Entertainment TV Death, revenge and unsatisfying misfires: Game of Thrones’ The Bells took a toll
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Death, revenge and unsatisfying misfires: Game of Thrones’ The Bells took a toll

Tyrion Game of Thrones
Tyrion ponders life and death in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. Photo: HBO
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WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE FIVE OF GAME OF THRONES, SEASON 8

For fans who felt the character deaths during The Long Night were a tad light on, Monday’s episode would have gone down a treat.

Among the dead at the fiery conclusion were Varys, Euron Greyjoy, Qyburn, ‘The Hound’ Sandor Clegane and his brother Gregor ‘The Mountain’.

And innumerable defenders and residents of King’s Landing.

And Jaime and Cersei Lannister.

Yet for all that destruction, The Bells was one of the most frustrating episodes to date.

Often the inherent illogicalities of long-running series become all the more stark (pun intended) as they approach the end, with writers struggling to convincingly tie up multiple plot threads.

Accepting that premise, much of this episode seemed like it had been churned out by the room full of monkeys with typewriters that The Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns hoped would produce a literary masterpiece.

Around 40 minutes into the episode saw Daenerys swooping on Drogon, incinerating everything in her path – ships, scorpion missiles, soldiers, civilians. This served up the first infuriating contradiction.

The carnage kicked off with Daenerys destroying Euron’s fleet and blowing apart the King’s Landing gates, attacking from behind. Why, in the name of seven kingdoms was this elusive strategy not employed last week, when there were two dragons?

Game of Thrones is one of the few programs where one can ask, ‘Is that child going to die?’ and the child usually does.

In her improbably sudden descent into full-blown madness, Daenerys made no distinction between combatants and huddled masses as she made her assault on King’s Landing.

In doing so she crossed a threshold: Not even Cersei, or Joffrey for that matter, showed such ruthless disregard for mass casualties, perhaps only for want of opportunity in Cersei’s case.

After the razing of King’s Landing, and Jon’s horrified reaction to it, we can be sure of one thing: Jon can no longer accept Daenerys as Queen. So where does that leave him? I think we can guess.

The destruction of Cersei’s stronghold seemed oddly unsatisfying because some deaths seemed to sever character arcs built over several seasons like a brutal swoop of a Dothraki blade.

Among them, the long-awaited Cleganbowl was a fizzer. Sandor ripped off his brother’s helmet, revealed him to be akin to Darth Vader from Return of the Jedi, then pitched them both into the flames.

Those of us convinced Jaime took off last week on a redemptive mission to kill his sister felt as stupid as Tyrion when Jaime and Cersei reunited tearily as tragic, eternal lovers.

Cersei Game of Thrones
Cersei’s dispatching with Jaime was a little impersonal, considering her history. Photo: HBO

Cersei sobbed through their reunion as they perished in each other’s arms. It was as unfulfilling as Arya casually knifing the Night King. It’s been an enduring question among GoT fans: Who is strong enough to take down Cersei? In the end, rubble.

Hats off to Euron, I suppose, for having the most stress-free death of them all, dying just as he had lived, like a colossal pain in the backside.

Indeed, the only satisfying character reversal came where Varys, Machiavellian schemer extraordinaire, chose to die on a point of principle.

He knew the action he took would result in his execution, and took it anyway. No bending the knee here.

Varys Game of Thrones
No tears here: Varys went out with honour. Photo: HBO

Tyrion came away from Varys’s death looking diminished. Sansa set him up to get what she wanted and he fell for it. It did lead to a touching farewell between Tyrion and Jaime – “You were all I had” – but again, for a character who has been nobody’s fool for seven seasons, it’s disappointing The Imp is suddenly so easily manipulated.

What are we left with? A finale where the wolves take on the dragons.

Jon, Arya (who finally stopped speaking like a robot but also showed self-doubt) and Sansa must now team up to destroy the Mad Queen for the common good.

Let’s hope the final act in this succession saga plays out with a modicum of subtlety and invention.

But I fear it might be bad writing, as much as House Stark, that brings down the Dragon Queen.

Dr Paul Salmond has lectured and published on film.

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