"The Bells" is the fifth episode of the eighth season of Game of Thrones. It is the seventy-second episode of the series overall. It premiered on May 12, 2019. It was written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Miguel Sapochnik.
Varys is writing letters pertaining to the truth about Jon Snow's heritage when one of his spies walks in and tells Varys that Daenerys has not eaten anything in days. Varys responds they'll try again at supper and Martha tells Varys that Daenerys's soldiers are constantly on alert. Varys assures her that the higher the risk, the greater the reward. She is sent back to the kitchen as Varys gets word of the arrival of Jon and his men.
When Jon arrives, he briefs Varys on the Northern army's progress. Jon asks how Daenerys is doing, with Varys responding that Daenerys is refusing to eat or leave her chambers. Jon replies that Daenerys shouldn't be alone and Varys admires that Jon is worried for her. When Jon asks Varys if he isn't worried as well, Varys says he's worried for them all and speaks of Daenerys's mental state, "They say that when a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin." Varys says that he knows not what side Daenerys's coin will land on, but that he knows which side Jon's will land on, implying that he wants Jon to take the Iron Throne over Daenerys. Jon vehemently refuses, to which Varys says that he has advised kings and rulers for many years, and knows how Daenerys will end up, given everything he has seen. Jon is still opposed to the idea, saying that Daenerys is his Queen now and forever.
Tyrion meets with Daenerys in Dragonstone's war room, where she has been self-isolated for days. When she surmises to him that someone has betrayed her, her Hand confirms this and Daenerys names Jon Snow. However, Tyrion says that it was actually Varys and Daenerys confirms Varys knows the truth about Jon. She tells Tyrion that he told Varys, "You learned from Sansa. And she learned from Jon, though I begged him not to tell her," and thus feels Jon has betrayed her. Tyrion says he needs to be aware of this information so that he and Varys can be prepared for anything Daenerys might face, but Daenerys is suspicious of Sansa's motives for telling Tyrion. Tyrion admits it was a mistake to tell Varys without Daenerys's permission and Sansa told Tyrion because she trusts him. Daenerys responds, "She trusted you to spread secrets that could destroy your own queen. And you did not let her down." Tyrion asks for Daenerys's forgiveness, saying they want the better world she wants and their intentions were good, "Varys as much as anyone. But it doesn't matter now." Daenerys replies, "No. It doesn't matter now."
Later that night, Varys is writing more letters when he hears the approach of guards. He burns the letter he is currently writing as Grey Worm and his men come into his room, shackles in hand. Varys knows what is about to occur. Without resistance, he is taken to the shores of Dragonstone, where Daenerys, Jon, and Tyrion are waiting for him. Tyrion tells Varys that it was him who sold his treachery out to Daenerys. Varys understands, and states that he hopes that he is wrong about everything he said about Daenerys. He bids one more farewell to Tyrion before Drogon burns him at Daenerys's command. Tyrion looks unhappy while Jon looks at Daenerys in concern.
In their room later, Jon comes to see Daenerys. She asks him what she said would happen if Jon told his sister about her parentage and Jon replies he doesn't want the crown and this is what he said to Varys. Daenerys says Sansa betrayed Jon's trust, "She killed Varys as much as I did. This was a victory for her. Now she knows what happens when people hear the truth about you." Daenerys confides that the people of Westeros love Jon more than her, that all she has here is fear, not love. Jon tells Daenerys, "I love you," and says she will always be his Queen regardless of how others feel about her. Daenerys asks, "Is that all I am to you? Your queen?" She and Jon start to kiss. However, Jon breaks off the kiss, still unable to get over their blood ties. In response, Daenerys accepts this but solemnly says, "Alright then. Let it be fear."
In Dragonstone's throne room, Tyrion consults with Daenerys, the latter of whom is now ordering Grey Worm and the Unsullied to sack King's Landing. Tyrion is strongly against it, saying that the citizens of the city are not Daenerys's enemy and are innocent. Daenerys counters that the slaves in Meereen turned against their masters and liberated themselves. Tyrion responds that the smallfolk are afraid of Cersei because Cersei will punish any rebellious acts. Daenerys says they are hostages in a tyrant's grip, and Tyrion begs her not to burn the city, or thousands of children will die. Daenerys counters that Cersei is using mercy as a weakness against them but Cersei is wrong, mercy is their strength - her mercy for the future generations of Westeros, not those in the present.
In a last ditch effort to get through to Daenerys, Tyrion bargains one last time: he will go talk to Cersei and convince her to surrender, "Cersei's followers will abandon her if they know the war is lost. Give them that chance." When he does, he will ring the city's bells, indicating the full, unconditional surrender of Cersei and her army. He pleads with her not to attack unless he's done this deed. Reluctantly, Daenerys agrees. Before Tyrion leaves, she informs her Hand that Jaime was caught by her men trying to get past their lines. She warns him that the next time he fails her, it will be his very last.
