Game of Thrones Review: Season 8, Episode 5 - The Bells

Words: Adam Ridgley
Monday 13 May 2019
reading time: min, words

The penultimate episode in the Game of Thrones saga is a polarizing affair that is bound to ring sounds of debate in the fanbase for years to come...


There may never be a moment in television history that will divide viewers as much as The Bells has. Future Three Eyed Ravens may choose to avoid looking at the online aftermath of this one. A loud, full and intense episode that will leave views saying, “oh yeah, I forgot Varys died this episode.”

We begin the episode in the immediate aftermath of Missande’s death, with Jon Snow returning to Dragonstone, immediately being faced with Varys pulling some signature petty politicking around Daenery’s mental wellbeing, which would not be unfounded. After a betrayal by Tyrion, Varys 'thank you, next' approach to the monarchy sees the series veteran gruesomely dispatched by Drogon.

Upon visiting Daenerys, it is clear that she is not all quite there anymore. Jon, her last human connection to this world, rejects her, through the sensible ideal that a romantic relationship with your aunt is not a great idea.

The highlight of this opening act, and this episode, is the farewell between Tyrion and Jamie. In quite a loud episode, this quiet, tender moment stands out and pays off their relationship well.

We quickly get to the siege of Kings Landing. The Iron Fleet, for all their marksman prowess last week, seem to have gone to the storm trooper school of aiming this week, as they are ambushed and quickly dispatched. As a matter of fact, all are dispatched rather quickly, from the Lannister forces to, most irritatingly, the Golden Company. Should have brought those elephants, am I right lads? The battle is won. The Lannister’s surrender and the bells ring. Happy ending, we think. Wait, no! Surprise twist! Daenerys snaps and decides to burn everything to the ground. Literally everything.

What is worth appreciating is the visual spectacle on display here. Much as he did with the battle of Winterfell, director Miguel Sapochnik masterfully crafts a disturbingly beautiful display. The cinematography genuinely leaves you in awe. With intense, claustrophobic action on the streets that hammers home the horrors of war. The fabled Clegane Bowl is a horribly gritty battle and the end of the Mountain and Hound is as thrilling and gritty as it is fan servicey.

However, spectacle cannot supplement failed storytelling. Whilst it has been built well for years that Daenerys will become the Mad Queen, the moment was so poorly executed. We have seen Daenerys do horrific things, but there was always the justification that the people in some way deserved it. Never civilians however.

It had been built well, even within the episode that Daenerys was losing sanity, but there was no logic in the moment to her snap. The battle had been won. The move was so uncharacteristic and felt so out of left field, despite having 8 seasons of solid storytelling behind it.

Cersei and Jamie fittingly dying in each other’s arms as Daenerys destroys much of the Red Keep. For all this episode’s faults, Jamie and Cersie are written well and both Lena Heady and Nikolaj Coster-Waldu put in emotional performances as two of televisions greatest characters bid farewell.

The episode ends as Arya, who uncharacteristically agreed to not kill Cersei, awakens in the rubble of Kings Landing and rides off on an ambiguously placed white horse.

The episode is a spectacle, but one that cannot make up for poor storytelling. Daenerys turn should have been one of the most shocking and heart-breaking moments in TV history, but instead felt out of place. If they had simply saved the death of Missande, or Rheagal for this week during the siege, Daenerys turn would not have felt so out of place. Instead they botched what was potentially the greatest moment in TV history.

If only Jon would have married his aunt, this whole kerfuffle could have been avoided.

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