The Penultimate Episode of Game of Thrones “The Bells” Hits Some Bad Notes

So here we are, the story is almost over. What happened in this penultimate episode will go down in Game of Thrones history—and not necessarily for the right reasons. Changing the character arc of the beloved Daenerys Targaryen this late in the game upset many fans. I am not sure it’s Dany that has lost the plot, more so the writers.

I bought myself a stupidly large HDR TV this week. Not specifically to watch Game of Thrones of course, as that would be silly, but I was truly excited to see how this would all play out in super high definition. Well, it played out, but somehow it fell flat despite the number of casualties and utter carnage. I truly enjoyed “The Long Night,” but something was missing in “The Bells”: suspense and passion.

Last week I talked about the inevitable death of Varys, and it did come totally as expected: ordered by Daenerys and carried out by Drogon, who bathed him in Dragonfire. She had promised Varys this death should he ever betray her so he was expecting it, too, and I felt quite proud of him as he looked death in the face. How he ended up there just didn’t feel right, however. Tyrion—Varys’s friend, bickering partner, and the other advisor to the Khaleesi—was the man who reported Varys’s treason to the Queen. But she already knew exactly who had betrayed her up to this point. It started with Jon Snow and spread to everyone who said they loved and supported her, including Tyrion himself.

The first trick missed here was that they didn’t make more of Varys’s death on screen. It certainly wasn’t for lack of special effects, as the episode was chock full of people burning alive. I didn’t want to see him die a painful death, but shying away from showing it felt like a cop-out. Varys had been in the show from the very start, and he had always tried to do what was best for the people. It seems he was right about Dany, too, but more on that weirdness later. By not showing him burning they missed one hell of an opportunity; the words he heard calling out from the fire when his castrated genitals were tossed into it many years earlier are still unknown. It appears that the secret has died with him, which is pretty annoying really.

I wanted to feel more upon losing Varys—and not just Varys, this is going to be a running theme here. We lost a lot of important characters in this episode, and I didn’t get to feel horror, sorrow, or happiness about any of their deaths. This feels a bit like we have been cheated. Still, there was something poetic about Varys’s death. The OG Prophet surrendered but died a fiery death anyway—a blueprint for the rest of the episode.

Varys faces a fiery death in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

Jon “Yawn” Snow is standing by his queen, but not quite in the way she would like. He says he doesn’t want to sit on the Iron Throne, but unfortunately, I feel now more than ever that this may be his destiny—a profoundly unsatisfying, predictable destiny at that.

Tyrion argues with Daenerys about the next plan of action. Still hoping that this whole mess could be sorted out peacefully is a testament to Tyrion’s optimism (or naivety may be a better way of putting it). Dany and her one remaining ally, Grey Worm, are out for blood after Missandei’s death, so Tyrion needs to step away. Dany reveals that Jaime has been captured trying to get into King’s Landing and is being held in a tent. Tyrion can never really leave behind his Lannister roots and releases him secretly during the night, an act that will almost definitely get him killed. Jaime and Tyrion did get to say a sweet goodbye, knowing that they’d never see each other again, though it felt a little rushed. Once more with feeling, please!

Arya and her new bestie The Hound arrive at King’s Landing, and Arya openly tells a guard that she’s there to slice Queen Cersei’s throat. She just killed the Night King; she’s pretty much invincible now. Off they trot and realise that they have entered the pit of hell. You have to remember that Sandor’s worst fear is fire, less now that he is a follower of the Lord of Light, but it was always his weakness after his brother Gregor (The Mountain) bullied him and pushed his face in a fire when they were kids. He tells Arya to forget trying to kill Cersei today that she is definitely going to die anyway, so she should just save herself. Wise words indeed. Sandor has some unfinished business to take care of, though, and they say a touching farewell, both knowing that this would be the last time.

The Hound and Arya say goodbye in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

Drogon easily takes out Euron Greyjoy’s fleet, and here is my second “they missed a trick there” moment. In the trailer for this episode, we saw Euron appearing decidedly worried while looking up at the sky. This made many viewers, including me, wonder if more dragons were hiding away somewhere. It seemed feasible; Drogon had disappeared for a while last season, and is he not a male dragon after all? Plus George R.R. Martin had hinted that dragons could change their sex. I had gone a whole step further with my theory on the matter (I am a Twin Peaks fan first and foremost—my brain is trained for the outlandish theory). I had this wonderful idea that Bran had warged back to the past to save some dragons a few thousand years ago and in doing so they existed again today. That would have been fun, right? But no, no more dragons. Just one furious Mother of them.

