Another day, another Game of Thrones review. Episode 5 of the series eighth and final season, “The Bells,” was the culmination of the series as the battle for the Iron Throne comes to a head.
Now, so far in season 8 there have been plenty of mixed reactions from viewers. The theme of the show opposing that of the books is one major point of contention. Others include clunky battle scenes and a lack of character resolution.
But I don’t want to focus on anything other than episode 5 and what led to it here. If these very simple tweaks were made, I think “The Bells” could have been one of the best moments of the entire Game of Thrones series.
And be sure to read through to the end, as I saved the most important issue for last!
***WARNING: GAME OF THRONES REVIEW WITH SPOILERS AHEAD***
1. Euron and Jamie: “That’s a Kill!”
Where do I begin with this horrible fan-service nonsense? The skirmish between Euron and Jamie should have never happened for too many reasons to count.
First off, how fortunate for us fans for Euron and Euron alone to wash up on shore right at Jamie’s exact place and time after he had to trek through all of King’s Landing to get there. Good Lord of Light, how stupid must the writers think the audience is to suspend so much disbelief? Especially considering how all the other main characters also washed up on shore when their ships were destroyed in the previous episode, I’d say naval warfare seems pretty pointless in this show.
Next, and I might have missed this or something so if I did please tell me in the comments, but how the hell did Jamie even get here? I thought there was some kind of conflict emerging with him appearing to not get into the city when the others were flooding in, but then he somehow did get in? Or did he not and take a back way? I don’t know, whatever.
The most nauseating thing though was subversion for the sake of subversion. Not only does this fight have to happen somehow, but our expectations have to be subverted by Jamie losing at first. And not only does he have to lose, Euron has to land TWO kill shots. Because if we learned anything from Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, “that’s a kill! Not a wound!”
. . . Oh yeah, and then Jamie lives, finds Cersei, and never succumbs to his pointless “wounds.” Again, I don’t know, whatever.
Remove this fight. Euron dies in the ocean because who cares about him anyway? We haven’t been built up to hate him to anywhere near the same extent we had been with a Ramsey Bolton type of character. Fire would do just fine, especially since he took down a dragon.
2. Cleganebowl: The Hound (And Arya) Deserved Better
I don’t dislike that the battle between the Hound and the Mountain happened, but the way it unfolded could have been way better.
To start, the Hound and Arya make what would have been a harrowing entry into King’s Landing. They continued from there on an improbable (at best) march all the way through a battle and to the Red Keep. Then, when they arrive and all hell breaks loose with Daenerys, the Hound convinces Arya to leave.
No problems with any of this so far. Arya being scared is not the least bit surprising and the goodbye between the two characters was a good moment.
However, the goodbye between the two characters implied the Hound will fulfill Arya’s wishes in her absence. This makes Cersei walking right past him without any issue absurd to me. Why not just set it up where she gets away or something? Also, what is Arya thanking him for if not for his trying to handle what she’d have otherwise come all this way to handle?
So Cersei walks off and the other minions are dead and we get the fight we’ve been waiting for. But the end of said fight wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been, with the Hound tackling the Mountain through a wall and landing in a fire.
Now the fire is meant to be significant, right? Because the Hound is supposed to be afraid of fire, right? Well sure, it would be: if the Hound knew the fire was there.
Make Cersei get away literally any other way than just walking right past the Hound. Maybe have the Mountain attack first and allow her the opportunity to escape? Anything really. I don’t care if you feel the need to have a phantom piece of debris disorient the Hound for a second, or maybe a distracting albino squirrel singing the blues runs past him to catch his eye while she runs off. Anything.
Also, make the Hound see the fire below BEFORE he tackles the Mountain into it. Make it a meaningful choice to face both his fears of his brother and fire at the same time. Overcoming it in his most crucial moment while earning Arya’s appreciation would complete his entire story to the fullest.
3. Jamie Cheats on Brienne With Cersei
Again, I don’t dislike that the reunion and demise of Jamie and Cersei occurred, but how they got there felt off.
It starts in the previous episode with a far too sudden separation of Jamie and Brienne. All prior indications pointed to them staying together and his arc to righteousness being completed. There were no hints whatsoever of second thoughts on his part and if there were they were way too subtle. Nonetheless, Jamie runs off and leaves Brienne behind.
Now, praise where praise is due: the best part of Jamie’s return to his sister comes when he finds Tyrion. The goodbye between Tyrion and Jamie was one of the best moments in this episode and series. Everything about Tyrion in this episode was great, given the direction taken to this point of his plans failing as much as they have.
There should have been clear signs of Jamie’s feelings in one of two directions:
- He was bored of Brienne. Maybe the sex isn’t what it was with Cersei? Maybe he resented the prospect of living life in the north? Whatever it is, let us see it. His abandonment of her shouldn’t be a surprise to us, even if it is to her.
- He still has love for Brienne and is upfront with her that he just can’t let his pregnant sister die alone. She could still resent him for making this decision now, but at least it would be consistent with both the bond they’ve developed and the way we’ve seen him grow. There’s no reason to hurt her if his heart is still good and we’d still understand his leaving for Cersei.
