Warning: This article contains major spoilers.
A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
During the last few minutes of Cersei’s life, there’s a moment when she cries out the perfect summary for this episode:
“Not like this.”
What can I say about “The Bells,” the fifth episode of season eight, that wouldn’t amount to a roast of Drogon proportions? Viewers were essentially promised an 80-minute episode that would finally bring Daenerys close to the Iron Throne. But the first 30 minutes were a slow burn of betrayal that led to the execution, by dragon, of Lord Varys. Those minutes also put a dent in the (now incestuous) romance between Daenerys and Jon Snow. And later, Tyrion freed his captive-brother Jaime and suggested that he find Cersei and escape to a new life, as if that wasn’t the latest Dumbest Idea Ever from the Queen’s Hand.
And then we got the introduction to Mad Queen Daenerys, who burns King’s Landing to ashes—children included—along with a series of anticlimactic deaths that put the Night King’s defeat to shame. It was a stunning sequence, brilliantly shot, disturbing as hell, well-acted…. and just terribly written.
Over the years, Game of Thrones fans have gotten used to a show that excavates every good thing about a character by squeezing out the absolute worst in everyone. It’s been nearly a decade since Ned Stark mind you, so fair enough. But up until season seven, those decisions were often justified with character arcs that were consistent and followed an internal logic. It was fine if Ned got his head chopped off because he was a noble fool who expected the rule of law to save the day. Robb Stark was murdered because he was a romantic (and also because he expected the rule of law to save the day). Cersei was a great villain because you understood why she was the way she was. Hell, even the kid that killed Jon Snow got numerous episodes devoted to his reasoning and eventual betrayal.
While I can’t say enough about how disappointing this season has been, Game of Thrones has made the following decisions about its characters that are just unforgivable.
They finally done did it to Daenerys. Daenerys Targaryen hit her final form as she abandoned the advice to not use weapons of mass destruction—which is what a dragon pretty much is—on the innocents of (the surprisingly large) King’s Landing. Despite an obvious win over the Lannisters, Dany hears the bells of surrender, and rather than offer mercy, she goes off her rocker and torches everything in sight, children included. There were several hints that Dany was becoming too obsessive over the throne and shared some of the characteristics of her father, the Mad King, but this heel turn came with whiplash.
A Mad Queen Daenerys isn’t believable.
Think back to the time when rooting for Daenerys was the easiest thing about this show. She was the kind but steel-hearted “Breaker of Chains” who could broker peace with barbarians and slaves alike. We called her “Dany” and watched her talent for barbecuing slavers and enemies become a thing of satisfaction. From the first episode on, the series made us witness her trials—birthing dragons, freeing cities, saving dumbass Jon Snow, and helping to defeat the Night King. But now we’re meant to believe that the most reasonably lovable protagonist is now the show’s most unreasonable villain?
For a good seven seasons and change, this series has hammered in the idea of Dany’s aptitude for fairness; a queen interested in equality, with the one requirement being loyalty—bend the knee, and we won’t have problems, she’d say. The paradox of that comes in the constant reminder that Targaryen blood is susceptible to mental fuckery, as Varys puts it: “Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.” You’d expect the groundwork to be laid for this transition by now—the show has made a small attempt to show her as increasingly isolated—but we’re asked to ignore nearly everything we know about this character. Suddenly, because our queen is lonely and has been betrayed yet again, she’s down with torching thousands of people who are captives in their own right. As if the sounds of cries wouldn’t make her pause? Come on.
It’s possible that this character arc could have worked if the seeds to this decision were planted earlier and cultivated. Maybe if he finishes the books, George R. R. Martin will be able to show her descent into madness in a way that shows the tragedy of it all and what happens to a person consumed by their lust for power. But this show did Daenerys dirty.
Thanks to Jon running his noble mouth in last week’s "The Last of the Starks," his Targaryen identity becomes the talk of the town, resulting in the execution of one of Thrones’ most intriguing characters, Varys. Up until Jon witnesses Daenerys torching a city, he pretty much neglects every single maddening sign that Daenerys is turning into that crazy person with a dragon. “She’s my queen,” he says over and over again. The show tells us he’s the best option for the Iron Throne, but we’re supposed to trust a naïve man who can’t even tell when his lover-aunt is the bad guy?
Jon Snow still hasn’t done anything.
We get it already: Jon is the embodiment of all that is noble, brave, and good. I mean, sure, his valor, humility, and honesty make him better than us all. But his arc, like Ned’s, has a habit for sending him to stupid places. This is a man who has the ingredients of a classic hero—the same characteristics that get people killed in Game of Thrones. He’s died once, yet we’re constantly reminded that he’s the great—now greater than Dany, if you take her recent city-burning actions into account—ruler to be. This line of thinking ignores the fact that Jon fails like it’s a sport, bumbling his way from one scenario to the next, until some woman—Arya, Daenerys, Sansa, Ygritte, or Melisandre—saves his ass. What exactly have we gained from his superman status? He didn’t kill the Night King. He didn’t take out Cersei. He hasn’t won a single war off of his own military planning. What kind of bait-and-switch arc is this?
