Television review: “Game of Thrones – Season Eight, Episode Five – “The Bells” (2009-2019)

Fantasy

Six Episodes

Created for HBO by: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

Featuring: Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie

Varys: “I hope I deserve this.”

There can be fewer television shows going today that are more closely watched than “Game of Thrones” (2009-2019), especially as the production has been cloaked in secrecy that has only increased from year to year, this has been magnified by the fact that there has not been a new episode in almost two years. Another reason that there has been so much secrecy is that this eighth season is also the shows last which has only heightened expectation as well as fans and news outlets offering their own theories about how it will all end, who will live, who will die and what will be the fate of the seven kingdoms of the fictional Westeros. 

“Game of Thrones” (after a reportedly terrible pilot) has introduced new actors as well as directors and writers while at the same time blending them with more experienced and veteran talent which ten years felt refreshing but now in this final season it could be said that the entire cast (those that are left) are all now strong veterans who are on a victory lap of sorts no matter how the plot unfolds and resolves itself. 

This weeks episode titled “Queens of the ashes” follows on from the death of Missandei outside the gates Kings Landing where a week has past, things have not really improved for anyone with Daenerys going down a spiral I fear will lead to some very bad decisions. I for one am a little disappointed that we are seeing this once great character reduced to a mindless caricature that has taken the place of the Knight King and will soon it seems replace Cersei as the big bad of the series. In all honesty it seems a waste of a narrative arc, not only that but within the story it is like many elements this season happening far to fast, it does not seem earned which is a result of not only a shortened season but I feel fatigue on the part of all those behind this show.

There are many elements of this episode that are outstanding, first and foremost are the performances of everyone involved, I have the feeling that with only a short time left that the actors have understood what is required to make this last season something special, acting wise anyway. As usual Peter Dinklage leads the cast with some very canny acting, especially opposite Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who always makes a great scene partner. It is great to see Lena Heady in full force and we see for only the third or fourth time, fear and chink in her emotional armor. However the entire episode seems to belong to Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington as one wrestles with his choices and the other seems to have already made a fateful decision that will propel us into the last episode where the body count will increase at least by a couple of our main characters.

Of course “Game of Thrones” has been known not only for its action but also for the machinations of all the characters as well as their motivations in either ascending to the throne or helping others in their quest for the iron chair. This week however is like the previous battle episode all about spectacle as well as following the characters in very different locations. The effects work, especially the dragon is nothing short of breath taking as is the stunt work and other on-screen effects, if you like battles then this is one for the ages. We have over the years seen the dragons in battle but never like this episode it is a truly frightening moment when Daenerys and Drogon enter the fray and start to destroy all her enemies from above, one can only think this must have been what it was like when the Targarayans first came to Westeros, but far worse as they had more dragons.

Speaking of Daenerys it is not difficult to see the cracks that were forming in her psyche, her pain written all over her face, now turned to anger much like her brother and father before her, The only questions that remain are will someone have to either stand up to her or even take her down? Who will that person be, and how will her armies and her dragon react to that? It would be easy at this stage to say it would be Jon as the opposing force but I believe that Torman has hinted at Jon’s future in his farewell to him, I believe that if Jon were to survive he may end up in the very North with people he feels at home with.

I am not going to spoil this episode too much but there are segments that are great to see, the farewell between Arya and the hound, Jon realizing who is Queen really is, Tyrion also realising he has backed the wrong person and that much of the loss of life within Kings Landing is not only on his Queen but him as well. In fact Jon and Tyrion both will have to reckon with their decisions in this episode, and next week will have to reckon with Sansa who has proven she may indeed know more than anyone else in the story so far.

This is not perfect television but the difficulty factor on “Game of Thrones” is extremely high especially with only this episode and one more remaining. The weaknesses remain especially those involving logic as well as character decision making which sometimes is infuriating. Not only that but the jumps in narrative over the past two series have been frustrating in that many characters have to change from one scene to the next just to make sure the plot moves along at a pace so that the entire eight seasons can be wrapped up. What does that mean as a viewer, well it simply means that motivations do not make sense in the short term, unlike the long term if say this season was eight or ten episodes.

Looking forward it is difficult to know how the last episode will play out, especially now with many of the arch characters now dead. Obviously Arya will still have a major part to play, after that she has seen on the ground in Kings Landing, while she may not kill anyone I think she will assist Jon with what is to come. I do not think it is a reach to expect that there are going to be some major upheavals in the last episode, in fact I could see a sort of Civil War (although a very limited small one) occurring where Daenerys will end up on the throne but only briefly where her sins of the past will catch up, much like many of the characters this season, however she may say that price for the right reason.

Episode Five: “The bells”

Written & directed by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

Daenerys grieves while Tyrion has his concerns. Cersei and Euron brace themselves for the imminent battle. Jon and Davos observe the Dothraki and Unsullied as they muster before the Golden Company at the gates of King’s Landing.

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