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Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones S8, E5 “The Bells” review: Moves fast and decisively — but cheaply

The second to last episode is here and it sets the stage for a huge finish.

Here we are at the penultimate episode of the series and I think there are many feelings and reactions in play. There are those who have hated this season and others, like myself, who have liked it for what it has accomplished. Expectations are bound to be destroyed no matter where you stand as a finite ending is an impossible thing to pull off for everyone. I liked episode 4, “The Last of the Starks,” for how it got back to the conniving and backstabbing aspect the series was known for early on. Can that element continue or is there more dragon, war, fighting action to be had?

This episode opens with Varys (Conleth Hill) writing a letter and communicating with a spy. The “game of thrones” is on, which is probably why the episode then cuts to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) watching Varys come in from a boat. Varys is clearly certain he wants Jon (Kit Harington) as the ruler on the Iron Throne. That’s huge because we know Varys is capable of manipulating folks to move the chess pieces. Problem is if Jon refuses to cooperate that may ruin any chance of removing Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) from power.

It’s quite clear Daenerys is growing a bit mad after losing her second dragon last episode. When we first see her in this episode she looks tired and a bit unhinged. She’s holding it together, quite well in fact with the new info Tyrion tells her about Varys, but she still seems a lot different from how we know her. Clarke does a good job with this scene; she maintains some semblance of control, but still worries the audience. Will she turn completely mad after all this? Judging by the farewell we get with the next character the answer is, maybe? This show has always been very good at pushing each character this way and that making them arrive at a certain point that seems natural. This one feels very much like that because it may just turn Tyrion in a new direction. It’s a sad moment to be sure.

The show pivots well with the big death by referring to last episode’s death with Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) being confronted with an item from Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel). His reaction foreshadows the battle to come and the many that will die over a throne. This same scene continues to show Daenerys is cracking as she reflects on Jon’s love for her. At this time of war, it appears Daenerys is more alone than ever. She’s pushing everyone away which has changed the shows dynamic from hero vs. villain, hero vs. supernatural monsters, and now I suppose villain vs. villain. It’s quite clear at this point the show is attempting to make us demand Jon take up the mantle and be the hero-king we know he can be. It’s just too bad it requires they defame Daenerys and make her an irrational and emotional villain.

One thing is certain and that is how this show has bounced from one improbable character convo to another. Early on it’s between Tyrion and Jaimie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Jaimie was caught trying to get back to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Tyrion simply waltzes in to talk to him. Considering the risk Tyrion is taking here to save his brother for yet another time it’s hard to believe he’d do it again. There’s a good reason for it, but it seems silly Daenerys wouldn’t have eyes on Tyrion after being betrayed by one of her closest advisors earlier that day. What’s insane is one would think she’d find out Jaime left and that the guards would tell her Tyrion told them to leave. It does add an element of anticipation with Tyrion’s plan for King’s Landing to surrender with a ring of the bell tower, but that’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s a convention to increase anticipation for a face-off, but it rings (ahem sorry) false. Later Jaime and Euron Greyjoy improbably confront one another and while it’s a twist, it feels forced.

Amidst all the commotion of war Arya (Maisie Williams) and The Hound (Rory McCann) are on their own mission which adds an interesting question mark to the entire affair. Leave it to Arya to possibly save everyone (again) after all this. This is an odd element since it has no buildup and it comes out of nowhere. Points at least to the composition of the soundtrack in the lead up to this epic battle which thoroughly builds your excitement.

The show continues to be strategically ignorant, this time allowing Daenerys to swoop in and take out all the boats with no trouble at all. I guess the plot demanded she is able to crush the giant bolts with ease? It seems highly convenient that it works now even if she’s swooping down from above. Oh, and if you thought all the Dothraki died, think again. Make no mistake the action is well shot and well done, but it feels like a convenient cheat plot-wise to have her crush Cersei’s army. For a show that spent many episodes building towards a dramatic battle or twist this last season certainly speeds through epic battle after epic battle. It’s nice to see a show move quickly (and many lesser shows would drag out this seasons battles across 2 or three seasons) but because the pace has never been this quick and impatient it feels odd and off the mark.

If you thought you’d never hate Daenerys just watch this episode. Innocent folks die, mothers torn from their babies and even a horse is brutally burned alive. The showrunners make it very clear Daenerys is mad with power and wants revenge rather than be a good leader. It’s a frustrating sight for sure since we’ve spent years loving Daenerys and her struggle. I suppose it was inevitable in some sense since it was foretold and hinted at, but it’s frustrating, to say the least.

There are even more confrontations in this episode as King’s Landing crumbles like The Hound finally facing off against his zombie brother (CleganeBowl) and Cersei embracing her brother/lover. Sadly though Cersei continues to be underwritten and more of a prop in this season — which is made more obvious than ever in this episode. The battle with The Hound is something we’ve probably all guessed at for years now so its weight is lost. Considering how fast this season has run, and how bad it has been about giving characters personal moments, it doesn’t have the weight one would want. It’s also not much of a fight considering The Hound’s brother is a Frankenstein’s monster and it runs on far too long.

This is an episode that has fantastically shot scenes, but an episode that rings false. It’s doing a lot, too much in fact, and it’s clearly building towards a finale that could still manage to be highly entertaining. There are many deaths in this episode but sadly many seem to come and go as if the years we’ve spent rooting for the characters haven’t mattered. The sad truth is at this point you may have lost faith in the show’s creators and fear they may not stick the landing. Considering how wobbly and forced this show’s plot has been up to this point I don’t blame you.

The finale airs on HBO at 9 PM ET May 19th.

Game of Thrones: S8 E5
Is it good?
This is an episode that has fantastically shot scenes, but one that rings false. It's doing a lot, too much in fact, and it's clearly building towards a finale that could still manage to be highly entertaining. There are many deaths in this episode but sadly many seem to come and go as if the years we've spent rooting for the characters hasn't mattered. The sad truth is at this point you may have lost faith in the show's creators and fear they may not stick the landing. Considering how wobbly and forced this shows plot has been up to this point I don't blame you.
Well shot war scenes
Tyrion continues to be a great wild card
While unclear Arya's journey continues to be interesting
I guess dragons work great now? I suppose for future reference only use one
Danny goes full crazy murderous... because
Forced interactions for convenience to the plot

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