There several points in last night’s episode, ‘The Bells’, where Jon Snow is shocked and appalled at the absolute brutality unfolding around him in King’s Landing. These shots are juxtaposed with sweeping aerial shots of Dany burning King’s Landing in a terrifying showing of rage and power.
Yes, Daenerys has finally become the Mad Queen. But was this transformation earned, especially when many of us were rooting for her just two episodes ago?
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Emilia Clarke shared some thoughts on what filming Daenerys’ last scenes felt like. “It fucked me up,” she says. “Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavor in someone’s mouth of what Daenerys is . . .” It’s apparent that even Clarke is uneasy with how quickly her character has changed in the last few episodes.
While this descent into madness has been subtly foreshadowed in both the books and the show, the transition from ‘the Breaker of the Chains’ to a genocidal conqueror feels rushed and lacking. It feels like character assassination, which is, in a sense, a betrayal of the worst kind when it comes to storytelling.
The past four episodes have shown that Dany resents Jon Snow being more popular in Westeros, especially since he has a better claim to the throne than herself. Her increasing paranoia about her advisors turning on her- which is understandable, since her advisors have tended to either die or betray her- and urgency on pressing the attack on King’s Landing shows that she is very green when it comes to both politics and ruling. Even then, the show makes a nigh-impossible leap, turning Daenerys from a merely incompetent ruler to a mad, enraged murderer, laying waste to a city that had already surrendered.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A lot happened in this episode. Yes there were plenty of deaths, but there was plenty of spectacle too. Miguel Sapochnik returned to direct this episode; he pulls off what are probably the most harrowing battle scenes in the series so far, easily eclipsing his work in ‘The Long Night’.
At the start of the episode, Varys, who foresaw this transformation in the last episode, tries to supplant Dany with Jon, but his schemes are quickly foiled, courtesy of his fellow colleague (and dear friend) Tyrion. Although Daenerys informs Tyrion that he will pay dearly for any future mistakes, Tyrion still risks his hide to arrange Jaime’s escape to King’s Landing, telling his brother about the secret passageway he himself used to escape the city all the way back in Season 4.
When the battle begins, Dany makes short work of the Iron Fleet, deftly dodging all the scorpion bolts. She routs the Golden Company, blowing them away (along with a good portion of the city walls) with fire. As Tyrion predicted, the soldiers surrender and signal others to ring the bells. And then Dany glowers, shaking with rage as she looked at the Red Keep. With decisive finality, she begins burning citizens alive, strafing across every street on her way to the Keep. Jaime, in the meanwhile, ends up running into Euron, where both men mortally wound each other in what felt like a senseless battle.
Sapochnik does a fine job in capturing the depths and scale of this genocide. Jon Snow tries to prevent his soldiers from slaughtering inncocent women and children, going so far as to kill one of his own men when he catches the man trying to rape a defenseless citizen. Similarly, Arya tries to escape King’s Landing while the Hound goes off to fight the Mountain, bearing witness to the sheer magnitude of slaughter taking place across the city.
Cersei meets her end with Jaime in the crypts, crying and pleading for her unborn son’s life. Her death, in a way, underscores what this season has been lacking from the beginning. We haven’t really seen what’s been going on inside her mind for the past few seasons, ever since she took over the kingdom by blowing up the Sept. In the past, she’s always been a person who’s motivated chiefy by her family ties. We have seen how she’s always bristled when surrounded by men who belittle and undermine her. Yet, Cersei has remained frustratingly one dimensional in the last two seasons. Although Lena Headey did a great job with what little the writers gave her, Cersei has barely spoken throughout these last five episodes.
In a sense, this is a big problem that plagues almost all characters this season. There’s no exploration of Dany’s psyche once she goes full Mad Queen on King’s Landing; similarly, while Jon Snow has repeatedly confirmed his fealty to his Queen, we don’t get much of a peek into what’s going on in his head as he watches the person he loves (or at least, loved) self-destruct in such spectacular fashion.
The episode ends with Arya finding a white horse and riding off on said horse to confront Dany and her armies. Some have noted that the white horse is emblematic of the pale horse belonging to Death, one of the Horsemen of Apocalypse. It’s clear that either Arya or Jon will slay Daenerys, now that there’s no way to redeem her character. What does that mean for the Iron Throne?
Perhaps, Jon will inherit it through his stronger claim. Or perhaps, he will abdicate, leaving the Throne to smarter people like Tyrion or Sansa. That still remains to be seen, and it will be one of the chief reasons for the people tuning into the show next week for the final time. As it stands, Game of Thrones is still a very good show. It’s just not as great as it was anymore, and that has understandably disappointed many fans worldwide. Let’s hope posterity is kinder to both the show and the cast once the dust has settled.