ROUND-UP: Game of Thrones – ‘The Bells’ (Season 8, Episode 5)

Loose Lips Sink Friend/Relationships

Marieke: Oh Varys. You had to die because Melisandre was sometimes right. Maybe you didn’t live up to your title as the Master of Whispers enough, and instead your plans played out like you were shouting from a soapbox. You even had a girl try to poison Daenerys, who stopped eating because she is full of grief. You OPENLY talked to Jon about him taking the throne. That is not the Varys we know! But maybe you knew your time was up, or more likely, that the realm’s time was up. Not afraid for a second, dracarys you went. Remember Varys’ terror filled eyes in the crypt? Here he kept his composure. It was painful that Tyrion had snitched about him, especially because they have been friends, somewhat. Varys saved him after he killed his father, but Tyrion is still a little under the Queen’s spell. I doubt he knew about the poison. So there went a beloved character, because he has always been the only one on the side of the people. Or claiming to be anyway. Maybe it is a good thing he didn’t witness what happened next. He clearly needed to get through to Tyrion and Jon, and maybe this was exactly the only way to do so. He deserved better, though.

Without even saying it, Jon does not want to bone his aunt and considers Daenerys solely to be his Queen. She wants more, but he cannot do that anymore, because he is brooding and cannot say the words, ‘We are related!’ out loud. It is because she still wants him that he escapes her vengeance. Dany is not stupid, she did figure out the Sansa/Tyrion/Varys route of information, but the northerner is being cold to the fire woman. A more painful rejection is not possible.

Varys Got ep 5
Varys (Conleth Hill) facing up to his impending death.

Danielle: I’m genuinely gutted about Varys’ death. Yes, it was a forgone conclusion after his conversation with Melisandre about both of them dying on Westerosi shores. Yes, he was trying to poison Dany. Yes, he’d conscripted yet another child to do his dirty work. Nevertheless, I do believe that he was acting in the interest of the realm when others seemed incapable, or reluctant to do so. Most likely because the lack of an organ between his legs didn’t compromise him in the same way it did his ‘whole’ counterparts, Jon and Tyrion, who obviously have some rather conflicted feelings about their Queen. It’s the latter who I can’t quite forgive for giving up his ‘friend’. Deep down, I believe he knew what his Queen was capable of, and he was obviously aware of the fact that her mental stability was fraying, but still he backed her and sent the one person who seemed to be talking sense to a horrific death. I did actually see fear in Varys eyes as he returned Drogon’s stare, but he was defiantly stoic.

Jon may still be attracted to his Auntie Dany, but clearly his brain has stopped entirely being led by what’s in his pants. He might be a Targaryen by birth, but his Stark upbringing has firmly planted him on the ‘incest is bad’ side of the argument. Sadly, he’s not prepared to listen to the part of himself that starts to question how right he was to bend the knee to his Queen; something you can clearly see plaguing him during Varys’ execution. Perhaps the most interesting part of his pre-battle encounter with Dany was the way she made a point of communicating with Grey Worm in High Valyrian, rather than the Common Tongue as Jon entered the room. She knew he’d betrayed her, and the trust was entirely gone prior to the razing of the capital. That makes things very interesting as we go forward.

 

Repaying a Debt

Marieke: Oh, those Lannister Bros. I have always felt the love. Jaime is rather an idiot for being captured because his hand is recognised. We know he was an idiot when he treated Brienne like trash. I was wrong, Jaime did go back to Cersei, because he is that tied to her and he cannot be a good man, period. They came into the world together and he cannot bear the thought that she is going to die without him. I wish they had not used Brienne’s body for him to realise this. In hindsight, it felt like a type of emotional and sexual fridging. Tormund would have never.

Tyrion Got ep 5
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) realising that Daenerys has captured his brother, Jaime.

Back to the Bros. Tyrion is freeing Jaime and will accept any consequences coming. A truly heartfelt speech shows how much Jaime meant to Tyrion, even more than we know. To Tyrion, Jaime was a good guy. Tyrion also has a plan B to save the city, victim free: his bro needs to get in and ring the bells. Then we know KL surrendered. Then it will all be fine. Unless Jaime does not ring the bells. Or eh… Let’s not kid here. You already know. When people decide to go on a killing spree, bells do not matter. Either way, the scene in the tent was one to put in a frame and rewatch every so often. You probably won’t get them any sweeter anymore.

