The Bells (Game of Thrones)

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"The Bells"
Game of Thrones episode
Episode no.Season 8
Episode 5
Directed byMiguel Sapochnik
Written byDavid Benioff
D. B. Weiss
Featured musicRamin Djawadi
Cinematography byFabian Wagner
Original air dateMay 12, 2019 (2019-05-12)
Running time78 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
  • Pilou Asbæk as Euron Greyjoy
  • Anton Lesser as Qyburn
  • Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson as Gregor Clegane
  • Laura Elphinstone as Nora
  • Marc Rissmann as Harry Strickland
  • Alexis Raben as King's Landing Citizen
  • Matthew Wolf as Lannister Soldier
  • Bronte Carmichael as Martha
  • Tipper Seifert-Cleveland
  • Frank Blake as Northern sentry
  • Ryan McKen as Lannister Soldier
  • Owen Whitelaw as Lannister Soldier
  • Mairi Hawthorn as Young Woman
  • Oliver Devoti as Lannister Soldier
  • Jim Tighe as Lannister Soldier
  • Derek Dubery as Lannister Soldier
  • Luke McQuillan as Lannister Soldier
  • Nicky Harley as King's Landing citizen
  • Hayley McQuillan as King's Landing Citizen
  • Adam Devereux as Lannister Soldier
  • Thomas Martin as Lannister Soldier
  • Brian Patrick Kennedy as King's Landing Citizen
  • Luna Kalo as King's Landing Citizen
  • Caitlin Pharro as King's Landing Citizen
  • Louis McCartney as King's Landing Citizen
  • Rosie McClelland as King's Landing Citizen
  • Isaac Heslip as King's Landing Citizen
  • Jack Morgan as Lannister Soldier
  • Aaron Rodgers as King's Landing Citizen
Episode chronology
← Previous
"The Last of the Starks"
Next →
"The Iron Throne"
Game of Thrones (season 8)
List of Game of Thrones episodes

"The Bells" is the fifth and penultimate episode of the eighth season of HBO's fantasy television series Game of Thrones, and the 72nd and penultimate episode of the series. It was written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and directed by Miguel Sapochnik. It aired on May 12, 2019.

"The Bells" features the final battle for control of the Iron Throne, with Daenerys Targaryen's forces commencing their assault on Cersei Lannister's forces at King's Landing.

The episode received criticism from critics and audiences alike, and is the lowest-rated episode of the series on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Critics praised the episode as visually impressive and commended the acting and direction, but criticized the pacing and logic of the story, as well as its handling of the character arcs of Tyrion, Jaime, Cersei, Grey Worm, Varys, and particularly Daenerys. It received three Primetime Emmy Award nominations[1] and was also picked by Lena Headey to support her nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.[2] It eventually was awarded the prizes for Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes and Outstanding Special Visual Effects.

Plot[edit]

At Dragonstone[edit]

Varys writes a letter about Jon Snow's true heritage when a girl informs him that Daenerys Targaryen continues to refuse food. He tells her to "try again at supper". Varys implores Jon to take the Iron Throne, but Jon refuses to betray Daenerys. Tyrion Lannister informs Daenerys of Varys' plot; she executes Varys. When Daenerys says she does not have the people's love in Westeros, Jon assures Daenerys he loves her. However, when he stops her kiss, Daenerys resigns herself to fear. Tyrion implores Daenerys to spare the common folk in King's Landing if the city bells ring, and she nods toward Grey Worm. She informs Tyrion that Jaime Lannister has been captured on his way to King's Landing and warns Tyrion not to fail her again.

At King's Landing[edit]

Tyrion arrives at the Unsullied camp and frees Jaime so Jaime can take Cersei Lannister away from King's Landing to Pentos. Jaime makes for the Red Keep.

