Warning: Spoilers aplenty await.
Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode (ever!), The Bells, was controversial for sure.
Good or bad, from a story perspective, it was. It featured , most notably Cersei and Jaime Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen completing her transition into .
It was also categorically epic, spanning around 90 minutes and featuring some incredible cinematography. The visuals of King’s Landing being razed by Drogon and Daenerys were haunting but fantastic. Amid the madness, though, you may have missed some of these details and callbacks to previous seasons.
Even more thanand Jaime’s twin deaths, the key takeaway from The Bells was . King’s Landing had surrendered, but she couldn’t help herself. She burned it down, along with thousands of innocent men, women and children, just because.
As far as Targaryens go, she’s more Aerys than Rhaegar.
This all kind of came out of nowhere. She was disgruntled after learning,, that Jon Snow’s true identity is Aegon Targaryen, heir to the Iron Throne. But things escalated quickly from “hey, we need to talk about this” to “brb, going to murder every person in King’s Landing.”
This, however, has been foreshadowed in the show at least twice.
The first time came in season 2. Daenerys was in Qarth, a city in Essos, where her dragons were snatched by Pyat Pree, a local warlock. Pree chains the dragons up in a tower, which Daenerys enters alone. Before she reunites with her scaled children and incinerates the strange man, she sees a vision of herself in the Red Keep.
The Keep’s ceiling is ripped off, and snow covers the ground. At the time it seemed to signify winter and The Long Night, but thebefore Daenerys takes King’s Landing. Now fans speculate that it’s ash, not snow, in the vision. (It absolutely was snow, as if you look closely you can see icicles, but hey, visions can’t be perfect.)
Two years later, in season 4, Bran Stark, still Bran and not yet the Three-Eyed Raven, touches a Weirwood tree and sees one of his first visions. It features the same shot of a war-torn Red Keep as Daenerys saw in Qarth and, more ominously, the shadow of a dragon flying over King’s Landing.
Jaime’s death was also hinted at in a previous episode. In season 5 he and Bronn, while in Dorne, discuss the way they’d like to die. Jaime’s? “In the arms of the woman I love.”
Happy Mother’s Day
This is just a tidbit, but it’s a fun one. Cersei Lannister dies in this episode, which aired in the US on Mother’s Day.
Meanwhile, her dad, Tywin Lannister, was killed by Tyrion Lannister in episode 10 of season 4, which aired on June 15, 2014, aka Father’s Day.
Look at him!
The Bells’ greatest triumph has to be. It may have been fan service, and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane conspicuously reignited his desire to kill his brother just a season ago, but it was still a satisfying showdown.
Not only did it end the life of The Hound, one of the show’s best side characters, it also ended three of his story arcs. Most obviously, he killed his brother. There was some nice symbolism to this, as the fratricide was accomplished by Sandor plunging his brother and himself into a pit of Drogon flames. Of course, Gregor deformed Sandor’s face by holding his face to fire, leading to a life-long fear of flames.
As my mother once told me: if you’re gonna go out, it may as well be in a pit of fire.
Second, and more poignantly, was his relationship with Arya Stark (and Sansa Stark). Before Cleganebowl, The Hound talked Arya out of ascending the Red Keep and killing Cersei. The structure was crumbling and the Mad Queen circling, making it a suicide mission. Arya says she wants revenge, but The Hound forcibly holds her back.
“Look at me,” he grunts. He says he’s been after revenge all of his life, and Arya shouldn’t be like him. “You come with me, you die here.” The Hound is successful, Arya retreats. “Sandor,” she calls out as he approaches the stairway, “thank you.” (This was itself reminiscent of Bran thanking Theon Greyjoymoments before the latter’s death.)
This closes the Hound and Arya circle that opened in season 3. But it was also a callback to season 2, where The Hound’s “I’m actually not such a bad guy” arc began.
Sandor, you’ll recall, bailed on King Joffrey as it seemed Stannis Baratheon’s forces were overcoming King’s Landing’s defenses during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Before he left the city, he made a brief stop in Sansa’s room, where he offers to take Sansa to Winterfell. She passes it up, saying she’ll be safe and that Stannis won’t hurt her.
“Look at me,” exhorts The Hound, in exactly the way he did in Sunday’s episode, “Stannis is a killer. The Lannisters are killers. Your father was a killer. Your brother is a killer. Your sons will be killers some day. The world is built by killers.”
