We had some really positive feedback on my last episode breakdown, so I think I may actually start making episode/movie reviews a regular thing on the blog. I believe other sites/people are often too quick to jump into reviews for episodes. Sure, you want to throw up some content as soon as possible so you’re not lost amongst hundreds of other reviewers, but it’s difficult to give an honest review while your emotions are still high and you haven’t had some time to really think about and discuss with others. This is especially true with Game of Thrones. I often don’t even know how I feel about it until Wednesday or Thursday. Basically that’s my excuse as to why I’m writing this Sunday morning, exactly 12 hours from the finale.
So let’s get right into it. Season 8 Episode 5, entitled “The Bells,” finally brought Daenerys Targaryen and her armies to King’s Landing. The siege was short lived, as, despite being next to useless in the prior episode, Dany and Drogon burned pretty much all of King’s Landing to the ground without the need for her ground troops. After destroying all of the scorpions (the giant, dragon-killing crossbows), Dany’s army, led by Jon Snow and Grey Worm, are in a standoff with the Lannister army. Drogon perches near-bye, showing the Lannisters that they really have no chance. They lay down their swords, and the battle is seemingly over. The bells of concession are rung throughout the city.
However, Dany, in her best acting of probably the entire show, is not ready to accept victory. Her face displays the anguish of having lost 2 of her dragons, some of her best friends, and having been betrayed by others close to her. She decides to raze King’s Landing to the ground. The rest of the episode is essentially Drogon blasting the city with fire, and all of its inhabitants running in fear. In the process we lost Cersei and Jaime Lannister, Sandor “the Hound” Clegane, Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane, Qyburn, and Euron Greyjoy.
Now let’s break it down.
What went right
- The cinematography and scoring were once again perfect. Ramin Djawadi is incredible at his job. I said it last time and I’ll say it again. The man really understands how to amplify the mood and situation of a scene with a perfectly placed score. Miguel Sapochnik is also an incredible director when it comes to portraying war on camera. The scenes with Drogon flying overhead and a panicked King’s Landing fleeing for their lives was perfectly done. We really have never seen anything like these episodes in terms of grandeur. They don’t seem like episodes of a TV show, but more along the lines of individual full length films in their production quality.
- Jaime and Cersei’s demise. This is one of the very controversial talking points about the episode. We’ll start with Jamie. The major complaint is that Jaime was undergoing a redemptive transformation in his character arc, going from Kingslayer / Bran-crippler to this honorable man of the seven kingdoms, abandoning Cersei to fight with the living against the Night King and his army. While this is partially true, we should all know exactly who Jaime is at the end of the day. Jaime definitely did change. He truly regretted what he did to Bran, and he understood some of Cersei’s shortcomings. All his time spent with Brienne helped him to become a better man. However, in the end, it was about his love for Cersei. Deep down, that was always the most important thing for him. If you disagree, please watch this scene between Jaime and Edmure Tully. Jaime basically says he would murder everyone in the seven kingdoms to get back to Cersei. From that, it can be argued that leaving Cersei to help defeat the Night King was probably always in Cersei’s best interest. He was always going to end his time on the show with Cersei.
Now, to Cersei. Again, a controversial talking point amongst an extremely divided Game of Thrones community. People wanted Cersei to die in some grandiose fashion since she has caused so much pain and suffering to others throughout the show’s entirety. However, I think her death was perfect. The thing about Cersei is she’s always seemed in control, with the one exception being when she was temporarily at the mercy of Septon and other religious fanatics. She’s always confidently drinking wine, overlooking the balcony. In Episode 5, we saw all of her confidence and control taken from her. Even as the city walls start burning she confidently states that one of the scorpions can bring Drogon down, only to be told by Qyburn, her hand, that all the scorpions have been destroyed, and Euron and his fleet have been massacred. Her single tear drop as she abandons her tower to seek safety is the beginning of the end for Cersei. Soon after we find her alone, wandering the castle while it is falling apart, desperate and terrified. Her emotion and desperation is brought to light even more when she meets up with Jamie. As an aside, the scenes with Jamie and Cersei are the best acting we’ve seen since season 5, in my opinion of course. As she and Jamie are in the caves with no escape, Cersei desperately pleads with Jamie, saying she doesn’t want to die. She is in a dark cave with no hope of survival. This is a fitting death for her character, one of the greatest villains we’ve seen in a long time.
