Game of Thrones season 8: The meaning behind “The Bells”


Game of Thrones has been keeping season 8’s episode titles super-secret — so what can they tell us about what to expect? Let’s look at “The Bells.”

With just one installment of Game of Thrones remaining, HBO’s decision to sit on the season 8 episode titles until each episode has aired on the East Coast feels pretty pointless.

None of the names so far has been anything close to a spoiler – most of them don’t even make sense until you watch the episodes themselves. Most of us (read: me) assumed that one of the upcoming titles has some information in it that either directly reveals an episode plot point, or would provide fans with enough information to suss out a big twist on their own.

That… hasn’t happened yet. And unless the finale is entitled “The Death of Daenerys Targaryen,” it’s hard to see how it could.

(I’ve said this before, but my money is still on “A Dream of Spring” for the finale. Though after this latest episode, I’m a bit hard pressed to see how we get to anything remotely hopeful, which is what that title is theoretically meant to convey.)

So far the show has given us “Winterfell,” “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” “The Long Night,” “The Last of the Starks,” and now, the penultimate episode, “The Bells”.

Prior to this episode airing, probably most fans wouldn’t have even guessed what the titular bells even were.

So, at this point, should we assume that HBO is just doing it for the mystery factor – like the biggest show in the world needs just a little more in terms of a marketing push?

Granted, “The Bells” is a particularly haunting title in and of itself, and one that only becomes more so once you know the content of the episode. Would it land like such a gut punch if we didn’t know it refers to the bells of King’s Landing, which both signal the city’s surrender and Daenerys’ ultimate turn to destruction?

Probably not. But it’s also maybe not a reason to go through all this rigamarole, either.

Plus, in this particular instance, the title might have offered some needed context to this installment.

Sure, “The Bells” primarily refers to literal bells, the same ones that Dany, Jon and their armies are instructed to listen for during the battle. Should they sound, it means the city has fallen, its people have surrendered and everyone can stop fighting (and dying) in the streets.

Upon hearing the bells of surrender, however, Dany doesn’t stop as originally agreed. Instead the sound seems to make her even angrier, pushing her fully over the edge into Mad Queen territory and marking thousands of innocent people for death.

It’s hard to watch this sequence and not think of the famous line from John Donne’s Meditation 17. (Which was also the title of Ernest Hemingway novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, centuries later.)

"Each man’s death diminishes me,For I am involved in mankind.Therefore, send not to knowFor whom the bell tolls,It tolls for thee."

In this case, the titular bells do not just toll for the dead in King’s Landing, but for Daenerys herself, and for the dream of the kingdom she promised to rule.

Rather than breaking the wheel of oppression, as she promised so long ago, Daenerys has simply made sure to position herself on top of it, becoming everything she feared and loathed about her mad father, all in one fell swoop.

How will her story end? It seems fairly obvious the bell will toll for her before the final credits roll, but what will happen before then? We’ll have to tune in and find out.

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

The Game of Thrones finale airs Sunday, May 19 at 9pm on HBO.