Time to Talk About Game of Thrones, I Guess-Part III: The Bells

***This Post May Contain Spoilers! Read At Your Own Risk!!***

I didn’t talk much in the last post about Sansa’s betrayal of Jon’s trust because I’d already watched Episode Five by that point, and I wanted to combine my thoughts on the outcome of that choice, which we get to see immediately in “The Bells”.  In case you’re not entirely sure what I’m talking about, I’m talking about Sansa almost immediately leaving the Godswood and telling the one person she knows will tell just about everyone in Westeros that Jon Snow is actually the true born son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. His claim to the Iron Throne is stronger than Daenerys’, whom Sansa more or less hated before they ever met.

And the one thing we’ve known about Tyrion Lannister since Day One is that he drinks and he knows things, and usually he has few qualms passing on the things he knows when he thinks it’s important. He probably shouldn’t have told Varys about Jon, and you get the sense he regrets ever opening his mouth because deep down he knows Daenerys is not mentally fit to rule. She’s as bad as, if not worse, than Cersei, which we learn rather quickly as she burns yet another person who betrayed her with dragon fire.

Having watched this episode twice, and knowing I could probably watch it at least two or three more times and still not pick up all the little nuances and hints, I was intrigued to notice on my second watch the reference to Maester Aemon’s quote from waaaaaaaay back when: A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing. Hearing this quote again, remembering its significance at the time he said it, put things in slightly better perspective, though I still haven’t entirely forgiven them for making Daenerys a power-hungry lunatic.

And she is alone in the world. Like, really alone. The one person who loved her unfailingly, who only left her side because she sent him away, is dead. Her closest confidant and friend is dead. Grey Worm is loyal, and he will follow her into whatever madness she leads him because that is what a good soldier does, but their relationship is nothing like the one she shared with Missandei or Jora. She wanted that with Jon, too, but her power has always intimidated him. She has nothing but the fear that binds the people around her to her cause. She loves Jon deeply, and he loves her too, but you can see she’s started to question that, worrying perhaps that he tells her what she wants to hear because she IS his queen. Fear has become her only real ally in a kingdom that wants nothing to do with her, and she must lean on it like a crutch if she’s to gain any kind of headway.

I read an interesting article about Varys after this episode, insinuating he’d been poisoning her and that was what the whole scene between him and Martha, the little kitchen girl, actually meant. So when Tyrion tells her she’s been betrayed, it means so much more than Varys trying to tell the world there is a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys’s claim. He was trying to kill her quietly because Jon had no intention of taking the throne; he didn’t want it.

The whole scene between Jon and Varys put me off a lot, namely because of the misogyny I mentioned in the last two posts, but also because it really feels like Varys has backed the wrong horse in every instance throughout his career as a behind-the-scenes kingmaker. Varys tells Jon flat out that people will more readily accept him as ruler not because his claim to the throne is stronger, but because he is a man. Her emails, Jon Snow… Her emails. But here’s the thing, Varys, (not that you can hear me because you’re dead, but I want to throw this out there anyway…) Maybe if you’d worked harder to sow seeds of content instead of conspiring against her, maybe if you’d nurtured her and continued to stand behind your advice against the types of things that made her look bad, she might have been slightly less likely to lose her mind. I don’t know, it was probably already too late for that, but lacking support, lack of love are definitely two major factors in her obvious downward spiral.

Looking back through the seasons that came before, many of the major players, the real power players, were women. Cersei Lannister. Olenna Tyrell. Catelyn Stark. Sansa and Arya Stark. Daenerys Targaryen. And yet, not until Cersei took the throne for herself after Tommen’s suicide were any of them really allowed to rule in actual name. Cersei was an obvious power behind the throne during Robert’s reign, but her real power surfaced during Tommen’s reign. And the thing about this that gets under skin, mine included, is that this is not a historical drama, but a high fantasy drama set in another world. Why not treat women more equally? Why fall back on the same tired misogynistic cliches about women’s places being in birthing beds, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc.? Why continue to support the notion that woman are too emotional to rule?

