Liam Cunningham, Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage in GAME OF THRONES - Season 8 - "The Bells" | ©2019 HBO

Liam Cunningham, Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage in GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Bells” | ©2019 HBO

Stars: Peter Dinklage, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Maisie Williams, Jacob Anderson, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Pilou Asbaek, Hafpor Julius Bjornsson, Anton Lesser
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, series created by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Network: HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
Original Airdate: May 12, 2019

 When Daenerys’s forces finally faced Cersei’s army, we knew we were going to lose characters we care about. We just may not have expected “lose” to have so many meanings. Yes, it hurts to lose Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), Varys (Conleth Hill), and Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann). As to losing the  deeply annoying Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek), the only thing that hurts is that he managed to find something to be happy about at the moment. We can also cheer the death of the monstrous Gregor Clegane (Hafpor Julius Bjornsson). Qyburn (Anton Lesser) is on the side of evil, but it’s hard to rouse passion for him in either direction. Cersei’s (Lena Headey) death hurts, partly because we wind up feeling sort of sorry for her despite everything, and partly because although technically Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is responsible for Cersei’s death, there’s no feeling of sated vengeance. It’s all just tragedy by then. It’s also a major blow to see so many civilian deaths.

But the biggest loss is that of Daenerys Targaryen, even though she’s physically alive and well at the end of the penultimate GAME OF THRONES episode “The Bells.” We’ve cheered for her as a survivor and a savior for eight seasons. Now, she succumbs to paranoia and despair and possibly genetic madness, and gives into her darkest impulses.

Daenerys hasn’t seen anyone or taken a meal since Missandei’s death. When Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) comes to see her, she tells him she knows she’s been betrayed, by Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Tyrion, shocked, says no, it’s Varys. Daenerys goes through the chain of information: Jon to Sansa, Sansa to Tyrion, Tyrion to Varys. Sansa, Daenerys says, trusted Tyrion to spread word of Jon’s claim to the throne, and Tyrion did not disappoint. Tyrion, who really is loyal to Daenerys, says he needs to know this, as he needs to know of any threat to the queen. Daenerys looks as though she may be going as mad as Varys fears.

When Jon arrives, Varys tries to persuade him that he’d be a good ruler. Jon is appalled, both by the fact that Varys knows anything about Jon’s bloodline, and by Varys going against “our queen.”

Varys writes down that Jon is the true heir to the Iron Throne, but appears to burn the paper, just before he is arrested by Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and the Unsullied.

Marc Rissmann in GAME OF THRONES - Season 8 - "The Bells" | ©2019 HBO

Marc Rissmann in GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Bells” | ©2019 HBO

On the beach, before he is executed, Varys says that he hopes he deserves what will happen and that he is wrong. Tyrion tells Varys that he’s the one who told Daenerys of the betrayal. Varys doesn’t seem to blame Tyrion. The two men say goodbye to one another. Then Daenerys gives the order to Drogon to unleash dragonfire on Varys.

Daenerys gives Missandei’s only possession from Meereen – her slave collar – to Grey Worm. Grey Worm throws it into the fire.

Jon comes to see Daenerys, who tells him sadly that, by sharing Jon’s secret, Sansa is as much to blame for Varys’s execution as Daenerys is. Jon again asserts that he doesn’t want the throne, and that Daenerys is his queen. Daenerys points out that far more people love Jon than love her; they only fear her. Daenerys kisses Jon, but he feels he cannot respond (um, why, he was fine having sex with Daenerys after he knew they were related in the previous episode). Daenerys says, sadly, “It’s fear, then.” Jon has arguably just made a mistake worse than telling Sansa the secret, but he doesn’t know it, and neither do we.

Tyrion once again tries to convince Daenerys not to burn King’s Landing to the ground – there are tens of thousands of innocent people living there, who don’t have the courage to defy Cersei. Daenerys says that she will show mercy to future generations by bringing Cersei down. Tyrion begs Daenerys to at least give the populace a chance to renounce Cersei. If the city bells ring, it means King’s Landing has surrendered. Daenerys seems to agree. Then she mentions that Jaime has been caught trying to enter the city. It seems he hasn’t abandoned Cersei after all. Daenerys tells Tyrion that the next time he fails her will be the last time he fails her.

Tyrion gets Davos (Liam Cunningham) to steal a key for him, then gets into the tent where Jaime is being held. Jaime insists that Cersei can still win. Tyrion insists that she can’t. Tyrion unchains Jaime, who was caught because the soldiers recognized his golden hand. When Tyrion asks why Jaime didn’t think to take it off, Jaime replies that “Cersei called me the stupidest Lannister.” Well, Cersei, it seems your younger brother is contending for that title, because Tyrion’s plan is for Jaime to go to Cersei, convince her to flee for the sake of their unborn child, and start a new life somewhere else. Tyrion has left a boat in the secret cove where he fled King’s Landing years ago, so that Jaime and Cersei can use it to escape. This seems to have no more likelihood than a GAME OF THRONES crossover with JEOPARDY – I’ll take world’s worst ideas for $400, Alex – but Tyrion gets Jaime to swear to that he’ll try. Jaime says that Daenerys will execute Tyrion for this. Tyrion says that if it saves thousands of innocents, it’s worth it. Oh, Tyrion.

Elsewhere, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Sandor Clegane ride up to the soldiers. Arya declares she’s come to King’s Landing to kill Cersei. We have no idea what Arya’s plan is, but this sounds like it has a much better chance of success than Tyrion’s scheme. Go, Arya!

The next morning, no bells are ringing. Jon, Davos and Tyrion are at the front of Daenerys’s armies. Jaime has found his way inside King’s Landing, as have Arya and Clegane. The common folk try to leave by the main gate, but the soldiers close it, preventing them from exiting the city.

