Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones’ “The Bells.”
“The Bells,” marked the end for five of Game of Thrones‘ major characters—four to death and one to total madness. And all of these endings, especially the one that led to the complete destruction of King’s Landing, came with major problems.
The first character to bid a fiery adieu was Varys, whose long-held trust in Tyrion failed him. It’s no surprise the Master of Whispers met his demise after openly discussing his plans to betray a queen who promised to bathe him in dragonflame if he ever did. The problem is he allowed himself to be in such a position. Varys served more kings and queens than anyone because he knew how to operate in the shadows. While his devotion to the Realm remained true right to the very end, Varys was killed because he suddenly forgot how he’s been able to survive for so long: keeping secrets (only an idiot would tell Jon Snow anything important) and eluding his enemies by operating in the shadows. At best he thought a blatant act of betrayal was going to turn him into a martyr that would reveal Daenerys’ madness, but he was obviously wrong. He didn’t change anyone’s minds, and now he’s not around to help overthrow her.
Sandor Clegane’s ending at least felt true to his character, as The Hound got to share one last lesson with Arya. Plus, he went down fulfilling his one dream in life, as the long-awaited Cleganebowl ended in a double knockout. The problem here was that the actual fight was so over the top it was laughable, undercutting any emotional weight. The two brothers didn’t just fight, they fought inside a crumbling castle as a dragon flew overhead burning the city. It didn’t help that it just kept going and going and going. The episode treated this one sequence like it was way more important than almost any other event in the episode, and the longer it went on the sillier it got.
Jaime and Cersei
At least The Hound, always a secondary character even if he was rightfully a fan-favorite, went out in a blaze of glory. Jaime and Cersei, two of the most important characters on the show, went out in a pile of rubble. Cersei did get a chance to stop being the cartoon villain the show had turned her into, but it was underwhelming because of how the episode got the two of them to that moment.
Jaime had another farewell conversation with Tyrion, their fourth in the show’s history and second in two weeks. Then a Lannister brother escaped yet another dire situation with ease (yawn), before managing to evade every falling stone and flume of dragonfire to get to his sister. Meanwhile, the normally smart Cersei, who managed to plan a sneak attack that killed a dragon last episode, oversaw the single worst battle performance in show history. All of those crossbows, the same ones that hit Rhaegal three times last week from boats, barely even fired any this week. The show went to all those lengths to even the odds, then when the time came, said, “Never mind, Cersei has no chance and this will be the easiest thing Daenerys has ever done.”
That’s not Cersei’s fault, but by the time Jaime got to the lone survivor of a totally ruined Red Keep, the entire sequence of events leading up to their final moment felt so forced it was hard to reengage in the personal element of their story. In an episode where an ostensibly good character lost her mind, it was Cersei, a self-serving sociopath who blew up hundreds of innocent people before, who got to go out in the best light possible, all in a scene that was significantly shorter than that in which the Clegane brothers stabbed each other in the eyes. Jaime and Cersei’s ending was anti-climactic, another death whose emotional impact was undercut by everything surrounding it.
However, the most problematic ending of the episode was that of Daenerys’ sanity. For seven seasons, she worried more about the lives of the common people than she did any powerful lords. She wanted to “break the wheel” and make a better world, and while she wasn’t perfect, she consistently showed why hundreds of thousands followed her and believed in her, including the cynical Tyrion. (So she burned two Tarlys who wouldn’t bend the knee. What do people think has happened for thousands of years in that exact situation?) Then in the final season, Sansa, who didn’t know her, said she didn’t trust her. And Varys, after one major setback where she responded with a temper everyone knew Daenerys had (Daenerys included), suddenly decided this woman he worked years to install as ruler was obviously a lunatic.
For years, we saw who Daenerys was as a person, and we knew her. Then this season, some characters said she was totally different, so when she turned out to be the opposite of what we knew her to be, it felt cheap and unearned. The show didn’t put in the work necessary for that moment to feel authentic. It was a betrayal of the character and everything we’ve seen before.
Daenerys was never above burning her enemies, or of punishing injustice, but she would never, ever, ever hurt an innocent person. When she heard the bells, she finally had everything she wanted, but inexplicably that was when she decided to destroy the city anyway, something her brother Viserys would have done. She was never her brother, and nothing before she torched King’s Landing ever showed us she would become him. That’s not the character arc the show gave us. That was not Daenerys Targaryen, Breaker of Chains.