The following is a spoiler-filled review of the fifth episode of the eighth and final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Expect spoilers for the episode in the review.
In the penultimate episode of the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, everything goes up in flames as two mad queens move their forces into position for the last war. As the wheel is broken, bells ring out, and the true faces of those we’ve championed are revealed. In tonight’s review, I discuss character assassination, build-up, and illogical character developments as the showrunners revealed how their show is meant to end while they disregarded prophecies.
Let us get one thing out of the way early. Technically, visually, and musically, The Bells is one of the strongest episodes of the series. I loved how they framed Daenerys in the episode. Her face next to the fire was an incredible shot that made me lose my concentration and stare in awe. Seeing Drogon let loose was incredibly satisfying and the overwhelming power of the dragon was something to watch.
Ramin Djawadi continues to be perhaps the best thing about this show. Djawadi’s themes are riveting and the way select memorable themes were mixed together in tonight’s episode was outstanding. Unlike with The Long Night, I thought Miguel Sapochnik’s direction was easily identifiable and absolutely amazing. I have a lot of respect for the way they executed the visuals and the sounds. Technically, this was an amazing episode.
But — and you knew there would be a ‘but’ eventually — as an episode of television of the most popular television series with some of the best writing, some of the best characters, and one of the most satisfying character arcs I’ve ever seen The Bells came up short. Miguel Sapochnik did an amazing job. Ramin Djawadi did an amazing job. Fabian Wagner did an amazing job. But, once again, I have a lot of problems with what D. B. Weiss and David Benioff did with this episode and the most beloved characters. Let’s get into it, shall we?
The first twenty minutes, or so, of the episode were intense and depressing. Varys was scheming and Daenerys was readying herself for wrath and revenge. Jon Snow did not care for Varys’ ideas, and Tyrion sold out one of the smartest characters on the show. Conleth Hill has been a great actor on this show, and though I’m disappointed with how little we got of him this season, I liked the way his journey ended. The shot of Drogon peeking out to light Varys on fire was disturbing.
Later, Jon Snow declined Daenerys’ advances, Daenerys challenged the Starks to his face, and Daenerys revealed that Jaime Lannister had been captured by her forces. I’m conflicted about Tyrion’s decision to save Jaime. On the one hand, it makes sense that he would repay his debt after Jaime once saved Tyrion from capture. But, on the other hand, Tyrion literally just sold out Varys in the very same episode, and now he’s immediately going against his queen. Make up your mind, please.
I am even more conflicted by Tyrion and Jaime’s conversation. I love the Lannisters. It is the house that I am the most intrigued by, and they are the characters I enjoy watching the most. Seeing Tyrion tell his brother that he was the only reason he made it through their childhood almost made me emotional. It’s a great final moment between the two. Jaime and Tyrion were each other’s best friends and they were great brothers who accepted each other for what they were. But, here’s the thing, I hated how Jaime was written in this scene. Jaime literally says that he didn’t care about the people of King’s Landing — the civilians. I think that is out of character. Yes, he may have been acting tough in this scene, but the moment just does not gel with the fact that Jaime literally killed King Aerys because he was going to “burn them all.” Also, Jaime literally rode North to defend the realms of man. Why would he do that if he never cared for civilians?
This, of course, leads to Jaime rushing to Cersei’s side to die with her. I’ll have more to say about that in a moment, but first, let’s talk about Daenerys, who had understood Tyrion when he said that the ringing of the bells would indicate that King’s Landing had surrendered. During the battle, people were crying out for the bells, Lannister soldiers had thrown their swords to the ground, and then the bell rang. Daenerys then became the Mad Queen. She ordered Drogon to attack civilians and the rest of the city — make ruins of it all. And this was awful. I’m sorry but this is yet another example of the final season being truncated and the character developments being accelerated and rushed.
Sure, it does make sense that Daenerys might’ve eventually done this, but Weiss and Benioff didn’t properly make me understand why she would do it now. The line to Jon Snow about fear hinted at it, but I needed more. She decided to inspire fear rather than repeatedly trying to win Westerosi love, which had proven difficult during what she would constantly refer to as ‘Jon’s war’. I think that may have been what they were going for, but I don’t think that came across well. It may be a Machiavellian move, but the show didn’t set it up that way. In the end, she slaughtered civilians. The breaker of chains slaughtered them all. It makes no sense to me. At least not at this juncture. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but I don’t believe that the writers have done enough groundwork to earn the Mad Queen-turn just yet, even though I fully agree with the notion that it wasn’t entirely out of character. She became what many have suspected she may become. But I needed more with her. I needed more lines and more scenes. I needed internal struggle and complexities that just were not there this season, which, in part, is due to the truncated nature of the season. I have problems with the writing, the execution, and, more than anything else, the way they have accelerated character development and made potentially sound developments seem contrived.
