Game of Thrones: The Bells

Well, that was awful.

Watching Game of Thrones has been something of a frustrating experience for a while now, pretty much since season five, which was when David Benioff and D. B. Weiss hit the "Shut up and get to the whale" phase of George R.R. Martin's saga. Things got progressively worse once they hit the "Shut up and write" phase. What was once carefully constructed now felt rushed and clumsy, characters became less complex, villains less nuanced, and the number of unbelievably baffling creative decisions multiplied ten fold.

But through it all I still had some tiny, almost microscopic, semblance of hope, desperate though it may have been, that Benioff and Weiss just might, against all the odds, actually deliver a somewhat satisfying conclusion to this saga. That went up in smoke with this episode, along with most of King's Landing. It's my own fault, really. I should've known the moment they had Sansa go along with Littlefinger's bullshit scheme to marry Ramsey Bolton (and the horror that followed) that this show was doomed.

Along Went a Spider

Things get off to a pretty bad start with Varys trying to convince Jon to turn against Dany and declare himself king. Since Jon, like all Stark men, is practically allergic to the very idea of betrayal this seems like an uncharacteristically dumb move on Lord Varys' part, but we're at the point now where people making uncharacteristically dumb moves to enable something "shocking" to happen is pretty much an hourly occurrence.

Still, Varys' actions make not a lick of sense. At this point Dany hasn't done anything truly monstrous to justify him turning against her. He's just decided that since Jon has the better claim, and because he's a nice lad that people like him, he should be king, not Dany. After all, her dad was cray cray and it's obviously hereditary. That's just science. Weirdly, Varys doesn't seem to be worried about Jon, the Mad King's grandson, also going locomotion. Maybe he's just hoping that Jon's Stark dumbness has cancelled out his Targaryen madness.

Lannister House is Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down...

I wonder why the hell Lena Headey even bothered to return for the final season. With all the action focused on Winterfell for first three episodes, Cersei has feck all to do except glare out of windows or look smugly out of windows (wine glass optional). Poor thing been left on her own in the capital with no one to talk to besides Qyburn and (ugh) Euron Greyjoy. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

You'd think they'd at least give Headey something great to work with for her swan song. You know, like that emotional goodbye scene that Tyrion and Jaime shared. Something to impress the Emmy voters. Alas, that was not to be. Cersei, once one of the show's most fascinating characters before she turned into a pantomime villain, exited stage left in a most underwhelming fashion; crushed under some rubble alongside her twin brother, who came running back to be with her because... I dunno, because the writers thought him and Cersei dying together would be poetic or some such nonsense.

The Mad Queen 

Bullshit. That's what this was. Utter bullshit.

The writers might try to claim that they planted the seeds of this all the way back in season one, but I don't believe it for a second. If this was the ending they always envisaged for Dany then they did a piss poor job in getting us here. Yeah, Dany could be cold, she could be ruthless, but she has never been this homicidally psychotic. And don't for a second try to tell me that the loss of her dragons, Jorah and Missandei and the betrayal of Varys was enough to push her over the edge. No, this was just sloppy writing through and through.

How could the writers not see how bad this looks? Game of Thrones has long been criticised for the poor way it has treated its female characters (pretty much all of it justified), and rather than take all of that on board and try to do better, Benioff and Weiss instead decided that the best way to end the series was to have the only two female contenders for the Iron Throne be an evil, self-serving drunkard and a crazed mass murderer while the only male candidate is that nice lad Jon Snow.

Because that is what this is all about; making Jon seem like the best, and only, candidate for the throne (assuming it survived the devastation). Dany's entire character has been sacrificed in order to push his forward. Despite having the better claim, Jon has no desire to be king. He hasn't got an ambitious bone in his body. He'd never in a million years try to take the throne from Dany. But if she turned out to be a mad city burner? Well, now he's got no choice but to overthrow her and become king.

Not that there's much left to be king of.

Grumpkins and Snarks

--As much as this episode left a very bad taste in my mouth, I have to commend Miguel Sapochnik for his direction. He orchestrated all this large scale death and destruction perfectly.

--Since her (depleted) forces are all loyal to her, and her alone, what was Varys expecting to happen if he had poisoned Daenerys? How was he planning to get rid of Cersei with just Jon's (depleted) forces.

--The disappointing Cleganebowl 1 (of 1) ended in a tie. And there wasn't even a halftime show.

--It still bothers me that winter still hasn't spread to the south. Is fake snow really that expensive?

