I could save both you and myself a lot of time by summing this entire Game of Thrones recap up in one statement: what the actual f*ck. To anyone who complained about the lack of gratuitous violence and death in the Battle of Winterfell, this is your fault. I hope you’re happy.
To say “The Bells” was a disappointing lead up to the series finale would be an understatement. While many characters, both beloved and despised, died in last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, the most important death was the character assassination of just about everyone involved.
Daenerys? Spends seven seasons preaching about rescuing the innocent, only to torch an entire city of them even after their leaders had surrendered.
Jon? A wide-eyed idiot whose only real skill is managing to underestimate every single situation he’s ever found himself in.
Arya? Suddenly someone who runs from a fight that she’s spent the last 10 years working toward.
Cersei? Don’t even get me started. That woman has been Villain Number One since day one and she deserved a death that reflected that. Getting torched by Drogon as she stares unwaveringly into Dany’s eyes? That would have worked. Chugging a glass of wine before throwing herself off the keep à la Tommen? Fine. But cowering in the arms of her brother-lover after a failed escape attempt? An insult. Cersei Lannister deserved better.
The entirety of the siege of King’s Landing could have been communicated with a black screen and just scrolling captions that said “She’s the Mad Queen! Dany is bad! Remember how we foreshadowed this?? Also does anyone know where George went?? He’s stopped returning our calls!” It was 45 minutes of gratuitous death and gore, a purposeful move that’s meant to turn the audience against Daenerys so that her death next week will feel like vindication.
But anyway, let’s dive into this mess.
We open back in Dragonstone on Varys, who is writing a letter to an unidentified person about Jon being the true heir to the Iron Throne. He’s interrupted by a young servant girl who reports that Dany isn’t taking meals.
The next morning, Tyrion watches as Varys greets Jon on the shore. The guy doesn’t even manage ten seconds of small talk before diving right into his pitch for Aegon Targaryen, King of Westeros. Jon is not entertained, but to be fair he’s never been entertained by anything so it’s hard to tell at this point.
Jon: I don’t want the throne. Never have.
Varys: Why do people keep saying that like it matters or something?
Varys might have made an impression if he just stuck to logic, but the second he insults Dany’s sanity he loses Jon entirely. Jon drops a steely “she is my queen” before stalking off into the castle.
Tyrion goes straight to Dany and we’re going to address the elephant in the room right off the bat here by saying that our girl does not look good. In fact, she looks downright bad. Not just “I lost my dragon and best friend/hairstylist in one fell swoop” bad. We’re talking “I’ve taken to glaring at the horizon and mumbling about my enemies” bad. They might as well just have hung a plaque around her neck that read “Mad Queen.”
She knows that Jon told Sansa about his lineage, who proceeded to tell the whole world, Tyrion included, who then told Varys, who is now actively campaigning against her. It’s worth nothing that not once during this argument, or any of the ones that follow, does Dany raise her voice. Everything is just a quiet, urgent whisper, which is honestly more disarming than her trademark temper. It’s clear that Varys’ fate is sealed here, only further confirmed by the arrival of Grey Worm at his room later that night. Varys manages to finish burning his letter before he’s escorted out to the cliffs where Dany, Jon, Tyrion, and Drogon are waiting. It’s safe to say that nothing good is about to happen when you’re dragged out of your room to face a dragon in the middle of the night.
Tyrion steps forward in a truly honorable moment to tell Varys that he was the one to rat him out. Varys isn’t shocked—he’s been in the game long enough to know how this goes.
Varys: I hope I’m wrong about all this.
Varys: But I’m not.
Varys: See you all in hell, bitch.
I’m surprised Dany is allowing even the slightest showing of remorse on Tyrion’s part. Empathizing with her enemies feels like something she’d be against even on her best day, and this certainly isn’t anywhere close to that. Instead, she just sentences Varys to die, with no charges or justification to offer.
After torching Varys, Dany heads to the war room with Grey Worm, where she gives him Missandei’s only possession—the shackle she used to wear around her neck. He tosses it into the fire, clearly on Team No Mercy alongside his queen.
