Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5: The Bells
About two thirds of the way through this episode, I thought I had gone through all the stages of grief and finally landed on acceptance.
And then I went through them all over again.
What. The Fuck. Was That.
Is there a single character they didn’t manage to assassinate? They didn’t survive the Long Night for this bullshit.
I Have Questions
Like how come those ships wrecked Rhaegal but are now apparently powerless against Drogon? Where did all the Dothraki and Unsullied come from, since most of them died in the Long Night? How are there so many Northerners left to fight, considering they all died in the Long Night? Why is Davos fighting in the streets, when he’s not a soldier? Why does Tyrion go into the city too, when, again, he’s super valuable and doesn’t fight? Why would Cersei be able to hear people shouting from the streets up in the tower of the Red Keep? How do her advisors know every scorpion has been destroyed when they’re spread all over the city and it’s now on fire? Why was she trying to escape down the main stairs of the keep?
But these questions are kind of beside the point. They’re the little bits of nonsense, compared to this episode’s true crime… none of the characters got to have good resolutions to their story arcs. None of the characters mattered in the end.
I’m glad Arya got her moment of badassery in the fight against the Night King, because what the hell was that?
Arya achieves literally nothing in this episode, and she’s an idiot while she does it. She’s a master assassin who was excellent at stealth even before Ned lost his head, so she sneaks into the Red Keep by just… walking down the street? She doesn’t exactly blend in.
And then, after seasons of assassin training, seasons and seasons of her carefully recited list, Arya just… quits and goes home. The Hound tells her that she’ll die in there and Cersei is going to die anyway, so she should just leave, and she is just like, “Cool, thanks, will do.”
Arya deciding to turn away from vengeance isn’t a problem in itself. It could have been a very powerful moment in the right hands. But it happened in a random room in the Red Keep, where Arya wasn’t actually doing anything. She wasn’t facing down Cersei and choosing to stay her hand. Nothing dramatic was happening. She just rode all the way down to King’s Landing, got to the Red Keep, and then turned around.
Cool. Cool cool cool.
And then, Arya, master stealth assassin, just walks through the burning streets, full of rampaging soldiers and general death and destruction. She doesn’t use any secret tunnels or even try to be stealthy. She literally just runs. I thought she would finally get a moment of usefulness when she told the hiding people to run with her, but they were right to hide. Arya’s plan again simply involves running down the street, and the people she drags with her all die horribly in the process.
And that’s it. That’s everything Arya does. That’s her huge role in assumedly the final battle of the season. She does nothing.
Ah, Tyrion Lannister, the naivest man in the Seven Kingdoms.
Wait, that’s not who his character is supposed to be? He’s supposed to be smart?
First, we have Tyrion telling Daenerys about Varys. Note that this didn’t actually achieve anything in this episode, except Varys’s death. Varys got executed, and everyone moved on with their lives. But Tyrion literally told Varys about Jon, because he had doubts about Daenerys. Then Varys acts on those doubts, which they had discussed, which Tyrion shared, and so he… goes to Daenerys and tells her that Varys has betrayed her.
Well done, Tyrion. You killed Varys for literally no gain whatsoever.
Tyrion fails at High Valyrian, which at least provides a little lightheartedness in this episode. And then he puts his own life at risk to free Jaime. Why? Because he wants to save Cersei.
He wants to save King’s Landing in general, but he also specifically wants to save Cersei. Apparently, he thinks Cersei might still change her mind, when she sees how hopeless things are. For two seasons, Tyrion has been thinking Cersei “might change her mind,” despite all the evidence to the contrary. Every time, he’s been proven wrong. And still, here we are. Twice now, he’s tried to use Cersei’s supposed baby as a reason she might be swayed. Twice now, he’s thought that she will back down to protect her child. And twice now, he’s been proven wrong. So what does he say to Jaime? “She has a reason now.” She has a child. And so Jaime can run into King’s Landing and save them both.
Tyrion then spends the rest of the episode just looking horrified, which, frankly, is better than having him speak.
Peace-loving Missandei is dead, so now ex-slave Greyworm, fighter for justice and freedom, is all about killing the innocent. He faces a line of surrendered soldiers, and not only kills them, but leads his men on to go and kill all the innocent people in King’s Landing too. Because that is what Missandei would want.
I get that the show is making a statement about the reality of war, and a statement that the books make all the time. Everything spirals out of control, and the people who suffer the most are the common people who have nothing to do with any of it. But did Greyworm need to be the one to lead the charge for that?
At the very least, I was expecting a dramatic showdown between Dany and Cersei this week. Cersei Lannister would not go down without a fight. She’d have plans, a trick up her sleeve. She’d be there with her wildfire to make sure that if she burned, everyone else burned with her.
