Fire and Blood – the Targaryen family words are as much a warning as they are of a description of their close ties to dragons. For the first time in a long time, the citizens of Westeros were reminded of the true horror that implies.
After eight seasons of set-up, ‘The Bells’ finally delivered upon one of the Game of Thrones’ greatest conflicts. Dany’s fight for King’s Landing and the Iron Throne has been one of the central plot lines since the very first episode and its apparent culmination in a fit of fiery and fury was breathtaking. With one final episode to come, there is still time for one or two more twists before we can safely declare her the ‘winner’.
Like ‘The Long Night’ from a couple of weeks ago, ‘The Bells’ was directed by Miguel Sapochnik. And once again, the technical skills behind the production have to be applauded. However, like any Game of Thrones episode of recent time, there were some very peculiar choices.
Dany’s decision to lay waste to King’s Landing felt well established and true to her character development.
The Jaime and Euron fight scene was horribly contrived with a completely illogical set-up. Varys’ treasonous plot was uncovered with remarkable ease, despite him supposedly being the greatest spy in the country. Tyrion’s character motivations have more or less disappeared and been replaced with bullet point plot mechanisms.
But despite all these and many other flaws, ‘The Bells’ is a triumph of shock and awe. While the show has turned towards more and more desperate means of trying to find surprise the audience, Dany’s decision to lay waste to King’s Landing felt well established and true to her character development.
Those with very long memories might remember the finale of Season 2, where Dany on her way to free her dragons from the House of the Undying in Qarth sees visions of a dragon’s shadow across King’s Landing, before she enters a destroyed hall to approach the Iron Throne.
It’s but one of the many subtle hints over the years of Dany’s willingness to employ violence as a means to an end. Some have tried to draw parallels to her father, who became known as the Mad King for his willingness to destroy King’s Landing and all of its inhabitants. While there are certain similarities, mostly they’re superficial.
The Mad King wanted to burn the city because he believed that he would survive the fire unscathed, although unlike Dany, he showed no signs of being impervious to fire. That was just the final string of a series of crimes that would fall under a heading of insanity rather than cruelty.
In the GOT ‘making of’ videos, the production team say they were inspired by footage of the firebombing of Dresden during the final months of the Second World War.
The more direct comparison to Daenerys’ actions would be Tywin Lannister, who ordered the sacking of King’s Landing and murder of the final Targaryens after the doors to the city were opened for him. Tywin’s modus operandi was large scale murder and cruelty. A villain? Yes. Mad, no.
In the ‘making of’ videos, the production team say they were inspired by footage of the firebombing of Dresden during the final months of the Second World War. Further comparison can be made to the decisions to drop nuclear bombs on Japan. Not many in the west would immediately declare the likes of Truman or Churchill to be ‘mad’ or indeed ‘villainous’.
Did Dany need to destroy the city? Probably not. But it was driven by a political and strategic calculation, albeit with horrifying consequences for thousands of innocent people. This episode’s greatest success is its decision to tell the story from the perspective of those being burnt alive below and not just present pretty pictures of explosions. It’s a telling reminder that even in our modern world, the decisions of politicians to engage in warfare has terrifying outcomes for too many innocents.
Unlike a film which is intended to be consumed in one bit whole and the ending built into its reception, a TV show takes years to digest. Many shows are remembered as much for their final moments as they are for the years of scenes that led up to it.
How the ‘The Bells’ will ultimately be remembered will be conditioned entirely on how the finale handles the fall-out. With just one episode left, Game of Thrones has thrown its final balls in the air. We’ll have to wait and see where they land.