For a show that's always managed to subvert its audience's expectations to create something truly magical and iconic over the last seven seasons, 'Game of Thrones' has now well and truly bottled it one episode away from its grand finale. And to add insult to injury, they managed to do it while giving us the most breathtaking visual spectacle -- the likes of which we'd hoped to see in the Battle of Winterfell -- as well as thoughtful closure to multiple storylines.
And if you're confused, take some consolation in the fact that you're not as confused as Jon Snow (Kit Harington) who was told he couldn't pet Ghost one last time because of CGI considerations but had to watch all of King's Landing get burnt down by a dragon for more than an hour of screen time. Cue slow clap.
The tragedy of the episode, aptly titled 'The Bells', lies in Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) brutal character assassination, as she finally leant into the Queen of Ashes/Mad Queen narrative, which although has been heavily hinted at in this season and mildly in the previous seasons, still doesn't feel completely earned. For all of Dany's impulsiveness and hot-headedness, her love for the people and the innocents far outweighed everything else she held dear. The last time one of her dragons set fire to an innocent child, she locked all three of her dragons up in a cell. For her to set fire to an entire city of millions, especially after they've surrendered, is a blatant misstep in service of propping up the more noble and true-born hero that is Jon Snow.
The test of loyalty
A crucial scene early in the episode offers a gut-wrenching conversation between Jon and Dany which basically foreshadows their upcoming break and final confrontation in the season finale next week, and one can't help but question Jon's loyalties. He says Dany is his queen, over and over until our ears are bleeding, but every step he takes goes against that promise.
But if you set aside Jon and Dany and the sacking of King's Landing, we have a glorious episode full of poignant moments and stupendous action sequences, starting with Varys' (Conleth Hill) execution. In one of the most chilling scenes of the episode, Drogon rises from the shadows behind Dany to burn Varys to a crisp for the treason he's committed. The one-two punch of that moment comes from the sheer visceral aspect of the scene as well as Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Varys' sombre goodbye.
If you're confused, take some consolation in the fact that you're not as confused as Jon Snow (Kit Harington) who was told he couldn't pet Ghost one last time because of CGI considerations but had to watch all of King's Landing get burnt down by a dragon for more than an hour of screen time. Cue slow clap.
Then came the moment fans have been waiting for since season one and book readers have been waiting even longer for: the Cleganebowl. So much about this episode has been about its characters returning to their base personalities. Dany becoming Mad Queen, Jaime (Nikolaj Causter-Waldau) returning to Cersei (Lena Headey) and Sandor Clegane/The Hound (Rory McCann) coming back to finish off his brother The Mountain (Hafthor Julius Bjornsson). And out of all of them, Cleganebowl rang true and clear; this is how their arc was meant to end. And full points to director Miguel Sapochnik for giving us that gloriously violent and fun but also emotionally resonant moment.
Too much, too quick
Cersei and Jaime's death is a little bit more complicated to unpack. Although it makes perfect sense that they died in each other's arms surrounded by dragon skulls, the symbol of their family's destruction, one can't help but feel cheated. Cersei represented everything that was hateful and evil and has been one of the most layered villains to have ever been portrayed on film and television; for her to be wiped out in the blink of an eye, just so we can quickly move on to the next big confrontation, seems remiss.
Which brings us back to a point we've been trying to make since before this episode aired. Six episodes was always going to fall very short to map out the end game of a sprawling epic like 'Game of Thrones'. Reports mention that HBO was ready to keep the show going for much longer, but that creators David Benioff and DB Weiss shot them down for a quicker exit, presumably because they can move on to bigger projects like the upcoming new 'Star Wars' trilogy. What a colossal blunder and a let down to the countless fans who have put in nearly a decade of their time into the show.
If by the end of next week's episode we see Jon Snow sitting on the Iron Throne, surrounded by the rubble of the Red Keep, a lot of us will just have to pretend that the show ended when Arya killed the Night King, and all of Westeros thrived in peace after.