--After being almost ridiculously effective in the previous episode, the Lannister's scorpions were completely useless in this one.

--Jaime, who killed the Mad King to stop him from burning the city, now claims that he never cared for the innocent people of King's Landing.

--My eyes rolled right out of their sockets when Arya stumbled on a pale house to ride.


One and a half out of four uncharacteristically dumb moves.

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

23 comments:

magritte said...

Yes, I totally agree with this. Yes, they have shown before that Dany had the capacity for cruelty and they prepared us for the idea that Dany now felt she would have to rule by fear. I could totally have bought a ruthless Dany that in the process of wiping out the enemy soldiers started fires that swept through the city killing lots of civilians in the process. But for her to be methodically burning the whole city and chasing down civilians to murder them is not ruthless, it's just crazy. Maybe I could have bought it if she had gone bonkers right when they killed Missandei, but her actions and conversations with Jon and Tyrion afterward are cold and rational, not crazy. I do think this may very well be George R.R. Martin's intended arc for Dany, but I'm guessing he'll sell it much more effectively if he ever gets around to writing it.

And I don't see how Jon Snow has earned this reputation of being such a great leader. He was almost a total non-entity in the Battle of Winterfell. He faced a mutiny at the Wall. He's repeatedly shown exactly the same kind of poor judgement that got Eddard Stark killed. If he had actually killed the Night King, it might have made sense because enthusiasm for a war hero often carried them into positions of power, whether they were suited to them or not.

Anonymous said...

Reading your review (and basically any other review of this episode), I'm surprised to find myself alone in liking this episode. I thought it was the best episode of the season.

I never really saw any other path for Daenerys, storywise. Her entire life she has been obsessive and paranoid in her quest to get the iron throne. That quest could either end in succes (which wouldn't make for a good story) or in what we see here. The wait for her to feel threatened enough to push her over the edge is finally over and it delivers plenty of spectacle. This time around, we actually get to see the spectacle, because this episode plays out mostly in daylight (thank god for that!).

Varys has always been a good judge of character. He has had doubts about Daenerys for some time, but she seemed to be the best of the available options (the other option being Cersei). Now there's a new option, one that is clearly better, especially because he doesn't want the power for himself. Varys has to try, for the good of the realm, even though he knows there's not much chance of succeeding.

Jaime's choice to go back now feels a bit forced. Although his unconditional love for Cersei has been properly established right from the very first episode, it feels like they're rewinding his character development. I did like the final scene with Cersei it delivered.

Battle tactics have always been a weak point in Game of Thrones. I liked how we saw, without them pointing it out in words, the different strategy Daenerys chose with her dragon, to use the weak points of the scorpions - coming in from high up with the sun behind her, and then staying close enough to make it hard to use them effectively - but I had hoped we had seen the last of defending fortifications by placing a big chunk of the defending army outside of the walls. Proper tactics must sometimes make way for nice action sequences, but this is just silly stupid.

The final scene with Arya in the rain of ash and the horse was perhaps a bit over the top, but it worked for me. It was beautifully done. That could be the Arya-fanboy in me talking of course. I've never not liked an Arya scene.

I could have done without seeing The Mountain press his thumbs into someones eyes again. Actually, I could have done without seeing it the first time.

Game of Thrones hasn't been as good as it was in the plotting and scheming days, but I liked this one. George Martin set up a difficult story to resolve nicely and I'm not sure even he can write an end that's as good as the setup.

Panda said...

This was garbage, and I agree with most of what you wrote. It was well directed, but it was a well directed dumpster fire.

The only part that worked for me was the Arya and Sandor goodbye. Their arcs were slightly botched by the haphazard pacing of the last two seasons, but they hit most of the right beats. the events here felt earned, where they were both concerned, even if Cleagenbowl was like something out of World War Z.

Burn the rest, though.

Henrik Bennetter said...

My initial reaction was the same - bullshit.

Then it sunk in. And I ended up really liking this episode. If, for nothing else, the fact that this show has once again made me say "No. NO! What are you doing! Stop it!".

I think this is where we needed to be, get to. And I still feel that all bets are off. Absolutely anything can happen in the final episode. That feeling/thing alone is worth praise.

I agree that the writing seems forced, though, and found a very good explanation for it on twitter: https://twitter.com/DSilvermint/status/1125856091261136896

Oh, and I LOVED the build-up of The golden company - only to have them torn to shreds. Also, that Dany had devised a different strategy against the Scorpions. I wasn't a big fan of either Danebowl or Cleganebowl but - hey - fan-service!

