The 300s Breaks Down Game of Thrones S8E5: “The Bells”

Obvious Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t caught up on Season 8 of Thrones yet come back later.

The Mad Queen has arrived. The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones final season kept the promise that so many seasons before it had; delivering the biggest blow right before the finale. An absolute spectacle for the ages as Khaleesi turns full heel and embraces the role of The Mad Queen as she literally burned Kings Landing to the ground. I was leaning forward in my chair in suspense for about 40 minutes straight. What started out as violent efficiency by Khaleesi turned into legitimate terrorism as the Dragon Queen became the very thing she vowed not to be; a tyrant. How did we get here?

“Alright then, let it be fear,” Daenerys says to Jon Snow after he rejects her affection on Dragonstone.

This is a central theme that the last Targaryen has struggled with for years, but most explicitly in Season 8. She has continuously walked the line of being the beloved savior, freeing slaves, being the voice for those without a voice, and taking what she wants simply because she can. With great power comes great responsibility and after seven seasons of Khaleesi balancing that responsibility while she became only more powerful, she ultimately decides to throw it all away in the name of rage and revenge.

“I don’t think she decided ahead of time that she was going to do what she did. And then she sees the Red Keep, which is, to her, the home that her family built when they first came over to this country 300 years ago,” showrunner DB Weiss said on the Inside the Episode. “It’s in that moment on the walls of King’s Landing, when she’s looking at that symbol of everything that was taken from her, when she makes the decision to make this personal.”

The sped up arrival of Daenerys unhinged has been a bit too convenient for my liking, but the show has been hinting at this for years.

“I’m not my father,” Dany says to Ser Barristan in S5E2 to which Barristan replies: “The Mad King gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved and each time it made him feel powerful and right. Until the very end.”

All of Dany’s closest friends and most trusted confidants are all gone. She’s too strong for Jon Snow, as Varys puts it, and Tyrion has lost her trust after repeated lapses in judgment. Barristan, Jorah, and Missandei were the only three people who were ever really able to temper Dany’s worst impulses. And all three are dead.

“I am not here to be Queen of the ashes,” Dany says in S7E2 to her small council when discussing the best way to take Kings Landing.

Oh and lets not forget about these gems from Season 2.

To quote another pop culture behemoth in Avengers: Endgame: Khaleesi “did exactly what she said she was going to do.”

My only complaint with this storyline is the same critique I’ve had about this entire season; the pacing. In a matter of 5 episodes Daenerys has gone from the savior of Westeros, the liberator from tyrants, and the beloved Khaleesi to the Mad Queen? She has suffered some tragic losses in Jorah, Missandei, and her two dragons, but to use that as justification for destroying an entire city and burning thousands of innocent citizens alive is a pretty big leap.

With that being said, George RR Martin’s books have become absolute must reads just to see how the godfather handles the same storylines.

Whats even more shocking is how Khaleesi has turned into the type of person she hated the most (arrogant, entitled, and cruel) just like….her late brother Viserys Targaryen. She has been shattered by her inability to gain the love and support of Westeros, despite quite literally saving the country from death. To her dismay, it is Jon Snow whom the people still love and champion. It is a stunning parallel with Viserys as Khaleesi has become just like her brother (who was killed for those same qualities).

Every time a Targaryen is born the gods flip a coin. Well it seems like the coin landed on the wrong side.

One of the most incredible scenes in the episode and really the series was Khaleesi finally unleashing her dragon’s power to take out her enemies singlehandedly. It was glorious to see, if not a little inconsistent. Khaleesi *easily* takes out a hundred ships and just as many Scorpions after losing a dragon to just one of those pesky jumbo crossbows in the previous episode.

I understand she was taken by surprise somehow (she forgot about the Iron Fleet according to the showrunners…) in Episode 4, but thats just not great writing. Too often the end has dictated the circumstances required to get there, which has become a problem primarily since the show has passed the books. Without Martin’s elaborate game plan to lead the way, Benioff and Weiss have had to piece key events together with various plot devices. Just imagine the damage she could have done with 2 if not 3 dragons?

One of the deeper cuts were the various Wildfire explosions going off throughout the city as Khaleesi lit up Kings Landing. Aerys Targaryen’s old Wildfire stash was still buried underneath the city, going off like fireworks in the trunk of your car that you forgot about.

Again, we’ve been building to this for quite some time. Go back to Khaleesi’s vision she saw in Season 2 in Quarth at the House of the Undying because this is incredible foreshadowing, intentional or not.

Winter never came for King’s Landing, but Khaleesi did.

Sansa Was Right

Something I’ve been saying for a while now is what if Sansa wasn’t just being a distrustful or jealous sister? What I wrote last week:

“Sansa just does not trust Khaleesi and maybe she sees something that everyone else is blind to because they either love Khaleesi, they admire her, or they fear her. Sansa has none of those emotions towards the Dragon Queen so maybe its more than just being spiteful; maybe she really doesn’t believe she’ll be a good ruler…So maybe we need to start treating her disdain for Khaleesi as more than just unnecessary drama.”

What if she truly saw something in the Dragon Queen that unsettled her? Sansa is arguably the best politician in all of Westeros. Trained by Littlefinger, she survived Joffrey, Cersei, and Ramsay Bolton all while uniting the north and saving Jon at the Battle of the Bastards with the Knights of the Vale. She was often referred to as the key to the north to boot. Well after “The Bells” it sure seems like Sansa had Dany pegged from day one.

