Game of Thrones, By a Fucking Idiot S8E5: The Bells

by thethreepennyguignol

Here’s the tea, here’s the real inside scoop (and no, it’s not about the Youtube drama that’s been going on this weekend, but you know, get on that), here’s everything you’ve been waiting to here: keep your voice down, make sure the curtains are drawn, because I’m going to say it.

This season of Game of Thrones was never going to be good.

And, I hear you cry (honestly, though, I actually do, please stop hanging around outside my house while you read these recaps), I’m just saying that because I’ve always been a casual non-fan of this show, always lightly hated it, and maybe even hoped that it would crash and burn in its final season. And those things might be true, but beyond that, I was sure that this season was going to be something of a wreck, because these stories are always much, much harder to end than to start.

An ending means a confirmation that most of the fan theories out there are wrong. An ending means no more time with these characters – at least not in the contexts we’ve grown to love them in. An ending means no more possibility, every episode narrowing down and narrowing down until there is nothing left but what these particular writers thought should happen. I mean that as no disrespect to the writer’s room behind Game of Thrones (I do, a little bit, really), but the truth is that what they want is unlikely to square with what you want. Or what he wants, or what she wants, or what anyone wants, really, apart from them. It’s always going to be a disappointment to most of the viewership in one way or another.

And I think that’s the problem that this penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, The Bells, suffered from. Because it’s an attempt to bring to a close some of the most significant arcs of the show (Cercei and Jaime Lannister, for example), and no matter how it was handled, people were going to hate on at least a large part of it.

Which, in some ways, is a shame, because there was a lot of good to be had in this outing. There was just some tremendous acting – the opening, with Varys’ execution, is one of the standout scenes of the series to date – as well as some spectacular cinematography and fight choreography that we could, you know, actually see this time. Everything that The Long Night got wrong in terms of battle sequences, The Bells got right, and that’s to its enormous credit, given that this is the mega-battle which will probably be the show’s last.

Which is not to say that I thought this was a particularly outstanding episode of the show, or anything even close to that. No, in fact, there were a huge number of problems with the way this episode unfolded, and the place it took up in the storyline of the season and show as a whole. Seeing Dany’s full-blown heel-turn in villainy (which was incredibly well-acted by Emilia Clarke, to give her full props), as she burned literally an entire city to the ground after ignoring the signs of surrender, is one of those things that could have worked beautifully if the show had given it the proper room to breathe. The pieces pointing to this eventual outcome have been scattered around the board before now, but they were never really put into formation in any convincing way – the moment was shocking, yes, but really for all the wrong reasons, as it hadn’t been grounded well enough in the reality the show has created.

And the close to both Jaime and Cercei’s respective arcs pleased me not one jot. For one, Cercei has been shown to be this great manipulator, a tirelessly cunning leader who always has a back-up plan up her sleeve – and yet, she was sunk in this episode after a slightly smug expression wasn’t enough to take down an invading army? I kept waiting for her to pull something out of the bag, or even just get a good scene of confrontation with Dany before she copped it, but she went out pretty pathetically for the most hardcore stone-cold bitch in Westereos.

And Jaime’s story felt oddly regressive, in some ways – so much of his arc, to my eyes, at least, has been about him establishing himself outside the Lannisters in name and in person. To see him beaten in a “gotcha!” fight with Christian Greyjoy (who, praise be, is no longer with us, at least) as they both stumble around a beach, and then go back into the arms of the woman who basically ruined his life and went against everything he stood for…it was a curious choice for the show to make, especially after the consummation of his relationship with Brienne a few episodes ago. All this forward momentum, away from Cercei, only to have him land back more or less where he’d begun? I’m sad to see him go, and I’m sad to see such a circular end to the arc of one of my favourite characters.

Arya survives the battle with the help of some of the most outrageous plot armouring I’ve ever seen – clad head-to-toe in a fan-favourite Kevlar vest, she gets stampeded on, blown up, tossed around, chokes on dust, and generally looks like me after a really rough night out in Catty in Glasgow, yet survives it all, somehow. At a certain point, the choice to keep her alive looks so deliberate that all sense of danger is sapped from her panicked fleeing through the city. They’re not going to kill Arya. They’re just not.

Because Arya’s a good guy, and, at the end of the day, for all Game of Thrones may claim to be edgy and gritty and that’s why there’s so much rape in it and different, the major good guys win and live, the major bad guys die and lose. Cercei gets smooshed under some stone with her incestuous lover, the Hound beats his brother in a fight to the second-death, Euron dies in a puddle of his own blood on the shoreline. There are still some complexities to explore here – where the show will go with Dany’s genocide, for one, though let’s face it, we’re just setting up Jon to be the noble and obvious hero, God help us all – but for the largest part, the show wants to give us a happy ending, or at least as close as they can get to one. And a happy ending is never the most interesting thing to come from something like this.

As we draw in on the final episode, I guess we kind of have to accept that whatever happens is going to be a disappointment. I know this episode was for a lot of people, and it certainly was even for me, someone with less investment in this show than I have in cleaning up the vomit my cat did on the carpet as I wrote this sentence. Because it’s unlikely to be what you want, and since it’s probably going to feature Jon Snow heavily, it’s sure as fuck not what I want. But at least, at last, this show will finally be at an end, and we can all move on with our lives. And that is something we can all get behind.

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more stuff like it, check out some of my other recapping projects – I’ve looked at Stephen King’s Carrie and the first Harry Potter book, as well as writing episode-by-episode recaps of RiverdaleDoctor Who, and American Horror Story. I also run the film site No But Listen, where you can find my musings on movies along with writings from my brilliant co-editor. If you liked this recap and want to support me, you can do so on Patreon!

(header image via Geek.com)