He was in the meat locker the night Dresden was destroyed. Upstairs there were sounds like giant steps. They were demolition batons. The giants have walked and walked. The meat warehouse was a very safe haven. All that happened was an accidental calcium-rich rain. They were Americans, four of their guards, and a few dressed bodies, and no one else. The other guards went to their apartments in Dresden before the raid began. They were all murdered with their families.
Well, that’s it, then.
The girls Billy saw naked were also killed in a much smaller shelter on another part of the reserve.
Well, that’s it, then.
One guard came up the stairs so often to see how it felt outside, then he came downstairs and whispered to the other guards. There was a firestorm. Dresden was a big flame. A flame ate everything that’s organic, everything that burns.
He wasn’t sure if he was going to leave the shelter before noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards came out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, but with minerals. The rocks were hot. Everyone else in the area was dead.
Well, that’s it, then.
– from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Slaughterhouse or the Children’s Crusade: The Dance of the Duta with Death
Take it easy, guys. It’ll take some time, and it might not be pretty.
I think it is safe to say that the bells written by the creators Benioff and Weiss and the director, veteran Miguel Sapochnik, are the most divided episode of the throne play in history. And given the popularity of the series and its cultural dominance, this makes it probably one of the most controversial episodes of any series in television history. The battle for the clocks began as usual on social networks while the episode was still on the air, and at the time of writing – a few days later – there is no sign of delay. It seems that each author has published a duplicate through entertainment, information and popular culture channels around the world, and many have released several such recordings.
And it tastes like ash.
I haven’t read any of the countless reviews and reviews – I never read before I write mine – but only the tweets, headlines and conversations with friends make it clear that a large proportion of the audience regards The Bells as an absolute horror: the clumsy desecration of the Game of Thrones characters and the malicious betrayal of the fans. At the time of writing, nearly a million angry fans had signed a petition with competent writers to redesign the game Thrones 8.
(Personally, it seems to me that The Bells should have a special resonance for fans who want to burn what they claim to love out of frustration, anger and bloated self-esteem. But, hey, good luck with that, guys).
To be honest it must be said that there seems to be a much smaller (but not unimportant) contingent that has qualified the clocks as a masterpiece. And there are probably infinitely finer shades in the spectrum somewhere between these two poles. (I think even those who think that the episode is brilliant are willing to admit some big mistakes in the overall story, and even those who think that the episode is despicable admit that it was beautifully staged).
But generally the reaction was extreme and emotional, and I understand why. As you might think, The Bells is without a doubt the best show the Game of Thrones has ever produced in its many seasons. (And having said that – for this show – a lot).
So if we don’t admire the bells anymore, we have to admire their impudence. Benioff and Weiss knew exactly what to expect from the fans last season. I have no doubt that they could have met those somewhat predictable expectations, and I have no doubt that they more or less knew how to remove this cruel obstacle to those expectations.
For The Bells, it’s not just an amazing or frustrating episode of the Game of Thrones: It is the episode that makes us, as viewers, consciously rethink the whole story of the series: our expectations of the story, our investment in the characters, our faith in the creators, our deep convictions about where everything was and what it all meant. It’s the episode that forces us to wonder why we liked the show, why we had expectations and why we were so surprised – and not just so disappointed – to end up where we are now. It almost annoys us: Did you think you’d like this show, this story, these characters? Let’s see if you can love him now.
Get angry at the directors if you want, but admit that it’s brave to do such things in the penultimate episode of the phenomenally popular hit series, if not the last. Because the bells deliberately endanger the entire legacy of the throne play.
Was I angry at the bells? Of course I was. First, I was offended, as I was this season, and finally, I was offended by the hurried and concise nature of the story and the way it makes the character changes that would otherwise have made sense seem untrained. So the last of the Starks Daenerys shot Targaryen in the face at the end, and she seemed to be angry, and rightly so. But when we see her in the Clocks for the first time, writers suddenly write her, and Emily Clark suddenly turns out to be an idiot. For the first time since we’ve known her, she has crazy eyes, crazy hair and crazy makeup. It’s really not hard to believe that Dani went from rage to madness pretty quickly – everything she’s been through lately – but this six-part season saves this very important transition, at least disappointing.
(Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a ten-episode final.) Imagine there’s at least one or two episodes between The Last of the Stars and The Bells, where the war between Dani and Cersei continues and Team Targaryen tries to win the hearts and minds of the people of Westeros, but fails. This would have served all the characters better, especially Dani and Cersei, who are suffering here from the consequences of the hasty killing of the characters))))).
Over the past two seasons I’ve discussed several times that Benioff and Weiss are taking serious narrative steps in their race to the finish. In fact, they’ve been relying on us for a long time to get to know these characters and they’re confident that we can fill in the emotional and motivational gaps around the otherwise finely built characters. It’s a clear strategy and I believe it almost always works. (Last week, for example, I felt I knew Jaime Lannister well enough after eight seasons, so his decision to return to Cersei wasn’t as sharp or as unmotivated as it seems right now). But it’s a big effort to ask the audience, and it doesn’t always work: When even the most obsessed among us are in place, the creators can best put a few points in their story.
So yes, I spent most of my time feeling disappointed, even angry. In addition to Dani’s gruesome transformation in this episode, other characters – such as Varis, Tyrion, Cersei and Arya – make inexplicable turns or behave in ways that don’t fit their character. (If I wanted to use 10,000 words and a lot of creative effort to justify each of their decisions, I probably could. But yes, I don’t really like the feeling I should have).
But the most important feeling I had during the Bells was, to be honest, that I was cheated. And that, I think, is a source of great resentment among the fans about this episode and this season. We thought winning the King of the Night was the story of the eighth season: That’s not true. We thought then that Cersei Lannister would be the last opponent to be defeated: She wasn’t. If we now move on to the final episode, we see that Daenerys Targaryen is the only person, apart from John Snow, who claims to be the hero of the Game of Thrones – in fact, the great villain. This season the show has been on a loop several times when we thought he would be on a loop and we were duped.
And the feeling of being cheated can lead to some answers: We can admire the wisdom with which we made a mistake in our expectations (if we believe the story was right), or we can be angry about it (if we believe it was wrong). Honestly, I had both reactions. And because I have the luxury of setting my own deadlines (and abusing and ignoring them), I waited longer than normal to start writing about the clocks, hoping for some clarity.
But there is little clarity. For a few days I only thought about the clocks, and yet I find that there are too many things in my head at the same time, too many aspects and levels of my reactions to arrange them in a completely coherent picture. Even if I should confine myself to the central issue – Daenerys Targaryen’s Holocaust, which takes place in the city of Port-Real – I realize that there are too many works I would like to write, and that many (if not all) works contradict or challenge each other.
For example, I would like to write an article about how all this was carefully wired and anticipated, so that the clocks now seem not only logical, but also inevitable. I want to go back to the exhibition and the catalogue every time we had to realise – because it was clear – that Daenerys was a training super villain.
I really made my own reviews of the show, and I wrote down every quote – and there were a dozen, and I said something like this: The question we have to ask him is one we have to ask a lot of characters in this series: Is he a hero or are we witnessing the first days of the monster’s existence?
Or this: To honor the show… We felt sorry for Daenerys when she started, but I am increasingly worried that her ability to love died with Khal Drogo and that she is now a germinating monster about to become a Targaryen as powerful as her father and brother.
Or this: Dani is a colonialist, and we know from our own experience that the history of colonization is turbulent: Strangers welcomed as liberators often find themselves as intruders or conquerors […] She was between love and fear – between the ruler she wanted to be and the Mad King – and now she can go in all directions.
Or this: Daenerys Stormborn is not nice: There’s almost nothing human about her. It is pure destruction, the demon descends from heaven to earth to pour out a purifying fire on mankind.
Or this: So far, Daenerys Targaryen has not changed to Westeros: Westeros is changing Daenerys Targaryen. She won’t break a single wheel: She’s just taking her father’s place.
So I could write this article and say that what Danny does with the Bells is very much in keeping with their character and that we all should have seen it coming. But writing this work would not only be obvious, it would also be insincere. When I was drawing this quote selectively the whole time, I realised the very obvious possibility that Daenerys Targaryen could become a monster, I should consciously ignore the fact that I was completely in the Daenerys team for most of the episodes. Despite all her mistakes – and sometimes precisely because of them – Dani for me represented hope and progress: the possibility that Westeros would finally let herself be led by someone who – as she often said – wanted to leave the world better than she had found it.