I really enjoyed Dany NOT getting to kill Cersei, and I loved Cersei's little "everything will be fine"-bubble up to the moment when she buggered off, tail between her legs, and passed The hound like a little puppy.

I'm not wholly on board with why she massacred all the innocents, but my wife pointed out that it's an obvious allegory. When do the saviours become the monsters?
To crush a tyrant, become one.

Good stuff this. My only question and fear is: How on earth will I survive after the series has ended?

Billie Doux said...

I don't watch Game of Thrones, but the freak out over this final season is giving me Lost flashbacks. :)

Phyllis Strickland said...

I missed season 1 so bought the dvd set. I watched 1/2 of episode one. I decided that I work long hours, I didn’t want to work to watch a TV series. I also feared a bad ending. I’m glad I went with my instincts. There is nothing worse than watching a sow for years only to have it crash and burn in the end.

Anonymous said...

So we're in a for a Dexter-style ending huh? Yes Dany could be ruthless but we don't have enough buildup for this, it just feels off. Women can't trust em with power it seems to say. So now what?
Has Jaime's enocunter with Brienne left her pregnant to carry on the Lannister line? Best hope she doesn't have twins.
mazephoenix

magritte said...

The problem is not that Danaerys becomes a tyrant, but that Danaerys becomes a lunatic. The only characters in Westeros we've seen who would have done what she did were Joffrey and Ramsay Bolton.

Since Tyrion is still around, the Lannister line isn't in trouble (unless Danaerys kills him). Who's left in the great houses? Bran & Sansa in Winterfell, Tyrion in Casterly Rock, Gendry in Dragonstone, Robert Arryn in the Vale. The Tyrrells are completely wiped out. I guess Bronn might still be able to grab Highgarden by killing Danaerys, if Arya doesn't do it. Are there any Martells or Tullys alive?

Anonymous said...

Magritte, I don't think Danaerys is a lunatic in this episode. She was in a state of frantic rage during the battle that made her act like a lunatic, but that can happen to otherwise stable people, if they're not held back by compassion to others.

Danaerys' massacre of innocents shows she cares little for most other people, but that's not out of character for her, only intensified. Her actions have always been motivated by either her pursuit of power, or her feelings for a very small cicle of people (and dragons) she is close to, with no regard for anyone else. This time it was both.

Mark Greig said...

Anonymous, Dany has often been shown to be very caring and compassionate. She had her own dragons locked up when they started feeding on children. Yes, she's spent most of the show accumulating power, but she has never ordered the slaughter of innocents or acted with complete indifference when innocents have suffered. And she's also been shown to restrain herself during battle. Hell, it was only last week that she turned away from attacking the Iron fleet despite having just losing on of her dragons. But now we're expected to buy that she can't control herself is happy to incinerate children left, right and centre? No, to quote Gwen DeMarco, this episode was badly written.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this episode just fit so well with my view of Danaerys, and that's why I like it while others don't. I went into this episode with the view that Danaerys always acted out of her paranoid obsession for the Iron Throne. It's been some time, but even the locking up of her own Dragons, in my mind, was done out of fear of losing her power, because her power at that time came from the masses. I could be misremembering though.

I liked the episode and didn't think it was badly written. Almost everyone seems to disagree, so it seems to be most likely that I'm wrong, instead of the rest of the GoT-watching world. The episode probably does have problems, it's just that those problems happen not to bother me. Just like sometimes you can dislike an episode everyone else loves, because it rubs you the wrong way, this one just worked for me in a way that presumably makes me blind to some of its flaws. I'm not complaining, I got to see a good episode while everyone else apparently got an hour of HBO-inflicted torture. :-)

Weren't you at least happy we finally got an episode without at least one character reunion scene? Then again, they were bound to run out of characters to reunionize at some point.

magritte said...

But there was a character reunion scene with Cersei and Jaime (two if you count the Cleganes).

Anonymous said...

You're right of course. ;-)

Somehow they didn't register as similar scenes to the ones we've been getting every episode because they didn't take place at Winterfell. Maybe I am kidding myself and this episode really was no good. It's just that, during this episode I kept thinking wow, finally this season gets going, best episode so far!. And then I went online and read all the reviews pointing out everything that's wrong with it... I was so surprised! Almost none of those things had bothered me while watching.

TheShadowKnows said...