The next day, Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane enter the Red Keep. The battle begins with Daenerys and Drogon burning Euron Greyjoy's Iron Fleet, the Golden Company, and the city's defenses. Grey Worm kills Harry Strickland. When Daenerys' army storms King's Landing, the remaining Lannister forces drop their weapons and the city surrenders. Daenerys refuses to accept the surrender and, atop Drogon, lays waste to the city, while her army, led by Grey Worm, massacre the unarmed Lannister soldiers. Jon unsuccessfully tries to stop his men from attacking, kills one who attempts rape, and eventually, he and Davos Seaworth have the rest fall back as the city burns.

Jaime fights Euron, who badly wounds him, but Jamie is able to mortally wound Euron, leaving him to die. Sandor convinces Arya to give up her desire for revenge against Cersei and he and Arya part ways as friends. As Cersei and Qyburn attempt to escape, Sandor arrives and kills the Queensguard in order to fight his brother, Gregor Clegane. Gregor kills Qyburn and Cersei flees. Gregor resists all attacks but when Sandor tackles him through a wall, the brothers fall to their deaths in the fire below. Jaime reunites with Cersei, but find their escape passage is blocked by rubble from the attack. They resign themselves to their fate and embrace as the Keep's cellar ceiling collapses on them, killing them and their unborn child.

Arya experiences the chaos in King's Landing and tries to help the smallfolk she encounters but is knocked unconscious when a bell tower falls near her. When she wakes up, she discovers the burned corpses of the smallfolk on the street. She encounters a white horse coated in blood and rides it away.

Production[edit]

Conleth Hill
Rory McCann
Conleth Hill (left) and Rory McCann (right) made their final appearances in the series.

Writing[edit]

The episode was written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.

Filming[edit]

The episode was directed by Miguel Sapochnik. This was his final episode of the series.

For the filming of the episode, the city of Dubrovnik (the stand-in for King's Landing) was recreated on the backlot of their Belfast set. Filming Varys's death scene ultimately ended up taking seven months as rain kept postponing the shoot.[3]

In a promotional photo of the scene in which Jaime and Cersei embrace at the Red Keep, his right hand is visible instead of the metallic prosthetic the character received in season 4. In the actual episode, only the metallic hand is seen. The error in the image garnered attention in light of the previous episode's coffee cup mistake.[4][5]

Casting[edit]

Laura Elphinstone was cast as one of the inhabitants of King's Landing who helped Arya Stark during the dragon attack on the city.[6] The American football quarterback Aaron Rodgers appears in a cameo in this episode.[7]

Reception[edit]

Ratings[edit]

The episode was viewed by 12.48 million viewers on its initial live broadcast on HBO, surpassing "The Dragon and the Wolf" as the most-watched episode of the series. An additional 5.9 million viewers watched on streaming platforms, for a total of 18.4 million viewers.[8]

Critical response[edit]

General[edit]

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the episode has an approval rating of 49% based on 107 reviews, and an average rating of 6.32/10, with the critical consensus stating, "Death, destruction, and the deterioration of Daenerys' sanity make 'The Bells' an episode for the ages; but too much plot in too little time muddles the story and may leave some viewers feeling its conclusions are unearned."[9] It is the lowest-rated episode on Rotten Tomatoes in the show's history.[10][11]

Lenika Cruz of The Atlantic wrote that although she found the special effects stunning and the acting spectacular, this was "the worst Game of Thrones episode ever" because the plot was either too obvious or illogical, with the massacre seeming "an unearned negation of the identity [Daenerys] had spent years building for herself".[12] Emily VanDerWerff of Vox found the episode grim and absent of sense, but credited director Miguel Sapochnik for "the gorgeous visuals [that] extended beyond the battle scenes." VanDerWerff praised the acting of the cast such as Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Emilia Clarke; the latter two made their characters' actions believable even when they were illogical.[13] Alex McLevy of The A.V. Club wrote that the episode successfully demonstrated that "the chaos of war makes villains and victims of us all", with the "progression from exhilarating hope to tragic denouement [being] skillfully executed by director Miguel Sapochnik" with better large-scale choreography than in the "The Long Night".[14]

