Monday, May 13, 2019

REVIEW: 'Game of Thrones' - Daenerys Makes a Pivotal Decision in the Battle for the Iron Throne in 'The Bells'

HBO's Game of Thrones - Episode 8.05 "The Bells"

Daenerys and Cersei weigh their options as an epic conflict looms at King's Landing.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of HBO's Game of Thrones.

"The Bells" was written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Miguel Sapochnik

This hour pivots around the idea of Daenerys going mad and essentially burning King's Landing to the ground. That is such a horrifying visual that dominates so much of the emotional wreckage of this episode. The season up to this point has been articulating to the audience that the fight is much more evenly split between the two sides. Daenerys' forces were significantly diminished because of the Battle of Winterfell against the Night King. She lost another one of her dragons because Qyburn perfected the scorpion to actually inflict critical damage to the creatures. Shortly into the action of this battle though, it becomes clear that nothing compares to the sheer onslaught of damage that a dragon can inflict. The scorpions are no longer as lethal as they were just one episode ago. Now, they are actually difficult to reload and aim. That allows Daenerys to sneak up behind them and essentially wipe out the Iron Fleet. She does the exact same thing when it comes to breaching the wall of the city. The troops are all gathered outside and that's her grand signal. She blows the gate wide open. She lets her forces into the city to attack the troops and innocent civilians waiting on the other side. It's brutal and vicious. It quickly becomes clear that there is nothing Cersei can do to stop the destruction of her city. Stepping down from the throne seems like the only viable option. Tyrion has put plans in place to get Daenerys and Jon to stop fighting as soon as the bells start ringing. That is the symbol of a peaceful transition of power. It shows that the people of King's Landing support Daenerys' claim to the Iron Throne. They are willing to submit to her rule. That moment comes but it isn't the end of this battle. In fact, things only fall into more despair because Daenerys keeps on opening fire on King's Landing. It's absolutely horrific. It shows that she misuses power just as much as Cersei has. She wants to lord over her people with fear. That's the type of ruler she wants to be. When the citizens of King's Landing look up and see a dragon, they are absolutely terrified. That is promptly followed by the dragon breathing fire on them and destroying a large portion of the city. It all feels so reckless and immoral. The show basically justifies it by saying that Daenerys has been broken following the destruction of love in her life. Her closest advisors, Jorah and Missandei, have been taken from her. Jon can't reciprocate the love she has for him because of their blood relation. And now, she kills Varys for trying to organize Jon's own ascension to the Iron Throne. She feels betrayed and unwilling to trust anyone. She hears the bells. She knows what they mean. But she doesn't listen to Tyrion's advice. But it's more than just forging ahead to get what she perceives to rightfully be hers. It's such a casual disregard for the loss of innocent life. She doesn't see the people on the ground as people terrified of their leader but condemned to this place. Instead, she views them as complicit and supportive citizens of the greatest threat to her family across the generations. She has to eliminate all of those perceived dangers in order to be the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. But that just ensures that Daenerys also becomes a monster which certainly isn't the trajectory the character has been on for a long time.

Sure, the argument can absolutely be made that this is all in keeping with what Daenerys has been subjected to over the years. She has never been a great political mind. She has grown impatient with her advisors' pursuits of diplomacy. But there is a stark difference between being frustrated that people won't accept her earnest vision for the world and actually committing mass genocide. King's Landing is the most populous place in this universe. And now, it's a maze of people trying to break free to salvation only for it to be nearly impossible. It's important to see how Daenerys' decision actually robs some of the other characters of the destinies they have long seen for themselves. Jon has never wanted to be the king. He loves Daenerys as his queen. On some level though, both he and Tyrion have to be complicit in this massive loss of life. They supported Daenerys despite seeing the same exact concerns that Varys and Sansa did. Those two pragmatic leaders had the common sense that this was a rising threat that couldn't be contained. Daenerys felt entitled to the Iron Throne and had the terrifying means to take it for herself. The Stark siblings have long wanted vengeance against Cersei for the deaths of their parents. The Lannister family has caused them so much pain. And now, Cersei and Jaime actually die together in a moment that is absolutely played as this grand romantic thing. It mostly just proves that their character arcs have also been massively all over the place. That has been especially true in this final season. There was always the suspicion that Cersei would die. If it wasn't because of Daenerys, then Arya would be the one to get revenge. Here, it's so inevitable. She is simply trapped in a situation until a building collapses on top of her and her brother. Meanwhile, Jaime has been on a troubling redemption arc for a long time. He is a complicated figure because he understands the horrible actions he has taken in Cersei's name while still being in love with her. That defines him to his final moments. He dies believing that this is the exact fate he deserves. It just feels like the creative team engineered that moment into happening instead of it being something born out of actual character connection. Plus, it means that Arya has to give up her quest of getting revenge on the people who beheaded her father in front of her. She has to be content knowing that Cersei dies at some point during this assault on King's Landing. She is grateful to The Hound for ensuring that she stays alive to have some kind of life after this as well. Those two went to King's Landing with purpose. They had unfinished business that must be settled. And now, Arya has to abandon those dreams. She's instead fighting for her life to escape the city and try to help some of the innocent citizens along the way. It's absolutely futile for her even though she survives miraculously. That means she may still get the chance to kill the queen. It just may not be Cersei. It may be the queen flying above who caused all of this chaos and destruction. And finally, the audience has to settle for a draw when it comes to the battle between the Clegane brothers. That's the only personal detail that the Mountain still carries in his shell of a body. He refuses an order from his queen in order to end his brother's life once and for all. It's a brutal and epic match between them as well. But again, they have to be content with both dying because that's the circumstance that fate has given them thanks to Daenerys breaking bad and deciding she doesn't actually want to rule over King's Landing and its people. That is bound to carry significant consequences. But again, it doesn't exactly feel like a moment that's been earned. It's just a shocking twist in order to shock the audience and create unexpected momentum heading into the series finale.