In Defense Of 'Game Of Thrones' Episode 5: 'The Bells'

In Defense Of ‘Game Of Thrones’ Episode 5: ‘The Bells’

Warning: Contains Spoilers For Game Of Thrones Season 8

I am aghast at the internet right now. This episode did not come out of nowhere. Pace preference I suppose can be argued, but I don’t have a problem with the pacing as slightly heightened reality to move the momentum of the final season. People would also be complaining if they felt it was too slow. They have laid the thickly complex path towards these journeys – for both Dany and Jaime and all other characters for the entirety of the show.

First and foremost Dany.

HBO/Game of Thrones

She has made impulse, rash and poor choice after poor choice for the entirety of the show. I do think there was a believable build to all those moments and a doubling up of all that grief and the surrounding contextual, situational build up. Ultimately, it seemed to follow the long line of events that got her there as well as what her character’s foundational proclivities towards impulsiveness and force. I think she wanted to help people in theory, but ultimately her ego and lust for power got the better of her over time and she didn’t understand concretely enough how to help people beyond her own image of herself as a savior. She more and more became obsessed with her own destiny while losing the real ability to grasp the larger picture. Also, if they had made it any more obvious than it already was it would have been trite and would have had no dramatic tension. It was still devastating even though I felt it coming, rightfully so.

First of all, it has been established that Dany isn’t a great queen or ruler – she is a conqueror. Essos kept rising up against her until she burned them all too. She has solved all of her problems through force, might, and fire. She has never once thought her way out of a problem or even ruled justly or with the nuance and thought it takes to actually govern. She was a good conqueror only because she had dragons and she was a horrible ruler, even in the short time she had to rule some people. Upending a slave society without anything to replace it and allowing for a full coup and societal unrest to rise up only before fleeing to “save” your next territory and take its armies for your own is not good leadership. She has shown mercilessness, brutal revenge, and poor decision making – burning any enemy alive (including the Tarley’s), not negotiating with the North, executing Mossador, crucifying the masters, and absolutely flailing in her response to the Sons of the Harpy, to name a few instances. The inability to learn how to rule or how to take care of a populace is coupled with entitlement. She doesn’t know how to rule and she doesn’t know the people of Westeros and she never really cared to learn. She had all these wonderful advisors around her and instead of learning like Sansa, she just got more and more headstrong.

In terms of storytelling, this completion of her arc, fueled by all of the actions that brought us here also subverts the cliche of heroism and savior-ism – something that the fan base of Game of Thrones always seemed thrilled about. So here you go, and now you’re not here for it? Ned died, Catelyn and Robb were butchered without their vengeance, Tyrion literally strangled his lover, and 2 episodes ago we completely circumvented Jon being heroic to have Arya kill the Night King, but Dany succumbing to her worst impulses is unrealistic? I don’t buy that it’s coming out of nowhere or contrived – she has displayed a weakness towards the trap of ego and an obsession with her own destiny and impulsive proclivities ever since she began her journey as a leader.

Truly, also, I am confused as to what the Game of Thrones fan base wants. Because it seems if it hadn’t taken this dark turn, fans would have proclaimed that Game of Thrones had gotten “soft” (which I also don’t find to be particularly productive or constructive analysis). What is it that this audience wants? Because I want an honest story and I think this was an honest and accurate and coherent arc and storyline based on everything that has happened thus far.

It seems that everyone is perceiving that she solely went haywire and seemingly “refused to hear the bells” and went postal. But I think the moment where she defies the bells is really quite full and complex – and based on the fact that all trust of anyone and anything has fallen out beneath her feet. It’s a very real and slightly understandable moment from her point of view – in which she feels as though she can trust no one. Why would she trust that Cersei would surrender? I can understand her thinking it’s a trick; it happened far faster than she anticipated and seems unbelievable from her point of view, and she knows Cersei to be full of “traps” and to have nothing behind her word. Also, there aren’t any cell phones or megaphones and I don’t believe that she could actually see that the Lannisters had dropped their swords from her vantage point. So she’s faced with an alarmingly confusing moment to the senses. This moment is filled with and justified by the line of actions leading her to be able to trust no one and believe that Cersei is playing with her, which honestly would be understandable. It’s a result of Cersei’s mercilessness and lying, more than anything else. She never believed or trusted Tyrion in saying that if the bells ring, they’ve surrendered. And to a degree, (in her mindset) rightfully so. In fact, it’s possible she even thinks that Tyrion betrayed her and laid a trap for her in cahoots with Cersei. This moment is primal; filled with adrenaline, rage, grief, and fear – which is why it’s a complex and full and tragic and human moment (honestly probably even historically reminiscent of several real human historical moments). This moment of distrust is traced from every action that has ever happened and everyone who has ever betrayed her, which at this point is quite honestly almost everyone she has ever known. In my mind, it’s a believable and very real, heartbreaking moment.