In King's Landing
Ser Davos and his men are prepping for the siege outside King's Landing, when Jon and Tyrion arrive. Tyrion asks Davos if he can smuggle something specific for him. He gets past the guards surrounding Jaime's tent and enters to see his brother shackled to a post. Tyrion reveals that he smuggled the key to Jaime's shackles and unchains him, saying that he wants him to be the one to go to Cersei and convince her to surrender, saying it will be much easier for him than it would be for Tyrion himself. Tyrion has arranged with Davos a boat for Jaime and Cersei to escape to Pentos. Jaime agrees but argues that Daenerys will kill Tyrion for this, but Tyrion replies he considers his life a fair exchange if it allows Daenerys to take the city without slaughtering thousands. Tyrion thanks Jaime for everything he has ever done for him before the two brothers share a tearful goodbye for the last time.
The next morning, the Unsullied, Dothraki, and Northmen united army are waiting outside the walls of King's Landing. Tyrion tells Jon that when they hear the bells, to call off his men. Meanwhile, a select few citizens of the city have been crowded in the Red Keep to protect them from the coming invasion. Cersei overlooks the city and sees her plan coming to fruition: she intends to keep a vast swath of innocent civilians in the path of the Red Keep, seeing if Daenerys will truly burn the city and all the inhabitants with it.
In Blackwater Bay, the Iron Fleet waits in silence, when Daenerys, riding atop Drogon, ambushes them by diving directly out of the sun. The ironborn fire their scorpions, but are unable to land a hit, for their target is far too fast for them. With his flames the mighty dragon all but destroys the Iron Fleet, including the Silence, though Euron is able to escape by jumping into the sea.
As the armies wait at the gates for the bells to ring, Daenerys and Drogon suddenly burst through the gates in a fiery blast, scattering the Golden Company. Grey Worm and the united army charge the gate and take care of what remains of the Golden Company's men. In the mayhem, Grey Worm impales a fleeing Captain Strickland in the back with his spear, killing him.
As the united army takes to the streets of King's Landing, taking out any and all enemy soldiers in their path, Daenerys and Drogon strafe the city walls, destroying the remaining scorpions. They make their way to the gates of the innermost part of the city, where Lannister soldiers are waiting. The two opposing armies come to an intense standstill. Daenerys perches Drogon atop one of the walls. Realizing their chances of winning are dwindling fast, the Lannister soldiers throw down their weapons and surrender. Tyrion and Jon are visibly relieved as the battle is seemingly done. The citizens of the city cry out for the bells to be rung. After a long amount of time passes, the bells are finally rung, signaling what appears to be the end of the sack of the city.
While the bells keep ringing, Daenerys looks at the Red Keep with a look of pure hatred in her eyes and becomes more and more unstable. Without uttering a single word, Daenerys takes Drogon to the skies, and in a terrifying display of rage, proceeds to burn down the entirety of King's Landing, scorching entire buildings and neighborhoods, killing both soldiers and innocent civilians alike.
Grey Worm takes his spear and throws it at the Lannister Captain, impaling him through the chest and killing him. With that, it becomes the call to arms as the Unsullied and Dothraki begin attacking and killing surrendered forces. Jon and Tyrion are horrified by what they are bearing witness to. Jon orders his own men back and tries to get them and the Unsullied and Dothraki to stop fighting. Unfortunately, the Northmen are in no mood to be merciful towards House Lannister, the house who are almost single-handedly responsible for every single atrocity the North has suffered over the years (Ned Stark's execution, the War of the Five Kings, the Red Wedding, the rule of Roose and Ramsay Bolton and their refusal to support them in the fight against the dead) and join their new allies in the slaughter.
Chaos erupts as the Unsullied, Dothraki, and Northmen alike charge into the innermost parts of the city, killing anyone, soldier or civilian, and raping women they come across. A horrified Jon is caught up in the disorder, deflecting attacks and shouting at his men to stop fighting. Davos is trying to usher people to safety while an increasingly fearful Cersei looks on from the Red Keep in alarm as the carnage continues and fire comes down from above. On the ground, Jon finds one of the soldiers grabbing an innocent woman and intervenes to stop the soldier from raping her. The soldier attacks Jon and Jon is forced to kill him.
Jaime sneaks around the cliffs on which the Red Keep is situated and encounters Euron, who survived his brush with death. Jaime urges Euron to help him save Cersei, but Euron points out that the city and Cersei are lost. He and Jaime fight, saying that he will personally deliver Jaime's severed head to Cersei so she can kiss it one last time. Although Euron stabs Jaime multiple times, Jaime is able to overpower Euron and impales him through the stomach with his sword. He walks away, severely injured, as Euron utters his final words, smiling: "I'm the man who killed Jaime Lannister."
Meanwhile, Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane have snuck into the Red Keep and reach the Map Room, the walls crumbling around them. Sandor urges Arya to go home, arguing that Cersei is as good as dead but Arya insists, "I'm going to kill her." Sandor grabs Arya's arm and urges her to choose life over vengeance, saying that he himself has been seeking revenge his entire life and tells Arya to be better than someone like him, a living embodiment of the vengeance she is seeking and what it will do to her. When Arya tries to continue onward, Sandor shouts at Arya, "Look at me! You wanna be like me? You come with me, you die here." As Sandor goes to deal with his brother, Arya calls him by his name for the first time, and thanks him before they both go their separate ways.