Because here’s the thing: as Daenerys rages across Essos and Westeros liberating the oppressed, she does a lot of the same things male tyrants do to grab power. She conquers with fire and blood, often making sacrifices she deems to be beneficial to the many. She believes her way is the right way, the only way. When men do this, it’s men being men and doing what men do. When she does it, it’s being shamefully interpreted as her being driven by feminine emotions that make her unstable and crazy. She does not forgive–she exterminates all those who would oppose her, and that is why there is no forgiveness for Varys. He keeps painting her as crazy, unhinged. He even tosses out that old saying about Targaryens: Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin and the world holds it breath to see how it will land. We watched Viserys descend into madness when things didn’t go his way, a madness visibly fueled by how alone he felt. Sure, he was always unhinged and cruel, but as he watched his sister gain the love and loyalty of the army he sold her to for himself, it pushes him into the abyss. We see the same thing happen with Dany as she witnesses the love everyone has for Jon, as she watches her friends and her children die, and while it’s sort of brilliant, it’s also incredibly sad that she fell prey to the same accursed Targaryen madness. I started wondering about their father, the Mad King. What happened to him that made him feel alone? It made me want to dig deeper into the lore to see what I could find.

Back to Varys, though… It was sad to see him go, but he managed to weave himself through the fabric of the game almost undetected for so long, serving king after king after queen… It was only a matter of time before his machinations got him killed, and she did promise to destroy him if he ever betrayed her.

That is where she stops keeping promises, I guess. As she informs Tyrion his brother Jaime has betrayed her to return to Cersei and warns him that he’ll be next to die if he makes another mistake, Tyrion manages to help his brother escape knowing she will not hesitate to kill him once she finds out. Tyrion is perfectly willing to sacrifice himself not just for his brother, but for the innocent people of Kings Landing. He assures Jaime that the city will fall (because Tyrion knows where all that wildfire is beneath the city, and it won’t take much but a few well-placed dragon breaths to destroy everyone and everything therein,) and convinces him to make Cersei ring the bells of surrender before escaping in a boat planted by Ser Davos.

It sounds like a solid plan, and it will definitely get Tyrion killed once she finds out, but he did make her promise she would draw back if they rang the bells. Once the battle starts, and Daenerys is on a roll, however, she starts breaking promises for what we can only assume she deems to be the ‘greater good’.

The point of views branch off just before the madness began, focusing on Daenerys and Drogon, Jon and Grey Worm, Arya and the Hound, Jaime, Cersei in the Red Keep, and all those innocent people about to pay for Cersei’s sins. But first, Daenerys is going to take out that pesky Iron Fleet because they killed her dragon. And when she’s done with that, she’ll destroy the Golden Company who obviously made a grave error in not bringing those elephants along. (Spoiler alert: I don’t think the elephants would have made much of a difference, Cersei.) She deals with those threats, also taking out the ballistae to keep Drogon safe, but then she lands and surveys the destruction she’s already left in her wake.

As the bells of Kings Landing start ringing, the fire for vengeance inside her is lit. Despite her assurance to Tyrion that she will spare the innocents of Kings Landing, Daenerys starts burning everything, vengefully glaring at The Red Keep every time she flies by and knowing it’s only a matter of time before she can finally destroy the one person who’s been standing between her and the Iron Throne. In the meantime, why not make everyone who ever potentially breathed the same air as Cersei pay? That little girl right there? She’s innocent, but she’s gotta pay. That poor family who was probably starving because of Cersei? Make them pay, too. I wondered how many of her own soldiers she burned because the thing about dragon fire is that it’s not entirely precise, and how can she tell from her vantage point in the sky who’s who down there? For most of the day, she burns Kings Landing to ash while her ground troops ride/march through raping (well, not the Unsullied, but those Dothraki, though), pillaging, and murdering everyone who isn’t them. Tyrion is flabbergasted; Jon is appalled, and rightly so. He’s seen glimpses of her temper and her rage and her insecurity, but nothing so horrifying as her blatant disregard for the innocents of that city.

This is the new age, I guess. Maybe he should have been more assertive after discovering his heritage, but much like Arya, that was never Jon. He had no desire to rule or boss anyone or anything, and every time it was thrust upon him, it ended badly. But seriously, Jon Snow, if you don’t think THIS SHIT is going to end badly, Ygritte was right about just how little you know.

