Spoilers for “Game of Thrones” below.
So, I got a little mad last week. I said that I didn’t have full confidence that this series could stick the landing and that character arcs were being destroyed and the legacy of the show along with them. And while opinions on this latest episode have been mixed at best, I thought that it was definitely a spin in the right direction. This episode was divisive in its choices while also displaying some of the most visually impressive direction and cinematography in perhaps the entire series, which was truly amazing to see.
The penultimate episode of “Game of Thrones,” titled “The Bells” and again directed by Miguel Sapochnik, was another plot heavy episode, so instead of a recap, I’ll break down the major plot points starting with the death of Varys. Varys being executed for treason seems to track with Dany’s overall personality and his arc throughout the season. Although it is sad to see him go, his death makes sense to happen now and I don’t really have much to say about it.
Next comes Jaime and Tyrion’s final farewell. As Jaime was attempting to get back to Cersei he gets captured by Daenerys’s armies and imprisoned. Tyrion breaks him out, however, and tells him to get to Cersei and escape with her, while also ringing the bells to signal a surrender and avoid the killing of countless innocents. This was an extremely touching scene because not only will it be the last time we see these two together, but there is a lot of real emotion shown. The Lannister brothers’ relationship has been one of the only constants in the show’s history. Seeing them part ways like this, both in some way going toward their own demise, is really heartbreaking and the two of them breaking down in each other’s arms made for an emotional parting.
The next half of the episode is devoted entirely to the attack on King’s Landing. The Hound, Arya and Jaime each secretly enter King’s Landing on their own missions and the rest of Dany’s army lines up outside the city. All of a sudden, Dany appears in the sky atop Drogon and makes short work of what seems like hundreds of scorpion crossbows along the King’s Landing battlements and burns Euron’s fleet to a crisp in the bay. Her armies, led by Jon and Grey Worm, storm the streets of the city and come face to face with a large force of Lannister soldiers. There is a face off and it seems as if a fight is about to break out, but then the soldiers drop their swords and the bells for surrender begin to ring.
However, this is when one of the most jarring decisions in the episode was made. Upon hearing the bells, Dany looks out over King’s Landing, sees the Red Keep and then takes flight once more, this time to burn the city and the millions of innocent people residing there, effectively completing her arc of becoming the Mad Queen. This decision is tricky for me because while I do think that this is a valid direction for her character to take, I also believe that the spur-of-the-moment execution of the shift was not. If the showrunners had given a couple more moments for us to see the true cold-hearted rage that has been teased out of her character in several scenes, and allowed us to see that she actively makes the choice to rule by fear, it would have made much more sense in my eyes. Even if they wanted to make it an emotional thrust toward this madness, they could have either had Raeghal or Missandei die in this episode during the battle so that the moment was a fresh wound, but seeing her react like this just didn’t quite feel earned and that was the major disappointment for me in this episode.
Meanwhile, this sparks Grey Worm and the Unsullied to attack the already surrendered Lannister troops, signaling to the Northern armies that the attack has begun. One of the bloodiest battles in the history of the show then ensues. In the heat of the chaos, Dany’s armies slaughter both the startled Lannister soldiers as well as the civilians of King’s Landing. Jon watches this and realizes that Dany may not be the right candidate for Queen after all.
While all this is happening, the Hound and Arya make it to the Red Keep but Arya, realizing that she would rather live on than die in an attempt on Cersei’s life, exits the castle. This leaves the Hound to face the Mountain, and we finally get one of the most anticipated moments of the season: Cleganebowl. And boy did it live up to the hype. This was easily one of the most stunning sequences in the show’s history: the battle on the crumbling staircase with Daenerys and Drogon flying about in the background, the reveal of the Mountain’s zombified face, the callback to the Oberyn Martell fight and finally, the Hound tackling his brother into the flames below, conquering his fears from the past and putting a cap on his arc.
All the while, Arya is attempting to make her way out of King’s Landing but is forced to run through the streets amongst all these terrified civilians as Drogon soars overhead, his flames destroying building after building. The one-takes of Arya in the streets of King’s Landing are incredibly visceral and reminded me at times of scenes straight out of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” with dust and shrapnel flying all over.
There are a few more characters who get their final goodbyes in this episode and it was contentious to say the least. For example, Jaime and Cersei, our favorite incestual couple: Jaime’s return to Cersei, his ultimate vice, was the next most controversial topic in this episode, but how he gets there was very satisfying. As Jaime comes around to the back of King’s Landing, Euron washes up on shore behind him. Jamie and Euron fight and after getting fatally wounded, Jamie finally kills Euron. Then, as the Red Keep is coming down around them, Jaime finds Cersei and brings her to the dungeons only to find that the way out has been blocked. Holding each other tightly, Cersei breaks down crying, begging Jaime to not let them die. Jaime holds her face and says that nothing matters except for them, a phrase that he has repeated many a time throughout the show.
They die in each other’s arms, and in my opinion, it was a beautiful scene. Lots of people have come out saying that they hate this scene because it ruins Jaime’s redemption from the past seven seasons, but I would argue that it was a really beautiful end to his arc. It’s heartbreaking to see that after all he has been through he is still bound to Cersei through his guilt and love. He doesn’t feel like he deserves the good life he has a chance at. He exits the world with the woman that he came into it with, the woman he thinks he deserves. The plot makes sense, it just didn’t have the time in this season to properly develop.
And that cuts into the main problem with this episode: at its best, this episode is a beautiful testament to the filmmaking and acting in this series. At its very worst, this story rushes beats that have been developing over the entire series and causes reasonable character moments to happen with seemingly no context because the show just didn’t have enough time. With next week being the series finale, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say on how exactly they wrap all this up, but this episode was definitely a mixed bag for me.