‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8, Episode 5 Recap: “The Bells”

17 Min Read
Image courtesy of HBO
Image courtesy of HBO

Well my wildlings, gather around, for the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones came down on us harder than the Red Keep came down on Cersei’s head. Many of us were upset by some, err, sharp turns (or in the case of Jaime, a full on u-turn) certain characters seemed to be making in last week’s episode. (Raise your hand if you still think Ghost was a very good boy deserving of some good bye pets. Ok everybody? GOOD.) And HOO BOY did they not course-correct in this week’s episode, “The Bells.”


The episode begins with Varys. He is writing out messages about the true heir to the iron throne when one of his little birds, Martha, appears and informs him that Daenerys won’t touch her food. He consoles her and tells her that they will just have to try again and continues writing.

Tyrion then watches Varys greet Jon on the beach. Varys updates Jon on Dany (She hasn’t left her chambers and won’t eat) and tries to convince Jon to take his rightful place on the throne, by first warning Jon about Dany’s bloodline (“Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin and the world holds its breath.”) and then by telling him that his lack of wanting the throne is what will make him a good and just ruler. Jon refuses (“She is my queen.”) and walks away.Tyrion then snitches on Varys to Dany. She blames it on Jon telling Sansa (who then told Tyrion, who told Varys).

Tyrion tries to counter and explain that Sansa telling him was a good thing, because as the Hand of the Queen he needs to know her secrets to help protect her. He even argues that it’s good that Varys, her Master of Whisperers, also knows. However, Dany sees Sansa’s game and knows that she told Tyrion because she knew Tyrion would tell Varys, who would tell others. Sansa wanted the secret out and played Tyrion like a fiddle.

So Varys is effed. The guards come and take him (but not before he burns one of his messages) to be executed by Dany.Tyrion tells him “it was me.” Varys says “I hope I deserve this, truly I do. I hope I’m wrong. Goodbye old friend.” Dany then executes him via roasting by Drogon.

Later Dany gives Grey Worm Missandei’s slave collar – the only possession she brought with her across the narrow sea. He tosses it into the fire place and watches it burn. Jon enters as Grey Worm exits. She confronts him about telling Sansa, he responds by reiterating that he doesn’t want the throne. She tells him that Varys’ death is just as much Sansa’s fault as it is hers. “Far more people in Westeros love you than love me. I don’t have love here. I only have fear.” Jon tells her that he loves her, but when she makes a move he has to clarify that it’s only as his queen. His gentle break up with his aunt is not going well. “Alright then” she says “let it be fear.” Ruh roh!

Image courtesy of HBO

Cut to some war planning and Tyrion and Jon are the only ones left trying to broker peace. Dany, Grey Worm, and the rest of her advisors are out for BLOOD. Tyrion tries to remind her that the city is full of thousands of innocents, but Dany thinks that Cersei is using them to manipulate her into not showing her full force. Cersei views mercy as a weakness (side note: Cerseis of Mercy would be a great cover band) and so Dany is inclined to not show any to prove Cersei wrong. Tyrion pleads with her to call off the attack if the city surrenders and rings the bells. As Tyrion leaves, Dany informs him that they caught Jaime trying to get past their lines to get to Cersei. She warns him “next time you fail me will be the last time you fail me.”

And sure enough, Tyrion decides to fail her by going to set his brother free (and thus, paying his debt to Jaime from the time he freed Tyrion). He wants Jaime to get Cersei to abdicate the throne and runaway with him. He thinks Jaime, and the love of her unborn child, will convince her to flee. He also thinks that if Cersei flees and leaves the kingdom to Dany, it will spare the city from her wrath. Jaime is unconvinced (“all the worst things she’s done have been for her children”) but ultimately agrees. Tyrion tells him the way out is through a secret passage that connects the underground dragon skull crypts to a small beach where a dinghy will be waiting for them to take them away. Jaime reminds him that Dany will probably execute him for this. Tyrion counters that maybe she will show him mercy if this helps her avoid slaughter, but also is resigned to his fate. “Tens of thousands of innocent lives. One not so innocent dwarf. Seems like a fair trade.” They have a tearful and heartfelt moment knowing that they will never see each other again.

Meanwhile, Arya (with The Hound alongside her) loudly announces to a guard who she is and that she plans to kill Queen Cersei. The Hound tells the guard that if he lets Arya through and she accomplishes her task, then there will be no siege and minimal fighting/bloodshed and he probably won’t die. He lets them through.

Out in Blackwater Bay, Euron and the Iron Fleet are prepping for the fight and loading up their big scorpions. In King’s Landing everyone is battening down the hatches or trying to get into the Red Keep for sanctuary. The Hound and Arya manage to push their way in before the guards shut the gates. What’s left of the Dothraki, Unsullied, and Northerners amass outside the city walls. Tyrion reminds Jon that if they hear the bells it means the city has surrendered and to call off his men. Cersei confidently watches everything from atop her tower. People are mobbing the gate to the Red Keep, fighting to be let in. Jaime is one of the people trapped on the outside in the mob, but manages to sneak down a side path to try and find his way into the castle more covertly.

Image courtesy of HBO

Back in the bay, Dany and Drogon drop out of the sky and torch the entire Iron Fleet. Now that she knows about the scorpions, Drogon can easily dodge them and she dispatches them all with ease. She then torches all of the scorpions along the battlements on the Keep. The Golden Company faces off against the rest of Dany’s army in front of the city walls, when Dany takes a page out of the Night King’s book and uses Drogon to blast a fiery hole through the wall. What follows is a good thirty minutes of bloodshed, violence and carnage as Dany and her armies just decimate King’s Landing. It is excessive. It eventually reaches a point where Cersei’s army, facing Jon and his men, look at the wreckage around them, realize the battle is lost, and throw down their arms in surrender. (Meanwhile, up in the tower, Cersei is still in denial, even as Qyburn tells her the scorpions are all destroyed, as is the Iron Fleet, and the Golden Company. I, personally, kept waiting for Cersei “I’ve always got one last devastating trick up my sleeve” Lannister to pull out her final move, but I guess Sober Cersei is all out of ideas.) People scream for the city to ring the bells in surrender. Eventually the bells ring.

