Here's a controversial opinion sure to make you choke on your kombucha: "The Bells" was the best episode of Game of Thrones' Season 8! There's an angry mob outside of HBO's headquarters right now, as fans watched the series' penultimate episode with outright disgust and critics dog-piled on the show's final season, turning their snouts up at nose-diving character arcs and plots that didn't align with theories from the books or a line of dialogue that a witch said six years ago. So me saying it's the best episode of this season is sure to hike underwear up many a butt.
I'll explain! Admittedly, it takes a bit of mental parkour and self-manipulation to get to my opinion, but I'm sticking with it. First, Season 8 of Game of Thrones has been problematic, to say the least, and the bar is so low even the world's limbo champion wouldn't try to go under that. Saying "The Bells" is the best episode of the season is kind of like saying The Cool Kids is Fox's best live-action comedy. Second, everything that happened in "The Bells" — Dany's turn, Jaime's fate, etc. — was telegraphed in the previous episode, "The Last of the Starks." Much of the anger with "The Bells" should retroactively be put on "The Last of the Starks" because "The Bells" merely followed the path laid out by the episode(s) before it. If someone pushes you out of a window, you don't blame the ground, you blame the person who pushed you. Game of Thrones got pushed out of a window the minute the creators decided to make Season 7 and 8 a mere 13 episodes total. Third, Drogon lighting up King's Landing like some yahoo with too much lighter fluid and half a brain was extremely my sh--. I'd watch hours and hours of that. Did it have problems? Yes! But c'mon, you KNEW there would be problems.
Before we get into the recap, what did YOU think of the episode?
Varys (Conleth Hill) started off the episode with a BOLD move. The guy who just wants what's best for the realm — and coincidentally, for the show — duped one of his little birds, Martha, into trying to POISON Dany because he knew she would torch King's Landing in a fit of rage. What a different conversation we would be having if Dany (Emilia Clarke) would have just eaten some pigeon pie and Joffrey'd out of existence. But alas, the Dragon Queen was too sad about not having any friends and was not eating. Also, are little girls actually named Martha? I thought Marthas were born at 40 years old. I've never seen a baby pigeon and I've never seen a Martha who wasn't already the owner of five cats.
Anyway, Varys chatted with Jon (Kit Harington), saying "Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath." It's not the first time we've heard that — Cersei (Lena Headey) said it to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) back in Season 2 as it's a common stereotype around Westeros that those platinum-haired inbreds have a bit of a temper — and it's thunderously loud foreshadowing that the coin was flipped and it landed on "totally cray-cray." Varys, himself without a dangly pair, tried to give Jon a dangly pair by mansplaining that "men decide where power resides, whether or not they know it." That line was itself grossly sexist foreshadowing that Game of Thrones, once a thorough examination of diplomacy, espionage, and machinations in wartime, pretty much turned into a spat between two power-hungry white girls.
Tyrion narc'd on Varys to Dany who was looking a lot more like the Crazy Cat Lady from The Simpsons without her BFF/hair braider, so it was time for Varys to die by dragon halitosis. (I don't think Tyrion knew about the poisoning attempts but he knew Varys was up to something.) Tyrion was sad about it, because he would not be able to make eunuch jokes anymore.
Jon went to see Dany, and it was here you really saw just how lonely Dany was getting, the kind of crushing incel-level loneliness that causes an otherwise normal person to wish a fiery death on Flea Bottom orphans. She asked him, "Is that all I am to you, your queen?" while they kissed, in which Dany was chomping on Jon's lips in that "If you leave me I will bite your face off" kind of way. And uh oh, Jon pulled away. Take one for the team, Jon! You don't spurn a lady who sits on a flyin' fire squirter!
"All right then, let it be fear [that I rule all you losers with]," she promised. At this point, it was painfully obvious that the King's Landing fire departments were about to be very busy. And if that fact didn't sink in then, Tyrion telling anyone who would listen to call off the attack if the surrender bells were ringing should have done the trick. Basically, the writers were trying to prepare us for what was to come and then say, "See? We prepared you!"
But first! A final reunion between two bros, thanks to Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) getting captured by Dany's men. I liked this Tyrion-Jaime scene! There's something lovely and complicated about their relationship that you just don't see with the simpleton Starks. They showed true love for each other despite their differences, and they knew they were saying goodbye to each other for the last time. In this Season 8 parade of ramshackle fare-thee-well sendoffs, this was the grand marshal's float. "You were the only one who didn't treat me like a monster. You were all I had." *HUG* *CRYING*
Enough of that, it was fryin' time! With King's Landing on high alert, the townsfolk hurried about to prepare for a dragon attack, by collecting their bowls...
... picking up bored kids playing with their lame toys...
... and closing their windows!
Dany finally realized that dragons are actually pretty useful in war, and went in solo on Drogon to mess that fleet o' ships up! Also, Euron's men completely forgot how to operate the Scorpions, because they couldn't hit the broadside of a massive, flying lizard after being Chris Kyle in the last episode. And thank the seven gods, because watching Drogon obliterate Euron's ships and the anti-dragon swatters was absolutely wonderful.
