A Binge Guide for Season 8, Episode 5: “The Bells”
by Greg Enslen
Episode Number: S08E05
Original Air Date: May 12, 2019
Time: 78 minutes
Synopsis: Forces have arrived at King's Landing for the final battle.
The updated animated map during the credits shows a few important locations: the Wall, Last Hearth, Winterfell, and King’s Landing.
Lord Varys scribbles a note, which reads in part “the true heir to the Throne,” clearly informing someone of Jon Snow’s lineage. Martha, a young kitchen girl enters, so it appears Varys has been recruiting more “little birds” to act as his spies. They discuss Daenerys Targaryen’s current mood, and Varys seems disappointed. “She won’t eat,” the little girl says. “We’ll try again at supper.”
Outside, Lord Tyrion watches as Varys greets Jon Snow, just arriving from the north. He reports that the rest of Dany’s forces are just crossing the Trident and will be at King’s Landing in two days. He asks after Dany. Varys says she hasn’t left her chambers or eaten anything since returning from the negotiations with Cersei. The Dragon Queen is devastated at the death of Rhaegal and the execution of Missandei. Varys warns Jon that Dany will do whatever it takes to gain the throne—and suggests Jon would be a better King. Jon realizes his secret is out—and that he’s been betrayed by one of his siblings. “She is my queen,” Jon says.
Tyrion goes to Dany with the truth—Varys knows about Jon’s parentage and is actively working against her. Dany is furious—she knows she’s being played by Sansa to cast doubt on her legitimacy to take the throne. This conversation leads to Lord Varys execution by dragonfire.
Notes: Varys’ disappointment in Dany’s lack of appetite may hint at an assassination plot—Varys may have recruited a member of the kitchen staff to poison Dany but the plot has been unsuccessful. Varys has plotted to poison Dany before: he was tasked by Robert Baratheon with the deed and was behind the plot to send her poisoned wine in S01E07. Cersei used the same quote about gods flipping a coin whenever a Targaryen is born. Before the troops come for him, Varys burns a note he was writing and takes off the rings he was wearing. Just before he is executed, Tyrion touches Varys on the arm. This might be the first time in the history of the show that anyone has touched Varys. Varys is executed on the beach of Dragonstone, the same location where Stannis and Melisandre burned seven idols to the Lord of Light in S02E01.
Quotes: Lord Varys: “They say every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath.”
In the map room, Dany and Grey Worm talk about Missandei and her one possession, the collar she wore when she was a slave. Grey Worm is unimpressed and throws it into the fire. Jon Snow arrives, and they discuss Sansa telling Tyrion and the trouble it has caused. Jon is loved in Westeros, and Dany knows it. Dany makes one final plea for him to love her, but he is distant.
In the throne room, Tyrion begs Dany not to attack the city and kill innocents, but Dany knows Cersei is hiding behind them. She argues that the ends justify the means and will not hold back, ordering the Unsullied to King’s Landing to prepare for war. Tyrion begs her to not destroy the city on the off chance that the city surrenders—if they ring the bells and raise the gates, she is to call off the attack. She reluctantly agrees, adding that Jaime has been captured.
Quotes: Daenerys: “Far more people in Westeros love you than love me; I don't have love here. I only have fear.” Jon Snow: “I love you. And you will always be my Queen.” Daenerys: “Is that all I am to you? Your Queen? Alright then: let it be fear.”
Civilians pass into the city under the watchful eye of the city guards. Nearby, Tyrion and Jon make their way ashore, joining Ser Davos Seaworth and the encampment of Northmen, Dothraki and Unsullied as they prepare to lay siege to the city. Tyrion asks Davos to smuggle him into King’s Landing to offer a final chance at peace. The Hound and Arya Stark arrive at the same camp.
Tyrion goes to his brother, Ser Jaime Lannister. He can’t believe Jaime’s going back to their sister—Tyrion wants Jaime to convince Cersei to leave the city peacefully. They can just leave, sail away to Pentos or wherever. Start a new life. If she does, they are to ring all the bells and open the gates, thereby prevent unneeded destruction of the city or loss of life. Tyrion is willing to trade his life for thousands of innocent people. He frees his brother, saying a tearful goodbye, and Jaime disappears into the night.
Notes: Jaime freed Tyrion in S04E10 after Tyrion killed their father Tywin.
