Ay ay ay. If the sh*t began hitting the fan last week on Game of Thrones, tonight is a full-on sh*t show! In “The Bells,” the penultimate episode of the series, there’s fire in the skies and in the ground.
Before Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) moves on King’s Landing, there’s time for a few things to click into place. Varys (Conleth Hill) is sending ravens off of Dragonstone with the truth of Jon’s (Kit Harington) identity, and his treachery isn’t invisible.
When Jon arrives on Dragonstone, Varys greets him with hints that he would be a more stable ruler than his aunt. Jon is adamant that he doesn’t want the job, but their exchange is witnessed by Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), and the body language is enough to condemn Varys.
When Tyrion goes to his Queen to tell her that she’s been betrayed, she’s all the way ahead of him. She actually sees the betrayal as Jon’s, since he failed to keep his secret. Nonetheless, she had warned Varys when she brought him on that she would execute him if he betrayed her, and she’s good to that word.
Varys is brought in shackles to the shore, where Dany pronounces his sentence. Before she commands Drogon to eviscerate her Master of Whisperers, Tyrion confesses to his old friend that it was he who turned him in. Varys tells Tyrion how much he hopes he is wrong about Daenerys, and they share a moment of farewell before the sentence is carried out with Dany, Jon, Tyrion and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) looking on.
Afterwards, Dany retires to her chamber with Grey Worm. She gives him Missandei’s (Nathalie Emmanuel) only possession: her slave collar. Grey Worm casts it into the flames in the fireplace and they watch it burn.
Jon comes in, and Dany dismisses Grey Worm.
Dany confronts him about his sister having betrayed his trust, and he assures her that she is his Queen. She sidles up and asks if that’s all she is to him, kissing his willing lips for a moment before his prudery kicks in and he withdraws enough to make it clear that he can’t go there now that he knows they’re related. She gets the message and tells him that if she can’t have love in Westeros, she’ll take fear.
The next day, Dany is ready to mobilize her armies against King’s Landing. Tyrion, desperate both to be right about the Queen he’s backed and to save the lives of the citizens of King’s Landing, begs her not to burn the city with all of its innocents inside. He insists that Cersei’s (Lena Headey) followers will abandon her if they know she has lost. He pleads that if they ring the bells and open the city gates, indicating surrender, that Dany will let them live. She agrees with a nod to Grey Worm.
Before she dismisses Tyrion, she tells him that their troops intercepted his brother on his way south and have him in captivity. She points out that he was wrong about Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) abandoning their sister, and she tells him threateningly that if he fails her again it will be the last time.
That night, Jon and his ground troops prepare for battle while Tyrion begs Davos (Liam Cunningham) for a favor: using his smuggling skills to plant a dinghy at the base of the Red Keep. He then sneaks into the tent where Dany’s soldiers have chained Jaime and asks him how he managed to get caught. Jaime indicates that his gold hand got him sighted; he never thought to remove it. There’s a reason Cersei once accused him of being the stupidest Lannister.
Tyrion tells Jaime that the next day, their sister and her unborn child are going to die. He lays out a plan for Jaime to sneak into the Red Keep and whisk Cersei safely away to Pentos where they can start a new life. It takes some convincing, but Jaime agrees and Tyrion tells him how to get in and out of the Red Keep and where to look for the getaway boat. They embrace tearfully, Tyrion having repaid his life debt to his brother– the only person in their family who never treated him like a monster.
On the day of the battle, Jon, Davos, Tyrion and the Unsullied gather outside the gates of King’s Landing, where the Golden Company is waiting for them. They’ve been instructed to move when the time comes, and they wait patiently for a sign.
Dany, on Drogon, finally masters the art of not riding a dragon directly into the line of fire. Using the sun as her shield, she catches the Iron Fleet by surprise and quickly decimates them all with skillful flying and dragonfire. Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) is thrown from his ship as she takes it out, before she turns her attention to the city walls topped with Qyburn’s (Anton Lesser) “Scorpions.” By staying behind them, Dany wipes out all of the ballistas on the walls.
She gives her troops their sign by bursting through the wall behind the Golden Company in an avalanche of flame, reducing Cersei’s sellswords to ash in a single go. Grey Worm, Jon and their troops move into the city and begin the ground fight.
Cersei watches the proceedings from the safety of her tower. Even when Qyburn comes to tell her that the Iron Fleet is gone, the Golden Company is gone and the walls are breeched, she remains certain that her men will fight more valiantly than their opponents and she will win.
