The Bells (Game of Thrones)
|Game of Thrones episode|
|Episode no.||Season 8|
|Directed by||Miguel Sapochnik|
|Written by||David Benioff|
D. B. Weiss
|Featured music||Ramin Djawadi|
|Cinematography by||Fabian Wagner|
|Original air date||May 12, 2019|
|Running time||78 minutes|
"The Bells" is the fifth and penultimate episode of the eighth season of HBO's fantasy television series Game of Thrones, and the 72nd and penultimate episode of the series. It was written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and directed by Miguel Sapochnik. It aired on May 12, 2019.
The episode received criticism from critics and audiences, and it is the lowest-rated episode of the series on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Critics praised the episode as visually impressive and commended the acting, but criticized the pacing and logic of the story, as well as its handling of the character arcs of Tyrion, Jaime, Cersei, Grey Worm, Varys, and particularly Daenerys.
Varys is writing a letter about Jon Snow's true heritage when a girl informs him that Daenerys Targaryen continues to refuse food. He tells her to "try again at supper". He implores Jon to take the Iron Throne, but Jon refuses to betray Daenerys. Tyrion Lannister informs Daenerys of Varys' plot; she executes Varys. Jon rejects a kiss from Daenerys; she then decides that without love from anyone in Westeros helping her claim, she will rule by fear. Tyrion implores her to spare the common folk in King's Landing if the city bells ring, and she nods toward Grey Worm. She informs Tyrion that Jaime Lannister has been captured on his way to King's Landing, and threatens Tyrion's life if he fails her again.
At King's Landing
The next day, Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane enter the Red Keep. Jaime takes a different path towards the Red Keep when the gates are closed. The battle begins with Daenerys and Drogon burning Euron Greyjoy's Iron Fleet, the walltop scorpion weapons, the city's gates, and most of the Golden Company outside it. Grey Worm kills Harry Strickland, who was blown from his horse. Daenerys' army fights into King's Landing. The remaining Lannister forces surrender and ring the city bells. Daenerys refuses to accept their surrender and has Drogon lay waste to the city, while her army, led by Grey Worm, massacre the unarmed Lannister soldiers. Jon unsuccessfully tries to stop his men from attacking, kills one who attempted rape, watches others die and eventually has the rest fall back as the city burns and crumbles.
Jaime fights Euron, who badly wounds him and eventually, Jamie is able to mortally wound Euron and leaves him to die on the rocky shore. Sandor convinces Arya to give up her desire for revenge against Cersei so Arya might live and they tenderly part ways as friends. As Cersei and her entourage attempt to escape, Sandor arrives and swiftly kills the Queensguard in order to fight his brother, Gregor Clegane. Gregor kills Qyburn when he interjects and Cersei flees. When Gregor proves to be resistant to all attacks, Sandor ultimately tackles him through a wall and the brothers fall to their deaths in the fire below. Jaime reunites with Cersei, but find their escape passage is blocked by rubble from the attack. They resign themselves to their fate, saying "nothing else matters, only us" and embrace as the Keep's cellar ceiling collapses on them, killing them and their unborn child.
Arya experiences the chaos in King's Landing firsthand. She tries to save a mother and her child and is knocked unconscious when a bell tower falls near her. When she wakes up, she discovers the burned corpses of the mother and child, and countless others on the street. She encounters a white horse and rides it away.
The episode was directed by Miguel Sapochnik. This was his final episode of the series.
For the filming of the episode, the city of Dubrovnik (the stand-in for King's Landing) was recreated on the backlot of their Belfast set. Filming Varys's death scene ultimately ended up taking seven months as rain kept postponing the shoot.
In a promotional photo of the scene in which Jaime and Cersei embrace at the Red Keep, his right hand is visible instead of the metallic prosthetic the character received in season 4. In the actual episode, only the metallic hand is seen. The error in the image garnered attention in light of the previous episode's coffee cup mistake.
Laura Elphinstone was cast as one of the inhabitants of King's Landing who helped Arya Stark during the dragon attack on the city. The American football quarterback Aaron Rodgers appears in a cameo in this episode.
The episode was viewed by 12.48 million viewers on its initial live broadcast on HBO, surpassing "The Dragon and the Wolf" as the most-watched episode of the series. An additional 5.9 million viewers watched on streaming platforms, for a total of 18.4 million viewers.
On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the episode has an approval rating of 49% based on 105 reviews, and an average rating of 6.33/10, with the critical consensus stating, "Death, destruction, and the deterioration of Daenerys' sanity make 'The Bells' an episode for the ages; but too much plot in too little time muddles the story and may leave some viewers feeling its conclusions are unearned." It is the lowest-rated episode on Rotten Tomatoes in the show's history.