Euron survived Dany’s fireball and washed up ashore right at the same time as Jaime Lannister was attempting to break into the city via cave. Great timing! Euron doesn’t waste any time in telling Jaime he’s been doing his sister/lover and the pair have a scrap. Euron, Pirate King of the Goths, taunts him over and over like the cocky little shit he is, so no one is sad at all that Jaime spears him through the gut with his sword. Euron has managed to wound Jaime pretty severely, though, to the point that he probably wouldn’t survive, but I’d still say that Euron was delusional in believing that he’d killed the Kingslayer. What an odd, almost breaking the fourth wall moment that was.

Euron Greyjoy dies in a cave in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

So let’s talk about Daenerys. I know many people out there are angry about the way the writers have treated her character in this last season. I get it, I do, but I don’t think this sudden change from the Daenerys who vowed to “break the wheel that crushed the poor” to the tyrannical Mad Queen is that surprising. She’s always been a tough broad with a strong determination to win back the throne she believes is rightfully hers. She’s ruthlessly killed many people in the past, barely batting an eyelid (take the Tarly family for example). But don’t forget all she has been through to get to this point. Her brother Viserys was vile for sure, but seeing her betrothed Khal Drogo give him a golden crown can’t have been easy, certainly a little intimidating. Her relationship with Drogo began as one of forced marriage; he raped her, and over time she grew to love him but, you know, that’s still seriously messed up.

Becoming a Mother of Dragons brought her immense power, and she always tried to use it for the best. She saved countless lives, freed thousands of slaves, and rescued many women and children from the sex trade. She won the loyalty of the Unsullied Army, the Dothraki, and much of the Seven Kingdoms through her leadership and courage. Her descent into madness was not a slow burn (excuse the pun), but a build up of many events that made something inside her snap.

And I do get that. It reminds me of the way my husband wound me up. I’d stay cool and calm for hours, sometimes days, until eventually I’d lose it, throw a cup at him and he’d call me nuts. This is on a slightly bigger scale, but the same principle applies: she had been driven crazy. She’d lost two of her dragons, her most loyal servant Jorah, her best friend Missandei, and countless others she cared about along the way. After helping defeat the White Walkers alongside the Starks, she barely received any appreciation. Her closest advisors, Tyrion and Varys, both betrayed her. Now, as the end is nigh and she is closer to the throne than she has ever been before, she learns that the man she loves is actually her nephew and he’s not too comfortable with that.

Jon (or Aegon as he’d really like to be known now, let’s face it) betrayed her wishes by telling his sisters of his real lineage, threatening everything she had fought for up to this point. In her eyes, he could take the role she was born to play just by being a man. Jon would perhaps be the better choice for ruler, but there’s no way she could admit that. Him dumping her was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She was alone and could trust no one. The only thing she could do was flex her muscles to show every single one of them—not just Cersei—that she was taking power back.

Kings Landing burning in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

All that being said, there’s no excusing what she did to the innocent people of King’s Landing, and it is so far away from the Daenerys we knew for eight seasons that it is difficult for fans to believe she could be this evil. Is she evil? Is she mad like her father? This is more than just ruthlessness at this point; this is terrible writing.

But she might be smarter than you think. Tyrion looks on in horror as she destroys King’s Landing with Dragonfire, despite the fact that defeat was conceded. Jon Snow and Ser Davos are in amongst the chaos fighting on her side. Dany may be fully aware now that the throne is never going to be hers, but she’s not going to let Jon get his hands on it that easy either. He realises this as he looks around at the carnage taking place around him: women being taken by ravenous men to be raped in alleyways, many having their throats slashed, children watching on in horror as their parents burn alive, totally stunned by the atrocities of war. Their angelic, shocked faces covered in grey dust and ash reminded me of the pictures of Syrian children we see on TV to this very day. This is the horror of war, this is what power-hungry tyrants do, and our heroes are not fighting on the good side.

Tyrion watches in disbelief as Daenerys detroys Kings Landing in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

Jon does do his best to round up his troops and stop them, but it’s a losing battle. Chaos rains down as Dany doesn’t care at this point who lives or dies. She undoubtedly killed a lot of her own army as she torched the city. Jon could easily have died, Grey Worm too. Can Dany live with herself after doing this? I mean she has to die now, right? But who will be the one who takes her life? My feeling is that she will be the one to make that decision and will do it herself.

Jon Snow leads his army through the burning streets of King's Landing in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

But hey everyone, it’s Cleganebowl time! The battle we have all been waiting for, the showdown between The Hound and The Mountain is finally here. Zombie Mountain hates his brother so much that he snaps out of robot mode and defies the orders of his queen Cersei (who has finally taken the advice to flee her burning kingdom) and his maker Qyburn, whom he quite hilariously squishes like a bug. Yay!

