With only 2 episodes remaining of Game of Thrones, it seemed clear that episode 5 would be bloody to the bitter end. I have more notes on this episode than any of the previous ones in season 8, so hold on to your Valyrian steel, this might be a bumpy ride.
SPOILERS FOR SEASON 8 AHEAD!
As expected, episode 5 was full of blood. It’s honestly hard to say much about this episode without spoilers, but I can point to some reasons why I feel The Bells continues the trend of unsatisfying conclusions and action. Though a bit more strategy is provided, the bulk of the episode and the battle sequences take place amidst a complete lack of dialogue. It’s hard to root for either side in the conflict when it’s clear that pretty much everyone is going to die no matter what.
The amount of nuance and mystery surrounding certain characters and plot points gets tossed out the Moon Door in this episode. All sub-text becomes regular text. Once again the lengthy run time is unnecessary. Very long scenes of no dialogue and just extended thousand-yard stares occur several times here. It’s tedious and makes it obvious that the desire was to fill 90 minutes for the sake of it. I would love to see an in-depth analysis of the average words of dialogue per episode of the show. So much of the run-time seems to go to repetitive murder and meaningless silence.
SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 5 AHEAD!
From the outset of the episode, one of the major questions of all of Game of Thrones gets its answer. Not from dialogue, or from big character interactions, but from the recap of episode 4. In the last few moments of the recap, we see Daenerys plotting Cersei’s demise and running many thoughts through her head. The people and ideas at the forefront of her mind make it clear that she has lost it. It’s difficult to include moments like this within the episode, but it was such a clear moment of madness. I would have been sad to miss it, if I hadn’t seen that recap. Personally, I have always believed in Dany and it was honestly difficult to watch her make so many poor choices out of fear in this episode.
As war arrived on Cersei’s doorstep, she is still in denial that anyone could actually overtake King’s Landing and the Red Keep. It’s hard to believe she feels so sure of herself, however I also found it hard to believe Tyrion’s certainty that King’s Landing would fall. Episode 4 made it seem fairly simple to kill a dragon, but in Episode 5 it’s basically impossible. In just a few moments Drogon has taken out the Iron Fleet and every long range scorpion defending the city. Dany goes on an absolute rampage burning Cersei’s forces, the innocent people of King’s Landing, and probably a fair number of her own subjects. She decimates the city, but it isn’t clear why because we have to try to discern what she’s thinking based on angry facial expressions.
This same issue also applies to Jaime. In last week’s episode he decided to sleep with Ser Brienne and then leave her, but his motives weren’t 100% clear. This episode clears it all right up. He still cares about Cersei and wants to try to save her or die with her. Honestly, I thought he was past her, and I remain confused and frustrated that his character arc would lead him back to her. What an unsatisfactory end to a brilliant and complex character. If he still felt so deeply for her, he never should have left her side to go north. Jaime also manages to survive multiple stab wounds to the side/lungs for far longer than he should have.
Speaking of logical anomalies. If you pay attention to the fires burning throughout King’s Landing, you’ll see some green explosions. This is unsurprising since the underground is still packed full of wildfire. What is surprising is the fact that those explosions burn themselves out in mere moments! To grab a quote from the Game of Thrones wiki page: “…when ignited, [wildfire] can explode with tremendous force and the resulting fire burns so hot that water cannot extinguish it. Only by smothering the flames with large quantities of sand can they be put out.” The idea that these explosions would not catch and continue burning is just silly. If they needed to include the wildfire, at least follow the rules set down in Season 2.
There are a number of other nit-picky issues with this episode, but so much of it boils down to the fact that none of this suffering is entertaining. Some characters are emotionally unrecognizable from previous seasons, so my connection to them is gone or severely weakened. It feels like the show is taking the shortest possible path to the end, and sacrificing all sense of true dramatic tension and character growth to do it. Even when the soundtrack clearly wants me to feel something as Jaime and Cersei embrace for the last time I just cannot do it. Many deaths in Game of Thrones are meaningless, that’s part of the allure of the series. The characters people miss the most tend to be the ones that gave Westeros hope. I’m not sure there is any hope left for Westeros at this point.
With only 1 episode left to go, it will be interesting to see if any of the loose threads from previous episodes will be tied up. With a 2 hour run time, it stands to reason than every remaining living character could have at least a few minutes of screen time. The true test will be if they have actual dialogue, or if they just emote towards the camera for 5 minutes straight.