Game of Thrones made its name with shocking twists, but in its penultimate episode on Sunday night it was sorely missing one. Various advisers have been warning of Daenerys Targaryen’s despotic tendencies for a while now, and sure enough she went full Mad Queen, incinerating the innocent citizens of King’s Landing in a manner that the phrase ‘for no apparent reason’ doesn’t do justice. Only one episode remains, and it’s now clear why it’s another 79-minuter, as we surely have to allow time for Sansa to unfurl the world’s biggest “I told you so” banner back at Winterfell.
‘The Bells’ was certainly entertaining, the technical crew quite literally crushing it as the Westerosi capital was demolished in spectacular fashion, it’s just a shame that several key character arcs crumbled with it.
Varys is found out
It’s convenient that swift character deaths can be chalked up to reflecting the vagary and transience of life, but it was simply a lack of time that I think caused Lord Varys to be so hastily executed in episode 5 (even Drogon’s heart didn’t seem to be in the incineration). I could get on board with Varys dying a martyr – a servant of the realm to the end – but what is less clear is why everyone except Daenerys on Team Living has become such a wimp about death all of a sudden. A couple of seasons ago Jon was hanging children for betraying him, and now he and Tyrion look aghast at the prospect of any death whatsoever. It’s been the virtue Olympics in Dragonstone of late, and everyone seems to have forgotten what a war involves.
The assault on King’s Landing
It was anyone’s guess who had the military advantage heading into episode 5. The Iron Fleet made mincemeat of Daenerys’ ships and one third of her dragons last week, and yet Khaleesi ended up taking the capital with ease on Sunday night. The aerial shots of Drogon clearing the street with columns of flame were staggering, if you could stop being angry about them for a minute. Which leads me to:
Daenerys jumps the shark/dragon
The Mother of Dragons hasn’t made character sense for a while now, being in affable rom-com mode one minute and cold-hearted destroyer of worlds mode the next. She fully committed to the latter this week, deciding to murder as many innocents as possible in King’s Landing in spite of the fact that the battle had already been (easily) clinched. We didn’t see any shots of her on dragonback laying waste to men, women and children, I guess because the only logical demeanour during this would be maniacal laughter, which would have been weird.
I’m almost praying for a “this was the plan all along” reveal from Dany in the finale, as such a ruse would at least make more sense than her pivot to utter destruction and genocide. I know insanity runs in her family, but even good old reliable Jon Snow must be wondering how he made such a grave error of judgment with her right now. She just didn’t stop! She was up there frying children for a solid half hour!
The long-anticipated fight between the brothers Clegane might have been fan service to an extent, but it was probably the most enjoyable element of tonight’s episode. Any poetic/thematic significance of The Mountain being tough to kill due to his semi-resurrected state was lost on me, but hey, it was fun to watch those two big lumps go at it. Wrestling blinded as you tumble from a fiery tower is a strong way to go out.
Cersei and Jaime go down together
Less satisfying was the death of Cersei Lannister. For all the talk of Valonqar prophecies and well-placed daggers from Arya Stark, Cersei’s assailant would turn out to be quite unexpected: the ceiling.
It made sense for the incestuous siblings to die together, trapped in their poisonous relationship as the Red Keep fell, but it also seemed like a missed opportunity. Maybe having Jaime or Tyrion kill her was too obvious, but the exit they chose was pretty disappointing for the show’s Big Bad.
Jaime and Euron’s beach duel fell victim to bad choreography, meanwhile. A knife in the ribs here, a trope-y crawl for a downed sword there. I’m a big fan of Jaime as a character – he deserved better than a fatal wounding from a supporting character.
Arya does….not a lot really
Much has been made of the overpowering of Arya Stark this season, a seemingly invincible assassin who appears unbeatable in single combat no matter whether the opponent is alive or undead. It was strange then, to see her essentially just dodging rubble for most of this episode, suddenly barely able to stand, let alone fight. Maybe this was her ‘we’re forgetting that underneath it all she’s just a scared girl’ moment, but if it was, it wasn’t sold adequately. Oh, and as for that white horse: I’m normally a sucker for the interpolation of random animals and ethereal fever dream moments in battle sequences, but what. On. Earth.
There were a lot of fun moments in ‘The Bells’, be it the sudden, brutal demise of Qyburn or the competing loyalties of the Stark, Unsullied and Lannister forces, but again Game of Thrones’ visuals were under-served by the accompanying dialogue. This episode was a nadir in this sense, reaching the point where it almost felt like characters literally couldn’t think of words to say to each other at times (and at these most crucial of times!).
Season 8 may ultimately leave a bad taste in the mouth for many Game of Thrones fans, but perhaps things can be salvaged in next week’s finale. I think this must be the first time in the show’s history where I’m desperate for Sansa to be back in the mix.