EPISODE 8.5: “The Bells”
THE LOWDOWN (SPOILERS!):
The penultimate episode is upon us! The end is nigh!
(Buckle up, this is gonna be a long one)
So, after seeing Missandei get decapitated by The Mountain last episode and with Daenerys and her troops formed up in front of King’s Landing, I expected this episode to kick off with a full on battle, but also, it appears that the Dragon Queen has retreated to Dragonstone after the event, which has me a bit puzzled and baffled. Why would they make such a move after they were already gathered to fight at King’s Landing? It feels like a big, gaping misstep, at least from a military perspective, to move your entire army back to another location, across the sea, to…what? Mourn? It’s an odd play that makes no strategic sense, but as we’re now in the Cliffsnotes version of Game of Thrones I’ve kind of adapted, for better or worse.
So, we’re back at Dragonstone and Varys, who made his intentions clear to Tyrion that he’d be backing Jon Snow to rule the realm, is busy scribbling away on some scrolls to be sent out to the many corners of Westeros, spelling out that Jon Snow is the true heir to the Iron Throne and not Daenerys. One of his “Spiders”, a little girl, enters his chambers and informs him that the Queen isn’t eating and that she believes her soldiers are watching her. Varys understands this and asks her, “What have I told you?” She replies, “The greater the risk, the greater the reward.” Hmm. But, who is taking the risk here?
One thing I’ve found interesting about Game of Thrones as a whole is the use of ravens to transmit information to the realm. Anyone, it seems, that can write, can send anything they want. All they need is an official seal and off they go. You have to wonder how anyone could accept any ounce of information tied to a bird’s leg with any form of truth, but there it is. It’s the e-mail spam of Westeros and Varys, apparently, is hoping to flood the inboxes of the realm to inform them of Jon’s inherent right to the throne.
Varys later meets with Jon Snow by the shore as Tyrion watches on, his eyes squinted and troubled. It’s here that he tells Jon of his true motivations in backing him as the true ruler that should sit atop the Trone. “We both know what she’s about to do,” Varys tells him, hoping to appeal to his better nature. “What do you want?” Jon asks, irritated at the inquisition. “All I’ve ever wanted. The right ruler on the Iron Throne. I still don’t know where her coin has landed, but I’m quite certain about yours.” Varys, ever the thoughtful, the wise, the informed, has backed his horse.
“I don’t want it. I never have.” Ah, Jon. Stubborn, as always. Steadfast. Consistent, if nothing else. “She is my queen.” He storms off and Tyrion stands by, knowing full well what’s at play. Varys has played his last hand and, at this point, no one seems to be on his side.
Tyrion heads to Daenerys’ chambers, where she stares out the window, lost and distant. “There’s something you need to know,” Tyrion says. But, Daenerys is already aware. “Someone has betrayed me.” She assumes Jon Snow, but Tyrion tells her it’s Varys. Why would she assume Jon Snow from the onset? That’s a telling bit of information right there. Not only does Daenerys doubt Jon Snow’s allegiance, but she fears it. She immediately jumps to him as the culprit. Tyrion informs her it’s Varys. However, Daenerys knows the way the information flows. She has the pulse of it all. Jon told Sansa who told Tyrion who told Varys and so on. Tyrion, once again, did not have the foresight he always seemed to have and Daenerys, it seems, no longer needs his widom and her hatred of Sansa is now solidified. She asks Tyrion why he thinks Sansa told him the truth about Jon, to which he blindly replies that it was her trust. “She trusts you. She trusted you to spread secrets that could destroy your own queen. And, you did not let her down.” Ouch. Has Sansa learned from Littlefinger that well? I gues so.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Daenerys says, turning to the window. We see her in full; pale, hurt, broken. This is not the Daenerys we’ve seen in the past. This is a broken woman with a lot of power at her fingertips.
Varys is in his quarters and hears marching footsteps. We know what’s coming. He burns the parchment he was writing and takes off his rings, putting his hands to his mouth. He seems to know this is the end. Greyworm enters with chains and they escort him to the beach where Tyrion, Daenerys and Jon Snow await, everyone looking to him with disdain. Varys has accepted his fate. Tyrion walks to him. “It was me.” This is the Tyrion we know. This is what he would do and I’m glad that he did. Even so, the writing is on the wall and this is a perfect set-up for him being dead wrong in ratting out his compatriot.
