Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 5: The Bells
Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Rory McCann
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…a perfect encapsulation of everything good and everything bad about the show.
[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. Come on, you know how this works]
Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode ever, “The Bells”, is a perfect encapsulation of everything good and everything bad about the show. It manages to attain gripping, edge-of-your-seat tension and laughable, forehead-slapping stupidity in a propulsive 78-minute package. It’s the kind of episode people will remember for years, citing the pros and the cons, and will likely end up on numerous “best of” and “worst of” lists, with shouty people on the internet seemingly leaning towards the latter with frankly alarming zeal.
But before we dig deeper, let’s recap this bad boy and see what all the fuss is about.
We open in Dragonstone with Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) writing a note to send via Adorable Child Post. Said note is regarding Jon Snow’s rightful place on the Iron Throne. The sad music and somber tone of this scene suggests that this was not Varys’ smartest play. Continuing his stubborn resistance towards “smart things”, he then tries to convince Jon Snow that his missus may, in fact, be a little bit cray. Jon doesn’t want a bar of it and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) watches from afar, having a good old frown.
Tyrion then takes it upon himself to pay a mourning Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) a visit, informing her that she is being betrayed by Varys. This bit of dibber dobbing is a harsh pill to swallow and Tyrion tries to sweeten it by suggesting Varys’ heart, like all of their hearts, was in the right place. This goes down about as well as you might expect.
Nek minute, Varys is arrested by Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and taken to the beach where Dany, Jon and Tyrion stand around with faces like smacked bums. Tyrion tells Varys that it was he who sold him out, and with a final moment of dignity, Varys tells Tyrion he “hopes [he’s] wrong… goodbye old friend.” Then Dany summons Drogon and fries one of the show’s best characters like a pork chop on a barbie. Goodbye, Varys, more characters should have listened to you, mate.
Dany has a bit of a debrief with Grey Worm, and she gives him Missandei’s (Nathalie Emmanuel) only possession, her old slave collar. Grey Worm burns the gift in the fire and leaves when Jon arrives. Dany grills Jon (verbally, unlike Varys) and wants to feel out his loyalty; she claims she wants more from Westeros than fear. She goes in for a pash but Jon is clearly not feeling frisky – on account of his ambivalence about aunty-fucking, no doubt – and Dany mutters, “alright then, let it be fear.”
Tyrion has one final crack at making Dany see reason, but she’s pretty intent on turning King’s Landing into a smouldering ruin. Tyrion makes one last play, begging her that if the city surrenders and rings its bells, will she then not kill everyone? Dany rather huffily agrees and as Tyrion goes to leave, offhandedly mentions that she has pinged Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) trying to sneak back home. That’s Tyrion’s final warning, she tells him.
Preparations for battle begin in earnest. At King’s Landing, we see scores of innocent people moving into the “safety” of the Red Keep. From there, we cut back to Tyrion asking a favour of Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), and it’s a biggie. Nearby, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Sandor Clegane aka The Hound (Rory McCann) bullshit their way past some guards and head to where the action is. Tyrion springs Jaime from his makeshift jail and we have the episode’s most moving and well-observed tender moment between the pair. Tyrion thanks Jaime for never treating him like a monster and they embrace and it’s sweet and- oh shit, Jaime’s defo gunna die, isn’t he?
In the light of day, everyone prepares for battle. Including Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), Tyrion, Jon, Cersei and everyone else. Cersei, in particular, smirks like the cat who got the cream and we have to wonder what her secret plan is. Downstairs, an adorable moppet and her mum are stuck outside the walls because Arya and The Hound pushed in. Yet again, the little people suffer because of the whims of the powerful, a classic recurring GoT theme.
The battle kicks off with Dany riding Drogon in a vertical attack pattern against Euron’s fleet. Apparently, Euron has run out of the magic arrows from last week because he gets absolutely fucked on, with Dany burning his boats and men from bonce to ballbag. Dany continues the wave of mutilation against the scorpions perched on the walls of King’s Landing with similar results. She’s the firestarter, twisted firestarter.
Outside the walls, the Golden Company led by Harry Strickland (Marc Rissmann) get ready to show off the moves we’ve been waiting to see since they were first introduced. Wow, this is going to be good, what sort of epic- wait, no, Dany just bursts through the city’s walls and the whole company get wrecked by the Dothraki riders. Huh, you uh… kinda sucked, Harry.
