“And I looked up and beheld a pale horse. And it’s rider’s name was Death”. Revelations 6:8
Fire and Blood, Ash and Carnage. I’ve speculated for years that the endgame of Daenerys Targaryen would involve destruction and tragedy, but even I was not prepared for the utter carnage that was unleashed in this episode.
‘The Bells’ begins with Lord Varys, the old Master of Whisperers, writing letters regarding Jon’s true identity. One of his little birds tells him Daenerys isn’t eating. The implication of poison is clear, but no doubt he’s sending out the letters to just in case he gets caught.
He visits Jon on the beach of Dragonstone and tries to persuade him to take the throne. Jon is having none of it, Tyrion overhears and reports Varys to Dany.
She looks haggard and broken. Dragonstone doesn’t seem to do much for the mental health of the person living there, as poor Stannis could no doubt attest, but she’s also looking broken as a result of last week’s losses.
She has Varys summoned onto the beach with her advisors. Tyrion and he share a touching moment of goodbye. “I hope I deserve this”, the Spider says. It’s a wonderful line of the sort he’s had too few opportunities to say lately. Then it’s all over. Rest in Peace Lord Varys, you were too good a proto-democrat for this world. That image of Drogon leering out from the darkness will haunt the nightmares of a generation.
Tyrion begs Dany to show restraint in King’s Landing. She argues that the mercy she’s showing is saving future generations from tyranny. Tyrion rightfully points out that there’s a generation already living there who won’t care about that if she immolates them, and that they’re innocents not enemies. She seems to agree to spare the city if the bells ring for surrender. She also tells Tyrion Jaime has been captured by her forces and threatens him that his next mistake will be his last. I almost agree with her here, Tyrion has been shockingly bad at this job since he got it.
In a touching goodbye, Tyrion frees his sibling to give him the chance to find Cersei and get her out of the city alive so they can leave the Seven Kingdoms, and asks him to try and ring the bells for surrender to avoid bloodshed. Again, he seems to completely ignore Dany’s instructions and more or less committed the same treason he just ratted out his dear friend Varys for. What was the point of that you selfish devil? It’s official. Tyrion is a moron who should’ve seen it coming.
Jon claims he loves Dany when she’s having her ‘nobody loves me’ whine but he won’t have any of the sexy time. She takes that as the truth of his feelings and claims it’ll be fear if it can’t be love. What did you think that means Jon?
In the capital, the Iron Fleet assembles in Blackwater Bay and the Golden Company outside the walls. Apparently, nobody seems to remember the purpose of walls in these circumstances. You’re supposed to build them so your soldiers can stand behind them. No matter.
Dany repeats the move of her ancestor Aegon the Conqueror in the burning of Harrenhal with Balerion the Dread, flying high above the clouds and suddenly swooping down upon them. She burns most of the Iron Fleet, then the scorpions on the walls, and then breaks open the gates and buries most of the Golden Company, who proved utterly pointless. Rest In Peace Harry Strickland you handsome devil, we hardly knew you.
Nevertheless, her troops burst through the gate and she destroys the scorpions. Mostly military targets. Eventually, Jon and Davos fight their way to the Lannister Army with the Unsullied and a few Dothraki (don’t ask how they’re still alive). The Lannisters eventually drop their swords on the ground as Drogon perches menacingly on the walls. Cersei’s convinced the city will fight on. Jaime sneaks into King’s Landing right behind Arya and the Hound, on their respective missions of vengeance. Only the two killers manage to get into the Keep before the gate shuts, leaving Jaime to try and find another route.
The bells ring. It’s surrender, Danerys has won as Tyrion and she had agreed… But she stares at the Red Keep and takes flight over the city.
And it begins. She doesn’t burn the keep, she burns the city, the surrendered city. Countless civilians are immolated. Men, women and children, Grey Worm spears a fleeing Lannister soldier who’d already surrendered, starting the fight back up again. Jon stands there like a stunned mullet. It’s official, Jon is a moron and he and Tyrion both had the chance to prevent this. Too late now. Thousands burn alive, surrendered troops and innocents alike as Jon tries to stop the slaughter, having to murder a couple of his own troops and officers along the way. Dany has unleashed total hell. The wildfire caches left over from her father’s era light up as well. The symbolism is clear and pointed for even the most stupid viewer to pick out. Do Not Cheer For This.
Qyburn and Zombie Mountain persuade Cersei that the Red Keep can’t hold and that she’d better leave for the tunnels. Meanwhile, Jaime finds another route in but Euron is waiting for him, apparently the only survivor of the Iron Fleet (the one you always hope dies is the one of course). No matter, they fight and stab each other, with Jaime killing another King and Euron claiming he killed Jaime Lannister. Jaime staggers away as one of the worst adapted characters from the books dies on the shore alone. Good riddance.
Dany is slaughtering innocents by the thousands, Jon and Tyrion look shocked, Shocked! (What they thought was going to happen is a question they apparently don’t bother pondering). Sandor and Arya make it in, but the Hound tells her to stop and leave, saying that Cersei will die anyway but Arya will die too if she goes with him. He desperately begs her to turn back so as not to be like him. This is what I wanted from The Hound, no more false bravado or smarmy cynicism, he’s speaking purely from the heart here and it’s wonderful. He loves her as much as he’s capable of it, and doesn’t want her to die, she agrees to leave but thanks him for everything. Rory McCann and Maisie Williams crushed this scene and melted what remains of my black cynical heart. If I wore a hat, it would be off to both of them.