The next important tactical maneuver for Dany was to take out Cersei's most dangerous weapon, the only man who can keep Dany from the Iron Throne: the plain-named Harry Strickland whose House is literally a house on 534 Elm Drive Apt. 3C! The man who leads the highly trained tide-turning army the Golden Company on his lunch breaks from his day job at H&R Block!
His introduction in the Season 8 premiere totally changed the odds in the fight for King's Landing, and the only question was if he and his men would vanquish ALL of Cersei's foes, or whether the would show mercy to — oh never mind, he got his ass kicked by a dragon and was killed by Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson).
(That's for all you accountants out there.)
Killed before we truly got to know him! Let's hope Harry's the main character in one of the many prequel series HBO is working on, so we can learn how a mild-mannered accountant from our world was magically transported into this fantasy universe.
Jon's men rushed in and King's Landing was dropping like a fly ball at a Little League game. At one point, Cersei's army put down their weapons and the bells of surrender rang out after lots of great tension, and this was pretty much where most people thought the episode flushed itself down the toilet. See, Dany got her surrender — she could take the Iron Throne without mass casualties and the people of King's Landing would more easily follow her as their queen. Easy peasy!
But Dany don't play like that (well, apparently now she doesn't), and some deep, burning volcano of rage inside of her erupted, and she politely declined the surrender. Dany took Drogon around town to light everything and everyone on fire, mercy be damned. Say what you will about how this played out, just don't you dare say Emilia Clarke wasn't great in it! So were the reactions from everyone else as they knew this simple city siege was about to get nasty.
Viewers AND Dany's army lost their minds. I don't have a problem with Dany turning into the Mad Queen just like her dear old dad; I've always felt that Dany straddled the line between benevolent rescuer and malevolent barbecuer, and the times where she used force rather than mercy against her enemies stick out in my mind more than the good times (though that varies from person to person based on my informal polling of friends), a sign to me that the show never tried to hide them. The problem was in the execution; the problem started way back between Seasons 6 and 7 when HBO announced that Game of Thrones would only have 13 more episodes. Why, HBO, why?
The seeds for Dany's Mad Queen arc were planted, the show just didn't have enough time to let it grow. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss' decision to truncate the final two seasons was entirely short-sighted at best and downright disrespectful to fans at worst, especially when HBO was fully on board to throw as much money at the show to give it the send-off it deserved. Instead, we got major storylines that the show only existed to tell — the Night King, the fight for the Iron Throne; these were building from the pilot — wrapped up in half the time they needed to be told. We are watching Game of Thrones on fast-forward. But we've known that since Season 7. Dany's change into mean girl didn't work from a storytelling standpoint, but I really believe it could have with about, oh, six or seven more episodes. Clarke should be one of the most upset; she's been really carrying the material to almost tolerable levels, and has been putting in her best work of the series in the last few episodes. Imagine what she could have done with an organic descent into madness?
I'll also thank Dany just for keeping the destruction and mayhem going. I didn't have hope that the storytelling would get any better, but boy did I hope Game of Thrones delivered the action, and it did! When Dany took off in the air she gave the signal to the Unsullied and the northern army to wipe King's Landing off the map, and it was glorious. People got killed good.
Also, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers died! He got to be an extra in Game of Thrones, and that's probably the 3,298th coolest thing that will happen to him. Life sure is fair, isn't it?
The whole reversal of good guys and bad guys was a bit much. I'm not sure Dany and Jon's army suffered a single casualty! The north can pillage and kill innocent people with the best of them. Good job, guys. War is bad, etc. Power corrupts, and whatnot. One man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist, yada yada yada. Only truly noble buzzkills like Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) and Jon were doing the right thing and trying to stop the slaughter, but they were having a hard time getting anyone to listen because they were having too much fun cutting off the enemy's hands.
Major characters didn't have the same luck. Jaime was hurrying along to get to Cersei when some sea trash washed up onshore looking to pick a fight, because Euron is a Charlie from It's Always Sunny-level wild card lunatic and the show needed to find a way to kill him, and this seemed like a good time to do so. His taunts were predictably sea-bro-y.
Euron might be the laziest, one-note, dumb, plot-convenient character in Game of Thrones, but dammit, he's entertaining. Pilou Asbæk looks like the only Game of Thrones actor truly having fun, probably because he joined the series late enough in its run to know the show is just dumb fun now. Anyway, Euron died, but not after sticking his teeny-tiny sword in Jaime's sides twice. "I'm the man who killed Jaime Lannister," he said, the contents of his stomach oozing out of the hole Jaime put in him. It's a fun and ridiculous note for Euron to go out on, so let's just let him have his fun and not tell him that Jaime was actually later killed by a rock.
