The penultimate episode of any season of Game of Thrones is often the most explosive, but did the final second-last outing live up to expectation?
Spoiler alert for anyone who has not seen Season 8 Episode 5
Yes and no.
In terms of season eight, which has suffered greatly with pacing issues and inconsistencies, it is probably the best technically executed episode, but when you take into account the show as a whole it only has glimmers of the greatness we've come to expect.
This week's episode, aptly entitled The Bells, is kind of a win in a similar way that The Long Night's Battle of Winterfell was a win; things happened and we got some great character moments. Both episodes centred on a big battle and showed two key moments in defining the future of the Seven Kingdoms; the fight against the Night King and the fight against Cersei, both of whom have now been defeated.
Killing the Night King and defeating the army of the dead was necessary to keep the living alive, but the way Cersei was defeated just shows the horrors of war, the corruption of power and how the innocent are the ones to suffer. Those who want to rule don't care about their people and those who care, don't want to rule, and history will just keep on repeating itself. It was more of a massacre than anything.
The episode opened strong on Dragonstone as it took its first victim with Varys' execution. His parting words, "I hope I'm wrong" particularly poignant.
Daenerys has gone full Mad Queen now and one by one her inner circle comes to realise the extent of this. When she tells Jon, "Now she knows what happens when people find out about you" it's a real worry. She will literally kill whoever she needs to just to keep his parentage a secret and protect her claim to the Iron Throne.
I have a problem with this. Over the course of the first seven seasons, Daenerys has wanted to liberate slaves, protect the vulnerable and rule with love. She showed a few moments of potential madness but listened to her counsel and in the end did the right thing, or at least realised where she went wrong and you got the impression she was learning.
Now that the people of Westeros have not shown her love, she is happy to rule with fear, and by the end of the episode she essentially burns them all, indiscriminately zigzagging dragon fire through the streets burning everyone and everything in her wake.
My problem isn't with her eventual descent into madness; it's the way in which it's been developed. Like everything as the end draws near, it's been rushed, and it seems a bit obvious to have the Targaryen Queen go off the rails like this.
I think the obviousness generally of the episode was a problem; there was no big shock. Every great episode of Game of Thrones has a big shock, something you really didn't see coming. Perhaps this week's was supposed to be the moment Daenerys rides Drogon towards the Red Keep as the bells of surrender ring out, but it just didn't hit the mark because she's said so many times that she wants to do it, and she doesn't have Tyrion by her side to talk her down. It would've been more surprising at this stage if she had shown mercy.
As the city burned, I did enjoy the puffs of green wildfire popping up across the capital, it was a nice nod to Daenerys' father the Mad King's plan to burn it to the ground, before being stopped by Jaime.
Poor Jaime. The scene with him and Tyrion was a personal favourite of the episode. It was a fitting and emotional goodbye between the brothers. His final scene, too, also very apt, dying together with Cersei – "Nothing else matters, only us". While it was nice that they died together, it was a disappointing exit for two original characters who have provided us with so much drama and intrigue for so long.
I also really enjoyed the final moment between Arya and The Hound, even if it did seem a bit funny to tell the girl who killed the Night King that she wouldn't make it out alive if she went with him to try to kill Cersei, but whatever, it was touching and tied up their unlikely friendship effectively, and with him protecting her one last time. I'm glad she thanked him.
Cleganebowl finally happened, and it worked well that neither made it out alive. It was a real fight amidst the fiery carnage.
Arya's journey through the streets is surely set to build up to her adding Daenerys to her list. She came to King's Landing to kill the Queen, Cersei is gone but another has taken her place. I didn't really like this whole bit though, we'd already seen the destruction and dread unleashed on the city through the lens of the soldiers and swarms of innocent people running, so it felt a bit drawn out (usually I complain about things not being drawn enough) but there is only so much repetitive burning you can take. The point was already made.
I loved the episode's opening and how Jon comes to the slow realisation over the course the battle that maybe Varys was onto something; I hope he talks to Sansa about it all, she'll know what to do.
Overall it was an adequate instalment, at times maybe even a season highlight, but I'm not completely won over on how this whole season has been going.
One episode left. Oh my.