Game of Thrones – “The Bells”: I fell into a burning ring of fire
Season 8, Episode 5
Aired: May 12, 2019
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Before I get into everything else (and trust me, I have a lot of thoughts on this episode), I want to take a moment to praise the astounding work Lena Heady (who plays Cersi) and Ramin Djawadi (who composes the music on the show) did in “The Bells.”
I loved Cersi’s stoicism and blind optimism slowly giving way to complete panic as it finally sinks in that there is no escape this time. We’ve all spent a lot of time wondering who would be the person who killed her, but I like that, in the end, it was the Red Keep that crashed down on top of her as she held Jaime one more time. The music really sold the tension and the whole thing mirrored Cersi blowing up the sept two seasons ago in a really wonderful way. In an episode where a lot happened, I found myself most enthralled watching Cersi watch the carnage. Her downfall really felt tragic and I love the way they robbed the audience of any schadenfreude they were hoping to experience from Cersi’s death.
I thought Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also sold Jaime’s downfall well, though his arc was a bit more muddled. In theory, I think the Brienne story from last week could have worked, but it felt so rushed and ended up mucking up this arc leading him back to Cersi. I’m not sure I really understand why Jaime was willing to try to settle down with Brienne, then abruptly abandoned her, which seems central to selling this whole thing. I get that he loves Cersi, but it felt like it needed more. Maybe more time to breathe. Maybe just more exposition to explain where Jaime is at. But, either way, it just felt rushed and confusing.
Also, the show’s lack of consistency will always drive me crazy. I get that the writers no longer care about travel times or logistics, but it feels cheap to have Bronn able to just teleport into Winterfell and into a room with Jaime and Tyrion last week, but then have Jaime get captured on the road to King’s Landing this week. Maybe Bronn is just stealthier than Jaime, or maybe Winterfell is just poorly guarded (since Jaime, too, was able to sneak up on everyone except Bran), but it just feels dumb to have Jaime get captured off-screen on the way to King’s Landing in a show that stopped being invested in how people get from one location to the next.
That being said, I also quite liked the teary goodbye between Tyrion and Jaime. It was a nice callback to Jaime’s rescue of Tyrion years ago. It, of course, puts Tyrion in a terrible position after he was just threatened by Dany that his next transgression would be his last, but I liked it as a standalone scene.
Peter Dinklage gave us another great goodbye when Tyrion confessed to Varys that he was the one who sold him out to Dany. It was a really sweet moment in the midst of a horrific end to Varys. Conleth Hill really sold the moment with his genuinely surprised expression as Tyrion embraced Varys at the end.
While I’m praising actors, I thought Emilia Clarke’s performance was quite striking. She really sold Daenerys’ grief, especially in the opening scene where Tyrion came to her and she told him she already knew of the betrayal. I think the show really had to contort itself to get us to this point where Dany is at the end of her rope (and I’m not sure how effective it actually was on paper), but Clarke really sold it in a way that was important to making the second half of this episode work.
Speaking of the second half of this episode, that’s where I felt like things began falling apart narratively. I totally get what David Benioff and D. B. Weiss were trying to accomplish and I think it could have worked, but the storytelling was a mess.
First and foremost, I’m really annoyed with the show’s use of the scorpion crossbows. Last week, they were deadly, pinpoint accurate weapons that could be launched from moving ships and still take down both a dragon and Dany’s fleet with ease. Suddenly, this week, firing them was incredibly labor intensive, they weren’t terribly accurate and Dany was able to dispatch them quickly and effectively. If that was the plan, why have them work so well last week? You could have still had a dragon go down in the previous episode, just don’t have the crossbows work so well. Make it harder. Make it so only one bolt hits Drogon and he dies more slowly. But, instead, as presented, the show just did a complete 180 with having them be these amazing weapons last week and completely useless this week.
Also, why wasn’t there at least one scorpion in the Red Keep protecting Cersi? It seemed like money was no object when constructing them, so why put them all on the ships and the outer wall of King’s Landing without reserving one for a last ditch failsafe? It just felt nonsensical.
Speaking of nonsensical, that’s how I felt about the entire “Clegane Bowl” plot this week. I’ve seen the word “fan service” tossed around online quite a bit when discussing various moments in this final season of the show and most of the time I’ve bristled at the accusations. But this, to me, felt like fan service. The Mountain is a brainless zombie. There is nothing The Hound can gain from defeating him at this point. He’s no longer his brother. And yet, they had a big, dumb epic battle for some reason. I suppose other people may have enjoyed it, but I found it pointless. I would have rather seen The Hound die in the Battle of Winterfell or otherwise protecting Arya than watching him stab his zombie brother in the head, then jump off into a burning ring of fire.
(I did love the Arya. I’m still trying to process the end bit with the white horse, but I liked her realizing she didn’t need to kill Cersi. I’m guessing we’re headed toward her taking down Dany next week, which could work, but I liked subverting expectations this week.)
The Euron Greyjoy/Jaime Lannister battle made more sense to me narratively, but I found it similarly underwhelming. Most of that has to do with what a dumb character Euron has been. He never really fit into the show, his entire storyline has been stupid and he’s just not compelling to watch. I wish he had been a better, more three-dimensional villain so that I was more invested in their fight, but instead I was just happy to see Jaime stab him and finally shut him up.
Then there was the Purge. Narratively, it makes total sense to me, but I don’t think it was executed particularly well. I get Dany being geared up for a fight and not wanting to stop just because she hears the bells, but she leaps pretty quickly to just torching innocent bystanders. I’m not sure I get that. Sure, she wants to kill Cersi and her soldiers, but she seems to be actively aiming for fleeing citizens trying to escape the carnage. That makes no sense to me.
Then there was the show, which has been criticized before for using rape as a plot device to advance the stories of its male characters, having a nameless female character almost raped, only to be saved by Jon Snow. Why put that in there when you know the reaction you’ve gotten in the past? Especially in an episode centered around the downfall of one female character and the unquenchable bloodlust of another? It’s just bad optics when you have an all-male writers room and are doing a story that could be viewed as “women aren’t fit to lead Westeros” to again use this lazy trope that you’ve already been criticized for. (There’s also the issue of having all of your people of color – the Unsullied and Dothraki – being the ones primarily looting and pillaging the city while Jon Snow holds Winterfell’s army back.)
All in all, I found this to be a very compelling episode, though not a particularly well-written or well-executed one. I think director Miguel Sapochnik did the best with what he was given. I think the actors turned in A+ performances and I think the music was phenomenal. But everyone is being hamstrung by the writing at this point.
I think a lot of it is due to the truncated timeline of this final season. There isn’t enough time to let the story breathe or to do these arcs in a way that doesn’t feel completely rushed. But also, I think that Benioff and Weiss are more interested in plot than anything else and are so fixated on getting characters to predetermined outcomes that they’ll have them act out of character or will bend the rules of their universe to fit whatever the plot dictates.
I can’t say I have a lot of confidence in their endgame at this point. But, either way, there’s only one episode left, which is so crazy to think about. See you back here next week for the final stop in this epic journey.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org