It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with the events of this episode. I haven’t been able to decide if The Bells is a brilliant episode of Game of Thrones or a terrible one. But then I realized it’s something else entirely: problematic.
Problematic because it takes the show’s lead female character, and turns her into an outright villain one episode before the show goes off the air entirely. Of course Game of Thrones has hinted at Dany’s darkness before; remember that kickass scene in season three where she freed the slaves and unleashed a terrifying assault of fire and rage? But my main issue is that the show has made her pure evil in such an inelegant manner. Instead of giving her transformation the space to breathe, the turn is thrust upon us in the most brutal way possible. If nothing else, Dany has always been a nuanced character who has struggled with her impulses as she strives to do the right thing. The Bells however offers no nuance; she makes a clear decision to massacre innocent women and children even after the Lannister army surrenders. It’s just not believable, and the show could have done any number of things to earn this moment. Hell, even a few flashbacks as Dany overlooks the city and remembers all the traumas she’s endured (the rape, Jorah’s death, Missandei’s beheading, both of her dragons dying etc…) would have infused her decision with a bit more clarity and given us deeper insight into her headspace. Even worse is the show’s decision to completely detach from her character as she’s burning the city. The camera stays far far away and the narrative suffers as a result.
It gets worse: Jon is positioned as the savior in a very clear-cut good vs evil storyline. Game of Thrones was always a layered show that took its time to showcase shades of grey, but there’s absolutely none of that here. Dany bad, Jon good. This is what the show has amounted to after years of glorious storytelling and intricate character work.
I’m also unsure how I feel about Arya’s arc. On one hand I love that The Hound ended up being such a father figure to her as he urged her to reject a path of self destruction. However, having the young Stark get so close to Cersei after so many years and simply turn around is severely anticlimactic. Maybe her arc will make more sense when she shifts her sights to Dany in the finale and takes that queen out, but there’s something severely underwhelming about her arc at the moment. On the bright side, watching Arya getting almost trampled to death is an admittedly pulse-pounding sequence that’s skillfully done, not to mention her heroic attempts to unsuccessfully save a helpless mother and child from getting barbecued. The show can keep trying to sell us on the fact that Jon is the big “hero”, but as far as I’m concerned (and especially after she took out The Night King), it’s always been Arya.
And how do Jaime and Cersei’s arcs end? The twins who started it all finally reunite and embrace as the castle crumbles around them. Once again while this conclusion makes sense thematically, it’s a very underwhelming development. Why did Lena Headey get absolutely nothing to do this season? No climactic monologue or face-off with Dany or Jon? Nothing shocking whatsoever? It’s a believable but unmemorable end to two unforgettable characters, and that sort of stings.
The sad thing is that if you put the writing aside, this is the singularly most stunning episode Game of Thrones has ever produced. The cinematography is absolutely astounding with mindblowing shots of King’s Landing getting burnt to a crisp. The CGI had some rough moments in the preceding episodes but everything is on point here: from Cleganebowl as Drogon unleashes hell above to the final sequence with Arya drenched in ashes and then riding out of the city. Every frame in The Bells is like a masterpiece brought to life.
I’m trying to stay optimistic, but how spectacular does the finale have to be to salvage such a messy season. How can Game of Thrones possibly tie off all its loose ends and make sense of the insanity that occurred this week? It’s an impossible task, and that’s a real pity.
Bits & Beheadings
- Incredible scene: Dany calmly saying Dracarys as Drogon appears out of the shadows behind her and barbecues Varys. Am I sad about the character’s demise? Not really. It’s a fitting end to his story after years of manipulation. His bond with Tyrion is strangely moving though.
- Probably the most touching scene of the season: Tyrion telling Jaime that he’s the only one who never treated him like a monster and then proceeding to set him free. Watching the two sob and hug makes for a heartbreaking moment that really cements their brotherly bond. It’s also a beautiful full-circle moment because Jaime freed Tyrion from a similar fate in the season four finale.
- So let me get this straight: last week Dany couldn’t burn a single ship and now she can annihilate the entire fleet in five seconds. It’s an incredible scene – the CGI is finally on-point and we can actually SEE what’s going on – but it’s highly illogical considering how she struggled last week.
- Badass moment: Dany and Drogon crashing the castle from the inside and obliterating The Golden Company. It’s a bonafide goosebump-worthy moment.
- Euron dying after unsuccessfully trying to take out Jaime is so satisfying isn’t it? His character really added nothing to the show. What were they thinking?
- So does Drogon like never run out of fire?
- Qyburn orders The Mountain to stand his ground and is casually smashed to pieces. I know it’s inappropriate but I laughed.
- The Mountain tries to pop The Hound’s eyes like he did with Oberyn (yet another callback to the season four finale).
- I’m actually surprised by how much screen-time Cleganebowl (the fight between The Hound and the Mountain) receives in this episode. It’s a thrilling sequence, but can you say you were really surprised by both savages falling into the fire?
- Jaime tells Cersei that nothing matters but them. If that sounded familiar, it’s because he’s said the same line before.
- I have some issues with Jaime coming back to Cersei and dying with her. I thought for sure he would try to kill her after all the character development he’s undergone over many years. But then again, some people never change.
- Seriously the set design as Arya walks through a destroyed King’s Landing is gorgeous (in a depressing sort of way).
Kings & Quips
Daenerys: I don’t have love here. I only have fear.
Jon: I love you. And you will always be my queen.
Daenerys: Is that all I am to you? Your queen? (She tries to kiss him. He hesitates). Alright then… let it be fear.
While it’s a technical and cinematic marvel in every way, The Bells is also a severely problematic hour that causes a lot of damage to the show’s legacy.