Winter has come. After almost two years of waiting (and over 70 hours of screentime), “Game of Thrones” season 8 episode 5 has revealed itself on HBO.
Here at Super, we wish to share our excitement by re-watching the episode with you. But instead of a recap, we will detail all the Easter Eggs, little references and how all the little clues tie in to the great story that George R.R. Martin—and by extension, show runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff—are telling. We will tie in every little thing in these episodes with the events that have happened in the past.
Yes, we will turn everyone in Three-Eyed Ravens, able to see the events on Westeros from season 1 to season 8 all at once. We will share and savor the Maester-level intelligence. This is the best, and we believe, the only way to truly appreciate for what the most anticipated season of TV ever.
So massive, SUPER SPOILER warnings on a level never seen before.
Location: King’s Landing
This is only the second episode in the entire series set in just one location. Because we do not see Winterfell, we also do not see Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) in this episode.
This was the episode lying in wait for the viewer.
The showrunners and the actors all distracted us with all the talk about how big episode 3’s Battle of Winterfell was. All this time, we were being led unknowingly to the spectacle and the slaughter of the Battle of King’s Landing.
The episode begins with Varys (Conleith Hill) up to his old tricks. After finding out about Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) true parentage from Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Varys wasted no time in undermining Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Varys has always devoted his energy serving the person he saw was best fit to rule the Seven Kingdoms, from the beginning of the War of the Seven Kings. He had always represented “the realm.” This is why he had tried killing Dany before, back in season 1, by poisoning her wine (it failed). Here, he is attempting to poison her again through her food, but Dany won’t eat anything, either because of her depression or because she doesn’t want to get poisoned. Varys is once again operating a network of little birds—represented here by the Dragonstone kitchen girl Martha—as his original network of little birds in King’s Landing is now being operated by Qyburn (Anton Lesser). Varys also doesn’t get discouraged easily as he indicates he would continue to try and poison Dany.
Jon arrives at Dragonstone and Varys tries to get him to turn on Dany. Not today, Jon says. Tyrion decides to tell Dany about Varys. Dany seemed more upset about Jon telling Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) than she is about Varys, but decides to execute Varys anyway.
Right before he is arrested, Varys is still sending out ravens (just like Ned Stark) with news about Jon’s claim. We can only assume these ravens have been sent to places such as Dorne and the Citadel to rally support for Dany.
To be fair, Dany is only carrying out her promise to Varys when Varsys pledged his support to her: She promised to burn him alive. Varys knew this and betrayed her anyway.
This beach is where Stannis Baratheon staged his own executions.
Dany, looking tired, declares Varys’ sentence in a very robotic, clipped manner, something that Jon notices. This is the most cold-blooded “Dracarys” we have heard so far from her.
It is fascinating that they stage Drogon as a full-on horror in this scene. He has never looked more frightening. In particular, the way Drogon emerges from the darkness, baring his teeth and snout before breathing fire is extremely reminiscent the way Ridley Scott staged the emergence of the Xenomorph in 1977’s “Alien.” The show runners clearly want to use Drogon to scare viewers, and we will later see why.
The scene between Jon and Dany only emphasizes that, with the revelation of Jon’s parentage, the relationship between them has changed forever.
This scene also emphasizes how Jon is essentially the Ned Stark of this generation. He clings on to his formal idea of honor and truth, choosing to always tell the truth even when advised (or blackmailed) to do otherwise and remaining loyal to his queen even if he is counseled against it.
This is when Dany decides to burn down King’s Landing.
This episode has proven to be extremely divisive because of the decision Dany makes to burn down the city. But it wasn’t a momentary decisiobb brought about by madness.
Even since her ascension in the East, Dany has left behind a trail of burnt corpses, chaos and military rule. She arrived at Yunkai, Astapoor and Mereen as a liberator but leaves behind a dysfunctional regime. In fact, she left Daario Naharis precisely to run while she took her army across the Narrow Sea.
Her actions were deemed by viewers as heroic—but they were horrific nonetheless. It’s just that she was deemed the heroine—the narrative she was building.
This does not make her evil or a villain. It makes her a conqueror, worthy of admiration and, yes, fear. It would be extremely disingenuous to paint her in solid shades. She had good counsel from great advisors who had been appealing to her merciful side.
This is the same Dany we’ve had all along. The shift may indeed be disappointing and upsetting, but it wasn’t unforeseen. In many ways, the show runners may have been hinting at it a bit too heavily in season 8.
That of course has been the problem with season 7 and 8. The decision to condense the seasons has proven problematic for the show as it has led to characters acting seemingly out of character, but the truth is, it was just too short a time. Imagine how well those character arcs would have worked if you had a total of 20 episodes. The feature-length format doesn’t really help because it is precisely the serialization that allows a show to build characters.
