Arya Brand Daenerys Targaryen Dothraki Drogon Grey Worm Jon Snow Lannister Mad Queen reviews The Bells

It Tolls for King’s Landing, Innocent Civilians, and a Once Well-Written Show: A review of Game of Thrones episode 8.5, “The Bells”

As Drogon flies throughout King’s Landing, torching its buildings, caches of wildfire erupt into inexperienced flame.

Warning: There be dragons! However ye shall be burned much more by the SPOILERS that abound!

So she finally went and did it.

Daenerys Targaryen, who over the course of eight seasons, went from an apparently harmless waif, traded like a piece of chattel, to an assertive and decided navigator of the Westeros chess board who freed whole cities of slaves, acquired two armies in a quest to reclaim her family’s throne from usurpers and tyrants, has snapped, and borne out her family’s penchant for madness. Not content material at conquering King’s Landing, and defeating Cersei, she threw morality and human decency to the winds, and torched whole sections of King’s Landing, turning scores of innocent males, lady and youngsters into French fries for no justifiable purpose.

In so doing, she adds The Mad Queen to her record of titles, turning into her father’s daughter, and the true heir to King Aerys II.

And it’s not like this wasn’t pre-ordained, right? Both novelist George R.R. Martin and the producers who tailored his Track of Ice and Hearth for the display, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, made it clear early on, by establishing the Targaryen household’s propensity for madness, and via the prophetic visions skilled by Bran and Daenerys herself, that she would ultimately make it to King’s Landing, but that it might not necessarily be a glad ending, which have all the time been few and far between on a present that’s all the time been extra about using subversion as an example the horror of warfare and the risks of absolute rule by narcissists who see themselves as the center of all issues.

In this sense, setting us up to assume that Varys deserved to be executed, and to really feel joy at seeing the gates of King’s Landing disintegrated as Drogon flies by means of them on a big torrent of flame, solely to later be horrified when Dany refused to stop, and understand that Varys was “right” all along, is true in keeping with this modus operandi. Irrespective of her phrases and even her actions relating to tyrants, Dany has by no means indicated that hers is a conflict for egalitarianism or democracy, even when she freed some cities’ value of slaves alongside the best way.  Her actions have all the time centered upon what she needed for herself, and her kindness and generosity all the time stopped at those who came between her and her objectives.

So no, her rampage at King’s Touchdown wasn’t with out setup. That isn’t the problem.

The problem is identical one that’s pervaded your complete season.

Awful execution.

It’s the writing, stupid!

The last 5 episodes, especially the last three, have been marred by major established premises which were ignored or dropped; a conclusion to the Night time King storyline that whereas satisfying on an motion degree, didn’t tie into the status quo of Jon or Bran, the Cersei storyline, and even have an effect on Dany’s potential to wage warfare on King’s Landing; unceremonious exits of essential characters like Sam, Gilly, Tormund and Ghost; and plot holes greater than that one Viserion blew by way of the Wall.

In “The Long Night”, we saw the Dothraki snuffed out by the horde of the lifeless, with only one or two horseriders coming back from that idiotic charge-with-no-dragonglass. Within the subsequent episode, “The Last of the Starks”, Gray Worm tells Daenerys that half their forces are gone, and takes some items off the map. The lone unnamed Dothraki in the room does the identical. But on this episode, a giant group of Dothraki charge King’s Touchdown in pressure. In “Starks,” Dany is flying toward Dragonstone, and all of a sudden neither she, nor Drogon nor Rhaegal can see eleven ships under them, permitting Euron’s ships to land not one, not two, however three arrows at Rhaegal in speedy succession, whereas lacking Drogon totally. In accordance with Benioff, this his because Dany “kind of forgot” about Euron’s fleet. I’m not making that up. Read it yourself.

However now in “The Bells,” she has regained the sense to correctly take benefit of her altitude within the very method she should have, and can destroy a fleet that now numbers a minimum of 137 ships? (Yes, I counted.)

In “The Last of the Starks”, Drogon swoops right down to Euron’s fleet, which numbers eleven ships (left), however in “The Bells” (right), its numbers have swelled to properly over 100.

However what’s far worse than modified or ignored premises or plot holes is how this season has handled the show’s signature quality: Characterization.

The collection has all the time been one of one of the best works in trendy widespread fiction on the subject of depicting the motivations that drive a giant forged of characters’ actions, and how these motivations interact with the plot, theme and allegory. However this season, the character work has seemed so phoned-in that AT&T should’ve gotten an onscreen story credit score. (Hey, it beats a Starbucks cup.)

