Reviews

Game of Thrones, S8, E5 “The Bells” Review – A Song Of Fire. And More Fire

At this point the Internet is a blazing battlefield where various factions go to war over this controversial season of Game of Thrones. It’s a mess, and what was once regarded as one of the finest TV shows ever forged has become one of the most divisive. So grab a beer, get some food and join me as I tackle Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 5.

Oh! And be aware that this is a full spoiler review! Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the latest episode.

The first thing to say is that I didn’t have a problem with turns that this episode took. Dany going crazy wasn’t a problem for me. Where the problems lie in this entire season is the lack of proper setup for everything.

Still, in what is perhaps a controversial opinion I actually quite enjoyed this episode when taken as a whole. I’ve accepted that things are going to feel more rushed than I would have liked and that the writing isn’t as good as it once was. Now, I’m just enjoying the ride and what a fucking crazy ride it was.

First of all, this was a visually breathtaking episode. Game of Thrones is easily the most impressive project put on a TV screen, and this episode in particular could rival most big budget movies. The CGI was superb throughout, and there was still plenty of practical work.

The directing and camerawork was on point, too. The high shots of Drogon burning the city were amazing, but the true brilliance was in the depiction of war as nothing more than a brutal atrocity that makes savages out of people, and makes the innocent suffer. There were horrific scenes, and our conquering hero’s armies were shown to just as bloodthirsty as any other once the adrenaline was pumping.

And on the whole the episode had me on the edge of my seat. I still have issues with the writing and the execution of many character moments, but I’m also eager to see how this all ends. I don’t think it was ever possible to deliver an ending that would wrap everything up perfectly on a show like this. It would be a monumental task. How the hell do you end Game of Thrones? I mean, seriously? Hopefully we manage to get a solid finale, but I think it’s smart to temper expectations. Its been a hell of a journey, and so even if the ending isn’t everything I wished it to be I’m still going to have enjoyed the eight seasons it took to get here.

Right, let’s talk in more detail. I’m going to break this down by character, kicking off with…

Jon Snow – He’s…There

You know nothing, Jon Snow. You do nothing, Jon Snow.

This wasn’t an eventful episode for Jon, which seems to be a pattern this season. Mostly it was about his reactions to Dany’s insanity and the realization that he has bent the knee to a terrifying tyrant that controls an overgrown fire-generating reptile of death. If nothing else his character is consistent in terms of remaining honourable to a fault because he ignored Dany’s questionable decisions to the bitter end.

At least he finally tackled his romantic relationship with Dany head on, by which I mean he rejected her, presumably due to the whole being related thing. It does kind of kill the mood. Although I can’t help but wonder if a lot of burning alive could have been avoided if Jon had shown Dany some lovin’.

We did get hints of a confrontation between Jon and Grey Worm, which could be a lot of fun. Above all else, though, I imagine it’s going to be Jon that has to kill Dany. You could also read that as fulfilling the Azor Ahai prophecy. The Long Night the prophecy talks about may not have just been the Night King, but a dark period of history in general which Jon ends by killing Dany. If his sword goes up in flames then that’ll be why.

At least Jon is going to have one hell of a story to tell his future kids. “Aye, I was there when King’s Landing fell. I saw all them people burned alive. It was horrible. And I could have stopped it all if I’d just slept with my aunt.”#

God dammit, Jon.

Tyrion – Still Kind Of Dumb

Tyrion had a really mixed episode this week. On the one hand I loved his scene with Jaime. His admitting that Jaime was probably the only thing that kept him alive when they were children was a heartfelt moment that made me choke back some tears. Even as the world goes mad Tyrion has remained steadfast in trying to save as many people as he can, including his brother and even the sister he hates.

His reaction to watching Dany burn the city was also superb. Regardless of any issues that I may have with the show I cannot stress how brilliant the acting was. Peter Dinkelage was on top form here.

