In my review of Game of Thrones’ fourth episode of season eight, I defended the writing choices of the episode, particularly describing how I felt that the character arcs were very much in line with what viewers had been presented with since day one. However, after seeing episode five, entitled “The Bells,” my opinion on the matter has been slightly altered…and I have been left with more questions than answers.
*Note: to read my take on the end of Jaime’s storyline in this episode, visit my article re-examining his character arc here.
(A word of caution: SPOILERS ahead!)
It’s worth noting that there were several things that I enjoyed about “The Bells.” The cinematography was absolutely mesmerizing; some of my favorite shots included Drogon leaning in from the darkness behind Daenerys as she is about to execute Varys, Sandor/The Hound climbing up the steps to have his final showdown with Gregor/The Mountain as Drogon flies by breathing fire in the background, and Arya riding away on the white horse. The acting is also fantastic as always, with shout outs to Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke in particular.
I also thought that two of the scenes in the episode offered the audience with very touching conclusions to relationships that have been built on for years: the scene where Tyrion sets Jaime free from his imprisonment, and the scene where Sandor/The Hound advises Arya not to let vengeance consume her. For Jaime and Tyrion, not only does Jaime’s imprisonment offer a callback to season two, but also a callback to season four, when he sets Tyrion free. Tyrion is able to do the same for his brother here, and the statement he makes saying that Jaime was the only reason that he made it through his childhood makes the love between the brothers clear; it really is a satisfying farewell for the two of them. The scene between Arya and Sandor/The Hound is likewise satisfying, with Sandor/The Hound recognizing who he is as a person and not wanting Arya to follow the same path. The respect between the two in these final moments is clear, with Arya thanking him and addressing him by his real name (Sandor). It’s a touching moment that concludes a fascinating and unexpectedly beautiful story between the two.
Finally, I found the deaths of Qyburn, Sandor/The Hound, and Gregor/The Mountain all to be fitting ends to each of their respective characters. Qyburn’s death by Gregor/The Mountain’s hand is probably one of the most satisfying character deaths of the series; it’s akin to Frankenstein being destroyed by the monster that he’s created. Furthermore, the deaths of Sandor/The Hound and Gregor/The Mountain have a wonderfully poetic undertone, as Sandor/The Hound realizes in the end that the only way to kill his brother is with fire – the thing that Gregor/The Mountain was responsible for making him fear. While I would have loved to see Sandor live in the end, sacrificing himself to fling his brother into the fiery depths outside the castle was definitely the perfect way for him to go out in the end.
However, much of the rest of “The Bells” left me very shaken and confused. For one thing, there are several inconsistencies throughout the episode. Why does Jaime tell Tyrion that he never cared about the innocent people of King’s Landing when he literally killed the Mad King in order to save them? What in the hell was the actual point of introducing the Golden Company when they ended up being destroyed in about five seconds? How did the Dothraki miraculously regenerate after the Battle of Winterfell, where most of them were killed on the front lines? Why does Cersei claim that the Red Keep has never fallen when it did, in fact, fall during Robert’s Rebellion? None of these things seem to add up with what we’ve been previously shown and/or told, so they definitely take viewers out of the story.
Of course, the thing that is most baffling about the episode is Daenerys’ decision to BURN DOWN ALL OF KING’S LANDING after hearing the bells ring, which Tyrion specifically told her was THE SIGN OF SURRENDER. In my episode four review, I mentioned that the show has been building up to showing us her madness since the first season; however, the quickness of her snap was a lot to comprehend. She had literally never killed innocent people before, but all of a sudden she is committing mass genocide? How did we even get here? Tyrion’s, Jon’s, and Davos’ faces say it all; hell, even Cersei is horrified, and she’s the one who blew up the goddamn sept with wildfire just two seasons ago. And to top it all off, we have soldiers in Daenerys’ army – who we’ve been led to believe is the “good” side in all of this – suddenly murdering and raping innocents throughout the city throughout her fiery rampage. It was almost impossible to process.