The Mountain's face is revealed during the Cleganebowl in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

This is a good fight, I can’t deny it, though it looked a bit funny. I’m not sure if it was the new TV or that it was filmed like a Marvel battle, but whatever the case it was pretty daft. For a start, it turns out that The Mountain was actually Darth Vader, which was a bit of a surprise! Upon knocking his helmet off, The Hound tells his brother that this is the real him: a monster. It was a satisfying moment. Sandor spent his entire life being feared because of his scarred face, all because of his evil brother. Now Gregor knew how that felt, but he probably enjoyed it.

Gregor was far, far harder to defeat than that Night King. It took several stabbings, and even a dagger through the forehead to even get close. Sandor almost had his eyes pushed into his brain in the process—definitely End of Game Boss territory. Sandor yelled the words we were all thinking, “Fucking die already,” and then sacrificed himself by pushing his brother off the edge of the crumbling Red Keep into a pit of fire, ending both their lives. RIP Sandor, you were much loved and incredibly cool.

Back on the ground, Jon was trying to get the fuck out of there, Arya was trying to save as many lives as she could while dodging firebombs, and Jaime was reunited with his sister.

Seriously though? After this long build-up of repentance, his slowly bubbling romance with Brienne finally coming to pass, Jaime returns to his sister, not to kill her but to try and save her? He wasn’t lying when he told Brienne he was hateful. I think we all hoped that he’d be the one to end her miserable reign. At the bottom of the Red Keep, amongst the skeletal remains of dragons killed before, the twins’ lives ended. They didn’t quite receive the violent, personal death that people had longed to see play out. If anything their love was celebrated as they got to die in each other’s arms, which is a little odd really. I guess you can take some pleasure in the fact that Cersei was terrified in her last moments and didn’t want her unborn baby to die—a wish that was not granted. She crafted this death for herself. Daenerys wins this one, that’s for sure.

Cersei and Jaime Lannister's final moments in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

Arya wanders dizzily around the annihilated remains of King’s Landing, shell-shocked and with many injuries. As she stumbles from the wreckage, she beholds a pale horse. White horses have been used as a symbol of death in storytelling for a long time now. This might point towards a Bible verse that talks about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The passage says:

“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.”

Arya rides the horse away from King’s Landing as one of the few survivors. Does the horse signal that she is the bringer of Death? Will she need to take out Daenerys? I can’t see that happening myself—she already has the title of Night King Slayer—but I hope I am wrong. I would love for her to be the Prince That Was Promised, and for the Song of Ice and Fire to belong to her, as she defeated them both. After all, it turns out that the White Walkers were weaker than one woman with a dragon.

Arya is torn apart by Daenerys's anger in Game of Thrones "The Bells"

So with very few people left on the playing board now, what will happen in the final ever episode of Game of Thrones?

Those left standing include Ser Davos, Grey Worm, Jon Snow, Arya, Bran, Sansa, Brienne, Bronn, Yara, and Daenerys. My money is on Jon having to take down Daenerys for the safety of the Seven Kingdoms, but it ending in tragedy for him also. He was brought back to life for a reason; after all, I just hope it wasn’t to rule. Sansa, however, I can see on the Iron Throne (and doing a marvellous job at it too). Strong, willful, and fair, she would govern with her head and her heart. Sansa could sense the bad in Daenerys, and while she won’t be pleased about the atrocities Dany carried out, she will be glad she was right about her. This will forge the trust of her people, whereas Jon’s blind faith in Dany helped get a lot of people killed.

I feel that the last episode will be less of a bloodbath and more of a strategical plot to get to Daenerys and end her one way or another. I am not expecting the doors to be closed on the story with any satisfaction now. I am not sure what could make me feel that way at this point. Oh no, wait; I do. Jaqen. Bring Jaqen back to live happily ever after with Arya—not as lovers, as kick-ass assassins. That would be a spin-off I’d never get bored of.

Until the end game…

Laura Stewart

Written by Laura Stewart

Laura is the Editor-In-Chief at 25YL and she runs the Music Department. She has been part of the team since May 2017 when she began writing about her favourite TV show of all time: Twin Peaks. 25YL is her passion project and is constantly delighted at how big and beautiful it has grown.

Laura lives by the sea in Gower, Wales, with her husband and a very special little boy.

One Comment

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  1. Hello !

    For once, I disagree with you about several points.