He was trying to shield her from the tragedies he knew would befall her in the years to come. Unlike his successful prevention of Arya’s suicide mission, this time it didn’t work. But as we saw in The Last of the Starks, Sansa says it was all worth it.
Littlefinger and The Dwarf
Last episode Varys made it clear to Tyrion: Daenerys had to go. He wants to remove her from the equation and open the Iron Throne to Jon Snow, rightful heir. Tyrion, allegedly the smartest man in Westeros, decided it was best to stick with Daenerys. The Bells opens with Tyrion telling Daenerys of Varys’ treachery. Before long, Varys is extremely dead. Dragonfire will do that to a eunuch.
But before he’s arrested by Grey Worm and the Unsullied, we see Varys writing letters revealing Jon’s true identity. Who he was writing to, and whether those letters were ever sent, we do not know. What we know, though, is that Varys’ proverbial circling of the drain was almost identical to Ned Stark’s.
Ned discovered the true identity of King Joffrey, that he was in fact a Lannister and not a Baratheon, and wrote a letter to Stannis, who as King Robert Baratheon’s brother was the true heir, telling him as much.
Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish catches wind of this, and tries to council Ned against it. “[Stannis] cannot take the throne without your help, you would be wise to deny it to him and to make sure Joffrey succeeds,” Littlefinger says.
Of course, Ned is disgusted. Littlefinger, just two episodes later, ends up betraying Ned, leading to Game of Thrones’ first shocking death. Seven seasons later, it’s Tyrion who warns Varys not to move against the queen, and it’s Tyrion who betrays Varys.
And the wheel spins round and round.
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A eunuch’s weapon: One more note on Varys. At the very beginning of the episode, we see Varys talk to one of his little birds. She tells him the queen isn’t eating. Varys says to try again at supper, and also that “the greater the risk, the greater the reward.” At the time it may have sounded like he was concerned about an increasingly delirious Daenerys, but the theory now goes that he was attempting to poison the queen before she could turn mad.
This would also be a Ned Stark-related throwback to season 1. Ned’s first order of business once getting to King’s Landing is to hunt down whoever murdered Jon Arryn. He asks then-Grandmaester Pycell about Arryn’s death, and the possibility of poisoning.
“I’ve heard it said that poison is a woman’s weapon,” Ned says.
“Yes, women, cravens, and eunuchs,” Pycelle responds. “Did you know that Lord Varys is a eunuch?”
The ol’ sword through the eye: Before Arya and The Hound were best buds, Arya had The Hound on her illustrious “to kill” list. “I’m going to put a sword through your eye and out the back of your skull,” she warns him in season 3. The Hound, on the verge of having his eyes popped out Oberyn Martell-style, saves himself by putting a dagger through Gregor’s eye and out the back of his skull.
Old stomping grounds: Jaime had a brief falling out with Cersei at the end of season 7 after she revealed to him that she lied about sending her forces to Winterfell, and that the good guys will have to fight the Night King themselves. She calls him “the stupidest Lannister” for believing she would actually help.
Jaime says he made a promise and he’s going to keep it. After Cersei briefly threatens Jaime’s life via The Mountain, he exits and rides for King’s Landing.
Their dialogue was referenced in The Bells, when Jaime says Cersei once called him the stupidest Lannister. And when Jaime reunites with Cersei, moments before their deaths, he does so in the Red Keep’s map room. That’s the room where their season 7 confrontation, the last time they saw each other, took place.
Pentos paradise: When Tyrion busts into Jaime’s makeshift prisoner’s cell, he tries to convince him to flee with Cersei and sail to Pentos. This is the same advice he gives to Shae, his endangered lover, in season 4. Neither take his advice and both end up dead.
Location, location, location: One of Game of Thrones’ most iconic scenes was in the beginning of season 6 episode 10, when Cersei watched from the Red Keep as her plan to blow up the Sept of Baelor went off without a hitch. Green wildfire engulfed the structure, and she sat back with a glass of red and looked on.
In The Bells, she stands in the exact same spot, first confident and then despondent as she realizes the war is lost.
“A day will come when you think you are safe and happy and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth and you will know the debt is paid,” Tyrion told her in season 2. Well, there sure was ash.
Also, note that there were green conflagrations among Drogon’s fire. This could mean two things: Either Cersei had planted wildfire underneath King’s Landing and was going to use it to destroy soldiers approaching the Red Keep or it’s leftover wildfire from the Mad King, who ordered wildfire to be hidden throughout the city.