Remember when Daenerys’ dragons roasted that innocent little girl in the Season 4 finale, and her father wept as he dumped her charred bones at khaleesi’s feet? Take the feelings of everyone in that room, toss ’em in a blender and you’ll get the emotional cocktail I’m sipping throughout this week’s Game of Thrones. Horrified at what’s happening before my eyes. Emotionally wrung-out from the loss. Simultaneously thrilled by and worried about what’s likely to take place in the very near future. And rocking a killer braided updo, naturally.
Next week is Thrones‘ series finale, the fact of which seems just as surreal as dragons and Red Women and an army of blue-eyed corpses marching in lockstep. But I’ve got precious little brainpower to process that fact, given the sheer amount of death and destruction that unfolds in this episode as Daenerys turns King’s Landing into her own personal s’mores pit.
Read on for the highlights of “The Bells.”
HOUSE TARGARYEN | We open on Varys writing down the story of Jon’s true parentage and identity as Aegon Targaryen. He’s interrupted by a young girl, one of his sparrows, who reports that “she” won’t eat and that “her” soldiers are watching her. He agrees they probably are, then reminds her of their motto: “The greater the risk, the greater the reward.” Then he sends her back to the kitchen.
Outside, Tyrion watches from on high while Jon arrives at Dragonstone via boat. Varys meets him and informs him that Daenerys hasn’t seen anyone, left her chambers or eaten anything since Missandei’s death. “We all know what she’s about to do,” the eunuch says, and Jon parrots the “she’s our queen” line. Varys says he only wants the right ruler on the Iron Throne, and he’s certain that Jon is the one. “I don’t want it. I never have,” Jon says, clearly upset by the prospect. “You will rule wisely and well, while she —” Varys starts, but Jon stops him: “She is my queen.”
Tyrion then finds Daenerys in the war room, staring out into the middle distance. “There’s something you need to know,” he starts. “Someone has betrayed me,” she answers flatly. “Jon Snow.” Tyrion corrects her: “Varys.” She intuits that Varys knows the truth about Jon, and that Tyrion told him. He makes the case for why everyone who knows Aegon’s real deal needed to know, but she points out that Tyrion should have come to her first. And what dog does Sansa have in this fight, again? “She trusted you to spread secrets that would destroy your own queen, and you did not let her down,” Dany says quietly, looking a bit unhinged, with messy hair and dark shadows under her eyes. Tyrion says that he made a mistake, but it’ll all be OK. “It doesn’t matter now,” he says, a line she parrots.
That night, Varys can hear the boots marching toward his door as he burns what he wrote and then takes off a ring. Grey Worm opens the door to the spider’s quarters, and soon he’s being marched under armed guard down to the beach below the castle. Daenerys and Jon are there, as is Tyrion. “It was me,” Tyrion says, indicating he sold him out, and Tyrion doesn’t look surprised. He merely says he hopes he was wrong about what will come to pass. “Goodbye, old friend,” he says. Then Daenerys runs through roughly half the litany of her name and sentences him to death. There is no malice in her voice; in fact, as she utters “Dracarys” to Drogon, who’s waiting behind her, she might as well have been ordering that herbal tea HBO joked about last episode. After the dragon barbecues Varys, Jon looks at his queen like he’s never seen her before. (Read Varys’ obituary here, and then find out why portrayer Conleth Hill didn’t have a lot of love for this season.)
When they’re alone later, Dany sadly tells Jon that Sansa killed Varys just as much as she did, and cited the terrible incident as the reason she didn’t want anyone to know about who he really is. “Far more people in Westeros love you than love me. I don’t have love here. I only have fear,” she says, but Jon demurs. “I love you. You will always be my queen,” he counters. “Is that all I am to you? Your queen?” she says, all sultry-like, and they kiss for a minute before it ends much the same way their tonsil hockey session ended last episode.
In the throne room at Dragonstone, Tyrion argues that the people of King’s Landing are as innocent as the slaves in Meereen she liberated. She doesn’t really listen. Just before she gives Grey Worm the order to sack the city, Tyrion begs for her to back off if she hears bells: That means the city’s citizens are surrendering. Before he goes, she delivers the news that Jaime was caught trying to cross their lines, making it seem like he hasn’t abandoned Cersei, after all. “The next time you fail me will be the last time you fail me,” she warns. (Did I mention it seems like has her ish back together?) When Jon and Tyrion arrive at King’s Landing, Tyrion asks Davos for a favor.
