Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5 Deconstructed

ATM’s GOT Guru (#GOTGuru) examines and provides context to the rise of the Mad Queen and the fall of King’s Landing in a deconstruction of the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, “The Bells”… 

by: Geoffrey Golia (#GOTGuru) and Michael Shields

MCS: “My sense is she will be persuaded, one way or another, to take a more prudent course. But she also may just light the motherfucker up…” — GOTGuru (Season 8, Episode 4 Deconstructed)

Light the motherfucker up indeed!!

I know I am supposed to start with the Mad Queen’s actions, but I am not a “supposed to” sort of guy. I want to talk about Varys to commence (who was trying to poison Dany as per the first scene of the episode, he knew what was coming!). His journey has been so compelling and wholly fascinating throughout this series, particularly the period of time when he was forced to flee King’s Landing and spent a great deal of time in conversation with Tyrion (poor guy had to so say good-bye to his best friend and his beloved brother in this episode…). “The Bells” led with Varys, a man who has “known more kings and queens than any man living” pleading with Jon to take what is rightfully his, and to stop Dany from doing what it is clear to many she is about to do (the aforementioned lighting up). I appreciated the focus on Varys in this episode’s dawn, and his foresight and righteousness. In the wake of his death by Drogon fire, can you tell us some about “the Spider,” and his sensibilities and purpose throughout the series and the books?

GG: I did wonder, in our last conversation, why Tyrion didn’t have Varys detained for his seditious plotting. It seemed to me like he walked right up to the line, and then crossed it. This week, we find Varys alive, in a lovely solar, blatantly plotting the murder of Queen Daenerys and, subsequently, being brought to justice. At this point, his apprehensions were merely theoretical but the eunuch had a feeling, and he turned out to be right, if posthumously.

Apropos to the question, the character of Varys is, to some extent, more developed in the show than in the books. Also, the show brings Varys to far flung locations (Slaver’s Bay! Mereen!) whereas in the books we lose Varys for a while after he helps Tyrion escape after Joffrey’s death. He only emerges at the very end of the most recent book,still in King’s Landing this whole time, aiding in the murder of a pretty important character at an pivotal moment in the series.

The show is also pretty unambiguous about Varys’ values and prerogatives — he is all about the realm, the realm is bae, everyday he writes the bo-ok…about the realm. While in the books, we have a sense of Varys’ priorities, in the series there is just not the same, clear exposition. He is far more mysterious, and we remain unsure of his true allegiance. It seems to me that the show martyrs Varys, and makes him into the embodiment of “the realm” — a realm which is not safe with Daenerys. The books are less aggrandizing. Varys may have empathic sensibilities, but he does not sell himself as the moral compass of Westeros. But to me these two characters play very different roles, ultimately.

MCS: Jamie, as it turns out, was traveling back to be with / rescue Cersei, his one true love. And Dany’s rage (I assure you, we will get to that!) forced viewers to once again sympathize (“shame”) with the villainous queen some. This is an aspect of Game of Thrones that I am in awe of, and one of the reasons I love the series so much, the way they play with viewers (and readers) loyalties. It feels apropos to me that Martin, Weiss, and Beinhoff decided to give Jaime and Cersei an ending together in many ways, and one where many of us, felt pained by their loss (possibly this was just me!)? Did “the stupidest Lannister” and Cersei get the ending they deserved as she begged for mercy and the walls caved in on them both?

GG: Foolish! I think any emotional argument that can be made in favor of Jaime and Cersei’s fate crumbles in light of facts and strategy. And this has implications for both David and DB, and the decision they made to have Dany burn it all down. I’m not a “strategic commentator,” as I’m more into the deconstruction, the psychological element, and the nudity — also, I lack any military or strategic acumen or experience — but even I know that you have to capture your rival, and try and execute them in a public and transparent way in order to secure your throne. Fire and blood is not a strategy for legitimizing your claim with the small folk — you have to show your rival is out of the picture. That is what I believe is so frustrating to many about Dany’s genocidal rampage: she lost all the “hearts and minds” but also failed to publicly dethrone her rival. Cersei is dead and buried under the rubble of the Red Keep, along with Jaime, who really let us all down, am I right?

I have to question what was the purpose of Jaime’s dramatic reversal? Going back to reconcile with someone who sent a known amoral social climber and known murderer to kill you and your brother, with whom you recently reconciled, and for what? For many, it was deeply frustrating for the showrunners to disregard not only the theories developed throughout the series, but also Jaime’s emotional maturity (not to mention his Tarthian sexual awakening. Hell, our Tarthian sexual awakening).