Quotes: Tyrion Lannister: “If it weren't for you, I never would have survived my childhood.” Jaime Lannister: “You would have.” Tyrion: “You were the only one... who didn't treat me like a monster. You were all I had.”
The next morning, the Iron Fleet waits anchored in Blackwater Bay. Euron Greyjoy and his sailors man the Scorpions and watch the skies. Atop the walls of King’s Landing, more Scorpions are loaded as Lannister men peer around nervously. More civilians rush into the Red Keep and stream into the city.
Arya and The Hound are easily able to make their way into the city, blending in with the civilians, and make their way toward the Red Keep, passing a mother and her young daughter, who clutches a wooden carving of a horse.
Jaime is also able to enter the city, passing the Golden Company as they march and take up a defensive position outside the city gates. Harry Strickland, the leader of the Golden Company, riding on a white horse, observes the Northmen, Dothraki and Unsullied that have gathered near the walls, preparing to attack. Tyrion reminds Jon one more time—if the city bells ring, call off the attack.
In the Red Keep, Queen Cersei Lannister looks out over the city, waiting, while Qyburn and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane stand nearby. She sees the civilians streaming into the Red Keep, sure that they will cushion her from direct attack. Arya and The Hound make it inside, but Jaime is locked out and decides to try and find another way into the city.
Notes: The overhead shot of Jaime running through the crowd is similar to the overhead shot of Dany being worshiped by slaves she had recently freed in S03E10. There are also dragons flying overhead in the scene, which closes Season Three.
Attack from Above
Suddenly, the sailors of the Iron Fleet are alerted and look up to see Dany swooping down on them, attacking from directly above where the Scorpions cannot fire. She attacks the Scorpion installations on the walls of King’s Landing, then blows out the city gates from the inside, destroying a good portion of the Golden Company. The Unsullied, Dothraki and Northmen attack, streaming into the gate and wiping out the rest of the Golden Company as Dany and Drogon continue to deal death from above. Dany’s ground forces rage through the Lannister defenders.
Notes: Dany and Drogon dive down out of the sunlight, using the glare to assist their attack. This is similar to Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings The Two Towers, when he crests a hill at sunrise and uses the bright light to cover his attack on the orcs.
Goofs: Dany and Drogon certainly have more luck in this episode, single-handedly wiping out the entire Iron Fleet and destroying all the Scorpion installations on the walls of King’s Landing. And the Scorpion operators have much worse luck, missing with every shot. It is also unlikely that they would be so unsuccessful in their efforts, especially after Euron was able to hit Rhaegal last episode THREE times from at least a mile away. She does attack from above, using the sun’s glare, and flies low over the water, frustrating those operating the Scorpions.
Cersei watches the attack from the Red Keep. Qyburn informs her that the Scorpions have all been destroyed and the Iron Fleet is burning in Blackwater Bay. Cersei thinks that her Lannister forces will defend her to the last man.
Goofs: Not really a goof, but Qyburn announces that all the Scorpions have been destroyed seconds after we see Dany attack, destroying a bunch of them but passing over a few that are still operational. Maybe he’s speaking in general terms, but clearly a few of the weapons are still working at this point.
Jon Snow, Grey Worm and Ser Davos march through the city, joining more Northmen and stopping—a wall of nervous Lannister forces await them. Tyrion walks through the burning gates and stares at a bell tower. Dany and Drogon land on a nearby tower, and the Lannister leader throws down his sword in surrender, followed by the rest of his men. The people call out for someone to ring the bells and signal the city’s surrender. “Tell the Queen to ring the bells.”
Jaime makes his way to the base of the Red Keep, searching for a way in. The bells of the city begin ringing, and Jon is relieved.
Notes: Although this is the first mention of it, apparently “ringing the bells” is a common way to signal surrender. Until this, the whole concept seems like something that Tyrion had invented on the spot—and Jaime hasn’t met up with anyone yet and informed them of Tyrion’s plan. It may be a commonly-understood signal, although in S02E09, this concept is expressly rejected when Ser Davos Seaworth, talking to his son just before the Battle of Blackwater Bay, hears the city bells ringing and says “I’ve never known bells to mean surrender.”
A City in Flames
Denied her chance to destroy the Queen, Dany and Drogon take to the skies. Ignoring the bells and the call for surrender, Drogon begins TORCHING the city, killing soldiers and civilians alike. The dragon repeatedly strafes King’s Landing, setting large swaths of the city afire.