Danielle: Tyrion repaying his big brother for setting him free after his catastrophic trial by combat was something I always wondered if we’d see. I love the fact that he was determined to free Jaime, even if it meant the severest of punishments. In spite of his sibling denying it, with Cersei physically and mentally abusing him and Tywin unable to contain his disdain for a disabled son, who he also blames for his wife’s death, Jaime probably was the only reason that he survived passed his childhood. Him making Jaime promise to start a new life and the ensuing hug left a lump in my throat.

I’m not quite as dismissive of Jaime as Marieke is, primarily because he at least appears to be so out of character. I don’t really recognise the man who claims not to care for the small folk of KL, when Tyrion urges him to help with his plans and ring the city’s bells, as the same guy who professed to Brienne that he blew up his entire life and became the ‘Kingslayer’ to save the innocents, who Aerys wished to burn alive. I’m also baffled that the man who managed to outwit his brother regarding the taking of Highgarden, and who we pointedly saw donning a glove to disguise his golden hand at the end of S7, has somehow managed to get himself caught by Dany’s men for the sake of not removing the thing that now defines him. Just because Cersei calls him the ‘stupidest Lannister’, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he actually is. Either something is going on here, or there’s some very lazy characterisation going on.

 

For Whom the Bells Toll

Marieke: For starters, Daenerys has learned. It took her two dragons dying, but let’s face it, Drogon was always Mummy’s favourite. So taking advantage of the sun, Euron’s ships are easily taken out. Drogon’s massive fire breath of destruction upgrade© even takes out the most useless army we have ever seen. So long Golden Company, now you are the Ash Company. The rest of the army took care of those Lanniser soldiers Cersei was sure would fight until they die. They were scared! I was wrong again last week: because of the excellent usage of the almost nuclear Drogon, Daenerys did have the upper hand. It was a very one-sided fight. Cersei remained calm, but her thoughts about which armies were left seemed to echo Downfall in all its silliness. There was nothing left. The bells rang (who did that? We will never know), and Cersei’s time was up. As usual, short term planning, good. But in the long run, antagonising Daenerys like that, was not a smart move. The Scorpions were also incredibly useless because Dany could easily lead Drogon to the angle they could not quickly turn to. Ouch! Qyburn did not think that through and tuned into a useless Hand (go shake Tyrion’s!).

Those bells. It was the moment Daenerys decided. Her favourite people were dead. Her lover had rejected her. Her two dragon children, dead. The people of Westeros, hating her. The coin flipped to fire and blood and her leadership style changed to fear. And off was Drogon. Yes. It might have been rushed. But it is not like Dany was always the stable Queen completely full with compassion and mercy. She killed people and it looked good because she rescued slaves. Everything she did was for the throne she thought was her birthright. Kings and queens have started wars for less (hello King Robert!) All of them had a ruthless vein running through their bodies, so why would Daenerys be any different? Maybe she was just exactly like her father. Maybe there was just an urge to kill, which is incredibly chilling. Or maybe, there was no exact reason. I would actually argue that the ambiguity here favours the following horrible scenes. War is pointless, all those casualties are pointless, would a reason make all the deaths and destruction any better? Other battles, especially the bastards one, were more glamourised. Yes, they were raw and brutal, but there was a pay off. Night King, dead, yaya we are all alive! Ramsay dead and fed to his dogs, YES WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS. But we have also seen countless lost and worthless battles, but perhaps not the true casualties. Here, we have been shown them for the first time. We have forgotten about earlier battles and their outcomes because we were rushing to that perfect ending, all tied up in a bow. Only there are a lot of fatalities holding that bow together.

Cersei was a bad Queen, but was she just as bad as Daenerys? The people of KL just wanted to live their lives. To eat, to drink, to work. Daenerys has prevented them from doing so. A reason does not matter, it is all about fire and blood. Her burst of violence incentivises her own armies to commit crimes too. The Dothraki rape, that is not even shocking anymore. The Unsullied can’t for obvious reasons. So the northerners were taking up the war crimes gauntlet. They are not all Starks after all. Nevertheless, because they are inextricably associated with House Stark, it’s even more shocking. Killing unarmed soldiers and raping women were not in Jon’s (and Davos’!) handbook. Jon even kills one of his own to protect a woman. He cannot make them retreat and his face says it all. “You should have known, Jon Snow. You are one of the baddies now”. This was a realistic depiction of war when a dragon is wreaking havoc.

