Game of Game of Thrones: season 8, episode 5, The Bells

The penultimate Game of Thrones episode, “The Bells,” was the exact opposite of The Lego Movie: everything is not awesome, and everyone is not okay.

It wasn’t a war that descended on King’s Landing. It was pure devastation. This was a massacre, just wholesale violence for the sake of violence. If viewers thought that things could end peacefully between the Red Keep, the Mother of Dragons, and anyone unlucky enough to be caught between them, this episode proved that’s never going to happen.

“The Bells” also reminded us that sometimes Game of Thrones doesn’t make sense. If you, like me, watch Game of Thrones with Twitter running in the background, there’s a good chance you noticed that almost everyone responding to the show was angry. Daenerys Targaryen’s decision to burn thousands of innocent people just to show Cersei Lannister she could didn’t exactly make sense. Neither did Jaime’s race to reconnect with Cersei after such a long slow-burn relationship with Brienne. “The Bells” fell into the category of “dumb entertainment,” and that’s not a bad thing — but it’s a lot to unpack.

Let’s jump into it.

There’s something poetic about this episode beginning with the death of its most prolific prophet. Courage is deciding to do the right thing, even if that means certain death. Varys doesn’t try to hide his concern about Daenerys taking the throne, and he goes to Jon (aka Aegon Targaryen) in the hopes that he may be able to convince Jon that he should reign. (+15 to Varys for betraying his queen) While this is happening, Tyrion goes to see his queen and turns into Randall from Disney’s Recess. He’s snitching all over the place about Varys’ betrayal, and the Maddest Queen will not stand for it. Hasn’t Tyrion ever heard the phrase “snitches get stitches”?


Image: HBO

Varys is dragged out of his room (where he was very peacefully writing some kind of fan fiction, I’m sure) by Daenerys’ guards, and he’s sentenced to death. There’s a quaint moment between once-good friends Tyrion and Varys when the former confesses “It was me [who ratted you out, which left you standing here in front of a dragon].” (+10 for a brutal one-liner, even if most of it’s just implied) Then Drogon unleashes a fierce, fiery attack (Drogon gets this +25 for killing a named character) burning Varys alive. (+25 for a memorable death)

This is Daenerys embracing her Mad Queen side, which some, including Varys, worried was lurking in the wings. It’s troubling to watch her vengeful side play out against her former closest advisers — especially for Jon Snow, who’s realizing he shouldn’t be in a relationship with his aunt and is trying to handle that breakup as delicately as possible. Jon goes to check in on Dany, as a good ex does, but Daenerys doesn’t have time for him. She’s concerned about Jon taking her place, and she doesn’t let him forget that she warned him what would happen if he spilled the tea about his parentage.

“Far more people here love you than me,” Dany declares. “I don’t have love here. I only have fear.” (+10)

When Jon proclaims that he loves her — but only as a queen — Dany gives him one of her best disappointed looks and says, “Let it be fear.” (+10) Look, breakups are hard. It only gets more complicated when you’re breaking up with a family member you didn’t even know was a family member! Add in that you’re about to go to war together, and almost anyone would have trouble navigating these waters. It’s the first time I’ve felt bad for Jon all season. Dude is trying his best to move on, but he can only do so much without being turned into ashes on the spot if he says the wrong thing.

Dany is now basically the queen, and that means she gets to spend half her day riding around on Drogon’s back, taking in the scenery, and the other half dealing with bureaucratic meetings. After finally ending things with Jon (praise be), she meets with Tyrion and Grey Worm. Daenerys and Grey Worm want blood; Tyrion wants peace. Only one person in this meeting has a dragon, and dragons rarely want to solve problems with words instead of fire. Tyrion argues with Daenerys for the thousandth time, but she’s not hearing it anymore, not after he recklessly passed on the Jon-tea to Varys, enabling his betrayal and getting him killed.

“The next time you fail me will be the last time you fail me,” Daenerys threatens. (+10) Ruh-roh, Scooby. Time to skedaddle!

With the exception of Jon and Tyrion, everyone in this episode is looking to kill. Bloodlust is in the air. Even Arya Stark, who arrives at King’s Landing on horseback with her good pal the Hound, is volunteering her violent dreams to anyone who asks. “I’m Arya Stark, and I’m going to kill Queen Cersei,” she nonchalantly informs a guard. (+10) The brevity! The strength! I’m going to use this tactic the next time my boss asks me where I’m going. “I’m Julia Alexander, and I’m going to take a nap.”


Image: HBO

Arya is open about her plans to slice Cersei’s throat, but other people are forced to act more deviously. Tyrion betrays his queen (+15) by helping his older brother Jaime escape from the tent where he’s being held after he was caught trying to get to Cersei. How is it possible that Jaime keeps getting captured? This is the Kingslayer, a man so skilled that he took down a murderous mad king. And yet, every other season, he winds up captured in some part of Westeros. It’s truly incredible just how imbecilic my beautiful Jaime can be some days! At least it enables a gut-wrenching Tyrion and Jaime heart-to-heart, a conversation between brothers who love each other and know they’ll never be in the same place again.