Jaime Lannister’s character arc is not destroyed – it is completed.

HBO/Game of Thrones

People are complex and complicated and Game of Thrones has always shown that. Jaime was always layered, Jaime always had a profound weakness. And just because he returns to his love doesn’t mean all the other actions he ever made don’t still exist. He remains complicated and human and that is honest to his story and arc. Having Cersei and Jaime’s castle trap them and then fall in on them is beautiful and poetic and perfect.

I loved seeing Cersei vulnerable, it was beautiful and fitting. I don’t think you can chalk these two characters up to solely “good” or “evil” and I think allowing them to be human is very powerful. I do still think Cersei had to witness some truly devastating things for her, eg. the dissolution of her entire legacy, power and everything she held as meaningful; her entire home fall in around her; her soldiers not fight for her; and the true consequences of her choices and how wrong she was. And you get to see her react honestly and vulnerably to it. I didn’t need to see her punished any more than that and I was glad that Jaime got to die in the arms of the woman he loved. A slit through the throat is trite for this woman, and I don’t think it would have carried much satisfaction. And yes, there was something imperfectly perfect that no one ‘gets’ to kill Cersei – there’s something too clean and mundane about simple murder for Cersei. And ultimately, Jaime succumbing to his weakness is both real and tragic; he would have survived if he had stayed in Winterfell, but instead, he too gets crushed by his own folly. Jaime is complex and has always been; giving in to his weakness for his love is both very real and somehow strangely beautiful and tragic. He’s not the classic hero and he shouldn’t be. It seems right that the story is not clean or exactly as you’d imagine and that yes, it is real.

I am also so pleased that they spent so much time showing the actual victims of the world in this battle — no, the world is not clean and yes, the common people are normally the ones who suffer most from the egos of people that want to rule. Game of Thrones shows the futility and horror of violence, lust for power and dominion and that is important. It’s important and on point that we saw this battle from the ground, from those suffering the most. They gave a certain amount of horrific justice to the common people in showing their story and not having it be no consequence violence from the vantage point of those in power only. I think it’s valuable storytelling to see the victims and the consequences of the people on the top playing games for power and how ridiculous and horrific it is to the real people. There are real consequences here – consequences to mercilessness, selfishness, a lust for revenge; and the ridiculousness pride, ego and reactionary emotional responses with no impulse control or vision of the larger picture.

Then you get Cleganebowl.

HBO/Game of Thrones

What everyone always wanted and how could you ask for shots more epic and beautiful? You get the Hound literally enraptured in his lust for revenge, tied to it ultimately until his death. Overcoming his fear of fire for the one thing he cares about more – overcoming the person that laid that trauma within him. You get an eye for an eye – the futility and tragedy of revenge, and ultimately, peace for the traumatized man.

Varys, the Master of Whisperers, comes full circle using his whispers to the attempt to do the right thing. Tyrion, far from “being stupid” is trying to play the game as best he can, while also navigating the very complicated web of interconnected relationships that he has at play. He is not perfect, but he is still trying desperately to reach for the right thing. And Jon is not “doing nothing” but reasonably struck with a variety of complicated feelings involving love, sheer devastation, and exhaustion. He, too, is (consistent to his character) trying to reach towards understanding how to do what’s best for everyone. The man never wanted any of this but still keeps fighting, give the man a break. And narratively, subverting his classic “hero” moments in favor of letting the small, young girl Arya have them is wonderful in this final chapter and also pushes against the cliche of heroism, gender, and expectation in a way that doesn’t feel forced, but honest to both Arya and Jon.

HBO/Game of Thrones

So many viewers also seem to presume that George R.R. Martin would have done differently. First and foremost, he has been involved in this process and with David Benioff and DB Weiss the entire time and he has openly said his ending won’t be that different. Now, he may carry out some specifics differently, and as he has said, smaller character arcs. But in terms of intent – it’s right on the money. The blended moral grey area, the fullness of each human character being full of both good nor bad. George R.R. Martin has always said he’s been inspired by that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn quote “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” This is precisely the kind of story he would write and it has been foreshadowed and crafted to this point since Dany chose to execute Mossador instead of giving mercy and the people of Meereen started hissing at her. She has not shown herself to be a good or competent leader to be able to truly recognize what the population she wants to lead truly needs above her own lust for power.

Dany was never the hero, and, like Cersei, her self-service and self-absorption is her downfall. The show has been showing that humans’ obsession with dominion is unhealthy for years now – and all those that actually, selflessly, have the intention of helping people (not for glory but because it’s right and because they put others before themselves) they are the true heroes. This week displayed humans giving in to their weaknesses – Dany, Jaime, and the Hound alike – which, far from being contrived or unfounded, is incredibly real and honest storytelling. Arcs don’t always go in a straight line, and neither do humans. Stories are complicated and messy, but (at least for me) the thread still follows here.

Lauren Suchenski is on Twitter @laurensuchenski.

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