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Game of Thrones "The Bells" (S08E05)

previously on Game of Thrones

by Ben Miller

Boy howdy, that was an episode.  Regardless of your thoughts on the final season, we can probably all agree that the penultimate episode, “The Bells,” was the MOST episode Game of Thrones has had in a long while, if not ever.  Before we get to the big developments in the back half, let's focus on some of the other quieter scenes that really popped...

Varys knows who Jon Snow really is, but he keeps insisting he doesn’t want the throne. He finds his way into Danerys’ chambers and tells her as much, but you can finally see the cracks starting to form not only their relationship, but in Dany’s state of mind.  I have not been very high on Emila Clarke’s performance in the past, but her fireside chat gave her quite the showcase and she sold the fractured psyche that the Mother of Dragons is currently residing.

Meanwhile, Tyrion snitched on Varys, leading to his immolation (RIP Master of Whispers), which led to Grey Worm and Tyrion discussing battle plans with Daenerys.  At this point, she's emerging as the dark dragon she was always destined to be. Someone on Twitter pointed out that she has always had these overly violent tendencies, but has been persuaded in a gentler direction by her advisors.  Since her advisors are dead or doubting her, she wants to burn down the city without caring about the women and children inside its walls. Tyrion makes a desperate plea for the safety of the people, while Grey Worm coldly awaits his orders.  Seemingly getting his way, he leaves, but not before Dany reveals she captured Jaime trying to get back to King’s Landing.

Now, we arrive at what might be my favorite scene of the whole series.  Tyrion convinces some guards to let him see Jaime, as we assume he will be letting him go free.  It seems to the most recent in a long line of terrible decisions, but Tyrion provides some context, purporting the safety of the people if Jaime appeals to Cersei’s humanity and prevents an unnecessary battle.  Not only is his logic sound and selfless, it leads to a wonderfully humane moment between brothers and sells the familial bond between Peter Dinklage and Nicolai Coster-Waldau.

And then the siege of King’s Landing.  Apparently, Daenerys and Jon have learned from their strategic mistakes and use Drogon to full affect, decimating every scorpion on the walls and destroying the Iron Fleet and the Golden Company for good measure.  Once the front gate is burned down, the Lannister army realizes they are beaten, Drogon takes a break, and the bells of surrender ring out. All seems well, until Dany goes full Dark Mother of Dragons and heads towards the Cersei, burning everything in her path.  Despite all the chaos, the benefit of daylight does wonders for understanding of the scene, as well as giving director Miguel Sapochnik and cinematographer Fabian Wagner a chance to show off.

A few thing happen when Dany starts burning everything down.  First, Arya actually listens to reason after The Hound tells her to leave and stay alive.  Next, the remaining members of the Dany brain trust realize she has gone full Mad Queen. I have never been a big fan of Kit Harrington’s characterization of Jon Snow, but he wordlessly acts his ass off during the beginning moments of Dany’s burning revenge.  The overarching theme for Jon has been the words from Ygritte: “You know nothing, Jon Snow!” Well, now Jon knows something, but we have to wait one more episode for him to do something about it.

Finally, as Cersei attempts to find some safety, we arrive at the long-anticipated Cleganebowl.  The Hound goes burned face to bloated zombie face with his brother The Mountain and nothing will stand in their way.  The Hound quickly dispatches a half-dozen guards, while The Mountain crushes Qyburn’s head down the stairs (RIP Qyburn, you creepy, creepy man).  Blows exchange between the brothers, as the action cuts between The Hound getting pounded, and Arya trying to make it out of King’s Landing alive.  It looks like we are about to have another Red Viper vs. The Mountain head crushing until The Hound puts a dagger through his brother’s eye. Welp, apparently that didn’t work either, so he spear tackles him through the wall and they both plummet to their deaths.  RIP to The Mountain and The Hound -- the Cleganebowl was well worth the wait.

Cersei finally reunites with Jaime (following his dispatching of Westeros’ favorite John Varvatos-wearing pirate Euron) as the Red Keep falls around them.  They end up deep in the bowels with their escape blocked, and we get Lena Headey’s Emmy speech. For the first time in the entire series, we actually feel some sympathy towards Cersei as she fears for her life.  Jaime reassures her that their presence together is all that matters and they stand together before being crushed by falling debris. RIP to Jamie and Cersei.

This all culminates with a ton of collateral damage, Arya with a possible new name for her list, Jon ready to be the ruler he should have been, Tyrion trying to figure out where it all went wrong, and Dany sitting as the queen of ashes.

The more I think about the episode, the more I like it.  It was technically a marvel and I can imagine a complete bitch to film.  The sheer volume of what happened is staggering.  We lost the main characters of Varys, Euron, Qyburn, The Hound, The Mountain, Jaime and Cersei, plus untold thousands of Golden Company, Iron Fleet, Lannister soldiers and innocent civilians.  I can’t imagine a world where Jon and Daenerys both survive next week, but the death toll has certainly picked up.

Whew, I'm glad for the break (aren't you?) because that one was a lot to digest and decompress from.  It will all come to a boiling head next week. Thank you for joining us for this final brief season. Eric and I will be here next week to help you finish off the series in style. 

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Reader Comments (13)

It was outstanding. Absolutely outstanding. This made up for the last two episodes and some. Dracarys bitches.