Tyrion is stunned at the wanton destruction and the killing of defenseless civilians. The Lannister forces immediately turn to pick up their swords again and, Grey Worm and the others engage in battle while Jon tries to hold back his forces. He’s forced to defend himself against attacking Lannisters, and it soon devolves into a bloodbath, hand-to-hand fighting with Grey Worm in the lead.
Ser Davos pushes civilians to flee the city while Jon yells at the Northmen and Dany’s forces to stop fighting, but now the soldiers are attacking civilians as well, executing everyone they see. Jon is overwhelmed at the carnage and steps up, KILLING one of his own men to stop him from brutalizing a civilian woman.
Notes: Clearly Dany isn’t interested in accepting Cersei’s surrender and, instead, wants to burn it all down. As Drogon flies over the city, we see the exact shot from Bran’s premonition in S06E06 of a dragon attacking King’s Landing. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes a cameo in this episode, although it’s unclear in which scene he appears.
The Red Keep
Cersei watches as the dragon continues strafing the city, burning entire neighborhoods in moments. Finally, it turns toward the castle and attacks the Red Keep directly, destroying one of the towers. Below, Jaime finds the cave entrance to the base of the Red Keep, but Euron Greyjoy appears. Jaime and Euron fight and Jaime is stabbed multiple times before knocking down Euron and fleeing.
Above, Drogon and Dany continue attacking the Red Keep, destroying battlements and towers. Qyburn convinces Cersei to flee to Maegor’s Holdfast, a safe space under the Keep. In the city below, stashes of Wildfire begin erupting.
Notes: Maegor’s Holdfast was shown as the place for Cersei, Sansa Stark and others to safely ride out the last attack on King’s Landing when Stannis Baratheon’s forces attacked in S02E09. It was rumored that the Mad King had stashes of Wildfire placed under the city—it was for this reason that Jaime Lannister killed him. These flashes of green are the Wildfire caches being ignited, further adding to the destruction of King’s Landing. These were placed by Dany’s father, the Mad King, and now Dany has completed his work by lighting them.
Goofs: Okay, the chances that 1. Euron survived Dany’s attack on the Iron Fleet, 2. Euron could swim all the way to shore while injured, and 3. Euron would happen to swim into the tiny cove where Jaime is located are ASTRONOMICALLY low. It’s important that it happen for the show, so logic just goes right out the window. I *guess* he’s swimming toward the Red Keep to rejoin with Cersei but how does he know there’s a way in from water level? Also, this one-on-one fight scene lasts nearly four minutes of dedicated screen time—is this showdown really more important than anything else on the show? It gets more time than many other crucial plot points. And, for the record, no one really cares about this fight—we all know that Jaime will fight his way to Cersei, so it’s anticlimactic.
The Hound and Arya make their way through the Red Keep, passing over the blue map that Cersei had painted on the floor. He tells Arya to “go home” as something else will kill Cersei. “Maybe that dragon will eat her.” He says he’s been after revenge his whole life. Arya realizes she doesn’t want to die, thanks The Hound, and turns to leave.
Cersei and Qyburn and The Mountain make their way down when they are halted by The Hound. The Mountain kills Qyburn and Cersei scampers past The Hound as the long-teased battle between brothers begins.
Notes: This is the only time Arya calls The Hound by his name, Sandor. While it’s nice to see Arya flee the castle, it’s completely against her nature. She’s been training for years to kill people on her list, and the one person who’s always remained at the top of that list has been Queen Cersei. I feel like the writers betrayed Arya’s character and destiny by not having her at least pursue the queen and make an attempt on her life. It’s completely out of character for her to choose peace and turn around and go home. Remember, this is the same person who infiltrated The Twins, killed the Frey boys, FED them to their father in a pie, KILLED their father Walder Frey, then wore his face to invite the ENTIRE Frey clan to his castle and then POISONING all of them, all as payback for the Red Wedding. With her stealth, face-swapping abilities, and top-of-the-line fighting skills, she would have confidently ignored The Hound and found Cersei, even if it meant doing it on her own.
Quotes: Sandor: “Go home girl. Fire will get her. Or one of the Dothraki. Maybe that dragon will eat her. Doesn't matter: she's dead. And you'll be dead too if you don't get out of here.” Arya: “I'm going to kill her.” Sandor: “You think you've wanted revenge a long time? I've been after it all my life; it's all I care about. And look at me - LOOK AT ME! You want to be like me? You come with me, you die here.” Arya: “Sandor... thank you.”
