Game Of Thrones headed towards next week’s finale with the answer to its biggest issue hanging in the balance.
No, not ‘who will take the Iron Throne?’
Something more important – even to the millions of fans who’ve followed this central struggle for years – namely: ‘can the show save its reputation?’
Having changed the genre, GoT’s place in television history is undoubtedly guaranteed.
But whether it can avoid the fate that befell other recent ‘classics’ like The Wire, Twin Peaks, and arguably The Sopranos – being remembered for blowing its legacy by ending with a damp squib – is another matter.
Judging by the penultimate episode it seems unlikely frankly.
‘The Bells’, like a lot of Season 8, proved decidedly unsatisfactory if not necessarily actually rubbish, at least compared to its early days – its peak.
True, there was a healthy cull of characters: Varys, Euron Greyjoy, Qyburn, The Hound, The Mountain, Jaime Lannister, and most crucially, his sister Cersei.
But although this purge was long overdue, none lived up to expectation. In fact they were mainly total botch-ups.
‘The Bells’ was the third ‘movie-length’ episode of the five so far and symptomatic of the way the final series has suffered from HBO seemingly (inexplicably) being in a rush to get Game Of Thrones over with.
The storyline has increasingly lacked subtlety – or sense sometimes – with key developments in the narrative feeling too convenient, too sudden.
The Night King, for example, dismally failed to deliver at the long-awaited battle of Winterfell – destroyed by a single blow from a young girl’s dagger (when Arya stabbed him).
And after so many threats and fights, out of nowhere, Rhaegar was felled by an arrow (albeit a mega-arrow) – when Daenerys casually flew within range of Euron’s ships. All a bit careless to be honest…
‘The Long Night’ had tried/claimed to depict war in its full chaotic carnage, which was all very admirable but made the way the main protagonists miraculously survived even more unacceptable.
‘The Bells’ now did likewise.
Daenerys obliterated King’s Landing, the Red Keep, and Greyjoy’s fleet (second time lucky) with such ease (with one dragon) you struggled to remember how she had failed to do the same against The Army of The Dead (armed with two).
The whole city was rendered spectacularly to rubble, with the streets filled with bodies, and building ablaze or toppling down.
And yet Jon Snow, Tyrion, Euron, Jaime, Cersei, Arya, and The Hound dodged it all, along with every sword or weapon aimed at them for what felt like several hours – so that they could fulfil their own personal denouements.
Writers David Benioff and director Manuel Sapochnik did a good job conveying the horror of war, using sweeping violins, poetic slow-mo, and the bloody demise of women, children, and unarmed, innocent men.
But it was nothing we hadn’t seen before in films like Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, or Dunkirk.
They would have been better off making the big developments in the storyline more surprising or subtle.
Appropriately for a series about war, ‘The Bells’ showed Game Of Thrones had battle fatigue.
Let’s hope next week’s showdown between Jon Snow and Daenerys is better.
Some viewers complained that the way Dany abandoned her principles (everything she’d ever stood for) and descended into butchery was irrational or rash. In fact if anything it was too predictable – to Varys and us anyway, if not Jon and Tyrion.
‘They say every time a Targaryen is born the Gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath,’ the Spider told the dwarf. ‘We both know what she’s about to do.’
In a fable about power, and the hunger for absolute power corrupting absolutely, it was inevitable – much like Varys’ execution.
But the way she spared Tyrion, Jaime Lannister, and even her lover Jon surely made less sense. If anything their betrayals were much greater than his. It was not Tyrion’s first mistake either and her warning ‘next time you fail me is the last time you fail me’ didn’t sit with her ruthlessness towards Varys – or King’s Landing.
‘Sansa trusted you to spread secrets that could destroy your own queen,’ she hissed. ‘And you did not let her down…Varys knows the truth because you told him. You learned from Sansa and she learned from Jon, though I begged him not to tell her…He betrayed me.’
