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It Tolls for King’s Landing, Innocent Civilians, and a Once Well-Written Show: A review of Game of Thrones episode 8.5, “The Bells”

It Tolls for King’s Landing, Innocent Civilians, and a Once Well-Written Show: A review of Game of Thrones episode 8.5, “The Bells”

As Drogon flies throughout King’s Landing, torching its buildings, caches of wildfire erupt into green flame.

Warning: There be dragons! But ye shall be burned even more by the SPOILERS that abound! 

So she finally went and did it.

Daenerys Targaryen, who over the course of eight seasons, went from an apparently innocent waif, traded like a bit of chattel, to an assertive and decided navigator of the Westeros chess board who freed complete cities of slaves, acquired two armies in a quest to reclaim her household’s throne from usurpers and tyrants, has snapped, and borne out her household’s penchant for insanity. Not content material at conquering King’s Touchdown, and defeating Cersei, she threw morality and human decency to the winds, and torched complete sections of King’s Landing, turning scores of harmless males, lady and youngsters into French fries for no justifiable cause.

In so doing, she adds The Mad Queen to her record of titles, turning into her father’s daughter, and the true inheritor to King Aerys II. 

And it’s not like this wasn’t pre-ordained, right? Both novelist George R.R. Martin and the producers who adapted his Music of Ice and Hearth for the display, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, made it clear early on, by establishing the Targaryen family’s propensity for insanity, and through the prophetic visions experienced by Bran and Daenerys herself, that she would ultimately make it to King’s Touchdown, but that it might not essentially be a cheerful ending, which have all the time been few and much between on a show that’s all the time been more about employing subversion for instance the horror of warfare and the risks of absolute rule by narcissists who see themselves as the middle of all issues.

In this sense, setting us up to assume that Varys deserved to be executed, and to feel joy at seeing the gates of King’s Touchdown disintegrated as Drogon flies by way of them on an enormous torrent of flame, solely to later be horrified when Dany refused to stop, and understand that Varys was “right” all alongside, is true in keeping with this modus operandi. Regardless of her phrases and even her actions relating to tyrants, Dany has never indicated that hers is a struggle for egalitarianism or democracy, even if she freed some cities’ value of slaves alongside the best way.  Her actions have all the time centered upon what she needed for herself, and her kindness and generosity all the time stopped at those that came between her and her objectives.

So no, her rampage at King’s Landing wasn’t with out setup. That isn’t the issue.

The issue is identical one that’s pervaded the complete season.

Awful execution.

It’s the writing, stupid!

The final five episodes, particularly the final three, have been marred by main established premises which were ignored or dropped; a conclusion to the Night time King storyline that while satisfying on an motion degree, didn’t tie into the established order of Jon or Bran, the Cersei storyline, and even affect Dany’s capability to wage struggle on King’s Touchdown; unceremonious exits of essential characters like Sam, Gilly, Tormund and Ghost; and plot holes greater than that one Viserion blew via the Wall.

In “The Lengthy Night time”, we noticed the Dothraki snuffed out by the horde of the lifeless, with just one or two horseriders getting back from that idiotic charge-with-no-dragonglass. In the subsequent episode, “The Final of the Starks”, Gray Worm tells Daenerys that half their forces are gone, and takes some pieces off the map. The lone unnamed Dothraki within the room does the same. But in this episode, a big group of Dothraki cost King’s Touchdown in pressure. In “Starks,” Dany is flying toward Dragonstone, and hastily neither she, nor Drogon nor Rhaegal can see eleven ships under them, permitting Euron’s ships to land not one, not two, however three arrows at Rhaegal in speedy succession, whereas lacking Drogon completely. In response to Benioff, this his as a result of Dany “sort of forgot” about Euron’s fleet. I’m not making that up. Read it your self.

But now in “The Bells,” she has regained the sense to correctly benefit from her altitude within the very means she ought to have, and may destroy a fleet that now numbers no less than 137 ships? (Yes, I counted.)

However what’s far worse than changed or ignored premises or plot holes is how this season has handled the show’s signature quality: Characterization.

The collection has all the time been probably the greatest works in trendy fashionable fiction in terms of depicting the motivations that drive a large forged of characters’ actions, and the way those motivations interact with the plot, theme and allegory. However this season, the character work has seemed so phoned-in that AT&T should’ve gotten an onscreen story credit. (Hey, it beats a Starbucks cup.)