Tyrion begs Jaime to find Cersei, take her away from King’s Landing, and disappear forever. He wants them to raise their child in a city far away from Daenerys’ rule, and he hopes the urge to protect the baby might make Cersei see reason. “The worst things she’s ever done, she’s done for her children,” Jaime counters. (+10) Curses! Won’t anyone in this godforsaken place listen to Tyrion? Someone get him a soapbox and a megaphone already. Yeesh! Eventually, Tyrion gets Jaime to see his point of view (sans soapbox), and the two say their final goodbyes. Both are prepared to breathe their final breaths tomorrow — Jaime because he’s walking into a war zone, Tyrion because he expects Dany to execute him for setting Jaime free. But Tyrion thinks it’ll be worth it if Jaime can spirit Cersei away and end the war.

“Tens of thousands of innocent lives, one not particularly innocent dwarf. Seems like a fair trade,” Tyrion points out. (+10)

With all of the final goodbyes, breakups, and threats laid out, it’s time for the great battle to begin — except, as I said previously, it’s just wholesale slaughter. From about minute 35 until this episode ended, there was nothing but carnage. Daenerys sits atop Drogon (+20 for dragon-riding), and they lay waste to King’s Landing. While Dany’s first two dragons often seemed useless in battle, a pissed-off Drogon and Daenerys have more than made up for it. Both Drogon and Daenerys receive the episode maximum of 50 points for killing thousands of innocent people, which is almost hilariously sad, considering Daenerys defined her climb to rulership by freeing slaves and fighting for innocent people. But sure, let her just go against her entire character in the series’s penultimate episode. Who needs consistency in storytelling when you can just slaughter people for the sake of cool visuals?

To make up for it, some less-innocent people are also thrown into the chaos. Harry Strickland gets incapacitated by Drogon and Daenerys during the battle (+10 each to dragon and rider) before being brutally killed by Grey Worm. (+25 for taking out a named character) If I’m being honest, I forgot who Harry Strickland was prior to this episode, but watching him get speared through the stomach and falling to the ground as bedlam breaks out around him is certainly a memorable way to go. (+25 to Harry) Congratulations on making me remember your name, Harry!

Jon Snow and Grey Worm immediately enter warrior mode, taking out an absurd number of King’s Landing soldiers. (+50 episode max to both) Cersei isn’t particularly worried. Euron has taken down a dragon before, and she believes her army is the best. “The Red Keep has never fallen. It won’t fall today,” she declares. (+10)

Except that’s not exactly true. Drogon easily takes down the Iron Fleet and the defenses at King’s Landing, and all of the destruction becomes too much for the city’s soldiers. The bells of King’s Landing are rung. Defeat is conceded. People are ready to bow down before Daenerys, the Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons. (+25 to Dany for taking the city) The people of King’s Landing might be ready to bend the knee, but she isn’t done wreaking havoc yet. This is her day to truly inspire fear in her new loyal subjects, and she’s going to do it, character consistency be damned! Happy Mother’s Day, Mother of One Remaining Dragon!

Daenerys isn’t the only one who wants to continue fighting. Euron Greyjoy and Jaime Lannister run into each other down by the water. Aside from this basically being a dream come true for this thirsty writer, it also leads to a fun battle between two incredible soldiers. “If you kill another king before you die, they’ll sing about you forever,” Euron taunts. (+10) Jaime doesn’t waste any time deeming Euron unworthy of being a king, but he fights back regardless. Euron manages to get in a few good swipes, incapacitating Jaime (+10) and dealing him some presumably mortal wounds. But it’s Jaime who gets in the more devastating blow, killing Euron. (+25) Never one to be out-drama’d, Euron spends his last words making sure Jaime doesn’t get the last word.


Image: HBO

“I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister,” he proclaims, smiling up at the sky. (+10 for that comment, and +25 for a glorious exit)

(Note: This was a devastating moment for me. If someone wants to edit a montage of Euron Greyjoy — the Game of Thrones character most likely to make out with you on a lumpy bed under a pentagram poster while listening to The Cure — and send it to me, I would greatly appreciate it.)

Back in the city, the Hound and Arya are making their way through the halls of the castle, trying to find Cersei. This is their moment; everything they’ve trained for has finally arrived. Unfortunately, the Hound won’t let Arya join him. He gets into protective big brother mode, pulling a line from Harry and the Hendersons, telling Arya to save herself.

“You come with me, you die here,” the Hound warns. (+10)

Arya thanks him, running in the other direction, and letting the Hound exact the revenge he’s dreamt of for so long. He does — kind of. After taking out four random guards (+40), he comes face-to-face with Qyburn, Cersei, and his big bad brother, the Mountain. Oh, goodie! Sound the alarms, call your closest friends, the Cleganebowl is here. Get hype! Qyburn orders the Mountain to defend Cersei, but the Mountain chooses instead casually squishes and smashes him (+25 murder points to the Mountain, +25 to Qyburn for a memorable death), betraying Cersei in the process (+15). And then it’s time for the most metal fight of the season. The only thing missing is a series of random guitar solos, a live mosh pit, and Gene Simmons floating around in the background. It was cool, friends.