Having convinced Cersei that all is lost, Qyburn evacuates Cersei from the Red Keep, but they come across Sandor. The Hound effortlessly dispatches the Queensguard before he stands face to face with his brother. Cersei orders Gregor to protect her. When Gregor ignores her, Qyburn repeats the order, but the Mountain smashes his head against a wall, killing him. Cersei flees as the Clegane brothers duel. At the same time, Arya is trying to escape through the city, nearly getting trampled in the process by civilians trying to escape Daenerys's wrath.
Gregor and Sandor fight, but the latter's attacks seem to have no effect, with Gregor even pulling a sword clean from his stomach with no signs of slowing down. Gregor beats down Sandor and lifts him up against the wall, preparing to gouge out his eyes. Just as Gregor does this, Sandor grabs a knife from his side and stabs Gregor clean through his eye. Even this does nothing to stop Gregor, who begins pulling the knife from his eye. Knowing that none of his attacks will truly kill Gregor, Sandor knows what he must do. Mustering up enough courage to face his fears, Sandor runs and tackles Gregor through the badly damaged wall behind, sending them both hurtling hundreds of feet into the fiery remains of the city.
Davos and Jon are reeling at the carnage and fire surrounding them as caches of wildfire explode and Daenerys and Drogon burn up the city. Davos and Jon share a look and Jon orders his forces to fall back. He and Davos rush people out of the city as fire rains down upon them from above.
Cersei is all alone in her castle when she sees Jaime, bloodied and badly wounded following his fight with Euron. The two of them go deep into the Red Keep, where Tyrion had told Jaime to go where there would be a boat waiting for them on the beach to take them away from the city. However, they find their path has been blocked by rubble. A frightened Cersei begins to cry, saying that she does not want to die. Jaime tells her not to look at the crumbling keep, "Look at me, just look at me. Nothing else matters, nothing else matters, only us." Hearing the Keep above them caving in, the twins embrace for the last time as the ceiling caves in on them, killing them both.
Meanwhile, Arya regains consciousness after she was left incapacitated by a concussive blast. She manages to get into a building full of women and children and convinces them to keep moving, lest they perish where they stand. They begin to escape, but most of them, save a mother and her young daughter, are killed by the roving Dothraki. The mother collapses and tells Arya to take her daughter to safety. She grabs the child and begins to run, but the girl refuses to leave her mother and goes to her side just as Daenerys and Drogon swoop down one last time and unleash another torrent of fire upon the innocent civilians.
Arya awakes later and sees the devastation around her. She looks and sees that the mother and her daughter were burned alive. She stumbles around the city and sees the dead bodies of many innocent men, women, and children, all at the hands of her cousin's lover. She suddenly sees a white horse among the throes of the dead. She goes up to it and is able to calm it before mounting the horse, riding out of the city to an uncertain future, leaving the devastation of King's Landing behind her, in what has become an unrequited order fulfilled: the last words of the Mad King, "Burn them all," coming to life at his daughter's hand as King's Landing burns.
- Main article: The Bells/Appearances
- Harry Strickland
- Euron Greyjoy
- Boros Blount
- Preston Greenfield
- Arys Oakheart
- Balon Swann
- Osmund Kettleblack
- Sandor Clegane
- Gregor Clegane
- Jaime Lannister
- Cersei Lannister
- Ellaria Sand (presumed, off-screen)
- Unella (presumed, off-screen)
- Many Lannister soldiers
- Many citizens of King's Landing
- 10 of 18 starring cast members appear in this episode.
- Starring cast members Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Hannah Murray (Gilly), Jerome Flynn (Bronn), Kristofer Hivju (Tormund) and Joe Dempsie (Gendry) are not credited and do not appear in this episode.
- This episode is the final appearance of starring cast members Conleth Hill (Varys) and Rory McCann (Sandor Clegane) due to the death of their characters.
- Guest star Rori Hawthorn is credited as Mairi Hawthorn.