Take Varys’ flip as traitor. In “The Final of the Starks”, Dany says she needs to tear Cersei out of King’s Touchdown “root and stem,” and Tyrion reminds her that the plan is to try this with out destroying all the metropolis. Dany provides no indication that she disagrees with this. Quite the contrary, she adds that beneath her rule, all the individuals of Westeros would stay underneath her rightful rule “with out worry or cruelty.” But then Varys begins talking to Tyrion about finding another person to rule Westeros. This comes about not as a result of Dany’s reaction to Missandei’s execution, as a result of while they sail to Dragonstone earlier than that happens, just because Tyrion has just knowledgeable him of Jon’s true parentage. This seems to have been completed to provoke our animus toward Varys for his disloyalty, so that when Dany does go postal, Benioff and Weiss can again go, “Gotcha!” with our expectations. However Varys wasn’t right, since his disloyalty was about being choosy about potential ruler pedigrees, and since Dany ever gave any inclination toward tyranny. On this method, Varys seems to have acted they approach he did because he read the script. And I’ve come to anticipate better from this show.

Then take the Stark ladies’s soapy motivations. In “Starks,” Arya and Sansa say that regardless that they harbor respect and gratitude for Dany helping them struggle the Night time King, that they’ll by no means trust her because “She’s not one among us.” Really? Have been the Wildlings “certainly one of us”? How about that big, Wun-Wun, who died preventing for the Starks within the Battle of the Bastards? For that matter, Robert Baratheon himself wasn’t from the North. Did the Stark ladies fail to watch loyalty among their individuals to King Robert, despite what an incompetent, cruel boor he was? Against this, Dany loves Jon, and misplaced certainly one of her dragons simply saving Jon’s life (risking her personal within the process) and misplaced half of her soldiers and one in every of her dearest buddies preventing for Winterfell. Simply what does she need to do to earn Arya and Sansa’s loyalty? Arya definitely feels loyalty to the Hound. Ought to Dany kill Arya’s greatest pal, kidnap her after which experience together with her up and down Westeros while sometimes slapping her around?

In fact, this isn’t what lit up the Net following the episode’s premiere.

Daenerys: Portrait of a Tyrant

The actual dragon in the living room is Daenerys’s determination to burn giant sections of King’s Landing, along with civilians operating for his or her lives. While this can be a achievement of the visions that Dany and Bran skilled earlier within the collection, and illustrative of how even good individuals in positions of power can let power go to their heads, it doesn’t ring true on a personality degree, since characters’ conduct has to make sense within the context of their general arcs. It’s not sufficient to level out that folks “snap” in real life, or that Dany’s father was nuts. Hell, even he didn’t all of a sudden “snap”, however was a naturally erratic man who steadily declined because of a mixture of age, political rigidity, and jealousy of his Hand, Tywin Lannister.1 Characterization isn’t about simply utilizing actual life as a precedent. It’s one thing that needs to be constructed as part of the writers’ craft, simply as some other artwork type, and thus having a character flip arbitrarily to easily match a longtime prophecy breaks our suspension of disbelief.

Was Dany’s rampage actually out of anger over Rhaegal and Missandei? That look of barely restrained rage on her face after Missandei was executed was definitely one we hadn’t seen earlier than. But when that’s the case, her anger ought to’ve been directed at Cersei and Euron, and Benioff confirmed that this was the case. As an alternative, she torches peasants who had nothing to do with it. In a behind-the-scenes featurette, episode director Miguel Sapochnik stated that Dany felt “empty” when the bells went off, and producer D.B. Weiss explained that at that moment, she decided to make it “personal”. The problem with that is that killing people who in all probability hated Cersei as a lot as Dany did, isn’t personal, as a result of it’s been made clear by now Cersei didn’t care about these individuals.

Benioff also pointed out that earlier than her execution on the finish of “Starks,” Missandei’s final word, “Dracarys,” which was her means of telling Dany to burn all of them. So what? Dany has spent eight seasons preventing towards slavery, tyranny and cruelty in the direction of the innocent, and now she’s grown so myopic over the demise of her greatest pal that she decides to honor a condemned lady’s dying wish to murder innocent individuals—despite the fact that she repated her anti-tyranny platform to Tyrion after Missandei’s dying? Sorry, but this can be a poor rationalization any approach you look it.

One reviewer pointed out Dany’s previous brutalities to individuals like Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Pyat Pree, Kraznys mo Nakloz, and the Tullys, but this ignores the truth that those individuals had truly transgressed towards her.

I observed that the episode seems to try to provide other excuses for Dany, however none are notably convincing. Contemplate her assertion to Tyrion in Dragonstone’s throne room that she would not permit Cersei to use her mercy as a weak spot. This can’t clarify her killing spree, since she embarked upon it after the Lannister military surrendered. And if her actions at King’s Touchdown was Dany’s means of merely making some extent to Cersei about Cersei try to make use of individuals as a defensive tactic, then which means Dany committed mass homicide out of spite.

