Game of Thrones Recap, Season 8 Episode 5: The Bells
Summary: Varys is alone when Jon arrives at Dragonstone. They meet on the shore and Varys openly proposes the idea of making Jon king. Jon disapproves and makes his way towards the castle.
Tyrion visits Dany, who hasn’t been eating, and informs her of Varys’s betrayal. Dany blames Tyrion, Jon, Sansa, and anyone else in the know for allowing the information to spread.
Grey Worm escorts Varys outside to Jon and Dany. Tyrion tells Varys he turned him in; the longtime Master of Whispers hopes he deserves his fate. They say goodbye, and Drogon burns Varys.
Dany and Grey Worm dispose of Missandei’s collar, and Jon visits his queen’s chamber. Dany is convinced she can only rule through fear, looking dangerously determined when Jon breaks off a kiss.
Tyrion again begs Dany to exercise restraint, but she knows Cersei would see mercy as weakness. She doesn’t respond to his comments about the city bells signaling surrender, and sends out the Unsullied.
Analysis: Varys had survived since the days of the Mad King, but I guess he got tired and decided to take the Blackfish route here. Going straight from an attempted poisoning to “hey Jon Snow, how do you feel about treason?” is a wild misplay. I was going to credit Dany with ignoring her food in part because she was wary of Varys, but I’m not sure this version of Varys is capable of subtlety anyway. He probably included a handwritten note saying “please eat this dish as soon as possible, don’t share with anyone.” I’m sure we’ll see what impact his letters had next week, but they didn’t contain any information Sansa won’t be trying to spread anyway.
They moved very quickly on Dany’s transformation in this episode, but before we dive into that bottomless pool of content, let’s do our own legwork to put together her state of mind at this point. Missandei and Jorah were two of her closest allies since she came into her own; Grey Worm is her only remaining advisor from Essos, and Tyrion and Varys were discussing Jon’s heritage and potential as a King before speaking to her. If the show had allowed this feeling of isolation to fester and the repercussions of Varys’s letters (we don’t know how many he sent, but they detail Jon’s true heritage) to begin taking shape, her full turn would make more sense. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend any time seeing her transformation. It’s a drastic shift in character from someone we’ve always seen demonstrate strength and determination.
Varys’s execution was another last-minute preview of Dany following in her father’s footsteps; seeing him burn to death while she looked on calls to mind the Mad King’s burning of Rickard and Brandon Stark that precipitated Robert’s Rebellion. It seems like we’ll have another attempt to remove a crazy Targaryen from power soon.
Summary: Tyrion frees a captive Jaime Lannister, telling him to find Cersei and escape King’s Landing through the Red Keep to a boat he’ll have waiting. Knowing they’re both unlikely to live, he says goodbye to Jaime and thanks him for being the only person in his life not to treat him like a monster.
Cersei continues bringing the smallfolk inside the city walls as a human shield against the coming attack.
Arya and the Hound arrive at the Stark-garyen camp and make their way towards King’s Landing.
The Iron Fleet is in Blackwater Bay and the Golden Company is in formation outside the city walls. Tyrion tells Jon about the surrender bells while Cersei, Qyburn, and the Mountain watch from the Red Keep.
Dany descends from a high altitude and quickly destroys Euron’s fleet and the scorpions (ballista) on the walls. After eliminating the top threat to her dragon, she turns her attention to the city gates and blasts a path through them and the center of the Golden Company’s ranks. Jon, Grey Worm, and the Dothraki lead the charge into King’s Landing. They run into Lannister troops as Dany lands Drogon on a city wall.
The Lannister soldiers surrender and the bells begin to ring. Dany looks at the Red Keep, takes flight, and begins burning Lannister troops and commonfolk alike. Grey Worm orders the Unsullied forward as Jon attempts to restrain the Northmen.
Euron washes up on shore where Jaime is making his way to the Red Keep, and both are disarmed after a quick exchange. Euron escapes Jaime’s grip and stabs him in the side. Jaime makes a desperate reach for his sword and receives another dagger wound, but manages to stab Euron in the stomach. He leaves Euron to die and makes his way towards Cersei.
Qyburn informs Cersei that the Red Keep has been breached and suggests moving to Maegor’s Holdfast. Wildfire caches begin exploding across the city, ignited by Drogon’s continued spursts of dragonflame.
Arya and the Hound reach the map room, where the Hound tells her to leave and save herself from a vengeful existence like his. She resists at first, but ultimately leaves, calling him “Sandor” as she goes.
The Mountain shields Cersei and Qyburn from the falling roof of the Red Keep. The Hound meets them on the stairs, and the Mountain kills Qyburn when he tries to order him to ignore his brother. The Hound lets Cersei pass, and the Clegane brothers face off. The Hound knocks off the Mountain’s helmet, but even significant wounds have no effect. As the Mountain crushes his brother’s face the way he did the Red Viper’s, the Hound plunges a dagger into his eye. As the tower crumbles, the Hound tackles the Mountain through the weakened wall and they fall towards the burning city.
Arya makes her way through the city, narrowly avoiding debris and bursts of dragonflame. After another close pass from Dany and Drogon, Arya comes across a lonely white horse and escapes the city.
Cersei and Jaime try to escape through Maegor’s Holdfast but find the usual escape path caved in. As the ceiling collapses around them, they embrace.
Analysis: Tyrion likely gave his life giving Jaime a chance to run away with Cersei. Dany told him he was one mistake away, and she certainly won’t be happy to hear he helped a Lannister again. Tyrion will either have to leave the situation entirely or hope the Queen is focused on other matters once the ash settles. From a viewing perspective, it was great to see one last scene with Tyrion and Jaime, whose bond was one of the earliest indicators of Jaime’s potential for redemption.
