Let me tell you why that Game of Thrones episode was actually good

I am the shield that guards the realms of correct opinions


Nobody's happy with Game of Thrones. It just delivered one of TV's biggest ever spectacles, and it just seems like nobody's happy.

If you haven't seen it, spoilers ahead.

Apparently it was so bad that the cast have secretly been trying to warn everyone. The episode even had the show's lowest ever rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Stop right there.

Saying things are bad on the internet is really easy. Especially when we've not been treated particularly well by a lacklustre and rushed season.

But am I the only one who thought it was good?

Whether it's me clutching at straws or not, this episode redeemed Game of Thrones. Here's why this episode didn't suck like everyone says.

Daenerys going mad was a genuine payoff, not an un-earned shock

Everyone's mad at Dany going crazy and burning King's Landing. Not because they disagree with the direction of the character, but because they feel cheated.

For the breaker of chains to suddenly turn tyrant in what feels like one episode comes across as un-earned, apparently. Game of Thrones ruined Dany with this twist, say the haters.

Cersei not sending troops, Jon's revelation, losing Rhaegal, Varys' plot, Missandei's death – you're ignoring a lot of this season's biggest events if you're surprised by Dany's turn this episode. Things could have been so different if none of those foreshadowing events happened.

Let's not forget how all of Dany's backstory is focused around Targaryen rage and her entitlement to the throne. In Essos, even as she tried to feed her better instincts and liberate people, the wanton displays of brutality always came. Where she could have seen them as grim necessities, she never seemed to shy away from them.

And within this episode? People are saying her madness came out of nowhere. It was always going to be steep, a moment where she snaps. How do you ramp up to burning a city? Burn half a city? It's almost as though people wanted a Peep Show-style internal monologue as Dany debates letting Drogon loose.

The conflict at the heart of Dany's whole character – the breaker of chains wrestling the tyrant Targaryen – is something everyone's aware of. But the change was too quick, critics say. Those events were merely things the writers had happen to her to move the plot along. But there have been subtler signs throughout season eight.

Dany's reaction to Jon's true parentage is the 'deeper foreshadowing' everyone's after, but somehow ignored

Since the beginning of Game of Thrones, Dany's pain at losing her family has driven her. As a Targaryen alone in the world, finding out she has family in Jon should have some positives. It should, really, be a great moment for her.

Instead, we get a drawn-out tantrum, a show of petulance from Dany that her divine status has been challenged. There's pain that her love has been taken away, and resentment that her claim to the throne has been challenged.

On a human level, it's understandable. She's worked so hard to get there. But it's also a sign of how her priorities have become warped, and all she can see is the throne.

These are the slow-burning character moments people were wishing for, but ignored. You realise Dany's pain hasn't been so much about being estranged from her family and home, but from her destiny as ruler.

So when she's got the chance to stamp her authority on things, what do you expect?

Almost every other character's plot was satisfying and hit hard

Critics of this episode say characters didn't get what they deserved – or more accurately, what fans hoped they'd get.

People have even gone so far as to say every character was ruined.

That's the wrong way to look at it.

Game of Thrones author George RR Martin often says the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. Almost every other character's conflict came to the forefront here.

Jon

Jon's story is all about duty and the things he'll personally endure to see this through. He got stabbed by the Night's Watch for allying with the Wildlings, and lost Ygritte.

As Dany torches King's Landing, he sees where duty and endlessly repeating "she is my queen" gets him. He's been paralysed by duty and has a big call to make next week.

Jaime

Lots of people are saying Jaime should have had his happy ending with Brienne, or deserved a heroic death killing Cersei.

Over and over, Jaime pushes the limits of redemption and sees whether good deeds are actually worth it. He's a flawed character, and ultimately couldn't escape this when he decided to leave Brienne.

It's probably Jaime who rang the bells to try and save the city from Dany's flames. But right at the end, when it came to it, he was defined by his love for Cersei.

Cersei didn't kill Jaime when he walked away from her at the end of season seven, and the pull of love was too much for him to walk away from entirely.

Cersei

By killing one of Dany's dragons and letting the opposing army deplete themselves, Cersei played a blinder. And then it all crumbled. In the end, we were reminded that the only humanising thing about Cersei was her love for her kids.

Grey Worm

Game of Thrones often gives its minority characters a two-dimensional treatment. Grey Worm's ruthless breakdown proved an exception.

Throughout the episode, from throwing Missandei's neck brace into the fire, all the way to initiating the slaughter, depth is given to a character who could so easily have been a shallow action figure. A cold, emotionless super-soldier is broken by love and grief. As a payoff, it hits hard.

Arya

There was a reason Arya spent so long on her gap year in Braavos figuring out her identity. Is she an unfeeling faceless assassin, or the cocksure but emotional Arya Stark?

When the Hound convinced her to turn around, it wasn't a #girlboss suddenly shrinking and becoming weak, it was one side of this conflict winning out.

Sure, she's still the deadly assassin who shanked the Night King. But at pivotal moments in this episode – as with Dany and Jaime – one side prevailed.

Arya became Arya Stark, afraid and ultimately not ruined by a quest for vengeance.

Tyrion

Everything that makes Tyrion a great character came to the fore in this episode.

The dash of hubris thinking he could stop Daenerys on his own with sheer power of cunning, the pure good intentions trying to stop her in the first place, and the heartbreaking family moments. His goodbye to Jaime was heartbreaking.

Tyrion facing up to his limitations and who he really is was far more satisfying than him somehow Sherlocking a solution.

It vindicated the choice to get the White Walkers out of the way early

When Arya killed the Night King, I could have cried. It felt too quick. Seasons of buildup for this?

Ultimately, this episode showed that them not being around any more is a good thing. Game of Thrones is at its best not when pitting good living guys against evil dead zombies.

The use of the dragons turned out to be really smart

Let's ignore the amount of calories needed for Drogon to do all that.

Dany used her dragon as though she's actually learned from what's happened this series. Gone were the dumb military tactics from Winterfell and getting owned by the big crossbows. Instead, Dany pressed home her advantage.

It reaffirmed why Game of Thrones was good in the first place

Ok, it's a bit "the curtains were blue". But this episode returned to the themes which Game of Thrones has owned for so long – the futility of war, the folly of leaders, the fallibility of humans.

It rested not on fate and convenience, but on human conflict and the consequence of actions which have been missing for a long time in season eight.

I will hold my hands up and say this season has been handled badly. It's been rushed and needed more episodes. But "The Bells' might have single-handedly saved it.

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