His selling out of Varys, though, has left me feeling conflicted. Over the last season or two Tyrion has seemingly lost his one major strength: his intelligence. A slew of bad decisions has made us all question whether it was simply because he has trouble reading Dany or if it was poor writing. But one thing has remained true and that’s his stubborn loyalty to Dany. He firmly believed in her, and so after telling Varys of Jon’s real identity he then sells Varys out. It does make sense; he’s loyal to Dany and also knew Varys would likely do something to get rid of her. Indeed, we got evidence of that with Varys talking to the small child, stating that they’d try again at supper. I’m pretty sure the implication was that Varys was attempting to poison Dany again, as supported by the fact that the child works in the kitchens and he told her, “remember, the greater the risk the greater the reward.” Varys had her slipping poison into Dany’s food.

Still, I would have liked to have seen Tyrion have one last conversation with Varys, one last attempt to save his old friend before ensuring that he got barbecued like a chicken wing.

Varys – Went Out Like A Boss

Though Varys is dead he may still have an impact on things to come. The letters he was writing all seemed to be informing various lords about Jon Snow’s actual parentage, and so now the truth is presumably running rampant across Westeros.

Varys was told that he’d die in Westeros, and last season Dany also told him she’d burn him alive if he ever betrayed. Both things came to pass for poor Varys, a character I assumed at first was nothing but a snake but that I came to like. Much like Tyrion his goal was to make things better, and to help hold Dany in check. Ultimately his betrayal and death helped show the world Dany for what she truly is – a Targeyran lunatic.

Varys went out via dragonfire and never once made a sound. That was a bit odd since not long after we saw other people screaming while they died of dragonfire, so I guess Varys was just a total boss.

Finally, I assume this means we will never learn what Varys heard in the flames when his most intimate parts were chucked in the fire all those years ago.

Jaime & Cersei – Together Again

As a character Cersei really didn’t do very much in this episode, which was surprising. She’s proved time and time again that’s she’s the coldest bitch around, yet she didn’t seem to have any backup plans. Instead she stood at her balcony and watched everything burn. However, that did let Lena Headely deliver a masterclass in acting. Cersei’s episode-long breakdown was so engaging. Her refusal to believe that she could lost before doubt began to creep in and then eventually outright terror was fantastic. Then her final moments with Jaime where she breaks down entirely made me genuinely feel sorry for her. As evil and cold as she is, she was ultimately still just a person terrified of dying, who wanted her and her child to live.

Jaime is a more complex topic. On the one hand I feel like I get what they were trying to do with his character. They seemed to be trying to say that this was never a redemption story for Jaime. We the audience saw it that way, but Jaime never did. In truth he could never be redeemed considering the horrible things he’s done. And so he returns to the woman he loves and his unborn child because he doesn’t believe himself a hero. He’s a drug addict who cannot escape his addiction to Cersei Lannister.

You could also view Jaime’s speeches to Brienne and Tyrion as him justifying going back to Cersei to himself. Rather than telling Brienne the truth he tries to make her hate him instead. And later with Tyrion he justifies the choice to himself by saying he never cared about the innocent. He does. But he needs his fix. He needs her.

However, it still feels like a massive betrayal of Jaime’s long story arc and seemingly ignores a few key plot points. Firstly, the scene between Jaime and Brienne in the bath several seasons back saw Jaime finally explaining why he killed the Mad King. He says himself that he did it to save the city, that he begged the King to surrender and spare lives. He became Kingkiller to save King’s Landing.

Later on Jaime tells Cersei he’s heading North to fight for the living. Again, his upholding his knightly vows to protect the innocent. We even get reminded that he’s a knight when he knights Brienne. And then knights her again. Sorry.

With this in mind it feels off to have him saying that he doesn’t care about the innocents and all that crap. He just wants to get to Cersei, the same woman who sent Bronn to kill him in the previous episode but is now concerned that Jaime is bleeding. Women, eh? Amiright?

Still, we can at least say that Jaime remained consistent in his love for Cersei and how it tended to override everything else. Over the past 8 seasons we have always seen him return to her side again and again. And who knows? Perhaps Jaime will live on in his and Brienne’s child. That’d be an interesting twist.

“Can we redefine ourselves?” Coster-Waldau said in an interview about Jaime’s decision to leave King’s Landing in season 7 “Most people have moments in their life where you go, ‘Can I really, fundamentally change?’ . . . The core of him has always been Cersei. . . . When that’s taken away, what are you then? What’s left? Is there anything left? When he leaves [King’s Landing at the end of Season 7], obviously he has no idea. He doesn’t know the answer to that question.”