    First, I think it was a good thing not seeing Varys burning. We already saw the Tarlys, father & son, dying that way and it would have been redundant. And especially because Varys was with us from the beginning, it would have been something like bad taste… The fact that the words he heard into the flames when being casrated remain a secret… well, do we have to know every secret ? ;o)

    I too didn’t feel much sorrow in front of Vary’s death. Maybe, or probably, because I didn’t really like the character. After all, he served and betrayed everybody in turn, never hesitating to use the most extreme means. I never was 100% convinced by his talks about his will lto serve the people first. The character was interesting, no doubt ! but I didn’t feel much empathy for him. But yes, kiddos for the courageous way, full of dignity, he died.

    On the reverse, I found the scene between Tyrion and Jaime very touching, particularly at the end of it, when Dany’s Hand evoked his childhood and the crucial rôle his eldest played by not seeing him as a monster.

    I’m happy you were completely wrong with the “possible” presence of new dragons suddenly appearing in the sky on the penultimate episode. Honestly, it would have been ridiculous ! :o)

    Euron coming out from the sea exactly at the same spot where Jaime arrives was a bit too much, but well… that’s fiction ! ;o) The fight was realistic and good, humany brutal, and the end satysfying. Euron was really despicable, like a second Ramsey, in his own personal way.

    I do agree, completely, with your analysis of Dany’s evolution. For me, she is not “mad” in a clinical sense. She just broke down. But of course she always was ready to use violence in the most brutal way. She is not a person of compromise, with her it’s black ot white. And she was only tempered because she trusted her councellors, mainly Tyrion, and of course Jon. But Tyrion made soooo many mistakes (right from the beginning) and, now, as you wrote, he betrayed her, as well as Jon, as well as Sansa. She is absolutely alone, having lost everybody dear to her heart, everything, after so many personal sacrifices, and she can see the very reason for her fight – the Throne -, vanishing between her fingers because of the man she loves and for who she lost one of her child (Vyserion) and so many faithful soldiers… and remember : “A Targaryen who is alone is a terrible thing”. So, no excuse for her behaviour, but it’s easy to understand (to understand is not equal to accept) this behaviour.
    But I disagree with you on the fact that it’s bad writing. I think the contrary. Everything was there, coming little by little, and percetly expressed by Emilia Clarke’s face acting since the beginning of this last season. And facial acting IS writing !

    The Cleganbowl was very effective and Sandor died as the hero he always was. What a great man !

    I disagree again with you (and with many GOT’s fans) about Jaime. For me, it’s completely coherent that he reached Cersei for dying with her (or saved her if possible) and not killing her. That would have been so predictable ! The awful Jaime turning into a holy man, a saint, through a very Christian-type redemption and erasing Evil from the scene… But the richness of GOT is precisely that the characters are extremely complex, not black or white (except some big villains). Jaime and Cersei are twins and lovers who have litteraly merge since childhood. They love each other in spite of everything, in spite of the hate they can feel sometimes for each other, and which is frustration before everything. Maybe he would have killed her if he had seen her burning alive KL. But it’s Dany who does it here, not Cersei. I always hated Cersei and I’m very happy she died, I even would have stand an horrible death for her (hey ! it’s fiction ! In real life, I would have called for an arrest, a trial and no death penalty for anybody). But I must say that this reunion and this way of ending their story together was beautiful and moving.

    Arya…. Arya was just great as our witness, our eyes in the middle of chaos. But when is Arya not great, anyway ?

    The mise-en-scene was absolutley splendid ! Somptuous ! The photography absolutely gorgeous, with some unforgettable shots. The acting was great too, especially from Emilia Clarke – outstanding this season ! -, and Lena Healey (once she lost her little and too mechanical superior smile). We really felt what a war is, how horrible it is, especially when civilians are killed by thousands. D&D said that they were “inspired” not by Syria, but by the horrible (and useless) napalm bombing of Dresde at the end of WWII. No doubt that the great pacifist GRRM is has appreciated that.

    For the last episode ? I don’t make any plan and I don’t wish anything special, I trust the story. I just remember what GRRM said and that almost all GOT’s commentators seem to have forgotten :

    1) the end will be “bittersweet”
    2) the differences between what HE has planned for the end of the books, and what D&D wrote for the end of the series are ONLY about minor characters and minor facts.
    3) FIVE main characters remain alive at the end : Jon, Tyrion, Bran, Arya, and…. Danearys.
    Let’s see if he cheated us or not…
    As for me, I’m not sure that there will be a king/queen over the 7 kingdoms at all. And I don’t trust Sansa (who doen’t have any legitimity anyway).

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