I didn’t know how many times I said these things: Daenerys has always tried to rule from a place of love, and she still does.
Or this: IT WAS FUCKING UNBELIEVABLE.
Or this: The war of the five kings is everywhere, but it is the queen who gives us hope that leadership can be based on the realization that all men are family. It is still too early in this epic story to name a winner, but for now, in an endless throne game, this could be what victory looks like.
Or this: The goodness and hope of the Targaryen line – and perhaps the hope that is still there for the seven kingdoms – lives in Denmark today. Where people like the Bolton ice and death represent, Dani can be the embodiment of fire and life.
It turns out I could write a play about how clocks represent the inevitable bow of Dani’s characters. Or I could write an article about how the bells are a total betrayal of Danny’s bow figures. And strangely enough, I think I could have written each of these works with conviction, because these innate tensions have always been essential to Dani’s character arch. When I look at everything I’ve written about Daenerys Targaryen, I realize that almost everything I’ve said about her, including most of the quotes above, contains only one. This has always been the case: Yeah, what she did is disturbing, but Danny’s great! At least that’s how it was: Yeah, Danny’s heart’s in the right place, but she’s done terrible things!
(It is said that every time Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath, it reminds us of Varis. And a simple metaphor is in order here, for the coin is one, not two. The two sides of a coin are one: it’s just a matter of what face you see at any given moment).
There are other parts I could write. For example, I could talk about how a brilliant show made us dive into the roots of Daenerys Targaryen from the beginning, so that the bells now make us ask questions. We need to question both our vision of Daenerys Targaryen and our investment in it. For example, if she wasn’t a young woman of angelic beauty, we might have found her suspicious from the start. Isn’t there a part of us – like Jorah Mormont, Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow – who fell in love with her and, despite much evidence, assumed she was basically a good person? (Princess, you have a tender heart, Jorah told him, even in the first season, but Dani was quick to contradict him: I don’t have a tender heart, sire. Perhaps we should all have listened to her.)
Throughout the series, people, especially men, have always underestimated Daenerys Targaryen and projected their own expectations on her. Did I do the same thing? If this character was human, if he looked like Viserys or John or Hound, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt just as much as I would. Wouldn’t I condemn their arrogance, their right, their speed to violence more harshly? Isn’t it easier to see a genocidal tyrant watching us?
And let’s face it: Part of Dani’s appeal has always been the fact that she was a beautiful young woman capable of unleashing such incredible destruction. (Pretty girls who can ruin pop culture are almost a fetish in pop culture, especially like Buffy – Vampire Slayer, Kill Bill and Atomic Blonde, to name but three, written by men, in my mind pop culture). Just last week I confessed that I love it, just like everyone else, when she’s shaking things up with her kites, and frankly that was an understatement: In episodes like Valar Morgulis, Now His Watch is Over and The Book of Strangers, I’ve noticed that Dani’s ability to bomb fire. I admired his pyromania. I sang strong tunes about her scorched earth policy and rejoiced at the ruthless massacre she unleashed as an expression of women’s emancipation.
And now the bells have hit me with it. Oh, you like seeing Danny angry and letting his dragons out? It says so right here. Look, and now tell me how you like it.
Playing with thrones has always had a complex relationship with the use of violence and has led us to question the moments of violence we find justified and the moments of violence we find reprehensible. Why is it more noble to have 10,000 dead in battle than a dozen at dinner? Tywin Lannister once asked, and it’s a good question. (We think so, but the throne play makes us wonder why. And if it’s wrong for Walder Frey to do it, is it right for Arya Stark to do it?)
In hindsight, I find them complicated, my reactions to Danny. Many of Dani’s actions felt justified at this time, and perhaps they were. But do all 163 nobles in Mirin really deserve to die? And if they crucified her alive, is that really the way to go? If Joffrey did this, would we silence his crime so quickly that the verdict would be questionable? If John Snow’s method of execution preferred to burn people alive instead of resorting to the faster and more humane methods of beheading and hanging, wouldn’t we condemn him for that?