HOUSE STARK: A-DEBT-TO-PAY EDITION | Arya and The Hound arrive in King’s Landing. She announces that she’s going to kill Cersei, and The Hound explains to the soldier on duty why it’s a good thing for him. When the confused soldier goes to ask a superior about it, the deadly duo just go ahead and ride on in anyway. (Ha!)
HOUSE LANNISTER: BROTHERS-GOTTA-HUG EDITION | Tyrion sweet-talks his way into where Jaime is being held by the Unsullied. “How did they find you?” Tyrion asks, and when Jaime indicates his golden hand was the giveaway, he owns up to being the dumbest Lannister. They argue about whether or not the city will fall the next day — Tyrion thinks it will, Jaime says it won’t — but then Tyrion lays out a plan for his brother to sneak out of the city and sail to Pentos. Jaime says he’ll do it, and Tyrion makes sure Jaime knows to tell the guards to ring the bells on his way out. Jaime points out that Daenerys will kill her Hand of the King when she finds out; Tyrion says that his death is worth it if it saves thousands of innocent lives. Plus, Jaime is the only reason he survived childhood, he says. “You were the only one who didn’t treat me like a monster. You were all I had,” Tyrion adds, and the brothers hug and weep before Tyrion sneaks back out into the night.
The next morning, the Iron Fleet lays in wait in the harbor. Cersei’s soldiers run through the town, ordering everyone to get inside as soon as possible. The Hound and Arya walk through the chaos, as does Jaime, who donned a hood but DIDN’T TAKE OFF HIS FREAKING GOLDEN APPENDAGE. Oh honey, it’s true: You’re so pretty, but The Lord of Light don’t give with two hands, does he?
Eventually, all of Cersei’s forces are lined up facing all of Daenerys’ forces, and Tyrion reminds Jon that if he hears the bells, he’s got to call off his men. From her spot in the Red Keep, Cersei stares out over the city like the cat that’s about to wildfire the canary. And soon we learn a possible why: It looks like she’s ordered the gates to the city closed, leaving a whole lot of people — including Jaime, whom she couldn’t have known was out there — outside the city’s gates and directly in Daenerys’ path.
Soon after, Daenerys swoops in on Drogon and starts laying waste to all the ships in the bay, as well as the giant arrow-hauler guys on the wall. On the other side of King’s Landing, Harry Strickland and the Golden Company stand off against Jon and his men… until Drogon busts out from inside the city and lights everything on fire. What the beast’s fiery break doesn’t get, the Unsullied and Dothraki take care of, until Daenerys’ forces are galloping through a King’s Landing that’s ablaze. (Oh, and I think Grey Worm takes out Strickland himself, but in the frenzy of recapping, please correct me if that’s not accurate.)
Quick Q: Why in the Seven’s name didn’t Daenerys just fly right to Cersei’s tower and flambé her? Anyway…
Back in her hidey hole, Cersei vows that they only need one good shot to win. Qyburn, of all people, is the voice of reason, saying that all the giant arrow deals are destroyed. But she’s got faith in Euron — um, OK? — and promises him that “The Red Keep’s never fallen. It won’t fall today.”
Eventually Jon, Grey Worm and Davos are at the head of the crowd when the Targaryen and Lannister forces face off within the city. The Lannister soldiers, perhaps intimidated by Drogon, who’s perched nearby and screeching, surrenders by dropping their swords. This is a good thing, right? Why does this not feel like a good thing?
Maybe it’s because Jaime is running through the city and grabbing a sword from a random pile with a very wrongheaded look on his face?
Maybe it’s because Tyrion keeps waiting for bells to ring, and they’re not? BUT WAIT, THEN THEY DO. From Drogon’s back, Daenerys hears them loud and clear. And then she flies over and torches the innocents, anyway.
HOUSE TARGARYEN: ENTER-THE-MAD-QUEEN EDITION | A moment later, Grey Worm hurls a spear into the chest of one of the surrendered soldiers, and then it’s bloody bedlam. The Unsullied leader fights without his helmet, so we can see every iota of revenge and bloodlust play out on his features. Jon tries to hold his men back, but then even he is force into hacking and stabbing just to stay alive. Eventually, all of the soldiers turn on the townsfolk as well, and maybe one of the most harrowing moments is watching a little girl, paralyzed with fear, while all of the adults in her vicinity lay waste to each other.
From afar, Tyrion can’t believe what he’s seeing. From another afar, neither can Cersei. And still, Daenerys dracaryses merrily along, Drogon spitting fire all the way until he arrives at the Red Keep.
