Spoilers ahead for ‘Game of Thrones’ season eight episode 5 ‘The Bells’.
The Westeros capital King’s Landing became a graveyard of queens in the latest episode of the HBO series Game of Thrones. One was a literal death, and the other was the demise of the idea that Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is the rightful successor to the Iron Throne.
The madness that has been teased since the beginning of the eighth and final season finally came into view in the episode that was poignantly titled The Bells. Directed by battle veteran Miguel Sapochnik and written by DB Weiss and David Benioff, The Bells had far less of the clumsy, exposition-laden writing that marred the previous episode, The Last of the Starks. Clocking 75 minutes of expertly tuned tension, alternating between intimate moments of carnage with crowd-pleasing and hugely visible daylight spectacle, The Bells thrilled and saddened in equal measure.
The nature-versus-nurture debate that has animated the final season claimed its first casualty early on. The slight hesitation that the last surviving dragon Drogon displays before toasting the first of countless victims seems to suggest that another world is possible, one that does not make Daenerys the villain of the piece. Not today.
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) feebly tries to reason with his lover (he appears to be equally out of it in the battle that follows). I don’t have love, only fear, Daenerys icily tells Jon, and his hesitant hug doesn’t assuage her in any way. In one of several throwbacks to previous seasons, Jon seems to be channelling his uncle Ned Stark (Sean Bean) when he decides to take the honourable way out. No Jon, not today.
Daenerys’s path to the destruction of King’s Landing, and possibly of her self, begins in Dragonstone, where she is cooped up in mourning over the death of her second dragon. In the same room where Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) gave in to the madness that power-mongering brings, Daenerys lets Tyrion know that she will stop at nothing. Daenerys’s arc from serious contender to Most Evil Person has been unconvincing, and the rush towards a neat ending visible through the fog of ashes and dust in the final moments, where a possible way to stop Daenerys presented itself.
Frankensteinian monsters lumbered through the episode (we counted at least four). A distraught Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) begs Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to ring the bells at King’s Landing to plead for mercy and spare its residents death by mass roasting. Sitting high on top of a tower on her dragon, Daenerys hears the ringing too, but chooses to ignore it. Not today.
Down below, it’s a free for all. Blinded by anger (and propelled by the exigencies of scriptwriting), Daenerys suddenly discovers her military smarts and finds a way to ensure that Drogon never misses a target. As the bulk of the remaining visual effects budget got emptied out at King’s Landing, Miguel Sapochnik created some stunning tablueax: Tyrion, standing alone and desolate in the ruins of his home; the Hound (Rory McCann) and the Mountain going mano-a-mano; Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) showing her humane side; people being fried like insects.
All we need is one good shot, Cersei says despairingly as Daenerys and Drogon light a zig-zagging swathe through King’s Landing. Not today. The Mad Queen lost her throne, her kingdom, all she loved and her title to the real tyrant hiding in plain view. Yes, today.