Arya flees into the streets and encounters the slaughter first hand. What I love about this sequence is for the first time we see none of it from Dany’s perspective. No longer do we view her penchant for extreme violence through her own self-righteousness, now it’s about the people she’s butchering in the thousands. The fire, blood, terror and ash. We’re there through all of it, running with Arya and the crowd. It’s one of the most harrowing, horrifying scenes on television, recalling as it does the vivid fall off buildings and fleeing of terrified people on 9/11. But this is much, much larger in scale. I’ve criticised the show for pulling punches on Dany’s extreme violence before and not showing the effects on those who get in her way, but holy cow they did it here! It’s a horror sequence, but one you cannot look away from. Nobody who still liked Dany or believed in her cause prior to this episode can honestly look me in the eye and say they still do after watching this sequence. To say otherwise is to miss the point. This is the cost, and these are the people hurt by the power game. It comes up again and again that the innocent suffers most from war, but the show did what it hasn’t done so far and SHOWED the costs of Dany’s self-righteous anger and penchant for destruction. It shocked even I, the cynic most sceptical of the Dragon Queen’s motivations. They went further than I ever thought, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like watching the sequence as someone who has has been rooting for her so far.
It’s on. CleganeBowl doesn’t disappoint as Zombie Gregor crushes Qyburn’s head when he tries to restrain him (bye bye Dr Frankenstein), and the fight is on. This is one of the greatest fight sequences the show has had. Sandor knocks off his brother’s helmet. “There you are, what you’ve always been”. Gregor now looks the monster he always was. The Hound stabs him several hundred times while Gregor Oberyn’s his brother against the wall. The Hound, now blind with pain and laughing maniacally ends it the only way it can end. Crashing into his brother and diving through the weakened wall, both tumble to their deaths in the fiery inferno below. Valar Morghulis.
Jon and Davos retreat their soldiers from the city before Dany has a chance to kill them too (fuck Grey Worm, seriously, the guy’s a war criminal now). Cersei is found by Jaime and he tries to get her out through the passages. Arya has about fifteen buildings fall on her but is still alive. She directs the refugees to safety only to see them immolated by dragon fire…
Cersei and Jaime arrive in the tunnels to a blocked entrance. Cersei begs, she doesn’t want to die and wants her child to live. Jaime says nothing matters but them. The twins of Tywin Lannister leave the world as they began it. Together. I have a love-hate relationship with this scene, on the one hand, Jaime’s entire redemption arc of moving away from Cersei and becoming his own person is utterly squandered by this idiocy. On the other hand, the scene is touching, moving and genuinely heartfelt. It’s a measure of Lena Headey’s talent that you can feel anything at all for this vile monster on the screen, let alone the pity and sympathy that pours out of it. Tears in my eyes as the rubble crumbles and buries them alive. Both performers were utterly captivating in those two roles. Nickolai Coster-Waldeau richly deserves the Emmy he never got for this performance (rectify that crime Emmys, immediately).
Arya emerges into the light, bloodied, bruised and dirt sodden, but alive. A pale white horse bloodstained and battered is on the street. She touches it tenderly and rides it out. Death rides a pale horse, and Arya is the embodiment of death. While she’s not the psycho killer anymore, I suspect she’s got one new name on her list after living through that hell. (The pale horse is apparently not a dream sequence, as she is seen alive in the preview, so good news!). But the symbolism of Arya being the harbinger of Death is biblical in origin. Little heavy-handed but clear enough in meaning.
This episode was great. Harrowing, horrifying, atrocious and spellbinding all at once. We lost some of our oldest characters to the fire. I think it’s safe to say that thus ends the reign of House Targaryen. Dany crossed her last Rubicon this week. There’s no going back now, she won, but at a cost so monstrous she might as well not have. None of her advisors, save Grey Worm, are with her now (screw him, he can die too), and they’ll turn on her now if they haven’t already. All that remains is to decide who strikes the blow that ends the reign of the Mad Targaryen.
Like many would-be revolutionaries, the self-righteous violence of Daenerys Targaryen ends in blood and destruction, as she tears down what she tries to save. Her intentions were, and no doubt remain, good. But that doesn’t matter to the charred bones that were once a city full of people. Aerys the Mad wishes he could have done the damage his daughter has just done. All that’s left for Dany is to sit and wait to die so someone else can take away from her the hollow prize that she’s now won. I can see why Emilia Clarke was devastated by this ending for her, but it was always coming. I wonder if Jon (that idiot) and Tyrion (that other idiot) will be called out on their part in the atrocity. It was Dany who committed the vile evil, but they were the good men who stood by and allowed her to do it. If Jon wins the throne after this I’ll be annoyed. He doesn’t deserve it now, nobody does, melt the thing down for scrap for all I care. I warned last week that the finale might be ultimately a lecture on the price and folly of the single-minded pursuit of absolute power. I hate to be proven right about most of what this episode entailed, but I was. Thus ends the reign of the Targaryen Dynasty. Nobody shall miss it.
So tune into GOT’s last episode next week friends, and dim your lights as we welcome Daenerys Targaryen to her doom.
Game of Thrones – Influencer Outreach Box by C.C. Chapman available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.