Jon shows up and Grey Worm makes a hasty retreat, leaving these two estranged relatives/lovers to sort out some sh*t.
Dany: Sansa basically killed Varys.
Jon: Flawed logic but sure.
Dany goes on a short tirade about the people of Westeros fearing and not loving her, before pivoting and trying to seduce Jon in a way that truly made my skin crawl. He swerves, which confirms for her that she’ll have to rule by fear from here on out, having been slighted by the last person alive who claims to love her.
Later in the throne room, Tyrion is pleading with Dany to not destroy King’s Landing and all the innocent people in it. This argument, which he’ll make many times this episode, falls on deaf ears. Dany is beyond reason and speaking like a true tyrant, claiming that she’ll be saving future generations by cleansing the city now. Tyrion makes a last ditch effort and asks that she at least call off the attack if the city surrenders. She agrees, before sending Grey Worm off to prepare the Unsullied to sail out.
Tyrion: Please tell me you aren’t going to slaughter all the innocent people in King’s Landing who have done nothing to wrong you.
As Tyrion makes his way out, clearly aware of what he’s now dealing with, Dany drops a bomb: Jaime was captured trying to make his way into King’s Landing. This is the second time that Tyrion has been wrong about his siblings’ intentions, and Daenerys makes it clear that it will also be the last time.
Next we cut to King’s Landing where Jon, Tyrion, and the troops are all arriving for battle. Morale is low at best. They’re greeted on the shore by Davos, who Tyrion pulls aside to ask for a smuggling favor. Safe to say that one doesn’t pan out.
Arya and the Hound arrive at the camp at night, looking like they’re ready to singlehandedly take on this battle. If only that were the case.
Arya: I’m Arya Stark and I’m here to kill Cersei.
The Hound: She is the light of my life.
Tyrion sneaks into the tent where Jaime is being kept prisoner, hellbent on saving at least one person in this entire episode.
Tyrion: How did they find you?
Jaime: Turns out not a lot of men have a solid gold hand.
It becomes clear that Jaime has no intention of asking Cersei to surrender, thereby busting the theory I’ve been lecturing people about all week in which Jaime returns only to kill Cersei and then himself. Instead, Tyrion switches tactics and begs Jaime to escape with Cersei so that they can start fresh elsewhere. Not sure where the world-reviled Lannister twins could escape to, but it’s a nice thought. Against all odds, Jaime agrees and the two say goodbye for the final time. It was the closest I came to feeling anything this entire episode.
Tyrion: You were the best family I’ve ever had.
Jaime: Low bar there but I appreciate the sentiment.
At last, the day of the battle has arrived and both sides are prepping across King’s Landing. Euron is arming his many scorpions on his fleet in Blackwater Bay. John, Greyworm, Tyrion, and Davos, followed by the Northerners, the Unsullied, and the five remaining Dothraki are lined up against the Golden Company outside the walls of the city. Inside, soldiers are taking their places as the civilians race to the Red Keep for protection. The gates close before many of them can get in, Jaime included. He spends the next thirty minutes trying to find his way inside a crumbling city. Cersei looks out over King’s Landing, calm as a cucumber. God grant me the serenity of Cersei Lannister when faced with any kind of adversity.
Things kick off swiftly with Dany flying down from the clouds to torch Euron’s entire fleet of ships. The scorpions, which seemed last week to be the end of all dragons, are entirely ineffective. Drogon is out here, pirouetting across the sky, raining fire down on these giant crossbows as if it’s no big thing. Rhaegal is quaking at the bottom of the ocean.
Dany makes quick work of the bay and then turns her attention to the city itself. She blasts through the wall behind the Golden Company, effectively toppling all of them in seconds. Jon, Grey Worm, Davos, and their armies run through the gaping gates while we’re offered expansive shots of the opposing side lying screaming and burning on the ground. There’s a lot of that kind of behavior over the next forty or so minutes.
