Game of Thrones - The Bells - Review By Lisa Macklem (May 18, 2019, 5:30 pm)
Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones “The Bells” was written by showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss and was directed by Miguel Sapochnik. This episode will, no doubt, go down in television history not because of the spectacular effects or bloody carnage of the battle but because of the petition that it spawned from fans demanding the showrunners – or really somebody else – re-write and re-shoot season 8 of the show. While I wasn’t thrilled by the turn the story took in this episode, I don’t believe that any re-write will satisfy the fans – there will always be something not quite as you’d like it to play out. Endings are hard. I do agree that this last season deserved a lot more than a measly 6 episodes to wrap up this story. Somewhere there is a happy medium between this rush to the end and the meandering, too lengthy novels. Both are blessed with wonderful characters and storylines after all! But let’s dive in to this episode…..
As the episode opens, Varys (Conleth Hill) has begun to plot against Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). He is spreading the word of Jon’s (Kit Harington) claim and has clearly put in motion his little birds to poison Daenerys. Luckily for Daenerys, she’s not eating.
Varys meets Jon as he arrives and tells him that Daenerys isn’t eating and isn’t seeing anyone. Varys commends Jon for his empathy towards Daenerys. When Jon asks if Varys isn’t worried about Daenerys, Varys says he’s worried for all of them. He also mentions an old saying – that when a Targaryen is born, the Gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath – intimating that their sanity is where the coin lands. Varys has planted the seed. Jon denies understanding, claiming they’re not much for riddles where he’s from. And I loved this clash between Jon’s straightforward, black/white view of the world and Varys’ being steeped in the intrigue of court life.
Varys points out that they both know what Daenerys is about to do. Jon says it’s Daenerys’ decision because she is their Queen. Varys presses that men decide where power resides. Jon demands to know what Varys wants, and he tells him, what he’s always wanted: “The right ruler on the Iron Throne.” Varys tells Jon he’s not sure about where Daenerys coin has landed – but he is sure about Jon’s. He lets Jon know that he knows the secret and is ready to stand behind him. Jon tells him that he doesn’t want it and never has. Varys tells Jon that he knows that Jon will rule wisely and well – and we all know that don’t we? But Jon is honorable to the last fiber of his being and he’s sworn to support Daenerys.
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) watches the exchange and immediately goes to Daenerys to tell her someone has betrayed her. She thinks it’s Jon, but Tyrion tells her that it’s Varys. Daenerys knows it went from Jon to Sansa (Sophie Turner) to Tyrion to Varys. Tyrion immediately says that he’s glad that Sansa told him because he needs to be aware of any threats that she’s facing. Tyrion admits to another mistake – in going to Varys before going to her.
Once again, Daenerys proves that she is actually a better judge of character and motives than Tyrion. I have to admit that I’m getting tired of the most clever character being the stupidest most of the time. Tyrion thinks Sansa told him because she trusts him – and Daenerys knows that Sansa’s intention was for Tyrion to spread the information – and he did. This season really begins to feel like a step back to the early seasons when the women were simply there to be abused and used – or be emotionally unstable. Tyrion asks forgiveness again – they all just wanted a better world. But it doesn’t matter now.
Varys is writing more letters – and I wonder how many he managed to send before the guards came for him. He’s not surprised and removes his rings. I hate that Varys didn’t make it to the end. His story felt very rushed on the first watch, but after re-watching, I’m not quite as disappointed with how his story was wrapped up. Varys dies bravely. Tyrion admits that it was him who turned Varys in and Varys accepts it. Varys tells Tyrion: “I hope I deserve this. Truly I do. I hope I am wrong. Good bye, old friend.” He forgives Tyrion, and Dinklage is also terrific in this scene as he struggles with what the right thing is to do.
Daenerys steps forward – without Missandei she has to list her own accolades. I loved Varys straightening and looking her right in the eyes. And then Drogon is there – and Varys is not. Jon gives Daenerys a sidelong look. Her ruthless side is one he hasn’t seen.
Daenerys gives Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) Missandei’s old slave collar. It’s the only thing that she had brought with her across the Narrow Sea. He takes it and throws it in the fire. It’s wonderfully symbolic of course. It’s Daenerys’ fire that freed Missandei and burning the collar is a nice throwback to that. Missandei is truly free now. When Jon arrives, it looks like Grey Worm is going to prevent him from speaking to Daenerys, but she sends him away.
Daenerys begins with an “I told you so” – which he totally deserved – and the fact that Sansa knew what would happen and therefore killed Varys as much as she did. She’s not wrong, and I’m betting Sansa feels no remorse – other than that Varys didn’t kill Daenerys first. Daenerys tells Jon that she doesn’t have love in Westeros – she only has fear. Jon tells her that he loves her and she will always be his Queen. She presses him – is that all? They kiss, but Jon pulls away. Emilia Clarke is brilliant here. Her face goes expressionless as she backs away. She will not beg. She tells him – “All right. Let it be fear.”