Dany GoT ep 5
The moment Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) decides to destroy the city after hearing the bells signal the city’s surrender.

Danielle: I do agree with Marieke that Dany’s madness, and her descent from saviour to tyrant, has been seeded almost from the start of the series. In light of what happens in ‘The Bells’, go back and watch the scene back in S1 where she watches Drogo kill Viserys by pouring the molten gold on his head. Yes, he’d threatened her and her unborn child, but there was barely a flicker of regret or revulsion there as her brother was murdered. Regardless, the breadth and width of the clusterf*ck that she orchestrated in this episode still left me a little bewildered. Not because I didn’t anticipate her downward slide this season, but because the journey to it felt contrived and rushed. This string to her bow needed to be threaded with care and attention to give its full impact, but we were never going to get that in a 6 episode season that feels like its rushing through plot points at breakneck speed. There should have been more time to breathe between her being isolated and paranoid at the festivities in Winterfell last episode and Missandei’s and Rhaegal’s deaths, and the real pay off of her snapping when those bells rang.

I think this is why my Fezzy friend and I differ so vehemently in our reactions to Dany razing the capital. I understand the argument that we needed to see how destructive and indiscriminate the violence was towards King’s Landings innocents, and the wider questions that raises about war, but honestly, the brutality and barbarity on display, on the whole, left me cold to the point that I practically switched off. Instead of being immersed in the emotional drama, I found myself wondering about the stunt work and aspects of the CGI.  Perhaps this is also a by product of not really engaging with the commoners in the show in more than a superficial way. Really, they did a much better job at making me care about those who were being burnt to death by Dany in last season’s, ‘The Spoils of War’.

I felt a little numb to Jon’s plight too. He’s to be commended for saving the woman who was about to be raped by one of his soldiers, and for trying to stop his men from attacking the unarmed Lannister soldiers after the surrender bells rang. However, it’s hard to summon too much empathy for someone who gave up his kingship for a woman he barely knew, all because the sex was great and love got in the way. It really is the death of duty, and he’s more like his biological father, Rhaegar, than he’d care to admit. For me, this is the reason why he makes a terrible ruler. Much like Ned with Robert, loyalty can be a double-edged sword, and supporting someone you’re close to can lead to you being central in enabling a contender for the throne who’s at best incompetent,  at worst despotic. 

I think it’s also worth reiterating here that Cersei was the one who brought the people within the city walls to use as a human shield, Dany rightly assumed, because she saw her previous acts of mercy in the East as a weakness. She cared for the people about as much Dany did, and if anyone was guilty of hubris, it was this particular Lannister sibling. She’s so deluded about the scope of her own power that Qyburn has to practically drag her away when she fails to grasp that all of their defences have been decimated. I’m only glad that the Golden Company weren’t able to bring those elephants over to be a part of her downfall.         

 

A Girl Could be Anyone

Marieke: One of the best ‘almost father/daughter relationships’ has been between The Hound and Arya. In their own twisted way they care for each other, even though Arya would leave him to die again. She learns from him, but perhaps his biggest lesson reaches Arya whilst standing on the KL map whilst the Red Keep is crumbling around them. The Hound has been consumed by the idea of revenge. It has been his life’s purpose, his sole reason not to die. We all knew what he knew: he was not going to survive a fight with his brother. He prevents Arya from going down the same route. Cersei is going to die anyway, why follow her and risk her own life? Arya has made split-second decisions before, and has always been eager to learn in those moments. She realises The Hound is right and thanks him by calling him by his real name: Sandor. A bittersweet goodbye.

But… HELLO CLEGANEBOWL. LET’S GET READY TO RRRRRRRRRUMBLE! The staging of was magnificent. It looked horrific, with all the fire and destruction around them, but it also looked really beautiful on camera. Franken!Mountain proved to be one killing his maker, bye bye Qyburn, you were brilliant until you were not. Cersei knows what sibling rivalry can be like, she manages to quietly slip past the brothers, who only have eyes for each other. This moment absolutely made me laugh out loud, Cersei slipping by. The fight was juxtaposed with Arya trying to make her way out of the Keep and the city. The difference was The Mountain almost Red Viper’d The Hound, and Arya was saved by a woman she’d seen before (I think that transfer for DI Brandyce of Line Of Duty has been rather hazardous). I am glad The Hound managed to stick a dagger into his dead brother’s skull, but that still is not going to make him die. So he is ending their relationship as it started: in the fire. Poetic, but also brave and terrifying for our fire fearing grump.