- Dany becoming the mad queen she feared was well done. Of all the discussions I’ve involved myself in online, this is by far the most divided topic. There are three trains of thought. The first is that her going mad and killing innocent people was undeserved, and didn’t make sense with her character. The second is that it did make sense. The third is that it made sense, but because of the rushed nature of so much happening in these final 6 episodes, it wasn’t fleshed out enough and was too quick to be entirely believable. Here is why I believe it made sense, and was great as is. We’ve seen Dany’s temper since season 1. Throughout the show she has threatened to burn cities, she’s burned many people alive from Varys to the Dothraki leaders to Randyl Tarley and his son. She has been constantly kept in check throughout the series by Jorah, Tyrion and Varys, many times the conversation blatantly stating that they don’t want her to end up like her father. So it has been set up that she has the potential to go too far.
Now, add that onto the fact that within the past, let’s say month, she has lost: 2 dragons (considered by her to be like children), Jorah (her oldest friend), Missandei (her closest friend), and the majority of her armies. On top of that she has been betrayed by Varys, and quasi-betrayed by Tyrion and Jon. On top of that, the man she loves is no longer interested in her romantically because she is his aunt (probably justified). Finally, and this is the part I don’t see other people mention often, if at all, the people of Westeros do not love her like the people of Essos did. In Essos, slaves adored her because she set them free by the thousands in every city she conquered. She was promised that the people of Westeros would love her too, that they whispered in the streets of the Dragon Queen that would come and rescue them from the reign of Cersei. However, that is not what she found. Despite her putting her plans on hold to save the north from the Night King, all the praise was heaped onto Jon, and Dany was still treated coldly. Jon’s family straight up doesn’t like her. She expected the people of Westeros to rebel against Cersei, or at least change their allegiance the moment she arrived. But as she perched on the wall overlooking the city, Dany saw fear from the people, and saw that they looked to her as the enemy. As she said the night before when Jon wouldn’t return her love, “let it be fear then.” Her face showed the struggle of balancing benevolence with rage, and thinking back on all that was taken from her. Because of that, she burned Kings Landing to thee ground indiscriminately, not caring how many innocents were killed.
- Arya and the Hound. This unlikely pairing have been great in this show. Every time they are together there is great banter and an odd mutual respect. Their final scene together, with the Hound convincing Arya that a life of revenge isn’t worth it, successfully brings their time together to an end. Instead of the banter and sarcasm, they speak to each other sincerely. Not much more needs to be said, it was a great scene.
What went wrong
I don’t enjoy this part as much, because I like to stay positive, but there are some things I have to bring to light.
- Inconsistencies with the scorpion-dragon relationship. In episode 4 Euron and his crew snipe Rhaegal from about a mile away with insane precision. In a matter of 10 seconds he gets hit in the chest, neck, and face. The scorpions then proceed to rip the ships apart like they were made of paper, forcing a retreat. Fast forward to episode 5, where not a single scorpion lands one shot on Dany and Drogon, and within 10 to 15 minutes they burn down an entire fleet, and all of the wall defenses of King’s landing. It needed to be done to progress the story, but it’s just not believable. It reminded me of Episode 3 when the wights tear the Dothraki and Unsullied apart, but when they fight the main characters they just kind of rub elbows with them indefinitely so no one dies.
- Inconsistencies with dragon fire. Honestly, maybe I just don’t understand dragon fire. Drogon is blasting walls like his fire has nuclear power, collapsing buildings and at one point slicing a tower in half. If that’s how powerful dragon fire is, the night before when Varys was killed should have annihilated the cliff they were on and killed them all. Apparently, according to Game of Thrones lore, Drogon is still very small comparatively with the dragons that Dany’s ancestors used. I assume those dragons could slice the world in half. I suppose I’m just supposed to believe that a) dragon fire has mass to it and can cause extreme physical damage, and b) dragons can dial back their fire and not use it at full force when performing less strenuous tasks like cooking their food or killing traitors. I’ll also ignore that Jon hid behind a rock against the undead dragon when it was blasting him in episode 3, another inconsistency.