There’s additionally the scene the place she tries snogging with Jon in entrance of the fireside, and after he fails to return her affections in earnest, she resolves, “Alright, then. Let it’s worry.” Significantly? She burned countless civilians to a crisp as a result of Jon wouldn’t give her some sugar? In HBO’s “Contained in the Episode” featurette, D.B. Weiss states that this was the second when Dany resigned herself to the assumption that she would wish to resort to committing an atrocity so as to “get things achieved,” but this ignores the fact that she had already gotten it completed without it.

I need to make clear: I don’t have an issue with the thought of sympathetic characters taking tragic descents into darkness, offered that it naturally follows what’s been established as much as that time. I do not, for example, have an issue with Gray Worm’s actions, since they weren’t inconsistent together with his character. Ditto for the Dothraki and Northmen committing atrocities, since even when Dany decreed to the former that their raping and pillaging days have been over (a lot as she had achieved with Yara and Theon), they could have taken her lighting up the town as an indication that it had gone out the window.

Dany burning giant numbers of residents can be more plausible if it was prompted in a means that made issues no less than a bit more fuzzy: Think about this: Cersei ties random citizens up towards the partitions of the town, and the Purple Hold, using them as personal human shields. Dany then makes the decision to burn them because these innocents’ deaths are unavoidable, and then through the smoke and ash, it becomes harder for her to obviously see the Lannisters give up, and to discern who is a civilian and who’s a soldier, a tragic iteration of what occurs within the in the course of the “fog of conflict”. However this didn’t happen, as there was no “fog.”

Just ash.

There’s, nevertheless, one nagging detail I observed in the episode that provides me trigger to carry off on remaining judgment of her flip, one that leads me to hope that what we saw in “The Bells” just isn’t all that there was to see, and can repay in the finale, once once more prompting us to reevaluate what we previously thought was true: After that shot of Dany after the bells tolled, we never received a close-up shot of her during her destruction of the town. Why is that this? Wouldn’t displaying her face twisted right into a grimace of pure rage throughout her rampage be crucial to that scene? It is senseless to not show her face throughout this. I obtained to considering that perhaps they plan on displaying us her rampage again in the finale, only from Dany’s POV, revealing something just like what I simply described. Perhaps she was making an attempt to destroy fortifications that seemed like armories or barracks or belongings that Cersei might use to hide or escape, and Drogon’s restricted precision with hearth killed some civilians near those buildings, and when Grey Worm saw this, he misunderstood this, and took it as justification for embarking on a vendetta on those who murdered his love, and every part simply snowballed from there. Maybe when Dany then noticed the preventing resume, she then took this as a sign that Lannister soldiers have been ignoring the bells, and justified doing so herself, a sequence of causality that neither Jon nor some other single player would perceive on the time. All of this could render her actions in a more morally ambiguous mild. It will additionally match squarely within the wheelhouse of each Martin and the showrunners, who have relied heavily on contrasting POVs in this means all through the collection. Is that what they’re going to do here, to be able to make Dany’s actions and her causes for them extra morally ambiguous, with their seemingly threadbare explanations within the behind-the-scenes materials a canopy for it?

In perusing the Net, plainly I’m not alone in noticing the shortage of a close-up, with another reviewer speculating that the rationale for that is that Bran had warged into Drogon to burn the town. If Dany spent the rampage making an attempt helplessly making an attempt to regain management over her dragon, this may clarify why they couldn’t present her in close-up.

Not with a bang, however a whimper. And falling bricks.

Even when this is borne out, the remainder of the key characters’ arcs truthful little higher, and in contrast to Dany, theirs are finished.

To know what’s mistaken with what happens to the characters in this episode and others, you need to take a look at how their tales have been developed so far, and also you’ll see why they’re referred to as arcs. For instance, Tyrion sees his father writing a letter in the third season premiere, “Valar Dohaeris,” that includes the phrase “ripe for the lure.” In that season’s finale, “Mhysa,” which is the episode that takes place after the Purple Wedding ceremony, Bran tells a narrative of the Rat Prepare dinner, who cooks his friends into the food served as a feast, an act whose heinousness stems from the Westerosian view that killing a guest underneath one’s own roof is an unforgivable sin. This establishes a cultural viewpoint explaining how the Purple Wedding ceremony is regarded by the individuals of Westeros, warring households or not. So when Arya bakes Walder Frey’s sons into the pie she serves to him within the sixth season finale, after which poses as him to supervise her murder of his soldiers in the seventh season premiere, these stop to be mere events in particular person episodes, but items of a cohesive entire. A single tapestry, by which climaxes feel extra satisfying because they arrive because the payoff that follows an extended setup. That’s what separates an abrupt surprising plot twist from a rigorously crafted one.