“I hope I deserve this. I really do. I hope I’m wrong. Goodbye, old friend.” Varys, even in the end, has no ego about his situation. He truly was on the side of Westeros. Tyrion reaches out, touching Varys; a hand of comfort? Sadness? Both? Daenerys then approaches, sentencing Varys to death coldly. Drogon appears out of the dark and she issues the call: “Dracarys” Varys is burned right there on the beach and it’s over instantaneously. Jon looks on at Daenerys, doubt on his face. Is this The Queen he wants to serve?
Later, Daenerys sits in her chambers, holding Missandei’s chains, the only thing she brought with her to Westeros. Lamenting her loss with Greyworm in her presence, she hands them over to Greyworm, who holds them for a moment before tossing them into the fire. Greyworm has obviously chosen anger over grief. The pain of Missandei’s loss is at the forefront of his being and I feel we have much more to see in how that plays out. Jon Snow enters and Daenerys sends Greyworm away. The air is awkward. “What did I tell you would happen if you told your sister?” Daenerys says, blaming Varys’ death on Sansa as much as her. Jon reassures her he doesn’t want the crown. “I don’t have love here. I only have fear.”
Jon tells her he loves her, but what does that mean? “You will always be my queen.” Daenerys approaches. “Is that all I am to you? Your queen?” She kisses him. Again, he pulls away, though. She steps back, tears in her eyes. “All right, then. Let it be fear.” This is a pivotal moment. This is a deciding factor in not only how Daenerys goes forward, but how she defines herself. She loves Jon Snow, but not in the way he supposedly loves her. She is scorned. She is angry. She is hurt. All because Jon won’t “Bend the D”.
Tyrion meets with Daenerys, trying to convince her not to burn King’s Landing, pleading with her to not kill the innocents of the city. “Mercy is our strength. Our mercy toward future generations who will never again be held hostage by a tyrant.” Oh, really? Seems like those words are spoken by a tyrant in the making. Tyrion makes one last plea, saying that if she hears the city bells ringing she’ll call off the attack. Daenerys nods, seeming to agree, but I can’t help but feel this is a half-hearted nod. Daenerys tells Greyworm to ready The Unsullied and prepare to sail to King’s Landing, but to wait for her arrival.
As Tyrion exits, she hits him with a last bit of info that strikes a chord. “Your brother was stopped while trying to get through our lines.” Tyrion stops. Shit. She has him by the balls. Now it’s blackmail. “The next time you fail me will be the last time you fail me.” Daenerys has gone full-on heartless at this point and Tyrion, having just literally burned his only cinfidant, is on his own.
Jon and Tyrion are then seen on a boat sailing to shore at King’s Landing to meet with Davos. There’s a general air of despair, both in Ramin Djawadi’s masterful score and the look on everyone’s faces. This is not a battle for victory. This is a battle to see who falls on the right side of good or evil and no one knows which is which. Upon landing, Tyrion approaches Davos. “Davos, I need to ask you a favor. You’re the greatest smuggler alive, aren’t you?” Davos knows this is no good. “I’m not gonna like this favor, am I?” No, Davos, you surely won’t and it will surely mean treason if you fulfill it.
Meanwhile, The Hound and Arya Stark come riding up and are stopped by a soldier. The soldier asks where they’re going. “I’m going to kill Queen Cersei” He is shocked by her forthrightness, but there it is. They ride on, calm, confident and assured. Will it really be that easy for them?
Tyrion approaches where Jamie is being held (in chains again). “How did they find you?” Jamie holds up his golden hand and I had to laugh. Tyrion has a key to unloack Jamie. He wants Jamie to try and convince Cersei to surrender and allow the people, and the both of them, to live. “All the worst things she’s ever done, she’s done for her children.” Jamie isn’t convinced that Cersei can’t win. Tyrion wants Jamie and Cersei to escape together by going underneath the Red Keep and sail to Pentos where they can start over. It turns out that Tyrion, ultimately, is a true Lannister after all, when it comes to his family. But, he’s also a man of the people. He tells him to make sure they ring the bells and open the gates. Jamie warns Tyrion that he’ll be killed for treason by his Queen. But, Tyrion has another perspective.
