TV Reviews

Game of Thrones “Bells”: Not Like This

Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5 “Bells”

Cersei Lannister’s last ever line in Game of Thrones comes right before her death by collapsed building. Leaning into her brother Jaime’s arms while trapped in the tunnels under the Red Keep, Cersei cries, “I want our baby to live. I want our baby to live. Don’t let me die. Please don’t let me die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to do. Not like this. Not like this. Not like this.”

Firstly, so much for all those “Cersei’s lying about her pregnancy” theories.

Secondly, two minutes before she dies is probably not the best time to finally clarify the pregnancy storyline.

Lastly, the “not like this” part is likely also what a lot of Game of Thrones fans yelled out while watching “Bells.” Showrunners Benioff and Weiss have been making consistently questionable storytelling decisions for at least two seasons now, and here in the show’s penultimate episode they didn’t break from that trend.

The Game of Thrones saga, in their estimation, was always going to end with Daenerys Targaryen laying waste to King’s Landing. So, that’s exactly what happens in “Bells.” She goes full Mad Queen and seemingly burns the majority of the city to the ground, even after she had victory well in hand. Now let the history books show Game of Thrones came down to an unhinged, ruthless Targaryen living up to the family name and refusing to accept an enemy’s surrender.

For that to happen, though, Dany had to first get past Euron Greyjoy and the Iron Fleet as well as the Golden Company outside the King’s Landing walls while dodging an assured hailstorm of fire from Qyburn’s dragon-killing ballistas. Fan theories went crazy with intricate battle plans and twists to explain how Dany and her army could possibly pull this off. Personally, my money was on Yara Greyjoy making a surprise return appearance and catching Euron’s ships from behind, giving Dany the perfect opening for a fly-by firing. I did not, however, subscribe to the theory that Dany had more than one dragon left since Drogon had been away laying eggs.

So, so much wasted mental energy.

Turns out, all Dany needed to do was fly really fast and constantly change her angle of attack, thus allowing Drogon to destroy every last ballista without even a single close call. So, bye-bye Iron Fleet and bye-bye Qyburn’s big plan. As for the Golden Company, which was built up so much last season as being a more than respectable fighting force, yeah…they didn’t last 15 seconds. Dany just swooped in behind them and burnt them extra crispy. The only name character in that group, Jaime lookalike Harry Strickland, tried to run away until Grey Worm got him from behind.

Cersei, the woman who outlasted and outwitted the High Sparrow and Margaery Tyrell and was ruthless enough to drive her own son to suicide, couldn’t be defeated that easily. She had another trick up her sleeve. Secretly, Dany was playing right into her plans.

Just kidding. Hiring the Golden Company and setting up all those ballistas was actually Cersei’s only move. Once that failed, she simply stood and watched from the Red Keep, cried a little when her own army surrendered, and then ran like hell when Dany refused to accept that surrender. Tyrion always was better at war planning than her, but as of late Cersei had been outplaying him and everyone else. “Bells” was when she ran out of cards to play, I guess.

Jaime, mortally wounded in a prior fight with Euron, gets to her just in time for them to die in each other’s arms. Dany and Cersei, the two warring queens, never even share the screen together. Arya, who has had Cersei’s name at the top of her kill list for years now, is similarly denied a final one-on-one. Steps away from potentially accomplishing her goal, Arya has a change of heart after a “don’t be what they made you” speech from the Hound.

Instead, she has multiple Children of Men Steadicam trips through the ground floor of the war before veering into some heavy-handed holocaust imagery, right down to human ash raining down everywhere around her. A majestic white horse is finally her vehicle away from the carnage.

So much about this just feels off. Game of Thrones, by its very design, was always destined to go out upsetting its fans. Favorite characters were going to die, happy endings were going to be denied, hero’s journeys subverted, and certain plot lines aborted.

So, I’m not disappointed to see who does and who survives “Bells.” I went in fully prepared to say goodbye to just about everyone on the board if need be. It’s the way it all went down, though…

I get what they’re doing. Dany has always straddled the balance between her father the Mad King and her ancient relative who was actually a wide and peaceful ruler of Westeros. Here at the end, she went Mad Queen because she was simply too isolated to listen to those who would counsel her otherwise. Prior to the season, Emilia Clarke told THR Dany would experience a nuclear bomb of emotions, and that’s certainly what we saw here.

I am willing to accept that basic idea, although others view it as a complete and utterly unforgivable betrayal of the character. However, like so much else about these final two seasons while the idea underneath it is workable the execution seems inexplicably rushed, pushing aside character for splash page visuals. They are closing the show without following through on everything they built.

That’s how we get the White Walkers dead halfway through the final season with the Night King taking his unclear motivations with him to his icy grave.

Or Bran’s mumbo jumbo magic talk and visions of the past amounting to pretty much “here, Arya, take this dagger for later”

Or Cersei and Dany never actually sharing the frame the entire final season.

Or this is all coming down to Jon Snow still knowing nothing about women.

Or Arya abandoning her nearly series-long vengeance quest when The Hound suddenly tells her to not be like him.

Or the show picking its penultimate episode to finally give a shit about all of the cannon fodder, kind of like how after Man of Steel the DCEU had to make a huge deal in Batman v Superman about the on-the-ground victims and their 9/11 imagery.

It’s not that every single one of these events betrays certain characters. It’s more, they don’t feel totally earned or narratively consistent.

But it’s Weiss and Benioff’s world – we’re just watching it. We only get to enjoy and/or complain about that for one more episode.

What did you think of “Bells”? Let me know in the comments.

8 comments

  1. Was it clear to you why Jon pulled away from Dany? He’d just said he loved her but then refused her sexual advances, prompting her to go for fear rather than love. But, what was his motivation there? Especially right after declaring his love for her?

  2. The Golden Army didn’t fight at all, did they? They threw their weapons down. At least until it was clear Dany wasn’t accepting the city’s surrender. Once again, the show runners refuse to deliver on their promise — building up a race or army or character as something legendary and having them be less than ordinary.

    Or making them extraordinary in one scene and impotent in another (Iron Fleet).

  3. Rather disappointingly, they gave us Arya shifting from bold air of invisibility to quivering coward twice now. Once with the White Walkers and now in Bells. No need to tell the same story twice.

  4. Got to see a fitting Hound vs Mountain battle which was good. Also the great destroyer of the night king was reduced to being a little girl again showing her perspective of the terror down below. To quote Highlander, there could only be one at the end of the story and john snow doesnt have a history of darkness and madness so had to be her.

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