- Boian Anev, Mark Archer, Daniel Awde, Adam Basil, Kristina Baskett, Ferenc Berecz, Richard Bradshaw, Adam Brashaw, Annabel Brook, Katy Bullock, Andrew Burford, Michael Byrch, Dacio Caballero, Carlos Castillo, Yusuf Chaudhri, Nick Chopping, Tamlyn Clark, Jonathan Cohen, Adam Collins, David Collom, Rob Cooper, Chris Cox, Jake Cox, Tom Cox, Matt Crook, Matt Da Silva, Tim Davies, Rob de Groot, Will Dent, Levan Doran, Dom Dumaresq, Josh Dyer, Andrew Eadie, Dan Euston, Rachael Evelyn, Bradley Farmer, Pete Ford, Josie Forman, Sarah Franzl, Vladimir Furdik, Katrina Gelfand, Luke Gomes, David Grant, Dan Griffiths, Peter Guiney, Lawrence Hansen, Richard Hansen, Nicklas Hansson, Dan Hartley, Rob Hayns, Lyndon Hellewell, Matt Hermiston, Maria Hippolyte, Robert Hladik, Nick Hobbs, Michael Homick, Jessica Hooker, Gergely Horpasci, Paul Howell, Radoslav Ignatov, Rowley Irlam, Erol Ismail, Jonny James, Filip Kadlec, Robbie Keane, Troy Kenchington, Norbert Kovács, Bogdan Kumsackij, Saul Lockwood, Paul Lowe, Jade Lye, John MacDonald, Leigh Maddern, Kai Martin, Tina Maskell, Freddie Mason, Leona McCarron, Kim McGarrity, Belinda McGinley, Kye Mckee, Carly Michaels, Casey Michaels, Nikita Mitchell, Theo Morton, Elliott Murray, Daniel Naprous, Chris Newton, David Newton, Jason Oettle, Pete Olivant, Bela Orsanyi, Ivan Orsanyi, Radoslav Parvanov, James Pavey, Robert Pavey, Joseph Paxton, Catherine Peck, Oleg Podobin, Dominic Preece, Josh Ravenscroft, Juliet Reeve, Andrej Riabokon, Shane Roberts, Zach Roberts, Doug Robson, Gemita Samarra, Louis Samms, Fabio Santos, Stanislav Satko, Hasit Savani, Fenix Searle, Paul Shapcott, Anthony Skrimshire, Mark Slaughter, Karen Smithson, Mark Stanton-Kelly, Sam Stefan, Anna Stephenson, Jonny Stockwell, John Street, Ryan Stuart, Laura Swift, Gáspár Szabó, Marek Toth, Gyula Toth, Elmo Walker, Andy Wareham, Calvin Warrington-Heasman, Reg Wayment, Richard Wheeldon, Heron White, Marcus White, Belle Williams, Donna Williams, Will Willoughby, Annabel Wood, Leo Woodruff, Ben Wright and Lewis Young were stunt performers in this episode.
- The soundtrack playing over the credits is a rendition of the House Lannister theme and Cersei's theme. On the official soundtrack release it is titled "For Cersei."
- Three long-standing fan theories are referenced in this episode:
- "Cleganebowl," a final showdown between Sandor and Gregor Clegane;
- "Mad Queen Daenerys", with Daenerys apparently succumbing to the notorious Targaryen madness;
- Daenerys as the "younger, more beautiful queen" prophesized by Maggy, who would cast Cersei down and take all she held dear.
- Winterfell and Last Hearth both appear in the title sequence despite not appearing in the episode while Dragonstone once again does not appear despite being a major setting for the episode.
- With the deaths of Sandor and Gregor Clegane, all known members of House Clegane are dead, rendering the house extinct.
- With Jaime and Cersei's deaths, Tyrion has become Lord of Casterly Rock and head of House Lannister as the sole remaining offspring of Tywin Lannister. This is ironic given Tywin's resentment toward Tyrion and refusal to make Tyrion his heir.
- With the death of Euron, Yara Greyjoy's rule of the Iron Islands is now uncontested.
- The pale white horse found by Arya at the end of the episode may be a reference to the Book of Revelation from the Christian Bible: Revelation 6:8 refers to a rider of the white or ashen horse being death, and where ever the white horse goes, death follows with it. Arya was affiliated with the Many-Faced God of Death, and the horse is leaving behind a burning city with thousands dead.
- The exact text reads: "And I looked, and behold, a ashen horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him."
- An interesting theory, however, an ashen or pale horse is more grey in color. A white horse has a different meaning in the Book of Revelations: "So I looked and saw a white horse, and its rider had a bow. And he was given a crown, and he rode out to overcome and conquer." Then a later verse states, "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war…"
- The City Watch of King's Landing doesn't appear in the episode. A likely reason for this is that Cersei assimilated the City Watch into the Lannister army to replenish their badly-depleted numbers after the Battle of the Goldroad.
- Ironically, the episode in which Cersei Lannister dies aired on Mother's Day of 2019.
- Even more ironically, Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons went "mad" during maternal mental health month. This international awareness month will include the finale.
- The destruction of the Red Keep in this episode leaves the fate of prisoners in the Black Cells, like Septa Unella and Ellaria Sand, uncertain. One can assume they were crushed/suffocated in their cells, as the damage was enough for the basements of the Keep to be crumbling, suggesting the entire structure was compromised.
- Two songs can be heard playing simultaneously during the end credits: "The Light of the Seven" and The Rains of Castamere. Both were originally odes to Lannister triumphs: "The Light of the Seven" first being played alongside the destruction of Cersei's enemies in "The Winds of Winter", and the latter being the unofficial anthem of House Lannister, commemorating their destruction of their renegade bannermen. So it's ironic that they play in an episode that sees two Lannisters killed in a similar manner to the Reynes, and House Lannister seemingly on the brink of extinction.
- Qyburn is the seventh consecutive Hand of the King to be killed: prior to him were Qarlton Chelsted, who was executed at Aerys's order; Rossart - slain by Jaime; Jon Arryn - poisoned by his wife; Ned Stark - executed at Joffrey's order; Tywin - shot by Tyrion; Kevan - incinerated when Cersei blew up the Great Sept of Baelor.
- The fight between Gregor and Sandor Clegane (known commonly as "Cleganebowl") was choreographed by Vladimír Furdík who also portrayed the Night King in Seasons 6-8.