“If Daenerys can make it to the throne without wading through a river of blood, maybe she’ll show mercy to the person who made that possible. Tens of thousand of innocent lives; one not-particularly-innocent Dwarf. Seems like a fair trade.”
Tyrion continues, on a bend for the truth, trying like hell to do the right thing. He appeals to Jamie. “If it weren’t for you, I never would’ve survived my childhood. You were the only one who didn’t treat me like a monster. You were all I had.” So much truth there. Through everything, even when Tyrion killed their own father, Jamie stuck by him and vice versa. The brothers embrace, in tears, crying. It’s the most tender moment between the two and you know it will be their last. All the clever and pithy moments between them and the truth of their bond shows in the end. They are truly brothers and it’s a rare tender moment that will not be repeated.
We see Euron and his Scorpion Spears ready at sea and at the docks, pointed to the sky. Archers gather along the battlements. The people close their doors and run for safety, buckling gdown for the onslaught. The Hound and Arya are seen casually walking in the streets, headed for the castle. Jamie, too, is in the mix, passing by the Queen’s troops and the Gold Company as they ready for battle. What’s left of The Unsullied, Winterfell’s troops and the Dothraki form up. It’s a beautifully cut moment of suspense, the music building to what is sure to be a battle of epic propertions; or wholesale slaughter. My nerves were notched up to a ten with so much waiting in the balance. Tyrion turns to Jon, reminding him that if he hears the bells ring then that means the people have surrendered. Jon walks off silently. Tyrion is hedging everything on those damn bells.
Cersei finally appears, looking smuggly over the city. It’s a tense build-up and done exceptionally well. The suspense, the anxiety, the scope of everyone converging on this one location can only mean a powder keg of insanity is about to go down. The Hound and Arya make it into the castle just as the gates are locked down. The people are flooding the area, hoping to get in. Jamie doesn’t make it in time and must find another way, which will surely mean an ugly detour. You didn’t really think it would be that easy did you?
Everyone is looking to the sky, waiting for Daenerys and her dragon. Finally, she appears, but she’s learned her lesson. Drogon begins decimating the fleet, dodging every arrow fired. Euron’s ship is taken out as he jumps to safety in the water. Daenerys ain’t fucking around. She’s learned her lesson and there’s no mercy to be shown. She’s the Cobra Kai of the sky and she’s sweeping all the legs.
Meanwhile, The Gold Company troops, standing accross frm Daenerys’ gang are taken out from behind as Drogon blasts from the inside of the castle, taking them out from the rear. The Unsullied, Dothraki and Winterfell troops make their charge, entering the walls and easily riding down The Queen’s troops. It’s a mass slaughter. Victory is at hand. And why wouldn’t it be? The Queen’s men have no heart behind their fight. This is defense, not a fight to win a throne.
Cersei watches from on top as it all falls apart, Drogon sweeping over and over again, decimating the defenses. Kyburn appraches. “All we need is one good shot.” Kyburn tells her that all the scorpions are gone and the Iron Fleet is burning. “The Red Keep has never fallen. It won’t fall today.” Famous last words? Man, what secret does she have, eh? Is Cersei so arrogant, so spoiled, so detached from reality that she can’t see the burning forest for the trees? Apparently so. For someone that always seemed fairly wise about how to play the Game of Thrones, she seems about to be put in checkmate.
Jon Snow, Greyworm and Davos lead the march toward the castle. They come face to face with the Queen’s men, who all look defeated. This isn’t the same army we saw in season one. They aren’t led by a Jamie Lannister or a Barristan Selmy. They have no one but a selfish Queen that stole her crown from the corpses of her children. Tyrion walks slowly amongst the rubble, hoping to hear the city bell ring, counting on his brother to make it happen. He locks eyes with it, willing it to ring.