So much of this episode was carnage to the max. Nearly an hour of the 90 minutes was spent watching people scream in the streets before becoming statues of ash and there’s a moment where The Hound convinces Arya to turn back and avoid winding up bitter like him and you almost thing she can get out before it’s too late, but if they didn’t have her running through the streets in horror most of the episode, what kind of episode would it be?

There were a lot of endings in this episode, some of them building up since the very first season. Like The Hound and The Mountain’s final showdown, for example. Established during those early episodes, their rivalry has existed since Sandor Clegane was an innocent boy burned (quite literally) by his heartless older brother. It felt… anticlimactic, I guess, probably because it was pinned between the much more enigmatic destruction of an entire city, and every time they shifted back to their endless fight on the steps of the crumbling Red Keep, I was like, “We don’t have time for this, people! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I loved The Hound. Out of everyone, he was probably one of the very few people in Westeros who was simply who he was without care or explanation, and though he was an ornery bastard, he was still one of the noblest knights to come out of Kings Landing.

We know Jaime is obviously going to die, and Cersei with him, but throwing Euron Greyjoy back into the mix to slow him down–especially after watching Euron’s ship get blown to bits by dragonfire at the start of Dany’s tirade, felt like a bit much. Or a lot much. I already hated Euron Greyjoy as a character, but to suggest he’s rival enough for Jaime fucking Lannister (imagine I said that in Robert Baratheon’s voice…) on his way to his death? It felt absurd, considering it was going to take much more than chucking Euron in his way to make it hard for him to actually find Cersei so they can die together in that mess and fulfill Jaime’s deathwish of dying in the arms of the woman he loves. I wonder how many fans celebrated their demise, just as I wonder how many people felt sad to see them die? I think that over the years, my compassion for Jaime Lannister grew exponentially while reading the books, and much like The Hound, he became one of my favorite characters. He was an arrogant fool for so long, but underneath it all there was so much more to him, and I loved the man he became. I love that he loved his little brother and protected him while they were growing up. Yeah, I was upset they sunk my ship, the S.S. Brieame (S.S. Tarthister? S.S. Jaimienne?), but it was always going to be Jaime and Cersei together in the end because they came into this world together and they would leave it the same way. Of all the deaths I’d witnessed so far, Jaime’s was one of the ones I was most emotional about because Brienne was right about him, no matter what he says. He was a good man despite all his shortcomings and failures.

As Arya stumbles through the aftermath, coming upon that white horse, the internet explodes and starts reading into the symbolism of the whole thing, but I’d personally given up trying to predict or even make sense of intended symbolism in this final season because it didn’t seem to add up. I’m still struggling with how rushed it all felt, and how I didn’t want George to be right, but they totally could have drawn this out for at the very least a few more episodes, if not a couple freaking seasons. I sat there at the end of that episode trying to figure out how they were going to wrap up all that insanity in 79 minutes the following Sunday, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine it, much less believe it would feel satisfying. But… I suppose that is for the next post, when I’ll talk about the finale. It might be a few days, maybe even a week because I definitely want to watch the episode one more time before I start talking about out loud. It’s a lot to process. Every time I write one of these posts, I feel like I’m missing everything and failing miserably at articulating my thoughts.

The thing is, I’ve loved this series for more than a decade, and while I’m definitely getting that closure I talked about back in my first endgame post, maybe I’m feeling a little sad it’s over. I am definitely upset by how poorly the female characters have been treated in a time we definitely need to display through media and entertainment that empowering women is a good thing. I am absolutely distraught over how rushed this season felt, and that isn’t me being butt hurt because my favorite show is ending and I greedily want more more more. I really believe they could have handled a lot of these things more gracefully if they’d expended more time and effort. Sure, we would have had to wait a little longer, but the longer the wait, the greater the reward.

At time of this writing, I have already watched the finale, so I know how it ends, but as I said above I still need more time to process what I’ve seen so a second watching is definitely in order. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the final season, so feel free to drop them in the comments section below and check back for my thoughts on the finale because much like winter, they are coming.

 

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