Take Varys’ turn as traitor. In “The Last of the Starks”, Dany says she needs to tear Cersei out of King’s Touchdown “root and stem,” and Tyrion reminds her that the plan is to try this with out destroying the whole metropolis. Dany provides no indication that she disagrees with this. Quite the contrary, she provides that underneath her rule, all of the individuals of Westeros would stay underneath her rightful rule “without fear or cruelty.” However then Varys starts talking to Tyrion about finding someone else to rule Westeros. This comes about not because Dany’s response to Missandei’s execution, as a result of while they sail to Dragonstone earlier than that happens, just because Tyrion has just informed him of Jon’s true parentage. This appears to have been completed to impress our animus toward Varys for his disloyalty, so that when Dany does go postal, Benioff and Weiss can once more go, “Gotcha!” with our expectations. But Varys wasn’t proper, since his disloyalty was about being choosy about potential ruler pedigrees, and because Dany ever gave any inclination toward tyranny. On this method, Varys appears to have acted they approach he did because he read the script. And I’ve come to anticipate better from this present.

Then take the Stark ladies’s soapy motivations. In “Starks,” Arya and Sansa say that although they harbor respect and gratitude for Dany serving to them battle the Night time King, that they’ll by no means trust her as a result of “She’s not one of us.” Really? Have been the Wildlings “one of us”? How about that big, Wun-Wun, who died preventing for the Starks in the Battle of the Bastards? For that matter, Robert Baratheon himself wasn’t from the North. Did the Stark ladies fail to watch loyalty amongst their individuals to King Robert, despite what an incompetent, cruel boor he was? Against this, Dany loves Jon, and lost one of her dragons simply saving Jon’s life (risking her own in the course of) and lost half of her soldiers and one of her dearest associates preventing for Winterfell. Simply what does she need to do to earn Arya and Sansa’s loyalty? Arya definitely feels loyalty to the Hound. Should Dany kill Arya’s greatest pal, kidnap her and then journey together with her up and down Westeros while sometimes slapping her around?

In fact, this isn’t what lit up the Net following the episode’s premiere.

Daenerys: Portrait of a Tyrant

The actual dragon in the lounge is Daenerys’s choice to burn giant sections of King’s Touchdown, along with civilians operating for their lives. While this can be a achievement of the visions that Dany and Bran skilled earlier within the collection, and illustrative of how even good individuals in positions of power can let power go to their heads, it doesn’t ring true on a character degree, since characters’ conduct has to make sense in the context of their general arcs. It’s not enough to level out that folks “snap” in real life, or that Dany’s father was nuts. Hell, even he didn’t all of the sudden “snap”, but was a naturally erratic man who regularly declined on account of a combination of age, political pressure, and jealousy of his Hand, Tywin Lannister.1 Characterization isn’t about just using actual life as a precedent. It’s something that needs to be constructed as part of the writers’ craft, just as another art type, and thus having a character turn arbitrarily to easily match a longtime prophecy breaks our suspension of disbelief.

Was Dany’s rampage really out of anger over Rhaegal and Missandei? That look of barely restrained rage on her face after Missandei was executed was definitely one we hadn’t seen before. But when that’s the case, her anger ought to’ve been directed at Cersei and Euron, and Benioff confirmed that this was the case. As an alternative, she torches peasants who had nothing to do with it. In a behind-the-scenes featurette, episode director Miguel Sapochnik stated that Dany felt “empty” when the bells went off, and producer D.B. Weiss defined that at that second, she determined to make it “personal”. The issue with this is that killing individuals who in all probability hated Cersei as a lot as Dany did, isn’t personal, because it’s been made clear by now Cersei didn’t care about those individuals.

Benioff also pointed out that before her execution at the finish of “Starks,” Missandei’s final phrase, “Dracarys,” which was her approach of telling Dany to burn all of them. So what? Dany has spent eight seasons preventing towards slavery, tyranny and cruelty in the direction of the harmless, and now she’s grown so myopic over the dying of her greatest pal that she decides to honor a condemned lady’s dying want to murder innocent individuals—although she repated her anti-tyranny platform to Tyrion after Missandei’s dying? Sorry, but that is a poor rationalization any approach you look it.

Some reviewers have tried to argue the Dany has all the time been a mad queen, pointing to her past brutalities to individuals like Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Pyat Pree, Kraznys mo Nakloz, and the Tullys, however this ignores the fact that those individuals had truly transgressed towards her. Prefer it or not, “The Bells” represents the first time she has dedicated acts of unambiguous homicide upon harmless people who had accomplished nothing to her.

I observed that the episode appears to attempt to provide other excuses for Dany, but none are notably convincing. Think about her statement to Tyrion in Dragonstone’s throne room that she wouldn’t permit Cersei to use her mercy as a weak spot. This can’t clarify her killing spree, since she embarked upon it after the Lannister military surrendered. And if her actions at King’s Landing was Dany’s means of merely making a point to Cersei about Cersei attempt to use individuals as a defensive tactic, then because of this Dany dedicated mass homicide out of spite.

