Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5. “The Bells” was the most savage piece of television I’ve ever experienced. I’ve seen some doozies: Rob Zombie’s horrors, “Saving Private Ryan”, all the “Rambos”, “Apocalypse Now”. Put it on the board, I’ve probably seen it.
“The Bells” left me silent, queasy, jarred, and deep in thought. It was unbelievable the places where they took the episode. I’ll admit I was enamored & captivated the story had the courage to essentially be as brutal as actual history – dragons notwithstanding.
What’s been nearly as fascinating has been the online conversations between fans. The expressed opinions range the typical gamut, from “it’s incredible” to, “it’s the worst season.” It’s the passion behind the opinions which is exhilerating to me.
I spent a good share of my time in these locations:
- The Geek Strikes Back Facebook Page episode comment thread
- The Geek Strikes Back armchair script writers rant thread
- Friends Fraley & Jonathan via Twitter
- This Twitter Thread
- My private FB thread
I’m in the camp who loved the episode. I loved how Dany finally learned how to fly her dragon in battle. I loved that the episode didn’t pander to the “epic” battle folks anticipated. I loved that characters were forced to make decisions in the heat of the moment and not based on their character development and that when push came to shove, the characters fell back on their nature, not the romanticized ends of their perceived character arcs. Mostly, I loved that the episode reminded fans that war is war, and Hell is Hell.
From what I can gather, most of the episode’s hotly depicted battles are below. I wrote them out so I didn’t have to keep writing them out when I jump into more online battles. Here we go:
#1 – “The Writing in Game of Thrones Season 8 is terrible…”
I don’t know if it’s the headcannons or fan fiction theorists or if folks are too addicted to the Hollywood happy ending of fulfilled character arcs and plot developments, but this episode seemingly shocked everyone. Maybe some are bingewatchers who caught up in time for this season and didn’t have this show be a part of their lives for a decade. Maybe it’s a concoction of the aforementioned, but whatever it is, some folks seemed to forget that Game of Thrones isn’t a love story. It isn’t a romance. It isn’t a buddy copy. It’s not even a typical fantasy adventure.
Game of Thrones is a war story between nations.
Some seek power. Some want conquest. Some seek wanderlust and some seek bloodlust. Some want peace. Throw it all together, and you get chaos.
“The Bells” brought the chaos, and it was glorious.
Reminder: Game of Thrones is based off George R.R. Martin’s still-unfinished “Song of Fire and Ice” anthology. The books were heavily through-lined by the original War of the Roses, the 15th century conflict between the houses of York and Lancaster.
Shit went sideways and all over the place and in the end, neither house won.
One more time for the people in the back: NEITHER THE LANCASTERS OR THE YORKS WON.
Eventually, it was the house of Tudor who knocked off the Yorks, and rightfully established King Henry VII.
Game of Thrones is rooted in the fact that the good guys don’t always win. If you didn’t realize that after season one when Ned Stark, the hero of season one, was beheaded, or when his wife, eldest son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild were slaughtered at the Red Wedding in Season three, then I really don’t know what to tell you.
Folks have been bitching about timelines as if they wanted to sit there and watch the army of the North’s entire march down to King’s Landing. Now, some might have an argument that Cersei’s baby bump is more like a mosquito bite and less like a near-to-term pregnancy, but she has been busy preparing for an invasion. Stress takes its toll. And, sure, that probably was a Starbucks cup in front of Dany and that might have been Jaime’s hand regrown. But, damn, folks. Most of y’all loved Joss Whedon’s Avengers movies and there are long form YouTube videos highlighting the incongruity errors.
No. I don’t want to discuss whether or not “EVERYONE” loves Joss Whedon’s Avengers. Or Any of the new Star Wars Movies. Or any of the Stark Trek Movies. Or any semi-popular sci-fi / fantasy, because the whole war over such things is why we can’t have nice things. Not right now.
There is so much going on in The Bells. It’s amazing how quickly some dismissed it in gut-check reviews. Just look at the next point alone. It is rich with stuff folks missed the first time:
#2 – “Varys was stupid…”
Varys was always for the realm. He wanted, before he died, to find someone worthy to sit on the throne and bring peace to the seven kingdoms so no one would have to go through the abuses he went through. Abuses that made him a eunuch.