It becomes quickly apparent that Cersei does not stand a chance. Like, if Dany had rolled in with all three dragons, this episode could have been five minutes long. While she torches the Lannister army from above, the Unsullied wreak havoc below in the streets. It’s not even a contest, which seems weird considering the fact that Team Dany was looking worse for wear not ten minutes earlier.
Cersei is watching from her balcony, slowly realizing that this won’t be the cake walk she anticipated. Qyburn informs her that the scorpions have all been destroyed, that the Golden Company are charred, lifeless husks, and that everything is rapidly going to sh*t.
Dany parks Drogon on a tower just as Jon and company come face to face with the Lannister army. It’s a standoff of sorts, everyone clearly in over their heads. The Lannister forces drop their swords seconds before the bell signaling surrender rings through the city. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “thank God that was quick. Now we can spend the rest of the episode effectively setting up a plot for next week.” Just call me Jon Snow, I guess.
Up on the tower, Dany watches as the city surrenders. For one second you think things are going to be chill before she suffers a clear mental break, lets out a single sob, and then takes off in the direction of the keep.
“Oh, well, she’s just going to kill Cersei,” I thought, “this plan still checks out.” But guess what? She doesn’t do that. She doesn’t even attempt to do that. Cersei is hanging out, entirely unprotected on a very visible balcony on top of the biggest building in the city, and instead of heading for that very viable target Dany flies down to the streets and begins torching civilians and soldiers alike.
This move is clearly a shock to Jon, Davos, Tyrion, the millions of people in King’s Landing, me at home on my couch, and anyone capable of understanding logic, but you know who’s not fazed at all? Grey Worm, who takes it as a signal to keep on keeping on. He charges full force into a crowd of unarmed Lannister soldiers, and the battle is back on.
What follows is forty straight minutes of carnage. It was clearly meant to shock the audience into submission, but I actually just found myself to be bored by the over-the-top gore of it all. I had more of a visceral reaction to Tyrion outing Brienne as a virgin than I did to the people of King’s Landing being incinerated in HD. So instead of attempting to describe the mayhem, let’s just cover the important plot points that took place while the King’s Landing was being dismantled brick by brick.
Jaime & Euron
Jaime finds his way to the outlet Tyrion directed him to, down on the shores of Blackwater Bay, only to be intercepted by Euron, who immediately challenges him to a duel. This entire scene was the most unnecessary sequence of events in an episode made up solely of unnecessary sequences of events. Euron, whose character arc was already weak at best, has been reduced to a man who operates on chaos alone. He managed to survive Drogon’s attack on the water, and instead of making a break for it he just…goads Jaime Lannister into a fight? To what end?
Euron: I had sex with a queen which makes me a king so now if you kill me everyone will be like “Wow Jaime Lannister killed TWO KINGS” wouldn’t that be crazy?
Jaime: …Sir this is an Arby’s.
Jaime gets stabbed twice in the torso before managing to get a killing blow into Euron’s chest. Dark Pacey Witter, the chaotic Jack Sparrow of Winterfell, dies alone on the shores of King’s Landing. His last words are “I am the man who killed Jaime Lannister.” None of it made sense, but it’s so low on the totem pole of things to be mad about that I guess we’ll just move on.
Jon spends the entire siege running around the city, being shocked that Dany is doing exactly what Varys said she would do. He tries to save a few people and stop a few fights, but is ultimately useless.
Dany: * goes insane, burns King’s Landing to the ground, basically follows up on her promise to rule the people of Westeros by fear*
The Hound & Arya
Pre-Mad Queen, the Hound and Arya were strolling through King’s Landing looking like the best pair of assassins you’ve ever seen. But once the city starts crumbling around them, they lose some of their bravado. The two of them make it all the way to the Keep only for the Hound to turn around and urge Arya to escape. You expect her to laugh in his face but then, against all odds and in opposition to everything we know to be true about her, she just…does it?