Since reading the third book I've firmly believed Martin was setting up a shocking twist where the sympathetic (or seemingly so) Daenerys would turn out to be the villain of the series, so I have no trouble believing that this episode was based on his envisioned ending that he shared with the showrunners.

Whether the shocking reveal of Daenerys' true nature would be handled better in the fantasy world where Martin actually finishes the books, I really can't say. The fourth and fifth books were a dog's breakfast, so I frankly don't have much confidence.

BrianN said...

Im gonna disagree with all the hate. Keep in mind that I have never read the books so there may be some context in there that would change my mind.
Varys: He was smart and could see that he needed a hail mary.
"At this point Dany hasn't done anything truly monstrous to justify him turning against her." Oh yes she has...people like to forget all the killing for the sake of terror. There are so many times that she could have saved many lives but took the easy way out. "Oh but she was so nice to the Unsullied and Dothraki"...why? Because they got her closer to what she wanted: A captive following of military might.
Cercei's end: Ill agree on this...she was underutilized in the last season and her death was suboptimal.
The Mad Queen: Remember Meereen in Oathkeeper...she was angered at the nobled crucifying slaves that she ordered an equal number of nobles crucified. She brought justice, but then repeated the same bad act. Remember Meereen? When she chose one of the leaders to get cooked by her dragons as she watched? “Who is innocent?” she then asked her other prisoners. “Maybe all of you are, maybe none of you are. Maybe I should let the dragons decide.” Was the turn back twoards madness in S8 handled inarticulately? Yes...but I dont agree that Dany has been anything more than a messianic leader who is convinced of her own greatness. Jon's deifying in the last several seasons has annoyed me and i hope beyond hope that they dont put him on the throne (personally id love for Tyrion and Sansa to end up on it).
I agree completely with the nerfing of the scorpions.

Anon: I agree with virtually all you said "Her actions have always been motivated by either her pursuit of power, or her feelings for a very small cicle of people (and dragons) she is close to, with no regard for anyone else."....same with Henrik

Billie: As someone who has watched both, there are many parallels...Lost built up an incredibly mythology and the writers couldnt do it justice; while GoT was set up by GRRM with wonderful mythology but then GRRM dropped out halfway through and expecting the new EPs to do as good as him is unfair. The only time i can think of a series having a cohesive storyline is Babylon 5...and it took JMS almost dying from the pressure and doing all the work himself. Just try to do whatever you do for work and pick up a project in the middle of its completeion...and try to make it all seamless.

Mark: " but she has never ordered the slaughter of innocents or acted with complete indifference when innocents have suffered." She's been itching to burn everything around her enemies since the beginning.

Overall, this season HAS been clunky and rushed in many ways, but I do want to ask people to hold off final judgements until its done. Plus, would you not have been disapointed if everything ended all happy? Sure, alot of you loved Dany (and it wasnt irrational) and hate to see her character destroyed like this, but do step back and see that the signs were always there (although the execution of the turn of character wasnt handled the best). Make no mistake...I could end up with all of you after sunday decrying the collapse of GoT, but I will hold out until the end comes.

Raya said...

"Sure, alot of you loved Dany (and it wasnt irrational) and hate to see her character destroyed like this"
I never cared for Daenerys, and it was always clear that she had the potential to turn evil, so I have no problem with her becoming the villain.
But I do think that the way she methodically incinerated the population seemed out of character.

Burning Cercei's soldiers even after they have surrendered?
Makes sense. She's always had trouble showing mercy.

Burning Cercei's tower, not caring if it falls on thousands of innocents?
Sure. She's always been blinded by her thirst for power and doesn't care about people.

Taking the throne and becoming a tyrant?
Would made parfect sense.

Taking the time to fry every single child in the city, before even going after Cercei?
That doesn't make any sense to me.

"Danaerys' massacre of innocents shows she cares little for most other people, but that's not out of character for her, only intensified."
There's a difference between not caring about casualties and purposefully burning innocents.

Actually, it would have worked if it had been about her not caring.
Like maybe if she had burnt Cercei's castle, but then let the fire spread and refused to let people out.
Or if she'd blindly burnt the soldiers that were trying to evacuate civilians, along with the civilians themselves.
Or she could have burnt soldiers without any distinction, not even trying to avoid killing northmen.
The result would have been the same (Dany wins/Dany is evil) but it would have made more sense, at least to me.

Also, a glimpse of Dany's point of view would have helped.
When you turn an important character into a mass murdered, having them on screen for more than ten seconds can help. We barely saw her at all! (except for the "look, she's not even taking care of her hair! everything's going to burn!" scene)

Billie Doux said...

