‘The Bells’: ‘Game of Thrones' Season 8 Episode 5 recap

"Game of Thrones" second to last episode "The Bells" marked the end of several significant story lines, but set up the series for a dramatic, explosive conclusion.
"Game of Thrones" second to last episode "The Bells" marked the end of several significant story lines, but set up the series for a dramatic, explosive conclusion. Image By: Image courtesy of HBO

After last week’s somewhat rushed and disappointing episode, HBO aired one of the best episodes of “Game of Thrones” by a long shot this Sunday. Two weeks ago director Miguel Sapochnik gave us “The Long Night,” the giant battle at Winterfell against the Army of the Dead, which brought the remaining characters together to fight for their lives in a spectacular array of CGI and fantasy spectacles. Now he directed “The Bells,” an episode that not only shocked audiences and delivered stunning action but was rooted in powerful, emotional suspense that honored its complex characters. 

The beginning of the episode was focused mainly on Varys, who tells Jon after arriving on Dragonstone to claim the Iron Throne due to not only being the rightful heir but the more suitable leader opposed to Daenerys. Jon opposes, supporting Daenerys but simply not wanting the Throne. Varys writes letters revealing the truth about Jon’s Targaryen roots before being interrupted by a little girl who is trying to serve poisoned food to Daenerys. Tyrion informs Daenerys about his friend’s mission, leading Daenerys to execute Varys by dragon fire, the Master of Whispers having a bittersweet farewell to Tyrion (who confesses he turned him in) before meeting his end.

Varys was one of the most fascinating characters in the entire series. His role as the show’s main politician tested the audience’s view of this man from his first appearance and allowed us to change our view of him several times. He’s a character who, despite serving many rulers, was always dedicated to one thing — protecting the realm. He died doing what he believed in, and by the end of the episode, we know he was right. 

Jon and Daenerys have another intimate moment by the fire before Jon pulls away, the King of the North uncomfortable with Daenerys being his aunt. Dany and Jon discuss how Sansa informed Tyrion about Jon being the true heir, thus weakening Dany’s position. Jon reminds her of how he still loves and supports her despite being Aegon Targaryen. Jon and Dany don’t have as interesting of a relationship as other duos in the show, so this scene was a forgettable necessity in order for them to continue their conflicted relationship on screen.

Tyrion tries to convince Dany not to attack King’s Landing due to the collateral damage that will occur, yet she claims it is necessary and justifies her ambition based on her claim that she will be freeing the people from the tyrannical rule of Cersei. Peter Dinklage gives a brilliant performance in this episode, portraying Tyrion as being torn morally between supporting the woman he has dedicated so much to and following his moral compass. Tyrion not only saw one of his closest friends die, yet fears he may have helped support a cruel dictator’s upbringing.

Tyrion is yet again threatened by Daenerys, this time for telling Varys about Jon’s lineage without her permission. The Mother of Dragons reveals to him afterward that they captured Jaime, who was found traveling their way. Tyrion meets with his imprisoned brother, who advises him to convince Cersei to surrender and sail to Pentos across the Narrow Sea together to start a new life with their unborn child. Tyrion tells his brother to have Cersei ring the bells as a sign of surrender in order to prevent the deaths of thousands of innocent people. 

After Jaime agrees, the two brothers have a touching moment in which Tyrion tells Jaime that he was the only person he ever had for most of his life that was respectful to him. This scene was a testament to the two men’s love for each other and all they’ve been through over the years. Despite being mistreated by everyone including his family for his entire life, Tyrion was always loved by his older brother, and the two’s last scene together was pitch perfect.   

As the Northern army, Knights of the Vale, Unsullied and Dothraki reach the gates of King’s Landing, Jon, Davos, Tyrion and Grey Worm lead Dany’s army against Cersei’s. Jaime enters the city, as does Arya and Sandor Clegane. Arya is determined to kill Cersei while Clegane determined to finally kill his brother Gregor. All seems quiet until out of nowhere, Daenerys attacks Euron Greyjoy’s fleet with Drogon. The dragon torches the ships, taking out the soldiers and scorpion arrows atop the city’s bannermants as well. The Golden Company is flamed, and Jon leads the army into the city, fighting Cersei’s forces by hand.

Cersei watches confidently at first, but slowly realizes she is doomed. The bells ring out of surrender to Jon and Tyrion’s relief, but the worst is yet to come. Staring at the Red Keep while on Drogon, Daenerys soon gives in to her weakness and allows her Targaryen anger to get the best of her, leading her to barbarically destroy King’s Landing by Dragonfire. While Jon and his soldiers stare down a group of Lannister soldiers who surrender, Grey Worm, still grieving from Missandei’s death, tosses his spear into a Lannister soldier, causing Dany’s army to savagely attack the civilians and soldiers of King’s Landing.

Jon watches in horror, realizing Daenerys is a monster. Jon saves a woman from being raped by a Northern soldier as he tries to prevent further violence. The destruction of King’s Landing is a truly horrific sight. Miguel Sapochnik does a brilliant job balancing the sequences from Jon and Cersei’s points of view while also documenting the reactions of the civilians victimized by the fiery horror. The cinematography in this sequence is awe-inspiring. We get the most dynamic, intimate views of King’s Landing that blend terrifically with several artistic images of the subjects and characters on screen. The music in this episode builds heart-stopping suspense, as does the strategic pacing. Instead of constant kinetic action, the chaos is done in patches — the consequences of the violence being felt in every scene much more than just the violence itself.