Lenika Cruz of The Atlantic wrote that although she found the special effects stunning and the acting spectacular, this was "the worst Game of Thrones episode ever" because the plot was either too obvious or illogical, with the massacre seeming "an unearned negation of the identity [Daenerys] had spent years building for herself". Emily VanDerWerff of Vox found the episode grim and absent of sense, but credited director Miguel Sapochnik for "the gorgeous visuals [that] extended beyond the battle scenes." VanDerWerff praised the acting of the cast such as Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Emilia Clarke; the latter two made their characters' actions believable even when they were illogical. Alex McLevy of The A.V. Club wrote that the episode successfully demonstrated that "the chaos of war makes villains and victims of us all", with the "progression from exhilarating hope to tragic denouement [being] skillfully executed by director Miguel Sapochnik" with better large-scale choreography than in the 'The Long Night'."
Hugh Montgomery of BBC Culture wrote that characters such as Tyrion, Jaime, Daenerys, and Cersei were "definitively sacrificed to the show's scrambled plotting", and that Game of Thrones was previously "a show that intelligently delineated a senseless world", but that it was now nonsense. VanDerWerff stated that Cersei and Jaime's deaths were not given much thought by the writers and were instead simply something to check off a list. Kelly Lawler of USA Today, saying that the episode lacked substance and was an "absolute disaster", argued that Grey Worm, Daenerys and Varys took actions which were wildly out of character.
Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone wrote that the episode's "technical genius" and "the visual clarity only made it easier to see how muddled the show has been, from both a narrative and character standpoint, in this home stretch", with the scorpions turning from accurate to useless, Euron surviving Drogon to have a "pointless fight with Jaime", the setting of Cleganebowl being invulnerable while the castle fell, Jaime easily entering the gated Red Keep, and the appearance of "seemingly hundreds of Dothraki" despite most of them apparently dying in 'The Long Night'. Lawler also said that the writers "threw out their own rule book (suddenly the scorpions don't work and Drogon can burn everything?) to pursue gross spectacle".
Several critics criticized the pacing of events; Lawler wrote that the pacing started off rushed, while Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic said that the show was "sprinting through plot check marks". Will Bedingfield of Wired also felt that the show rushed storylines, seeing the death of Varys as being without the climactic buildup previous seasons had. Sarah Hughes of The Guardian attributed season eight's pacing problems to season seven having had pacing issues that ensured that the rest of the series would feel "breathless and rushed."
Daenerys's turn from hero to villain was especially criticized, with many reviewers and fans feeling that, because she was built up as a morally good protagonist for seven seasons, it made no narrative sense or there was insufficient time to pull it off properly. Mike Hogan of Vanity Fair said that although the show had been clear that Daenerys has a temper, "we have seen her balance that violence with mercy, kindness, and above all shrewdness." Zack Beauchamp of Vox argued that Daenerys's previous cruelties were somewhat logical because she killed people who "committed crimes deserving of punishment" and Samwell Tarly's father and brother because they "refused to submit to her rule," but that there was no reason to go after harmless civilians. He said although the show had been "building toward Daenerys becoming the Mad Queen" and this route could have worked, "its execution was sloppy and rushed" and "it felt as if Daenerys had become a monster simply because the show needed her to become a monster, not because it was paying off a thoughtfully developed character turn." Slate's Sam Adams said "the show spent far more time making Dany a hero" than building her up as the Mad Queen.
The Atlantic staff opined, "Game of Thrones could have easily demonstrated the nasty reality of [Daenerys's] fight for Westeros without putting the choice to massacre innocents directly on her shoulders. Instead, 'The Bells' ended up painting one of the most pivotal plot points in the final season as an emotional lashing-out from a tired, lonely, paranoid young woman." Kathryn VanArendonk of Vulture also criticized the episode for "ultimately hing[ing] on a trope as painfully stale as 'and then the scary powerful woman goes crazy'." She said the show was once based on "epic political gamesmanship, the corruption of power, the things we inherit from our families, the people we choose to love, and the inevitable inescapable march of death." Eliana Dockterman of Time criticized the analyses of Daenerys's advisors as also playing "into the terrible trope of the crazed, power-hungry woman" and Tyrion's advice as having kept Daenerys from taking the Iron Throne much earlier and without as much bloodshed. She said she understood the idea of power corrupting "a heroic figure like Daenerys" and Daenerys falling prey to a messiah complex, but that the show needed to evolve her to that point like it evolved other characters to their points. Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone stated that Daenerys's descent into madness is the kind of development that requires "at least another half of a regular-length GoT season to feel earned."
Myles McNutt of The A.V. Club said that Daenerys's final arc comes down to two aspects – story development and character development. He said Daenerys burning down King's Landing is a logical and effective way of ending the story on a thematic level, adding that how "it reshapes the rest of the episode is a striking reframing of the violence that has defined the show." Character-wise, he felt that the choice was "undeniably trickier" because one might be led to believe that Daenerys's choice was purely reflexive when it was instead due to "a collection of life experiences that left her believing that ruling with fear was the only path ahead of her." He said "the writers failed to create the necessary structure for [the villainous turn]" and they could have better highlighted Daenerys's destiny as a villain by referencing things such as her prophecy in Qarth. Variety's Daniel D'Addario also argued that it made sense that Daenerys would burn the city because her "tactics have always been more deeply rooted in dominance than in empathy." Arguing that "the Daenerys twist" has likely been planned by George R. R. Martin from the beginning, Vox's Andrew Prokop stated, "If Game of Thrones ended with a triumphant Daenerys Targaryen heroically taking the Iron Throne, it wouldn't be Game of Thrones. This is the show of Ned Stark's death. This is the show of the Red Wedding. This is the ending it was headed toward all along."
