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Review: Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5: Blood, Smoke, and Terror Choke King’s Landing in “The Bells”

Mild spoilers follow.

A season of television beleaguered by the pressure and presumptions of millions is bound to suffer. This newest episode, however, is schlock no one thought Game of Thrones was capable of producing. Badness of the highest (or lowest) order. The last two episodes bogged themselves down with bad writing, illogical character (and creator) decisions, and the absence of family-to-family drama. There are fleeting moments of quality interspersed throughout, but for the most part, the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones disappoints.

Game of Thrones

Image courtesy of HBO

Titled “The Bells,” the episode sees one character reach a long-predicted tipping point. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss execute the massacre of King’s Landing with terrifying effectiveness, but something critical is missing: set-up. This episode, touted as one of the “big” episodes of the season, is plagued by the prioritization of hasty progression over steady development. Daenerys develops unsettling new behaviors out of nowhere. Jon Snow has suddenly become a whipped shadow of the resolute leader he once was. Grey Worm has transformed into a bloodthirsty monster. Jaime is spineless but we somehow enjoy him anyway. And Tyrion? Well, he’s just as charming and likable as ever. That probably won’t change, and he’ll more than likely die because of it.

Good souls are lost to the allure of vengeance and characters are shoehorned in at the last second. Like afterthoughts. The breathless pacing and premature resolutions are unfamiliar to viewers who have grown accustomed to waiting for hard-earned payoffs. The whole enterprise feels directionless. Benioff and Weiss adapt pre-existing material better than almost anyone in Hollywood, but when it comes to writing a wrap-up without the man behind the world to guide their efforts, they fumble.

Let’s hear it for Arya, the horse-whisperer who summons bloodstained mares from God-knows-where and casually rides them through dust and destruction. She’s been a highlight of the season, but her actions in this episode are uncharacteristic of the strong-willed assassin we love.

There’s no denying it: the quality of Game of Thrones is plummeting. This episode solidified the show as a lost cause and as a devastating blow to its reputation as one of HBO’s best endeavors. Each successive episode becomes less and less exciting as the show’s commitment to captivating its viewers begins to dissipate. It’s a damn shame. This could have been a truly special send-off, but instead it’s stale, dull, and forced. Let it be done already. 

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