- The title of the episode recalls what Varys said to Tyrion shortly before the Battle of the Blackwater in "Blackwater": ‘’I’ve always hated the bells. They ring for horror. A dead king. A city under siege.’’ Strangely enough, in the same episode, Davos states that he has never known ringing bells to mean surrender of a city, which is precisely what they are supposed to mean in Tyrion's plan.
- Varys paraphrases his belief that "power resides where men believe it resides," something he first talked about in "What Is Dead May Never Die."
- Varys's last words to Tyrion are "Goodbye, old friend", which echoes how he greeted him when they were reunited in Meereen in "Mother's Mercy", saying "Hello, old friend".
- Varys is seen writing a letter addressed to an unknown recipient informing them of Jon Snow's true parentage and that he is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. This is a reversal on what Eddard Stark did in "You Win or You Die", when he wrote a letter to Stannis Baratheon informing him that Joffrey was not truly Robert's son and had no claim to the throne.
- Varys is burnt alive by Daenerys for his treason, just as Daenerys threatened him in "Stormborn". Moreover, just like Melisandre prophesised in "The Queen's Justice", Varys does indeed die in Westeros, far from his native land.
- Tyrion once again shows his Valyrian leaves much to be desired, mixing up words like he did in Season 5's "Mother's Mercy" and Season 6's "The Red Woman" and "Book of the Stranger."
- Jaime recalls that Cersei once called him "the stupidest Lannister", which she did in "The Dragon and the Wolf".
- Drogon's shadow is seen flying over King's Landing. Bran saw this image in a vision way back in Season 4's "The Lion and the Rose" and again Season 6's "Blood of My Blood."
- It had previously been said that the Mad King ordered caches of wildfire placed all over King's Landing ("Kissed by Fire"). These caches are ignited by Drogon's dragonfire.
- Jaime's final words to Cersei are "Nothing else matters," echoing what he had said to her in "The Red Woman."
- Jaime dies in Cersei's arms, the woman he loves, which is how he said he wanted to go out in "Sons of the Harpy."
- Gregor attempts to gouge out Sandor's eyeballs in the same way he did to Oberyn Martell in "The Mountain and the Viper."
- While being lifted in the air, the Hound repeatedly stabs the Mountain, but to no avail, as Jon did while fighting Othor in "The Pointy End".
- The Hound drives a dagger through the Mountain's eye, as Jaime did to Jory Cassel in "The Wolf and the Lion". Driving a dagger "through his eye and out the back of his skull" is also how Arya described how she would kill the Hound in "The Rains of Castamere".
- The Mountain grabs hold of the Hound's blade with his bare hand, as the Hound did while fighting Brienne in "The Children".
- The Hound eventually kills his brother, as he said he would in "The Dragon and the Wolf".
- Varys tells Jon "They say every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath" - similarly to what Cersei said in "A Man Without Honor".
- Tyrion visits the pen in which Jaime is held prisoner, in order to release him, as Catelyn did in "A Man Without Honor".
- Tyrion and Daenerys refer to the liberation of the slaves in Meereen ("Breaker of Chains").
- Daenerys warns Tyrion "The next time you fail me will be the last time you fail me". It echoes what she said to Viserys in "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things": "The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands".
- Tyrion says that he defended King's Landing the last time it was attacked, referring to the Battle of the Blackwater.
- Daenerys devastates King's Landing by burning much of it with dragonfire, as her father had sought to do with wildfire, when the city was sacked during Robert's Rebellion.
- The dialogue of Varys and Martha implies that Varys tried to poison Daenerys.
- Martha tells Varys that "she isn't eating", presumably referring to Daenerys, and Varys appears pensive before telling her "we'll try again at supper", implying that Varys had some sort of plan regarding Daenerys's food. Given his recent misgivings about Daenerys's sanity, poison seems the most likely answer.
- Martha also notes how the soldiers at Dragonstone are watching her, perhaps suggesting that Daenerys suspects someone may try to poison her.
- Additionally, Varys removes multiple rings from his fingers prior to being taken by Grey Worm - it's possible the poison was kept in these rings, similarly to how Olenna Tyrell and Petyr Baelish smuggled poison into Joffrey's wedding, using a hairnet.
- It is the third unsuccessful attempt to poison Daenerys, following the attempts in "You Win or You Die" and "Valar Dohaeris".
- Similarly to the executions of Randyll and Dickon Tarly, Daenerys's method of executing Varys is perhaps more impressive than a simple beheading, but in both cases it could have caused the spectators to associate Daenerys with her father, who used to burn people to death - which is exactly what she has been trying to avoid so far, till the point she decides to destroy King's Landing.
In King's Landing
- Interestingly, Daenerys's actions in this episode are the exact the opposite of Jon Connington's in the Battle of the Bells:
- When Connington arrived at Stoney Sept, he could have possibly put an end to Robert's Rebellion, had he set the entire town on fire (what Tywin would have probably done); Robert would have surely been killed in the process. He did not, because many innocent people would have been killed (he also wanted the glory of capturing Robert by his own hands); while his soldiers conducted a house-to-house search, the Stark, Tully and Arryn troops arrived and drove Connington's troops away. Connington's act of mercy cost him and the Targaryens dearly.
