Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 “The Bells” Recap

tyrion city on fire the bells

Hear the tolling of the bells—

Iron bells!

What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!

Spoiler Note: This is our book reader’s recap, intended for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section may contain spoilers from the novels, whether or not that material has appeared on the show yet. Because no, we are not all Unsullied now. If you have not read the books yet, we encourage you to check out our non-book-reader recap, by Oz of Thrones!

Sorry, just a big Poe fan, is all.

Photo courtesy of HBO.

I think Ned Stark would appreciate the irony that Varys turned out such an absolute honorable dumbass when it came to the Iron Throne. Tonight’s episode opens with Varys penning a letter about a rightful heir, just as Ned once did, and meeting with a little bird, who reminds us helpfully that the “greater the risk, the greater the reward.” It also reminds us that Varys is a bit of a creep for using children in dangerous positions, so we shouldn’t mourn him too much.

After last week’s brutal ending, Daenerys mourns and Varys plots. He sees madness in the toss of the Targaryen coin when it comes to the queen, and greatness for Jon. Seems like he should’ve been concerned about that years ago when she resorted to massive firepower as her first plan of attack most of the time, but okay. Jon resists the Spider’s attempts to rope him into making a move, while Tyrion spies on the pair of them in discussion. That’s not good news for them, as Tyrion informs the queen of Varys’ apparent betrayal. She isn’t pleased with her Hand’s performance once again. (She’s going to be even less pleased next episode, based on the results of this week, but one step at a time.)

Varys death The Bells

So, it’s the end of the road for a slippery fish. Tyrion owns up to his turning over of his old friend, when the time comes for the execution of Varys. I have to say, I was slightly disappointed they didn’t throw him into the water chained up- it would’ve been fabulous fodder for all the Varys-is-a-merman theorists. But no, it’s a fiery Dracarys end for the spymaster who survived so many rulers and twists of fate but couldn’t avoid Melisandre’s prophecy. Dany condemns him for his choice, and Drogon does the deed quickly. Jon and Tyrion don’t have the stomach for a Targ BBQ, clearly. Grey Worm don’t give a fuck, and I respect that.

Jon Snow Daenerys The Bells

Afterward, Dany shares with GW Missandei’s one possession brought from Essos- her slave collar. He tosses it into the fire where it belongs, and takes off when Jon pops in for another awkward auntie-nephew chat. Dany still struggles with the threat Jon presents as someone who is loved by the people of Westeros, while she is only feared. (I mean she isn’t wrong, but has she even tried?) Jon rejects Dany’s attempts to restart their thing because that’s how Targaryens swing anyhow but Jon is half-Stark and he can’t deal. Since he won’t get down, she’s gonna roll with the fear.

Reviewing their options for the battle ahead, Tyrion argues in favor of a more merciful approach again. Dany is resistant, but with persuasion, he presents his idea that if King’s Landing surrenders and rings the bells, they should call off the attack. (Hence the episode title.) It’s then we learn that Jaime Lannister was captured trying to cross Targaryen lines, because he’s just not stealthy. He’s Jaime fookin Lannister, after all.

At the walls of King’s Landing, people rush into the city, including a mother and daughter we’ll come to recognize. Tyrion and Jon come ashore near an encampment full of Northmen, with Davos waiting. That’s good news for Tyrion because he needs a favor from the Onion Knight- he needs to put him back in the smuggling business and not for aphrodisiac crabs.

Arya and the Hound are also heading into the city. It’s hot, it’s happening, it’s literally on fire: it’s King’s Landing.

Tyrion fully embraces pissing off his queen and throwing away his career by seeking out Jaime and freeing him to return to Cersei. (Incidentally I’m glad Jaime knows he’s the stupidest Lannister. Because tonight really proved it.) Tyrion provides his brother with an escape plan after driving home the point of how completely and utterly fucked Cersei is in Westeros. The two share a touching goodbye, knowing this is the end for them.

Pilou Asbaek Euron Greyjoy

The people of King’s Landing panic because the big dust-up’s coming but where are they going to go, honestly? Arya and the Hound hurry into the city. So does Jaime, slipping past the Golden Company before the doors shut and the battle begins. Jon, Davos and Tyrion ready themselves for the battle, while we spy the mother and child once again- they become the recognizable human faces for us among the chaos and death of King’s Landing.

Above, even Cersei is feeling the tension. On his ship, Euron is waiting.

And then he sees it- death from above. Daenerys on Drogon arrives and utterly destroys the Iron Fleet; Euron is thrown into the water. This time around she’s ready with maneuvers to evade the scorpions’ arrows, raining fire on the ships, the soldiers and the machinery that killed Rhaegal last week. It’s awesome to watch, if you just sit back and don’t think too much about it all. The effects really are gorgeous.