Just so we’re clear: It’s not like we never noticed all these problems: I discussed it from the beginning (like most other writers) and the reactions of the audience to the Dani figure were undoubtedly mixed. But I think Dani’s sex made it increasingly difficult for us to use her power: because so few women in this world had power; because she used her power mainly against really terrible people; and because she used her power with better intentions than almost all men.
I also think Dani’s gender weighed more heavily than her race in my judgment of her actions. Looking back, I am glad that I said, at least in words, that surfing Dani’s white body in an ocean of brown bodies in Mkhisa is a disturbing image and that the history of colonial intervention is not promising. But it also struck me that the people of Meurin welcomed her as a mother, as a sign of their different, better and more feminine approach to government.
I mean, uh… If it was Viserys or even John Snow Escape, who these people call the Father, I think I would find it much more disturbing. The same goes for the forced purification of the excrement of the Book of Aliens, which turned out to be a unilateral decision to eradicate the only Dothracian culture. If she were a man, I could probably put more energy into questioning the story of the white savior of Denmark – as many writers, especially those of colour, have done – and focus more on parallels with the destructive legacy of our own world – white interference and colonization of black and brown cultures. I suspect I have not used the cruel evidence of the bell to reflect on the parallels between the Daenerys Targaryen and America, who preach human and democratic ideals, see themselves as usurers of freedom and use their selfless power – at best, at worst – to leave a shameless mess in their path.
(As I said last week, I’m sorry the show didn’t give us any indication of how things had been at Essos since Dani left. She has fundamentally changed her whole way of life, leaving behind a weak puppet government, all the Daario leaders led by Naharis or a few prostitutes or lovers, and set out to conquer new worlds. Nothing in the way this experiment was conducted in our world means that the scenario will be better played in the Game of Thrones))).
So I think the bells have forced me to come back and reconsider my own reaction to Daenerys Targaryen over the years and think about how easily I have believed his promises, justified his mistakes and ignored the evidence of his true nature. Can Benioff and Weiss be angry about that now? Or is it something to admire? If I was cheated, was it their fault or mine from the start? Are the bells a brilliant and necessary deconstruction and correction of the problematic story of the White Redeemer with whom I fell in love? Or is it just a fucking mess?
It’s not an easy question. I’ll ask around. First of all, even if we decide that Danny’s rebound on The Bells was both plausible and necessary, given the character’s problematic story, we can still take responsibility for it, because it happened in terms of the story. Where we got here is one question; how we got here is another.
And it’s complicated for other reasons. Because we can accept the motivation of the character as plausible and consider the manipulation of the plot as logical and still decide that the message is fucked in the distance. And – as someone who has worked hard to protect the game from the thrones of many (but not all) accusations of misogyny – I am deeply concerned that Dani here is taking the dark side.
One of the most exciting lines in the throne game has always been the empowerment of women. Westeros was, when we first met him, a stern and oppressive patriarchal place. Men ruled over everything, and women became victims and relics everywhere, even women with high births who act as political pawns and are treated like a tribal herd. But in the course of the series, we have seen glass ceilings generally begin to shatter, and we have seen many great female characters rise above their intended place and become more actively involved in shaping this society.
Many of these numbers have stood in the way: Women like Catelyn Stark, Ros, Shae, Ygritte, Osh and Margaery. But it was an exciting time to look back at the end of the sixth season and realize that this world is now run by women. Cersei and Daenerys were queens; Sansa Stark and Lianna Mormont were great powers in the north; women like Yara and Olenna and Hellaria took their places at tables previously occupied only by men; women like Arya and Brienne and Missandeas and Melisandre and the Sand Snakes became powers to be reckoned with. The show, which began with a well-deserved (and very justified) criticism of the objectification of women, now seems to be working ceaselessly to move female figures from the status of object to that of action.
