Reply All: A Game of Thrones Email Exchange — “The Bells”

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NICK: She went mad, Keith. It’s been in the works for quite some time, and now we know where the coin has flipped. Yes, she’s burned places and buildings in the past, but it wasn’t thousands of innocent civilians. Literally everyone close to her is dead or betraying her trust except for Grey Worm, who is just following his queen’s lead at this point. She had the city. Swords were thrown down and the bells were ringing that sweet song of surrender. But it wasn’t enough. If the citizens of King’s Landing didn’t love her, they would fear her. Let it be fear. 

Ripping Cersei out—root and stem, as Dany previously put it—was the ultimate goal for Dany this episode. She didn’t go for Cersei first and foremost. She let Cersei watch as Drogon dracarys’d his way through King’s Landing, winding slowly and maniacally closer to the Red Keep. She tested the limits of Dany’s resolve, and the newly minted Mad Queen threw resolve to the wind. 

On the plus side, we got the long awaited CleganeBowl. Sandor vs. Gregor. The Hound vs. The Mountain. Two brothers whose hatred goes back to when they were kids and one stole the other’s toy and paid for it with a flame to the face. We knew this was the end of the line for one, if not both.

Give me your take on the penultimate episode. While you’re doing that, I’m going to try and clean the ashes and smell of burnt flesh out of my clothes.

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KEITH: It’s the hottest take, but only because there’s literally nothing not on fire.

If we were to take “The Bells” as a standalone episode, it would stand as one of the series’ best. The tension present throughout “The Long Night” was ramped up a thousandfold due to better pacing, a greater level of consequence, and better visuals. Simply put, this was a spectacle to behold, and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting through it.

That said, as a part of the greater story of Westeros, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I know we’ve been hinting toward Mad Queen Daenerys for a little while, but it feels to me like this was something rushed. This is, after all, the same woman literally raised up and carried by the citizens of Meereen after liberating them from slavery, and squaring that image with the one of her ripping through King’s Landing is somewhat difficult. Maybe I’m just writing my own version of the character in my head here—it’s been clear for most of the series that she has the capacity for brutality—but the shift from Savior Queen to Mad Queen seemed abrupt.

On the other hand, the CleganeBowl was something we’ve all been looking forward to for years and it paid off in spades. Seeing Thrones’ two heaviest hitters going at it was glorious to behold, and was a reminder of just how fearsome a fighter The Hound is. Heck, if it weren’t for the fact that his brother was a pseudo-undead killing machine, he even would have won. But of course, that was never how Sandor Clegane’s story was going to end, and he knew it. That final moment that he has with Arya stands as one of my favorites from the episode.

Speaking of Arya, how did you feel about her journey into and back out of King’s Landing?

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NICK: I said this in our Slack and I’ll say it again: this episode confirmed for me that Arya is the only character I truly care about at this point. This entire season, she’s been the one I paid most attention to and the one who is never in a bad scene. Her and the Hound—sorry, Sandor—barely sneaking into the Red Keep as the gates closed and their journey culminating on the map of the world she’s traveled was also one of my favorite moments of an episode with few favorite moments. Sandor knows what he’s about to do and that his need for vengeance will kill him. His warning to Arya reveals the path she’s on, but she has time to deter as he tries to scare her straight. As the crumbling walls of the Red Keep tumble around them, Arya’s eyes are opened to her potential future and opts to not chase after Cersei. 

Her ensuing struggle to exit the falling city was tense, to say the least. I’m not positive, and I’ll check when I re-watch the episode, but I’m pretty sure the woman and child who helped Arya—and vice versa—were also the two who lost their spot in line to get into the Red Keep as The Hound and Arya snuck in. As Dany continues to make passes with Drogon, we see the struggle Arya faces to stay alive. Everyone scrambling for their lives; pushing, shoving, stampeding anyone and everyone along the way. Dragon fire blasts away buildings, knocking Arya around like a rag doll. The tie-in between Arya and Sandor during this sequence was beautifully done, by the way, and further cement the two characters together, if only for a short while longer. 

Let’s go back to the beginning real quick. Varys, the man who served the realm, made a decision and stuck with it. His parting words to his longtime friend who turned him in were gentle and hopeful. Unfortunately, Varys’s hunch in Dany proved correct. What do you make of the betrayals of Varys and—by Dany’s processing—Jon and Tyrion?

KEITH: As with everything else, I can’t help but break this into two. While I loved the final moments between Tyrion and Varys—Tyrion bidding farewell to his closest friend, the one man who recognized everything that he had done for King’s Landing, was a really emotional experience. You could feel the weight that he’s experiencing as he croaks “It was me.” And then for Varys to offer his one last hope that he’s been wrong about Daenerys only to be proven right in the final act of the episode—that was excellent.

Everything leading up to this is a different story, although it is pretty much the same story that we’ve been telling about these final two seasons. I have no problem with Varys betraying Dany, and I have no problem with his execution. But it wasn’t earned. It was like, after all of five minutes of contemplation, one of the smartest men in all of the Seven Kingdoms decided to brazenly shoot his shot in full view of the Mother of Dragons. How are we supposed to believe that the former Master of Whispers has lost all of his subtlety? It just doesn’t work.