HOUSE GREYJOY: COCKY-IS-AS-COCKY-DIES EDITION | Jaime actually makes it to the boat Tyrion prepped for him… only to find Euron wading out of the water to taunt him about Cersei. There are a few jokes, an “I shtupped Cersei” pissing contest, and then they’re going at it with their blades. Eventually they both lose grip of their weapons, but while they’re scrabbling around in the sand, Euron gets hold of Jaime’s sword and runs it through him. But Jaime manages to get a burst of energy and a lucky shot, and he grabs the sword back and runs it through him. “I got you!” Euron says as Jaime staggers off and the most annoying Greyjoy starts to perish, as ridiculous in death as he ever was in life: “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister.”
When Qyburn informs Cersei that the Unsullied are literally at their door, she begins to cry. As she leaves her window, pockets of Wildfire burst into green flame in the burning city below her.
HOUSE CLEGANE: BOWL-ME-OVER EDITION | The Hound and Arya are in Cersei’s abandoned map room when he tells her to leave, kill list be damned. “You come with me, you die here,” he says, using himself as a cautionary tale for revenge run amok. “Sandor, thank you,” she says, then he takes off.
Cersei, Qyburn, The Mountain and assorted Lannister red shirts walk through the palace while it’s crumbling around them; somehow, they survive all of the falling debris… only to find The Hound walking up to them. The Hound dispatches of the remaining soldiers, and when The Mountain approaches his brother and both Cersei and Qyburn try to stop him, The Mountain smashes the faux maester’s head into a rock so it splits like an overripe cantaloupe.
I’m assuming Cersei didn’t buy tickets to #Cleganebowl 2019? Because she hightails it outta there FAST. And the brothers do their thing (about which we go into far greater detail here). Suffice to say that at one point, The Hound impales his older sibling with a sword… and it does nothing to stop the monster. (No judgments: He’s lost his armor at this point, and he’s a legit monster now.) No matter what The Hound does — including sticking a dagger through Gregor’s FACE — his brother just won’t kick it. In fact, Gregor uses the Oberyn Martell special on Sandor, ruining his eyes. But The Hound has the last laugh (literally, he’s cackling) when he rushes his brother, causing them both to fall off the wall and to a fiery death stories below. (Make sure to check out our memorials for The Hound and The Mountain.)
Cersei is wandering the keep when she sees Jaime; the hope and relief on her face as she embraces him is some masterful work on Lena Headey’s part. She realizes he’s hurt, and helps him to walk. At this point I’m SURE that “Jaime” is really “Arya Wearing Dead Jaime’s Face And I’ll Have to Mourn Him Later” but then we go back outside to the hellscape that is the city streets, and it seems like Lady Stark truly did take The Hound’s advice. (Not that it’s helping her as she falls and is getting trampled, though.) A kind woman helps her up, and then she’s running as fast as she can while Dany/Drogon continue to sack the city.
HOUSE STARK: BEING-LADY-OF-STORM’S-END-DOESN’T-SEEM-SO-BAD-NOW, EH? EDITION | The next time we see Arya, she’s unconscious and covered in ash, but she comes to just in time to avoid getting pancaked by a chunk of falling tower. She ducks into a building where a group of citizens is huddled for safety; she knows it’s not actually safe, so she exhorts them to follow her out… where they’re immediately attacked by some Dothraki and then toasted by another dragon burp. Ah well, Arya, you tried.
HOUSE LANNISTER: YOU-GET-WHAT-YOU-GIVE EDITION | An ailing Jaime leads Cersei down to the tunnels beneath the city, but all of the debris from the fight has sealed them up. “I want our baby to live,” she announces, starting to cry. “Please don’t let me die, Jaime. I don’t want to die.” He forces her to look at him. “Nothing else matters. Only us,” he whispers, and it calms her. She leans into him, burying her face in his shoulder, and he comforts her as the building literally falls on their heads, killing them. Wait, that can’t be right… because JAIME WAS DEAD TO ME ALMOST EXACTLY A WEEK AGO. (And hold up: Did the prophecy that haunted Cersei almost her whole life just come true? Also: Read an obituary for Cersei and another for Jaime.)
HOUSE STARK: ARYA-SERIOUS-RIGHT-NOW? EDITION | When the fighting is done, the city is still on fire, and a dazed Arya walks around looking perplexed. Ash is falling like snow — which puts Daenerys’ vision in a whole new light, no? — onto the burnt corpses that litter the streets. A white horse nearby is somehow unharmed. Arya approaches it slowly, gentling it as she grabs its reins, mounts and gallops away as quickly as she can, probably thinking, “I killed the Night King for this?”.
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