There’s additionally the scene the place she tries snogging with Jon in front of the fireside, and after he fails to return her affections in earnest, she resolves, “Alright, then. Let it be fear.” Significantly? She burned numerous civilians to a crisp because Jon wouldn’t give her some sugar? In HBO’s “Inside the Episode” featurette, D.B. Weiss states that this was the moment when Dany resigned herself to the assumption that she would wish to resort to committing an atrocity so as to “get things done,” however this ignores the fact that she had already gotten it accomplished with out it.

I need to make clear: I don’t have a drawback with the thought of sympathetic characters taking tragic descents into darkness, offered that it naturally follows what’s been established up to that time. I do not, for instance, have a drawback with Gray Worm’s actions, since they were not inconsistent together with his character. Ditto for the Dothraki and Northmen committing atrocities, since even when Dany decreed to the former that their raping and pillaging days have been over (a lot as she had finished with Yara and Theon), they could have taken her lighting up the town as a signal that it had gone out the window.

Dany burning giant numbers of citizens can be extra plausible if it was prompted in a means that made things at the very least a bit more fuzzy: Imagine this: Cersei ties random residents up towards the walls of the town, and the Pink Maintain, utilizing them as private human shields. Dany then makes the choice to burn them because those innocents’ deaths are unavoidable, and then in the course of the smoke and ash, it turns into harder for her to clearly see the Lannisters give up, and to discern who’s a civilian and who is a soldier, a tragic iteration of what occurs within the through the “fog of war”. However this didn’t occur, as there was no “fog.”

Simply ash.

There’s, nevertheless, one nagging detail I observed within the episode that provides me cause to carry off on remaining judgment of her turn, one which leads me to hope that what we noticed in “The Bells” just isn’t all that there was to see, and will repay in the finale, as soon as once more prompting us to reevaluate what we beforehand thought was true: After that shot of Dany after the bells tolled, we by no means received a close-up shot of her during her destruction of the town. Why is this? Wouldn’t displaying her face twisted into a grimace of pure rage throughout her rampage be essential to that scene? It is unnecessary not to present her face throughout this. I acquired to considering that perhaps they plan on displaying us her rampage again in the finale, solely from Dany’s POV, revealing one thing just like what I simply described. Perhaps she was making an attempt to destroy fortifications that seemed like armories or barracks or belongings that Cersei might use to cover or escape, and Drogon’s restricted precision with hearth killed some civilians near these buildings, and when Grey Worm saw this, he misunderstood this, and took it as justification for embarking on a vendetta on those who murdered his love, and every little thing simply snowballed from there. Perhaps when Dany then noticed the preventing resume, she then took this as a sign that Lannister soldiers have been ignoring the bells, and justified doing so herself, a sequence of causality that neither Jon nor another single player would understand on the time. All of this could render her actions in a more morally ambiguous mild. It would additionally match squarely within the wheelhouse of both Martin and the showrunners, who have relied heavily on contrasting POVs in this approach throughout the collection. Is that what they’re going to do here, with a view to make Dany’s actions and her causes for them extra morally ambiguous, with their seemingly threadbare explanations within the behind-the-scenes material a cowl for it?

In perusing the Net, plainly I’m not alone in noticing the shortage of a close-up, with another reviewer speculating that the rationale for this is that Bran had warged into Drogon to burn the town. If Dany spent the rampage making an attempt helplessly making an attempt to regain control over her dragon, this might clarify why they couldn’t show her in close-up.

Not with a bang, but a whimper. And falling bricks.

Even when that is borne out, the remaining of the most important characters’ arcs truthful little better, and in contrast to Dany, theirs are completed.

To know what’s fallacious with what occurs to the characters in this episode and others, you need to take a look at how their stories have been developed so far, and you’ll see why they’re referred to as arcs. For example, Tyrion sees his father writing a letter within the third season premiere, “Valar Dohaeris,” that includes the phrase “ripe for the trap.” In that season’s finale, “Mhysa,” which is the episode that takes place after the Pink Wedding ceremony, Bran tells a story of the Rat Prepare dinner, who cooks his friends into the meals served as a feast, an act whose heinousness stems from the Westerosian view that killing a guest underneath one’s personal roof is an unforgivable sin. This establishes a cultural viewpoint explaining how the Pink Wedding ceremony is regarded by the individuals of Westeros, warring families or not. So when Arya bakes Walder Frey’s sons into the pie she serves to him within the sixth season finale, and then poses as him to oversee her murder of his troopers in the seventh season premiere, these stop to be mere events in particular person episodes, however items of a cohesive entire. A single tapestry, through which climaxes really feel extra satisfying because they arrive as the payoff that follows a long setup. That’s what separates an abrupt surprising plot twist from a rigorously crafted one.

