A lot of Game of Thrones Fans were disappointed when the Battle of Winterfell seemed to be somewhat anticlimactic, particularly since most people felt that the fight between the living and the army of the Dead would be THE BIG BATTLE of this final season of the show.
Well, then last night happened. Season Eight, Episode Five: The Bells.
If there is ANYTHING you can say about last night’s episode with 100% certainty, it is that the episode was decidedly NOT anti-climactic. And it was one of those things that you just couldn’t stop watching. Like the Red Wedding, but orders of magnitude worse.
So now we know why Sansa, who spent much of the show’s eight seasons learning how to NOT be so blindingly naïve and gullible, and her sister Arya, who also spent eight seasons of massive character development that forced her to grow up all-too-quickly, both did not trust “the Dragon Queen”. Perhaps they saw something that the rest of us did not, or perhaps the writers want us to think that (but really didn’t do a great job of selling it). Perhaps stretching the show out with another season would not have been a bad thing, at least if it gave us a little more time to absorb the changes that were going to take place in Dany’s character.* As it is, the changes seemed to take place really fast, and certainly it feels that way, even if time on the show (objectively speaking) showed the passage of weeks or even months. Since it was done in two episodes, it feels a hell of a lot faster.
So the first indication we got that something was going to go VERY awry was the clip at the beginning of the episode, when they show relevant clips from earlier episodes. The voice-over they showed for Dany came across as “voices in her head” so much so that I was like, “Oh, God, she’s going to lose it this episode, isn’t she?” Once that happened, it was just a matter of time until she “snapped”, and I knew that all of the efforts of everyone else to prevent the massive effusion of blood and fire would be for naught.
Varys and Tyrion seemed to see it coming too, and in the case of Varys, actually tried to do something about it. We don’t know yet how many Ravens went out with those messages about Jon’s ancestry (reminded me a lot of the messages Stannis sent out much earlier in the show) but I am pretty sure that Varys didn’t write them out just so he could burn one at his desk. I have a feeling there will be consequences next episode for those messages going out, presumably to some lords in Westeros. At least, whatever lords there are left, anyway. The Dornish, perhaps?
Jon seemed to think that as long as he stayed loyal to Dany, there would be no problems, even if he did tell his family about his true parentage and they proceeded to blab to other people. Well, when Dany executed Varys, she made it pretty clear that his death could be blamed on Jon and his big mouth.
As far as all those dreaded scorpions go, I guess once the element of surprise was gone, they just took too long to point and aim. So they were useless once Dany decided to dive out of the sun and then swoop low, down near the water. She made quick work of the Iron fleet and their nasty scorpions, and then she proceeded to annihilate all the scorpions along the walls and around the Red Keep. And then blew through a massive defended gate and the Golden Company like they were nothing. Dragons really are the nukes of ASOIAF, we just didn’t really see them really let off the leash until this episode.
Then the moment comes, and it looks like the Lannister forces are going to surrender, despite Cersei’s proud boasts, and the bells start ringing, just like Tyrion and many others had hoped. But Dany doesn’t react like we thought she would – the way a heroic figure would react.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and after thinking I have changed my mind somewhat from my initial impression. Maybe that is just my slightly autistic self trying to rationalize things. I know a lot of people are upset about what happened with Dany this episode. I know I was. But after reflecting, I realized that it was not nearly as huge a character change as I had originally thought. Dany has always had a rather ruthless violent streak in her. Up to this point in her life, her advisers have managed to keep some amount of control over her worst impulses, but those impulses have always been there. She is the one who up to this point in her life, has already done the following:
- Didn’t really flinch when her brother had molten gold poured over his head. Yeah, I know he was a dick, to put it mildly, but it is still a shocking thing to see and she was like “meh”.
- Blustered with violent threats at the gates of Qarth to be let in. Her mouth was writing some seriously overdrawn checks and you could see Ser Jorah just flinching and grimacing.
- Had the Unsullied kill all the slave masters literally the moment she got them. Did they deserve it? Certainly. No argument. But still seriously cold-blooded.
- Crucified a bunch of nobles in Slaver’s Bay and left their bodies to rot. Yes, the slave masters had crucified slave children. But they were the bad guys. Good guys are not supposed to crucify people.
- Fed other nobles to her dragons. Again, a cringe-inducing scene.
- Had yet more noble prisoners incinerated (i.e., the Tarlys). Tyrion, whom she accuses of bad ideas, tried to tell her not to do it, and she did it anyway, and it came back to haunt her in the Winterfell library in that scene with Samwell.