Hugh Montgomery of BBC Culture wrote that characters such as Tyrion, Jaime, Daenerys, and Cersei were "definitively sacrificed to the show's scrambled plotting", and that Game of Thrones was previously "a show that intelligently delineated a senseless world", but that it was now nonsense.[15] VanDerWerff stated that Cersei and Jaime's deaths were not given much thought by the writers and were instead simply something to check off a list.[13] Kelly Lawler of USA Today, saying that the episode lacked substance and was an "absolute disaster", argued that Grey Worm, Daenerys and Varys took actions which were wildly out of character.[16]

Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone wrote that the episode's "technical genius" and "the visual clarity only made it easier to see how muddled the show has been, from both a narrative and character standpoint, in this home stretch", with the scorpions turning from accurate to useless, Euron surviving Drogon to have a "pointless fight with Jaime", the setting of Cleganebowl being invulnerable while the castle fell, Jaime easily entering the gated Red Keep, and the appearance of "seemingly hundreds of Dothraki" despite most of them apparently dying in 'The Long Night'.[17] Lawler also said that the writers "threw out their own rule book (suddenly the scorpions don't work and Drogon can burn everything?) to pursue gross spectacle".[16]

Several critics criticized the pacing of events; Lawler wrote that the pacing started off rushed,[16] while Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic said that the show was "sprinting through plot check marks".[18] Will Bedingfield of Wired also felt that the show rushed storylines, seeing the death of Varys as being without the climactic buildup previous seasons had.[19] Sarah Hughes of The Guardian attributed season eight's pacing problems to season seven having had pacing issues that ensured that the rest of the series would feel "breathless and rushed."[20]

Daenerys's arc[edit]

Critics generally considered Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) villainous turn in this episode unearned.[21]

Daenerys's turn from hero to villain was especially criticized, with many reviewers and fans feeling that, because she was built up as a morally good protagonist for seven seasons, it made no narrative sense, or that it was not executed properly within the provided timescale.[21][22][23][24] Mike Hogan of Vanity Fair said that although the show had been clear that Daenerys has a temper, "we have seen her balance that violence with mercy, kindness, and above all shrewdness."[25] Zack Beauchamp of Vox argued that Daenerys's previous cruelties were somewhat logical because she killed people who "committed crimes deserving of punishment" and Samwell Tarly's father and brother because they "refused to submit to her rule," but that there was no reason to go after harmless civilians. He said although the show had been "building toward Daenerys becoming the Mad Queen" and this route could have worked, "its execution was sloppy and rushed" and "it felt as if Daenerys had become a monster simply because the show needed her to become a monster, not because it was paying off a thoughtfully developed character turn."[26] Slate's Sam Adams said "the show spent far more time making Dany a hero" than building her up as the Mad Queen.[21]

The Atlantic staff opined, "Game of Thrones could have easily demonstrated the nasty reality of [Daenerys's] fight for Westeros without putting the choice to massacre innocents directly on her shoulders. Instead, 'The Bells' ended up painting one of the most pivotal plot points in the final season as an emotional lashing-out from a tired, lonely, paranoid young woman."[27] Kathryn VanArendonk of Vulture also criticized the episode for "ultimately hing[ing] on a trope as painfully stale as 'and then the scary powerful woman goes crazy'." She said the show was once based on "epic political gamesmanship, the corruption of power, the things we inherit from our families, the people we choose to love, and the inevitable inescapable march of death."[28] Eliana Dockterman of Time criticized the analyses of Daenerys's advisors as also playing "into the terrible trope of the crazed, power-hungry woman" and Tyrion's advice as having kept Daenerys from taking the Iron Throne much earlier and without as much bloodshed. She said she understood the idea of power corrupting "a heroic figure like Daenerys" and Daenerys falling prey to a messiah complex, but that the show needed to evolve her to that point like it evolved other characters to their points.[29] Alan Sepinwall of Rolling Stone stated that Daenerys's descent into madness is the kind of development that requires "at least another half of a regular-length GoT season to feel earned."[17]