After seeing Rhaegal quickly shot down by an incredibly accurate Euron Greyjoy last episode, it was both befuddling and nice to see what seems like a more realistic portrayal of dragon-on-ship combat here. Missing their initial volley gives Dany and Drogon a window to lay waste to the entire Greyjoy fleet, and the same happens to the scorpions along the city walls. There is historical precedent for these encounters, and this depiction matched much more closely than in The Last of the Starks.
The most puzzling part here is determining what triggered Dany to begin murdering the smallfolk. If she heard the surrender bells ringing and decided to fly to the Red Keep to burn Cersei and the Mountain alive, I’d fully understand; she’s right to expect a trap from Cersei at any moment, and killing her eliminates any concerns of future surprises or attempts to retake the throne. Killing the residents of King’s Landing along with the surrendered Lannister troops, though, serves no purpose at all. I suppose they’re just trying to show us that Dany is now beyond recall, but going straight to burning your would-be subjects en masse seems like a leap. She told Jon her only choice is to rule by fear, but that only works if there are still subjects alive to fear you.
This turn could have made sense if we had a better understanding of the passage of time, more episodes, or simply better writing. We know Dany hasn’t been eating since arriving in Dragonstone, but has it been two days? A week? A month? Her increasing feelings of isolation shouldn’t be discounted, but she didn’t look prepared to massacre innocents just last week. The balance also could have been shifted to make Dany’s descent into madness more understandable. What if Rhaegal had survived last week, but been shot down shortly after the bells started ringing in this episode? Losing another dragon-child at such a critical moment could have driven Dany into a rage. Or what if the ever-deceitful Cersei had dressed some of the Lannister troops in common clothes, giving them a better chance to take the Stark-garyen forces unaware? Losing her people or a dragon to such tactics would give Dany the proper motivation to begin killing armored soldiers and civilians alike without making it look like she went nuts at the sound of bells. The showrunners went all in because they chose to limit the number of episodes, but this show and the books they’re based on have always worked best in the space between absolutes.
It was great to see the Hound finally face the Mountain, and the fight did not disappoint. I’m not sure I understand how to really kill Qyburn’s zombie-Mountain (or why he didn’t create additional invincible bodyguards), but watching their brawl and seeing the Hound’s deranged laugh was a perfect payoff for Sandor’s story.
Seeing the progression of Jon and Grey Worm’s relationship from this point on should be interesting. Grey Worm has always followed orders blindly; he and the Unsullied are trained that way from an early age. Jon was right to resist pursuing the unarmed Lannister soldiers, but we have no idea how Dany will take that news. Sorting those details may be the catalyst for their ultimate separation.
I truly don’t understand what Euron’s specific motivations were over the course of this show or in this episode, but I’m happy we don’t have to spend time with him anymore.
The valonqar prophecy (only present in the books) didn’t come to fruition in any clear way, but dying in each other’s arms in Maegor’s Holdfast was a fitting end for Jaime and Cersei Lannister. The saddest part of the whole thing is the relative lack of Cersei in Season 8; she was a fantastic villain, and since blowing up the Sept of Baelor she’s mostly looked severe or held one hand over her stomach.
I was initially excited to see Arya heed the Hound’s advice and abandon her single-minded pursuit of vengeance, but the look on her face as she escaped the city suggests she may not be able to leave the game just yet. If she decides to take out Daenerys or make an attempt on Drogon before retiring to a normal life, she’ll be at great risk next week; taking out the Night King and the Mad Queen over the course of four episodes without dying in the process is asking a lot.
The biggest practical question coming away from this episode is the variable efficacy of dragons. We watched Drogon and Rhaegal, with Dany and Jon’s direction, minorly slow down the Night King’s army just a few episodes ago; an injured Rhaegal was easily shot out of the sky last week; this week, Dany and Drogon make quick work of Cersei’s army, Euron’s navy, the scorpions along the walls, and the Golden Company. Somehow the heat and force of his dragonflame was enough to carve a tower neatly off the Red Keep, which makes it even more ludicrous that Dany didn’t just blast Cersei’s residence immediately upon reaching Westeros. If Drogon holds his Episode 5 form, Dany and the remaining Unsullied and Dothraki (how are there any remaining, again?) should have no problem holding the ruins of King’s Landing. If Drogon reverts to being as vulnerable as Rhaegal last week, the more stable citizens of Westeros would have a chance against Dany and her dragon. It may not be worth making predictions at this point, but no one should be able to take down this version of the Mad Queen Daenerys; then again, no one should have been able to root out Cersei based on what the Lannister scorpions did in Episode 4, either.
By the way, if I had my way, it wouldn’t be Jon or Arya or Tyrion or anyone else who kills Dany next episode (if she even dies). I want to see Bronn take her out with the Lannister crossbow, knowing Tyrion is the only living Lannister with motivation to pay his long-overdue debt.
LORE: QUAITHE'S PROPHECY"The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun's son and the mummer's dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal." The glass candles refer to obsidian candles at the Citadel, which reignite with the return of magic to the world. The Kraken and the griffin likely refer to Victarion Greyjoy and Young Griff, respectively, though neither has met Daenerys yet in the books. The pale mare is connected with the plague that sweeps through Meereen after Dany takes up residence; could they have twisted this in the show to be picked up by Arya? She's been practicing with her bow, and she may decide to make an attempt on Dany before fully retiring.
Dragonflame Burn of the Week
Thanks for checking out our recap! If you need some more historical context for what you're seeing, you can check out our Game of Thrones Lore series, which details the history of Westeros and some of what we know of Essos. Check back for another recap next week, and until then, remember: just because someone thinks they’re smarter than everyone doesn’t mean they aren’t.