“The Bells” was a fantastic episode when it came to a conclusion. There are some deserved criticisms when it comes to the narrative employed for us to get to this conclusion.
However, purely from the perspective of subverting the ‘expected’ aka romantic / poetic justice plot, the episode was masterful. To be clear, this was considered as one of the options from about the time Danaerys was considered to be a child of the ‘Mad King.’
In fact, what makes this particularly fascinating to me is how effective the narrative was in creating Danaerys as the protagonist. As a viewer, we were super effective and gullible at attributing her success as a ruler only to her. It was not to her advisors.
In hindsight, there were certainly signs that Dany had the signs of pushing back at any cost when she was pushed to a corner. You can find many thought pieces when it comes to her decisions on Yunkai and Astapor. However, the truth is that we all believed her and given how it was all setup against Cersei and ‘evil,’ we were gullible enough to believe in her ‘good.’ We wanted her to be better while not acknowledging that she has the power to be far worse for the realm.
There were some brilliant narratives embedded in the rushed storytelling though –
- Varys was sentenced to death after being one of the only people to fight on behalf of the common man
- Varys may have tried to poison Dany – this was pretty well setup for an open question that remains unanswered
Some other poignant moments from this discussion
- Tyrion started fighting for his ‘friends’ and ‘supporters’ and hence started making potential errors in judgement right from Season 7
- It was devastating that Tyrion was the one who turned in Varys – for ‘loyalty’. Yet he immediately hedged as familial relationships and Jaime’s survival was important for him as evidenced by his fight for Varys and clear judgement miss when it comes to Dany.
There are people who are rightfully disappointed in what seems to be a break of character for Dany. Some specific complaints include – how does she snap into gratuitous burning of innocents. Someone who’s so emotionally unstable cannot have come this long.
I believe that the showrunners take the blame for this. However, I also empathize with their decisions. From their perspective, they had the balance the following:
- Provide actors enough but not the whole story for preserving the subversion and plot twist.
- Balance the narrative in early seasons without showing your hand on the conclusion
- Cause a wow factor when it came to the actual subversion
Now, could they have done better for a more satisfying landing of the plot twist? Yeah, I think so. However, that’s not to say that the landing was unfair or that Dany turning into a Mad Queen was wrong. Heck, there are people who read into this since Season 5, leaned into it Season 6 and continued to hold steady as the seasons progressed.
Now, one might argue that Dany’s previous excesses in torture were justified given the moral high ground she took, while the callous burning of a million+ people doesn’t. I agree with this as well. However, I believe that it is a case of a rushed storyline and hopefully the books will provide us with the necessary closure here. The episode attempts to justify this in the beginning – Dany’s position pivots from being the ‘rightful heir’ for the throne to ‘save the world from tyrants.’ This is a classic despotic repositioning of the goalpost in order to justify yourself as the wielder of power. However, again it was rushed and did not land well.
There are other examples of this rush – the included audio of previous characters discussing Targaryens and their penchant for the crazy, the rushed scenes as Jon contemplates what the heck he signed up for with blind loyalty, Tyrion’s bet on the wrong side of history. All of these were critical for the scorched earth landing to hit. However, they were lost in the flames.
There are some additional takes you I highly recommend you read:
Let me end with, in my opinion, a brilliant take by the show on Cersei’s death. Cersei’s death is prophesied in The Feast Of Crows as follows:
When your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.
Cersei always believed that it would be Tyrion who’d be her cause of death. The book readers, including me, always felt that it’d be Jaime, who’s 9 seconds younger than her who’d kill Cersei. The show’s take on it was absolutely brilliant.
Jaime was the cause of Cersei’s death, by bringing her through the specific path across the Red Keep. Jaime’s hands are around her neck to comfort her and they die choking in the rubble. I believe that the show should take a well earned bow for this.