In front of the city walls, the two armies awkwardly face off in silence, waiting for the right moment to break into a fight- Grey Worm and his Unsullied and the Dothraki (yes, some of them live!) versus Harry Strickland and the Golden Company. It never happens because the walls are blasted from behind them, annihilating the Golden Company. The remains of them are crushed easily by the Unsullied and the Dothraki, who pour into the city and kick some Lannister ass.

Kit Harington Jacob Anderson Liam Cunningham The Bells

Daenerys and Drogon pour fire over the Lannister soldiers, melting away any resistance. And in Cersei’s eyes, there’s fear. She puts on a brave face for Qyburn with a hilarious amount of denial.

Jon, Grey Worm and Davos face down Lannister men, and these bros know they’re screwed. Faced with the might of this force and Dany’s firepower above, they drop their swords and surrender. Cersei watches. Daenerys holds.

And the bells sound out, with the tintinnabulation. Heck yeah they do!

But that’s not quite enough for Daenerys.

Daenerys Targaryen The Bells

Shaking, seething with rage, seeing the Red Keep where her family lived and died, she takes off, flying and destroying everything in her path. Everything beneath her and Drogon is scorched and turned to ash- innocent people running and screaming disappear in fire. Seeing the flames, Grey Worm sees it as a signal to carry on fighting (probably in his own grief and rage, I imagine) and their army resumes the battle. At a loss, Jon continues to fight.

Grey Worm cuts down countless men in the fight, while Drogon pours flame everywhere across King’s Landing. Cersei’s fear grows, and Tyrion’s horror. Innocents are killed all over the city without any rhyme or reason.

Now Daenerys come for the Red Keep.

Jaime Lannister dying The Bells

Euron crawls from the water near the keep, as Jaime nears the base. He challenges Jaime, while taunting him with having nailed the Queen. (Shout-out to Lancel and Moon Boy? Denied!) The fight gets ugly fast- these two are brawlers, a one-handed knight and a pirate going at it. Jaime gets stabbed in the side, a probably-mortal wound, and Euron thinks he’s won, but he doesn’t give up easy.

Meanwhile, Qyburn finally convinces Cersei to retreat to Maegor’s Holdfast, now that every defense has fallen. Beyond, we see that wildfire is igniting throughout the city.

Jaime tries to grab a sword, but Euron shanks him again- fuuuuuck this hurts to watch. But Jaime succeeds, and guts Euron- that one’s gonna sting. He’s a Kingslayer once again. Goodbye, Eyeliner King. Even as he lays dying, he’s a cocky prick though, sighing, “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister.”

The Hound Arya Stark The Bells

They’ve gotten to the Red Keep but with it falling down around them, it’s a death trap. The Hound- Sandor Clegane- convinces Arya that it’s a fool’s game, this revenge thing. She’ll die if she goes up there, and revenge will just turn her into him. He heads up and she heads out to try and survive a city that’s falling apart.

The Keep is falling down on Cersei’s head as she makes her escape with the Mountain, Qyburn and the Queensguard. Sandor meets them on the steps and cuts through the red, okay, blackshirts. Qyburn tries to stop the Mountain from the distraction of CLEGANEBOWL but the hype cannot be denied- Qyburn is brushed aside with a GREGORSMASH! of the head. And Cersei tastefully makes her way out of the scene for the final confrontation between the two brothers. This fight ALSO gets ugly right away but mainly because Gregor is an ugly fucker when you knock off his mask.

Cersei makes her way down to the cellar where they keep the bigass dragon skulls (heyyyy remember when they pointedly added that to the opening credits this year) and runs into Jaime! She’s thrilled, he’s dying and all is forgiven, apparently, after she threatened to kill him when they last parted.

Cleganebowl is going not that great for Sandor, as he’s realizing just how inhuman his big brother really is now. He’s getting tossed and beaten down.

In the city streets, Arya wanders as aimlessly lost as when she was a little girl after “Baelor.” Even with all her training, she’s taking some hits. It’s amazing anyone is alive in this fiery shitstorm. She’s getting knocked into the ground in a stampede when the mother we saw before pulls her up and saves her from getting crushed by the crowd.

At the Keep, Gregor attempts to finish off the ‘Bowl with his trademark move, the Eyegouger™, but Sandor has some life left in him yet. He manages to stab his brother in HIS eye, knocking him back enough long enough for Sandor to muster his strength and take Gregor and himself off the Keep and down into the fire below. RIP Sandor 🙁 But rot in Westerosi seven hells, Mountain.

Arya Stark mother daughter The Bells

In the battle, Jon orders the men to fall back, because everything has gone to hell thanks to Dany abandoning the plan.

