With only one episode left to go before the highly-anticipated conclusion of Game of Thrones, the TimeOut Entertainment team share their thoughts on season eight, episode five: The Bells.
As Daenerys grieved her losses from episode four and Arya and The Hound closed in on their targets, the Battle of King's Landing kicked off, leading to one of the most brutal and intense episodes in Thrones history.
We wanted more violence and that's what we got. But rather than messing around with grand-scale zombie battles and dragon fights, we zoomed in on the cramped quarters of King's Landing and followed all our favourite characters through death, fire, and a crumbling city. We said goodbye to a couple of my favourites - Varys, The Hound, and most likely Cersei - but they all got incredibly fitting send-offs. It was particularly satisfying to see Cersei's strength finally break, but at the same time, her refusal to die on anyone's terms but hers.
Arya continued to be the goddamned hero that she is, Jon continued to flounder about uselessly and there was a notable lack of Sansa and Yara. But really I just have two gripes. One: as if it wasn't bad enough Thrones sacrificed its only woman of colour last week, they've now sacrificed the only vaguely queer person (Varys) who hasn't been exiled to an island without a word (love you, Yara). Two: with all that action packed into one episode, I can't think how the finale can be as satisfying as it needs to be. That was the last war, so what comes next?
I take it all back. All the mean things I said about how boring this season was, how lacklustre, how totally devoid of death and drama... Episode five delivered everything I could have ever asked for in an episode of Thrones. It was poetic in its brutality and I loved every second.
Dany as the Mad Queen? Love it. Cersei dying in the arms of her brother and one true love? Love it. The Hound sacrificing himself to destroy his monster of a brother? Love it.
My prediction for next week is Arya and Jon team up to take down Daenerys, who shocked and appalled everyone with her flagrant disregard for human life this week. Jon will die in the process, leaving his two sisters to rule the Seven Kingdoms forever more. I can't bloody wait.
This show has tested the limits of graphic violence on screen every season, and I feel perhaps never more so than in this episode. Maybe I'm too emotional for this show, but I hated watching such a catastrophic event play out in all its gory details. I'm quite ready to have this show over and done with so that my next TV show is something a little sunnier.
That being said, I do believe Daenerys as the Mad Queen was the only interesting direction Game of Thrones had left to explore. I've seen plenty of chatter online of people saying that it's a last-minute, out-of-character swerve; yes, it's been a rushed development, and would have been much more effective with proper build-up, but the seeds have been there from the start. Even when Daenerys was doing seemingly noble acts such as freeing slaves, she was doing it in the interest of advancing her own power, and she increasingly developed an alarmingly blasé approach to torching anyone who stood in her way. I think perhaps people were a bit blinded by the #girlpower aesthetics of Dany blasting her way out of a crisis on a dragon; those scenes were exciting, but I never found them quite to be the feminist victories others proclaimed them to be. (Other female characters such as Margaery, Sansa, Brienne and Arya have illustrated power in this show in much more nuanced ways.)
Lastly, a moment of silence please for Queen Cersei. Definitely one of the worst people in Westeros, but probably the most interesting character, illustrated by the best performance on this show from the incredible Lena Headey. Even though I missed your old wigs, you never failed to be a complex, fully-formed, compelling villain. I hope that wherever you are now, there's wine.
This battle episode was everything this season's other battle episode wasn't. There was excitement, high stakes, high profile deaths, high satisfaction levels and, most important of all, high levels of light.
This time around everything was clear as day. Every stabbing sword, burning body, and awful eye-gouging was shown in bloody, gory detail. And there was a lot – a lot – of those things. For the more squeamish viewer the experience must have been similar to how the citizens of King's Landing were feeling for most of the episode; exposed with nowhere to hide.
The fall of King's Landing was appropriately brutal and horrible and then it got worse when Daenerys and her dragon turned the battle into a massacre. "The Red Keep has never fallen," a steely-eyed Cersei said right before she realised that the Red Keep was about to not just fall but crumble and that her best course of action would be to get the heck out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
If only she'd left a fraction earlier…
Thinking about it, a lot of the carnage of this episode, which will undoubtedly go down as one of Thrones' best, can boil down to "if only".
If only Tyrion had listened to Varys instead of ratting him out. If only Jaime hadn't got caught up in the fleeing horde and not found himself locked out of the city. If only Daenerys hadn't, you know, gone completely off her rocker and started burning every single thing she could see to a crisp.
But had any one of those things happened instead of all three we'd need another full season to wrap this thing up instead of just one more episode.
So now, having seen Daenerys prove that her old man's apple didn't fall far from the tree, the big question is, who's gonna stop her reign of terror. And how?
After all, she's got a dragon, a vengeful Grey Worm and total madness on her side. And that, friends, makes for a formidable combo.
The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen? We'll find out next week.
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