We see Drogon land atop the castle, looking over the people, running in fear. It’s the final face off. The Queen’s men surrender, dropping their swords in front of Jon Snow and his men. It’s over for them and a wise move at that. Daenerys sits atop Drogon, surveying the city. Everyone is waiting for the bell to ring. Tyrion looks to her, hoping she’ll wait. Cersei seems to beckon the attack. It’s a total stare down. Finally, the bell rings. Everyone breathe’s easy. Cersei closes her eyes. But, it’s not enough. Our worst fears are about to come true.
Daenerys, atop Drogon, stares at the castle, an anger and pain we’ve not seen before welling up inside her. She has lost all sense of balance. This is rage. This is hate. This is madness. She takes off with Drogon toward the castle, riding closer and closer to the castle. People scurrying in the streets. She unleases fire, killing everyone in her path. Tyrion stares in disbelief as she kills everyone along the way, his hopes going up in literal flames. Tyrion’s face says it all. Everything he chose was wrong and now he will hold himself responsible for the death’s of thousands of innocents.
Greyworm sees this happening and tips the scales as well, throwing his spear at the surrendering men. They move in to slaughter them. Jon Snow orders them to get back and cease the attack, but there’s nothing he can do. The slaughter goes down. Greyworm is on a fury and you know that everyone he kills is in the name of Missandei.
This is a brutality we never expected to see. Daenerys goes from street to street, bathing them in fire. The Unsullied kill everyone in their path. Jon Snow attempts to get everyone to stop, but it’s no use. Innocents are slaughtered in the streets one by one. And finally, Jon Snow sees. He sees that he chose wrong. Innocents are slaughtered in front of him. One of his men attempts to rape a woman and Jon Snow kills him, telling the woman to run and hide. This is it. This is the tipping point. This is Daenerys at her absolute worst. It’s been building from the beginning; ever since she burned the witch that killed Khal Drogo to burning the Master of The Unsullied to killing the men in Pentos and beyond; this is who Daenerys is and who she’s been telling us she is since day one. Like Tyrion, however, we’ve been blinded by our love for this character and now we pay the price.
As Jamie continues to make his way to Cersei, now moving to the shore to go underneath The Red Keep, Euron comes out of the water, conveniently, to find him readying the boatto make their escape. Euron wants to fight Jamie for her hand. They begin to battle. Jamie isn’t the fighter he once was, but he’s still formiddable enough. It’s a bloody, brutal fight and Euron eventually gets to his blade and staps Jamie in the side and you know that’s the end for him. “You fought well. For a cripple.” Jamie makes a final effort toward his sword and Euron stabs him again, just as Jamie turns and stabs him through with his sword. “Another king for you.” he says, bleeding out. God, I love to hate Euron Greyjoy. He’s a real son of a bitch. Jamie storms off from there. “But I got you. I got you. I’m the man who killed Jamie Lannister.” He stares off into the sky, a smile on his fac and you know that Euron Greyjoy will find pleasure in his death over that.
Daenerys continues her onslaught, tearing down the castle in huge swaths. Kyburn comes to get Cersei telling her it’s no longer safe. Cersei finally accepts that she’s lost and begins to cry as her city burns around her. She takes his hand and they walk away, the entirety of King’s Landing in ruins. It’s the last moment she’ll ever truly be Queen and yet she feels so fragile. She’s not the “power is power” woman we’ve seen in season’s past. She’s defeated and in her defeat, reduced to a sobbing mess.
The Hound and Arya make it inside the castle and it’s falling apart all around them. The Hound stops, turning to Arya, telling her to leave and that Cersei is sure to die regardless. She resists, but Clegane yanks her. “You think you wanted revenge a long time? I’ve been after it all my life. It’s all I care about. And look at me. Look at me! You want to be like me?” He puts his hand behind her head, like a father to a daughter. “You come with me, you die here.” For once, it seems like Arya may listen. Her eyes wide, almost innocent and finally seeing the truth of her situation. The Hound walks forward, leaving her behind. She calls to him. “Sandor,” she says. “Thank you.” This is a moment building over many seasons, particularly since The Kingsroad episodes. Sandor has been a protector not only to Arya, but to The Starks. he’s every bit a reason for their survival and has earned this moment.