Finally, another prophecy was fulfilled by a technicality. Cersei did indeed die with her younger brother’s hand around her throat.

Euron – A Real Dick Until The End

Right. Don’t know where to start with this, really. Euron has been a strange character on the show. He never had a real defined personality outside of being a complete knob and it constantly felt like the writers didn’t know what to do with him. This was apparent in episode 5 where his role ultimately wound up being to crawl out of the ocean at the exact same time Jaime Lannister happened to be passing by. Cue a decent fight that I couldn’t get into it. Jaime gets stabbed and his injuries would likely kill him, if it wasn’t for the fact that he gets crushed any ways. But I did like that Euron reckoned he had killed Jaime, because Euron’s ego demands it.

Before all that, Euron took on a dragon again. Now, in fairness the writers at least attempted to explain why the deadly Scorpions which massacred Rhaegal last episode were suddenly struggling here. Dany swoops down from the sun at a sharp so that getting a shot on her becomes damn near impossible, before then using Drogon’s speed. We saw that the Scorpions were awkward to manoeuvre. They couldn’t keep it up.

It’s not the best explanation as to why the Scorpions were incredibly accurate last episode and able to fend of Dany’s charge as well, but at least there was some justification written in. Still, the Scorpions were made a mockery of and so the threat that was built up around them in the previous episode was wasted.

The Hound – A Fitting End

At this point The Hound is arguably the one character whose arc feels like it came to a fitting conclusion that almost all the fans would agree makes sense. He went to King’s Landing and he killed his brother. Well, killed him for the second time. The Hound vs The Zombie Mountain was a spectacular brawl. Apparently the only thing that superseded the orders of Zombie Mountain’s maker was his hatred for his brother.

Anway, there’s not much to say here except I enjoyed the hell out of their entire fight, and thought that the Hound tackling his brother into fire was a fitting end to their story.

I also loved his scene with Arya. While it was a bit daft that he waited until the very last second to deliver his little speech to her, it was a nice, heartfelt moment between two characters who have always had a fascinating relationship. Arya has spent most of her life now chasing revenge against those who wronged her and her family. That’s a high cost, and the Hound can see her becoming just like him; surly, uncaring, focused on a singular, horrible thing and unable to find any happiness in. He doesn’t want that for her.

Arya – Didn’t Stab Anyone

Arya had a bit of strange episode because basically she trekked across the whole country and into King’s Landing just so she could run back out of the city. She also learned that badass assassin skills do not translate into dodging piles of falling masonry very well. Her plot armour was strong this episode, though, and thus during a truly amazing sequence we get far too many fake “Oh No! She’s dead! Oh, she isn’t” moments.

But seriously, how fucking good was that entire sequence? Again, despite what you may think of the writing there is absolutely no denying how amazing the series has been visually. This was a stunningly directed episode full of jaw-dropping moments.

Anyway, the episode ends on a strange note when Arya randomly stumbles across a horse in the middle of ruined city. It’s a white horse that’s also coated in blood. For me the symbolism is obvious enough; the horse represents Arya’s lost innocence and childhood. She’s still not much more than a kid, yet she’s coated in blood and driven by revenge. As she rides out of the city we get to end the episode on a note of hope, hope that there’s more in life for Arya than death. I can’t imagine she’ll agree to marry Gendry and become a Lady, but maybe she’ll set out on a life of adventure, or just marry Gendry and refuse to do ladylike things.

Daenarys – The Mad Queen

I don’t doubt that Daenary’s was always intended to become her father in the mind of George R.R. Martin. Nor do I doubt that he told the show runners about her turn as well. What I do doubt is that it was intended to play out this way.

Firstly, whether you like Dany as a character or not I don’t think it can be denied that her eventual demise has been strongly hinted at. Dany has always been portrayed as somewhat ruthless, her early days in the Dothraki likely contributing to that. Though she wanted to break the wheel she just replaced it with a brand new Daenarys wheel. Slave traders and other horrible people deserved their comeuppance, but burning people alive and crucifying others was never exactly a good way to show people that she was different.

