This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.
In the second-to-last episode of the series, we’ve reached what will almost certainly be the show’s final battle. Dany and her forces are preparing to attack King’s Landing, and the Lannister/Ironborn/Golden Company side are set up to defend. Arya and the Hound are on their way to kill Cersei and Gregor, respectively. Tyrion and Varys are worried about Dany’s increasing unhingedness. Cersei is smirking and drinking wine, as usual. Euron’s fleet is out in the bay.
Dany, meanwhile, has lost patience with Tyrion’s reasons not to attack the seat of her only remaining enemy, and wants to assault the city, civilians inside or no. Tyrion persuades her to call off if the city surrenders, which will be signaled by them ringing the sept bells. This was the point at which a feeling of horror started to grow in the pit of my stomach.
You see, I don’t deliberately seek out leaks. However, Game of Thrones isn’t just a show at this point. It’s an entire online ecosystem. Sometimes you pick them up by osmosis. Amongst the leak-adjacent fandom, I had noticed several references to something that had already been nicknamed “bellgate,” and insinuations that Dany hated bells. Because of this, I started bracing myself for something stupid to happen as soon as Tyrion mentioned bells being important. What’s more, he keeps mentioning it – no fewer than four times according to my notes.
First Dany and Drogon destroy the Ironborn fleet. Yes, all of it, as near as I can tell. This is the same fleet that saw her off with a volley of fire from what the show calls “scorpions” just last episode. These scorpions are on the ships, on the city walls facing the bay, and on the city walls, and Drogon just… destroys them. All of them, as Qyburn later tells Cersei. Then dragonfire goes right through the city’s gate, reducing it to rubble, and dispatches the entire Golden Company.
So that’s the scorpions, the Iron Fleet, and the Golden Company, all gone in roughly six total minutes of screen time by my count. We finally have a sense of what a dragon can do to stone buildings: completely destroy them. Why didn’t Dany do this at the beginning of season seven, when she first arrived in Westeros? I have no idea. She didn’t want to be “Queen of the Ashes,” we’re told, but despite it being repeatedly established that the city is full of smallfolk, Dany has now cut through its defenses like tissue paper with no civilian casualties that we can see. I don’t personally plan on rewatching the show, but I’d be curious to know how people that do get through the entirety of season seven knowing that Dany could have done this at any time, and would have had three times as many dragons to do it with.
With the enemy inside the walls, the Lannister soldiers throw down their swords, and the inhabitants of King’s Landing, noticing that they’re utterly outmatched, ring the bells to surrender. This angers Dany, so she burns down the entire city. I apologize for the abruptness of that sentence. While writing this, I tried out several different ways of describing her actions and the possible reasoning behind them, but all of them implied the presence of complexity that just isn’t anywhere to be found in the source material. Dany is angry, so she burns down the city.
Those that defend the show’s writing sometimes point out that this development or that one has been foreshadowed, or, to use a common term among the fandom, “seeded.” It’s true that the possibility of Dany becoming the “Mad Queen” – just as Aerys was once the “Mad King” – has been referenced going back several seasons. She is a Targaryen, after all. But just because something has been foreshadowed doesn’t excuse bad execution. Dany has lost a dragon before, lost friends before, and been betrayed before, all without committing indiscriminate murder. On the occasions where she did kill lots of people, the show rewarded her for it, as when she somehow gained the loyalty of the Dothraki by killing their khals and burning down an important religious site.
So why Mad Queen Dany now? The most likely reason that I can come up with is that Benioff and Weiss just want the show to be over. If rumors are correct, HBO was willing to do a total of ten seasons of ten episodes each. But I get a palpable sense that the showrunners have lost interest in this story and want to wrap it up as quickly as possible. I know that some that watch this show will buy Dany’s actions in this episode as believable within the context of a consistent character. I’m not one of them. Near as I can tell, the writers wanted us to think that Dany was cool and badass until they wanted us to think she was crazy, and that’s that.
I know there’s a lot that happened in this episode that I haven’t mentioned yet, and I think the best way to do it is character by character.
Varys: Varys believes Jon would be a better ruler than Dany, so he asks Jon to turn on her in plain sight within earshot of several witnesses, including Tyrion, who he knows is still on Dany’s side as of their last conversation. This is the guy they once called the “Master of Whispers,” remember. His comically inept attempt at a coup ends with Drogon burning him into cinders. RIP Varys. May you join Young Griff in book heaven.
Arya: Arya goes to King’s Landing to kill Cersei, making it as far as the Red Keep before the Hound talks her out of it. On several practical levels, this scene didn’t really make sense, but the actors sold it and it ended up kind of working. Arya survives about six different buildings falling on top of her as she escapes the city. At the end, she finds a white horse. This is presented as though it’s some kind of symbolic, important moment, but I have no idea what it was supposed to mean. This show honestly just mystifies me sometimes. At least she didn’t die.
The Hound: We finally get #Cleganebowl. The Hound ends up tackling his brother out of the Red Keep and several hundred feet down into the burning city. It wasn’t bad as fight scenes go, but it was inserted into the story in a way that made it pointless. The Red Keep was going to collapse anyway, and Cersei’s forces were completely defeated, zombie Gregor or no. RIP Sandor. May you forever eat every fucking chicken in the Quiet Isle in the sky.
Qyburn: Zombie Gregor throws him into a wall and kills him. It was so abrupt that it almost seemed like they were playing it for comedy.
Cersei: She ends her run on the show distraught over the imminent death of her unborn child, then there’s a Rocks Fall Everyone Dies on the Lannister twins. Credit to Lena Headey that it’s somewhat affecting, but I’m not sure this show ever bothered trying to understand Cersei. At least she ended up a more consistent character than her brother.
Jaime: I wondered earlier how season seven would hold up under a rewatch knowing how easy King’s Landing would have fallen this whole time. I wonder the same thing about Jaime Lannister’s entire character arc. His development over the last several seasons, his relationship with Brienne, his rejection of his sister and recognition of what she is, his sister literally hiring someone to kill him – all of it thrown into a wood chipper in the second to last episode of the show. Oh yeah, he killed Euron, so that was nice.
Euron: Euron is finally dead, hopefully. We never actually see him die, which makes me nervous. Fingers crossed.
Jon: Jon didn’t really do anything this episode except say things like “she’s my queen” and “I don’t want to be King.” He did stab a bunch of people during the battle. It occurred to me while watching that Kit Harrington probably has the best action scene chops of any of the main characters.
Tyrion: Tyrion walked around and looked sad a lot. Does anyone know that he freed Jaime? He does it the night before the battle, but no one seems to notice or mention it at any point.
On the critical front, the show is experiencing what has become its usual second half of the season backlash. “The Bells” is the first episode to (currently) have a sub-50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Big chunks of Twitter have shifted into full-on hater mode. Of course, we’ve seen this happen before, but this time there won’t be another season to coax the angry part of the fanbase back with promises of boatsex or oathsex or cleganebowl or whatever is was they still wanted to see.
Either way, there’s one last episode to get through. See you next week.
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