The walls continue to crumble and The Hound arrives to find Cersei, Kyburn and Ser Gregor making their escape down the stairs. Cersei commands Gregor to stay by her side, as does Kyburn. Teh Mountain looks to Cersei with a look that says everything; she lucky he likes her or he’d crush her head right there. Kyburn, however, is another matter. Gregor smashes his skull and tosses him to the steps and that’s the end for Kyburn. Cersei makes her way down the steps, past The Hound, who doesn’t give her a second thought. His fight is with his brother. Their battle begins, Sandor slashing him over and over again, knocking his helmet away, revealing his ugly, zombified face. “Yeah, that’s you. That’s what you’ve always been.” They continue the brutal battle, Sandor eventually getting a kill move, his sword going through The Mountain. It doesn’t stop him. He knocks Sandor away, takes off his armor and keeps coming, a mass of white-colored muscle and diseased flesh. The Mountain pounds his brother, one blow after another.
Eventually, The Mountain chokes Sandor, Sandor grabbling for his blade and stabbling him repeatedly, as The Mountain pupshes in his eyes. “Fucking die!” he yells. Sandor jabs the blade into The Mountain’s eye and through his head. He rallies and tackles The Mountain, knocking him through the wall as they fall to their deaths and into the burning fire below them. It’s the culmination of a lifetime of hatred and revenge with Sandor tackling his greatest adversary and perishing into his greatest fear. it’s a truly epic confrontation and I felt greatly rewarded by it. The build up to this battle has been gaining since season one and this is a worthy final moment to these two characters’ journy.
Jamie appears, just as Cersei makes her way further down. Her face is shock and relief. They embrace as she surveys him, seeing how hurt he is. Jamie leads her away and I kept waiting for it to turn out to be Arya, choking the life out of Cersei, as predicted by the witch when she was a child. But, alas that’s not to be…yet.
Arya fights her way out of the castle, everything crumbling around her. As she makes her way out she sees burned and mangled bodies of everyone, looking up to see Drogon continuing the slaughter. She gets caught up in the crashing debris and knocked out. She comes to, bloody and covered in ash and finds a group of people cowering for safety, including a woman and her child that helped her before. She tells them that they have to move and leads them away. As they leave, of course, the mother is hit by Dothraki and then Drogon sweeps through burning them and knocking Arya out again. So much time is spent on Arya making her way through the city as it falls apart around her, very reminiscent of the last time she was there and witnessed her father, Eddard Stark, be decapitated by the order of Joffrey.
We, the audience, are experiencing this slaughter through her eyes. The burnt corpses, frozen in charred embraces, protecting love ones as they’re burned alive. We’ve seen what Arya is capable of. Having seen what Daenerys has done here, what do you think she’ll report back to Sansa? This is not a woman you want to piss off and now that she’s witnessed this carnage firsthand, there’s no way she walks away on the side of The Dragon Queen.
Below the Red Keep, Jamie leads Cersei to their escape, only to find that it’s now piled up by bricks. They’re trapped. Jamie looks around, trying to find a way out. It’s no use. “I want our baby to live,” Cersei keeps repeating. “Please, don’t let me die. I don’t want to die. Not like this.” Jamie holds her. “Look at me. Nothing else matters. Only us.” They embrace as the walls crumble around them, eventually toppling over them. And so comes the end of Cersei and Jamie. Or is it? I really need to see some dead bodies to accept they’re truly dead. After all, Arya survives a number of crumbling misadventures, who’s to say Cersei and Jamie couldn’t as well? Next episode will be very telling in that regard.
Outside the walls of the castle, Arya is still trying to make her way out as ash falls around her like snow (maybe it’s snow and ash?). She is a bloody, ash-covered mess. She looks around, surveying the burnt corpses of the innocent in a really beautifully shot sequence that finds her the sold survivor of this particular area, the sun beaming through the smoke and ash, lighting her up. You can derive any amount of symbolism here, but ultimately she’s alive and she’s not who Daenery’s wants to survive. She finds a white horse that somehow survived the battle (was it the same horse of the leader of the Golden Company?) and rides off out of the city burnt to ruins. Arya has lived to tell some stories about what Daenerys is capable of and I’m sure that’s going to cause some strife in the finale.