But then, in season seven, the whole thing started to fall apart. The spectacle seems to get out of hand to show that these women feel very bad when they are in positions of power. Dani’s military strategy, which, to be honest, was mainly developed by his male advisors, led to a catastrophic defeat. Deer, Hellaria and sand snakes were killed without getting anything, while Yara was kidnapped by the man who stole the crown from her. Arya started the season, committed mass murder and spent most of the season with her sister playing a ridiculous pantomime, in which they both seemed irritatingly petty and vengeful. Cersei seemed to be the only woman who was effective, but she was effective in being evil, and even that required her to connect with a despicable but powerful man (Euron Greyjoy) and go back on her story to give her what now seems to be a completely useless pregnancy.
And Season 8 continues this depressing program of systematic dehumanization and/or subversion of these powerful women and reaches a certain low with the death of the last episode of Miss Naatska, which ends unjustly as it began: a chained slave, completely deprived of her right to rid herself of her own life and death.
Yes, among the survivors in power, Sansa Stark probably looks better now because she was right about the stupidity of this plan and her distrust of Daenerys Targaryen. But Sansa was also in the graves during the Long Night with women and children, although she has already proven herself to be an effective leader and good military strategist. She doesn’t have combat skills, that’s true. But the same goes for Tyrion, who keeps claiming that they can help, while Sansa only starts talking about their uselessness). In the next episode she gets another crazy speech, which seems to suggest that the repeated rape and torture of men is the best thing that ever happened to her.
Yes, Brienne of Tartu rightly became a knight of the Seven Kingdoms, and fought bravely in battle. However, this image of her as a powerful warrior is quickly overshadowed by the sudden and unnecessary literature of her novel with Jaime Lannister, as well as by the last image she received: Like a woman crying in a nightgown that collapses because her husband leaves her.
Yeah, Arya Stark is Winterfell’s hero: She kills the Night King and saves the world. But Arya is also overwhelmed by a love affair (for the first time in history) and increasing vulnerability during the Long Night. It was there that she suddenly convinced the Dog to run away and give up the mission of revenge that had been haunting her for half her life. (I’m sure I’ll talk more about Arya next week, and I don’t care as much about his story as some of them. But in the bigger picture – where big women suddenly become weaker, emotionally compromised and unstable – that’s also part of the problem).
And then there’s Cersei Lannister. The most impressive woman in Westeros and the only female figure whose rise in power coincided with that of Daniel’s jersey proved to be intelligent, resilient and ruthless in all time series. She was a figure who defined herself as a woman and a mother for most of her life and who indirectly drew strength from this relationship with men – but with the death of her last child in The Winds of Winter, she became something else: She destroyed her enemies, seized her own power and took the throne. Just last week she proved she could blow with the dragon queen and inflicted a devastating (though unlikely) defeat on Dani that seemed to level the playing field between them.
But then the show wanted to manipulate us to think (for a moment) that Cersei was a big villain. Today Cersei is a weak and helpless woman, intellectually and emotionally ill prepared for war. Danny’s two dragons seemed completely useless against Cyburn’s scorpions in The Last of the Starks, but now one dragon eliminates them all with ridiculous ease. And Cersei, it turns out she has no other plan: This woman, who always had an ace up her sleeve, suddenly stopped playing cards. All she can do is watch Danny set his city on fire and fool herself with pathetic illusions that everything will be all right. She needs a man (Cybern) to explain to her why she is doomed, and she begs another man (Mount) not to leave her. She ends the episode – and it is assumed that her life is crying in the arms of another man (Jaime) whom she is desperately begging to save her and her unborn child.
Who is this woman? I think we all expected Cersei to die, but I doubt any of us expected her to go like this. We thought she had other tricks up her sleeve. We thought she might be planning to destroy the city by a forest fire, since she’s destroyed her enemies before. Maybe Jaime should have killed her by bringing some kind of solution to all his twisted relationships and his two bows. Arya could have killed her while Cersei stared at the little killer and apologized for nothing. Perhaps Cersei would have committed suicide when the battle was lost, as she was prepared to do during the Battle of Blackwater. I’d be happier if Cersei stood by that window and watched the Dragon Queen come closer and closer until the Red Warehouse was filled with flames. No matter how she came out, we thought Cersei would at least come out strong: this woman who seemed ready to come down and fight for several seasons. Instead, Cersei finds himself weak, crying, delirious: Her entire vault collapses like a castle around her, and she dies like nothing but what she was when she started: a helpless mother dependent on men.