The most rewarding aspect of the episode to me was seeing Arya and Sandor say goodbye. Arya and Clegane enter the Red Keep and soon realize that the castle is being destroyed. Clegane has Arya leave, asking, “Do you want to be like me?” The Hound convinces Arya that if she stays inside, she’ll die and that her appetite for revenge isn’t worth dying. The Hound’s entire life has been consumed by his desire to get revenge on his brother for burning his face as a child and for his monstrous atrocities. He plans on dying and fulfilling his purpose, while Arya realizes she has more to live for. As they walk away, Arya thanks him, the two former foes having mutual respect for each other and part ways perfectly.

This was everything I wanted for the two’s farewell. Arya has come to admire the Hound for his genuine care for her, which is a major change from previously wanting to kill him. I would argue that Arya and Sandor formed the best duo in the show, for not only did they have great dialogue and give us many laughs, but through Arya, we got to see who Sandor really was and got to see him as the dynamic character and victim that he is. 

Cersei watches in fear as King’s Landing erupts in flames. Patches of stored Wildfire that the Mad King Aerys stored start to burst as Drogon lights them, the screams of people echoing everywhere. Qyburn convinces Cersei to flee, the Queen and her Queensguard running into Sandor as they go down the stairs. As the building starts to crumble, Sandor kills all of Cersei’s guards but his brother. The Mountain starts to come towards Sandor, Qyburn ordering the giant knight to protect his queen, leading the Mountain to crush Qyburn’s head.

As Cersei runs away, the two Clegane brothers finally fight, the Mountain and the Hound brutally wounding each other. Since the Mountain is technically a zombie, none of the Hound’s stab wounds affect him. As the Red Keep crumbles and the two brothers beat each other, the Hound suddenly starts to become overwhelmed, his last resort being to charge and tackle his brother off of the ruined structure and into a giant eruption of flames down below. 

Sandor Clegane’s death was not only epic, but poetic. As my favorite character, it was rewarding to see the warrior die via flames, his ultimate fear. Not only did he overcome his fear by embracing it as his means of death, but he died with purpose, fulfilling his destiny by killing his evil enemy and ending the hatred towards him in his heart that plagued him every day. Sandor Clegane was a complex, layered character whose destiny and arc was fulfilled beautifully in the best way imaginable. 

As Daenerys continues to slaughter people from the sky, Jaime tries to enter the Red Keep from the shore but comes across a washed up Euron who survived the destruction of his fleet. The two fight each other, Euron stabbing and insulting Jaime before the Kingslayer sticks a sword in his gut and leaves the sadistic pirate to die miserably. I enjoyed seeing Jaime defeat his lover’s new fling, but I wished we actually got to see Euron die instead of having him die offscreen.

Arya runs through the streets of King’s Landing in fear, nearly dying several times as the people and structures around her are burnt and destroyed. It was a strong choice having us follow Arya throughout the madness, for it allowed us to care for the situation occurring due to putting one of the main protagonists in imminent danger. Arya tries to help several civilians, allowing us to see the kind-hearted side of the Stark girl as opposed to her revenge driven determination and killing.

Jaime and Cersei reunite in the Red Keep, the two hugging as Cersei cries in fear. Seeing Cersei broken down and terrified was truly eye-opening. The cold-hearted and ruthless queen who has been confident and cut-throat ever since her walk of shame now becomes scarred and powerless, relying on the man she loves as her counsel. While Jaime knows how evil Cersei can be, he can’t help but love her. Despite being siblings, Cersei and Jaime have a genuine love for each other that can’t be broken. Jaime may be disgusted by some of Cersei’s motives and actions, yet he still loves her.

As the two enter the dungeon to find the exit Tyrion told Jaime about, Jaime realizes it is blocked by a pile of stones, trapping the two. The castle starts to crumble and Jaime holds Cersei, stating, “Nothing else matters.” This is a reference to season six in which Jaime said the same thing to Cersei after their daughter Myrcella died. Jaime and Cersei have always loved each other, and while I originally wanted Jaime to kill his sister, it is much more fitting and poetic for the two to die together, just as they entered the world.

Cersei may have been evil, yet this episode did a tremendous job of manipulating the audience into empathizing with someone so cold-hearted. Cersei created her own falling and is literally crushed by the symbol of her power — the Red Keep. Jaime, on the other hand, was a redeemed good man who died with honor, yet was holding onto the thing that lead him to his past sins. He can’t deny his love for Cersei, and the two can die at peace despite their differences. 

We end by seeing a wounded Arya walk through the barren and destroyed ruins of King’s Landing to come across a lone horse. Just like Arya, the horse somehow managed to survive. The horse is a direct symbol of Arya, for her entire storyline has been dedicated to survival and cheating death, just as she did during the Battle at Winterfell.

After a spectacular and disturbing siege at King’s Landing that saw the deaths of seven characters, Daenerys is now the main enemy. The heroic savior who pledged to destroy tyranny and uplift oppressed people has now become the exact opposite of what she wanted to be. Daenerys' quest for the Iron Throne has turned her into a monster. Jon and Tyrion now realize that Varys and Sansa were right about her.

Daenerys’ mad queen revelation was highly foreshadowed. In the finale of season two, Daenerys has a vision in the house of the undying in which she comes across a destroyed Red Keep with snowfall (or ash?) raining from the sky and stands in front of the Iron Throne. This symbolized how she would destroy King’s Landing and try to obtain the Throne. Additionally, we saw the shadow of a dragon flying over King’s Landing in one of Bran’s visions in season six. 

With the final episode of the series airing on Sunday, the remaining characters have one last conflict to overcome as a mad queen now rules Westeros. The greatest television show comes to an end after eight seasons, concluding an epic saga. The remaining characters of “Game of Thrones” have the future of Westeros in their hands.

 Dominic LeRose is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.

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