There is a brief moment where you can see the relief in Tyrion and Jon’s faces as they think the battle is over and they can spare the rest of the city. But then Dany looks at the Red Keep with full on crazy eyes and decides to go Mad Queen on everyone’s asses. She lays waste to the entire city, soldiers and innocent civilians alike. Taking their cue from their queen, the Unsullied and Dothraki slaughter the Lannister soldiers that just threw down their swords. Jon tries to stop the soldiers around him, but everyone is thirsty for blood and chaos ensues. Like just a whole lot more footage of people being burned alive and slaughtered. Like a whole lot. Tyrion and Jon each have a Gob Bluth “I’ve made a huge mistake” moment as they watch the death unfold around them. Cersei finally realizes that maybe she needs to GTFO of King’s Landing as Dany and Drogon start destroying the Red Keep. (Also apparently dragon fire is the equivalent of a giant light saber or something because it just chops through the red keep like it’s butter.)

On the beach, Jaime runs into Euron (who somehow survived his ship being torched). Jaime asks for his help in getting Cersei out of King’s Landing, but Euron decides that they should fight over Cersei instead (you know, priorities). They have a long and poorly choreographed fight that seems to go on forever, in which Euron deals some fatal stabs to Jaime, but ultimately Jaime kills Euron with a big ol’ stab through the chest. Euron gets the last word though, as he loudly proclaims “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister” with his final breath.

Arya and the Hound have FINALLY made it inside the castle when The Hound tells Arya to leave, that Cersei is as good as dead. She refuses and he grabs her and tells her that if she doesn’t leave she will end up like him, consumed by revenge and going to die. In a completely uncharacteristic move, Arya (the girl obsessed with revenge since literally watching her father die at the end of Season One, and who became a face changing assassin in order to accomplish it) decides to take his advice and flees.

Image courtesy of HBO

And now it’s time for CLEGANE BOWL! The fight that so many of us have been waiting for. The Hound finds Cersei, Qyburn, and The Mountain trapped on a crumbling staircase. Qyburn orders The Mountain to protect Cersei, but his hatred of his baby brother overwhelms him and he crushes Qyburn’s head in and walks down to face the Hound. (Cersei takes this moment to quickly run down the stairs and peace out.) The Mountain takes off his helmet to reveal his Darth Gregor looking face and they have a brutal (and also brutally long) fight. The Hound gets some good stabs in, but because of the magic Qyburn used to bring him back to life, Darth Gregor cannot be killed so easily. Eventually Sandor wins, by hurtling himself into his brother and knocking them both through a wall, plunging to their fiery deaths below.

Jaime finds Cersei down in the dragon skull crypt and they embrace as the walls shake and ceiling rumbles. She cries, telling him that she wants to live and wants her baby to live. He promises to protect her and keep both her and their child safe. And then, in the most unsatisfying and poorly staged shot in the whole show, the ceiling caves in on them and they are crushed to death beneath the rubble. To make yet another Star Wars joke, it was as if a thousand angry fans cried out in anguish and were suddenly silenced. Shocked into silence by how disappointing and dumb the death of one of television’s greatest female villains was carried out. One could argue, that symbolically it had meaning considering the heights to which she climbed, the tower they pushed Bran out of, being crushed by her own pride and ambition, yada yada yada, but it was not well executed. And for a final season that has been trying to be basically fan service, this long awaited moment fell flat.

Image courtesy of HBO

Jon calls for his men to fall back and get out of the city. Arya runs through the streets, shell shocked and trying to avoid being crushed by debris. She gets blown off her feet and trampled a few times, when a woman and child she had earlier inadvertently kept out of the Red Keep help her to her feet. She later tries to help them escape, but the woman is too injured and collapses. Her daughter chooses to stay by her mother’s side and they get torched. After all of the chaos and fire stops, Arya is miraculously one of the few in the city left alive. She wanders the destroyed streets until she stumbles upon an abandoned white horse, drenched in someone’s blood and soot. She climbs atop it and rides out of the wreckage of King’s Landing.

Will Daenerys execute Tyrion and attempt to execute Jon? Will Arya try to steal a face and take out Mad Queen Dany? Can Arya take them all out and then we can just watch Sansa and Yara Greyjoy rule the Seven Kingdoms because they are the only people with any damn sense left? Or will Christian Shepherd show up and usher them all through the church doors into Heaven because the writers seem to have gone full Lost on us?

Whatever happens, next week is the series finale and, because it’s Game of Thrones, you know it is going to be tough and bloody.

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By Britt
Britt is a Los Angeles based writer, burlesque performer, and life long nerd. A former drama kid turned playwright and classic ambivert, (shout out fellow ambiverts! There are dozens of us! Dozens!) her love of books, snacks, and cats makes her a Ravenclaw with Hufflepuff leanings. She is a voracious reader, writer, and unapologetic binge-watcher. Her lifelong obsessions include Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Arrested Development, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Herbert's Dune series. Her current obsessions include: Sherlock, Black Mirror, The Great British Baking Show, RuPaul's Drag Race, and Counterpart. She will also gladly talk people's ears off about graphic novels if they let her, which they usually don't. Find Britt on Twitter @MsGeorgiaOQueef
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