- Daenerys, on the other hand, has destroyed the city and killed countless innocent people. In her case, it has been totally unnecessary, for the Lannister soldiers have already yielded, and capturing Cersei (dead or alive) would have been a simple matter.
- Note that even ruthless people like Tywin and Roose Bolton, who treated their enemies very cruelly, were against killing enemies who had surrendered:
- Roose rebuked Ramsay for needlessly killing the ironborn who yielded on two occasions (the Sack of Winterfell and the Surrender of Moat Cailin).
- Tywin told Joffrey in the third novel "when your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you. And any man who must say I am the king is no true king at all".
- In Season 7 episode "Eastwatch", Randyll Tarly refused to accept Daenerys as his queen; one of his reasons was that Daenerys brought an army of savages to Westeros. At that point, it seemed somewhat hypocritical of him, since as everyone knows - the Lannisters' bannermen (mainly the Mountain and Lorch) have performed extremely savage atrocities at their masters' orders. In retrospect, however, Randyll was right: Daenerys and her troops proved to be ruthless savages, in view of the destruction and massacre they performed in this episode - which have been far worse than anything the Lannisters and their henchmen have ever did in King's Landing in the past - mainly the Sack of King's Landing and the Destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor; as vicious and despicable as those were, their extent was somewhat limited; Daenerys, by contrast, destroyed most of the city and killed many more innocents.
- In Season 1 episode "The Wolf and the Lion", Ned Stark objected to kill Daenerys, and did not listen to Varys and Pycelle, who correctly pointed out that either Daenerys died, or many innocent people would. In this episode, it turned to be that Varys and Pycelle were right, while Ned was really acting like a "honorable fool", as Robert called him.
- Daenerys rapidly destroys the Greyjoy fleet and all of the scorpions in King's Landing. She seems to have realized that both Viserion and Rhaegal were lost during periods of relatively slow movement at low altitude. Therefore, she started with a dive bombing run from above the clouds and stayed on the move once she got into firing range, using strafing instead of bombing maneuvers. Second, while the scorpions' piercing power and possibly reload time were greatly improved, it seems that their turn speed and aiming time were the same as the earlier models, again meaning that all Daenerys needed to do was keep on the move.
- Ever since the first episode of this season, Sansa had strong reservations about Daenerys; the latter's conduct in this episode proves that Sansa was right to distrust her. However, it could be argued that Sansa is at least partially responsible for Daenerys's actions: as Sansa broke her vow of secrecy to Jon and told Tyrion the truth about Jon, which started a chain of events that led to Varys's betrayal of Daenerys and his death, which in turn contributed to Daenerys's downward spiral.
- Arya's last words to Sandor are the first and only time throughout the entire series someone talks to him by only using his first name. Everybody else, who ever talked to him, generally called him either "Clegane", "Hound" or "Dog".
- With the deaths of Cersei and the Mountain, Arya's kill list is completed.
- It is the second time (following "The Winds of Winter") that the Mountain reveals his head ever since he was reanimated by Qyburn.
- In the books, Ser Robert Strong (the reanimated Mountain) apparently has no skull; Cersei sent it to the Martells, in attempt to appease the Dornish people. That gesture, however, did little to change Doran's conspiracy against the Lannisters; it has not decreased even slightly the hatred the Sand Snakes feel toward the Lannisters (though they do not resent Myrcella and do not seek to harm her), definitely not after their uncle revealed to them Cersei's plot to assassinate their cousin.
- It is the second time (following "The Dragon and the Wolf") that Tyrion says there are a million people in King's Landing. Still, it does not mean the number is correct; Tyrion might have spoken loosely, underscoring the fact that there are many innocent people who may be killed. Or, it may be possible that he's referring to the addition of the numerous small folk that have entered from the surrounding countryside, as seen in the episode.
- Tyrion tells Jaime "If it weren't for you, I never would've survived my childhood". It is unclear whether Tyrion meant the time Cersei pinched him and Jaime stopped her (as mentioned by Oberyn Martell in "Mockingbird"), or whether Jaime generally protected him from harm during his childhood. Or, more tragically, Tyrion could be hinting he contemplated suicide due to the abuse he suffered from Tywin and Cersei and it was only Jaime's love and support that prevented him from harming himself.
- Cersei's death does not necessarily refute Maggy's prophecy about the "Valonqar" (a prophecy that was only made in the books). In view of how far the TV show has strayed from the novels, and how much Jaime has grown to hate and loathe Cersei throughout the fourth novel (he even contemplates killing her) - it is still possible that he will be the one to kill her in the novels, according to one of the most common fan speculations about the aforementioned prophecy. It can also be argued that Jaime did indeed kill Cersei, unintentionally leading her to the collapsing tunnels beneath the Red Keep.