Arya finds out that she cannot save everyone. The audience accompanies her whilst fire and destruction rain down on her. It is a harrowing scene, creating more breathlessness than Jon had in ‘Battle of the Bastards’. If the creators went for a Dresden like scenario, they pulled it off. The fire, the ash, the bricks, the helplessness of trying to get out. If you did not realise the brutality of war before, the point has definitely been made now. As if by divine intervention, Arya manages to get out of the rubble and find a white horse (is that Golden Company’s leader Strickland’s horse?). Maybe she adapted her list? Maybe she will head back North even though that was not her plan? She clearly considered dying was an option during her assassination of Cersei, but maybe Sandor changed her mind about being a Stark at home too. I admit for a second I sighed when I saw the horse, but later on I loved the symbolism of it all. The horsemen, the purity of a white horse and a way out. I am glad Arya did not get to kill Cersei, as it would have been too neatly tied up. Perhaps she has her eyes on another queen. Perhaps not.

Danielle: The unlikely friendship between Arya and The Hound has been one of the best things about the show: two disparate individuals finding common ground and mutual respect amidst a sea of insults. I’m not sure I’m a huge fan of the set up for him to give her the ‘revenge can ruin your life’ talk, as it felt like it should have come before they strolled into a war zone, but I appreciated the sentiment. I also loved the moment when Arya finally called him by his actual name and thanked him as they parted. He really was the only one who could talk some sense into her after her training with the Faceless Men made her entirely single-minded.

Sandor Got ep 5
Sandor (Rory McCann) squaring up to The Mountain.

As for Cleganebowl, I’m disappointingly meh about the whole thing. Like Marieke, I laughed out loud at Cersei sauntering past the brothers in the aftermath of Qyburn’s head being squished by the monster of his own making. For me, that was the best thing about it. Yeah, the CGI was brilliant as the war raged on around them, but I found the fight sequence itself oddly silly. I can’t shake how unbearably sad it is that Sandor had to fall to his death into a pit of fire just so he could be free of the spectre of his monstrous brother. We all expected Cleganebowl to happen. We all suspected it would result in the deaths of the two brothers. In my mind though, I think this served to prove that we shouldn’t always get what we think we want.

What really worked, however, were the cuts between The Hound and Arya as they fought their own respective battles. The youngest Stark girl was the heart of this episode as she kept moving through the war torn streets of the capital, ducking and diving away from the unending threats to her life. Her latching onto a mother and daughter was also a smart narrative move, as the trio fought to keep each other alive, further humanising a character who’s come off coldly in recent seasons. Ultimately though, her attempts to keep her new acquaintances alive were futile, and although she inexplicably seemed to dodge a bolt of dragon fire, the parent and child were scorched in the attack, leaving the charred bodies clutching one another and the girl holding a Shireen-esque wooden horse. This is where things got a little weird. After seeing the burnt toy, she looks up and views what looks suspiciously like Harry Strickland’s horse in front of her. On first viewing, it seemed so much like magical realism was at play, that I honestly started to question if the whole episode was some sort of elaborate dream sequence. Regardless, the Christian symbolism of a ‘pale horse’ turning up at Arya’s feet wasn’t lost on me. Perhaps today is the day for the God of Death after all.

 

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies?

Marieke: Where Arya and the Hound get into the city fairly easily, well, as easy as it can be with a huge crowd in a panic, Jaime never manages to get through. Not even his hand is a ticket to get inside. That thing is really useless, isn’t it? He decided to take the long way in and, oops, look who comes out of the water! It’s Euron! Convenient. Let’s be clear, Euron was never a properly fleshed out character and only existed to advance the plot of other characters. No one doubts this has been a mistake. A not too bad fight occurs and Euron should have fatally injured Jaime, but adrenaline is a bitch man. Euron dies thinking he killed the Kingslayer, who in turn killed a second king. But not really Euron, Yara has the Iron Islands now! That pirate really cannot do anything right. I like the actor, and that was his only saving grace for me, but the less words about Euron the better.

Cersei Jaime Got ep 5
Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) embracing as the Red Keep crumbles around them.