In the final moments of her life, Cersei is stripped of all her narcissism and she breaks down. King’s Landing begins to fall under the flames of Daenerys. She’s no longer the calculated, iron-hearted woman we knew her to be in the final moments of " The Bells". Instead, she’s scared and whimpers, “I don’t want to die,” before her Matrix-y quote, “not like this.” Jaime embraces his sister for the last time as a roof collapses on top of them both.
Cersei went out in a very un-Cersei-like way.
This is a tough one to swallow for a character who’s consistently been the most deceptive and intelligent player on the show. The quick destruction of the Night King suggested a final boss encounter with final boss characteristics—plan A, B, and Cs. Instead, we got a continuation of the past two Cersei seasons, a character who hasn’t done anything of much consequence, while sacrificing her dignity with a ridiculous character like Euron Greyjoy. There was little complex about a scared woman crying in the arms of her brother-lover. And now, she’s done without a plan B thanks to good ol’ collateral damage. All this needed was a Celine Dion score as the icing on a cheesy, anticlimactic cake.
In traditional Jaime fashion, he gets caught by Daenerys on his way to see sister Cersei. His brother Tyrion bails him out before some heartwarming brother-to-brother words. He fights Euron, who just walks straight out the sea, wins, and limps way back to Cersei as they try to escape through the underground tunnels to start a new life. Obviously, this doesn’t happen, and they both die in a ceiling collapsing embrace.
He’s still lovesick.
The only thing that feels different about Jaime is that he’s no longer an attempted-child-murdering brother, but still a sister-loving one. It’s as if knighting Brienne, sleeping with Brienne, and maintaining his promise to fight for the living didn’t mean much in the end. He left an honorable woman in tears and returned to a sister who did unthinkable things to countless people and planned his own assassination. At this point, his love seems unreasonable and devoid of any thought relevant to the moral growth this show spent entire seasons establishing for Jaime. He earned the right to live, but instead died cheaply at his sister’s side.
Tyrion had another choice in this episode. He could have either sided with his longtime buddy Varys or he could go with the queen and essentially sentence Varys to death. In another choice unbecoming of someone who's otherwise established himself as incredibly intelligent, he chose Daenerys and watched in stupid surprise as she burned down King’s Landing, killed innocents, and subsequently offed his brother and sister.
Tyrion is supposed to be smart.
Classic Tyrion had to see this coming. He had to consider the growing isolation of Daenerys matched with her Targaryen blood to understand that she wasn’t right in the head. The wisest man continues to show himself as a moron though. His failed gig as the hand to the queen, where he continually provided terrible tactful advice—comes as if he hasn’t known Cersei Lannister’s tactics his whole life. Season eight Tyrion is also a man of stupid optimism. He’s a dude who tries to talk down a sister from a war with words. And he’s a dude who convinces his brother to start a new life with the same sister who sought to assassinate them both. Idealism is all well and good, but there’s nothing about Tyrion’s experiences of the world that would suggest that idealism has ever worked in his favor. A man as clever as he is has no reason to rely on this ideology as if it were a benefit.
We later find The Hound and Arya in King’s Landing on their way to seek revenge. He’s on the Mountain, she’s on Cersei. But once they arrive, all hell breaks loose as Dany does her whole Mad Queen thing, and The Hound saves Arya before telling her to get out of town. People burn, shit happens, and she’s left in an overly dramatic scene of falling ash with a nice horse.
A revenge-less Arya doesn’t make sense.
Revenge is supposed to be bad, right? It’s the lesson we’re supposed to take away because killing is bad. But Arya is different, is she not? We’ve spent seasons of character-developing moments where she’s been interested in only one thing: death. By Syrio’s own words: “There is only one thing we say to death: not today,” and she’s taken that as a means to dish it out as much as to avoid it. Let us count the ways: She’s murdered Lannister guards. She’s murdered Frey men. And she’s murdered the geezer who killed her mother and brother. But suddenly, because The Hound says so, revenge is now bad, and she’s had an awakening because a dragon dusted a city? It’s better to take a white horse and ride off into the ashy sunset. To be fair, at least this arc almost worked for me.
Drogon nearly got wrecked by dragon-killing arrows just an episode ago, the same arrows that killed his dragon bro Rhaegal. In this episode, he takes them all on by his lone self.
Drogon is suddenly OP again.
Can someone tell me how this dragon went from barely being able to spot ships from a distance to taking out an entire fleet of scorpions by himself? Are dragons OP or not? At least this followed what earlier seasons had been telling us all along: that dragons are the nuclear bombs of this world.
This guy kills a dragon in one episode and gets his entire fleet roasted in the next. Later, he dies at the hands of a very stabbed Jaime.
Euron went out like token villain.
Euron was always token trash by design. The horny punk of a pirate was someone written to sneak up on beloved characters with tactics that made little sense. In season seven, he somehow snuck up to Yara’s fleet and defeated Dany’s Dornish allies in a single stroke. He was a cheap instrument to give the beloved villain in Cersei some equal footing. So naturally, he went out in the most cheap-ass way possible: a sword to the stomach, to be forgotten forever as he talks to himself.
At least we got Clegane Bowl, which was pretty decent.
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