One of the most complex episodes to date, 'The Bells' destroys the boundaries of good and evil the show has been building for years without losing its Game of Thrones essence: there's death, plot twists, and you might feel a bit sick after watching it.
Warning: Spoilers ahead (I’m not telling you who dies, though)!
I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on ‘The Bells’ for hours on end. ‘The lowest-rated episode in the show’s history to date’ has been insanely controversial, going against the fans’ wishes and delivering literal carnage at the hands of the good guys. Some questions about character development may arise, but as a whole, it is a heart-wrenching, masterfully constructed, and visually stunning episode with Miguel Sapochnik once again in the director’s seat. With its subversion of morality, it packs an even more painful punch than ‘The Long Night’ a couple of weeks ago.
Now, before I start explaining my point of view to all the haters out there, let me ground it a little. Because of its sheer scale, Game of Thrones stopped being a mere TV show a while ago – it’s a phenomenon, with thousands and thousands of people theorising every possible facet of the ending for eight years. Because of the show’s slow development, which has seen it focusing on one major character’s story at a time for approximately six seasons, the coming together of these characters was bound to disappoint – we’ve seen them on their own for years, and developed our own favourite course of action for them. The writers’ task – finally ending these characters’ journeys in a sea of theories – was monumental, and whether something is predictable or not shouldn’t decide the show’s quality. Every fan supports a particular theory, and unfortunately, only one of them can happen.
Hence, after all these years, dropping our own allegiances for a bit to regard the episode as a piece of television is a difficult task considering the intensity of our emotional investment. But what happens and how it happens in ‘The Bells’ is Game of Thrones at its best. A LOT of major characters die (and isn’t that what everyone wanted in Episode 3?), there is a massive plot twist (which I have to talk about, so you might want to stop reading here if you haven’t seen the episode), and it is all delivered spectacularly, leaving the viewer stunned and in pain.
The long-awaited and heavily-theorised emergence of the Mad Queen seems very sudden, with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) going against Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) plan and continuing to burn the city and its innocent people on her way to the Red Keep even after the armies of King’s Landing have surrendered. It’s a spur of the moment decision, and Clarke plays Daenerys’ internal process and her official ‘turn to the dark side’ brilliantly. If we think about it, however, Daenerys has lost her best friends, her lover, two of her dragons, and her claim to the throne in a short time – basically all her reasons to live. Her downfall has been projected as swiftly as possible in this very short space of time, and it is supported even more by her family history. This is the kind of plot twist that Season 8 needed towards the end; it was too easy otherwise, and in Ramsay Bolton’s own words, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
What this episode does best is blur the lines of morality that seem to have been so clearly enforced, and it is probably what is most upsetting about it – we want good guys and bad guys, and regardless of who wins, the boundaries have to stay the same. But in the middle of a battle-turned-carnage where the good queen suddenly starts killing innocent people, the good is evil and the evil is good. We feel for Cersei (Lena Headey) as her world collapses after we’ve hated her guts for years, we root for Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to win against Euron (Pilou Asbaek) even if he’s just once again abandoned his quest towards goodness to go back to Cersei (the love of his life and also the mother of his unborn child!). Carnage is shown from the people’s perspective – not the good guys, not the bad guys – and by putting Arya in the middle of the action and having her run around again (she could probably have been used a bit better than this, but war is chaos after all), Miguel Sapochnik is able to show a side of war that is genuinely difficult to watch, with fire coming from all directions and people being burnt alive one by one. It felt like the Pompeii disaster caused by a volcanic eruption 2000 years ago, but in this case, it wasn’t nature causing it, it was Daenerys Targaryen. Instead of being yet another glorified battle, the war between the two queens shows the true victims of these conflicts outside of the political schemes we all love to watch, and it’s haunting to behold.
So where are we standing now? We’re not quite standing on anything, really. With the allegiances of the people who still have a shred of morality now turned to ashes, prophecies could be flipped, and more characters could (and probably will) die – one thing is certain though: Varys is always right. Ultimately, Game of Thrones isn’t here to make us happy. Its aim has always been to create new pathways for TV; and by constantly subverting expectations and writing characters who are human beings, it has cut through many long-standing ‘rules’ of morality in storytelling. Personally, I can’t wait to just sit back and let Game of Thrones hit me one last time.
Game of Thrones airs for the last time ever on Monday 20th May on Sky Atlantic/Now TV. Watch the trailer for the finale below.