It’s also incredibly violent, and the Mountain looks suspiciously like Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back when he’s on the bridge with Luke Skywalker. But without question, it’s the best part of the episode. There are even funny moments between the two brothers who loathe each other more than anyone else on this show. The Hound yelling “Fucking die already” is absolute perfection. (+5 for a funny one-liner, largely due to the Hound’s perfect timing) It’s a long fight, and even with a knife in his forehead, the Mountain isn’t ready to go down. It isn’t until the Hound decides to throw them both through a wall, falling through the air and landing in an immense blaze, that the fight finally ends. (+25 points to the Hound for winning the fight, +25 points to each of them for incredibly memorable deaths)


Image: HBO

Remember when I said this was a bloodbath? I wasn’t being overdramatic. Right after the Hound and the Mountain have their dramatic final fight, the episode switches to demonstrating the aftereffects of Daenerys and Drogon’s totally unnecessary massacre. Arya wakes up after being incapacitated by an attack from Drogon and Dany (+10 / +10), and she walks around, staring at the ashy bodies of King’s Landing strangers and those she tried to help get out of the dragon’s attack path. One drafted character, in particular, Nora, earned herself a memorable death. (+25) Arya tries to get Nora out of the path of Drogon’s devastating attack (+25 to both Drogon and Daenerys for blasting another drafted character), but not even the great Arya Stark is a match for an angry dragon.

But this episode wasn’t about Arya. It wasn’t about Tyrion or Varys or Jon or Jaime. It wasn’t about the Hound, the Mountain, or Euron Greyjoy. This episode was about the meeting of two mad queens, finally staring each other down and going head-to-head. It was about Daenerys and Cersei. It’s why I’ve decided to name Daenerys this week’s MVP (+20). It’s a painful win given what she does this episode, but no one can deny the amount of power Daenerys wielded while soaring above the city. It was impressive and terrifying. It was the mark of a tyrant ruler, but there’s also something magnetic about seeing Dany embrace her absolute power. But be warned, Dany: absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Cersei, on the other hand, got the ending she deserved. Jaime is reunited with his sister — arguably his one true love — and they wind up trapped beneath the city streets. This is the end of their journey together. It’s fitting that Jaime and Cersei would die in each other’s arms. Despite his seasons of personal growth, he’s still the same Jaime he was at the beginning of the series. It’s why he left Brienne for Cersei. Cersei’s pregnant with his child yet again, and she’s scared and vulnerable as she only is when her children are in danger. This is the end she crafted for herself.

Her blind ambitions and arrogance became her downfall. Watching the ceiling and walls collapse around them, Cersei cries, “Jaime, I don’t want to die, not like this.” (+10) The devastation caused by Drogon and Daenerys is Game of Thrones’ version of poetic justice for Cersei. She and Jaime die together (+25 to both for memorable deaths, +50 to Drogon and Daenerys for taking them out), and it’s finally beginning to feel like Game of Thrones is coming to an end.

THE VERGE FANTASY LEAGUE STANDINGS

Andy Hawkins, 710 points

Top scorer: Euron Greyjoy (55 points)

Note: Euron Greyjoy turned out to be a powerful choice for Andy. He’s even useful when he’s not taking down dragons. But Harry Strickland grabbing 25 points for a memorable death is a little icing on top.

Chaim Gartenberg, 650 points

Top scorer: The Hound (100 points)

Note: It gives me nothing but joy to write that Chaim is in second place — especially because of the Hound. The Cleganebowl gave us all a little happiness and Chaim a whole lot of points.

Liz Lopatto, 650 points

Top scorer: Daenerys Targaryen (240 points)

Note: Damn, Dany! Tyranny may be bad, but it’s certainly worked out well for Game of Game of Thrones players who drafted the Mad Queen.

Sarah Bishop Woods, 500 points

Top scorer: Varys (40 points)

Shannon Liao, 475 points

Top scorer: N/A

Julia Alexander, 440 points

Top scorer: Jaime Lannister (60 points)

Note: It gives me no pleasure to award my handsome, brave, stupid boy these points for dying so carelessly. The end of our journey is here, my love. May you rest in eternal peace… with your sister-lover, I guess.

Tasha Robinson, 415 points

Top scorer: N/A

T.C. Sottek: 295 points

Top scorer: Drogon (175 points)

Note: T.C.’s dragon pick is finally coming through in a big way! Unfortunately, Drogon didn’t get thousands of points for killing innocents (may that be a lesson to us all), but he did enough damage to drafted players that it still worked out in the end! So, in short, I don’t really know what the lesson is here.

Adi Robertson, 175 points

Top scorer: Nora (25 points)

Note: Nora was a totally random option and was picked as a totally random choice, but her death gave Adi 25 points this week, so maybe the lesson is to cherish even the least-known characters sitting on your roster.