Game of Thrones 8×5 Review: The Bells
‘The Bells’ corrected some of the logical issues present in ‘The Last of the Starks,’ but it assassinated so many character arcs I wouldn’t consider it a redemption.
Let’s be real here. I knew I wasn’t going to get everything I wanted out of this show. Nobody will. I went into the final season with the expectation that there would be some things I’d be upset with, some things I’d enjoy, and a lot of ‘meh.’ However ‘The Bells’ and ‘The Last of the Starks’ have been 95% upsetting, and not for the reasons I’d braced myself for. I’d braced for character death. I’d braced for plots being forgotten in the short amount of time we have until the end. I even braced for offenses against my feminist sensibilities because that’s a thing this show does with consistency. I didn’t brace for sloppy and rushed writing and complete character assassination. But honestly? My bad. I totally should have seen that coming. I’ve been giving David Benioff and DB Weiss (D&D) far too much slack.
The worst character assassination in ‘The Bells’ was Jaime Lannister. Yes yes, I know they did Daenerys dirty too and I’ll get to that. But we have to talk about Jaime first, whose arc was heading towards redemption stronger than any other character, only to get thrown around completely over the course of a single episode. His backslide makes no logical sense given what we’ve seen. It’s awful. One of the most awful things about ‘The Bells,’ honestly, and I’m furious.
The start of his redemption arc was slow at first. It wasn’t until near the end of season three when he lost his hand that we truly started to see that there was a good man lurking underneath all that incest and murder. Even his assassination of the Mad King had some underlying altruism: he did it to save the people of King’s Landing from doom. But that was completely erased this week when he said he never really cared about the people of King’s Landing, innocent or not. Like so many other terrible things about Game of Thrones season 8, the writers just sorta forgot what they’d written previously, I guess. He cares about the innocents, but he never cared about the innocents. What the hell, D&D? Why did you do this?
Likewise, his slow extrication from his relationship with Cersei was completely thrown out the window in ‘The Bells’. We knew it wasn’t easy leaving her. For all the toxicity present in their relationship, he truly loved her for whatever damn reason. I didn’t expect him to be over her immediately, but we’d been led to believe he’d turned a corner and put some distance between them (both literally and metaphorically). He even began a relationship with Brienne, leading us to believe he was, if not completely moving on, at least making an effort to have healthy relationships, but that was completely ruined.
I wish they wouldn’t have included Brienne in this bit of his arc. She has had one of the most amazing arcs of any woman on the show, then they reduce her to tears all to show that Jaime is and always will be a garbage human being. Why did they have to do that to her? If they were going to do that to Jaime, at least spare a quality character and leave one person in his circle untouched by this disaster. But no, they had to tarnish what would have been a strong conclusion for her character by using her in the destruction of his arc.
He told Bran he wasn’t the same person he was back in season one. I guess that was a lie. He’s garbage. And he was so close to being NOT garbage. SO CLOSE.
And since we’re on the topic of character assassinations, let’s talk Daenerys (told you I’d loop back around to this).
Look, I’m not upset with the concept of Mad Queen Daenerys. I’m upset with the delivery. At this point in the books, we haven’t really been given a set up for this turn. If there’s any foreshadowing there, it’s subtle enough to be taken in a number of different ways and doesn’t scream ‘tyrant.’ Even on the show (because I’m not going to discriminate against show only folks here), any indication of violent tendencies makes sense in the context of each individual scene. Shouting that she’ll take what is hers “with fire and blood!” didn’t even feel particularly vicious given the context. She was trying to intimidate The Thirteen of Quarth to get what she needed. And burning the masters of Mereen, while violent, had the good intention of freeing the slaves being held in captivity. She even tells the Unsullied to harm no child.
The first indication on the show that she might be more vicious than was truly necessary was when she burned the young Tarly heir last season. Killing him was a mistake, true. I won’t argue against that. She could have gone against his wishes then and put him in a dungeon while just executing his father. But even so, given the context, it wasn’t a red flag that she was going to go full-blown villain. Lots of people in positions of authority on Game of Thrones, even our beloved Jon Snow, have executed people that defied them. She was executing opposition, and just happened to execute one person who she maybe could have given a second chance. Bad? Yes. Indication of being a full-blown tyrant? No.
Going back to the books for a moment, we get her internal monologues quite frequently and she’s always thinking of how she can protect the most innocent people in society. If this happens in the books, I feel like it’ll be laid out much cleaner and with better justification. It won’t happen this quickly. We’ll see the logical steps she takes in her mind as she descends towards madness. Even the Mad King had a trigger (the Defiance of Duskendale), so if GRRM goes this route I trust that he’ll make it make sense. It has to. GRRM spends hundreds of words talking about food, so my dude isn’t going to ignore the details on important character development.
Again, it’s not the concept of Mad Queen Daenerys that upsets me. It’s the rapid way we got here and the complete lack of legitimate foreshadowing that this was the route it could go.
Now that I’ve talked about the garbage, let’s talk about the 5% that’s actually fairly good in ‘The Bells.’ There’s not much, but it’s there. Primarily the long-awaited Cleganebowl. It was a beautifully done moment. It’s unfortunate that something we’ve been looking forward to for so long is surrounded by so much terrible stuff, but at least we got something good out of this mess.
The scene itself is visually stunning. They end up fighting in a stairwell of the collapsing Red Keep as Drogon and Daenerys fly above them. It’s gorgeous. Then it concludes in the only way I could honestly have seen it ending: both of them going out together, eliminating House Clegane in the process. I expected this to happen. Unlike certain other plot elements, this had been built up and it was a satisfying conclusion. This is where Sandor’s plot ends. It had to.
Arya and Sandor’s moments in this episode were also quality. I only wish they’d slowed this last season down a bit so we could see more of them interacting on the way down to King’s Landing. Sandor truly respected who she’s become as a person and, when she finally used his first name as she made the decision to leave the Red Keep, it seems she found a space to respect him as well.
And speaking of Arya, I would under normal circumstances be curious about where her plot is going after ‘The Bells.’ She came to King’s Landing with a purpose, then rightfully changed course when it was clear it was a death sentence. I’ve seen people refer to her as “useless” during the battle, and I’m not quite ready to put that label on her, but given what we’ve had these past two episodes I’m not sure what it’s building up to anymore. If a point to it all is going to be revealed next episode, I’m bracing myself for it to be a disappointing narrative decision, because that’s all we’ve been given lately, really.
Or, perhaps there is no point, and she was just there for the awesome visuals. They were indeed awesome; some of the best cinematography of the episode revolved around her important moments, especially the white horse at the end (which some believe is a reference to Death). And while I’d like to think it was all leading to something more, I have no faith in this show anymore. At this point, I’ll settle for her getting on that horse and booking it as far away from King’s Landing as possible. Just get the hell out of dodge, Arya. You’re better than this crap.
Despite how awful the writing has been, I want to give director Miguel Sapochnik, composer Ramin Djawadi, and everyone who works in cinematography on this show major props. It’s so sad that all this incredible talent (actors included) had to be given such steaming piles of crap to work with. I hope the quality people that have been part of this production can go on to have amazing careers afterward. I hope the crap writing doesn’t bring everyone down with it. The only ones to blame here are D&D, who have unfortunately already been rewarded with contracts for films in the Star Wars franchise. And that? That is a topic for another article at another time. For now, I’ll just end by saying the writing for ‘The Bells’ was some of the worst I’ve ever seen, but at least I got to enjoy some eye candy along the way.
Author: Angel Wilson
Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award nominee for contributing fanfic on AO3.
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