And finally Daenerys Stormborn of the House of Targaryen, the first of the name, destroyer of chains and mother of dragons.
As I said before – although I wish it had slowed down a bit – I don’t really mind stretching Dany’s bow. I have no love here, Danny told John at the beginning of the bells. All I have is fear. Danny’s story is always about the choice between love and fear. (In fact, I’d say that was more or less the intention of the throne game). She was always in the middle, and she didn’t always make the right choice.
And then she was surrounded by support. She lost Jorah, Missandey, two of her children and most of her Immaculate and Dothraki. She was betrayed by Sansa, Varys, Tyrion and Jon Snow. She even lost two things that stopped her and justified all her actions: her legitimate right to the Iron Throne and her mandate from the people. (The first one she lost when she found John, and not hers, was the rightful heir. The second, however, was never in Westeros: as soon as she left Essos, she was no longer a destroyer of chains, and we saw her do nothing to win the people of the Seven Kingdoms. There she eagerly noticed the love of the people for Jonah and became his brother Viserys, who gave her the golden crown that no one had ever given her, the love that the Dothraki Dani had given her).
And all he has left is fear. All he has left is power. She talked a lot about the concept of mercy when she was in power, but we have seen the limits of her mercy, and we have seen her justify her terrible deeds in the name of mercy. Today, this week, she is thinking again about mercy in the form of a convenient rhetorical leap that we have seen countless gynocidal maniacs make: Grace is our strength, she says. Our grace for future generations, who will never again be held hostage by a tyrant. With this subtle excuse – now killing a bunch of people, later rescuing a bunch of people – she gives herself permission to do what she has wanted to do since she arrived: punish the people of Westeros for not loving her enough. These people she knew would never give her a name for her Mossa.
As disturbing as this is, I can buy all this: This essentially corresponds to their character, their style, their general sense of justice. But it’s also incredibly problematic.
For Danny, the transition to the dark side is the last and most crushing claim that the throne play has always been more feminist. Benioff and Weiss have leaned heavily on each other here to get into the sexist knitting business of a woman who goes crazy with too much power and forces Dani to join disturbing fantasy creatures like Jean Grey in X-Men, Wanda Maximov in The Avengers and Yves Rosenberg in Buffy the Vampire Slayer – they all became the most powerful heroes in their stories, and in the end they all lost their minds, becoming villains and trying to destroy the world. There is an old misogynistic cliché that women simply cannot be trusted with power: They’re too emotional, they’re too petty, they’re mentally unstable.
It is clear that the idea that power corrupts is an ancient theme, very old, and one of the most central in the game of the thrones. And in honour of Martin, Benioff and Weiss, this female figure was as complex as in this story, with conflicts and contradictions and complex quarrels over the use of power. (If she was a simple saint like Jon Snow, she would be annoyed for a completely different reason). But the unfortunate side effect of the ending is that they tend to throw away complexity and nuance and end up distilling the themes into something simple and difficult. And Dani’s story boils down to that age-old cliché about the wrath of a despicable woman: Her lover despises her, her people despise her. It’s not like learning nuances of character or a complex discussion about the use of violence: Looks like this is the last role of Fatal Attraction.
Looking back, I realize that Dani hasn’t been a character since she came to the Westeros Coast. Before Dragonstone, Dani was in her own show, and she was the star of the show: We saw everything with their eyes, we understood their motivations and we sympathized with their struggles, even though we had to struggle with their decisions. But it all ended when she set foot on Westeros: Suddenly we saw them almost exclusively through the eyes of men – Tyrion, John, Varis – who watched them from afar and discussed and discussed their actions. In the words of George R. Martin, Daenerys Targaryen is no longer a character. Anyway, our heroin has gone from object to object.