Daenerys, this time better prepared for the harpoons on Cersei’s fleet, flies Drogon over the ships and incinerates them, including the one captained by Euron Greyjoy. Alas, we don’t see him die, which on GAME OF THRONES means that he’s probably not dead. Well, rats. Drogon then blasts the front gate of King’s Landing, which explodes outward.

Cersei’s troops face the Unsullied, commanded by Grey Worm, and the Dothraki, as well as Jon’s armies from the North. For a group that’s been decimated by the White Walkers, there are a lot of them, and they’re all a lot better at warfare and a lot more motivated than Cersei’s troops.

When Qyburn (Anton Lesser) comes to advise Cersei of her losses, she still maintains that all they need is one good shot to take out the dragon. Even when Qyburn explains that the ships are all burning, Cersei maintains the appearance of calm.

As the troops head into the city, Tyrion makes his way among the dead. There are, alas, a lot of fallen civilians among the fatalities (although at this point most of the buildings are still standing, so it seems like people who went indoors had a fairly good chance of survival).

In the face of this onslaught, the King’s Landing troops drop their swords in surrender. A cry goes up to ring the bells. The bells begin to ring. Jon is relieved, Tyrion is relieved.

Daenerys, however, isn’t finished. She has Drogon blaze a path of destruction down the center of King’s Landing, incinerating soldiers and civilians alike. She is pitiless, and it’s a gut punch. We know, and Daenerys knows, that she’s won. This is now terror on innocents for the sake of inflicting terror. From being the breaker of chains, Daenerys now has taken on the mantle of her father’s infamous madness.

Jon and Tyrion are horrified. Grey Worm is perfectly content to charge at the King’s Landing soldiers, who take up their swords once more. Jon is unable to order his men to stop. One of Jon’s soldiers is attempting to rape and/or kill a woman. Jon pulls the soldier off; the soldier attacks Jon, who kills him. It is utter chaos.

At the cove, Jaime finds the boat that Tyrion left for him. He also finds the soaking wet but still-living Euron Greyjoy. Euron promptly tells Jaime that he, Euron, had sex with Cersei. This takes it from a fight Euron may possibly win to Jaime certainly killing Euron, though Euron is too arrogant to understand this. Euron does succeed in stabbing Jaime in the ensuing brutal one-on-one clash, but Jaime stabs Euron straight through the middle. Euron, with his dying breath, is still pleased that he’s the man who’s killed Jaime Lannister. But Jaime hasn’t dropped yet.

Tears begin to fall from Cersei’s eyes and she finally lets Qyburn lead her to a place of greater safety than the Red Keep. Daenerys’s soldiers have breached the gates, and of course Drogon is burning down towers right and left.

Arya and Sandor Clegane make it as far as the room with the map of Westeros on the floor.  Clegane tells Arya she needs to leave or she will die. He knows she wants revenge against Cersei. He’s spent his whole life waiting to get revenge on his brother, and look at him. Arya really does look at him. Clegane is a scarred mess. Arya, for once, actually listens. For the first time ever, she also calls Clegane “Sandor” and thanks him before she leaves the building.

Jon tells his soldiers to fall back, as they are becoming casualties as well in the fires and collapsing buildings.

Clegane presses forward and encounters his brother, the resurrected Gregor Clegane (Hafpor Julius Bjornsson), on the stairs, along with Cersei and Qyburn. Gregor clearly wants this fight as much as Sandor does. When Cersei orders Gregor to stay by her side, he ignores her. When Qyburn tries to order Gregor to obey Cersei, Gregor breaks Qyburns neck and tosses him down the stairs. Cersei then descends the stairs alone. Neither Clegane brother tries to stop her. Instead, they fight each other viciously, with no holds barred. Sandor is frustrated to discover that normal tactics like stabbing Gregor all the way through his body or even through his undead head, revealed when Gregor’s helmet falls off, have no effect. Gregor pushes Sandor’s eyes out. Sandor finally lunges and Gregor, sending them both hurtling into the burning ruins below.

Arya is rescued from being trampled by a young woman with a child. Arya tries to return the favor by leading a group of civilians out of a collapsing building. When they won’t follow, Arya gets the woman and her child out, but the woman is brought down by a Dothraki sword and the child is killed by dragon fire.

Alone in the map room, Cersei is crying. Then Jaime comes to her. She is amazed and overjoyed to see him. They embrace in reunion. Jaime leads Cersei down to the passage to the secret cove – but the way is now blocked by debris. Cersei says that she wants their child to live, and she doesn’t want to die. Jaime calms her by saying that nothing matters but the two of them. And then the Red Keep collapses on them. It’s perhaps a more merciful ending for Cersei than we might have expected, but by now, we’re mostly so dismayed at the darkening of Daenerys’s soul that we’re numb.

Arya is bloodied but has survived everything that’s happened to her. She finds the charred corpse of the little girl she’d tried to save. Tears run down her face. Out of the smoke in lifeless street comes a horse, injured but still sound. Arya gently pats the horse’s face. We see her ride out of the street.

With all the characters who’ve had redemptive arcs – Jaime, Sandor Clegane, Melisandre, even frigging Theon Greyjoy – it’s painful (and seems more than a little unfair) that it doesn’t look like Daenerys will have time for one. At least she kept it together to help fight against the Night King and did take down Cersei. Maybe the Iron Throne will melt before it’s all over. “The Bells” as an episode is undeniably powerful, and absolutely devastating.

Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Last of the Starks”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Long Night”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “Winterfell” – Season Premiere
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “The Dragon and the Wolf” – Season Finale
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Beyond The Wall”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Eastwatch”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “The Spoils of War”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “The Queen’s Justice”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Stormborn”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Dragonstone” – Season Premiere

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