Tyrion pleads again for the people of King’s Landing. He brings up Mereen, but Daenerys points out that the slaves rose up and liberated themselves. Tyrion counters that the people of King’s Landing are too afraid of Cersei (Lena Headey). Tyrion says she can’t expect them to be heroes – they’re hostages! Daenerys doesn’t disagree but claims that’s not her fault. Daenerys claims that she is bringing mercy to FUTURE generations who will never be held in thrall by a tyrant.
Tyrion asks her to give the city one last chance. Cersei’s followers will abandon her if they know the war is lost. If they surrender, they will ring the bells and open the gates. He begs Daenerys to call off the attack if the bells ring – hence the title of the episode. Daenerys nods – and looks at Grey Worm – he knows her intention. She tells him to wait outside the gates with the Unsullied.
As Tyrion is leaving the throne room, Daenerys tells him that Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was caught trying to cross their lines to get back to Cersei. Daenerys tells Tyrion that the next time he fails her will be the last.
At King’s Landing, we see the people flooding into the gates. Nora (Laura Elphinstone) and her daughter (Tipper Siefert-Cleveland) become representative of all the citizens for the audience. And of course, the young girl’s toy horse is a nice throwback to the one that Shirleen also died with.
No one goes into battle looking happy, but Tyrion and Jon both look particularly troubled. They are met by Davos (Liam Cunningham). Tyrion asks Davos for a favor because he is the greatest smuggler alive. Davos knows he isn’t going to like the favor – but he does it anyway.
Arya and the Hound also arrive, and once again, Arya tells a soldier she’s there to kill Cersei. This time it is not met with laughter. The Hound backs her up – think about it. If she kills Cersei, the war is over… and the two ride on.
Tyrion butchers the language of the Unsullied until they take pity on him – or themselves – and tell him they speak the Common tongue. Tyrion sends them away and goes to see Jaime. He asks how they discovered him – and of course, he hadn’t taken his hand off. It’s actually kind of funny that Tyrion gets access to his brother because he is “Hand” of the Queen – and it’s Jaime’s hand that gives him away… and really BOTH Lannister brothers are proving to be pretty stupid. Tyrion has arrived with the key. He wants Jaime to try to convince Cersei to give up – to save herself, Jaime, the baby – but mostly the million people within the city.
Tyrion thinks that the baby will give Cersei a reason – to see reason, but Jaime knows that the most terrible things that Cersei has done have all been for her children. Jaime insists that the odds have been evened, but Tyrion maintains that Cersei will lose and the city will fall tomorrow. Tyrion tells him to take Cersei down through the chambers and out onto the beach where a dingy will be waiting. Jaime swears to try. Tyrion tells him to give the signal by ringing the bells.
Tyrion is happy to be able to repay Jaime for setting him free from the dungeons – and again it’s a lovely throwback. Jaime points out that Daenerys will kill him for letting him go. Tyrion hopes that if Daenerys can get to the throne without have to kill millions, maybe she will show mercy to the person who helped make it happen. In the end, however, he tells Jaime that one not so innocent dwarf for tens of millions of innocent lives seems like a fair trade.
Both Dinklage and Coster-Waldau are fantastic in this scene. Tyrion tells his brother that without him, he never would have survived his childhood. He tells Jaime that he was the only one who didn’t treat him like a monster. The two hug, knowing they will likely never see each other again.
The battle scenes are impressive for any number of reasons. But as the soldiers and people scurried about, the sheer attention to details of costuming and set dressing were most impressive. Arya and the Hound make their way in, and Jaime tries… and is somewhat hilarious stopped at the gate. Nora and her daughter are passed by the Hound and Arya – and are also locked out of the Keep. Jaime tries to use his hand to get recognized – but again, when it counts, it doesn’t work.
Tyrion, Jon and Davos wait on top of a small rise. Tyrion tells Jon to call off his men if he hears the bells. Jon doesn’t really give him an answer. Tyrion merely exchanges a look with Davos.
This time Daenerys actually fights intelligently, using the sun and clouds and coming in from behind to take out the Iron Fleet and then the other Scorpions. The armies wait. In the end, the Golden Company is essentially taken out from behind and single handedly by Daenerys. The battle scenes are much better shot for this episode than they were for “The Long Night.”
Qyburn (Anton Lesser) tries to convince Cersei that all is lost, but she refuses to face it. We get a number of long shots, accompanied by more of the great soundtrack, of Tyrion wandering through the wreckage and the corpses, looking increasingly desolate.
