WARNING: This article is dark and full of spoilers.
Holy moly. They’ve done it. The doubt was creeping in after a fairly underwhelming fourth episode, so much so that there seemed to be a serious lack of enthusiasm heading into the penultimate episode of Game Of Thrones. But after 10 years surely we should have learned not to doubt this show?
Aptly-named ‘The Bells’, episode five saw fire and blood finally come to King’s Landing, and then some. Here’s a breakdown of the fallout from the Battle of King’s Landing.
Varys was right. RIP Varys
One of the quintessential GoT characters over the years is the Master of Whisperers. Whispering right until his very last day, Varys, despite his sneakiness, has always provided a moral compass for the show. That was no different here as he desperately tried to convince those around him to abandon the Mother of Dragons. The heart-over-head nature of Jon and Tyrion meant Varys was met with a face full of dragon fire. As we know now, they should have listened. The realm will be weaker without the protection of The Spider.
A Genuinely Good Lannister
Few people in Westeros are as pure of heart as the Dwarf of Casterly Rock and, though he failed to foresee the horrors Daenarys would commit, you couldn’t help but feel devastated for Tyrion as he saw the men, women and children he so fiercely tried to protect burnt to a crisp.
His goodness surged throughout this episode, returning the prison-escape favour to Jaime and doing everything in his power to protect his family, the people of King’s Landing and still end up on the victorious side. He aimed for the very best conclusion to the battle but was punished with the very worst. Seeing his reaction to the beginning of Dany’s reign of fire was a powerful beat in the episode, as the man with more to lose on both sides of the battle was about to lose it all.
The Mad Queen
It happened. It’s been happening for a good few seasons now but somehow we were never quite ready for it to happen. The coin landed on the wrong side and Queen Daenarys has now truly earned her title as The Mad Queen.
After the euphoria of seeing Dany’s depleted forces comfortably defeat the enemy – swatting aside the Greyjoy fleet, Lannister army and Golden Company in a brilliant use of Drogon – with relatively little collateral damage, it was so, so painful to see the leader with so much potential for good completely lose it.
It seems right, though. Could anyone who is told from the get-go that they are the rightful heir to a throne end up as anything but a maniacal ruler? Add to that the severe loss she has suffered this season and the power she possesses with Drogon, then it feels inevitable that eventually she would be tipped over the edge.
That she was. And the sheer rage of her hellfire was shocking to see. It was a superb creative decision not to give her a single close-up from the moment she turned. She was represented only by the monstrous dragon in the air, burning all that was living. The one they called Mhysa was now murdering thousands of innocents. And it was all foreshadowed in Bran and Dany’s visions, with one clever Twitter user pointing out that Dany’s vision of a destroyed throne room was not white with snow but ash.
It was ash in her vision!! Not snow!! I just yelled this over the last scene of Thrones and now I’m sharing it with you
— Emily Yoshida (@emilyyoshida) May 13, 2019
Grey Worm’s Rage
Meanwhile down on the ground Dany’s general was having an equally Missandei-driven revenge streak. Mirroring Dany and the battle as a whole, it was initially inspiring to see him cut his way through the Lannister army and, in particular, his killing of Golden Company Captain Harry Strickland was a punch-the-air moment.
However, revenge was the overarching theme of this episode and the message was simple – revenge is bad. Seeing Grey Worm follow his Queen in a bloodthirsty attack on surrendered Lannister troops was both infuriating and sad. Rarely has such a good emotional performance been given in the thick of battle. Props to Jacob Anderson.
Arya’s Life Lesson
There is something extremely pleasing about the fact that Arya has been given so much to do this season and this episode was no different. She snuck into King’s Landing with a sole purpose and, quite frankly, it felt inevitable that she would get her way. It was a complete shock, then, when instead of fuelling her bloodthirst the show chose it as the perfect moment for a huge character moment.