She is a Targaryen, the daughter of Aerys II, the Mad King. Dany wanted to burn the city all along. Varys (dead), Jon (gone to King’s Landing) and Tyrion (useless) were all against it. Dany doesn’t care. Her Dragonstone throneroom discussion with Tyrion about the bells is fascinating because she isn’t actually talking to Tyrion; she is talking to Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), telling Grey Worm to go to the city gates and wait. He would know when the time is right.
This action that Dany, now the true Mad Queen, takes doesn’t necessarily make her the villain of the series, only the major antagonist of the final episode, opposite the protagonists, Jon, Sansa and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams).
This also illuminates how far Tyrion has fallen from grace and effectivity. He is now engaged in full-on treason. And he does so for family, something he has consistently done throughout the show. His treasonous action of freeing Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) gave us one of the entire series’ best moments. The two brothers have always stood up for each other, Jaime even defying Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) to free Tyrion after his trial. Tyrion is returning the favor. Tyrion may be compassionate, but he proves to be tragically naïve.
His belief that Dany would stop her attack should the bells ring is completely unfounded. His ridiculous plan for Jaime and Cersei to row away to a new life was never going to happen. That is one of GOT’s most subtle curses, that the intelligent fall prey to their feelings.
The episode gets its title, “The Bells,” obviously from the bells of King’s Landing, but bells have proven ominous throughout the show. The title indicates the folly of believing in the better side of people.
One of the most frustrating things on the show is the lip service often paid to important and more substantial elements in the books. The use of the Golden Company and its captain, Harry Strickland (Marc Rissman), is a good example of this. It’s great that they were included, but they proved completely inconsequential to the story.
The same is true about how the show deals with prophecies. The show hints at them and then does whatever it wants anyway. We already had this issue with the Azor Ahai stuff (this is still going on) and it happens here with the Valonqar prophecy.
Yes, that scene of Drogon’s shadow flying over the roofs of King’s Landing was indeed seen in Bran’s (Issac Hempstead Wright) visions, which begs the question of whether Bran knew about the fate of King’s Landing and chose to do or say nothing, or that he didn’t understand what it meant.
The Euron Greyjoy-Jaime fight was pointless, by the way.
What was not pointless was Cleganebowl. It was spectacular, but, it has to be pointed out, completely predictable. The Hound (Rory McCann) went out spectacularly.
The most interesting part of the fight was the revelation that the Mountain (Hafpor Julius Njornsson) was sentient and conscious all this time. Since Ser Gregor was fatally poisoned after killing Oberyn Martell and subsequently brought back by Qyburn, everyone assumed he was the brainless Frankenstein’s Monster to Qyburn’s Dr. Frankenstein. One assumed all the horrible things the Mountain did was because he had to follow Qyburn’s orders. It turns out he knew what he was doing all along, and willingly chose to do all the horrific things he did. And yes, the show did not bother to explain his zombie weaknesses, unlike the wights of the Night King.
This is the most we’ve seen of Drogon in action. The CGI is amazing, and the show correctly depicts onscreen the nature of the dragons on the show—the Westerosi equivalent of nuclear weapons. Drogon comes full circle as a creature of power and terror.
This is a similar approach to Jaime. From the beginning, Jaime was depicted as a man who was trying to become a better man. His better side ultimately was embodied by his chaste romance with Brienne of Tarth, but this episode shows that he is truly, truly obsessed with his sister. Yes, like Dany’s turn, it is disappointing and rushed, but it is what he was all along.
Cersei has one last great episode and Headey acts the heck out of it, her initial bravado lost to fear and frailty as the woman who said “Power is power” is ultimately powerless in the end.
Many have been troubled by the touching final moments of the twins and the fact that nobody got to kill Cersei as her comeuppance for all the terrible things she did. But the show loves these two, and in the end, gave them an emotional farewell. Their death may not have been violent, but it was heartbreaking too, as they proved to be just two more casualties of the disaster that had befallen the city they pretended to care for.
Director Miguel Sapochnik powerfully stages the ground-level horror of the sacking of King’s Landing through the details attached to three events: the firebombing of Dresden, the volcanic eruption of Pompei and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Yes, Sapochnik is making the visual connection of the King’s Landing events to a wartime attack on civilians, a natural disaster and a terrorist attack on a big city. That’s because all these three things befell King’s Landing.