This headline just caught my eye: "This Was Abysmal: Nearly 1 million disgrunted 'Game of Thrones' fans demand a final season remake"

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/17/game-thrones-petition-remake-season/

Anonymous said...

"We hated the work you put all your time and engergy in! Now please make exactly what we want!"

What do these people expect?

BrianN said...

Good points Raya...i can guarantee you that that petition would dissolve as soon as someone asked them what they wanted the final season to be like...then everyone would turn on each other with hatred for daring do have such dumb ideas----also have fun coming up with the $90 million it cost to do it.
Ive respected all the views on here, but to sign such a shortsighted, disrespectful, unreasonable petition is sad. Signing that, you are basically saying "hey Maisie Williams, Peter Dinklidge, etc. that was so horrible we are gonna act like all those crazy hours you put in didnt happen...oh, and we demand you do it again but not suck this time".

Juan said...

If they really spend 90 millions on this, then what an amazing waste of money and talent! I dont know about any petition but I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of fanfics out there that are better than this trasvesti. What they did with the NK and the supposed long night was bad enough but this with Dany and her decent into madness and cruelty in only two episodes is just activelly moronic. The reason why they didnt show her face during all of it is because they simple coudlnt sell it. This was a despiction of cruelty akin to a psychopath like Ramsay. Just because she had showed violent action against her enemies in a time of war and enemies that had it coming by the way no innocent children, doesnt mean she would turn out a genocide out of blue. This needed more work. At least one more season if they wanted to do it right. Foreshadowing is not the same as character development. In that case what can we say about Arya that killed, koocked and then feeded Walter Frey his own sons. Is she one bell ring away to genocide two? Stupid.

Raya said...

Yeah, I think this petition is entitled and insulting. A lot of people put a lot of work and passion (and money) into this show. It's their show. They can do whatever they want with it. We have the right to not like it, but they don't owe us anything. That's what fanfictions are for.

"The reason why they didnt show her face during all of it is because they simple coudlnt sell it."
My first thought was that if they'd shown her face, the only thing that would have made sense would have been an over-the-top, cartoonish, maniacal laugh, like MWAHAHAHAHA, with red eyes, lightning bolts and thunder sounds.

"Foreshadowing is not the same as character development."
YES! Exactly! This just sums up everything wrong in the past few episodes/seasons.
Like the way Tyrion repeated again and again (and again) "when the bells ring, stop killing people". We get it, the bells are gonna ring and Dany's not gonna stop killing people. But just because it was super predictible didn't make it more logical.

BrianN said...

So, ive been rewatching GoT from the beginning and just got to the end of the 2nd season, and was struck by the House of the Undying scene. To quote Samantha Gomes' comment from 7 years ago:
"I beg to differ, Josie, for I think it was not snow covering King's Landing, but ASHES. As I was watching it first looked like snow, then I thought, but is it ashes? DOes that mean Dany will say the word Dracarys again? it looks like, but then again I may be mistaken..."
Ive seen alot of theories on GoT this season, but not this one...am I missing something or did they set this up?
Juan, you can certainly be disappointed, but as someone with mental health issues, the signs were in her for this...You know im gonna put this out there for the first time on the internet: I had switched depression meds roughly 10 years ago, and it completely tilted my mind...truely scary things entered my mind, luckly I had enough of a moral center and enough sanity left and an understanding of psychology to get help and got detoxed from that drug (prescription that helps alot of people) back to my normal self. I guess im bringing this up because ive seen how quickly and easily a mind can break, and with all that Dany's been through, I can see her saying "F you all" to King's Landing and wanting Cercei to watch. And please, no obligatory "sorry for your experience" or whatever...just learn from it and let it help you and/or others. My understanding of psychology also lets me understand Jamie's "aboutface" as well...Cercei is so ingrained in his psyche that no matter what he does, he cant rid himself of her.
Offtopic: My understanding of psychology also gives me a different understanding of the effect of psychology on life and politics in general. Oftentimes, the more someone tries to convince you that they arent something (or that they hate something) its a projection of something that themselves are;or have a tendency of being and are ashamed of it. I could go on and on but this isnt the place, ill just finish with a hope that everyone takes care of themselves and each other.

Matthew said...

There is only 1 ending I want and it's not gonna happen

Tyrion on the thrown with Sansa as his queen Jon and Danni both dead and Arya
.....being Arya