Holy fucking wow! Man, what an episode! This is by far the best episode of the season thus far and is executed brilliantly. While many will still feel slighted and rushed (and I don’t blame you), I still found this to be a deeply satisfying episode, especially after being let down by The Battle of Winterfell and its fallout. Here we have the culmination of the battle that’s been building since season one; the fight being brought to King’s Landing. This is, for all intents and purposes, the battle for the Iron Throne. And it’s a damn brutal one! Firstly, the loss of Varys cannot be understated. Here was the man that understood, loved and supported the realm with only one thing in mind; the people. Everyone else was concerned with ONE PERSON RULING the people. And, for Tyrion’s part, he now sees that Varys was right, the he backed the wrong play and that the people should always be the thing that matters above all else.
There’s a point in the episode, aptly named “The Bells” where things could’ve gone one way or another and Daenerys chose the option that involved full-scale slaughter. Grief stricken, betrayed and denied the love she wants, Daenerys is stripped to her barest, most essential being; A Targaryan, alone and pushed into a corner. When faced with taking King’s Landing with ease, she instead choosed to decimate the population. Since season one she’s been told how she was the rightful ruler and that it was her crown for the taking, but that journey has taken many things from her. When faced with The Red Keep, a fire that’s burned within for a long time reaches a blaze and with so much lost she can only become The Mad Queen and lay waste to that which was promised. While many may feel that the story betrays who she was, I can only argue that this is the natural course of things; Think of how Daenerys reacted in killing her enemies from the get-go, right down to her own brother. She’s always raised an eyebrow and been scarily pleased with the outcome, while we cheered her on.
I don’t know if this was exactly what George R.R. Martin had planned, but I’m sure it’s in the ballpark. And, it’s a brilliant ruse and great storytelling. Our expectation, from season one, being wowed by this woman who could walk through fire and command dragons, we bought into her journey and were blinded by who she really was, just as Tyrion did. We ARE Tyrion in this scenario. She appealed to us as an underdog, as someone who fought her way up, wanting to do good and give people “freedom”. We cheered when she killed her enemies. But, as she did, we rarely stopped to think about how she did it or how much pleasure she took in it. It was easy to love her. And now, it’s hard to hate her now that her true colors have shown and it makes us all that much more tense for how this game ends.
For me, this was a brilliantly-executed episode. The direction by Miguel Sapochnik (also of The Long Night AKA The Battle of Winterfell) is spot on and much more aestitically pleasing than the squint-and-miss-it The Long Night episode. Here we have a bevy of iconic shots, from the battle of Cleganebowl atop The Red Keep steps to Arya awakening and finding the white horse and the total decimation of King’s Landing; this is a visual spectacle; or, nightmare, if you will, brought to life. It’s hard to talk about performances anymore, because eveyone has settled into these characters to the point that you almost feel like it’s a reality TV show. Everyone is great; they are who they are and that’s certainly the case here. In fact, it’s the constant that’s run through all seasons of the show. These actors have become these characters and vice versa. They embody them.
So, here we are at the end. Will Jon confront her (you better believe it). Will Arya report these events to Sansa (if she’s alive, yeah). Will Daenerys simply vanquish anyone else that stands in her way? (Well, she’ll sure try, right?) Who will Tyrion stand next to now? So many questions! Surely, they’ll all be answered next week, in what promises to be one of the biggest series finales of all time. Is there any way to end this show that will please most fans? Has the source material and the show diverged so much that there’s far too much lost in the exchange to fully buy whatever happens onscreen? Does it matter? Either way, the end of Game of Thrones is here!
One episode to go! What are your predictions??? How does it all end???
DEATH COUNT: Varys, The Hound, The Mountain, Kyburn, Euron Greyjoy (presumably), Cersei Lannister (presumably), Jamie Lannister (presumably), most of King’s Landing’s population.
SEX/NUDITY: Nah, bruh, this ain’t the time or place.
BEST SCENE: Man, you can’t put this on me! The Hound vs. The Mountain? Euron vs. Jaimie? Daenerys vs. King’s Landing? The Death of Varys? There’s just too much going on here to choose any one thing, but I will say this; the battle between The Hound and The Mountain was exactly on the scale I always imagined it would be, so it felt immensely satisfying from top to bottom, even if I always felt they’d both have to die in the end.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS EPISODE? Let us know in the comments below!
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