- Jaime's statement "I never really cared much for them [the residents of King's Landing]" totally contradicts what he wholeheartedly told to Brienne in "Kissed by Fire" - that he killed Aerys in order to save those people; this is also reason he joined the northern troops in the fight against the army of the dead ("I promised to fight for the living"). It is unclear why Jaime would make such a false statement, which is in sharp contrast to his previous words and deeds, and shows him in a very bad light. There are several possible explanations: perhaps he was simply being defeatist (as he clearly did not believe that he would be able to convince Cersei to change her course of action); perhaps he no longer believed himself worthy of redemption (after choosing to go back to Cersei); or possibly his attitude may have been an attempt to dissuade Tyrion from freeing him, knowing that it would lead to Tyrion's execution.
- Cersei's statement "The Red Keep has never fallen" is not incorrect: the city has fallen during Robert's Rebellion, but the Red Keep itself was technically not put under siege and taken, as Jaime had already killed the Mad King by the time Lannister troops reached the keep.
- Before the fight between Euron and Jaime begins, Euron says "If you kill another king before you die... they'll sing about you forever"; after he is fatally stabbed by Jaime, Euron yells "Another king for you!" - referring to the first kingslaying Jaime committed.
- It is unknown why Yara has not joined Daenerys's forces, after she has taken the Iron Islands (as reported in the previous episode). Maybe Yara's loyalists are currently too few, and she has not yet established her reign over the Iron Islands, thus could not rally sufficient forces to assist Daenerys; another possibility is that she had to keep her forces nearby, in case Euron returned and attempted to overthrow her.
Possible Motivations for the Destruction
- After the death of her brother, Daenerys defined her entire life as the "last scion/Targaryen" and, thinking she was alone in the world, plotted to take control of the Iron Throne. Discovering that she was not alone was a profoundly destabilizing factor for her; the fact that she fell for another Targaryen before both of them knew and that her feelings towards him were not reciprocated after it was known, only compounded the dramatic effect upon her psyche.
- The terrible destruction that Daenerys inflicts in this episode has been foreshadowed in previous episodes:
- In "The Old Gods and the New", Daenerys told the Spice King that she would take what she considered to be hers "with fire and blood", stating the Targaryen motto which did come to reality.
- In "A Man Without Honor", the Spice King told Daenerys "Your dragons will bring the world nothing but death and misery"; his fear proved to be correct.
- In "Blackwater", Varys told Tyrion "I've always hated the bells. They ring for horror. A dead king, a city under siege".
- In "Valar Morghulis", one of the visions Daenerys saw at the House of the Undying was of the Great Hall, ruined and deserted. What seemed to be snow kept dropping from the air, covering the floor and the Iron Throne; in view of this episode, it could have been ashes rather than snow.
- In "Stormborn", Olenna Tyrell told Daenerys "You're a dragon. Be a dragon".
- In "Kissed by Fire", Jaime told Brienne that "He [Aerys] burned lords he didn't like. He burned Hands who disobeyed him. He burned anyone who was against him". In "The House of Black and White", Ser Barristan Selmy told Daenerys that her father "murdered sons in front of their fathers. He burned men alive with wildfire". Upon hearing that, Daenerys insisted "I'm not my father", but eventually has performed all those ruthless acts - and worse:
- She burned Lord Randyll Tarly and his son together;
- She burned Varys (he was her advisor, not her Hand, but it is close enough);
- She burned the Lannister troops;
- She caused the eruption of the hidden wildfire caches, while burning people alive with Drogon's fire.
- It is doubtful Daenerys has set off the wildfire caches on purpose (Tyrion told her about them in "Battle of the Bastards"). She does not express in retrospect any regret about doing so, and about the killing of many innocent people as a result; that makes her responsible as if she planned that to happen.
- The conclusion is that Daenerys has turned out to be what her father was and more; she even executed his diabolical plan to destroy King's Landing, by following his last words "Burn them all!".
- There was no reason for Daenerys to burn the city itself
- Dan Weiss explains, "I don't think [Daenerys] decided ahead of time that she was going to do what she did. And then she sees the Red Keep, which is, to her, the home that her family built when they first came over to this country 300 years ago. It's in that moment, on the walls of King's Landing, where she's looking at that symbol of everything that was taken from her, when she makes the decision to-- to make this personal."
- However, Daenerys does not immediately attack the Red Keep itself, she begins strafing the city. This makes no tactical or common sense: it was already well established in previous episodes that Cersei has no affection for the small folk whatsoever, so the possible explanation that Daenerys was burning them to punish Cersei makes no sense, however Daenerys's "punishment", enacted through the burning, may also have been directed at the people of the city themselves, not just Cersei.
- There were reasons for Daenerys to burn the city down
- Daenerys's actions during the battle could be foreshadowed by her earlier statement to Jon Snow on Dragonstone, that if she couldn't inspire the love of the people of Westeros, then it would be fear. According to showrunners, Daenerys did not know at this time that she would decide to burn down the city. Daenerys is mentally broken at this point, so she makes it personal by burning the city down, so she can have it rebuilt as a Targaryen King's Landing.
- Daenerys's unreasonable cruelty could also possibly be the result of mounting grief from the losses of many of her friends and allies, as well as two of her dragons, which she considers as her children.
