So there’s probably no way “Game of Thrones” could end in a way that would please everybody. It’s kind of like when you’d watch “Survivor” and your 10 favorite players are eliminated, so you’re left rooting for Backstabber #4 over Lazy Waste of Space #3. Too many exciting avenues have been closed for this show. The Night King is long dead. Cersei remained the only Big Bad. We’ve been on a collision course with something less than ideal for a while now.
What made this show great was an array of intriguing characters, each with his or her own motivation. But now, all the characters are following straight lines as if there were a race to see who can get to their death scene first. This image, floating around the internet, pretty much sums up the show:
And the actors know what’s up, too.
In case you’ve forgotten how far this show has fallen, remember these highlights from Season 2:
Let’s run a little exercise. Let’s say you were the writer of this episode and you were instructed that the only major things that needed to happen are that Daenerys needs to go all Mad Queen and the Good Guys need to realize they backed the wrong horse. First, there’s no reason for the first 30 minutes of this episode. Dany was at the gates of King’s Landing at the end of the last episode. She could have mounted Drogon and torched the city right away. And if you were going to write an episode where that happened, you might include a few moments for the characters to talk about what’s happening. Maybe Tyrion could have devised a way to try to stop her. Maybe Jon could have tried to signal her. Maybe Jon could have commanded his army to fall back after the Lannister surrender, possibly even having to fight the Unsullied for direction of the battle.
Instead, the last hour(!) is basically just Dany burning King’s Landing to the ground unimpeded. Did Jaime and Cersei really die this way? If so, lame! Did the Cleganebowl really justify the hype? No!
Again, think back to when The Mountain fought Oberyn Martell. Although that was a fight scene, there were the added stakes of having Tyrion’s life on the line. The Cleganebowl was just two people fighting. It would be easy to add tension if literally anything else was at stake. Maybe defeating The Mountain would save Arya or allow Jon to get to the top of the Red Keep to flag down Dany. Instead, it’s just two guys fighting. And that’s the difference between the early seasons and whatever is happening in Season 8.
But we can complain about what might have been for hours. Instead, we must deal with what is. So here’s what happened in “The Bells.”
We begin with Varys, Master of Whispers, writing a scroll about how Jon is the true heir to the Iron Throne. Jon arrives and Varys becomes Master of Yells, as he stands on a beach and says his treason plans out loud. Jon says thanks, but no thanks. Tyrion, fully aware of Dany’s lack of mercy and reason, tells her about Varys anyway.
Varys knows what’s up. The Unsullied show up and drag him off for execution. Everyone shrugs and Drogon lights him up.
Daenerys hands Grey Worm Missandei’s collar and he chucks it in the fire. Jon walks in and Dany tries to put the moves on him. Jon demures and Dany is frustrated.
Tyrion tries to talk Dany out of her plan. If Cersei surrenders, he hopes Dany will pull back. As we are reminded at least four times in this episode, “If you hear the bells, that means surrender. Please stop murdering.” Dany tells Tyrion they’ve captured Jaime.
Tyrion visits Jaime in chains. Not to harp on the deteriorated writing of the series again, but remember back to when Jaime visited a condemned Tyrion in his cell:
That scene takes less than six minutes, but gives us a window into both men and their view of the world. There are no such scenes in “The Bells,” but there are plenty of scenes of beetle smashing.
Jaime and Tyrion share a very blunt conversation. Tyrion thanks Jaime for being a solid older brother, then sets him free. Tyrion urges Jaime to convince Cersei to flee King’s Landing. If that happens, he helpfully reminds Jaime to ring the bells on his way out.
At King’s Landing, Dany is ready to throw down. She and Drogon wipe out the Iron Fleet with zero problems. (Despite the fact that every giant crossbow on water and land are aimed at the dragon, no one can hit Drogon this week.) The dragon also destroys the Golden Company without effort.
Before long, the Lannisters throw down their swords. The bells sound. The war is over. Daenerys rules with a firm, but just hand.
JK. Dany goes on a murder spree, deliberately torching the innocent men, women, and children of King’s Landing. This is suddenly in character because the writers committed to six episodes and a heel turn without any idea how they were going to set that up or pull it off.
While Daenerys incinerates nearly a million people for no reason, Euron Greyjoy emerges from the water to stab Jaime in the sides a few times. Jaime shakes it off and kills Euron, but not before Euron announces to no one in particular, “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister!” The delivery of that line made it seem Euron was waiting for the laugh track to kick in. It was weird and unnecessary. Had Euron died aboard his boat, it wouldn’t have affected Jaime’s story at all.
As Arya and The Hound close in on the Queen, The Hound realizes this is all going to end badly. For the first time in a long time, Arya looks scared. The Hound convinces Arya to flee. “Sandor, thank you,” she says.
The Hound finally arrives at Cleganebowl. He faces down his undead older brother as The Mountain was escorting Cersei and Qyburn to safety. Cersei asks The Mountain not to fight. Qyburn commands it. But The Mountain is here to battle his brother. He smashes Qyburn against a rock. Cersei skitters down the stairs. It’s on.
The Hound stabs The Mountain several dozen times, including once through the torso. It doesn’t work. The Mountain tries gouging out The Hound’s eyes. The Hound stabs him in the face.
This fight is going nowhere, so The Hound tackles his brother and they crash through a wall, presumably to their deaths.
Jaime meets up with Cersei and they hustle down to the place where the old dragon skulls were kept. The way is blocked. So they stand there and die when rubble falls on them. It’s extremely unsatisfying. There’s a reason people placed money on someone actually killing Cersei. Instead, the assassin is really “a bunch of rocks and gravity.”
Arya spends the rest of the episode stumbling through King’s Landing as it disintegrates around her. She’s unable to save a mother and her daughter. Then a horse shows up and Arya spends an inordinately long time looking at it. She jumps on and rides off and the episode ends.
While this episode was technically well executed, the result left us feeling empty. The deaths for Qyburn, The Mountain, and The Hound were fitting, but Varys, Jaime, and Cersei deserved something more memorable. This episode’s events meant that last week’s tryst with Brienne was ultimately a pointless narrative u-turn. Nearly every development in this episode could have been played for greater emotional stakes. It’s this sense of tremendous missed opportunity that leaves us feeling colder than the Fist of the First Men.
Final score: 1 out of 4 stars
So what happens in the finale? Does it matter? This show is now so far from its origins, we’re setting our expectations very, very low. Gone are the intriguing conversations, political machinations, and strong rivalries. We’re probably in for something dumb and violent, like a moron smashing some beetles. We do hope we’re wrong.