Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss "have opted to value the element of surprise above all else, forcing themselves to deliver as many holy sh*t moments as possible but too afraid of being outguessed to visibly progress toward them," says Sam Adams. "The result, as the show ekes out its last hours on our screens, has been a series of plot turns that somehow feel both overdetermined and underdeveloped, obvious and arbitrary." He adds that the "emphasis on surprise has crippled the show’s ability to build toward its most shocking developments, so that even when they fit into its larger themes, they still feel as if they were pulled out of a hat. In many ways, Daenerys’ murderous rampage is the perfect bookend to Ned Stark’s death. The show told us from the beginning that it was a mistake to believe in noble rulers destined for the throne, and the fact that Daenerys was more successful than Ned doesn’t make her more fit to rule. The series has suggested all along that no single ruler, no matter how ordained or enlightened, can overcome our flawed human nature or our fractious societies—while at the same time all but forcing us to invest in Dany and/or Jon Snow’s drive to seize the Iron Throne from the Lannisters. 'The Bells' turned our expectations against us, cutting off what seemed to be building to an epic battle at the midway point and shifting to a wholesale slaughter. Instead of taking out her wrath on Cersei, Daenerys took it out on Cersei’s people, the subjects who, as soon as the bells of surrender tolled, were effectively hers. That makes perfect sense for Game of Thrones. It made far less sense for Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys, who had been a stern and occasionally vindictive ruler, but who had never taken the kind of joy in meting out death one would think you’d need to dragon-strafe a fully inhabited city."
Game of Thrones thought so little of Daenerys it transformed her into a faceless, personality-free supervillain: "There was no proximate cause, no essential reason for the character to take that horrific action at that moment," says Maureen Ryan. "To say that a character — or a person — has mental illness in their family tree and thus has no control over their actions is astoundingly reductive and plays into harmful and lazy stereotypes. It's also just boring writing to make a character do something stupid and then handwave it away with 'Something, something mental illness!' That's not only offensive, that's a generality that does nothing to justify that drastic action in that particular moment. All in all, the show has done a piss-poor job of explaining why Daenerys would decide to destroy the very prize she had set her heart on ruling a decade ago. We watched eight seasons of a woman at least attempting to use or think about power differently. Until she didn't. Because … reasons."
Dany's "Mad" heel turn is so terrifying because it was sudden, swift and senseless: "What is striking about Daenerys’s newly Walter White–inflected trajectory, though—and what also saves an episode that is otherwise punctured with plot holes—is that you can read it in so many ways," says Megan Garber. "Maybe her decision is the result of madness—the apple settling, after all this time, right at the trunk of the tree—or maybe it’s … ruthlessness. Maybe she got the crazy edit, yes; or maybe the leader who has justified so much under the auspices of the broken wheel has answered a Westerosi version of the trolley problem, deciding that some innocents must die in the present so that many more can live peacefully in the future. Or maybe, having recently lost her second dragon and the apparent loyalty of those left in her orbit, she simply made a blunt calculation about power and what will be required to attain it. Rhaegalpolitik: 'Let it be fear,' Dany tells Jon, before making all too good on her word. Ambiguity is a powerful tool in storytelling; it is also a difficult one to wield well."
It would be disheartening if George R.R. Martin always envisioned Daenerys becoming "Mad": "Disheartened isn’t even the right word," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "I am exhausted by Mad Queen Dany, with the kind of fatigue that leads to jaw-cracking yawns and deep, resigned sighs. The notion that this sprawling story about epic political gamesmanship, the corruption of power, the things we inherit from our families, the people we choose to love, and the inevitable inescapable march of death would ultimately hinge on a trope as painfully stale as 'and then the scary powerful woman goes crazy' is, to be frank, boring. That Dany’s madness is preordained only makes it worse because it extends the umbrella of Game of Thrones’ unoriginal obsession with the emotional instability of women over a longer time frame."
Dany doesn't need to be a feminist hero: "Daenerys Targaryen became the focal point for the slippage between reality and fiction," says Willa Paskin. "Despite being played by one of the weaker actresses in the cast, Dany has become an all-purpose stand-in for powerful women (You could even argue that Emilia Clarke’s blank performance makes her a better screen upon which to project.) Dany is a Strong Female Character, a badass, the freer of slaves, the inspirer of men, the Mother of Dragons. Perhaps her will-to-power was a touch messianic, but see how far a woman gets with Jon Snow’s aw-shucks 'I don’t want to rule' schtick. Dany shouldered the hopes, not so much of her would-be subjects (most of whom had never heard of her), but the audience, who could see in her a viable female candidate, one with the dragonfire to hold her ground against less-qualified men." But Game of Thrones underplaying that rooting for anyone is a loser's game has "permitted many members of the audience to ignore that Dany has always been motivated by something fundamentally gross—the idea that she is destined to be a ruler; that she is owed the fealty of millions of people; that she will be a fantastic ruler despite never having demonstrated a knack for it—and instead to see her as the allegorical dragon queen we want her to be. Even if Dany had kept her bloodthirsty tendencies in check, she’d still leave Westeros where it has always been: waiting for the inevitable day when one of her nutty descendants terrorizes people with nuclear dragons."
Game of Thrones writers love their clumsy-fool characters and their big, dumb gestures: "That’s radically shifted the show’s tone," says Tasha Robinson. "Where (George R.R.) Martin loves his devious masterminds and cold calculators, (David) Benioff and (D.B.) Weiss love their cinematic gestures and their windmill-tilting fools. It’s made the final season exciting, full of big action and climactic confrontations, as people who used to be cautious and thoughtful throw themselves into danger without any meaningful plan. But in the penultimate episode, 'The Bells,' that dynamic has also left everyone feeling meatheaded and sloppy."
Pilou Asbæk loves hating his "f*cking stupid" Euron Greyjoy character: "Man, I’m not going to defend that character. I’ve tried a lot of different work and worked with a lot of different people. Some people love him, some people hate him, but I have to admit I had a hell of a good time playing him. He’s one of those characters that’s just fun. What do you want? 'World domination.' Why? 'I don’t know, because I’m a f*cking idiot.' He’s one of those guys that just likes to see the world burn. If he can help the world to burn, even better…That’s how 85% of all Bond villains are created."