Jaime finds Cersei in the map room and convinces her to flee with him. He leads her down under the Red Keep, heading for the boat to flee. In the city, Arya runs thought the streets, avoiding destruction and trying to save civilians. She warns them to take cover from falling debris.
Above, The Hound and The Mountain fight. The Mountain tries to squeeze out The Hound’s eyes, and The Hound tackles him, sending them both over the side and into the flames below.
Wildfire and dragonfire continue to destroy vast portions of the city. Jon and Ser Davos look at each other, then Jon puts away his sword and orders his troops to fall back and leave the city.
Notes: The Mountain’s “go to” move is squeezing out the eyes with his thumbs—he did this as he defeated Prince Oberyn Martell in hand-to-hand combat in S04E08. According to IMDB, the deaths of The Hound and The Mountain marks the end of House Clegane.
Arya wakes in the rubble, with dozens of dead civilians surrounding her. She stumbles though the ash that covers the city, coughing and wheezing. She runs from a falling tower, then tries to rescue the young woman and child with the carved horse toy she saw earlier.
Jaime and Cersei reach the catacombs but find their exit blocked. The catacomb ceilings being to collapse, and Jaime holds Cersei as they are killed, buried under falling rubble.
Arya finds the burned remains of the carved toy horse. Moments later, she sees a dirty white horse walking through the piles of burnt bodies. Arya climbs on the horse and rides away.
Notes: Following the deaths of Jaime and Cersei, now Tyrion is the last surviving member of House Lannister. The horse that comes to Arya Stark at the end may be Captain Strickland’s horse from earlier in the episode. It also looks VERY similar to the white horse that Lyanna Stark rides through the Winterfell courtyard during Bran’s vision in S06E02. Some viewer interpreted this horse as a “pale horse” and that Arya might be the symbol of death, but these type of obvious Christian references have been rare in Game of Thrones lore.
Wow, LOTS of stuff to cover, right? This being the next-to-last episode, we knew going in that the show would cover a lot of ground, and I’m surprised at some of the choices it made. The overall story was impactful and sad. I’ve heard it called “bittersweet,” but I’d just go with “bitter.”
The episode starts off strong, although hearing Tyrion repeat over and over the thing about the “bells” was a very heavy-handed setup for this plot point. Yes, we understand. If the bells start ringing, the invasion is over. Got it. By mentioning it several times, the writers fall into the same trap as they did with the “Winterfell’s crypts are safe” foreshadowing—audiences are sophisticated enough to understand that if you mention something over and over, it will be paid off in the end. It’s called “Chekhov’s Gun,” and these writers are doing it over and over so the audience can’t POSSIBLY miss the setup. It’s annoying and a great example of talking down to the audience.
Lord Varys’ execution and the planning of the assault on King’s Landing move quickly, and we can see that Dany’s had enough screwing around and now it’s time to get down to it. Arya, The Hound and Jaime all move into the city, setting all the pieces in motion.
Dany’s attack from above was exciting, although it seemed a little pat that last episode they could shoot down a dragon from a mile away and this episode every shot misses. I guess I’ll chalk it up to Dany being REALLY mad and therefore she can avoid every bolt fired from dozens of weapons DESIGNED TO SHOOT DOWN DRAGONS. To be fair, Rhaegal’s death came from an ambush at Dragonstone, a complete surprise. This time Dany’s on the offensive, and she really takes it to the Lannister and Iron Fleet, wiping out the Scorpions quickly.
After that, it’s a battle in the streets, and Dany’s forces win easily. But it’s not enough for her, and she goes FULL MAD QUEEN, killing soldiers and civilians alike and torching the city. It’s supposed to be her last straw—inspired by the death of Rhaegal and Missandei—but it happened too quickly. YES they’ve been setting it up for years, and yes there are plenty of examples over the past seven seasons of her losing it and killing her enemies. But she’s never targeted civilians. In fact, she’s gone out of her way to protect them.
Also, her descent into Madness took place only a few episodes after she was smiling and laughing at Winterfell and legitimizing Gendry and toasting Arya. It would have worked better if she were sad and dour and unhappy this whole season, and all it took was one more betrayal—Varys’ or Tyrion’s would suffice—to push her over the edge. It would have made THEIR decision even more interesting as well. If Varys knew she was on the brink of losing it and he betrayed her anyway, then he would share some small part of the blame.