Back in season 5 she invaded and took over the city of Mereen before attempting to rule it for a year or so. As it turned out, Dany is a shite ruler and is only capable of maintaining power via her dragons. Regardless of whether or not people deserved what Dany did to them, the simple truth is that she committed horrible atrocities.

In short, I feel like Dany becoming a tyrant was indeed setup in prior seasons. Where the problem lies is in the awkward exection of Dany’s descent into madness this season. Rather than a nice slow burn the writers hammered Dany with a rapid series of blows. The deaths of Jorah and Mormont, Jon betraying her trust, Varys’ treason and the fact that she felt threatened by Jon’s existence drove her to the edge. Dany has been repeatedly betrayed in the past, so this latest series of events certainly feels like it could be her snapping point, but it was done too quickly. As she tells Jon, if she can’t rule through love then she’ll rule through fear.

But the biggest execution issue comes with the line Dany crosses. Innocents have died before due to her actions, but they have typically been collateral damage. This time, though, Dany hears the bells that indicate King’s Landing is surrendering and can visibly see soldiers dropping their weapons. She has won, and the people most certainly fear her. Then she makes the concious decision to deliberately and brutally attack the innocent civilians within the city. She burns them alive, regardless of who they are. Children, women, men, soldiers, old folk and even her own troops suffer gruesome deaths. And she keeps going. She keeps burning. It’s a big line for her character to step over and one that didn’t feel justified yet.

This makes Dany a much less interesting character. Had the bells not been struck then Dany burning the city would be a tragic but understandable act. The innocent deaths would still be horrible, but the audience could at least still see her reasoning; they were collateral deaths in a war, even if all Dany actually had to do was just destroy the Red Keep and Cersei. But by having Dany simply murder potentially hundreds of thousands of terrified people the writers have painted her as nothing more than a generic villain that we can’t understand or sympathies with. Dany’s fall should have been tragedy, her good intentions giving way to own overpowering belief that she deserved the throne by right of just being born.

There’s a strong theme in Game of Thrones that just because you were born with a certain name that doesn’t mean you should rule. This was, in my eyes, Dany’s story arc throughout the series. Despite all her intentions she never was any better than the people she replaced. The story potential with that was massive, but instead we just have her going crazy and burning everything instead.

So why? Why innocents? That was never in her character, after all. Despite everything she did, she never deliberately targeted innocent people. According to the writers Dany saw the Red Keep and was overcome with anger because it represented everything she lost. Somehow that translated to murdering everyone else. Had the people of King’s Landing refused her as their queen, it would make sense. But they didn’t. She. Just. Went. Crazy.

Random Things From The Episode

  • Where did all the Dothraki and Unsullied come from? We were shown them being wiped out in episode 3, then at the war table it’s made out like they only lost half their forces and then here it looks like they still have a substantial army. Where were all these troops hiding in episode 3? Were half the Dothraki held back? I thought they were pretty explicately shown getting killed.
  • The Golden Company kind of suck. After hyping them up, they do nothing with then. So why have them in the story at all? Why include something like this and not use it? If you removed them from the story it would quite literally make no difference.
  • The Iron Fleet. Also a bit useless.
  • Cersei scampering past the Hound and Zombie Mountain on the stairs was hilarious.
  • Euron looking up at Drogon like he somehow forgot there was another dragon. Fitting, really, since according to the writers Dany somehow forgot about the Iron Fleet last episode.
  • How the hell is Bronn going to get his castle now?
  • Arya said thank you to the Hound. At least someone on this fucking show knows when to praise their dog, eh Jon?
  • Qyburn’s death. Jeez, that was fast.
  • It was probably a good thing Jorah died. He wouldn’t have wanted to see this.

Closing Thoughts

Like the previous four episodes of season 8 this was far from a perfect episode of Game of Thrones. It has some big issues with how its handling things and how quickly twists and turns are being executed. But, it’s still one hell of a ride and I can’t wait to see how it all ends. Regardless of how it ultimately does, I’ll have had 8 seasons of fun from it. Even at its worst, Game of Thrones is still better than most other shows on TV currently.

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