That is what’s missing from this season, and this episode.

I just assumed, for instance, that when Arya set out from Winterfell for King’s Touchdown to kill Cersei, that it was as much a mission handed to her by Dany as it was a personal vendetta. However nothing right here indicates that Dany thought to take benefit of the talents she knew Arya had. I also assumed that this arc would tied into Cleganebowl, and with Cersei’s ultimate fate. Perhaps Arya made her play for the Queen, killing a bunch of her guards in the process, and simply when she was about to strike the killing blow upon Cersei, it’s blocked by the Mountain, who all of the sudden appears and beats Arya almost to dying. And simply when he’s about to ship a deadly blow to her per Cersei’s order, that’s blocked in turn by the Hound, who then has the battle of his life together with his brother for Arya. This may’ve been a good sweeter turn of events if Arya and the Hound hadn’t been proven leaving Winterfell together. If that they had the Hound leaving to go find some quiet hillside to retire, failing to persuade Arya to stay at Winterfell, his sudden look there can be a more satisfying and poignant surprise. Perhaps during this brawl, Cersei might have ended up falling from a tower into the spot where Ned Stark was executed, making her finish all of the more poetic. Or one thing like that. Something.

As an alternative what we received was two tall brothers who determined it was time to struggle once they might’ve achieved when the confronted each other in the seventh season finale, a number of gratuitously implausible stab wounds inflicted upon Jamie, and a bunch of bricks falling on Cersei. As an alternative of layering these denouements in a method that tied them together along with the Night time King arc and the Azor Ahai prophecy, in a means that echoed with the collection’ general mythology, what we received was thematically flat. A collection of endings that have been journalistic somewhat than resonant. We acquired the who, what, where, when and how, however not the guts. The Night time King was carried out away with mid-season, and Cersei is killed not in the collection finale, however its penultimate installment.

Are there some good moments? Positive. That moment when Arya addresses The Hound by his given identify for the primary time ever was a good touch. And the FX have been wonderful. That one over-the-shoulder shot of a Lannister soldier as a cut up all of a sudden seems in his torso upon the swing of a Northman’s sword was extremely impressive. However the sum of these individual moments does not add as much as a story that transcends them.

Hypothesis for the finale

So going into the finale, what are we left with?

We saw Arya mount a white horse, very similar to Dying, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse described in the Guide of Revelation. Where she’s galloping off to is fairly obvious, as is the battle that may drive the violence in the finale. The one query might be whether or not she is going to kill Dany, or be foiled be Gray Worm, resulting in a duel between them, which I admit, would redeem the Cleganebowl somewhat.

Maybe as they battle, Jon finds a still-intact scorpion, perhaps half-covered in particles, that Dany and Drogon missed and then use it on the Drogon? I observed that opposite to what Qyburn stated, we didn’t see Drogon destroy all of them, and one shot of Drogon confirmed him passing over a number of them on his method to destroying a nook tower at the metropolis gates. And if this leads the Unsullied to assault Jon and the Northmen, seemingly to the purpose of near-defeat, and they are saved by the arrival of Tormund on the Wildlings, with Ghost biting off Grey Worm’s head, it might redeem their inelegant departure in “Starks.” If only.

After which there’s that little woman, the final of Varys’ little birds, allowing one final manipulation of his to survive his demise and present itself within the collection finale.

Benioff and Weiss haven’t played their last hand, and I haven’t lost my final ounce of religion. The season is what it is. However the present can still exit on a excessive word. When Sansa informed Tyrion about Jon’s secret parentage in “Starks,” one reviewer took situation with what he perceived as irresponsibility on her half, not realizing that this transfer was deliberately written as a “master stroke” of manipulation, as Dany herself tells Jon a few scenes into this episode, so it’s not like they’ve utterly lost the power to write down good character work, and even disguise it.

In spite of every little thing I’ve written here, the decrease quality of this season’s writing has not soured me on the sprawling epic created by my fellow native of Hudson County.

In reality, I’ve simply started reading the first novel within the collection. I intend to read all of them, perhaps putting my run by way of Lee Youngster’s Jack Reacher collection on maintain as a way to hold the continuity of the story recent in my thoughts from novel to novel, and who is aware of, perhaps by the time I’m completed, my fellow native of Hudson County, New Jersey may have completed writing the ultimate two novels, or at the very least decided upon a firm launch date.

Hope springs eternal.


1. Martin, George R.R. (2014). The World of Ice and Hearth. Bantam. pp. 113 – 129.