Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 Review
It Has All Come Down To This…
The Battle of the Iron Throne is here. 8 years. 8 seasons. 72 episodes. 4243 minutes. It’s been quite the journey and Daenerys Targaryen now has the chance to claim what she feels is rightfully hers. Will she and the allied armies of the North and East succeed? Will the Lannister army and the Golden Company successfully defend the Red Keep? Or will a shortened season and fan expectation finally bring everything crashing down? Let’s take a closer look at “The Bells”.
A Truth Too Far
Jon’s true heritage really is going to be the noose by which half the characters hang isn’t it? With Varys sentenced to death by dragon fire for attempting to spread the word, Tyrion too finds himself on his last chance after his latest error. All this even though Jon has no interest in the throne. This is designed to be yet another hint of Daenerys’ hunger for the throne. Yet at this point this reviewer is starting to wonder if the writers remember the rule of “show don’t tell”. Don’t get me wrong, this is a dialogue-heavy show, I know that. However, the repetition of this plot point in this shorter season has really started to grate on many fans…
Although I would like to point out a moment where talking with a touch of showing makes for one of the best emotional scenes this season. With Jaime captured in his attempt to return to King’s Landing, Tyrion risks it all to free him and help the incestuous lovebirds escape to Pentos. Ignoring that Jaime’s entire character arc came to screeching halt at the end of last episode, Tyrion’s confession that Jaime was the only person who ever truly loved him was a beautiful moment. The dialogue is nothing special. Yet, much like for the rest of the episode, but Peter Dinklage’s and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s wonderful performances sell it. The audience is better put into their shoes for the battle come.
Or rather, the massacre to come…
A Lie Too Terrible
So, all the scenes I just described before? Only given 15-20 minutes in a 78-minute episode. The rest is taken up by the Massacre of King’s Landing and… okay let’s start from the beginning….
Jon, Davos and the allied armies stand facing the Golden Company, waiting on bated breath for any kind of signal to begin fighting. The signal comes in the form of Daenerys and her last dragon. They lay waste the Iron Fleet and the wall mounted anti-dragon crossbows with no issue. Right, sure, I’ll buy that. Daenerys is determined, angry and has learned from losing her second dragon. Whatever, her army has the upper hand. While Cersei remains resolute, it doesn’t take long for her armies to know when they’re beat. They ring the titular bells of surrender to stop the attack. Now earlier, Tyrion made Daenerys promise to stop the attack if the bells rang and for a moment, you believe she’ll keep it. However, she is the one revealed to have told the greatest lie of all and this is where things begin to fall, figuratively and literally.
Have you ever wondered if watching a dragon lay waste to city of innocent civilians for 30 minutes could be boring? Well, it isn’t, its awesome, but its slow. So, so slow and a lack of anything else going on really shows off the pacing problems this episode. Daenerys becomes a non-entity as we get no close ups of her after she begins her slaughter and it dehumanises her too much. If the writers want to make her the final villain in the final episode, fine, but this isn’t how you do it. Fans are too invested in her and for many, this sudden turn may feel like a beytrayal. The same for a couple of other characters the audience follows in this episode.
A Conflict Too Confused
“Cleganebowl” is practically an afterthought thanks to the poor pacing. While I will credit the editing for the visual parallels it draws between The Hound being beaten and Arya coming close to being trampled in the panic, the draw feels like a slap in the face. A passive-aggressive glare at the audience for daring to want a final fight while bowing down to their demands. I’d rather have not had it at all. The Stark cousins also have a similar uphill battle against the writing. The episode cuts to them enough that they’re not too lost in the confusion, but there’s only so many times you can see Jon’s shocked, gaping mouth and Arya’s wide, frightened eyes before you wonder if the episode will move on already.
I will disagree with Cersei’s death being disappointing however. It’s a good call back. In season 2 during the Battle of Blackwater, she berated and mocked the “simpering fools” she was forced to hide with. She wished she had been taught to fight. Now, reduced to a simmering fool herself, she flees to the crypts with Jaime and is crushed by the collapsing castle, symbolically bringing her arc full circle. She only ever wanted to protect her own, never mind anyone else. However, all her actions ever did was the exact opposite, right up until she enraged Daenerys and ended herself. Those who do not learn from history doomed to repeat it. That makes her death worthy to me.
A Weapon Too Powerful
So, I’ve been largely negative about this episode, but I will complement the symbolism on display here and how it pays off a big theme connected to Daenerys’ dragons. In the early seasons, the dragons were written off as either rumour or possessing no power. Much like many countries did when the first nuclear bombs were being developed. Then there were the first tests in Yunkai/New Mexico, which told the smarter among the masses that this was going to be a problem. Then the dragons took the Lannister forces returning from Highgarden. A Cold (or rather, Long Night) War then took hold until this episode. The nuclear bomb known as Drogon demonstrating what mutually assured destruction looks like and it has a profound effect.
Jon, Davos and Arya are shaken. Arya even sees death in the form of a white horse (see: Book of Revelations) and becomes it as she takes the reins and rides off to… what? This cliff-hanger is the most intriguing of the show. Daenerys has won, but for how long? Does the bloodshed end or continue? We’ll just have to see in the final episode next week…
The internet has generally not taken this episode well and while I do see the good in this episode, the bad is quite bad. Poor pacing makes some scenes too short and other scenes too long while the show seems to go out of its way to both please and annoy fans. Is this all the writers’ or directors’ fault? Probably not. The shorter season is making everything feel rushed. However, that doesn’t excuse an episode that’s only held up by the fantastic acting. At this point, the end can’t come soon enough.
Our Stand-Out Moment
As said in our final thoughts, the acting saves a few scenes in this episode. Tyrion’s confession, Arya’s ride out of King’s Landing and The Hound’s delight at killing his brother are moments of great character closure in an episode otherwise completely disinterested in them.