His final acts were a pure bishop-style chess sacrifice. He got his position. He made his play. He knew he was getting taken out, but his sacrifice gave his Jon Snow-cause some time to grow.
What I loved about the conversations for Varys were that:
#1 – Did Varys already know about Jon Snow?
If you watch the scene in Season 8, Episode 4, Tyrion doesn’t come out and say Jon Snow is actually Rhaegar Targaryen’s son. He tests Varys, and Varys immediately responds with, “how many other people know?” They never discuss Jon’s lineage. They never discuss that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark wed in secret, but in “The Bells,” Varys writes about Jon’s true lineage in those hard-to-read notes. There were others who knew about Jon’s lineage aside from the “eight” Tyrion points out. For starters, Gilly was the one who first read they journal entry. Then there were those in the Tower of Joy where Jon was born. As Varys said:
“If a handful of people know now, hundreds will know soon. Then, what will happen?”Varys. Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 4.
A fellow Facebook commenter first pointed this one out. I missed it. I thought the little girl was just trying to get the word out about Jon Snow, but others think Varys was trying to poison Dany. As Ned Stark once said, and the Esquire piece alludes to – glad to see I was on the right track. I found the article again when when Googling the quote’s source. I guess I should have finished the article. Way to go, Finn.
Ned : I’ve heard it said that poison is a woman’s weapon.Game of Thrones. Season 1, Episode 4.
Pycelle: Yes, women, cravens, and eunuchs. Did you know that Lord Varys is a eunuch?
I still think it was simply information, but, wow, if they find out he was trying to poison her. Or if the poison is still in the next meal. Damn. Way to use everything you had in your arsenal to its fullest, Lord Varys.
#3 – “The Hound vs. The Mountain”
The Cleaganebowl! This is one of the longest running cold feuds in the show.
Here’s to you, Sandor “The Hound” Clegane. When all of King’s Landing is being razed to gravel and your biggest fear, fire, is swirling at every corner, you walked through the cascading rubble of The Red Keep to find your shitty older brother, the Mountain, to kill him for literally setting you to the flame when you were a boy.
You even stopped the closest thing you were to ever have for a daughter, Arya, to make sure she knew that if she followed you up those stairs, that she would end up like you, and that she would attempt to exact revenge on someone who wasn’t long for the world, and that she would be soon after, and that her life could be better spent if she turned back.
And when given the chance to squash an unprotected Cersei like a bug, you didn’t even give a glance in her direction as you let her pass. That’s committing to revenge.
And here’s to you, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane! When faced with the choice of battling your younger brother or protecting your shitty queen as your world was crumbling at your feet, you abandoned her to fulfill a family debt. And when her hand, the only reason you’re still somewhat alive, tried to scold you, you Hulk-smashed his creepy, pervy ass into the nearest still-standing wall.
And here’s to the Clegane brothers, for not disappointing us! For choosing to brawl through the smoke and the rubble and the collapse. For giving us a fight for the ages until succumbing to the very element which created your rivalry.
Way to go full circle on the poetic justice. Here’s to you both!
#4 – “Cersei deserved a better death. Jaime shouldn’t have left Brienne…”
On the surface, I can see what the detractors are saying about the Lannisters. But, only on the surface.
“Jaime’s arc regressed. Why?”
Jaime was who we thought he was. He was a knight, a man of his word, in love with his sister, Cersei, and forever, first and foremost, a Lannister. And, damn. He had another child on the way.
Jaime Lannister’s done unspeakable things. Ask Bran.
Jaime Lannister keeps his word. As he told Dany and the North, he doesn’t regret anything he did – the murders, the atrocities – because he did them for family and that he’d do them all again. He states he arrived because he promised to fight with them against the Night King. He told them of Cersei’s plan because she betrayed them all, and that he was unaware.
Then, when the Night King was vanquished and the war between Dany & the North vs. The Lannisters had resumed, he tried to go home.
“But Cersei betrayed Jaime and Jaime left.”
