Game of Thrones: Recap of Season 8 Episode 5 – The Bells
As Dany predicted in the previous episode, she has won “The Last War.” With Fire and Blood. And countless innocents’ deaths. All in all, in comparison of the two episodes (“The Long Night” and “The Bells”), I did enjoy last night’s episode more, though it certainly did not come without its issues. Like Episode 3, Episode 5 was a stunning visual masterpiece; I felt that the acting, cinematography, visuals and score were superb again. But unfortunately, like the Battle against the White Walkers, what hurt the Battle of King’s Landing was the rushed pacing and the script and storyline provided by the show writers.
Last night’s episode opens with Varys writing a letter proclaiming Jon as the rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms. Ironically, this parallels Ned Stark’s writing to Stannis that he is the rightful ruler way back in Season 1. Both characters would ultimately meet their death, as Varys is later roasted by Drogon at Dany’s command for treason. I still can’t help but feel that his character, one who was so cunning and deceitful but careful to a fault in his machinations, would be so brash to discuss not only treason to Tyrion, but also Jon as he arrives at Dragonstone. We will learn of course that Varys was right in his hypothesis of Dany’s character.
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It was clear from even before the title sequence began that the audience was led to believe that Dany was descending in to madness after the death of her beloved friend and confidante, Missandei, at the hands of Cersei. In the “Previously On” sequence, we hear a montage of voices (including Aerys, Viserys, Missandei, Olenna and others) calling for Dany to awaken her Targaryen roots as she watches Missandei’s beheaded corpse fall from the King’s Landing gates. This descent in to madness continues as we first see her disheveled and brooding as she refuses to eat back at Dragonstone. It reaches what I find to be its critical blow when Jon refuses her plea for romantic love, as Jon vows to fight for his Queen, but not anything more than that, possibly still having not come with the terms of his previous romantic relationship with his aunt.
At the War Council, Tyrion pleads again for a peaceful, merciful attack on King’s Landing; if the bells toll, the city will have surrendered, avoiding mass bloodshed. During this council, Tyrion also learns that his “stupid” brother Jaime has been taken captive by the Northern/Unsullied forces in an attempt to return to Cersei. With this knowledge, Tyrion decides to free him in the hopes that he can convince Cersei to give up the city and flee. The goodbye (and nod to Season 4’s freeing of Tyrion prior to his death sentence) might have been my favorite moment of the episode in terms of emotion. Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldeu played this perfectly. With the release, I cannot imagine Tyrion is long for this world, given Dany’s current state of mind. However, my one (big) gripe with this scene is the character arc of Jaime continues to be wrecked. He mentions that he has never cared about the commonfolk, despite literally killing the Mad King Aerys so that he would not unleash wildfire and destroy King’s Landing many years prior to the show’s beginning. This and his passion for Cersei is a surprising change and one that I don’t find very believable, as we had seen Jaime give up on his sister to join the Northern fight last season, only to go all the way back to his roots in Season 1.
We are at the precipice of the battle as more and more commonfolk rush in through the gates of King’s Landing and later, the Red Keep, for protection. Arya and the Hound arrive, as does Jaime who attempts to get to Cersei before the fighting begins. The scene shoots towards the water where we see Euron look above as Drogon comes swooping in. A lot of people have criticized the show since last night given the scorpions’ complete lack of success in Episode 5 (compared to Episode 4 when they killed Rhaegal), but I thought that Dany utilized some new maneuvers to combat the abilities of the scorpions (i.e. diving quickly, swooping between low and high, etc.). The effects of Drogon’s carnage is magnificent viewing, very similar to when the three dragons destroyed the slavers’ ships in Meereen several seasons ago.
With the naval fleet of Cersei and Euron aflame, the action heads back outside the city walls as the Northmen, Unsullied and Dothraki (who have continued to spawn to greater numbers) face off against Harry Strickland and the Golden Company. (I still do not understand how these armies this season continue to disregard siege tactics and leave the safety and advantages behind a wall to face their opponent in open battle, but alas.) The Golden Company meets its fiery doom as Dany and Drogon blast through the city’s walls behind them as Dany’s forces rush to attack and enter the city. Dany continues her destruction as he lights up every scorpion as Cersei watches from afar as her only opportunity for victory goes up in smoke.
With the Lannister ground forces surrendering their weapons to Jon, Grey Worm and Davos, it appears that the battle is over, and our heroes have won King’s Landing with minimal bloodshed and violence. As Tyrion predicted, the city’s bells toll as it announces its surrender to Queen Daenerys. The camera cuts to her aboard Drogon, her face and expression almost boiling with a look of paranoia and fury as she takes in the surrounding city. Clearly unsatisfied with such an easy victory and still demanding, perhaps craving fire and blood in her conquest, her and Drogon incinerate the surrounding areas, innocent men, women and children too. With one fell swoop, the “Dany as the Mad Queen” theory is confirmed as the dragon’s flames erupt across the city, killing thousands. Seeing his queen act, Grey Worm and the Unsullied continue their march and fight, all while Jon looks bewildered at this horrifying sight.
Elsewhere, Tyrion is horrified at what lies ahead of him as the dragon’s flames continue to engulf the city. Cersei stands atop the Red Keep watching the carnage as Qyburn and the Mountain stay with her. Below the castle, Jaime tries to enter through a secret tunnel only for Euron to come crawling out of the water to attack him. I personally didn’t really feel much emotion at all during this exchange, as I feel like Euron’s character has been horribly misrepresented since his unveiling in Season 6. So after a much-too-long sword fight and what should have been several mortal stabbings to Jaime, Jaime finally kills Euron as he clambers up the hidden entranceway to find Cersei.
