Arya GOT

Arya in the Streets

Ben: There was a several-year period a few years ago where it seemed as if every major action movie utilized 9/11 imagery. I think the movies have eased up on that a bit recently, but the visual parallels in this Game of Thrones episode were hard to ignore: fire, ash, and blood filled the streets as the city crumbled, all captured by cameras at ground level as terror reigned from above. I’m guessing the decision to approach the scene this way will be controversial, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people think it makes the episode feel too modern.

But I thought it was well-executed, and it was nice to follow Arya as a POV character for a change during one of the episode’s big moments; it’s usually Jon who takes center stage at times like these, and we’ve followed Jon enough times that it’s no longer interesting. Arya, however – especially in the wake of her revelation from Sandor “The Hound” Clegane not to spend the rest of her life in pursuit of vengeance – offered the perfect perspective point here, putting her own interests aside to try to help a group of civilians escape. Do you think the fact that she failed will have any noticeable effect on her psyche in the finale? She seemed pretty dazed there at the end.

Jacob: This sequence offered something stunning beyond the visual effects and the carnage. For the first time in literally years, Arya Stark looked her age. And for the first time in years, she looked afraid. This is a girl who stared down and killed the Night King. Look at her here, though. At least then, she could wield a Valyrian steel weapon against the leader of the army of the dead. Here, she can only do what the other citizens of King’s Landing can do. She can run. And she can pray.

I may not have liked director Miguel Sapochnik’s choices in how he staged the action in “The Long Night,” but his style is far more appropriate here because he’s not directing an action sequence. He’s directing a massacre. Arya’s sprint through the city streets, her attempt to rescue other people as she runs, is gut-churning and it goes on and on and on, pushing her into one meat-grinder after another. Some may call it gratuitous, but as I felt my stomach churn, I thought of Varys and what his absence means. This is exactly what he wanted to prevent and these are the details that get sidestepped when the histories get written. It’s one thing for other characters to speak of that one time Tywin Lannister sacked King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion. The years have transformed it into an abstract, the countless dead into a statistic. Being on the ground with Arya, and letting her witness the wrath of the Dragon Queen firsthand, is a reminder of what King Robert said back in season 1: men shit themselves when they die. This is ugly and brutal and people who didn’t deserve to die are killed by the tens of thousands. Not even Jon Snow can control his bloodthirsty forces when it becomes clear that their queen is going to ignore the bells of surrender.

So, to answer your question: yes. The scars of this will carry into the final episode, when Arya, having witnessed firsthand the men, women, and children killed for no good reason, has to speak for the dead. The question is: will Jon listen?

Cleganebowl GOT

Cleganebowl

Jacob: She calls him Sandor.

The Red Keep is crumbling. The citizens are dying en masse. The end of the world as we know it is upon us. And yet, I’m shaken to my core because Arya Stark called The Hound by his birth name. And I’m also shaken because the harshest, most vicious son of a bitch in Westeros told a young woman, the closest thing he has to a daughter, that he doesn’t want to see her die. Of course, he does it in his own way. But it’s a tender moment from a man who hasn’t been soft since his brother burned half of his face off. It’s the first time he’s respected another life at all, at least during his time on Game of Thrones. Before Sandor Clegane walks to his death, he saves a life. And Arya acknowledges his humanity.

Of course, this is the emotional set-up for what fans have dubbed “Cleganebowl,” the long-awaited rematch between Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. Of course, I don’t think any fans saw their final duel happening on the crumbling steps of the Red Keep as the castle literally falls around them while a dragon roars overhead (what a heavy metal album cover, huh?). After The Mountain quickly dispatches Qyburn (R.I.P, you slimy P.O.S.) and Cersei makes a quick exit (a giant laugh in an episode that needs every moment of levity you can get), the two brothers engage in a lengthy stab-athon that includes impalements, punctured eyes, partially crushed skulls, and the monstrous reveal of what The Mountain has become under that armor. And in keeping with the rest of “The Bells,” it was not a fist-pumping action scene, but a brutal struggle between two men so consumed with hate that a normal existence, and clean death, was never possible.

What did you think, Ben? Did the fight work for you? And what did you think of the final resolution, where both Clegane brothers fall to a fiery death?

Ben: As the Hound has, perhaps improbably, continued surviving deadly events over the past two seasons (the trip beyond the Wall, the Battle of Winterfell, etc.), I’ve grappled with what I truly wanted out of the increasingly-likely Cleganebowl. This is a confrontation the fandom has literally spent years fantasizing about, which means that for some, the actual event couldn’t possibly ever live up to the hype. As for what I, personally, wanted from Cleganebowl, I eventually settled on the same thing I want from this final season of Game of Thrones as a whole: I don’t have any specific moments I need to see to make it feel like the journey was worth it, I just want the overall story to feel satisfying.

I imagine the debate will rage on for years about whether or not a higher episode count in these final two seasons could have helped better achieve that goal, but working with what we have, yes: I think Cleganebowl was mostly satisfying. The Hound has always been one of the show’s most tragic characters to me – if you rip out the inner turmoil of many of the show’s rich, well-dressed ranks and envision it as a human being, Sandor Clegane is the distilled result. Many of the show’s characters harbor internal scars; the Hound has been cursed with the burden of a visible one. And while most of the upper class wear masks in public to conceal their desires, the Hound has always worn his motivations on his sleeve: he wants to kill his brother. He has a tragic backstory, but one of the most clean narrative trajectories to go along with it. It was always leading to this.

