Game of Thrones – ‘The Bells’ (8×05)

It would be remiss of me, as an enormous Game of Thrones fan, to let the final season go by without sharing some thoughts week on week.

I’m conscious, however, that full and in-depth critical analysis won’t truly be possible until the finale has aired, at which point I’ll be going back and starting to tackle Season 2 and working back toward the end. I have already deep dived Season 1, as you may remember, and they will probably get a polish once the entire show is completed.

My plan then, in the spirit of George R. R. Martin’s books, is to write up thoughts on each character journey and use them as a prism to explore each episode. With a show like this, built heavily on theory, escalation and payoff, this feels like one of the best ‘in the moment’ methods of reviewing the show – indeed I did just that for Season 6 in my days writing for Flickering Myth.

Okay, ready your dragon and let’s light this up… BEWARING MASSIVE FLAMING SPOILERS WITHIN!!

DAENERYS

Well… fuck me, Dany.

Okay, look, I can see why this is going to piss a *million* people off. What happened to the breaker of the wheel? Hasn’t Daenerys spent eight seasons building her way to being the salvation of Westeros? Surely all of this just reinforces that women in Game of Thrones seem to go mad with power and does nothing for the feminine empowerment at the heart of the series?

Yes and no… see, I won’t lie, I quite like this development. It’s added some real fuel to the end of this show after The Long Night. Everyone two weeks ago felt a touch deflated after the Night King was taken out because we all knew Cersei was too self-absorbed to be taken seriously, with her creepy wizard, FrankenMountain and mad, horny pirate. Of course Dany was going to win so where was the thrill of the entire confrontation? What Daenerys going mad with anger and sadness and revenge and pure *jealousy* about Jon does, apart from create the symmetry with the Mad King as she here “burns them all” in the way Jaime prevented him from doing, is set up what maybe the Song of Ice and Fire has always been about. Not the coming together of Jon and Dany, but them doing ultimate battle for the future of the world.

So I can dig this. It perhaps needed more time (and more episodes) to ferment (but you can say that about everything in Season 8), but this makes a world of sense to me. Though it does mean one thing for almost certain… she’s dying in the finale. Guaranteed.

JON

Which brings me neatly onto Jon-boy, who is about to fulfil the destiny we all thought David Benioff & D B. Weiss had forgotten about.

They make the point in the featurette after the episode that Jon has always considered himself a noble warrior who never really wanted that life at all, and he certainly doesn’t want to be King. During the fiery sack of King’s Landing, however, as Jon sees a just conflict to take down a despotic ruler turn into the apocalyptic routing of innocents, he witnesses Dany cross even more of a moral line than when she earlier burns Varys for ‘treachery’ (ie considering that maybe she’s lost her mind and Jon might do a better job). Jon crosses a point here where he knows, given he can’t love Dany back sexually due to the incest aspect she’s obviously not fussed about, that he’s going to probably have to take her out to prevent a ‘Mad Queen’ ruling the Seven Kingdoms as a tyrant.

Now if you look at the ancient prophecy of Azor Ahai, a key part of the legend involves him having to kill his wife, Nissa Nissa, to create his flaming sword Lightbringer. The details don’t have to be identical in the reborn Azor Ahai, but what if the Lord of Light brought Jon back not to kill the Night King, but to slay Dany—a la Nissa Nissa—in order to save the world? It explains why he had to die/be reborn. It explains why they reminded us of this in The Last of the Starks. And it would be a powerfully fitting, bittersweet conclusion if Jon has to kill Daenerys to secure peace. After which, I have no doubt, he’ll turn down the Iron Throne (if it even still exists now) and head up t’North and live with his mate Tormund & the free folk, have a simple life.

That or he’ll die with the woman he loves but, well… that might seem a bit similar to…

JAIME & CERSEI

Quite whether this was the ending the two most devious Lannister’s deserved I suspect will be debated for many years to come, but for me… it fits.

You could have gone in several directions with this. I for a long time imagined Cersei might kill Jaime in some kind of fit of rage, or maybe they would kill each other in some kind of twisted, tragic confrontation. I also long believed Cersei would win the entire game and Arya would then swoop in and slit her throat. Any of these would have satisfied me but, honestly, I kind of think Jaime/Cersei dying together in an embrace as the world falls on them befits their dark, tragically beautiful love story. It has been there since the very beginning, that Jaime was pathologically unable to live without her, and it makes resonant thematic sense that they would die together, and not as enemies but with that love front and centre. They know who each other is and they don’t have to hide it, even at the end.

While Cersei was always a character who sometimes struggled to grow into a truly three-dimensional creation, it’s fair to say Jaime Lannister is one of the greatest characters in TV history, with perhaps one of the most satisfying and emotional arcs. I screamed when Euron stabbed him. I had a tear or two when Tyrion hugged him. And I’m glad he had a fitting conclusion to his story.

