Game of Thrones S8:E5 – ‘The Bells’ Review

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By Ben Wright (@iamzavagno | www.xgeeks.co.uk)

This Review is Dark and full of Spoilers.

As usual on a Monday, I got up at 5am so that I could watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones. I do this to avoid spoilers, as my day job involves having social media up all day, and so that I can get the review out as soon as possible for our American audience. So far this season, sacrificing sleep and my lunch break, to write the review, has been worthwhile. It’s been entertaining and I’ve enjoyed it, even if some elements are no longer as strong as they once was. But shortly after the episode started, I had a sinking feeling. I don’t know why, I just didn’t feel right and I was very concerned as to how this episode would unfold.

I understand that some fans have not liked the last two seasons, this disappointment mainly comes from book readers who don’t like the showrunners now doing their own thing. I’m not fussed about that, because on the whole I’ve been entertained. I’ve got no loyalty to the source material, so I’m happy to consume their story for TV. But I now have to take issue with how they are managing their own established stories and character arcs. It feels like the rug has been pulled from under us this week, and not in a good way! The writing is all over the place. They are retconning their own established ideas and characters and trying to awkwardly fit all these new things together. It felt as if this episode was written the night before filming, it is so disjointed and puzzling. The joy this show usually brings, left me feeling angry, underwhelmed and incredibly disappointed.

With that said, the cinemtogprahy in this episode was mindlwoing and I have never seen anything like it on the small screen. While I will have negative feelings towards this episode, I will always think fondly of it in regards to visuals.

So on to the review…

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Dragonstone

We start with Varys, doing Varys things. Writing messages, getting intel from his little birds. But straight away you feel like things are soon about to take a turn. We then hear the sound of approaching boots, marching in unity. Looks like Daenerys has found out about his actions! Cut to the beach, and Varys is greeted by Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion. The latter of which informs Varys that it was he who grassed him up. It was to be expected and the two shared a nice, albeit brief,  moment. The Kingmakers are no more. Drogon appears out of the darkness, in an obvious composed shot and kills him. We saw this coming since last week and I could see the logic in the story playing out this way. What happened next though, took me by surprise.

Now you know I’m not a fan of Daenerys, but I’ve said previously I could get on board with the ‘Mad Queen’ angle. My issue is they are pulling the trigger on this without enough build up. It’s only been this season were it’s been obvious, and that only really started in Episode 4! She has always been emotional, she always reacts and given everything she has witnessed, you can create a case for this being the next logical step in her character development. But there hasn’t been that build up, at least not on a credible scale. Like I said, I’m not against this, it just doesn’t feel as organic as it should.

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Kings Landing

After last week’s surprise attack and expert marksmanship by Euron and the Iron Fleet, the writing was on the wall for Drogon! With ten times as many ships and scorpions, as well as the scorpions surrounding the entire perimeter of Kings Landing, there was no way Drogon was making it out alive. Or so you’d think! Daenerys arrives with Drogon and charges straight towards the Iron Fleet. Sun or not, she’s even closer this time, and as I mentioned, up against ten times the number of ships. Yet despite these incredible odds she completely destroys, not only the entire fleet, but every scorpion on the battlements. Sure, again, you have to suspend disbelief in these types of shows, but not when you establish a premise in the previous episode!! You can’t have something completely effective on week, then the following act as if it’s no obstacle at all. This really was the moment when I knew the episode was in trouble.

But maybe I was jumping the gun a little? We now have The Golden Company staring down Daenerys’ army. Now we’re talking! This is where things turn in favour for Cersei! Are we about to witness a ‘Battle of the Bastards’ style clash? Nope! Here comes Daenerys wiping out all of them in less than five seconds. Well now we know why they didn’t budget for the elephants! What would have been the point? I was very low at this point. This wasn’t a case of expectations being subverted, it was just sloppy writing. You can still achieve the same end but get there in a more satisfying way.

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Inside of Kings Landing, the civilians are feeling the heat! We follow a brother and sister pairing throughout the entire episode, as a way of putting the audience on the ground in that neutral position. I didn’t mind this. What I did mind was how quickly the bells started to announce the surrender. Then I thought, no wait, this will be were Cersei pulls out an ace up her sleeve! Wildfire? Hidden scorpions? But it wasn’t to be. So you’re telling me that Cersei is supposed to be the big bad of the season, above the Night King, and her threat is over within minutes? Right. OK then. The Lannister men throw down their swords. It’s over. Now my eyes turn to Dany, what will she do? As I had hoped, she continues the assault. At this point screw her character right? The damage is done. Just go for it and see what happens! As she continues to burn innocent civilians alive, Jon’s forces attack the unarmed Lannister men. Jon has to stop one of his own soldiers from raping a helpless woman. This might calm Dany’s worry about the men being loyal to Jon!

Inside the keep, Daenerys continues her assault. Cersei watches in horror before making her retreat. Now we get to see how Cersei’s story will pan out! Oh if only. The Hound and Arya have made it inside the Red Keep, but The Hound tells her to go, as following him would only leave to death. She agrees to go. Again, last week she was saying she didn’t plan on returning from Kings Landing. She was going to kill Cersei. Now that shes metres away from her she’s out? Another odd writing choice! Cersei is greeted by The Hound on the stairs. The Mountain steps towards him, Qyburn tries to stop him but is killed in the process. Cersei sneaks off and we are left with the two hulking men. Cleganebowl is on! Yet why am I no longer excited? I’ve waited for this for so long. But because the episode has gotten me so down, I don’t have the emotional response I should have. Even this big moment falls flat, and while it was brutal in parts, again I just felt underwhelmed. The fight ends with The Hound tackling his brother through a broken wall, resulting in them both falling into the flames. This would be the only fitting character ending in the episode.

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Jaime finally arrives at the secret entrance only to be greeted by Euron. This fight scene was so contrived. I know you have to suspend some disbelief, but Euron making it out of the sea at the exact moment Jaime arrives? Come on! You can do better than that. Even speaking as a big fan of both these characters, It was just unnecessary, and that was an underlying theme in the episode. As Jaime stumbles into Cersei’s path I sat forward in my seat expectant. Here we are. It’s all come down to this. Seven seasons of character and story development. How will these two meet their end? Oh. By being crushed by rubble in such a throwaway moment. My heart sank. I didn’t think it could sink any lower. But it did. It’s a TV show. This should be about entertainment. I shouldn’t get angry over this. And yet I did! Even as I write this, the feelings of what I witnessed have come flooding back to me. I just don’t understand why they thought this was how Jaime and Cersei should go out.

After letdown after letdown, from one disappointment to another, I finally found a crumb of brilliance in the final scene of the episode. Arya has survived the attack, but she is shaken. She sees the burned bodies of the children she tried to save. This whole scene was perfect. Maisie Williams was wonderful. The score and cinematography was glorious. And then the episode ended. Seventy plus minutes of confusion and missteps and they end with something so beautiful. Even this final scene is not enough for me to cling on to. I feel deflated and empty. I’m not excited for next week’s conclusion one bit. That shouldn’t be the feeling going into the finale ever episode of a show that has given me so much enjoyment.

An episode to push even the show’s most loyal defenders to their limits. Character arcs extinguished without logic or fulfillment. Convenience storytelling pushed to the very limits before turning into parody. Rushing to get the job done has never been more evident than it was here. Just like the Red Keep, the show’s legacy is crumbling.

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