated. So at the very time when she needs guidance and those kind of close friendships and advice the most, everyone's gone.

So, she is all alone and seems that she simply doesn't care anymore. Most of her friends are dead, she thinks Jon betrayed her and still doesn't have the throne. So, she throws away her signature compassion and takes the throne with Fire and Blood.

  • 4
    She might talk a good "compassion" game, but her actions since season 1 have been pretty brutal, escalating as she has moved closer to the throne. – Laconic Droid May 14 at 3:50
  • Don't buy it. If that was supposed to be her motivation then the script failed to bring this across. – CpILL May 15 at 1:59
4

Realpolitik

Although the producers specifically showed Dany having an emotional breakdown, and stated that she makes it personal (re: Cersei's treachery and resistance) there is also a practical political intent:

  • Dany demonstrates the destructive power of even a single dragon, and sends an unambiguous message that any who resist her rule face utter destruction.
  • 8
    She'd already thoroughly demonstrated that though. The city's defenses were decimated and the rest surrendered very quickly. It was one of the most decisive battles we've seen, at least in Westeros, so I don't believe this explains the overkill and the waste. Unless she specifically needed to demonstrate that innocent people just trying to stay alive also face utter destruction. – Matthew Read May 13 at 19:28
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    @MatthewRead If she hadn't razed King's Landing, she'd likely have to repeat the process of siege and protracted negotiations with many of the 7 Kindgoms, including, potentially, the North. By razing King's Landing, she expedites the future process by demonstrating that any and all resistance will be met swiftly with utter destruction. – DukeZhou May 13 at 19:55
  • @DukeZhou She already had most of Westeros on her side. Actions like this is how she loses. And in the end, we don't really see her being rejected by her subjects, except for Sansa. She just feels completely alone in the world, betrayed, usurped, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Justified? Hard to tell. It's not like the show's writing was ever exactly stellar. – Luaan May 14 at 7:37
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    @Luaan She had most of Westeros technically on her side. Maybe. The North was fighting for here here, but then there's Sansa ready to mess with that. Who else from Westeros is actively fighting for her? The rest of her army seems to be made up mostly of the remaining Dothraki and Unsullied at this point, and a few of Yara's Ironborn. Maybe a few other houses, but the big Houses seem to be sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens (in reality, if not on paper). – Geobits May 15 at 13:02
  • @Geobits I don't even see the maybe--she's an unknown, foreign ruler,with little to no native support, and the Targaryen's were foreign invaders in the first place, with a very poor track record re: good governance. – DukeZhou May 15 at 17:15
2

All the existing answers approach the issue from Dany's side. But let's look at the bells too:

In the episode with the Battle of the Blackwater (S2E9) the following conversation happens:

?: They're welcoming the new king.

Davos: I've never known bells to mean surrender.
Game of Thrones, Season 2 Episode 9

This makes it likely that Tyrion just made up a signal for suddender, and then released Jaime into King's Landing in hope that the signal was conveyed.

From Daenerys' perspective, this might look like a ruse. Some signal nobody has ever heard of, to show the city "surrendered" and to lure the army inside. It might be Cersei's trick to ambush the army.

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    It doesn't hold up as several Lannister voices can clearly be heard shouting "ring the bells", after surrendering. – Olivier Grégoire May 14 at 8:02
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    @OlivierGrégoire Lannister soldiers doing things can definitely be interpreted as Cersei's ruse. – JAD May 14 at 9:02
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    @JAD - Agreed, and could also be the signal to release the elephants! (...if she had any) – BruceWayne May 14 at 16:25
  • I honestly thought the bells were going to be used as a ruse, just based on the number of times they're mentioned. Like seriously, stop talking about the damn bells, it's quite obvious that it's not going to be "bells -> peace" one way or the other. However, I'm not sure Dany was thinking this way. Her face was definitely more "nah, screw that noise" in my opinion. – Geobits May 15 at 13:04
  • Wasn't it Matthos Seaworth who said that first line? – Ink blot May 16 at 9:20

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