Cersei, still watching from on high, loses about 34% of her smirk and continues to do nothing.
Jon and Grey Worm and crew, head in to face a group of very dispirited looking Lannister forces. Tension rises as we’re about to see a nasty battle but, sensing the reversal of fortune, the Lannister troops drop their weapons and surrender. Sanity has prevailed and a new dawn will rise. The bells ring out, a sound of hope, which causes Cersei’s smirk to vanish completely and everyone else to be much happier. Everyone, that is, except Dany who apparently has not spilt enough blood yet, because she kickstarts Drogon and, in an effective albeit predictable sequence, starts to burn King’s Landing to ash, one screaming peasant at a time.
The battle resumes despite Jon’s attempt to calm everyone’s tits, and what follows is some of Game of Thrones’ most effective, albeit staggeringly bleak, sequences of innocent people caught up in the grisly machines of rich people’s wars.
Jaime, while attempting to sneak upstairs to see Cersei, is interrupted by Euron and the pair have a rather silly sword fight. At the same time Qyburn (Anton Lesser), accompanied by The Mountain (Ian Whyte), tells Cersei they should really head off somewhere safer than the large building a dragon is currently burning. Cersei cries and agrees. This is literally the first thing she has done for this entire episode and… wow, okay.
The silly sword fights conclude with Jaime mortally wounded and Euron bleeding out, proud of the fact that he’s “the man who killed Jaime Lannister”. Which apparently means a lot to him, despite his guts hanging out. Weird flex, Euron, weird flex.
In the Red Keep, The Hound tells Arya she should probably leave because he’s about to die, one way or the other. Arya actually listens, realising revenge is no way to live, and scarpers. The Hound, meanwhile, finally confronts his brother on the stairs, killing all the adds and ready to fight the main boss. Qyburn tells the Mountain to protect the Queen and do as he’s told, so the big fella smashes his skull open and throws his body away like a sack of spuds. Cersei awkwardly scampers past the pair of them and Clegane Fight Night is about to begin!
Jaime finds Cersei and she cries a lot, and hugs Jaime. The pair of them will attempt to flee. Hound vs Mountain is a brutal battle, with The Mountain being super OP because no sword wound seems to hurt him particularly. This brutal blue is juxtaposed with an equally brutal sequence of Arya trying to escape King’s Landing, as the place literally falls to pieces. In the final moments of the brother battle, Sandor seems to realise that there’s only one way to win and tackles Gregor off the side of the building and the pair fall into a sea of seething fire. Farewell the brothers Clegane, you were both wonderful and horrible.
Jon rallies the troops to leave King’s Landing, and elsewhere Arya tries to help the mum and daughter we met earlier. It does not go well. Meanwhile, Jaime and Cersei’s escape plan is similarly stymied by the fact that the secret tunnel has been filled in. Cersei starts sobbing desperately (seriously, what’s happening with her this episode?!) and Jaime holds her close… as the pair of them are crushed by falling rubble. And… that’s a wrap on Cersei and Jaime, apparently. This is probably the episode’s weakest moment, sadly.
Arya has survived, the young mum and daughter have not. Arya mounts a friendly horse (a pale horse, in fact) and rides off into the distance and cue the end credits.
What a ride. A lot of extremely noisy people on the internet have decried Dany’s arc with this episode, but honestly that’s been on the boil for ages. While it might be sad and tragic, it was also inevitable, if a bit ham-fisted in its delivery. What really rankles about this episode is Cersei’s astonishingly passive reaction to everything. We’ve been building her up as the big bad for ages and she goes out like a scared child? It just seems like a waste. Sorry, Night King, you’ve just been surpassed as Most Underwhelming Villain Ending in GoT.
Having said that, the destruction of King’s Landing from a ground level perspective is the perfect Game of Thrones sequence, and shows how effective this program can be when it’s focusing on the right perspective. So now the tables are set for a final Starks vs Dany battle next week and while that will no doubt be entertaining it does feel a little rote and predictable.
It’s probably a little much to hope for a big surprise after eight seasons, but here’s hoping the GoT crew can deliver a few shocks. Like, say, THE RETURN OF SER POUNCE?! Okay, probably not. We’ll find out for sure in seven. See ya then.