This isn’t a plea for an awful, embarrassing death for Cersei — we don’t have to be monsters. I just think it could have been done better is all. But, you know, I don’t know what the final episode has to offer. Maybe Cersei and Jaime needed to be crushed under an ethnically cleansed King’s Landing. Only time will tell…

MCS: Let’s dig deeper into Dany and her rage. As David Benioff put it, “she chose violence, and a Targarean choosing violence is a pretty terrifying thing.” They really brought us face to face with the horrors of this war in this episode, and it was absolutely remarkable to see the full power of Drogon unleashed in this episode (the flame though the back of the castle gates tho!). A few days removed from the episodes premiere and I remain in awe of the CGI employed as Drogon laid waste upon King’s Landing (I implore anyone reading to watch the behind the scene feature on this episode, “The Game Revealed: The Bells” — incredible). Dany’s unravelling, surely, is something the showrunners have been working towards all series and most prominently this season, with Cersei betraying her and then executing Missandre, with Jon revealing his lineage to her which changed everything about her plight and purpose, and with her recollecting upon her family’s tragic history as she gazes upon The Red Keep which finally pushes her over the edge…but I don’t think many fans of the show were truly ready for the Mad Queen prophecy to be fulfilled. I am curious how you feel about the transformation?

GG: In the past, Dany’s atrocities have been reserved mostly for those with a great deal of institutional authority who oversaw oppressive systems, or for those who had grievously wronged her in a deeply personal way. Additionally, she usually sought to mitigate collateral damage. This isn’t to say that she always acted with justice and human rights in mind, but her actions in this episode did seem like a departure from her previous approach to warfare, that I’m not surprised people reacted with such surprise. This is where the books, with their POV perspective, have an advantage over the shows. We don’t just see Dany’s actions, we hear her internal debate and conflicts. We can see her struggle with her sadistic and paranoid side, and her desire to be just and merciful.

The show has consistently demonstrated her ability to kill many, many combatants and “evil-doers” with armies and dragons, sometimes in dramatic fashion, yet I can’t recall any time she straight-up murdered hundreds of thousands of innocents after explicitly understanding that she had won the battle, all forces in opposition had surrendered, and she could arrest and punish the opposing leader — in this case, Cersei — in a way that lets everyone know she has not escaped and also set an example that supports her reign and new regime.

Maybe I’m forgetting, but I really can’t find an antecedent for the episode’s human rights violations. But, I get it, they want her to be the biggest monster. Worse than Cersei, worse than Joffrey, worse than the Night’s King, worse than the High Sparrow…fair enough, but — as the kids say — that escalated quickly.

MCS: Quickly indeed. Okay, it’s time to talk Hound, as he had two moments of note in “The Bells,” the first being his final encounter with Arya in which he seemed to remind her of her humanity, and of the steep price of a life spent in pursuit of vengeance. He had crossed the point of no return, but I found it special that he didn’t want Arya to go down that deadly road. What is your takeaway of Arya and the Hound’s final moments, and of their relationship as a whole over the course of the series?

GG: As someone who once spent a lot of time on Tumblr, and as a book reader, I was always more interested in Sansa and Sandor’s relationship than Arya’s and Sandor‘s, which is more a product of the show, really. But taken on it’s own merits, Arya’s relationship with The Hound, like her camaraderie with other “fighters,” is reminiscent of a squire or protégée — someone who serves and learns.

Given her arc and her experiences, I don’t know why she was spared — why she acquiesced when he told her not to come along — as he pursued his brother. Sure, it wasn’t her fight, but she had another target in mind. For someone who sought to flex her autonomy and avenge her own experiences, even at the expense of her own life, I could not understand how she was persuaded to get back out there, into a city under siege with dragon fire, instead of fulfilling her most pressing desire — to kill the catalyst of her personal and familial suffering.

MCS: I feel I am dramatically burying the lead here brining up Cleganebowl so late in this discussion, but it finally happened — Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane faced off in a long-anticipated duel. Surely, there is profound significance in The Hound’s decision to take his own life, plugging into a fiery hell to rid the world of the monster that was his older brother? (the visuals of that scene btw….just stunning as fire and Drogon circled around them!)

GG: If you goal is to kill your evil necromanced brother, both for the sake of revenge (for maiming you) and to rid the world of an amoral zombie controlled by a sociopath, it seems like an very effective strategy to push him off a building into an inferno.

MCS: So, where do we stand now? Jon has been so very loyal to Dany (to a fault of course), and I can’t see this playing out any other way than the Starks v. Dany in an all out cut-throat battle for the Throne (#forthethrone). Any thoughts about what might lie ahead as we near the final episode (GASP!) of Game of Thrones ever?

GG: OK. I’ll do it. I’ll make the prediction and put it all on the line: Dany is done for. Jon/Aegon is the “Song of Ice and Fire.” They will find some way to kill Dany off — maybe Arya will make it happen. If Jon/Aegon lives, and I don’t know that he will, he’ll be king, like Aragorn at the end of The Return of the King. If he dies, than it better be Sansa!


Circle back for next week’s deconstruction of Season 8 Episode 6 (THE SERIES FINALE!), “TBA,” at Across the Margin!


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