And it reaches its disappointing peak in the bells. In the early scenes the men enter slowly, shivering in their eyes and back on their toes: She’s not a character, she’s crazy in the attic. And by the time we get to King’s Landing, Dani will almost be gone. Emilia Clarke is actually very good in one scene, she may sell what happens next – long shots of her waiting to find out if the bells are ringing and then decide to ignore her message of mercy – but this is almost literally the only time we see her. You and I aren’t on this dragon. We don’t see their point. We have no clue as to what she thinks or feels, whether it is anger, grief, or renunciation when she makes the unscrupulous decision to burn civilians and soldiers. All this could play the same role – in fact it would be much more interesting and useful – if Benioff, Weiss and Sapochnik allowed Daenerys Targaryen to preserve his subjectivity, his complexity, his humanity.
And as I looked at the bells, I realized that none of that mattered anymore. In recent years, Benioff and Weiss have stopped bothering to show us anything about the government or Western society. We have never received much information about what happens in the Seven Kingdoms, but we have had many discussions about what it means to be a good or bad leader, and about the pretenders to the throne who care about the welfare of their people. In the past, we have seen how leaders had to make decisions, and we have seen at least some signs of how those decisions were reflected in all kingdoms. Nothing like that has happened lately. Is Cersei a good leader or a bad one? Do the gentlemen love her or hate her? Are peasants terribly oppressed or do they live well? We have no idea.
Thus all attempts by Dani to ascend the throne since she reached Westeros have been reduced to a simple ego trip. Their motivations are totally selfish, born out of indignation and justice. We never saw her learn anything about the people she released, and we never saw her make any effort to convince them that she was a better choice than Cersei. (A speech on Eastwatch was the result of her message campaign, which ended with burning Tarly alive and forcing everyone else to submit). Dani’s case was clear when she was in the Gulf of Glory, but here we have no idea what she said. She said she wanted to rid the world of tyranny and leave it better than it seemed. She went from an idealistic (although sometimes wrong) reformer to a purely selfish start.
Well, that’s it, then. Here’s the situation. The biggest monster in the history of the Throne Game is Daenerys Targaryen. She’s worse than Joffrey, worse than Ramsey, worse than Cersei. (Small forest fire explosions all over town put Cersei in the perspective of Seven Baylor: they’re just little green poufs that almost got lost in an orange fire) She’s worse than the slaves she threw in Essos. For me, the murder of Shyren Baratheon Stannis and Melisandre was a moment as dark as the throne play, and we are reminded of a little girl trying to save Arya (Tiper Cyfert-Cleveland) by carrying a small wooden horse like the one Davos was holding when Shyren burned. It was an outrageous crime to secure the crown, and it was just the burning of a child; here Dani burned hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe tens of thousands. And she did it for no reason.
Am I crazy? Honestly, I don’t know. For eight years, I spent a lot of time and effort writing articles about the Game of Thrones, and in those articles I repeatedly argued that the show was much more structured and thematically coherent than it seemed. I trusted him and tried to confirm that the Game of Thrones had integrity: a plan, a goal, a value greater than the sum of its parts. And I think I still believe that, no matter what happened this season and no matter what happened in the last episode of the show. Even though I hate the ending – even though I think it’s the ill-intentioned end of the television story – I doubt whether it changes my view of the value of the series as a whole or whether I regret the one moment I’ve thought and written about it. (After the great David Milch, the idea of the end of the affair, which gives a definitive meaning to every experience, is one of the usual lies we use to organize our lives).
But I keep coming back to this feeling of disappointment, and I realize that it goes beyond the level of expectation of the character of the bow and the story. For the past eight years, I have maintained that the Game of the Throne is a fundamentally human story that deals with all sorts of issues, of which the importance of empathy is the most important. I have repeatedly described this story as a melting pot in which the characters have melted to be corrected as friendly and compassionate people. As I said last week, I didn’t expect a completely idealistic and utopian end, but I dared to believe that this show could end, at least approximately in the possibility of a fairer world. I dared to believe that the show could eventually remind us that people and societies can get better.
Instead, we seem to end up with the trendy, depressing, banal message that nothing ever gets better, that history just repeats itself, that people and societies are fundamentally incapable of change.
It was hard not to hear Ramsey’s often quoted phrase in his third season watching the Bells: If you think this is a happy ending, you didn’t pay attention. I really thought I was being careful, but I’m probably not so sure anymore. I really thought the authors would say something substantial when we get to the end of the throne game, but given the 24 hours we have left, I’m not sure.