Instead, Cersei just… stands there. She stands and watches. She doesn’t have any plots. She doesn’t fight back. She doesn’t even really bother to save herself. She just stands there, until she realizes she’s going to lose, and then… she cries.
Cersei Lannister, the power-hungry, brutal, ruthless, cruel murderer, watches it all burning, and she just stands there and cries. She cries until Qyburn takes her hand and leads her away. And then… she just flees. She finds Jaime, and she cries more. She’s so happy she’s found him.
And when she realizes she’s trapped, she just cries even more. “I want our baby to live,” she says, suggesting the baby was real, despite about ten months having passed since she first told Jaime and there being zero sign of any baby whatsoever. She just repeats that, and begs Jaime not to let her die. She has no fight this episode. No personality. She just loses, and that is it.
At least she gets one thing right. “Not like this,” she says to Jaime, and I’m saying it with her. Cersei Lannister, great villain of Game of Thrones, does not get the death she deserves. Despite being on Arya’s list, despite her paranoia over who will kill her, despite the prophecy, she isn’t killed by anyone. She doesn’t have any kind of dramatic, worthy final moment. She is crushed by falling rocks as the Keep collapses. The end.
“Obviously, Jaime is going to kill Cersei, and that will be the BIG SHOCK PLOT TWIST next week. Obviously. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise.”
… thanks, past!me, for that burst of optimism. Thanks also for that moment of denial when Jaime told Tyrion that they’d underestimated Cersei before, making me hope that he really was going to ensure that she lost.
But nope. Nope. The Lannister twins die together.
Even in Jaime’s first scene, the utter idiocy level is unbelievable. Jaime got caught by Jon’s men because he was wearing his golden hand. He forgot to take it off, or cover it with a glove, or do anything to make himself look less obviously like Jaime Lannister. This entire pointless scene happens because he forgot to make himself look less identifiable by taking off his hand made of solid gold.
That really is a new level of stupid.
And then, we have this. “Try,” Tyrion tells him, “if not for her, then for every one of the million people in that city, innocent or otherwise.”
“To be honest,” Jaime says, “I never much cared for them, innocent or otherwise.”
It is hard to find words to respond to this tiny, unimportant, easily cuttable moment in this episode. During Robert’s Rebellion, Jaime Lannister broke his oath and killed King Aerys because he was going to kill every soul in King’s Landing with wildfire. The entire basis for Jaime’s character is this fact that he did something good to save everyone, and yet he is vilified for it.
Coincidentally, I watched some Season 3 episodes last week, so this isn’t going on Book!Jaime. This is TV!Jaime. In the baths of Harrenhal, he says this line to Brienne: “if your precious Renly commanded you to kill your own father and then stand aside as thousands of men, women and children burned alive, would you have done it?” The people matter to him. Two episodes later, Qyburn asks him how many lives he has saved, expecting the answer to be none, and Jaime points this out again: “Half a million. The population of King’s Landing.”
Of course Jaime cares about the people of King’s Landing. Of course he cares whether or not they all die horribly in flames. The fact that he cares is a fundamental part of his entire character. It’s a fundamental part of why he rode North to fight the White Walkers, knowing he’d probably die. It’s a fundamental part of why Brienne trusts him, because she knows his true motivations.
But not now. Now, it is nothing but Cersei.
And Jaime’s grand plan to save Cersei and the baby that apparently does exist is to walk in and wave his golden hand around. Surprisingly, it doesn’t work, so he… walks to the secret cove that leads into the castle. The secret cove. The one he’s never seen the outside of. The one Tyrion had to give him instructions to access from inside the keep. The one that only smugglers can access. That cove.
He has a really rubbish fight with Euron Greyjoy that is not at all satisfying to watch, and then, injured, goes to find Cersei. Romantic music plays. And just before they are unceremoniously crushed by the collapsing keep, he says to her: “Nothing else matters. Only us.”
That great Jaime Lannister character arc, ending up exactly where he started.
It makes me wonder… what was the point of any of the stuff earlier this season with Brienne? He knights her, he seems to adore her, they fight together, he decides to stay in the North with her… what was the point of any of it? It doesn’t fit in with this ending. It doesn’t make any sense why they would include it, except to add another level of crappiness to his character.
And ok, this is off topic, but I didn’t get chance to cover this last week, with so many different terrible things going on, but I want to cover it now. Despite everything, Brienne is still a noblewoman and the heir to Tarth. And now Jaime has pretty much just destroyed what little respect or hope of a future she had left, by hooking up with her for a month, in front of everyone, and then leaving her to go betray the North. And he does this after she vouches for him, meaning all of Brienne’s honor, the bond of her word, everything that makes Brienne Brienne? Ruined. He was the one to knight her, so even that is going to be counted as meaningless now.