Screen Rant's Alexandra August felt that "ultimately it comes down to your interpretation of Dany's arc and how much that interpretation was diluted by pacing, execution and cultural context, if at all." She pondered different ways the show could have pulled off the arc better, such as Daenerys only choosing to kill Cersei, but concluded that there would eventually be someone else to push her over the edge regardless. Also stating that "there are many ways to interpret" Daenerys's decision to burn the city, Megan Garber of The Atlantic said that maybe it was the Targaryen madness having settled in, or her ruthlessness taking over, or a "crazy edit" by the writers, or a decision "that some innocents must die in the present so that many more can live peacefully in the future," or maybe that Daenerys "having recently lost her second dragon and the apparent loyalty of those left in her orbit, she simply made a blunt calculation about power and what will be required to attain it." Garber said that "ambiguity is a powerful tool in storytelling," but that "it is also a difficult one to wield well," and that "Dany is a savior, and Dany is a monster, and it is impossible to know where one ends and the other begins." To Garber, this uncertainty made Daenerys's actions all the more horrific because logic will not always win and "justice won't always save the day."
Showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss attributed Daenerys's decision to burn the city to having lost almost all of her friends and advisors, no longer trusting Jon Snow, and wanting to reclaim the home that her family built. Benioff said that Jon also being unable to return her affections because they are related played a factor. Weiss stated, "I think that when she says, 'Let it be fear,' she's resigning herself to the fact that she may have to get things done in a way that isn't pleasant." Benioff said that the ruthless side to Daenerys had always been there and that "if Cersei hadn't betrayed her, if Cersei hadn't executed Missandei, if Jon hadn't told her the truth [...] if all of these things had happened in any different way, then I don't think we'd be seeing this side of Daenerys Targaryen." Emilia Clarke said, "Every single thing that's led her to this point, and there she is, alone." VanArendonk expressed disappointment that Weiss and Benioff explained Daenerys's actions as due to her emotions, instead of some "twisted, empathetic logic". Emma Baty of Cosmopolitan also criticized the showrunners' response, stating, "Totally, totally. A woman is definitely prone to ending thousands of innocent lives just because her dad did the same, even though in the entire series, she's been insistent on not becoming that person. That checks out!"
People magazine's Aurelie Corinthios said, "Despite the major plot developments, viewers were left wanting more from a series that has spent the last eight seasons meticulously building up complex characters." She added that "others defended the episode, arguing that while the action was definitely 'rushed,' the main elements still made sense. Plus, didn't we always know we wouldn't get a happy ending?" Lauren Hill of Chicago Tribune relayed that the episode "had fans very divided. Some are upset by the character arcs of certain fan favorites while others saw this coming for quite some time."
Reviewers made note of the negative fan reactions, especially to Daenerys's arc. Estelle Tang of Elle stated that many "commented how unbelievable it was for Dany to turn into a violent vengeance-seeker this far into the show's run." Esquire's Gabrielle Bruney said viewers felt that the writers threw out her character development. The Hollywood Reporter staff stated that "many Game of Thrones viewers see Daenerys' acts as nothing short of a character assassination, laying blame for the treatment of the Dragon Queen, Cersei and the series' other powerful women at the feet of creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss." Mehera Bonner of Cosmopolitan wrote that "fans are absolutely devastated" by the episode and that they bemoaned "how the show has been completely ruined by sloppy writing and terrible decisions." She said, "While you could argue that we should have seen a lot of this coming, many fans were... [I don't know]... just hoping for better? Better than Daenerys becoming a Mad Queen just because it's in her family history and better than Jaime reverting to his season 1 personality just because it’s the easy way out."
A petition to HBO for a remake of the eighth season of Game of Thrones "that makes sense" was started on Change.org after the fourth episode "The Last of the Starks" aired, but went viral after the fifth episode "The Bells" aired. The petition described showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss as "woefully incompetent". As of May 18, 2019 (i.e., the evening before the series finale), it has amassed over 1 million signatures. The petition was labelled as "ridiculous" by actor Isaac Hempstead Wright (who plays Bran Stark), and "rude" by actor Jacob Anderson (who plays Grey Worm). Sophie Turner (who plays Sansa) said that "there's always been crazy twists and turns" on Game of Thrones and "so Daenerys becoming something of the Mad Queen — it shouldn't be such a negative thing for fans. It's a shock for sure, but I think it's just because it hasn't gone their way." She argued, "All of these petitions and things like that — I think it's disrespectful to the crew, and the writers, and the filmmakers who have worked tirelessly over 10 years, and for 11 months shooting the last season."
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