While I like the impact his decision to leave her has on Brienne as a character (it makes sense she’d break down since she’s a virgin and her feelings for him are unfamiliar), it needs to not be so sudden. Either solution above would work.
Beyond that I think everything else is good (obviously besides Euron). I just felt like by the time he got to Cersei I lost track of who Jamie Lannister really was.
4. Nice Horse, Where’d You Find It?
This wasn’t a huge deal and I really don’t mean to nitpick little things in this post. At the same time though, there was just something off about that fancy white horse being there. It didn’t feel right in a city of dust and ashes. I know I’m not the only person to think this too. Maybe it was because it didn’t look like it was as disheveled as everything else in the scene. Not totally sure.
Because I need to point out greatness though, the makeup and costume design for Arya here was beyond brilliant. Not only is the blood and dirt on point, but her hair and attire is so Ned Stark it’s mind boggling. Being that she’s in King’s Landing and struggling through the streets the way he had here, the connection couldn’t be more on point.
Remove the horse and focus more on her walk back out of the city. It would be way more grueling to see Arya limping and shell shocked. We aren’t used to seeing her intimidated this way so it would have a way bigger impact to drag that out. Also because, let’s be real, she’s the only likable character left at this point.
5. The Easiest Battle in the History of the Seven Kingdoms
One dragon is all it took in the end. The unsullied weren’t really necessary. The fleets weren’t necessary. The Dothraki weren’t . . . wait . . . the Dothraki didn’t die in the charge during the Long Night? And even if there were more, there are still this many? Oh, okay.
Even with those big bolts Cersei had for dragon killing on her ships and walls, even after Dany and the dragon stood right in front of Cersei ripe for the killing in the episode before, even though we were told the armies were apparently even in size, it was all just way too easy.
Also, what was with the explosion when Drogon flanks the troops at the gates of the castle? Were explosives set up for if the walls were breached? If so, shouldn’t they have been green, which is the color I associated with Cersei’s explosives throughout the episode? Because I’m not buying that was just dragon flames. Something exploded but we don’t know why other than it totally looked so cool and stuff.
As bad as these guys have proven to be at constructing sensible battle sequences, this should have been way more of a struggle at first.
I’ll go into this more in the following and final point, but it would have also justified Dany’s final turn more if the actual conflict was more difficult. Perhaps the last of the Dothraki do fall? This would symbolize the end of a powerful alliance she formed during her ascent. Perhaps Drogon, her final dragon, gets injured once or twice? This could lead to Drogon acting more erratic, which would in turn further spurn Dany into the rage we come to see from her.
And so we reach the biggest missed opportunity of the episode . . .
6. MOST IMPORTANT: Dany’s Unearned Madness
Let me start by saying I love the idea of Daenerys burning King’s Landing to the ground. It fits her character’s trajectory and it makes sense under the right circumstances.
Dany has lost several friends, survived assassination attempts, and overcome those who doubted her on her long journey to rule the Seven Kingdoms. For her to successfully take the city of King’s Landing, only to be rejected by the very people she sought for so long to liberate, it would be a logical breaking point.
And while this seemed like it might have been the intent of the writers, it was not what played out on screen.
Instead, Daenerys is simply told about the opinions of “the people” by Varys, who is promptly executed. The problem with this is that Dany never trusted noblemen and we don’t even get a clear message she’s unwanted. Her heart, in contrast to all other characters in the show, was always with “the people.” For her to now flip without evidence other than the words of this person she deems disposable is totally out of character.
This is why when the bells ring and we see her light up everyone in between her dragon’s perch and the Red Keep, all of whom are begging for mercy in the lead up, we don’t understand her decision.
I was on the edge of my seat when Daenerys Stormborn Of House Targaryen, First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and The First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons stared down the Red Keep. It was going to be the epic end of a show’s worth of Lannister rule. Cersei’s decision to sacrifice her people was going to come back to bite her because there would be no surrender granted to her.
So we’re just going to pretend the Game of Thrones writer’s made that happen. Dany flies Drogon straight at the Red Keep and burns it all to the ground.
“The people” in this case are liberated and Dany takes the city. Only now, word of Varys’s letter about Jon has gotten out and with her army weakened, the people of King’s Landing demand the rightful king take his place. The survivors of Cersei’s Golden Company, numerous still due to the surrender, take their side as well. The more vocal the cries get for her to leave the more an injured, erratic Drogon starts to react, and before the first person is burned, Dany’s hatred for them is solidified. Because if “the people” are against her, then everyone is against her, and power is the only thing this “rightful ruler” has left to seek.
This could have really been one of the best episodes in the entire Game of Thrones series, especially given the trajectory the writers decided to take with the White Walkers. It was set up to have major character resolutions for most of the main characters we’ve been following for eight seasons. It is my sincere hope that the payoffs in next week’s finale feel more satisfying because this has certainly been one of the best shows I’ve ever followed to this point.
The above have been my opinions on how this episode could have been significantly strengthened, which I hope you enjoyed. If so, or if not, or if somewhat, I’d love to hear your thoughts!