The result is that this gorgeously-shot, wonderfully-scored episode is the most violent of all GOT episodes. It combines all the previous deaths–fire, decapitation, stabbing–and then puts them all together in a row. Unlike season 8, episode 3’s Battle of Winterfell, it’s al shot in the bright daylight. Nothing is obscured. The episode is so violent, repeated viewings of it might give you Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It makes you feel like you went to war.
The most vicious thing about this episode isn’t the particularly ubiquitous violence and gore. The most vicious thing is how is uses the camera’s point of view as a weapon, tearing us away from easy ideas of good and evil. It’s been well documented that while Martin admired J.R. Tolkien, he immensely disliked the good vs. evil dichotomy that Tolkien liked to use.
From the very beginning, Martin liked to show that the soldiers of either side were always vicious, but the viewers fell for the showrunner’s Stark-good, Lannister-evil binary way too willingly. By turning the camera around, Sapochnik shows the Northernmen as violent invaders and the Lannisters into urgent defenders. This is something that Jon himself experienced and something that Arya saw.
As for those complaining that Northernmen would never just randomly killing and raping people (that’s supposed to be a Lannister thing), nothing could be farther from the truth. The Stark bannermen carry out some fairly messed up things on the show, but are staged as the “heroes.” It was the late Jorah Mormont who described the previous sacking of King’s Landing, and he said good men joined the slaughter once they had a sword in their hands. It has happened in every sacking of every medieval city. It happened in World War II whenever a side would take a village. And it happens here, as it would in any war.
All this is witnessed by one of the show’s most popular characters, Arya. She is almost killed several times by falling rubble, like the Lannisters, but somehow survived. That’s because she and Jon are stand-ins for the audience. We were Arya when she pushed aside that poor woman and child to get into the city. We were Arya when she was running desperately just to survive. And we were Arya when she tried but failed to save the same woman and child. We will also be Arya when she goes and kills whoever (or whatever) she will kill in the last episode.
And what is up with that horse? Despite easy observation, that is not the same horse Strickland was riding. It’s a survivor, like Arya, alluding the Pale Horse of biblical reference. And Arya is about to become death personified.
In the lead-up to this episode, the writers had done a terrible job of making anyone in King’s Landing sympathetic, to the point that, after the execution of Missandei, many were calling for Dany to burn down the city.
But when they saw the horror of what that meant, audiences watched speechlessly. They were horrified, as they should be, whether or not they agree with it, or expected it. There is no situation, even the hardcore following of one character or another, that could justify agreeing with the wholesale slaughter of innocents. This episode, hated or beloved, reminded us what it felt like to be living, breathing, feeling person in the chaos of GOT.
In the scene where the Lannisters reunite, a tremor creates a crack on the floor of the map room. It divides the South (King’s Landing) from the North (Winterfell) which references the rift that will become evident in the next episode as Jon (and Sansa and Arya) will be on one side and Dany (and Grey Worm) will be on the other. Grey Worm of course gave Jon the stink eye when Jon tried to stop his bannermen from killing the surrendering Lannister soldiers. Is that considered treason? Is it enough for Dany to sentence Jon to be executed? Dany’s own claim to the throne will be fortified by the death of Jon. But what about those ravens Varys sent out? What about the information he and Tyrion shared? Just how many people now know about Jon’s being a Targaryen male heir?
In the lead-up to the final episode, let us just remark on one element that seems to be forgotten: magic in Westeros. At the very end of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Age of the Elves has ended, and all the magic leaves Middle-Earth. That is why Frodo and Bilbo Baggins had to leave on the ships; so utterly changed by the magic of the One Ring, they were no longer Hobbits. Like Gandalf, they no longer belonged on Middle-Earth. Thus did the Age of Men begin.
Something similar is happening to Westeros. At the start of the show, there was virtually no magic visible. But once Dany’s dragons were born, the Night King made his move on the south, the Three-Eyed Raven revealed itself, and the Lord of Light began empowering agents. By now, the Night King is dead. The Lord of Light has lost his agents and thus no longer active. Characters with magical abilities such as Melissandre and Beric Dondarrion are gone.
It seems like a very George R.R. Martin thing to end the show by GOT beginning its own Age of Men, a messy but thoroughly human drama, which is what the books have been. For this to happen, Drogon needs to die and Bran needs to leave Westeros. With the magic gone, Westeros will now be in the flawed hands of men and women, as it really should be.
Deaths: Varys, Harry Strickland (and all the Golden Company), Euron Greyjoy, Qyburn, The Hound, The Mountain, Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister and the one million inhabitants of King’s Landing.
Best line: Daenerys Targaryen: “Let it be fear.”
“Game of Thrones” season 8 episode 6 airs on HBO on Monday at 9 a.m. with a primetime replay at 10 p.m.