(SPOILERS) You won’t have to imagine the fire: A review of GOT S8 Episode 5: The Bells

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Image owned by HBO and from Scroll.in (Can’t imagine a lot of people are okay with what Daenerys is doing right about now….)


I am at war with myself right now.

I am considering everything that has led up to this point in Game of Thrones’ nine year run and whether or not it justifies something that on a plain scale of ethics, is unjustifiable.

For starters, Daenerys has indeed shown over the past eight seasons to have a cruel streak as the now despised showrunners Benioff and Weiss were quick to remind us in a behind the scenes video following the episode’s airing.

Remember when Dany looked quite pleased at her asshole of a brother Viserys getting molten gold poured on his head, his “golden crown”? Remember when she burned Randyll and Dickon Tarly to cinders last season because they wouldn’t bend the knee to her? Hell, just remember the carnage any time the dragons have breathed hot death, whether it was right for them to do so or not?

What I am saying is that Dany’s act of sheer evil is not without precedent. Whether there was enough time, in this season or seasons past to make this moment work for you is up in the air. For many watching, including those who have actually named their children after Daenerys, the answer is just on an emotional level, HELL NO.

I want to have it both ways.

I want to accept the concept that Daenerys destroying King’s Landing after the bells signaled the city’s surrender was not so much a character assassination but a tragedy of Greek proportions. From someone who fought to protect and free the innocent in her time in Essos to one who lets her lifelong desire for the iron throne, frustration over not being the best claimant for the throne and the deaths and betrayals coming from her inner circle whittle down her moral compass.

She also has the blood of her mad father too.

It’s easy to forget that other things happened outside of  Dany going all “Fire Lord Ozai” on our asses, and they are no less contentious. First of all, like I pondered last episode, the accuracy and practicality of the “scorpions”, the ballistas meant to shoot down dragons.

Fans and those who actually are knowledgeable on aerodynamics pointed out that Rhaegal the dragon’s fall last episode seemed way too easy. Yes, Dany and the dragons were distracted( even though they had every reason not to be), but the marksmanship of Euron and his fleet in dispatching the other dragon raised plenty of eyebrows.

Now, with one dragon left, Daenerys manages to destroy every last scorpion as well as Euron’s fleet with ease. I’m sorry, but when you set up the lethality and precision of her opponents one episode and basically ignore it the next, I am going to make note of that.

In the end however, Daenerys destroys King’s Landing’s defenses, Jon, Davos and Grey Worm charge through the blown up gates and very quickly, it seems, Cersei’s reign is about to come to an end too optimistic to be true. You already know it is if the header image of a burning city didn’t tip you off.

Both sides wait with bated breath for someone to ring the bells, signalling the end of the battle. Tyrion, who begged for Dany to stop when that happened, watches from the city walls. Jon, Davos, Grey Worm and everyone else also wait and hope the city comes to its senses. The bells do toll.

As was dissected earlier, Dany does not relent and starts razing innocent men, women and children to the ground. Her armies, despite the best efforts of Jon and Davos, begin pillaging and slaughtering. Grey Worm, thirsty for vengeance over Missendei’s death, takes part.

Arya and the Hound make it into the Red Keep in an attempt to assassinate Cersei. However, Dany begins her rain of fire and it becomes likely that she will finish Arya’s job anyway. The Hound stays because it’s not Cersei she’s after, its his big, brutal brother, the Mountain. He wants to make sure that he doesn’t see the end of the day. Arya wisely heads back into the city, only for her to basically experience the high fantasy equivalent of 9/11. Ashes, smoke, fire, wildfire, screaming, parents and children being immolated.

This much I will defiantly defend of the episode: the sense of fear, doom and horror of Dany’s rampage is nearly perfect, as is Arya growing increasingly terrified and distraught with an enemy she cannot slay(yet). It does make The Night King even less impressive than ever, though.

They do linger and try a little too hard to paint the plight of the children being put in harm’s way, to hammer into you just how low Dany has fallen. A little less of that imagery would have made a more effective catastrophe to witness.

Then we have Jaime and Cersei reuniting one last time and this is as divisive perhaps more so than anything involving the Mother of Dragons. I had hoped that Jaime had returned to her sister and lover not to try to save her, as despite being pregnant, she still did deserve to pay for her own set of sins.

Instead, after dispatching Euron and being terribly wounded in the process, Jaime manages to make it to Cersei all the same and embrace her as the tainted love of his life, leaving all the people who championed his redemption and positive romantic connection with Brienne, likely smoldering with rage.

I had expected Jaime to return to do what many had hoped for in his redemption arc: kill her sister. Yes, her being pregnant would have made that outcome very unpleasant, even for GOT.

At the same time, Jaime would still kill a woman who has caused so much pain, been partly responsible for the thousands of civilians being slaughtered and being an evil as all the seven hells bitch.

Instead, Jaime tries to get her out through the underground passageways until they run into a cave-in and their fates are sealed. Jaime looks her in the eyes, renounces basically his redemption and dies with her under mountains of rubble.

I actually take the unpopular opinion that her method of death was alright with me. The very castle, the place of power she has desired all her life, is the thing that kills her. Fans/viewers hoping for Dany, Jon, Arya or Jaime to be the one to cathartically finish her didn’t get that so disappointment on their parts ensues.

Speaking of mountains, we have the long desired and still pretty awesome final showdown between Sandor “Hound” Clegane and Gregor “Mountain” Clegane. “Cleganebowl” is what fans have called it ever since the sixth season showed the Hound had survived his seemingly fatal encounter with Brienne in the fourth.

Well, we got it and it was as close a moment to actually trying to appease fan desires as an episode about crushing them could offer. The battle between the brothers reminded me of three things, intentional or not.

When Gregor’s helmet is knocked off, his appearance is uncannily like of an unmasked Darth Vader from Return of the Jedi. The fight, with the Mountain shrugging off killing blow after another evokes Terminator. And Sandor pushing his broadsword right up his brother’s gut and then his brother in response pushing it further in. Just like Aragorn vs Lurtz in The Fellowship of the Ring.

In a moment that calls back to Lyanna Mormont’s heroic death earlier, The Hound takes his brother with him off the castle into the fiery hell below. In the end, Sandor literally embraced the two things he feared and hated most: his brother and fire. Now that was a resolved arc I feel just peachy about.

As I said before, I am of two minds about The Bells, maybe even more so than the anticlimatic yet still visually arresting The Long Night. On the one hand, perhaps as an olive branch to the many pissed off viewers out there, I extend an understanding of frustration and sadness over the course of events.

If I do decide to one day rewatch the entire series, I will do so knowing that a major player in the story, her rise to power, her grappling of the ethical quandaries of leadership and her attempts to be a better and more just ruler, were all for naught.

The sacrifices of Khal Drogo, Jorah, Barristan Selmy, and others who fought and died for her, now in vain. Again, you are not supposed to like this. You will very much hate it and that is what the showrunners wanted you to feel. There is a world of difference between intent and execution of that intent.

If this season’s poor writing and inconsistent characterization was not already apparent, then what could have been a grandiose yet heartbreaking fall from grace, an epic tragedy unfolding for the 21st century masses, will not be seen that way by the masses.

All they will see is a massive fuck-up and perhaps one day, so will I.


Originally posted 2019-05-13 16:20:35.

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