I think the big overall issue that I had with “The Bells” is that there wasn’t really a proper buildup between episodes four and five. Both Daenerys and Jaime seemed to completely flip flop as characters from where they were about 75% of the way into “The Last of the Starks,” and the direction that many of us believed the remaining 25% of that episode had both going in was completely off (we had expected that Jaime was returning to King’s Landing to kill Cersei and not just to return to her side, and NO ONE expected Daenerys to completely go off the rails like that). As a result, I really think that the final moves in both of these character arcs needed more time to marinate with the audience, and I feel that we really could have benefitted from an episode in between “The Last of the Starks” and “The Bells.” In particular, I would have moved the last 15-20 minutes of “The Last of the Starks” to an “in between” type of episode that helped us to better explore Daenerys’ and Jaime’s decision-making processes. Without proper exploration, it’s easy to see why so many fans felt like both of their storylines in the episode came from out of left field, as they did not seem organic at all.
Overall, while “The Bells” had some great moments, it left me feeling confused, dissatisfied, melancholic…and worried about what that all means for the last episode of the series.
Check back sometime next week to see my review on the series finale! In the meantime, please enjoy some of my other highlights and questions from “The Bells” below.
“The Bells” Highlights and Notable Moments
- Varys states that he is completely certain of Jon’s character. Interestingly enough, Jon is one of the few characters on Thrones whose character I have never questioned, as he has never wavered from doing what he believed is best for everyone (i.e. the Night’s Watch, the North, the realm, etc.).
- Varys is very brave in the face of death, which is unexpected knowing his character. However, at the same time, his death seems quite anticlimactic for someone who has been with viewers since the first season.
- I can’t help but be slightly annoyed when Tyrion tells Jaime to try to escape with Cersei and “start a new life.” Couldn’t he have done that in…oh, I don’t know…Winterfell, with Brienne?
- It’s kind of hilarious how Arya and Sandor/The Hound are WAY stealthier than Jaime.
- The shot of Drogon’s shadow flying over King’s Landing is proof that Bran can, in fact, see the future; he has a vision of this same exact image in “Blood of My Blood” (6.06).
- As sad as I am that Jaime left Brienne for this mess, I still do not like seeing him get stabbed.
- It is completely unsurprising that Euron Greyjoy is excited about his own death.
- Cersei’s pre-Cleganebowl sidestep is hilarious.
- The callback to “The Mountain and the Viper” (4.08) where Gregor/The Mountain tries to burst Sandor/The Hound’s head in like he did with Oberyn is definitely not a callback that I needed to see. However, it’s kind of cool that Gregor/The Mountain isn’t killed when Sandor/The Hound stabs him in the head with a knife, as that is how zombies are generally killed in popular culture.
- In a way, it’s touching that Jaime came back for Cersei in the end because no one – not even Cersei Lannister – should have to die alone and afraid.
- As Arya runs through the streets attempting to escape the attack, the imagery is really a lot to handle, as it plays out like a live war experience. However, at the same time, there’s also a beauty to her trying to help save the civilians, as it exemplifies her choice to have a chance at life instead of dying by killing Cersei.
- We don’t actually see Daenerys’ face again in the episode after the ringing of the bells. In a way, it almost dehumanizes her, just as her actions do.
- Tyrion’s statement to Cersei from “The Prince of Winterfell” (2.08) finally comes true in this episode: “A day will come when you think you are safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth.”
Questions Following “The Bells”
- Did Varys actually manage to send out any ravens containing the message of Jon’s true parentage? If so, how will this come into play in the series finale?
- Will Varys’ plot to poison Daenerys come to fruition? There is no indication that his “little bird” Martha died during “The Bells,” so I’m wondering if she will still attempt to carry out the deed.
- What exactly does Daenerys expect from Jon? Not everyone is raised to think that incest is okay!
- Is Jaime really stupid enough to not cover his golden hand and be recognized? While he may be obsessed with Cersei, he’s never struck me as that out of touch with things.
- Will Daenerys somehow find out about Jaime’s escape and make an attempt to have Tyrion killed?
- Was Jaime the one who actually carried out the ringing of the bells? Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the answer to this one…
- Why does Euron decide that it’s a great idea to try to kill Jaime when they should both be trying to get Cersei out of King’s Landing? I know he’s crazy and all, but the Red Keep is literally beginning to fall as they fight…
- I understand the poetry of Jaime’s and Cersei’s death and all, but…rocks fall, and they die? SERIOUSLY?!?! I feel like that was taken from an old internet trope.
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