Myles McNutt of The A.V. Club said that Daenerys's final arc comes down to two aspects – story development and character development. He said Daenerys burning down King's Landing is a logical and effective way of ending the story on a thematic level, adding that how "it reshapes the rest of the episode is a striking reframing of the violence that has defined the show." Character-wise, he felt that the choice was "undeniably trickier" because one might be led to believe that Daenerys's choice was purely reflexive when it was instead due to "a collection of life experiences that left her believing that ruling with fear was the only path ahead of her." He said "the writers failed to create the necessary structure for [the villainous turn]" and they could have better highlighted Daenerys's destiny as a villain by referencing things such as her prophecy in Qarth.[30] Variety's Daniel D'Addario also argued that it made sense that Daenerys would burn the city because her "tactics have always been more deeply rooted in dominance than in empathy."[21] Arguing that "the Daenerys twist" has likely been planned by George R. R. Martin from the beginning, Vox's Andrew Prokop stated, "If Game of Thrones ended with a triumphant Daenerys Targaryen heroically taking the Iron Throne, it wouldn't be Game of Thrones. This is the show of Ned Stark's death. This is the show of the Red Wedding. This is the ending it was headed toward all along."[31]

Screen Rant's Alexandra August felt that "ultimately it comes down to your interpretation of Dany's arc and how much that interpretation was diluted by pacing, execution and cultural context, if at all." She pondered different ways the show could have pulled off the arc better, such as Daenerys only choosing to kill Cersei, but concluded that there would eventually be someone else to push her over the edge regardless.[32] Also stating that "there are many ways to interpret" Daenerys's decision to burn the city, Megan Garber of The Atlantic said that maybe it was the Targaryen madness having settled in, or her ruthlessness taking over, or a "crazy edit" by the writers, or a decision "that some innocents must die in the present so that many more can live peacefully in the future," or maybe that Daenerys "having recently lost her second dragon and the apparent loyalty of those left in her orbit, she simply made a blunt calculation about power and what will be required to attain it." Garber said that "ambiguity is a powerful tool in storytelling," but that "it is also a difficult one to wield well," and that "Dany is a savior, and Dany is a monster, and it is impossible to know where one ends and the other begins." To Garber, this uncertainty made Daenerys's actions all the more horrific because logic will not always win and "justice won't always save the day."[33]

Showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss attributed Daenerys's decision to burn the city to having lost almost all of her friends and advisors, no longer trusting Jon Snow, and wanting to reclaim the home that her family built. Benioff said that Jon also being unable to return her affections because they are related played a factor. Weiss stated, "I think that when she says, 'Let it be fear,' she's resigning herself to the fact that she may have to get things done in a way that isn't pleasant." Benioff said that the ruthless side to Daenerys had always been there and that "if Cersei hadn't betrayed her, if Cersei hadn't executed Missandei, if Jon hadn't told her the truth [...] if all of these things had happened in any different way, then I don't think we'd be seeing this side of Daenerys Targaryen."[34] Emilia Clarke said, "Every single thing that's led her to this point, and there she is, alone."[35] VanArendonk expressed disappointment that Weiss and Benioff explained Daenerys's actions as due to her emotions, instead of some "twisted, empathetic logic".[28] Emma Baty of Cosmopolitan also criticized the showrunners' response, stating, "Totally, totally. A woman is definitely prone to ending thousands of innocent lives just because her dad did the same, even though in the entire series, she's been insistent on not becoming that person. That checks out!"[35]

Audience response[edit]

People magazine's Aurelie Corinthios said, "Despite the major plot developments, viewers were left wanting more from a series that has spent the last eight seasons meticulously building up complex characters." She added that "others defended the episode, arguing that while the action was definitely 'rushed,' the main elements still made sense. Plus, didn't we always know we wouldn't get a happy ending?"[36] Lauren Hill of Chicago Tribune relayed that the episode "had fans very divided. Some are upset by the character arcs of certain fan favorites while others saw this coming for quite some time."[37]

