Game of Thrones: “The Bells” should have been a lot more satisfying than it actually was


The events of “The Bells” should have been satisfying after eight seasons of buildup, but instead, the episode falls short in a lot of ways.

With only one episode left of Game of Thrones, it seems unlikely that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will be able to satisfy all of their fans with the conclusion of the series — particularly after this week’s episode, which is already getting plenty of backlash on social media for the direction it went in.

“The Bells” shows Daenerys and her armies finally moving on King’s Landing, a feat that should feel satisfying after eight seasons of buildup. Sadly, the episode falls short in a lot of ways. The writers seem willing to bend all of the characters and their arcs to further one storyline: that of the Mad Queen. And, frankly, Dany’s descent into darkness feels rushed and unnecessary because of it.

The episode opens with Varys writing letters, presumably to the remaining lords of Westeros, informing them that Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Of course, Daenerys puts a stop to his plans after Tyrion reluctantly informs her of Varys’ betrayal. The Dragon Queen is already refusing food and unwilling to leave her chambers, and this treachery acts as the final nail in the coffin of Dany’s sanity. She burns Varys alive, as promised, with Tyrion and Jon watching.

Conleth Hill as Varys. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

Varys is one of many deaths during “The Bells,” and his sets the tone for most of the others. Although Varys was never a beloved character by any means, his execution probably should have felt more meaningful — particularly after Melisandre’s words to him during season 7. Instead, he seems to have served no purpose but to push Daenerys further down the rabbit hole, the only purpose any of the characters seem to have at this point.

Jon and Daenerys also have a moment during “The Bells,” during which Daenerys makes one last, desperate attempt to appeal to his love for her. When he pulls away, seemingly unable to mesh his new identity with their once-romantic relationship, she chooses fear. She tells him that, if she can’t win the love of the people of Westeros, she’ll rule them through terror instead.

(L to R) Kit Harington as Jon Snow and Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

And fear doesn’t seem like such a bad thing when Daenerys first begins her attack on King’s Landing. Watching Euron’s fleet burn is one of the few satisfying moments from the episode, and having Drogon destroy the Golden Company was a necessary development — if a bit anti-climactic. Cersei’s mercenaries hardly served a purpose this season, as they didn’t stand a chance against Drogon or the remaining Dothraki. Perhaps they should have brought the elephants after all…

Unfortunately, Daenerys’ assault doesn’t stop at the deserving, though. Despite Tyrion’s insistence that the army and their queen stop the attack as soon as the bells of surrender ring, that’s not exactly how things go down. When the bells begin to ring, Daenerys takes one last look at the Red Keep before taking flight once more, this time to burn every person standing between her and Cersei.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen – Photo: Courtesy of HBO

That’s where things begin to get murky. Yes, Daenerys has always had her flaws as a leader, and the writers have been alluding to this Mad Queen storyline for the past few seasons. But to take Daenerys from a ruler who has fought oppression and saved innocents from horrible fates and turn her into a genocidal tyrant in the matter of one season undoes just about all of her character development over the course of the series.

While there are fans who believe she was “destined” to become this, the writers could have capitalized on the opportunity to subvert those expectations. Instead, they went with them — for better or for worse.

And Daenerys isn’t the only character to have her eight years of development burnt to the ground along with King’s Landing. Viewers who were holding out hope that Jaime Lannister would be the one to end Cersei were met with a startling realization last night: Jaime didn’t leave Brienne to right his wrongs; he left to try to save his sister.

And after a somewhat pointless duel with Euron Greyjoy, he does make it to Cersei — only for the two of them to be buried alive while trying to escape the city.

(L to R) Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister – Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

Putting aside the fact that this conclusion to Jaime’s story is completely in opposition to the redemption arc the writers have been crafting for him since season 3, it’s also a totally unsatisfying way for both him and Cersei to go.

After making Cersei the final villain to contend with — although I guess we can assume Daenerys has taken on that role now — the Lannister queen deserved a far better death than being buried alive in her brother’s arms. Not only does she never get a satisfactory comeuppance, but Maggy the Frog’s prophecy is completely wasted.

Arya and the Hound are just about the only redeemable characters in this episode, and the two of them share a touching final moment with one another before the Hound marches off to his death. And the Hound’s passing is one of the few that actually does feel earned, especially since it occurs during the long-anticipated Cleganebowl. Watching the Hound take on his brother as the Red Keep burns is intense, and it’s gratifying to see Sandor Clegane finally take the revenge he’s been hoping for since childhood.

Rory McCann as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and Maisie Williams as Arya Stark – Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

Thankfully, the Hound convinces Arya not to follow him down that path of vengeance. Instead, she decides that her life is worth more than her revenge on Cersei and ventures back into the city — not that doing so keeps her much safer than being in the Red Keep.

Arya witnesses the destruction Daenerys causes, and she attempts to help the innocent residents of the city escape. When she wakes and realizes she’s one of the only survivors, it becomes clear who’s going to be added to Arya’s list of names.

Of course, she might need to beat Tyrion and Jon to the punch. None of the Westerosi are too pleased with their new queen after this fiasco.

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark – Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

The one thing that can be said for “The Bells” is that the cinematography is extremely well done. In some ways, watching King’s Landing burn is more epic than watching the Army of the Dead overrun Winterfell — at least, until you stop to consider why King’s Landing is burning in the first place.

No matter how you feel about the events that unfolded this week, the visuals were haunting and stunning. It’s all about that silver lining, right?

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Game of Thrones final episode airs next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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