I am… not pleased. I don’t have words for how Not Pleased I am.
Oh, Dany. My beautiful, wonderful Dany. You deserved so much better than this.
Again, after pushing Daenerys to the limit, the show tried to argue that Daenerys was just innately insane. “Every time a Targaryen is born,” Varys reminds us, “the gods toss a coin.” And Varys knows which way Jon’s has gone, but he isn’t so sure about Daenerys.
Varys has seen Jon, what? Do exactly what Daenerys has done. Try to bargain with Cersei, defend the North from the White Walkers. He has seen Daenerys at her best and her worst. He knows her far, far better than he knows Jon, but Jon is the Targaryen he’s certain about?
Give me a break.
Again, Daenerys starts the episode making complete sense, despite how people respond to her. People are afraid she’s gone mad because she’s refusing to eat or sleep after losing almost everyone and everything she ever loved. Surely going mad would have been attacking King’s Landing immediately after Cersei cut off Missandei’s head, not going back to Dragonstone and waiting long enough for Jaime Lannister to travel all the way south before attacking.
And all of her points at the beginning are true. Tyrion betrayed her by speaking to Varys about it instead of telling Daenerys that he knew. Jon betrayed her by telling his sister after she warned him what would happen.
And then Daenerys’s final, utter character assassination begins. Dany wanted a better world, but “it doesn’t matter now.” She’s broken. She no longer cares about that. But whereas it would make sense for a Dany who no longer cares to just… stop, and not try to take the Iron Throne, she’s now more determined than ever. She heartbrokenly tells Jon that she doesn’t have love in Westeros, only fear, and then his rejection of her is the thing to send her over the edge. “Alright then. Let it be fear.”
Daenerys has always, always wanted to help people. She knows what it’s like to be powerless and abused, to suffer for other people’s ambition. And I can imagine narratives where she might lose sight of that. But this is not it. The people don’t love her; they fear her. So instead of just abandoning them, which would make sense, she… decides to destroy all of them instead?
She claims she has mercy towards future generations who will never be held hostage by a tyrant. Does Dany think she’s immortal now? Or are the writers just being that sloppy with their writing? I can’t believe Dany would think that her taking King’s Landing now would end tyranny for the rest of eternity. I can’t believe Dany would think that burning the people of King’s Landing would be anything but tyranny.
And then… and then. She attacks King’s Landing. It would make sense for her to go for the Red Keep, since that’s where she must assume Cersei is, and Cersei is the one she wants revenge against, but no. She randomly attacks all of King’s Landing first. Even when they ring the bells to surrender, she decides to randomly burn them all. All the innocent people in the streets. The people of King’s Landing. Her own soldiers. Everyone. She burns the entire thing to the ground.
I — perhaps naively — thought the show would at least try to have some sort of narrative balance with this “mad queen Daenerys” thing. Last week set up her heartbreak and her descent, so this week could be her desperation to defeat Cersei and take her throne, whatever the cost. But her actions in this episode were not “whatever the cost.” Daenerys Targaryen, Breaker of Chains, literally just killed everyone for no reason. Even when she said she chose fear, she still needs people alive to fear her. She ignores the Red Keep for the vast majority of the battle, despite that being her actual goal. She just… burns people. Children. Everyone. Why?
There is no “why,” except the writers wanted to make Daenerys into a tyrant and a villain. There is no “why” behind her making the biggest about-face in morals in character history, from fierce defender of the innocent to indiscriminate burner of literally everyone. When Daenerys heard the bells of surrender and turned her dragon on the people of the city, that was the point when she lost any sense of being a character. It’s no wonder the show doesn’t really show her after that moment, because what could they show? None of it makes sense. The visual image of Daenerys riding over King’s Landing on a dragon and purposefully directing Drogon to burn all the innocent citizens alive doesn’t make sense. If we saw it, we’d reject it. So we don’t see it.
I genuinely don’t understand it. I don’t understand why any writers would throw away almost a decade of character development to have the so-called twist that “oh, Dany is a mad tyrant too.”
And I think that sums up my reaction to this episode in general. I just… don’t understand. I can’t follow the writers’ logic. None of it makes sense. I can imagine the books ending with Dany burning King’s Landing, but not like this. Very little of this can be what George RR Martin told them would happen, unless the books in between have some extreme character development that the show missed out on.
At least there’s only one more episode to go. And then I’m going to reread the books and try to erase this all from my memory.