But up to now, it could at least be argued that one place where Dany has drawn the line is children. She locked up her dragons rather than let them eat the random stray shepherd’s kid, remember? But she had no problem killing otherwise innocent people, at least if they were adults. In her mind they were guilty by association. But then something happened, something changed in her, and even Tyrion pleading about the thousands of children in King’s Landing couldn’t save them ultimately. Dany could have flown straight to the Red Keep and burned it down, leaving the rest of King’s Landing unharmed, but she didn’t. I was horrified when Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor and everyone in it and around it. What Dany did went even beyond that, because while Cersei was at least targeting her enemies and just got a lot of “collateral damage”, Dany’s dragon-strafing flights over the city had no point except random killing. Sure, there were some stray Lannister soldiers running around, but the streets were mostly full of non-combatants. It’s as if Dany decided to just burn down the whole city rather than let Cersei have it. Or worse, it’s like her father the Mad King had finally succeeded in destroying the city with wildfire. As if to underline that point, we see random green explosions where dragonfire has apparently set off the long-forgotten stashes of Wildfire underneath various buildings.
So was there a point? Maybe. Aegon the Conqueror had annihilated Harrenhal to demonstrate that no one could stand up to dragons. Perhaps Dany figured that she needed to make a similar demonstration. Maybe that’s how some Dany supporters (both on the show and in RL) will support it. But frankly, I don’t think that’s it. I think she just got mad. Really, really mad. And then it became personal, because that look on her face was just hate and rage. Rage that all her loyal advisers were dead, like Missandei and Ser Barristan and Ser Jorah, and that her living followers (with the exception of Grey Worm) were all acting like they had decided that Jon Snow would be a better choice to rule. Frankly I am somewhat surprised that she did not turn her dragon on Jon Snow, or on any of the Northmen. As it is we have yet to see what she will do to everyone else now that she has won and conquered the city. But her character arc? Destroyed, at this point. It’s as if Aragorn suddenly started listening to Sauron near the end of Return of the King. No coming back from that, certainly not at the end.
BUT… there’s another problem. I am assuming an awful lot here and giving the Deadly Duo the benefit of the doubt. The problem with that is that what happened with Dany’s character arc did not happen in a vacuum. Other characters have had sudden changes in their personalities and character arcs, and I am hugely disappointed in the way some of the character arcs have turned out. Jaime Lannister is one of the biggest disappointments. He spent all this time since Season Two working on some sort of redemption, only to piss it all away at the end. And Cersei’s arc has ended on a somewhat sympathetic note, as she just wanted her child to live. But like we said, Dany is not sparing any kids this time around. Even if Cersei had not been buried under the rubble of the Red Keep, she would have had no reason to expect any mercy from Dany, especially after what she did to Missandei. And after all that, why would you even WANT to end her arc that way, especially if it is at the expense of Dany? Cersei needs a comeuppance, not sympathy.
And what about Arya? After being driven by revenge for so many seasons, she seems to suddenly just give up on taking out one of her original targets on her list: Cersei. Frankly, that was at least a little bit disappointing. Had she stayed with the Hound, she would have had an open path all the way to Cersei, and with the Mountain occupied by his brother, Cersei would have had no one left to defend her evil self. So instead she gets crushed by a collapsing ceiling rather than get stabby stab stabbed by Arya or strangled by Jaime. What a bummer.
I have to say, I had heard a lot of talk about how the ending of the show would be bittersweet, but so far I am not seeing it. I am only seeing the bitter, and not the sweet, unless you count the VERY fleeting moments like Sam and Gilly saying bye to Jon. And that’s where I find I am the most disappointed by this season so far. After eight seasons, the payoff has been miniscule. Yeah, Ghost lived, but then he got passed along to someone else despite having been there for Jon through SO MUCH.
As annoyed as I was by the show shunting off Ghost so effortlessly, I have to say that now I am glad he was not in King’s Landing for this horror show of an episode. I would not have wanted him to be. He’s a good boy, and good boys are not wanted in King’s Landing at any time, much less when Dany decides she is going to rule over the ashes.
One episode left to go. I have no idea what is going to happen anymore, but it doesn’t look good. I guess my expectations in general have been somewhat dashed.
* And in other characters too, for that matter. It’s almost like they had to shoehorn everything in to these last six episodes, and even making them longer wasn’t enough time to do a proper job.