Of course, Dany blames all of this not on Varys—not even on Tyrion for telling Varys—but on Jon. What did you make of how she read into Jon’s actions? And what the heck is going on with young Aeg-Jon anyway? Once the most interesting and central character in the narrative, he’s become something else entirely. What are your thoughts?

Image Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

NICK: You hit on something with Jon that I’ve started to notice over the last few episodes. Aeg-Jon is starting to feel like he’s being pushed out as the lead. In the past, you could argue that there have been multiple “it” characters, many of whom have since met their demise. But as the story works towards its close, my attention has turned toward a handful of people who aren’t the Rightful Heir To The Throne. Perhaps it was the Battle of Winterfell when Jon wasn’t given the FINISH HIM! lights against the Night King. Perhaps it’s when he told his siblings-cousins his truth, and the burden of that secret was no longer his alone. Perhaps it’s when his relationship with Dany started to crack. Regardless, he still has a part to play, whether it involves life or death in some fashion. 

Dany begged Jon not to tell his sisters; that it would drive the two apart. Jon wants everyone to be one big happy family and hang out on the weekends and eat barbecue by chef Drogon while throwing back some ale. Dany is more  realistic. She knows Sansa and Arya don’t like her, and Jon revealing his truth to them will only drive a wedge in the foundation between her and her nephew. Once Sansa passed word to Tyrion, the whisper naturally found its master as Varys made his push to remove Dany from power. We all know how that turned out for him. 

I can’t believe it’s taken us this long, but…JAIME AND CERSEI ARE DEAD! Crushed beneath tumbling rocks in the basement, the twins who entered this world together have now left this world together. In the short walk from her room to the first floor, Cersei’s entourage is decimated. Sandor wipes out three of her poorly trained Kingsguard, and her own zombie pet kills her Hand—and his creator—in one quick motion before abandoning Cersei to fend for herself. She literally has no one left before Jaime arrives in an attempt to save her before their way out is blocked. I, like many people, expected a different type of death for Cersei, but I was surprisingly okay with it. In their final breath, Jaime reminds Cersei that nothing else matters. It’s strangely poetic, given how vastly different the arcs between the two have been. 

What are your thoughts on the death of the Lannister twins? Does Tyrion deserve a pat on the back for being the last living Lannister?

Image Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

KEITH: I just… I just don’t know anymore. Am I glad that Cersei’s gone? Sure, I suppose. But after having the rug pulled out from under us with the Night King, watching the game’s best player and (until this week) Westeros’s biggest monster go out in a big semi-romantic fashion wasn’t as satisfying as I’d thought it would be. But then again, nothing about this season has been especially satisfying.

I think what really got me about this isn’t the fact that she’s buried under a pile of rubble, literally watching all of her machinations crumble around her, but it was the fact that she died in Jaime’s arms. Seeing Jaime abandon all of his personal growth for Cersei’s sake has been one of the most disheartening aspects of four (because “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” ruled) disheartening episodes of Game of Thrones. I’d have rather seen Euron actually be the man who killed Jaime Lannister and would have been plenty happy with Cersei dying alone in the dungeons. But no.

A second thing that irked me about her death is the fact that she brought up her pregnancy. For all my insistence that it was never really real, that it was all a clever ploy to manipulate those around her, it just didn’t matter. There was no payoff; only death. The one reason that Tyrion had for trusting his sister, which drove Jaime north and continued Dany’s distrust of her Hand, just didn’t matter.

And as much as I’m interested in seeing what happens with Tyrion and Jon and Sansa and Arya, I’m more excited to just see it end. These final two seasons have been a stunning trainwreck of a three-year process and I’m just looking forward to things coming to a close. Maybe I’ll finally read the books. Maybe Martin will finally finish them. Ultimately, who cares.

So, with the series finale looming, are you excited? Relieved? Depressed? Furious? Melancholic?

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NICK: I’m optimistically excited more so for Sansa and Arya as you just mentioned. It’s weird that the writing has taken my focus and care away from the two longtime leads as they come to a head and instead diverts my emotions more towards the two sisters. I can’t tell if this show has made me a better or worse viewer of television.

Was Arya’s ride out of King’s Landing a sign? Does it represent the pale mare that Dany was warned of in Qarth, a symbol of Death? I’m curious if this is an overt foreshadow for Arya’s next victim or just one of many red herrings that we fans look into too closely?

Regardless of how it ends, I feel relieved that it’s here. As we’ve made many mentions to both here and on Thrones Time, the last few seasons have been rough by previous season’s standards. If Benioff and Weiss are going to rush the end, then so be it. I’ve accepted it and I’m ready for it. The rock and mortar that is the Game of Thrones stronghold are crumbling, so here’s hoping it goes out with a bang.

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Nick Hershey

The author Nick Hershey

Nick was born and raised in Amish country, has a beard, but isn’t Amish. He’s a fan of winter as long as he’s at the top of a mountain with a board under his feet. He’s an avid sports fan, movie junkie, tv bum, and music enthusiast who still purchases CDs for some reason.