That is what’s missing from this season, and this episode.

I simply assumed, for instance, that when Arya set out from Winterfell for King’s Landing to kill Cersei, that it was as a lot a mission handed to her by Dany because it was a private vendetta. However nothing right here indicates that Dany thought to benefit from the talents she knew Arya had. I additionally assumed that this arc would tied into Cleganebowl, and with Cersei’s ultimate fate. Perhaps Arya made her play for the Queen, killing a bunch of her guards within the course of, and simply when she was about to strike the killing blow upon Cersei, it’s blocked by the Mountain, who all of a sudden seems and beats Arya almost to dying. And just when he’s about to ship a deadly blow to her per Cersei’s order, that’s blocked in flip by the Hound, who then has the struggle of his life together with his brother for Arya. This may’ve been a fair sweeter flip of events if Arya and the Hound hadn’t been proven leaving Winterfell together. If that they had the Hound leaving to go find some quiet hillside to retire, failing to persuade Arya to remain at Winterfell, his sudden look there can be a extra satisfying and poignant surprise. Perhaps during this brawl, Cersei might have ended up falling from a tower into the spot the place Ned Stark was executed, making her end all the extra poetic. Or one thing like that. Something.

As an alternative what we acquired was two tall brothers who determined it was time to battle once they might’ve accomplished when the confronted one another in the seventh season finale, various gratuitously implausible stab wounds inflicted upon Jamie, and a bunch of bricks falling on Cersei. As an alternative of layering these denouements in a means that tied them collectively together with the Night time King arc and the Azor Ahai prophecy, in a approach that echoed with the collection’ general mythology, what we acquired was thematically flat. A collection of endings that have been journalistic fairly than resonant. We obtained the who, what, where, when and how, however not the guts. The Night time King was completed away with mid-season, and Cersei is killed not within the collection finale, however its penultimate installment.

Are there some good moments? Positive. That moment when Arya addresses The Hound by his given identify for the first time ever was a nice touch. And the FX have been wonderful. That one over-the-shoulder shot of a Lannister soldier as a cut up instantly seems in his torso upon the swing of a Northman’s sword was extraordinarily spectacular. But the sum of these individual moments doesn’t add up to a narrative that transcends them.

Hypothesis for the finale

So going into the finale, what are we left with?

We noticed Arya mount a white horse, very similar to Dying, one of the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse described in the Guide of Revelation. Where she’s galloping off to is pretty apparent, as is the conflict that may drive the violence within the finale. The only question shall be whether she is going to kill Dany, or be foiled be Grey Worm, leading to a duel between them, which I admit, would redeem the Cleganebowl considerably.

Perhaps as they struggle, Jon finds a still-intact scorpion, perhaps half-covered in debris, that Dany and Drogon missed and then use it on the Drogon? I observed that contrary to what Qyburn stated, we didn’t see Drogon destroy all of them, and one shot of Drogon confirmed him passing over quite a lot of them on his solution to destroying a corner tower on the metropolis gates. And if this leads the Unsullied to assault Jon and the Northmen, seemingly to the purpose of near-defeat, and they’re saved by the arrival of Tormund on the Wildlings, with Ghost biting off Grey Worm’s head, it might redeem their inelegant departure in “Starks.” If only.

And then there’s that little woman, the final of Varys’ little birds, allowing one final manipulation of his to survive his dying and present itself in the collection finale.

Benioff and Weiss haven’t played their last hand, and I haven’t lost my final ounce of faith. The season is what it’s. However the show can nonetheless go out on a high observe. When Sansa informed Tyrion about Jon’s secret parentage in “Starks,” one reviewer took difficulty with what he perceived as irresponsibility on her part, not realizing that this move was deliberately written as a “master stroke” of manipulation, as Dany herself tells Jon a number of scenes into this episode, so it’s not like they’ve utterly misplaced the power to put in writing good character work, and even disguise it.

In the end I’ve written right here, the decrease quality of this season’s writing has not soured me on the sprawling epic created by my fellow native of Hudson County.

The truth is, I’ve just began reading the primary novel in the collection. I intend to read all of them, maybe putting my run by means of Lee Youngster’s Jack Reacher collection on hold with a purpose to maintain the continuity of the story recent in my mind from novel to novel, and who knows, perhaps by the point I’m carried out, my fellow native of Hudson County, New Jersey could have finished writing the ultimate two novels, or a minimum of decided upon a firm launch date.

Hope springs eternal. 

 

Footnotes

1. Martin, George R.R. (2014). The World of Ice and Hearth. Bantam. pp. 113 – 129.