And so it is.
Additional reflections and preferred elements
- Oh, did I forget to mention the episode? Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. For the record, it was brilliant, except for many, many parts that weren’t. Director Miguel Sapochnik and filmmaker Fabian Wagner have more than rehabilitated themselves for the dark chaos of the Long Night: Visually, this is one of the best episodes of the Game of Thrones. There are more fantastic photos in the post than I could record, and the editing of some sequences – such as the crossing of the Arya and the dogs – was absolutely brilliant.
- I have to pay one for Varys, the unsung hero of the Throne Game: Besides being a manipulative intriguer, comfortable with children to poison monarchs, he was probably the best man on both sides of the Narrow Sea. I don’t understand why such an intelligent man couldn’t hide his attempt to overthrow Denmark better, or even why he stayed in the dragon stone when he realized he had to be overthrown. (My main canonical explanation is as follows: Varys was tired and could not go through the whole process of installing the new ruler. He knew it would kill him, and until then he had accepted it). I don’t think Tyrion would set him free either. (It’s more like Tyrion telling Varys to run, give him a good lead and tell Dani). But it’s still a good moment when Tyrion puts his hand on Varisa’s arm: I’ve never thought about it, but I’m not sure anyone has ever touched Varys in the eight seasons of the Game of Thrones.
- So disappointed by these two people and by everything to do with Missanda’s death, I was very impressed by the short scene between Dani and the gray worm in which she handed him Missanda’s slave necklace. Whether it’s her personal slave chain or a memento of Dani Mirin’s liberation, I’m not sure, but whatever: Anyway, it was a symbol of Missanday’s belief in Daenerys Targaryen as a destroyer of chains. The gray worm burns this early warning that he and Danny know that this particular mission is over.
- The whole story of Jaime’s shooting now seems to exist only to create a scene between him and Tyrion. It’s a beautiful scene – and both actors play it, but it’s another example of Benioff and Weiss not knowing where to spend their time and energy. We didn’t have to watch Tyrion free Jaime just because Jaime freed him once: What’s the point? And we didn’t have to disrupt Tyrion’s relationship with Jaime any further: They were perfectly all right.
- Cleganebowl thought Benioff and Weiss had given up on something because the fans demanded it, but I doubt many fans were satisfied. It was strangely lifeless, strangely emotionless and took too much time that could have been better used elsewhere in the episode. Honestly, I’d be happier if Sandor and Arya both decided to say to that shit, get drunk and eat hot pie bread.
- Worse is the example of Benioff and Weiss, who misjudged the distribution of resources: a stupid battle between Jaime and Euron. Unlike the throne play, which is unmotivated and totally useless, it seemed to belong to a much smaller type of show than the throne play. (With the possible exception of Pilau Asbeck, can anyone tell us if we never saw Euron again after Danny blew up his boat)?
- I could write the whole article about how Jaime and Cersei Lannister and the actors they play deserve it. The only reason I haven’t spent more time on this is because I’m not entirely sure they’re dead. (I think that’s true, and it would be ridiculous if it weren’t, but I’d like to trade a little voluntary detachment for another conversation worthy of its exceptional arches). I’ll try to get back to it next week, somehow.
- With the deaths of Jaime and Cersei, I am relieved to say that they could not carry out the plan of the Tyrion who crossed the Narrow Sea to raise her baby in secret, as the last Targaryens did! This kind of history repeats itself, vanity can even make me puke.
- I know I missed Aria very quickly in this episode, partly because I’m sure we’ll spend a lot of time next week talking about her, and at that time I’d like to talk about her bow in general as soon as possible. But Maisie Williams is ruthlessly breathtaking, and the scenes in which Arya breaks the chaos were perhaps the best parts of the Bells. (I didn’t even mind the end of the fairy tale, even though I know I should have. We’ve got it: Death rides a pale horse. But it was a nice plan, and a nice graceful note at the end).
- Thank you for coming to see me this week. I know that this investigation was not so much an investigation as that my thoughts were being voiced out loud. (Here’s my dirty secret: these are all my messages.) Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy my last 24 hours of believing that the Game of Thrones can still end perfectly. I’ll see you one last time.
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