Last week I drafted this whole open letter to Dany Targaryen about how she is a bad leader with a weak case for the Iron Throne. Fortunately I never published it because she might fly to my house and smote me with fire as I lay innocently in my bed…and then melt the rest of San Francisco.
I really enjoyed watching the second-to-last Game of Thrones episode ever. It was an amazing spectacle. But I don’t enjoy thinking about “The Bells.” So instead of crafting my own column I’m going to pull points from various reviews and work out my thoughts that way.
“Lena Headey has put in the work with every smirk and gallon of Dornish red chugged. Thrones has enough Emmys, but she’s way overdue for one.” – The Ringer
Agreed! But if she wins an Emmy now it will be for her work on the whole series, not season eight. Cersei was on the screen for something like 25 minutes this year. What gives? She was absent from two whole episodes, as if Lena Headey was off filming a movie and couldn’t be bothered. Which I highly doubt.
Cersei’s absence and detached involvement with the battle for her city are an example of how rushed and poorly told this final season has been. Her basic arc went like this:
- Lamented not having elephants
- Slept with Euron
- Watched Kings Landing get burned
lol wut? This is one of the best characters and actors on the show. Why was she sidelined? What possible sense does that make?
“D&D’s trying to cram character development into the “previously on”—with a sound collage of people talking about Targaryens overlaid on the footage of Dany watching Missandei’s death—because they ran out of time to convey her inner turmoil in a more organic way.” – Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer
Agreed! Something felt immediately off with the episode when that aired. Like hey, that wasn’t actually previously on Game of Thrones.
Lindbergh is spot-on with his point about how they bungled Dany’s story. Yes, we all know the Targaryens’ unfortunate history with sanity and, also yes, we know Dany has a tendency to burn people. But nothing about her icy relations with Sansa, her anger at Jon, Varys’ betrayal or her growing sense of isolation felt like a foundation for deciding mid-air over Kings Landing that everyone in the city was guilty of denying her the throne, punishable by fiery death.
I don’t think they sold it in the run-up and I definitely do not think they sold the moment. I could have believed it had they shown her taking more and more pleasure from incinerating her opponents during the battle then feeling too consumed by power and rage to resist burning the innocent townsfolk.
But they didn’t. As the writers said afterwards, she decided in that moment. The Red Keep was there for the taking. She could have melted Cersei and taken the throne. Instead she leveled the city. The storytelling to that point in season eight hadn’t earned such a sudden change.
To make things worse, we hardly saw her after that. We saw plenty of Drogo’s belly and bad breath but none of Dany. A few well-timed shots of the look on her face would have helped sell her descent to madness.
Let’s take a detour to ponder something: Was it ever truly possible for Dany to hold the throne by anything other than fear? Imagine if she had taken out the tower but spared the city. Would the innocents of Kings Landing follow her willingly, as Missandei did, or would they follow her because they saw what happened to mighty Cersei Lannister when she opposed the usurper and her deadly dragons?
My favourite thing about Dany was the way she represented consent of the governed in a world ruled by the divine right of kings. In this ponderous detour, I wonder if maybe Dany bringing that revolution to Westerous was nothing more than a dream.
“Tyrion begs for the lives of the people of King’s Landing, and gets Dany to agree to spare them if they surrender by ringing the city bells. His obsession with saving commoners doesn’t make much sense, but I suppose someone needed to foreshadow Dany’s reign of terror.” – Kelly Lawler, USA Today
Huh? Disagree! Tyrion’s realization that people outside the Red Keep matter was a key part of his character’s evolution and growing skepticism that backing Dany was the right choice.
“I get that the show has been building toward Daenerys becoming the Mad Queen for seasons now — really, I do. In theory, her turn toward villainy really could have worked. But in practice, its execution was sloppy and rushed, a microcosm of what’s felt wrong with much of this final season. – Zack Beauchamp, Vox
Agreed! Zack succinctly summarizes all my thoughts in three sentences. Probably why he works for Vox and I’m pounding this out at 10:30 on a Tuesday night.
“Qyburn’s demise, in particular, was so, so satisfying, and somehow managed to really emphasize how much he always looked like a man shuffling down a hospital hallway in an open-backed hospital gown.” – The Ringer
Agreed! It’s fun to watch unlikeable weasels die. Remember when Dharma Phil took that rebar to the chest?
“After being ineffectual at the Battle of Winterfell and against the Iron Fleet, Drogon has suddenly become a weapon of mass destruction that no scorpion crossbow can hit.” – Lawler, USA Today
Disagree! Yes, three incredibly unlikely shots took out a dragon the week before but did you not see Dany using the sun as cover, and skimming across the water so the crossbows couldn’t aim low enough to hit her? Pretty clever, I thought. One of Dany’s few recent tactical wins.
“It’s easy enough to imagine a climax to “The Bells” where Dany flew to the Red Keep, saw Cersei surrounded by innocents, and decided to burn them all anyway.” – Zack from Vox again
Agreed! My first thought during the episode was “This is what it finally took for Jon to want to be king.” Not because he yearned to rule but because he had to prevent Dany from doing it. Had things gone the way Zack suggests, Jon would have had a much more difficult moral decision that (if done right, and realizing that’s a big if with this show right now) would have been fun to watch and fun for viewers to debate.
The behind-the-scenes schemers and string-pullers who shaped the show have fallen on hard times in recent seasons, as Benioff and Weiss have run out of Martin’s source material, forcing them to take on more of the burden of plotting and scripting the show — and bringing their own blunter tastes and interests to the fore. […] In Benioff and Weiss’ hands, the schemers have all come to bad endings. Tyrion Lannister, once the tactical genius of the Battle of Blackwater and the show’s quippiest character, has been in a two-season slump where he can’t seem to make a single good decision. Littlefinger fell into an obvious trap and got his throat cut. Melisandre gave up her life the second the battle with the Night King was over. Even Bran Stark, hailed as the living memory of humanity, has notably failed to offer up much from that memory that’s useful in shaping the current series of conflicts.- Tasha Robinson, The Verge
Agree so hard! Seasons seven and eight have proven that D&D are great at adapting books to television and terrible at telling the story on their own. There’s no doubt Game of Thrones right now is an incredible television achievement. The scope is unbelievable. But the minds behind the storytelling have been exposed, for the worse.
Lastly, I do not and never have cared about Clegane Bowl.