Next up it was time to give the fans what they have been clamoring for: Cleganebowl, the vaunted death match between Sandor (Rory McCann) and Gregor (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson)! The undercard between Qyburn (Anton Lesser) and the Mountain was pretty great. It went something like this:
Qyburn lasted longer than I thought he would! That might be a Top 10 Game of Thrones death. It had the irony of a man killed by his creation, plus we got to see Qyburn's brains. Cersei's reaction was also the best. She just walked away to let the siblings have their squabble because she didn't want any part of it. Though it took a lot of chutzpah to give up a front row seat for the most anticipated fight of the show.
Looking back on it, I don't think the fight was really that fair. First, the Mountain is in a higher weight class than the Hound, which means the Mountain has the advantage in power, reach, and leverage, three things crucial to a fight to the death. I hesitate to think the Westerosi fighting commission would sanction this fight based on those conditions alone. Second, and maybe this is a minor detail, the Mountain is an undead zombie monster who feels no pain and can't really die. Kind of a problem in a death match!
Despite that, if you're scoring this fight, you'd have to give the Hound a 10 and the Mountain an 8 (minus a point for the eye gouge); the Hound stabbed him half a dozen times and stuck a sword through the Mountain's gut. Yet the Mountain barely broke a sweat! It wasn't until the Hound stuck a dagger into the Mountain's noggin that he found an opening. So he took it and they both tumbled to their demises.
Double TKO! I'll miss the Hound. He was a good doggy. But this is the end of the series and his revenge plot would not be satisfied without him dying while killing his undead zombie brother. In the post-episode breakdown, the creators said there's something poetic about the Hound dying by falling into fire, but really I think the impact killed him first. You blew it again, D&D!
Jaime finally made his way to Cersei, and I know a lot of you out there really wanted Jaime to kill her, but not me! These two are OTP in my eyes. Jaime and Cersei got the romantic death they deserved when they embraced and were squashed by rubble as the building came down on top of them while they were in the dusty basement of the Red Keep. I don't care what some psychic told Cersei when she was a tween — though technically his hand was around her neck when they got flattened, if you must be one of those people who are all like, "THE BOOOOOOOOOOOK!"
The real problem here is this really underlines my hatred of what happened with Jaime and Brienne in Episode 4. There was no point for Jaime to get in the sack with Brienne and then leave her just to go back to Cersei and die. Leave Brienne out of this! Why did the writers put them together? It only makes Jaime look unnecessarily bad and will put Brienne off sex. This is what I will complain about when I'm in hospice. Now I'm wondering what the whole Bronn thing was about? Does that even matter anymore? Why am I thinking about this show. Just watch it, Tim. Stop thinking.
Also, was Cersei ever actually pregnant? Was she pretending to be pregnant to manipulate Euron and Jaime as many of us thought? Did we really need Cersei pregnant? Cersei also got a gift from the show when the writers made Dany go nutso, because she doesn't look so bad in comparison (she didn't look like much at all, come to think of it, because she was used so sparingly). So what is her legacy? Is this show messing up everyone's legacy? Kind of!
While we should have been spending more time with Cersei, instead we got to run around King's Landing with Arya (Maisie Williams), who had been there to finish off her list. Arya, who a few episodes ago went super-ninja and snuck through the Night King's army and jump-attacked the Night King to death, had a lot more trouble with the dust of King's Landing. Her storyline in "The Bells" went something like this: Run! Get covered in dirt! Run! Repeat.
She was also saddled (tee hee) with lots of horse imagery. First, some no-name little girl, who got more screentime than Dany got in the second half of the episode, was carrying a little horse toy, then Arya met a real horse! WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Is this some silly heavy-handed metaphor about Death (Arya) riding a pale horse from the bible? Should I be upset that Game of Thrones is mixing in metaphors from a religious tome that doesn't even exist in this universe? You better believe I should! Harry Strickland rode a pale horse, is he Death too? Ugh, I hate biblical visual metaphors so much. I refuse to comment further on the horse because it made no sense and I hated it. Sorry to you horse girls out there.
And that was it!
I'm confused why this particular episode is bearing the brunt of everyone's dissatisfaction. "The Long Night" was much worse; we fooled ourselves into having hope back then, and then that speck of hope was crushed! But it's been clear, particularly in this season, that the Game of Thrones we're getting is a Game of Thrones that can't wait for things to be over and wants out the door as soon as possible. The difference with "The Bells" is that none of this came as a surprise, the major character deaths were much more palatable (R.I.P. Harry), and we got several minutes of Drogon torching the place. That makes it the best episode of Season 8.
Next week: Dany dies, probably!
Game of Thrones' series finale airs Sunday, May 19 at 9/8c on HBO.
More Photo Recaps:
Episode 1: Weird Bran Stole the Game of Thrones Premiere
Episode 2: Arya Gets It on Despite Having Zero Game
Episode 3: People Could Have Died Better, To Be Honest
Episode 4: Drunk With Power and Just Plain Drunk
Episode 6: Is This Really How We're Picking Kings Now?