‘The Bells’ – Game Of Thrones season 8 episode 5 review

The penultimate episode is a visceral, emotional triumph that reminds us why we fell in love with the show


If ever there was an episode of Game Of Thrones likely to divide the fan base, this is it. However you feel about the spectacle of Miguel Sapochnik’s most brutal battle to date and its many deaths, certain character beats will infuriate some and intrigue others. We’ve long debated whether or not Danaerys would cross the line, and it seems likely that we’ll debate for far longer about how this show nudged her across it.

Many people (myself included) were convinced that the whole thing was a fakeout and the show would turn us against Dany only to confront our treasonous thoughts with a noble, self-sacrificing death. That’s obviously not going to happen now. However dreadful her decision to attack Kings Landing was, it was nothing compared to razing it to the ground after the bells of surrender had sounded.

Just a quick glance at social media this morning reveals that a huge proportion of the show’s fans are up in arms with how the show has turned the Mother of Dragons into the Queen of Ashes, but I’m not sure I agree. We see it in the political sphere all the time: a bright new hope arises from the fringes, soars to popularity and then the cracks start to appear. So often our desperation for hope only allows us to see what we want to see. Granted, Jeremy Corbyn is yet to burn London to the ground but never say never.

I think it’s disingenuous to accuse the show of any genderism in its treatment of Dany. The signs of her mercilessness have been there before she even came to Westeros and she’s continuously crept closer and closer to the line. After so many deep personal losses, Kings Landing and all it represents to her is just too much to take.

The effects of Danaerys’s decision are tough to watch. Sapochnik treats her destruction of Kings Landing like a Pompei surrogate – even down to the huddled, charred bodies – fire and crumbling masonry killing implacably and indiscriminately. Each blow from a sword or spear seems louder, deeper and bloodier than ever before, the show embracing brutality and chaos to underline the awfulness of Danaerys’s actions.

So what now? Cersei is dead, crushed beneath the rubble, wrapped in the arms of her brother. Varys, Jaime, Euron, Qyburn, The Mountain and The Hound are all dead. There’s heavy symbolism in Arya climbing aboard a white horse and riding away through the carnage. She’s been in the midst of the worst of the innocent suffering, and Arya doesn’t let injustice pass by without recompense. Jon, Davos and Tyrion survive, any remaining faith in their queen as shattered as the Red Keep. When Danaerys finally climbs down from that dragon, she’s going to find that she’s made far more dangerous enemies than she’s ever faced before.

What else?

  • We finally get Cleganebowl and it didn’t disappoint. As sad as I am to see the Hound go, it’s poetic that they both end up in the fire this time.
  • Qyburn has always irritated the hell out of me, so it was nice to see him dispatched so unceremoniously.
  • Has the Greyworm turned? He certainly seemed to be all the way onboard with his queen’s brutal retribution.
  • R.I.P. Euron, Varys, Jaime (Westeros just got a lot less ridiculously good looking) and Cersei (or are they??), the Clegane bros, Qyburn, all of the Iron Fleet, the Lannister army, the Golden Company and pretty much everyone in Kings Landing.
  • Is Tyrion the worst hand in the history of the position? I’m curious how he might be redeemed (or not) next episode as he’s made more than a few catastrophic decisions this season, not least turning on Varys.
  • That said, the conversation between Jaime and Tyrion was beautifully written and acted. When all is said and done, one of the greatest joys this show gave us was Nikolai Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage acting together.
  • Surprised how this episode made incest seem moving. Cersei’s reunion with Jaime was heartbreaking. Lena Headey is a formidable talent and has done so much with quite little this season.

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