Making her way through the crumbling Red Keep, her long-time companion The Hound delivered the most unexpectedly spot-on message imaginable – don’t end up like me. Like Arya, The Hound’s entire life has been driven and consumed by revenge. So the man whose life has been made miserable by his bitterness prevented the same thing happening to Arya. Considering that has been her entire motivation since Ned’s head was chopped off all those years ago, this is a life-changing moment in her arc.
So sure enough she did leave The Hound to die one more time, but that is exactly what he wanted. She left him with a simple but beautiful parting gift, “Sandor, thank you.” A similar tactic to Bran’s farewell to Theon, the humanising of Clegane was a huge moment for the two.
Perhaps now Arya is done with her list she can begin to move on. Though, since her viewpoint became our eyes amidst the destruction, one would suggest that what she has seen in the capital has given her a new purpose, stop the Dragon Queen.
Ultimately Cersei was not for her to kill, which leaves a certain pair of green eyes yet to be shut, if Melisandre’s prophecy is to be believed. *Googles ‘Emilia Clarke eye colour*
It’s what the fans have all been waiting for and it was well worth the wait. With Sandor having convinced Arya to escape, it was time to take on his big brother. The stakes were made clear early, with Sandor swiftly dispatching several guards and The Mountain killing off Qyburn, the bloody Hand of the Queen, in the briefest of moments.
Even Cersei was not relevant for the two brothers. The Mountain ignores her orders and The Hound doesn’t even blink as the big bad of the entire show walks straight past him. There’s only one thing on their mind.
Seeing more than we ever have of zombie Clegane, it was one last reminder of how much of a creepy genius Qyburn was. The Hound fought admirably but a sword through the chest and a knife through the eye wouldn’t kill him. After Sandor was almost subject to the same skull-crushing fate of Oberyn Martell, he realised there was only one way to defeat his monstrous sibling. He had to do exactly what Gregor had done to him as a child, he pushed him into the fire. Poetic. Justice.
It was a stunning final episode for one of the show’s great supporting characters and one of the most underrated performances, courtesy of Rory McCann. Who could have known that the man who once said “Yarp” in Hot Fuzz could give such a nuanced performance?
Star Crossed Lovers
The ultimate emotional centrepoint of this episode came through a certain incestuous relationship. Jaime’s sole mission, tasked by his brother, was to save Cersei and escape together. After fighting through the streets of King’s Landing and beating Euron (thank God) he was finally reunited with his sister-lover. And what a moment it was.
Cersei, who at this point had gone through arrogance to denial to terror, was stripped down to her most simple state. Her reaction when she first sees Jaime is heartbreaking and what the showrunners do with Cersei in this episode is stunning. When broken down to her weakest she is once more revealed as just a person. Her humanity shines through the entire last act, so much so that all of the audience’s sympathy is towards this “hateful” Queen.
The switcharound between her and Daenarys is a masterstroke and it confirms that knocking off the Night King to deal with the living was absolutely the correct decision. A perfect way to say goodbye to an extraordinary character, Lena Headey has been brilliant with the little screen time she’s had this season, and this phenomenal performance caps off one of the great TV performances.
The same can be said for Jaime and, though some will be disappointed with his ultimate choice, it’s clearly the exact way he should go, in the arms of the woman he loves. Another magnificent performance from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, those Lannisters may be nasty but they really are bloody compelling.
Remembering the Fallen
It was an episode of stunning scale and devastating emotion. Inevitably, amongst all the destruction there was going to be some losses. So let’s spare a moment for those we lost.
Varys – your beautiful bald head will never be forgotten. Keep whispering my sweet prince.
Euron Greyjoy – a fitting way to go. Good riddance. She never even loved you pal.
Qyburn – low-key great character dispatched in seconds. Big respect to this fucked-up genius.
The Mountain – this one’s for Oberyn.
Sandor Clegane – a stunning conclusion to one of the show’s many great arcs. We love you Hound.
Jaime Lannister – It’s wrong in so many ways but it feels so right. A messy, complicated end for a messy, complicated character.
Cersei Lannister – hateful in so many ways but so much humanity. Props to Lena.
Most of King’s Landing – I suppose there was a bit of a population problem anyway…