Meanwhile, Pilou Asbæk and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the two Danes on the show, had their showdown. As a fellow Dane, it is a lot of fun to be able to see two Danish actors go toe-to-toe in a mad battle on the grandest stage of them all. Asbæk has been saddled with a poorly designed character, but Coster-Waldau has masterfully portrayed Jaime at his best and worst. Coster-Waldau has been one of the unsung heroes of the show. I hated that Euron wounded Jaime, and I hated that this drunken pirate got to say: “I killed Jaime Lannister.”
He didn’t, of course. For some reason, the showrunners thought it was more effective if the ruins of King’s Landing was the end of him. But, more on that in a moment, first we have to briefly talk about the much discussed Cleganebowl: The battle between Sandor and Gregor. I have to say it was fairly unemotional to me. Maybe it was because the look of the Mountain was too made up for me. His appearance did take me out of the episode, so to speak. It was as if old Anakin Skywalker had removed his mask in Westeros. That said, the battle could only end one way, and I’m glad they didn’t draw out the battle senselessly.
Which brings me to the deaths of two of my favorite characters — Cersei and Jaime. When Jaime decided to turn away from Brienne to rush to Cersei, I needed it to mean that he was readying himself to end his sister, or else, I thought, it was out of character for him given his outstanding redemption arc that had made me fall in love with the show. But it didn’t mean that. Jaime wanted to be by the side of his hateful sister when all would fail. He wanted to die by the woman he loved. As Jaime and Cersei met for one last time, I was quite moved by Lena Headey who has been wasted this season. Cersei was facing her doom and she was going to watch the man she loved die with her. She had his blood on her hands in more ways than one.
As Jaime held his sister and said how ‘they were all that mattered,’ even though I do think it is a great scene that Headey and Coster-Waldau do wonders with, I was disappointed by the way the showrunners had undone Brienne and Jaime’s storyline and his redemption arc. Sure, maybe Jaime realized that people don’t change and that he hasn’t. Cersei is his fatal flaw and with a little more oomph this season, this could have worked much better. But the show didn’t really ever make me believe that was the case. The show failed to justify this change of fate for Jaime Lannister. Character assassination is something you could easily criticize this show for. I do understand those who might say they may have ruined, or at the very least misread, their own characters after working so hard to make us care for them. Book readers will want to discuss the Valonqar prophecy, which was never brought up on the show. What did it all mean? Well, either it meant nothing for the show or Jaime holding her tightly was what it alluded to all along.
As the series comes to an end, spare a thought for the Lannister twins, or rather the actors portraying them. Lena Headey was a fantastic representation for the series’ most complicated and intriguing villain. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s performances were underappreciated and his character’s redemption arc is one of the best things the show has done. Together, they made their final moments on the show work, even though I have issues with how we got there and how it happened. As the series comes to an end next week, Jaime and Cersei will be gone, but Coster-Waldau and Headey’s work lives on.
Elsewhere, Jon Snow realized that he was fighting alongside villains, and Arya Stark somehow dodged certain death time and time again (after she had, for some reason, decided not to cross off another name from her list). Maisie Williams has done a great job on this show, and if the last we see of her character is the shot of her on the horse, then farewell, little one. Please don’t put me on your list.
Before my conclusion, I do want to add something. This is a show that has been criticized for disregarding geography and the time it would take for one character to get to another location. The show logic is not always sound. In this episode, I was especially befuddled by how the Iron Fleet and the Scorpions suddenly were ineffective after they had been so overpowered last week. Later, Drogon’s firey blast was able to lay waste to King’s Landing, even though Viserion’s blast was unable to break the rock Jon hid behind in The Long Night. The strength of fleets, defenses, and dragons varies wildly, and it bothered me in this episode.
The Bells, the penultimate episode of the series, was an episode that showed that Game of Thrones wasn’t as gutless as it has been criticized for being this season, but it was also an episode that, infuriatingly, rushed the character arcs of Jaime Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen in the process. It breaks my heart that, on an episode that technically, visually, and musically was outstanding, the writers of the show undid its successes. With one episode to go, it seems inevitable that D. B. Weiss and David Benioff will not stick the landing of Game of Thrones.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.