- It's possible that her hatred was not only directed at Cersei, but also at the citizens of King's Landing for not surrendering to her immediately upon her arrival. In Daenerys's mind, the perfect invasion would have been the instant annihilation of Cersei, with her Tyrell, Greyjoy and Dornish armies intact, as well with all her advisors and dragons by her side. By the time the city surrendered, she had already lost so much, and decided to take her rage out upon the city. Much of Daenerys's losses can be attributed to heeding her Hand Tyrion's advice.
- Not Alone
- Part of what lead to Daenerys' snap was likely triggered by the fallout from the discovery of Jon Snow being a Targaryen. This meant two things:
- He had a better claim to the throne due to being the child of Aerys Targaryen's oldest son, Rhaegar Targaryen.
- They were blood relatives.
- The discovery of his true identity came about after they had consummated their relationship and had fallen in love, which seems to have amplified the impact of the revelation.
- To the first point, she knew that his claim meant he was the rightful heir but she had, until then, defined her entire life as being the last Targaryen and rightful heir. The discovery that Jon was antecedent to the throne was clearly an important, if not the most important, factor. After finding out he was a Targaryen (and her nephew to be precise), Jon made it clear that he didn't want the throne, which seemed to please her.
- Secondly, as a Targaryen, having an incestuous relationship was not considered taboo, whereas to Starks, it was. Being raised a Stark, Jon has issues with the knowledge that Daenerys was his aunt - issues he clearly didn't have when he was not aware - and was unable to return to sexual intimacy with Daenerys since finding this out. This second denial - of her as a companion - deeply upset her.
- Daenerys seems happy at Jon's decision to renounce the throne, but deeply unhappy at his inability to resume their romantic relationship due to their blood ties. The tension between these outcomes is revealed when she delivers the fateful line, "Is that all I am to you? Your queen?" This seemed to show that Daenerys needed more than fealty but a companion and partner as well but Jon, having grown up as a Stark, finds their familial connection a barrier to resuming any physical intimacy between them. Though Jon gives into Daenerys's kiss, he breaks it off and it is then Daenerys realizes he is unable to return to the intimacy they once shared before they knew of his parentage, contributing to her declining state. When she delivers the line, "Alright then, let it be fear," it appears she is resigning herself to the fear she already inspires in Westeros and will no longer try to win the people's love. Although, according to the Inside the Episode and Game Revealed sessions, it is not until Daenerys is perched on top of the walls of King's Landing that she decides to burn the city down.
- Not Her Father
- When Daenerys said, "I'm not my father," this could be taken one of two ways:
- 1. She is literally not her father; she is morally better than him and would not commit such horrendous acts; she will break the wheel, and be the queen people choose. Or simply, that she is not mad.
- 2. She is not her father in the sense that he made the mistake of having enemies alive to kill him, of getting himself killed, and of not completing the task he set out to.
- Interpretation 1 is a form of misdirection: the interpretation that Daenerys is morally superior to her father due to her seemingly redemptive arc, her rousing rhetoric and her democratic aspirations; however, all the acts listed above would create considerable cognitive dissonance and stretch this interpretation's credulity. Therefore this interpretation only holds so far as the tipping point, after which she moved to the next phase of her arc.
- Interpretation 2 is the more likely (if darker and more tragic) meaning; given what transpired in this episode, it signals the culmination of her unavoidable destiny. Daenerys was abused and sold into marriage by a brother who would happily allow her to be raped in order that he may attain the throne; she then rose from the bottom to the top, forming the keystone of her identity from the belief that it was her destiny to rule the Iron Throne her way as she was the last of the Targaryens. (When she would eventually discover much later that this was not true, a tipping point occurred, after which it would be too late for her to change her mindset. This was foreshadowed by Aemon saying "a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.") After she discovered her magical affinity with dragons, raised them to maturity and (perhaps an elaborate ruse) convinced whole armies to fight with her against their common enemy - the Lannisters - she discovered Jon (whom she loved) was in fact the rightful heir to the throne. After this devastating blow to her identity, compounded with his inability to return her romantic affections, the betrayal of her advisor (Varys), loss of her closest friends (protector Jorah and confidant Missandei), as well as 2 of her children (dragons), she set out to finish her father's work: to conquer the city with fire and blood and be a dragon. After all, when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die: Cersei died; Daenerys intends to win - by whatever means necessary.
- When Daenerys said, "I'm not my father," this could be taken one of two ways:
- Daenerys: "Far more people in Westeros love you than love me; I don't have love here. I only have fear."
- Jon Snow: "I love you. And you will always be my Queen."
- Daenerys: "Is that all I am to you? Your Queen? Alright then: let it be fear.
- Sandor: "Go home girl. Fire will get her. Or one of the Dothraki. Maybe that dragon will eat her. Doesn't matter: she's dead. And you'll be dead too if you don't get out of here.
- Arya: "I'm going to kill her."
- Sandor: "You think you've wanted revenge a long time? I've been after it all my life; it's all I care about. And look at me - LOOK AT ME! You want to be like me? You come with me, you die here."
- Arya: "Sandor... thank you."
- Sandor: "Hello big brother."
- Sandor: "FUCKING DIE!!!"
In the books
[This section will be updated with comparisons when the sixth and seventh novels are released.]
- The episode contains influences from the following chapter of A Game of Thrones: