GOT 8.5 The Bells
Okay, I’m writing this weeks recap quite late and haven’t had a chance to fully flesh out my feelings on the episode as a whole. I think I am leaning more in the positive than a lot of people, but that is just me in general with things that I like.
I’ve decided to split this weeks write up into characters more and just write a little bit about each other as opposed to the episode in general.
I’ll start with Varys, as the episode does. The spider is scheming again and at this point is all in on Jon Snow being the ruler the realm needs. I think this works on one hand as he fits all the criteria Varys has been looking for in a leader, I just wish the show had more time to actually flesh out his transition from Team Dany to Team Jon a little better. That lack of time is an ongoing problem this season it seems.
It seems to me that Varys knows he’s going to get caught, so he’s desperately trying to do as much as he can, as quick as he can. This includes writing and potentially sending letters to multiple people revealing Jon’s true parentage and attempting to have Dany poisoned.
He accepts Tyrion’s betrayal of trust and doesn’t appear to be angry with his friend. He genuinely hopes he is wrong in his assumptions of what Dany has become and accepts his fate at the fire break of Drogon, which he takes without a whimper or a scream.
Tyrion goes through a range of emotions this episode; he has resolute loyalty to his queen even when I means sacrificing one of his closest friends and allies, he expresses genuine sorrow but I wouldn’t go as far as saying remorse for informing on Varys. The bond he shares with his brother is strong and once he learns of Jaime’s capture he is finally able to repay the debt from his stint in the black cells when Jaime would visit him.
Upon making it to the gates of King’s Landing he tells Jon what he had previously told Dany; if the city bells ring it means Cersei has conceded defeat and the battle is won. Dany was stone faced when he told her this, Jamie seemed responsive to the notion and Jon saw it as an option to keep the bloodshed to a minimum.
It is only once the bells have rung and he watches Dany choose to lay waste to the city that he sees his error and understands that Varys was right and he done fucked up.
Jon Snow also starts this episode being blindly loyal to his queen. He may not be by blood, but he truly is Ned Stark’s son and makes a lot of the same stubborn mistakes in the name of honour and loyalty.
Jon shares an awkward moment with Dany; he loves her, that much is clear, but he also has never been raised around a society that sees incest as anything other than fucking grim so he is hesitant to reciprocate Danys romantic advances.
Through the early stages of the siege of the city the former king in the north and lord commander of the Nights Watch is a leader of men, much as he always is, but once Greyworm follows his queens lead and starts sacking the shit out of the people of King’s Landing, despite them having surrendered, Jon loses control of all of his forces including his own northmen.
To me it seems like once he has to kill a man who has followed him from Winterfell to prevent him raping an innocent woman does Jon realise what Dany’s actions have caused and what he is going to have to do.
Jaime Lannister begins the episode a captor once again. I got the impression that he is completely resigned to his fate. This is a man who had an amazing redemption arc only to fall backward. He is a junkie who has relapsed and he knows it. Cersei is his drug. He was clean and happy with Brienne in the north but once Cersei was mentioned again, and the thought of her dying especially, became and itch too great for him to ignore. The line he says to Tyrion about never caring about the people of King’s Landing is utterly shit taken at face value as time and again we’ve heard that the reason Jaime was the King Slayer in the first place was in order to save the city from the Mad King. If you read it as a man resigned to his fate of death and trying to muster some bravado to his younger brother in his last moments though it could potentially be forgiven.
Once free and in the city his determination leads him back to his twin sister via an unnecessary fight with Euron. The sibling lovers are reunited and head down to the crypts to attempt to escape, out the same way Dany’s mother did while pregnant with her the last time King’s Landing was under siege. The valenquar prophecy ends up coming true… from a certain point of view. Cersei dies from suffocation while drowning in her own tears with her little brothers hands around her throat except it wasn’t out of malice it was out of love. It might be a stretch, but I am okay with it.
Cleganebowl happened. The Hound, Sandor Clegane made his way into the city determined to do but one thing; confront his brother Gregor, The Mountain.
It looked beautiful and was satisfying to watch but it was the most blatant bit of fan service (I term I generally dislike and try to avoid at all costs) the show has done this year. Having Sandor teach Arya one last lesson first though was cool. I just wish we’d had an episode in between of him trying and failing to convince her on the ride down and for it to only stick once they were in amongst the rubble of the city.
Arya is our proxy in the streets amongst the chaos and carnage once Dany and Drogon start lighting shit up and the Unsullied, Dothrahki and presumably most of the northmen start killing at will. All her scenes gave us a great visceral feeling of the horror of being on the ground during an attack of that sort. The pale horse at the end is fine, it can be read metaphorically or just as a way for her to get the fuck out of dodge with what I can assume is a new, singular named kill-list. Leading me onto the final character I want to talk about.
Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons… and tyrant. Dany has lost all of her closest allies, she hasn’t really known much except loss over the years despite many victories. She lost her home before she ever knew it, her asshole brother, her problematic husband, her first set of people, her handmaidens, the captain of her queens guard, her lover, her allies in Westeros, one of her children/dragons, the trust of her supporters, the love and recognition she’d grown used to, her closest friend-zoned confidant, another child/dragon, her lover/nephew and most recently her best friend/hair dresser/title rememberer. She feels lost and abandoned and so when she is atop the walls of Kings Landing with the battle won, she said fuck it and decides to do what her father tried to do years earlier and, “Burn them all.”
If only the show had done the work to show that development in her character subtly throughout the course of at least a few episodes I think a lot of the criticism this episode is getting would be abated.
I predicted The Mad Queen a few years ago and started thinking I was wrong last season, so it’s not out of the blue for me, but I do think the show could have done a better job or getting us, the audience, there.
I fell asleep writing this last night so have had to finish it off today, Tuesday, when I’ve had a few more discussions with people and heard some more opinions. This season has been divisive to say the least, but I think this episode more than any other. I’ve spoken to a few people who loved it and thought it was perfect and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who absolutely hated it. Both sides were a mixture of book readers and show watchers so the divide isn’t where I thought it was originally.
I fall in the middle. I enjoyed the heck out of it while I was watching it, the spectacle, the shocks, the triumphs and the heartaches. But upon reflection I am not so hot on it. I think I can generally forgive most things and just enjoy it. I love this show and franchise but it is still just a work of fiction, and it has never been and will never be perfect.
I think all the plot points the show runners hit were fine, great actually for the most part, but they fall flat because everything about this season has felt rushed. We get two episodes of Varys trying to basically instigate a coup d’état on Dany; we’ve seen that character be so careful and plan so well in the past that plot machinations like that should have taken place over at least half a season. Maybe given more time everything they’ve hit upon would have felt more satisfying.
Imagine a world where instead of a seven and six episode final two seasons we got two tens! I generally am in favour of the creators vision and appreciate that they’re so ready to move on to new things; but it feels like they’ve sacrificed the nuance of the show in order to hit the points they felt they needed to one after the other in this final season. The optimist in me thinks, “Well at least we’ll get a longer, fuller, version of the story when George finishes up the books…” But that remains to be seen.
I liked the episode fine, I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. I’ll reserve my full judgment until after next weeks series finale!
Varys Cersei Lannister
Countless innocents of Kings Landing