So Dany goes crazy and then WE DON’T SEE her again for the whole episode, only seeing her from afar as Drogon torches the city. She’s gone from being a person we can identify with to a force of nature. I guess they didn’t want to show her flying around with crazy eyes, yelling “BURN! BURN!”
Qyburn dies too quickly for what he’s done, and the long-awaited “Cleganebowl” takes too long. This battle was fan service, as if the writers searched for “most popular Game of Thrones theories” and made sure to write them into the episode. Yes, we wanted to see them brothers fight, and yes it’s been set up for years. But it went on and on while the Red Keep collapses around them. And don’t tell me The Hound wouldn’t have taken the opportunity to kill Cersei when she was literally a foot away and unprotected. When she scampered past him, practically saying “excuse me, pardon me,” I literally laughed out loud.
Jaime and Cersei’s death scene was another letdown. The queen has been consistently one of the worst people on the show, sending hundreds of people to painful deaths, yet she gets to die quickly in the arms of the man she loves. They even include a romantic theme song version of the “Rains of Castamere,” the unofficial Lannister song, as they die in each others’ arms. But Ramsey Bolton was fed to his dogs, Joffrey was poisoned and died slowly at his own wedding, and Roose Bolton was stabbed through the heart by his own child. Cersei left Ellaria Sand in the Red Keep basement with her daughter to watch her die, just out of reach, and then watch the corpse rot. Cersei killed dozens of people and wiped out most of House Tyrell when she blew up the Sept of Baelor. On a cosmic scale, she’s done MUCH worse things than the Boltons or even Walder Frey. I don’t mean to be bloodthirsty, but Cersei deserved a more poetic ending. Instead, the directors made me feel sorry for her. But I don’t want to feel sorry for Cersei.
The things they chose to highlight and chose to skip over were confusing to me. Why spend so much time on the fight between Jaime and Euron? Nobody really cares, and it didn’t matter anyway. We all knew Jaime and Cersei would be together by the end of the episode. Jaime could have fought Drogon in man-on-dragon combat and still managed to survive.
The same thing goes for Arya. Her character inexplicably decided to NOT fulfill her destiny and kill Cersei—or even try—and then spend the next TWENTY minutes of the episode stumbling around in the ashes and rubble saving random strangers. She’s never been overly concerned with saving civilians or protecting the innocent. Her JOB (and destiny, it can be argued) is to act as a silent killer, moving unseen through the throngs and exacting vengeance as needed. She’s never been a hero of the people—in fact, when Dany toasts her at the feast (wow, that seems like months ago, right? It was just LAST EPISODE) and the “Hero of Winterfell,” Arya isn’t even the room to accept her accolades.
The carved horse callback to Shireen’s carved deer doesn’t work here because Arya NEVER met Shireen and doesn’t even know that she existed. The carved, burnt animal ONLY exists for the audience to recognize—there is no story reason for it to exist other than to give the audience another reason to care about this small child.
Overall, there were too many “REALLY?” moments in this episode to offset some really great storytelling. As with many other cases in this season, it seems the writers NEEDED certain things to happen and bent the plot (and logic) around to make those happen. Viewers can see through that kind of slight-of-hand, leaving them frustrating and cheapening what should have been an epic episode.
The title of the episode refers to the bells that will toll to mark the surrender of King’s Landing. Dany ignores them and proceeds to destroy the city anyway. This episode aired on Mother’s Day, 2019, and Cersei, a mother of at least three children, was killed. Her father Tywin was killed in S04E10, an episode that aired on Sunday, June 14, 2014, which in the United States was Father’s Day.
Nudity and Violence:
The Fall of King’s Landing—Pretty much the entire attack on King’s Landing is a bloody mess, with soldiers and civilians alike being murdered. Blood flies. Be prepared.
NOTE: All sites accessed on accessed May 24, 2019.
Game of Thrones Wiki, several pages. http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Game_of_Thrones_Wiki
HBO Game of Thrones episode synopsis. http://www.gameofthrones.com/game-of-thrones/season-8/episode-5
New Rockstars, “Game of Thrones 8x05 Breakdown.” https://youtu.be/oSWAkQfSmZQ
YouTube, “I’ve Never Known Bells to Mean Surrender.” https://youtu.be/aBYSfnFZKQA
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