Well, there will be no complaints about darkness in this episode…
The penultimate episode in Game of Thrones history has acquired a reputation for being the series best episode, an episode where shit goes down. There’s the infamous Red Wedding, the Battle of the Bastards, and of course, the shocking execution of Ned Stark. Whatever your thoughts about “The Bells”, there’s one thing for certain: shit went down.
Fresh from the execution of her long-serving advisor and close friend Missandei, “The Bells” opens with a sombre atmosphere with Dany in mourning. She’s refusing to eat, her hair left unbraided – a nuanced nod to Missandei’s death. Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Dragon Queen. Traitors loom in her midst, conspiring against her as the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Tyrion grasses on Lord Varys’ attempts at spreading the word of Jon Snow’s true lineage as a Targaryen, and as such, the rightful king. So he’s toast. “Dracarys”, indeed.
With Varys aflame, director Miguel Sapochnik sets the tone for the blazing episode that is about to unfold. Sapochnik has proven time and time again that he is the master of the battle-focused episodes in Game of Thrones, and despite what you think about this previous outing with “The Long Night”, his reputation is rightfully earned. “The Bells”, despite its many flaws, is a confident demonstration of Sapochnik flexing his muscles, and the result is an episode that is barbaric for all the right reasons.
“The Bells” dedicates most of its runtime to the breaching of King’s Landing, home to Cersei and her advisors, but also home to hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians. The battle commences in emphatic fashion: Drogon sweeping in and engulfing the entire Iron Fleet and the overlooking Scorpion devices in a handful of swift manoeuvres; a plot contrivance that feels a little silly when considering Euron’s 360 no-scopes that killed Rhaegal in the previous episode. The chaos doesn’t let off, and with the shift in perspective changing to those on the ground, we are treated to some truly spectacular battle set-pieces.
The remainder of Dany’s Unsullied and Dothraki troops take care of the Golden Company with ease with Grey Worm and Jon leading the attack, countless throats being slit and guts opened, spoiling the ground. As they march through the capital, seamlessly disposing of their enemies, they reach a stand-still, facing the remainder of Cersei’s army. With victory imminent, they await the sound of the bells, a sign that the city has surrendered. Dany, aboard Drogon, waits at the city’s walls. But when the clang of the bells fill the air of King’s Landing, a sense of malevolence fills Dany’s eyes (another terrific reactionary shot of Emilia Clarke). The sound of surrender is replaced by the piercing shriek of Drogon, who proceeds to soar over the red keep, engulfing the city in flames. Chaos ensues.
The barbarity and severity of Dany’s actions is something that Sapochnik refuses to shy away from. The absence of an immediate score, the profound use of slow-motion as Grey Worm massacres everyone in his path, the juxtaposition as Jon tries to convince his men to yield, the shots of children and women being butchered by Dany’s army – the gravity of the situation feels all too real.
But by far the episode’s most provocative scenes come from duality: The Hound and Arya as they navigate through the hectic crowds in the Capital, the former seeking revenge against his tyrannous brother (Cleganebowl confirmed, folks!) and the latter trying to save the lives of innocents; or Cersei and Jaime’s embraces beneath the Red Keep as they await their inevitable death as the city crumbles above them; prophecy fulfilled. There’s a career-best performance to be found here, with Lena Headey somehow managing to make us feel empathy for her character even after her streak of tyranny. “Not like this”, she pleads. There’s a true sense of anguish as her words break, a line delivery matched only through the sheer physicality of her performance.
The decision to make Dany, the chosen one who since the very beginning was destined to “destroy the wheel” of oppression and tyranny, fill her father’s boots as ‘The Mad Queen’ is a devastating decision from showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss. Granted, there have been moments throughout the course of the show’s lengthy duration that Dany’s descent into madness was an inevitability (the vision in Season 2 of the throne room in ashes, Maester Aemon’s warning that “A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing” in Season 5), coupled with the fact that Dany has suffered unimaginable losses since her departure for Westeros; but this will be a tough pill to swallow for most fans, and rightfully so. Daenerys was supposed to be the one (cue Obi Wan memes) to save Westeros. She promised Olenna Tyrell that she wasn’t going to be the ‘queen of ashes’, yet she so villainously murders thousands of innocents. She was supposed to be the one to put an end to the tyrannous Targaryen dynasty, to prove that she is capable of ruling without fear. She simply became the one person she has spent most of her life trying not to be, and it feels cheaply executed. But with that being said, if you are of the mind that Dany’s arc fulfils the subtle foreshadowing in previous seasons (book readers, I’d wager, who have acquired more of an insight into the mindset of Daenerys) then her destruction of the Capital will seem completely justified.
For the forthcoming final episode of Game of Thrones history, it seems like an impossible task to restore the faith that has been lost by fans who expected more from Daenerys’ character. It will be interesting to see how her trusted advisors react to the barbarity shown by the Dragon Queen, none more so than her nephew, who might just have a change of heart in terms of ruling the Seven Kingdoms. Will Jon and co. turn against Daenerys? How will the rest of Westeros react to the destruction of its capital? I guess we’ll find out in the last ever episode of Game of Thrones.
Say what you will, it’s been a remarkable journey.