Heartwrenching as it was to watch, Dany's terror is the inevitable and correct conclusion for her character. She has always shown very little mercy for her perceived enemies, and everyone in Westeros right now is her enemy. I only wonder now how they will actually kill her. Surely she'll have Drogon with her everywhere now, the true Queensguard.

RIP to the greatest television villain in history. Lena Headey wins that Emmy, there is no question.

The only slight letdown I had was Arya's journey out of (presumably) King's Landing. That sequence could have been 3 minutes shorter. How many times are we supposed to believe she escapes certain death basically unharmed?

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I loved it. People who regret naming their children "Khaleesi" or putting her face on their Women's March posters had it coming, lol. The Thronesiest episode of Thrones in a couple seasons.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMother of Dragons

With all the Game of Thrones I know tearing this episode a new one, it's refreshing to read a more positive perspective of this admittedly divisive episode.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

Gross, lazy, and full of inconsistencies. It was violence porn, and D&D should be banned from ever writing anything else in the future. I am contemplating skipping the finale because of how these two seasons have been handled, especially the RAPID descent of Daenerys and her becoming the Mad Queen. Bull shit. And THAT is how they wrap up Jaime? And he and Cersei die like THAT? These actors and this material deserve better. Here's hoping Martin will fix it with his books. God knows he must be laughing his ass off at this shit. Even the actors have hinted in interviews for months that this was horribly handled, and we do know what they have meant until now. Fuck you, Weiss and Benioff.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteroscarsights

Lena Headey is exceptional this episode and throughout the series. As much as I wanted a ‘happy ending’ for Jamie & Brienne I think the Lannister twin’s demise was actually quite perfect. I think twitter’s baying for a more brutal, cruel end for Cersei is a credit to the writers and Headey’s characterisation over the past 8 seasons. Plus brutal torture/ murder of a pregnant woman is well, problematic for a show that’s been criticised over its depiction of violence against women?

The scenes of Arya trying to escape the city were also great. Reminded me of Children of Men.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

It was not only the worst episode of "Game of Thrones" (that is obvious) but the worst 75 minutes made by HBO EVER.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

Another episode that divided the fan base. I thought it was brilliant. My only quibble is that the lead up to Dany's descent was rushed; an unfortunate consequence of the limitations of short form television. Yet, as a book reader, I have been anticipating Dany's dark side turn for a long time. The interior dialogue that GRRM's books present show a Daenerys who has always had these tendencies. The TV show has also shown us a Dany capable of "blood and fire" and someone held in check by her advisors.

This episode was brilliantly acted and beautifully filmed. There are many examples I could share to illustrate the beauty of the cinematography and the stunning soundtrack but just watch the episode with an open mind. Instead I want to shout out to Peter, Nikolaj and Lena for making us care for the Lannisters who in the end stayed to true to what the House of Lannister believed to be most important - the bonds of family and the continuation of their House. As the walls of the keep came crashing down over Cersei her thoughts were for her unborn child. Up until that moment I believed Cersei was not really pregnant; that she was lying or had miscarried. When I realised that she was pregnant with Jamie's baby I was suddenly wanting them both to live, but it was too late. Am I alone in hoping that Brienne does in fact carry the last of the Lannister line? A strong non-incest tainted Lannister bastard who, if born at Winterfell, will be a Snow until whoever takes the iron throne legitimises Brienne's baby and makes it the Heir to Casterly Rock and Warden of the West with Brienne as acting Warden. Ok just a little fan fic there...sorry.

Shout out also to Rory McCann. His depiction of Sandor Clegane's arc has been the most underrated performance of the show imho.

And Maise Williams who has grown with Arya as she grew from a feisty child through to a heartless teenage assassin and finally into a strong caring women. Emmy's for all.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

This one was very dark with the dragon decimating a city and literally hundreds of people in gruesome deaths. It veered on porn with the nonstop violence but go big or go home. I can't with people complaining. This season is great and I await the sure to be divisive finale.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

I love it. Cant wait for the finale. Lena must win her Emmy

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFadhil

The fact that some people liked this episode is beyond me.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

I'm so sad for all my friends who saw this show for its political complexity.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

@Peggy Sue—

I think people who hated this episode can't admit they don't want complexity.

So many viewers have been coddled into this good vs. evil narrative where Dany (good!) flies into King's Landing and kills Cersei (bad!) and...establishes democracy? Passes a Green New Deal? The people love her! It's the Free Cities all over again. Who knows what they wanted or expected.

The fact that D&D (and GRRM to the extent he guides the plot) didn't give us that makes me happy. It was a curveball that returned the show to form at the 11th hour. The fact that Cersei had her first sympathetic moments in many season proves that this choice restored complexity to the plot.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMother of Dragons

@Mother of Dragons: LOL
People simply like when their favourite TV series is consistently written.
It's good that Daenerys is now mad. She was the most irritating character since episode 1 so I'm glad that she probably dies this week. But it should have been introduced somehow differently than it was.
And Cersei and Jaime had such mediocre final scene. Cersei did almost nothing this season and this was probably the most disappointing thing in "Game of Thrones" history. She was obviously one of the best characters of the series (the most complex!) and she deserved better screenplay for her final moments.
And this episode looked far worse than people claim. It did not look like the city being destroyed by fire but rather like the visual effects pretending that they are fire destroying the city. And that's not the same. :)

May 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

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