This post contains spoilers, reactions, and a recap of Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5, “The Bells”
The last season of Game of Thrones has been uneven. Two well-written episodes led off Season Eight. Both set the table for the dramatic, yet murky Battle of Winterfell. The season’s swing episode was a disaster. The showrunners crammed nonsensical storylines together to set up the Battle of King’s Landing. The legacy of Game of Thrones would be defined by how creators David Benioff and David Weiss rebounded in Episode Five, “The Bells.” Unfortunately, the episode was a letdown that failed to tie eight seasons of stories together.
Game of Thrones vs. Game 7
Speaking of rebounds… as if the drama of The Battle of King’s Landing was not enough excitement, another crucial television event impacted fans in the Philadelphia and Toronto markets. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals began at 7:00 PM EST on Sunday night.
The unfortunate viewing conundrum forced many fans to choose between the two events. I streamed a muted Sixers-Raptors game on a laptop and used the TV for HBO. It was an intense viewing experience, to say the least.
The direct impact on fans of Game of Thrones, the Raptors, and Sixers came as Toronto led the rematch at 76-75 with under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. As Daenerys Targaryen torched King’s landing, Toronto burned the Sixers. Kawhi Leonard hoisted a jumper that bounced around the rim for near-eternity before finally slipping through the net to beat the buzzer. As a Philadelphia fan, it was a disappointing turn of events. It was not the only Sunday night calamity.
“The Bells” Ruined Game Of Thrones
This episode was a dumpster fire. After eight seasons of intrigue on multiple plot points, “The Bells” resolved little. Would Arya strike Cersei Lannister from her list? Would Jaime Lannister fulfill the prophecy that one of her younger brothers would slay her? Would Jon Snow face a gray area decision about turning against Daenerys?
Instead, no one killed Cersei! That honor fell to falling stones. There was no drama on any other plot point. Very little about “The Bells” made sense, but at least it it looked cool.
Daenerys undid the failed peacemaking of the last episode as she used her one dragon to torch the Iron Fleet, dozens of scorpions, The Golden Company, and the Lannister army. All of whom went to storm trooper school and failed to land one shot to level the playing field. After a tense moment that was emblematic of Cersei’s destruction of the Sept of Baelor, Daenerys snapped and destroyed the city… the very people that she had sought to rule since she was a young Khaleesi.
The decision to turn Daenerys into a mad queen undid eight seasons and five books of fan theories and a reputation for taking the unexpected to the next level. Instead, all of the question marks and scheming went up in smoke. For a series that featured spotty writing in the past, “The Bells” was its worst decision-making.
Unlike other “meh” choices like the Sand Snakes, Game of Thrones can’t unring “The Bells.” Season Eight took two years to film. Patient fans were rewarded with rushed episodes and lazy scripts.
There was little substance in Episode Five. It was an action movie. The need to tie long-running stories together was more important. The final episodes of a good show reveal something about characters who audiences follow for quite some time. The only thing we learned was that Daenerys was crazy. Something we first knew when she executed Randyll and Dickon Tarly in Season Seven.
There was not one shot of Daenerys riding the dragon as she burned innocent people alive. One glimpse of the character she has become. Instead, her one dragon demolished an entire city. For an episode that could have had multiple scenes like The Battle of the Bastards or Ned Stark’s execution, “The Bells” was a B-Level disaster flick on par with San Andreas or The Towering Inferno.
Positives From “The Bells”
It was not complete garbage. Most of the pluses reside in how the episode itself was produced. “The Bells” was directed by Miguel Sapochnik. The director also guided the mega-episodes “The Battle Of The Bastards” and “The Long Night.” Once again, Sapochnick produced incredible action scenes. This peaked during the long-anticipated Clegane Bowl and the journey of Arya through King’s Landing. Both featured the anxiety and drama that the penultimate episode of a massive series should feature.
It is also noteworthy that the episode featured tremendous acting from Emilia Clarke. The scenes leading to Daenerys Targaryen snapping were her best on the show. Since Season One she was always the conqueror. It is the first time that Clarke added new dimensions to the confident character, which she did by sprinkling in layers of doubt and paranoia.
The Game of Thrones Finale
Nothing from “The Bells” built anticipation for next week. The series peaked when Arya Stark killed the Night King. Everything following that moment was the result of poor judgment from D.B. Weiss and David Benioff.
Whatever happens in the Game of Thrones finale will be anticlimactic. The shades of gray are now black and white decisions that will have to be made by the few heroes left. There is no more substance to the Lannister story (or even the fate of who should sit on the Iron Throne). Nothing else that is left to anticipate. No one will be conflicted if previous-heroine Daenerys Targaryen dies. The next hour of Game of Thrones will be an exercise in apathy. Something to be watched out of obligation. A first for Game of Thrones and not the feeling that HBO should hope to inspire.