In the castle, Arya and the Hound pass through the Map Room as the surrounding walls and archways crumble around them from Drogon’s destruction. Seeing what surrounds them, Sandor tries to convince Arya to leave, mentioning that Cersei will likely die here and it is not worth her young life. Seemingly convinced as Clegane heads up the steps, Arya thanks Sandor for all of his help, which I thought was a touching tribute by thanking him by his trueborn name.
Meanwhile, Qyburn finally convinces Cersei to leave after all of their defenses have fallen as Dany and Drogon begin to attack the Red Keep. The Queen, her Hand, the Mountain and some Queensguard rush down the steps for safety, only to be met by Sandor. He easily dispatches the Queensguard knights and has his eyes set on revenge with his brother. This is it folks – CleganeBowl hype incoming. As soon as Qyburn instructs his creation to continue to defend his Queen, Gregor crushes Qyburn’s skull against the stone, killing him immediately. Cersei casually walks around the two brothers as they face off for the last time. The brothers immediately fight and viewers finally get their first look at what lies underneath the helm as an undead, disgusting face looks outward.
Out on the streets of King’s Landing, chaos and war continue. The Unsullied continue to attack as Drogon emits enormous flames overhead, destroying anything and everything in his path. We even see the Northmen, Jon’s Northmen, consumed in the violence and destruction, as Jon kills one of his men trying to rape a woman. I think this was a nice motif of the episode, and perhaps even the entire show, as war consumes everyone and anyone in its grasp. As Jon and Davos command his forces to retreat outside the capital’s gates, we see Grey Worm giving Jon the stink eye, which I’m sure will be revisited in the series finale next week. Elsewhere and for much of the rest of the episode, viewers watch Arya and hundreds of other innocent commonfolk struggle with the trauma and bedlam that surround them, as Drgoon continues his onslaught from above.
Back in the Red Keep, Sandor is struggling with his undead brother, as no stab or sword piercing seems to affect the elder, bigger Clegane. As he begins to get his eyes gouged out akin to Oberyn in Tyrion’s trial by combat, Sandor is able to stab Gregor in the eye, causing him to pause and step back. This allows the Mountain to quickly take his chance, tackling his older brother through the crumbling Red Keep’s walls and into the fiery abyss below.
Cersei finally discovers that Jaime has come back for her, despite all of her previous misgivings. I guess we are led to believe that their incestuous love is true, though I still do not believe this change in Jaime’s arc given his past. Jaime, somehow now fresh and healthy enough to walk without pain, guides Cersei to the dungeons only to find that their escape route has been blocked by rubble. We see Cersei, shaking with fear, embrace her brother for the last time as the castle comes crumbling on top of them like an avalanche. It is an abrupt and disappointing end for both characters for me, as I was hoping for a better, more pronounced death for both, particularly Cersei.
As Arya awakes from the last of her several KO’s due to Drgono’s wrath, she looks around to find fires, burnt corpses and ash surrounding her everywhere. The episode ends with her discovering a white horse, covered in blood and ash, as she escapes the rubble of King’s Landing.
1) Big time YIKES to all those real-life parents who actually named their kid Khaleesi or Daenerys. I imagine court houses around the country are getting some phone calls on how to legally change a child’s name this morning.
2) If you recall from my S8E3 recap, I wrote “I keep going back to what an utter disservice the writers did with Jon [as it relates to the Night King’s demise and the White Walkers in that episode].” Well folks, it happened again. It just seems like Jon’s character has been neutered this entire season. The only important things he has really done is the funeral speech at Winterfell and telling Dany over and over that she is his Queen. The man (he is literally the Song of Ice and Fire) needed/needs more screen time, and I can’t help but think we should have seen more of him last night than the numerous Arya montages running dazed through the chaotic streets of King’s Landing.
3) RIPs to many characters (much more so than The Long Night), including Varys, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, Sandor Clegane, Gregor Clegane, Qyburn, Harry Strickland and the Golden Company, and the commonfolk of King’s Landing
4) Every issue that I have had with this show for two seasons (S7 and S8) is a direct result of show creators DB Weiss and David Benioff choosing to rush the conclusion of this series. I have long been a proponent of Dany becoming the Mad Queen (I had long believed her vision of the Iron Throne in Season 2 was her walking amongst ash, not snow). But the way they have seemingly cut every corner, from dumbing down characters to having insane plot “twists” that aren’t truly believable, continue to disappoint me and millions others who consider much of Game of Thrones’ series arc to be one of the greatest in television history.
5) I want to mention it again but what we saw on-screen last night was visually stunning. I thought the acting, the CGI and the cinematography of the episode was superb. Even Emilia Clarke, despite Dany’s abrupt descent in to madness, played the part tremendously. Another crucial aspect to last night’s episode was the score by Ramin Djawadi. He hit it out of the park with the music again, from the Reynes of Castamere interspersed with Dany’s official song as well as the completely eerie score from the Wildfire Explosion at the Sept of Baelor in Season 6. Well done all around. There are still momentous issues that I have with the script and writing design but I can still enjoy what they decided to put on-screen.
A graduate of Xavier University, Chris began his writing career as a Xavier Musketeers Athletic Communications Intern where he wrote previews and post-game recaps for men’s basketball, women’s basketball and other Olympic sports. He has worked in the sports industry in various capacities for over 5 years. Chris is a fan of the Xavier Musketeers, the Baltimore Ravens and the Baltimore Orioles. Other hobbies and passions includes Game of Thrones and, as an Eagle Scout, volunteering as a Boy Scout Troop Assistant Scoutmaster. Chris was born in Baltimore, raised in Baltimore County and currently resides in Canton.