Jon, Grey Worm, and Davos with the army at their back confront Cersei’s army in the streets – both sides in a standoff. Daenerys and Drogon land and Cersei’s forces throw down their weapons in surrender. It looks like it’s over. The action cuts back and forth between Daenerys – who really does look unhinged – and Cersei – and Tyrion, watching the bell tower. Who will blink first? The bells ring. Cersei seems to accept defeat. And Daenerys seems to be driven mad by the bells… It looks like she’s going for the Keep and Cersei when she takes off – but then she simply starts burning everything.
Tyrion’s look of horror says it all. Grey Worm takes his cue from his Queen and his grief and kills an unarmed soldier. Jon and Davos remain fixed to the spot. Jon tries to stop his men – earning him a look of hatred from Grey Worm. Davos leaves to try to help people escape the city. Jon kills one of his own men to save a woman from being raped, telling her to find somewhere to hide.
Jaime goes to go in the way Tyrion told him to come out. He finds the dingy right where it’s supposed to be, but he also finds Euron (Pilou Asbaek). The two have an epic fight. It looks like Euron has killed Jaime. But Jaime manages to get to his sword and kills Euron. Euron knows he’s mortally wounded Jaime and dies thinking he’s the man who killed Jaime Lannister.
Cersei finally acknowledges that she’s lost and lets Qyburn lead her away. The Hound and Arya make it into the map room, and the Hound tells her to go home. Cersei is as good as dead – there’s no reason for Arya to die too. This scene between Rory McCain and Maise Williams was also one of the best in the series. It was a terrific culmination of their relationship.
The Hound tells Arya that he’s been after revenge his whole life – does she want to be like him? Arya suddenly seems to realize that she doesn’t want to die. Arya uses his real name – “Sandor. Thank you.” He turns back and smiles as she says it.
As Cersei comes down the stairs, the Keep is falling all around her. Only the Mountain (Hafbor Julius Bjornsson) leaning over her and Qyburn prevent them from being crushed. And this is where we get the fight we’ve been waiting for for the entire series. The Hound easily takes out the remaining soldiers. Ser Gregor wants the fight as much as Sandor does – he gives Cersei the side eye when she asks him to stay by her side. And he kills Qyburn for trying to stop him! Cersei simply walks past them both…
Again, I’m not sure that there was any way for this fight not to be a let down after all the build up. I did love the Hound knocking the Mountain’s helmet off so that we finally get to see his ruined face and what he’s become – but the Hound clarifies – he’s always been like this – it’s just that before the monstrous part was hidden inside.
The Hound sticks his sword all the way through the Mountain, who simply pulls it back out again. It’s had no effect. It looks like the Mountain is going to win – and was particularly horrifying when it looked like he was going to push out the Hound’s eyes as he did Oberyn’s. It is, of course, completely fitting that the Hound finally manages to kill his brother by pushing him into fire – the thing that began his quest for revenge in the first place.
It’s in the map room, where they last saw each other, that Jaime finds Cersei. Cersei actually notices that he’s hurt and bleeding. The two stumble together towards the basement. When they get there, the way out is blocked. Cersei begins to panic – she wants their baby to live and she doesn’t want to die. Jaime tells her to look at him – “Nothing else matters. Nothing else matters. Only us.” And then the two are crushed by the falling roof – or so we can assume.
Arya seems to have lost all her training as she runs blindly through the streets of King’s Landing trying to get out. I began to wonder how many times they were going to make us think she was dead. I was particularly pissed off when it looked like she was simply going to be trampled to death. Nora manages to save Arya, only to be eventually attacked by Dothraki and incinerated when Arya tries to get them to safety.
Jon and Davos exchange looks across the battlefield. It’s clear that Daenerys is going to start incinerating her own people. He calls for them all to fall back.
In the final scene, Arya once more seems to regain consciousness. Ash still floats around her. She’s covered in blood and soot. Buildings are on fire. Everywhere bodies burn. She finds the charred bodies of Nora and her daughter. Miraculously, there’s a white horse alive. This scene is beautifully shot. Once again, the music takes center stage with the sounds of battle and burning in the background. Arya climbs on the blood soaked horse and gallops out of the carnage.
We lost a lot of major characters in this episode. There’s no question that the special effects and battle sequences were extremely well done, but many of the story points felt off. One of the things that I liked the best about last season was that the women took center stage and now they all seem to be mad – or at least hysterical females. Daenerys has never been perfect, but what a great message it might have sent if she could have learned from her mistakes and risen above all that had happened to her. Jaime’s storyline is also disappointing. Kudos to Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for that terrific good bye – and to Maise Williams and Rory McCain as well. Conleth Hill will be very much missed. It seems the only path forward is for a war against Daenerys that will put Jon on the throne. Did Varys write to Sansa? Tormund? Possibly even Dorne?
What did you think of the episode? Did you sign the petition? What would you change if you could? Any hopes and fears now for the series finale??? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!