I’m a Whovian. I had to watch The Doctor forgive Clara for betraying him:
“The Doctor: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”
“But…but, Brienne of Tarth…”
C’mon. Man…His feelings for Brienne of Tarth doesn’t keep him from being an incestuous family-first murdering Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. So, when he got word the war was back on, he said mean things to Brienne to keep her from missing him and rode off back to his family.
As a fan of Brienne of Tarth, I really was hoping she’d see through Jaime and go with Tormund. Talk about someone who was in love with her without inhibitions or impediments. Man, the children they would have had.
Besides, who can really get on Jaime’s case for trying to go home to his to-be-born child – incest notwithstanding?
“Cersei deserved a better death.”
Cersei sealed her fate something fierce. This was like Cortez burning the ships upon arriving to the new world. Except, in this case, the dragon’s about to do the burning.
- Cersei underestimated Dany: a mistake clever people make, according to Tyrion.
“I made a mistake, common for intelligent people. I underestimated my enemy.” – Tyrion. Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 2
- Cersei betrayed Dany under the banner of a truce: never lie to the mother of dragons, especially when she’s about to save your world at great personal cost.
- Cersei baited Dany by beheading handmaiden Missandei: strike 3. Do not pass, “Go.” Do not collect $200. Thanks for playing.
“Together at the end? Ugh.”
The reunion of Jaime & Cersei is a bit, well, Lannister. Jaime keeps his word, comes back to Cersei and their unborn child, and is a Lannister to the end. Cersei is suffering the fury of her decisions and the only one there in the end is, as always, Jaime.
Speaking of which, once again Cersei never realizes how much her brother Tyrion loves her, and never knows that the only reason Jaime is there now is because Tyrion freed him, at risk of his own life, to give his siblings one last chance to survive.
As for their death, I think the two most terrible things one can do to an opponent is to simultaneously haunt them and make them feel insignificant. Dany, by not sending out a formal party or making a declaration, by not respecting any of the classic rules of war and, instead, razing The Red Keep – the palace her family built 300 years ago – by not even saying Cersei’s name, showed Cersei that ultimate disrespect.
Dany took Lady Tyrell’s advice:
“You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
Cersei & Jaime died in the bowels of Cersei’s arrogance while trying to flee. Not even worthy of Varys’ death.
Dany took the importance of Cersei’s death away from Cersei. That’s gangsta’.
The Lannisters’ death reminded me of the most memorable movie revenge killing I’ve seen: in the movie Braveheart, when William Wallace swiftly and without fanfare killed the garrison, who very publicly and with lots of fanfare, executed Wallace’s wife. Then, when the garrison bled out, Wallace dropped him like a puppet-on-a-string and never again spoke of it.
#5 – “Dany went full mad queen. That was sudden.”
Maybe she did. The torching of her now-subjects was unforgivable. It’s unspeakable. There’s no getting around it. Get out the Pepto if you haven’t yet seen it.
The event is filled with heartless rage and fury, but there’s no way it was sudden.
For starters, before they leave the throne room for battle, Dany said she’d give mercy to future generations of King’s Landing. If that in and of itself wasn’t ominous, then try the following:
Given that as a child she had to flee for her life and leave her home only to be sold like a concubine to the ‘savage’ Dothraki for marriage to their king in exchange for her disgusting, pervy brother’s “army,” only to be exiled with the other widows when her husband died, constantly afraid of rape and other unspeakables, only to be burned alive by the Dothraki, to be respected and followed only when she one-in-a-million survived the torching to discover she was the unburnt with three dragons at her side.
Get gets back on her feet with her first army only to to be underestimated and disrespected, betrayed and defrauded at every turn by slavers and city leaders alike, having to fight her way straight through every layer.
The rage and fire was how she survived and persevered.
To cross-pollinate franchises:
“Angry gets shit done.” – Mr. Nancy American Gods.
She killed some innocents in Essos along the way but we brushed them off because she looked innocent – and hot as dragon’s fire – when she did it. Righteous anger.
“But she locked up her dragons Viserion and Rhaegal for slaughtering a boy and showed mercy on Jorah for spying.”
She did. She also sacked Astapor and let the Unsullied burn it to the ground.
She better tells her Essos adventures upon meeting Jon Snow:
After conquering Essos, she made it to Westeros with her army. Her hand made a few mistakes and let her adversaries, her hand’s siblings, sneak out without being squashed. Dany felt betrayed.