TYRION

Poor Tyrion! In one episode he loses his best mate, his beloved brother and his lunatic, power-crazed sister. Plus! He sees the Queen he had come to idolise and believe in sink into the depths of madness.

Tyrion grounds a good chunk of this episode with a real human, emotional gravitas. He is the one who appeals to Dany not to burn the city but allow the bells to ring and the people chance to flee – and he is there to witness her slaughter. He admits to Varys, before the man is toasted, that he was partly the cause of his demise (even though Varys forgives him, essentially). And he has a beautifully played goodbye with Jaime which was pitch perfect, filled with the kind of payoff emotion both characters deserved. If Jon is the moral weight of the story, Tyrion is the conscience and you can see a lot of the hope leaving him in this episode.

My bet for where he ends up? I think he’ll make it and either return to Casterly Rock or become Sansa’s companion at Winterfell, in search of some kind of home or family. That or he ends up King – it might not make sense but it might be kind of wonderful…

ARYA

So if Jon is the moral compass, and Tyrion the conscience, then maybe Arya across this episode is the soul.

It’s fair to say she has the most unpredictable part in The Bells. She could easily have ended up posing as Qyburn or something and slicing up Cersei, or sticking with the Hound and helping him take down the Mountain, but what they do is far more interesting by moving Arya to ground level and almost mirroring when she was last lost in the Kings Landing throng, way back when her father Ned died—only now she’s in the middle of a fiery apocalypse, seeing the devastation and the human cost up front and trying to protect people. It’s fascinating and layered, particularly when she finds the horse amidst the ash – there are already some fascinating theories about how Arya might be a symbolic incarnation of Death from the Book of Revelation there.

Quite where Arya ends up… I have no idea. I suspect she’ll live and maybe just disappear into the world, maybe wandering, maybe travelling, maybe even becoming Death and leaving her life behind. She may also yet transpose her plan for Cersei onto Daenerys as well, add her to her now empty ‘list’. Don’t bet against it…

CLEGANEBOWL!!!!

I mean… just spot on. Spot. On.

I don’t think GoT will deliver a character death (or two) as perfect as this next week, if we do have more to come. Utterly utterly nailed a fight we’ve spent *years* waiting for. Delighted.

EVERYONE ELSE

Goodbye Varys – you were a superb character right up to the end, even if you didn’t get much to do in the final few seasons; much as I’m glad that prat Euron is toast, it was worth it for his uproariously cheeky final line – he may have been a shadow of the character from the books but he’s been an enjoyable slice of hammy villainy; loved Qyburn’s sudden, vicious murder by the Mountain – fits the slippery bastard; Grey Worm… I struggle to be angry at him when he technically goes a bit vicious because he’s lost his soul too, like Dany, after Missandei’s death, so hopefully he’ll either get some peace (I reckon he’ll fight Jon next week) or die with nobility; Davos… how the fuck did he survive *again*? 

Oh and can someone remind me what the point of the Golden Company was again?

NEXT WEEK…

This is it.

Predictions then…

– Jon vs Dany, ice vs fire, North vs Dothraki/Unsullied.

– Jon kills Dany even though he doesn’t want to.

– Varys told the Citadel before he died about Jon’s claim to the throne.

– Jon refuses to become King, says goodbyes at Winterfell, names Sansa Lady of Winterfell & Regent of the North essentially, and goes over the Wall to live with the free folk.

– Bran… hmmm, not sure. Maybe he goes with Jon back to the tree?

– Arya vanishes after helping Jon, never to be seen again.

– Tyrion goes to live at Winterfell as Sansa’s husband.

– Davos becomes the Hand of King… Gendry Baratheon, so named by Jon as the rightful heir before he leaves. Calling it now.

– Grey Worm dies in battle.

– Brienne becomes Lady Commander of a new Kingsguard.

– Sam starts writing down ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ as a chronicle after becoming the new Lord of Horn Hill/Maester.

I guess we’ll see. Oh and I bet the episode is called A Dream of Spring though, hey, I’ve been wrong about titles before…

As for The Bells, it *might* be the strongest episode of Season 8, so far.

By degrees epic, thrilling, tense, emotional and filled with visceral blood and horror, it was a different experience to The Long Night; less immersive and mythical, perhaps, but more the kind of raw tragedy that frames Game of Thrones at its best. Some really great curtain down moments for major characters, confrontations years in the making and the set up for a finale which isn’t just one big, Lord of the Rings-style epilogue as I partly feared.

It’s going to be a long week to wait for the most exciting storytelling conclusion in, for me, almost a decade.

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