- Arya’s plot armor is getting ridiculous. Let me start by saying I love Arya. She’s a badass and I am still on the train of people that believed her killing the Night King was completely justified. However, the writing needs to focus on her strengths to have her crazy survivability be somewhat realistic. Arya is stealthy, fast, and smart. So use that to make her stay out of situations where she would be killed, i.e. when she’s running through King’s Landing as it is collapsing and being burned. If every time Drogon lit the city up near her or a building collapsed, Arya was smartly sprinting down an alley, I’d be ok with it. But at the end of the day, Arya is 5’1″, and I would estimate probably 100 lbs. In the last couple episodes I’ve seen her trampled, blasted into walls, and smashed in the head enough that an NFL linebacker would have to retire. Yet she just bounces up and runs away. Come on. I can’t be too critical though this kind of plot armor is prevalent everywhere in cinema so I’ll let it slide.
- Euron Greyjoy is a teleportation master. Dude is always there with his fleet when you need him, but in this episode it’s even more ridiculous, when he just happens to wash up on shore right next to a secret entrance that Jaime just happens to be at that exact time so they can fight an unnecessary duel that Jamie never should have been able to survive from, let alone travel another mile or so to get to Cersei. Just an awkward and unnecessary scene. Euron should’ve died on his ship by Dany burning him.
I’m putting this in its own category because I both like and dislike the final showdown between Sandor and Gregor Clegane. I’ll start with why I don’t like it. I don’t think it was necessary at all. I don’t understand why, but the Game of Thrones fan base has been obsessed with these two fighting to the death since like season 2. Again, I don’t get why. The Hound spends season two through maybe 5 just wandering around doing his own thing. Revenge isn’t on his mind he doesn’t care about his brother, the fight for the throne, anything really. He’s clearly done with all of that and has left it behind, content to just chill for a bit and make his own way. There is nothing in his character that suggests to me that he has a burning desire for revenge. Sure he hates his brother for being a douche when they were younger, but no part of me believes that the entire time he was thinking about how he needed to eventually kill him. All of a sudden in season 7, when everyone meets, they have this confrontation where Sandor says to his brother that he “knows what’s coming for him” or something (I don’t care to look it up), implying that in the end it was always the Hound that would kill him? Even in that scene there wasn’t any real animosity so it still isn’t entirely believable for me. I just think that the writer’s put it in as pure fan service. I truly believe that had the community never rallied behind this confrontation happening, that the writers would have even thought about it.
That being said, the fight was really cool. The cinematography was on point, with collapsing buildings and smoke leading to a perfect lighting in the stairwell, making it incredibly epic. Also, the back and forth shooting between that fight and Arya trying to survive in the city was a great contrast: one of the pair succumbing to their revenge and accepting death while the other flees from revenge, clinging to live. Poetic really. It was great to see the extend of the Mountain’s zombie-like body. I’m half-inclined to believe he’s still alive under all that rubble somewhere. Sandor kept his acting elevated even while fighting, helping us really see the emotion as he confronted his brother one last time.
Looking ahead to the finale
I’m not really one for specific predictions, as I think one of the biggest reasons for all of the negative feedback in this season is that the Game of Thrones community has allowed itself to throw out complex theory after theory, leading to constant disappointment when their theories aren’t met. Because of the fact that the last two season have been rushed and there is a clear effort to simply wrap up the show, I have been enjoying the show without putting too much thought into theorizing what I personally want to happen. With that attitude I can enjoy the amazing cinematography and grand spectacle that the show still boasts.
I’m excited to see some twists and betrayals, though. Obviously Dany barbecuing King’s Landing has extremely upset her closest remaining allies of Jon and Tyrion. Arya is clearly bothered by Dany as well, and Sansa has never hid her disdain for her. Grey Worm and Jon also had a little stair down in the last episode when Grey Worm decided to start massacring the Lannister soldiers after they had laid down their swords. I imagine we could see an awesome 1v1 fight between them. If Dany is killed Drogon I feel would just kill everyone, so I’m not sure how that would work, but I imagine however it plays out we’re going to see some intense drama this episode.
The main question that remains now is who is going to sit on the throne when it’s all said and done? Dany has it right now but will she even be alive at the end? Jon doesn’t want the throne but he is clearly the best suited to lead. Will Sansa or Arya somehow get the throne? Tyrion? A true wildcard like Bronn or Davos, everyone’s favorite onion knight? Will they decide to end the monarchy and implement democracy? Will Bran take the throne and then become the new Night King somehow? My prediction at the beginning of the season was that the last scene of the show would be the new king or queen going into their chambers, where they take their face off to reveal Arya. Maybe instead of Arya it’s that faceless dude she trained under. Honestly the possibilities are endless so I’m just going to sit back and enjoy, and I hope you do too!