The fight itself was staged well with The Mountain, so long a mindless zombie, disobeying orders, killing Qyburn, and following his own desires. And it was compelling to see Sandor face off against a hulking monstrosity that represents the worst aspects of his past, looming over him on that stairwell and visually implying that he never had a chance to escape from under the Mountain’s shadow. The emotion of their confrontation admittedly didn’t quite hit me in the way I’d hoped, but the prelude with Arya helped, and the cross-cutting between the two of them during the fight underlined their connection and made it that much more important that Arya was able to take his advice and break free from the shackles of vengeance. Overall, I’d call it a win.

Jaime and Cersei GOT

Jaime and Cersei

Jacob: “The things we do for love.”

Jaime pushed Bran out of a tower. Jaime killed his own cousin. Jaime threatened to murder every person in Riverrun. All for Cersei. His sister. His lover. The light of his life. But Jaime also saved Brienne and empowered her with a Valyrian steel sword and a noble mission. He stabbed a king in the back, forever smearing his name, to save a million lives. He rode north to battle the undead, keeping his promise even when his sister did not. He’s a complex guy. He’s an enigma wrapped in a dozen shades of grey.

And the things he does for love! Cersei isn’t just his lover. She’s his addiction, a drug he can’t quit. Brienne’s tears shed in “The Last of the Starks” weren’t over a lost boyfriend, but over a man who had the chance at redemption, of living a life of peace and nobility, deliberately backpedalling because the pull is too strong, the love too intoxicating. The things he’ll do for that love. He’ll smuggle himself into the city (with Davos’ help, of course), he’ll brave a city under fire, he’ll slip to the secret cavern exits, he’ll battle Euron Greyjoy to the death (R.I.P. a character I found myself loving to hate, even as every other Game of Thrones fan simply hated him) and he’ll reunite with his wicked, beautiful, intoxicating queen and die in her arms as the entire castle, and their entire legacy, falls on top of them.

That’s what Jaime Lannister will do for love. He’ll die for it. He’ll shake off his redemption arc for it. He’ll break our hearts for it. He’ll destroy himself for it. He’ll disappoint us all for it. Pour one out for Jaime Lannister, the man who saw a Hero’s Journey before him, took a long hard look at the rough path and steep climb, and decided to tumble back down rather than commit to it. The things he did for love.

But that’s only half of the equation, Ben. The other half is Cersei, a monster, albeit a human one whose tears at the sight of her lost battle and broken rule stirred a probably unhealthy sympathy within me. She died remaining Game of Thrones‘ most complex puzzle – the villain whose every decision is derived from armor she had to build to survive a world that was built to destroy her. Can you offer up a eulogy for Cersei, a monster and mother and queen and woman and never one simple thing?

Ben: God, I loved Cersei Lannister. She was indeed a despicable person, capable of callous cruelty and extreme violence, but also capable of genuine, profound love for Jaime and her children. For a privileged member of one of Westeros’s great houses, Cersei suffered tremendous losses – both personal and professional. Her entire progression throughout this series was tied to those losses and how she responded to them, and watching her balance the weight of her family’s legacy and her own wants and desires has led to some of the show’s most memorable moments. Cersei was the best kind of villain: one who took actions you could hate, but whose reasoning was always crystal clear. Simply put, she was one of the most well-drawn characters of this entire show.

When it came right down to it, prophecies from George R.R. Martin’s books didn’t matter. And even though the series sped through Jaime’s arc in order to get him to this point, the ending for these two characters felt right to me: the two Lannister lovers together again, with nothing else in the world mattering as their own city crashes down on top of them.

Jon GOT

Final Thoughts

Jacob: I normally don’t try to drag outside reception into our reviews, Ben, but I have a feeling we’ll be one of the few outlets with a mostly positive review of “The Bells.” Quite simply, I loved this episode. I loved its stark brutality, its decision to transform Daenerys into the villain she’s been sidestepping since season 1, and the complete inability of the heroes to do anything about it. As my quoting of Napoleon above suggests, I love Game of Thrones because I feel like I’m watching the simulated history of a fictional world, not a traditional narrative. The ugliness of it all connected with me like a finely researched war text – nothing is ever simple and it’s just all so hard to deal with, huh? No wonder we have to simplify it for the next generation. It’s all too painful. It hurts when our heroes let us down. It hurts when our heroes turn out to be the bad guy. And it hurts when the question of what we’re fighting for, and who we’re fighting for, becomes so blurry that our core belief systems become unshackled and we have to look deep within ourselves and wonder “Who am I and what do I fight for and is this what I want?”

With only one episode left, I imagine every living character is going to be asking that. And the answers they conjure will decide what gets recorded in the history books.

Ben: I’m not quite as high on this episode as you are, because while it was all very impressive and visceral, most of it didn’t hit me on an emotional level. (Even Arya and The Hound.) I mentioned earlier that all I want is for the ending of Game of Thrones to satisfying, but I suppose that’s not entirely true: I want to feel something in addition to being content with the plot’s conclusion. I wish this episode, with its big deaths and foundation-rattling implications, had moved me more. But after season 7, which I considered to be a huge disappointment, I’m shocked at how much I’m enjoying season 8, warts and all. There’s only one episode left, and it should be fun to watch the internet tear itself apart next week as we all confront the show’s final decisions and stew over its legacy.

Currently Winning the Game of Thrones: Daenerys Targaryen

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