RIP to Varys

Varys, as always, was the only one that saw the big picture. He could see Khaleesi losing her grasp on reality/sanity/decency and tried to get ahead of it, but nobody wanted to listen. They all saw the same signs, but everyone was blinded for their own reasons. Tyrion is the Hand of the Queen, and Jon Snow loved her but more importantly he swore himself and the North to her (that damn Stark nobility). Varys cared only for the Realm aka the common people and Varys knew the people were screwed.

Ring the Bells

The aptly titled episode refers to the bells that ring in Kings Landing when the city has surrendered. It means the war has been won. Well when Tyrion repeatedly says they need to stop the attack if they hear the bells ringing I became suspicious. Would Khaleesi think that maybe the bells are a trap of sorts by Cersei? Not really. Actually she just didn’t care and merely used the bells as the soundtrack to her rampage.

The Golden Company Just Got Downgraded to Silver

Thrones offered zero character development for these guys and now we know why. They didn’t even make it out of the locker room before Khaleesi came out of the goddamn walls to blow them away.

The Cleganebowl

It would be hard to do justice to anything that fans have been clamoring for after 7+ seasons. While I don’t think this was the amazing sword battle we all expected, it was visually stunning. The shot of the two brothers fighting on a crumbling stair case in the Red Keep as Drogon flies behind them burning the city to the ground was incredible.

This battle royale also showed just how indestructible The Mountain really was, something thats been apparent since his resurrection, but never really deeply explored. Not to quote the Avengers too many times in this Thrones blog, but Sandor my man:

The Hound saving Arya’s life by talking her out of a suicide mission for vengeance was a rare emotional moment for this character. Arya’s the only one he’s ever really had any affection for and vice versa so he’s the only one that can snap her out of it and send her away.

Arya

Arya has repeatedly said “I’m going to kill the queen.” About halfway through that episode I realized she’s rarely said I’m going to kill Cersei; only “the queen” specifically. Well, once Arya got caught in that hell fire and saw more and more innocents getting scorched it became pretty clear to me that Arya was always going to kill the queen, maybe just not the one she thought.

Fine, you want more foreshadowing?

Khaleesi:

Don’t be surprised when Benioff and Weiss tell composer Ramin Djawadi to take a few plays off in order to let Arya do her work with Coldplay playing in the background.

Something that has been in my opinion shockingly underutilized is Arya’s game of faces. We literally spent multiple seasons learning about this and how deadly the faceless men are. Arya has become one of the most lethal killers in Westeros and did take out the entire Frey House, but since then we’ve seen zero use of this pretty rare talent. Will we finally see Arya break it out in the series finale? Could she kill someone like Grey Worm in order to take his face and get close enough to the Queen? We’ll see, but this is another thread that seems to have been forgotten if not.

Starks Run Deep

Also, I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but Jon and Arya have literally become the same person. It’s like that Progressive Insurance commercial about becoming your parents. The long hair with the top knot, the long leather outfit; they’ve all become Ned Stark.

Cersei and Jaime

I’ve seen a lot of hate on Twitter about the way they handled Cersei’s death, but it did a pretty good job of humanizing one of the most evil characters in the show in just a couple of scenes. Again, pacing of the character arc was poor, but what did people want? For Cersei to stand on the roof and give one last defiant speech before getting lit up by Drogon?

At the end, Cersei sounded a lot like Janos Slynt at the Battle of Castle Black. Someone who is in way over their head and trying to convince themselves that the inevitable is not actually coming as they mindlessly babble in the face of certain death

Another pacing issues though is how they handled Jaime’s last two episodes and his ultimate death. I think we all knew Jaime would either die trying to save Cersei or trying to stop her, but to introduce the entire Brienne love storyline, the immediate reversal, his capture and release by Tyrion, followed by his frantic effort to get to Cersei was the definition of rushed.

I take this with a grain of salt because he can’t finish shit, but George RR Martin recently said in order to do the Thrones books justice it would take FIVE more seasons. Now obviously thats excessive, but Benioff and Weiss recently revealed that HBO told them do whatever you want we’ll give you whatever resources you need. Benioff and Weiss themselves chose to say ‘nah, 6 episodes should do it.’ That coupled with the fact that these two are on deck to work on a Star Wars movie after GOT wraps and I can’t help but feel they broke out the Wrap It Up Box here.

Jon Snow

How does the King in the North handle Khaleesi now? Cersei blew up the sept and killed a couple hundred people and we were all shocked; Khaleesi just burned down the entire god damn city. He can’t openly challenge her because of the aforementioned dragon, the Unsullied and the Dothraki, who seem pretty jazzed up about destroying said city. It seems like marriage is probably off the table as well. So its going to take quite the coup to unseat Dany from the Iron Throne at this point. Even if Arya or someone is able to kill the Dragon Queen, this could devolve into a bloody and meaningless civil war real quick.

Bran

We are now down 80 minutes away from Bran becoming the No. 1 in Red’s Power Rankings of Most Useless Characters of All Time. He has said that he’s not really Bran anymore and that he doesn’t want anymore, but did we really build this guy up for 7 seasons just to have him be the know it all grandpa in the corner?

I can’t believe we are now just 6 days away from the last episode in Game of Thrones history. I am shook. I will be an emotional wreck next weekend so don’t take it personally when I ghost any and all forms of communication. How does this all end? Will Khaleesi rule unopposed with fire and blood? Will the North finally overthrow the rulers in Kings Landing? Could Jon Snow aka Aegon Targaryen possibly take Drogon for himself? Will Jon finally change the narrative about Stark men in the capital? So many questions so little time.

As we all know though, when you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.

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