Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 5 – “The Bells” Review
“The Bells” is representative of Season 8’s Game of Thrones. The 80 minute episode has the weight of an ambitious story coming to an endgame but some questionable writing choices takes away from a completely fulfilling pay off. Still, the season’s big budget and the extra time used to make it is evident in the visually impressive production values.
By all appearances, “The Bells” is a monumental, penultimate episode. The writers want to hit the mark on several pivotal events: Bran’s prophetic vision of a dragon soaring above King’s Landing; Dany’s long quest for the Iron Throne reaches a critical point and the fate of several key characters is determined. As much as the chaos and carnage make for enjoyable entertainment, not all of the writing decisions about these characters are fully satisfying.
When the show writers decided to subvert expectation and have Arya kill the Night King, instead of Jon, it left open some wide plot holes. The prophecies and clues planted in the earlier seasons as well as the books about the prince(ss) that was promised is disregarded. What is a better choice in subverting expectations is that Ayra let go of her vengeance at the last moment.
Because of her training, I would have thought that Arya could handle herself a little better in the hectic crowd. But I guess the purpose was to show the destruction caused by Dany from the viewpoint of a key character on the ground. Arya rides out on a white horse, literally and symbolically, as a hero. But is she really letting go of vengeance if her new plan is to presumably assassinate Dany?
When Dany decided to unleash the full fury of Drogon it is a huge moment for her character. Had she only focused her rage on Cersei and the Red Keep, it would have been somewhat reasonable. But to kill innocent people, including children, after the city surrendered, it will be hard to justify giving her a heroic send off. It’s understandable that Dany is angry after loosing so much. The issue is that she chooses to use a weapon of mass destruction as an outlet for her anger. Her actions also provides the argument that the power of the Iron Throne needs to balanced among many upstanding, competent people, not one ruler.
Does Dany’s actions ruin her character arc? On one hand, many fans have spotted the signs years ago that Dany’s dark side would get the better of her. But for fans who have emotionally invested in her as a heroine, I’d imagine it would be heart-breaking to see her become a vengeful conqueror. Is there a way to redeem Dany? Even if she decides to gracefully relinquish the Iron Throne and go live on Dragonstone or go back to Meereen, she would need to make a sacrifice as a gesture of good will, for example … Drogon. And that’s assuming Jon doesn’t give her a taste of Northern justice which she probably deserves.
Even though Dany is responsible her actions, what about Jon’s choices? After Jon first met Dany, he seem a bit relieved that he didn’t have to shoulder the fate of the seven kingdoms anymore. But by bending the knee to Dany and her decisions, he abdicated his responsibilities. Tyrants are made when good men don’t take a stand. The Bell is about Dany’s choices. The finale must be centered on Jon and Tyrion’s choices on what’s best for Westeros going forward.
Tyrion has been lost in the mix for a while. After making several strategic blunders, Tyrion doesn’t have much influence on Dany. The Queen relies on advisers to keep her morally centered which Tyrion failed to do as the Hand.
Tyrion and Jamie’s last scene together is a good one. But it sets up a mixed reaction to Jamie’s ultimate fate. As much as Jamie has corrected a lot of his character flaws, it’s like Cersei is a sink hole that sucks him back in every time. Doesn’t Jamie remember that Cersei sent Bronn to kill him and Tyrion? Jamie’s love for Cersei and his family is what defines him. But I would have preferred that Jamie got rid of the cancer in his life to demonstrate that his long journey wasn’t going to end up where he started. It’s also unfortunate that Cersei didn’t get much to do this final season. She’s defeated by Dany whom was more merciless than she was.
So a bunch of other characters died. Cleganebowl is emblematic of giving fans what they are asking for but is a bit on the silly side. The eye gouging part is a great callback to Oberyn (gross!) and the falling castle debris looks cool. The Hound saved Arya from being consumed by a life of hate and vengeance which might be the takeaway here. Varys deserved a better send off. He was a master at playing the game and he’s right about Dany. Who was Vary’s writing to and why didn’t he leave Dragonstone as soon as Jon rejected his offer? Euron is a silly character too, at least how the show depicted him.
“The Bells” is mostly entertaining and at times riveting. The wonderful spectacle and sense of grandeur is on full display. Some of the story elements are done well enough: seeing Drogon destroy King’s Landing, Tyrion’s farewell to Jamie and even feeling unexpectedly sorry for Cersei’s guards who dropped their swords only to get skewered. Among fans, there are differing opinions on how the characters have been handled. Now the finale is upon us and it’s going to have people excited as well as divided. Let’s hope it’s a great finish, if that’s still possible for you.