The girl who killed the Night King makes it to the doorstep of Cersei, the woman she’s vowed to kill since day one, and then goes “Eh, not feeling it anymore.” At this rate, why didn’t she just stay back and marry Gendry? She could be in Winterfell, eating ice cream and watching rom coms with Brienne and Sansa, having sex with her hot, newly-noble fiancé, not having a care in the world. But sure, this route makes sense, too.
Arya thanks the Hound for I don’t know what, then high tails it out onto the streets of King’s Landing, which appear to be just as dangerous as the Keep. The Hound continues up the stairs and comes across Cersei, Qyburn, and the Mountain, making their escape. The brothers lock eyes, and it’s clear that we’re about to get the fight everyone has been asking for. Cersei commands Ser Gregor to stay by her side, and he answers by picking Qyburn up and busting his skull against a rock. Good riddance. She sneaks past them and leaves the two to battle it out.
Jaime & Cersei
In case my rant above wasn’t enough, let me drive my point home by saying that the death of the Lannister twins was the single most disappointing death scene in this entire show. Qyburn went out more heroically than these two incestuous idiots.
After leaving the Cleganes behind, Cersei comes across Jaime in the Keep. She starts sobbing upon seeing him and they stand there and hold each other for far longer than you would expect, given the fact that the ceiling could come down on them at any moment.
They make their way to the dragon dungeon Tyrion once escaped from, only to find that their route has been blocked by a pile of debris. Instead of doing, I don’t know, anything about this situation, Cersei starts sobbing about not wanting their baby to die. Jaime grabs her by the face, tells her that nothing matters but the two of them, and then they died clutching each other as the entire Keep collapses down onto them.
Their death feels like such a throwaway that I am now retroactively Team Cersei. Dying together? Check, we’re all on board for that. Dying cowering and sobbing in each other’s arms? Not my Lannisters.
What happened to Cersei, whose natural response to any danger is gulping wine and arching her eyebrow? Or Jaime, the brave and honorable knight who would rather go down fighting than surrender? Did everyone just forget the last nine years of character development? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.
It shouldn’t be surprising by this point when I tell you that Clegane Bowl was entirely underwhelming. The Hound repeatedly stabs his giant zombie of a brother to no avail while the building collapses around them. Once it becomes clear that nothing will stop the Mountain, not even a dagger through the skull, the Hound tackles him and together they crash through what’s left of the wall and they both tumble hundreds of feet to the fiery city below. I would say it’s safe to assume both of them are dead, but it’s not safe to assume anything about this show anymore.
Arya & The Horse
Out on the streets of the city, Arya is not faring well. Despite the fact that she’s clearly won, Dany is still flying around and roasting people while toppling whole city blocks. Everything is debris and ash and fire and death and it’s honestly awful. Arya almost dies a handful of times, only to be saved by a kind woman who later dies by fire for her efforts.
Arya is knocked unconscious and wakes up covered in debris an undetermined amount of time later. While you can still hear screams in the distance, everything is quieter now. There isn’t a living soul in sight except for one immaculate, entirely unharmed white horse. I thought maybe this was a metaphor or a hallucination on Arya’s part, but It was actually just a whole-ass horse. Arya hops on and gallops away as the screen fades to black and for some reason “Old Town Road” isn’t playing in the background. Yet another disappointment to add to the list.
That’s it, folks. That’s the episode.
It seems like the only possible route now is for what’s left of Westeros (aka the Starks) to rise up against Dany. Now that she’s not even feigning sanity anymore, there’s nothing stopping Dany from riding north and torching her last standing opposer: Sansa. If we don’t get a Stark reunion followed by a Baelish-style surprise execution, I will riot.
Sansa up North, sipping a daiquiri and not being burned alive in a battle she didn’t support, carefully crafting her “I told you so” speech for Jon:
MVB: That stupid horse
Pickings were so slim this week that we’re bestowing the coveted title of Most Valuable Betch to the horse that managed to survive the melee on the streets of King’s Landing. With those kind of instincts, it’s probably smarter than Jon—someone please let the horse develop the game plan for next week.
Images: HBO; Giphy (5)