For Whom The Bells Toll
Last week on Game Of Thrones, Daenarys “kinda forgot” about the Iron Fleet leading to the show suffering its worst rated episode in its storied history and a now-infamous quote to haunt Benioff and Weiss for eternity. Now onto its penultimate episode, the world’s biggest TV phenomenon returns with an episode chock full of violence, twists and questionable character motives.
We begin on Dragonstone with Varys writing a letter about the true heir to the throne. After speaking to one of his spies, he goes right to Jon and tries to get him to betray Dany but he refuses, telling him defiantly that he doesn’t want the throne. Hearing him conspiring behind the Queen’s back, Tyrion heads to the war room to tell an exhausted Daenarys the news. This leads Grey Worm to come to his chambers and escort him outside…where Dany lies waiting to burn him him alive with her remaining dragon. So much for the spider and subtlety. Tyrion then pleads with Dany to be merciful but it falls on deaf ears, leading to a potential betrayal in the future.
After some light comedic relief with Tyrion, he goes and sees Jamie whose stopped from going near King’s Landing. Tyrion pleads with him to try and convince Cersei to call off the attack, knowing Dany is likely to burn the city. However, the one shining moment of the past few seasons comes from the goodbye these two share. It’a a really nice moment and one of the few highlights in an otherwise tumultuous season.
Day breaks and Kings Landing prepares for battle. Arya and The Hound walk casually through the streets while the people lock down their houses. A now-freed Jamie heads for the Red Keep but the gate shuts before he can get in. Outside the geographically changed, barren landscape of the city, Dany’s army waits, preparing for battle. Drogon single-handedly destroys Euron’s fleet before burning the battlements.
A fireball destroys the gate which leads the remaining Dothraki inside, half of which survived their slaughter during the Battle Of Winterfell. As the two armies stare each other down, the Lannisters throw down their weapons and surrender. Calling for the bells to be rung, the sound sends Dany mad. As she burns innocent people (and 7 years of character development in the process), the rest of Dany’s army begin killing the soldiers while Jon stands back and watches. At least, he does until he reluctantly joins in with killing the Lannister soldiers. While Dany burns the red keep, Jamie and Euron fight on the beach leading our pirate to stab Jamie in combat. Managing to win the fight, Euron grins gleefully, aware he’s killed Jamie Lannister.
Convincing Arya to go home, The Hound heads for The Keep where Cleganebowl is on. The Mountain kills Qyburn with little thought leaving Cersei alone and afraid. While The Hound and Ser Gregor fight, Jamie finds his way back to his sister. As our Night King slayer cowers and runs through the city in fear, the cinematography shows the true casualties of war, with people stampeding, dying from their wounds and panicking.
The Hound and The Mountain continue to fight, with a swift dagger through the face still not enough to kill Ser Gregor. Instead, The Hound grabs his brother and leaps off the building to their death.
With death smiling down on her, Cersei finally breaks the cruel shackles of her persona and shows her human side, telling Jamie she doesn’t want to die before they embrace and are crushed by the remaining pieces of the Red Keep. While Dany continues her murderous rampage, Arya survives and the episode ends with her riding a white horse out the city as ash falls to the ground.
Despite the story relying heavily on character motivations that make little sense given this rushed time-frame, the actual direction and cinematography of the episode are fantastic. Seeing the casualties of war and the human side of Cersei are certainly nice touches, along with Cleganebowl which didn’t disappoint at all. The music is, yet again, on point and from a directional point of view, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with the episode.
However, it’s hard to ignore the writing and the questionable direction we’ve taken with the series this year. Varys’ end, recklessly telling everyone to betray Dany in the open rather than the shadows, is completely out of character, as is Dany’s descent into madness after hearing a bell ring. Given we had a whole plot point about innocent people dying, resulting in the dragons being imprisoned not to hurt anyone else in earlier episodes, seeing her recklessly kill innocents throughout the episode is ultimately the biggest slap in the face for her character. It makes little sense to have her do this and given the amount of time and work spent breaking her conventional Targaryen title, seeing her Mad Queen trope thrown at us over 4 episodes feels rushed and completely under-developed.
As I’ve said time and again in these recaps, if you go into this one expecting good action, direction and cinematography, you can’t really go wrong with this. Unfortunately, it’s not what Game Of Thrones has become famous for and this descent into a Hollywood action blockbuster with lacklustre character writing and dialogue feels a far cry from the early days of this fantasy epic. Cersei being given a happy ending feels really undeserved too but it’s Jamie who’s the biggest casualty here.
After 8 years of solid development, changing and growing from the arrogant, cocky man we see in the first season to a matured, humble loyalist who rode to Winterfell to help fight for Westeros, his sudden betrayal of the North to run back to die with Cersei just feels out of place and clumsily handled. Even more so when you consider Euron is the one responsible for killing him in the end.
Still, Tyrion’s betrayal is ultimately going to be the biggest catalyst for the finale here and with Dany’s enemies all but eliminated, the only thing left to decide is who rules on the Iron Throne in the smoldering aftermath of Kings Landing. Will it be Dany? Or is there a final twist in the tale?