Funny enough, I actually liked this episode. Once again, as has been the pattern throughout this season of Game of Thrones, there was a divide on the internet caused by the differing receptions to it as soon as the episode, The Bells, was over. Maybe it’s not that I actually liked the episode, but rather, I’m mostly indifferent at this point because we should have all seen this coming over the last two years (disclaimer: I did).
At this point, Benioff and Weiss might be the most infamous show-runners of all-time. They’ve been talked about more than the actual show over the last 5 weeks. We’ve heard all the buzzwords by now; pacing, feels rushed, not enough time, etc. It’s hard not to acknowledge these things after each episode when we consider how the show moves from plot point to plot point ignoring the character evolution that we’ve come to expect from it in the past. More and more I’ve felt that the threat of the White Walkers and the Battle of Winterfell that took place in The Long Night deserved its own season. After The Bells, I’m fully convinced because this WAS a show that had always needed to let things breathe.
Over the last two years, it’s felt like D&D knew the plot points that they definitely wanted to hit, however, it’s felt in each episode like they’re working backwards towards to see how they could connect the next plot point to the previous one. It’s why people were confused last week about the deaths of Missandei and Rhaegal and why they felt so cheap, yet it was just what the creators needed to justify Daenerys’s decision to “rule with fear” and violence. The roots for this specific change in character have been sown since Season 1, yet I can understand how many people can say that her decision to turn King’s Landing and its inhabitants to ash came out of nowhere.
While many (myself included) had waited on the turn of Dany into the “Mad Queen”, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t actually acknowledge the steps that it took for her to get to this position. At the end of Season 6, Dany was on her way to Westeros with her army and her newly-forged alliances. An insurmountable force comprised of Dothraki hordes, Unsullied soldiers, the Tyrells, Martells, and Greyjoys, her three dragons and the best royal advisers left in the world in Missandei, Tyrion and Varys. By the end of last week’s episode, these forces had been severely depleted. A previous iteration of the show would have allowed us the time to see how each of these losses affected Dany and a much better show would have been more subtle in the journey that she would take to reach the destination we’re at before the series finale. Where Cersei lost two children, her father and her lover (at the time) over the course of several seasons which culminated in her blowing up the sept, its inhabitants and part of King’s Landing, we see Dany go from someone who wants to be a benevolent queen to burning all her subjects in literally one episode.
The show-runners hit all the character endings that they wanted to but there is much to be desired about the journey to get there. The episode could have benefited more from time spent with Arya and The Hound discussing the philosophies of revenge and its effect on those who seek them. While both their arcs progressed more satisfyingly than others in this episode, the last conversation between them would have had more of an impact as they separated for the final time. The same goes for Jamie, whose motives were hard to understand all the way up till he saw Cersei again. While it does make sense for his character’s plot to end the way it did, with the sister/lover who he came into the world with, the pacing makes the interactions that he had with Brienne in the last three episodes feel cheapened considering their history together as well.
I could go on about what felt wrong about the episode but that’s ultimately a pointless exercise. The final scenes of the episode set us up for the series finale with stunning visuals through the point-of-views from Jon, Arya and Tyrion who must now come to terms with the idea that the queen who’d fought for the lives of the realm has become the tyrant that she always abhorred. The cracks in the show’s foundation become more present with each episode and while many of us are still excited to know how this great epic ends, I can honestly say that it will be coupled with relief.