Probably the most under-rated, under-used Game Of Thrones’ character, Varys had known ‘more kings and queens than any man living’, as he pointed out to Jon, and survived them all. In fact he’d turned survival, seamlessly switching sides, into an artform. So it was unlikely that he’d have allowed Daenerys to come for him without conceiving some sort of escape, especially as he knew Tyrion disagreed with his view Jon would make a better ruler. Finally the way her dragon simply torched Varys was a disappointingly, uncharacteristically, coarse form of execution.
Tyrion’s sustained faith in Daenerys being a benevolent, moral, candidate to rule the Seven Kingdoms was never very convincing. Tyrion wasn’t ever idealistic let alone naïve and, given his acute intelligence, ignoring Varys’ judgement/counsel just didn’t add up either. He had already been suckered by Cersei and Jaime so shouldn’t have swallowed Dany’s promise to hold back after a surrender. Obviously, family is everything in GoT. Tyrion releasing his brother (returning the favour) made sense but urging Jaime to save Cersei (telling him to escape and ‘start a new life’) ?? Nope, just don’t see Tyrion doing that – especially as it was before Dany went on the rampage.
4. Jon Snow
The people’s beloved leader and a great warrior (well supposedly) had another ineffectual week. He fell off his dragon in the last battle, no matter what Tormund said, and here he did basically nothing – standing around in vain as Daenerys and Grey Worm ran amok. Still at least he pulled back from kissing Khaleesi (for once).
‘Is that all I am to you? Your queen?’ she purred, moving in for a snog until the thought running through his mind ‘no you’re also my auntie’ got the better of him.
Dany obliterated the Greyjoys’ fleet but as luck would have it, Euron escaped untouched washing up on the shore exactly where Jaime Lannister was. The fight between them – taking turns to nearly kill the other – was just clichéd while Euron’s failure to polish Jaime off inexplicable.
6. Jaime Lannister
Jaime’s whirlwind romance with Brienne, like Sansa Stark’s sudden affection for Theon, seemed to come out of nowhere – and go so quickly the writers were virtually admitting it was a convenient, cursory, subplot for just an episode. Literally, a one-night stand…
The way he survived so many blows, cheated death, turned the tables on Euron Greyjoy, then got up and walked off to find Cersei seemingly unharmed was worthy of Monty Python or The Bionic Man.
The way she sneaked past The Hound on the stairs, leaving him to fight The Mountain, was comical but her demise seriously ridiculous.
‘I want our baby to live. I want our baby to live!’ she sobbed, pleading: ‘don’t let me die Jaime. Please don’t let me die.’
‘Nothing else matters, only us!’ her brother cooed, before they were crushed in an avalanche of rubble.
The swathes of violins suggested the show genuinely thought it was romantic.
More importantly, after so many enemies through the years, it wasn’t an exit befitting Game Of Thrones’ best character.
8. The Hound and The Mountain
The long-awaited showdown between The Hound and The Mountain was another comical anti-climax – a fight between two indestructible knights worthy of Monty Python. And after what seemed like several hours of impaling one another, the result was a draw – with The Hound shoving The Mountain through the wall, and falling with him to their death.
Qyburn’s demise on the other hand was undeservedly brief and blunt: one shove by The Mountain, disobeying his master’s command to stand by Cersei, and GoT’s Frankenstein was gone.
The young Stark girl was another character who miraculously survived the fighting, avoiding all the dragon’s flames and falling masonry etc. More ridiculous was the way that – despite travelling all that way to assassinate Cersei – (eventually) Arya accepted The Hound’s advice/order to forget it and just…went home. Having turned into some sort of Ninja, it was a surprise to see her being crushed by a load of peasants. And having killed The Night King you’d have thought she would fancy her chances with Cersei – rather than take The Hound’s word for it that either the Dothraki or the fire would get her. ‘Or maybe that dragon will eat her.’
The image of her leaving on the white horse (presumably a symbol of innocence and peace) was another cliché: poetic certainly, but only in a way an advert might be – a Guinness commercial for instance.