Arya wakes up covered in ash, but alive. But only if she keeps running as the walls fall down around her. She stumbles upon the mother and daughter again, huddled among a group of women and children. She encourages everyone to keep moving to stay alive, and pulls the mother/daughter team with her. It…doesn’t go well. They should’ve stayed in that hovel.

Cersei Jaime Lannister The Bells

Jaime and Cersei head for the escape route only to find it blocked by rubble. Whoops. She starts to finally melt down because of her baby. Jaime comforts her because I don’t know, that’s what he’s about now. Then the rubble falls, and I assume they’re dead, and I don’t really care, to be honest.

Arya Stark horse The BElls

It looks like it’s snowing in King’s Landing but it’s only ash, raining down on Arya as she wakes up again. On the ground are the blackened carcasses of the mother and child she tried to save.

A lovely pale horse, now splattered in blood, trots along. (I just know people will mock this but it doesn’t bother me. People survived; meh, why not a horse, death is random.)

Arya hitches a ride, because death rides a pale horse, and she needs a ride home after all.

The Jaime Problem: Redemption is a not a straight line. People backslide, they leap forward, and they stumble hard. Jaime has always been a character who does terrible things, but his evolution has been purposeful. His handling in season 8 has been completely baffling. If the ultimate resolution was intended to be “He and Cersei are total soulmates and it’s pointless for him to try and be better,” then why bother with several seasons of him struggling over his own behavior? Looking at it from both book-reader perspective and at show content, it doesn’t make sense. It’s woefully inconsistent. Which leads to…

Valonqar: It was never a thing on the show. Maggy the Frog only made the “Younger and more beautiful queen” prophecy which we can assume is Daenerys, based on this conclusion. However it was always stated that the endings for major characters would remain the same-and Cersei and Jaime certainly qualify as such. So I was expecting something to happen which would tie into the Valonqar prophecy, whether it would be Tyrion, Jaime or a suprise contender. Nope. Just a pile of bricks. So that makes me doubt the frequent statements about this ending matching the books’ ultimate endings, at least when it comes to Cersei.

Six Is Not Enough: I think this episode, with Dany’s snapping, really drove home the idea that six episodes for this year was not enough. I’m sure there are a host of real reasons for why it was six that we’ll never know, or we won’t know until someone writes a sexy scandalous tell-all. But they needed more time to show us Dany’ descent. I personally don’t have a problem with the “Mad Queen” idea. We’ve seen her burning people for years; it’s NOT a shock, people. For me it’s not about a genetic madness (though that’s on the table), but the fact that she’s lived a terribly difficult life, has been mistreated, handed the equivalent of a nuclear weapon with dragons, had her heart broken, been betrayed by her high-ranking employees which induces paranoia, and had her main emotional supports (Jorah and Missandei) killed horribly. But we weren’t given enough time to watch Daenerys sink into this- her snapping so suddenly is bound to confuse and piss off a whole lot of people. If you spend seven years convincing everyone the sun shines out of someone’s ass, don’t be surprised they’re mad when you decide to tell them she’s lost it and is torching innocents. I feel like the time could also be at the root of Varys so suddenly betraying Dany after spending all this time helping her. It’s the time crunch that was the underlying problem. Given more time to see her descent, we would buy into it more, especially if this ending is what GRRM has planned for the novels.

Cleganebowl: This was fun! Enjoyed the callback to the Mountain vs the Viper, and Sandor going with fire was fitting. The Mountain smashing Qyburn made me laugh, which is sick, but whatever, he had it coming.

Chaos in the Streets: Funny I compared parts of “The Long Night” to Black Hawk Down. I was watching this and thinking, “Shit no, THIS looks like a visual reference to Black Hawk Down.” Which I guess makes sense, this episode has the same director and DOP as episode 3 (Sapochnik/Wagner). I dug the disorienting cinematography style of those scenes, from Arya’s running to the smoother fight moments with Grey Worm. The episode looked wonderful, whatever other issues I had with it.

Life: I appreciate that Arya ultimately rejected violence and chose to leave, even trying to save people. She’s lived a life based killing for the past several years. Sandor helped save her, with his final lesson. There’s still hope for Arya. Despite what some people think, she isn’t soulless. And she can go home again. People accuse Game of Thrones of glorifying violence (and we sure do love the sight of Dany burning KL), but George RR Martin always embeds a message that opposes violence in his stories; it’s at the heart of A Feast for Crows in particular, seeing the destruction of Westeros. It feels like Benioff and Weiss captured some of that here.

Sandor Clegane the Hound The Bells

RIP: Varys, Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, Sandor Clegane/The Hound, Gregor Clegane/The Mountain, Qyburn, Harry Strickland, and 90% of King’s Landing!


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