Reviewers made note of the negative fan reactions, especially to Daenerys's arc. Estelle Tang of Elle stated that many "commented how unbelievable it was for Dany to turn into a violent vengeance-seeker this far into the show's run."[38] Esquire's Gabrielle Bruney said viewers felt that the writers threw out her character development.[39] The Hollywood Reporter staff stated that "many Game of Thrones viewers see Daenerys' acts as nothing short of a character assassination, laying blame for the treatment of the Dragon Queen, Cersei and the series' other powerful women at the feet of creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss."[24] Mehera Bonner of Cosmopolitan wrote that "fans are absolutely devastated" by the episode and that they bemoaned "how the show has been completely ruined by sloppy writing and terrible decisions." She said, "While you could argue that we should have seen a lot of this coming, many fans were... [I don't know]... just hoping for better? Better than Daenerys becoming a Mad Queen just because it's in her family history and better than Jaime reverting to his season 1 personality just because it’s the easy way out."[40]

A petition to HBO for a remake of the eighth season of Game of Thrones "that makes sense" was started on Change.org after the fourth episode "The Last of the Starks" aired, but went viral after the fifth episode "The Bells" aired.[41] The petition described showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss as "woefully incompetent writers".[42][43][44] As of May 18, 2019 (i.e., the evening before the series finale), it has amassed over 1 million signatures.[41][44][45] The petition was labelled as "ridiculous" by actor Isaac Hempstead Wright (who plays Bran Stark),[46] and "rude" by actor Jacob Anderson (who plays Grey Worm).[47] Sophie Turner (who plays Sansa) said that "there's always been crazy twists and turns" on Game of Thrones and "so Daenerys becoming something of the Mad Queen — it shouldn't be such a negative thing for fans. It's a shock for sure, but I think it's just because it hasn't gone their way." She argued, "All of these petitions and things like that — I think it's disrespectful to the crew, and the writers, and the filmmakers who have worked tirelessly over 10 years, and for 11 months shooting the last season."[48]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
2019 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Lena Headey Nominated  [49]
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes Michele Clapton, Emma O'Loughlin, and Kate O'Farrell Won [50]
Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More) Deborah Riley, Paul Ghirardani, and Rob Cameron Nominated
Outstanding Special Visual Effects Joe Bauer, Steve Kullback, Adam Chazen, Sam Conway, Mohsen Mousavi, Martin Hill, Ted Rae, Patrick Tiberius Gehlen, and Thomas Schelesny Won

References[edit]

  1. ^ "71st Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners". emmys.com. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
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  3. ^ Price, Joe (May 13, 2019). "'Game of Thrones' Shares Behind-the-Scenes Look of How "The Bells" Was Made". Complex. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  4. ^ Corinthios, Aurelie (May 13, 2019). "Another Game of Thrones Gaffe? Fans Think Jaime Lannister's Hand Grew Back to Hug Cersei". People. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
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  47. ^ Daly, Rhian. "'Game Of Thrones' star weighs in on petition to remake season 8: "I think it's rude"". NME. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
  48. ^ Egner, Jeremy (May 20, 2019). "Sophie Turner on 'Game of Thrones,' 'Disrespectful' Fan Reactions and Sansa's End". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
  49. ^ Beachum, Chris; Beachum, Chris (July 29, 2019). "Lena Headey ('Game of Thrones') 2019 Emmy Awards episode revealed for Best Drama Supporting Actress (Exclusive)". GoldDerby. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  50. ^ Hill, Libby (September 14, 2019). "Complete Creative Arts Emmy Awards 2019 Winners List: 'Game of Thrones' Torches Competitors". IndieWire. Retrieved September 24, 2019.

External links[edit]