She fell for “good man” Jon Snow and fought for his cause up north. She lost a “child” saving John. Dany felt loss.
She struck up a truce with Cersei to defeat the bigger evil, only to later discover she was betrayed by Cersei.
She rides north and learns by the community of cold shoulders that the North doesn’t bend the knee to anyone who hasn’t yet shown to have earned it. Dany felt contempt.
On the eve of battle against the Night King, the bigger evil, she discovers her love is her nephew, and he was raised not to sleep with his aunts and cousins. Even worse, her nephew has the better claim to her throne. Dany felt betrayal and abandonment. And for the first time since Essos, fear.
She lost half her army defeating the bigger evil. Dany experienced yet more loss.
In the celebration of the defeat of the Night King, her lover / nephew gets all the credit and praise from the men, not her. Dany felt jealousy and disrespect.
In her impatience to get to King’s Landing, she lost another “child,” along with her best friend, who was beheaded as a message from Cersei. Dany felt loss and betrayal.
She discovers her advisor is plotting against her. Dany felt betrayal. Dracarys.
She put her hand on final notice. Dany felt let down.
She feels final rejection from her lover / nephew. Dany felt alone and abandoned. She’s been there before, with Dothraki widows.
She’s requested to respect, “The Bells”, as they are a sign of King’s Landing’s surrender. Dany felt contempt.
She’s going to King’s Landing with a lot of pent-up shit, and she doesn’t get a chance to let it all out before the bells ring. She wasn’t ready for it to be over. Dany had more rage to expunge.
No. It wasn’t sudden.
“Avoiding the spears on the dragon?”
It was infuriating that she wasn’t initially using quick, guerrilla attacks to trim supply lines and naval blockades. Though, in her defense, Dany never had a dragon before. And no one had records of aerial attack manuals from dragon trainers. And guerrilla warfare wasn’t a commonly known thing till the 20th century. And if Westeros / Essos was set in Renaissance era – even if mythical – it’s understandable it took her a few times to learn to flank the ships and towers. Hit’m where they ain’t and get them on the reloads.
“Razing King’s Landing?”
This is the hard one. As noted, Dany’s killed innocents as collateral damage in Essos. She’s sacked and burned towns before. She’s been quick to kill those who don’t bend the knee – ask Samwell’s brother Dickon. Even with all the rage and anguish and loss Dany’s experience, there were probably a scant few outside the writer’s room who thought she’d unleash devastation upon the civilians. “Fire and Blood,” seemed only the fate of true, powerful enemies, not those who could barely feed themselves. Not those who didn’t care who was on the throne. Not those who’d never meet a royal or attend a gala. Not those who’d never see the battlefield. Not those.
Daenerys Stormborn, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Protector of the Realm, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt, Breaker of Chains, Lady of Dragonstone isn’t really that much like her father, the mad king, is she?
#6 – “All that time Arya single-mindedly wants to kill Cersei for having her father beheaded. She gets to the steps of the throne room and doesn’t go up with the Hound?”
I loved the newbie write-up by AV Club because they were the first place I read where we’re reminded that Arya has been shaken free of her bloodlust in the past, has learned from it, and has grown from such experiences.
“A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home“.Season 6, Episode 8
I’d argue that this was the lesson The God of Death wanted her to learn before he left. Speaking of the God of Death.
Really? Arya gets on a gray horse and rides off at the end?
I might have to hand back my BA in Religion after this. I completely missed the Revelation 6:8 significance of the final scene. In my defense, I wasn’t expecting the writers to go biblical.
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” – KJVRevelation 6:8. King James Version
And for those pointing out the ash on the horse…
“I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” – NASBRevelation 6:8. New American Standard Bible
There’s probably more in Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5’s “The Bells.”
Much, much more. But already at this depth, the episode blew me away. It takes courage to show that much rage and to do the “honest” things when the happy-ending fans hope for something more uplifting.
On to the last episode.
Personally, I can’t wait to see how it shakes out. If the Lannisters are the Lancasters and the Starks are the Yorks, are the Targaryens the Tudors afterall? Does history repeat itself?
Or does no one have a say?
That’s assuming Dany didn’t already burn down the iron throne.