I have always wanted an epic death for Cersei, and it took some time before I realised she received the most fitting death she could possibly have. On seeing Jaime she breaks down, which she could only do with him. She cannot protect another child. The castle she desperately wanted is crashing down onto them. Jaime returning to Cersei has not ruined his arc. Their relationship has always been abusive and Jaime has never been able to break the cycle. He has been a noble knight for a short time, but Cersei is who he wants to be with. It is safe to assume they were killed by all the bricks landing on them (aww Euron, bricks, not you!) Cersei has always looked strong from the outside, but showed her true colours in her last living moments in her lover!brother’s arms. If she was not a villain, the ending would have been somewhat bittersweet…???

Danielle: Jaime waving his hand at the Lannister soldier so he could get inside the city gates was unintentionally hilarious. Of course, it didn’t work, and he was forced into running around like a mad man, we’re lead to believe, solely so he could get to his sister. It’s worth noting here that Marieke and I have completely differing opinions about Jaime. In the interest of full disclosure, he’s probably my favourite character in the show, and I’m prepared to admit that I might be wearing rose-tinted glasses as far as he’s concerned, but I think he was the one who rang the bells, and that’s why he took so long to get to Cersei. Then there was the further delay of him being forced to fight Euron, who seemed to have no other reason to get violent, than to have something to do before the showrunners killed him off. He really was a rather ridiculous character, who weirdly ended up breaking the fourth wall by declaring, “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister!” Jack Sparrow would never!

Jaime shouldn’t have made it to Cersei, but he did, and they attempted to make their way out of the castle before it became clear that all of their exits had been blocked. What surprised me was how devoid of romanticism the scene where they grasped each other before their apparent deaths, really was. There was no kiss. No, I love yous. Just a brother and sister accepting their fate of coming into the world together, and leaving it at the same time. How it might have been had their relationship not twisted into something fundamentally taboo. It also puts me in mind of that conversation Jaime had with Olenna last season where she told him he’d come to regret spreading Cersei’s disease. Whether they’re both truly dead, or not, (let’s face it, this is Game of Thrones), I could see this being a way for Jaime to permanently eradicate his sister’s ‘illness’, and why he was less concerned about the fate of their unborn child than she was. Remember, their illegitimate child ascending to the throne caused the War of the Five Kings, so preventing that bloodshed from happening again in any eventuality, could be the ultimate act for the greater good if you squint. Just don’t be too surprised if we see an unrecognisable corpse with a golden hand, and a boat conveniently missing, because as things stand, it feels like Jaime’s arc is unfinished…

 

The Verdict?

Marieke: This is most likely going to be the episode which divides us the most. Whilst I can certainly see its faults, mostly in its pacing and in the person of Euron (I would have despised him had it not been for Borgen), however when it comes down to it, the story was always going to go this way. Again Game Of Thrones sweeps the comfortable carpet from under the viewers. War, what is good for? Not for defeating the dead, not for Winterfell? Absolutely nothing. It is shame we never really saw a little more of that realm Varys had on his mind 24/7, because they are the true victims. The White Walkers are a fairy tale to them, Queen Cersei protects them by letting them into the city (or so they think) and the usurper is a foreign girl they could never love. It is still too bad the fight was so incredibly one-sided. I had hoped for something more from Cersei’s armies. The thing is, a more equal war was not the point. This episode kept me thinking for a long time, and of course I have read all the negativity and ridiculous petition ideas. I cannot say I was surprised the episode went this way, whilst I was surprised how it all looked on screen. I feel that this episode also needs the final ever episode to complete a full picture to judge. But I was not disappointed. Maybe a little more shell-shocked. Now I want to know, is there still an Iron Throne to sit on???

Tyrion City Got ep 5
Tyrion observing the destruction of King’s Landing: was spectacle privileged above storytelling?

Danielle: There’s no denying that ‘The Bells’ was a visual feast. You could see the blood, sweat and tears that went into making it, as well as every penny of the none too shabby budget. And yet, it left me unsatisfied. It’s not that I’d have been too shocked by what actually happened in this outing of the show. I think the writing has been on the wall for Mad!Dany for a long, long time. Instead it’s that spectacle was valued over hitting the emotional beats, and how it almost left me looking fondly back at earlier seasons where they didn’t have the budget to show the battles, so they had to focus on the storytelling. Another issue for me is that it’s left us with very few people to root for. I understand that Thrones is an adult that gleefully dives into the needs and wants of extremely grey characters, but we’ve delved into some very dark territory. I just hope the finale can add some sweet to the bitter.

Our Fezzy Score: rsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_tiny_fez

What did you think of ‘The Bells’? Let us know in the comments…

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