In the streets below, her men realize they’re beaten as they encounter Jon and Grey Worm with their army. Cersei’s troops lay down their swords and the city’s bells begin ringing as Dany and Drogon look on, perched on one of the walls.
Qyburn succeeds in getting Cersei and The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) to move to somewhere safer with him, and they abandon her tower.
Beneath this, Arya (Maisie Williams) and The Hound (Rory McCann) have managed to infiltrate the Red Keep in the crowd of residents fleeing there for safety. They are on their joint missions to kill Cersei and The Mountain, respectively. Just as they close in on their quarry, as Jon and his fellows contemplate the soldiers surrendering to them, and as Jaime arrives at the secret opening to the Red Keep, Dany takes flight and begins burning everything.
The Mad King’s old stashes of wildfire beneath the city begin exploding.
Grey Worm, loyal to his Queen without question, spears one of the unarmed Lannister soldiers facing him, and the melee resumes. Jon wears the face of a man recognizing that he’s made a huge mistake while joining the fight defensively. Tyrion, outside the walls and wearing the face of a man recognizing that he’s made a huge mistake, walks through piles of smoldering bodies. And The Hound stops Arya in the shaking and crumbling courtyard of the Red Keep and caresses her face as he tells her not to be like him, single-mindedly living for revenge, but to leave now and live.
His tenderness reaches her, and Arya lets him proceed without her. She calls after him, “Sandor!” And when he looks back, she thanks him before turning to make her escape.
Above the tower, Dany streaks through the sky on Drogon, deliberately burning soldiers and civilians alike and making pointed assaults on the Red Keep. Below it, Jaime is desperately trying to reach his sister when Euron Greyjoy surprises him, clambering to shore just where the dinghy is parked.
Euron invites him to try to add another king to his belt, and they fight. Euron manages to stab Jaime more than once, wounding him seriously, but it’s Jaime who gets in the last blow, gutting Euron with his sword.
On the tower stairs, The Hound intercepts Qyburn, Cersei and The Mountain. He effortlessly dispatches the guards traveling with them, challenging his older brother to come down. The Mountain does, in direct defiance of Cersei and Qyburn’s orders. In fact, he picks Qyburn up and smashes his head against a rock like a melon, then advances on his brother. Cersei, realizing their fight isn’t about her, scoots past them and continues heading towards the exit.
“Clegane Bowl” takes place on the steps of the Red Keep’s tower, with Gregor in the upper position and Sandor in the lower. Sandor fights valiantly, but when he finally lands what should be a fatal blow, he discovers that his brother can’t die by normal wounds. The fight escalates, with Gregor losing his helmet and revealing his disfigured, dead face for the first time since being reanimated. Over the course of the fight, he also loses his armor, exposing more rotten flesh.
The fight culminates in Gregor lifting Sandor off the ground, strangling him with his bare hands as Sandor lands ineffective stab wounds around his brother’s neck and shoulders. Gregor pushes his thumbs into Sandor’s eyes, and Sandor manages to retaliate by pushing his dagger through one of The Mountain’s. It isn’t enough. When Sandor recognizes that he won’t win the fight this way, and that the tower wall is buckling behind his brother, he throws himself at the big zombie and they fall together into the flames raging below.
As Cersei reaches the empty courtyard, she is surprised into hysterical gratitude by the appearance of her wounded brother. They embrace as the world falls around them, then Jaime leads her into the dungeon where the dragon skulls are, where they discover that the rest of their passage to safety has collapsed and they’re trapped. Cersei pleads with Jaime to save her. She doesn’t want to die, and she wants their baby to live. He comforts her by reciting that nothing matters except the two of them, and they cling to each other as the ceiling collapses on them.
Outside, all is chaos. Arya is knocked out more than once by the impact of Dany’s assault on the city. She is trampled by a panicking crowd. She is covered in and choked by ash. She watches simple, innocent people burn all around her. Each time she recovers her senses and her bearings, she is revulsed anew by the horrors unfolding around her. Horrors wrought by Daenerys.
Finally, it’s all over. Arya wakes up again, ash falling around her like snow. (Or is it snow? Winter has come.) In shock, she finds herself staring at a white horse. She approaches the animal calmly, takes its bridle, and rides away from the ruined city.
Looks like Arya has a new Queen at the top of her list.
Dead in this episode:
Alive, and available to fight again next week: