Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) unleashes "fire and blood" in Game of Thrones penultimate episode. Alone, betrayed, and angry, she becomes the "mad queen"; fulfilling her father's vision of decimating King's Landing. "The Bells" finally brings the war to Cersei (Lena Headey). She sealed her fate, and those of her people, by killing Rhaegal, and executing Missandei. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) tries in vain to save his sister/lover. Arya (Maisie Williams) thanks the Hound (Rory McCann), before his epic duel with the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). Jon (Kit Harington) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) watch in horror as victory turns into carnage.
"The Bells" opens with Varys (Conleth Hill) writing on parchment in Dragonstone. He's clearly writing that Jon is the true heir to the Iron Throne. Martha, one of his little birds, comes in with news. Daenerys is not eating. The girl is worried that the soldiers are watching her. Varys replies, "With great risk comes great rewards."
Tyrion watches from a cliff as Varys meets Jon's boat on the beach. Jon updates him that the northern army will reach King's Landing in two days. Varys replies that Daenerys hasn't eaten or seen anyone since they've returned. He surprises Jon by intimating the truth behind his lineage. Varys confides that he knows how Jon would rule. Jon is aghast. He rebuffs Varys' overture. Daenerys is his queen. Tyrion is alarmed.
Tyrion visits Daenerys in the Dragonstone map room. Her hair is dishevelled. Her eyes dark and hollow, "Someone has betrayed me...Jon Snow." Tyrion calmly replies that it was Varys. Daenerys disagrees. Jon told Sansa, who told Tyrion, who then told Varys; without asking permission from his queen. Tyrion apologizes. It was a mistake on his part. Daenerys says that Sansa achieved her goal, but "it doesn't matter now."
That night, Varys is back in his chambers writing. He hears the soldiers footsteps approaching. Varys burns the parchment, then removes his rings. Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and several Unsullied shackle him. They bring him to the beach, where Daenerys, Tyrion, and Jon are waiting. Tyrion says, "It was me." He reaches out for his old friend. Daenerys sentences Varys to die. Drogon steps out from the darkness. "Dracarys", Varys is incinerated.
Grey Worm is with Daenerys in her chambers. She gives him Missandei's slave collar. It was the only thing she brought across the narrow sea. He throws it in the fire. Jon enters the room. Daenerys asks Grey Worm to leave. Daenerys tells Jon that Sansa is just as responsible for Varys' death. Sansa betrayed Jon's trust. Now she knows what will happen to anyone who finds out the truth. Jon doesn't want the throne. He loves Daenerys, but cannot kiss her when she embraces him. Daenerys turns cold. The people in Westeros do not love her. They will know fear instead.
Tyrion and Grey Worm are addressing Daenerys on the Dragonstone throne. Tyrion begs for the people of King's Landing. Cersei has them hostage. Daenerys replies that Cersei thinks their mercy is a weakness. She orders Grey Worm to take the Unsullied to meet the northern army. Tyrion pleads that if the bells ring in King's Landing. The city will have surrendered. Please call off the attack. Daenerys nods, then commands Grey Worm to wait for her signal. As Tyrion walks away, Daenerys informs him that Jaime was caught trying to sneak past their lines. Apparently he hasn't given up on Cersei. Daenerys warns Tyrion that this was the last time he failed her.
At King's Landing, peasants continue to stream through the gates. The camera focuses in on a woman and her child. Meanwhile, Jon and Tyrion arrive by boat to their camp. Davos (Liam Cunningham) informs them that the rear guard arrives at daybreak. Daenerys wants to attack. At daybreak the battle begins. Tyrion takes Davos aside. He has a favor to ask of "the world's greatest smuggler".
That night, Arya and the Hound arrive at the front. When a soldier blocks them, Arya states who she is, and that she's here to kill Cersei. Gobsmacked, the soldier lets them pass. Tyrion walks towards the Unsullied guarding Jaime. He demands to see the prisoner as "hand of the queen." In the tent, a shackled Jaime laments his fate as "the stupidest Lannister." His gold hand was spotted. Tyrion tells his brother that King's Landing will fall tomorrow. Rescue Cersei, have her ring the tower bells to show their surrender. Then flee through the catacombs to the beach. Tyrion will have a dinghy waiting for them. The Lannister brothers share a deep embrace. Tyrion thanks Jaime for protecting him as a child, for not treating him as "a monster." He unshackles Jaime and rushes away in tears.
The next morning, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) watches the skies from the deck of his ship. His Iron Fleet readies the Scorpion crossbows for the attack. The same preparations are happening across the city. Archers and Scorpions armed at the walls. Frightened peasants lock themselves in doors. Arya and a cloaked Hound walk with the masses toward the Red Keep. Jaime walks past the Golden Company as Captain Strickland (Marc Rissmann) marches his men to the front gates. He sits on his white horse across the Unsullied, northern army, and remaining Dothraki. Tyrion tells Jon and Davos. If you hear the bells ringing, call off your men.
Cersei looks out from her tower with Qyburn (Anton Lesser) and the Mountain. Peasants are rushing to get into the Red Keep. The Hound and Arya brush past the woman and girl seen earlier. They get in, but the guards lock the gates behind them. The woman, girl, and Jaime are trapped outside. Jaime tries to show his golden hand, but it doesn't work. He pushes past the surging crowd to find another way.
On the bay, Euron sees a flicker in the bright sky. Daenerys swoops down with Drogon. The Scorpion bolts miss. She crosses the bay, wiping out the Iron Fleet. Euron screams to turn around for another shot. It's too late, she blows up his boat as he leaps into the water. Drogon flies low towards the city walls. When the Scorpions turn low, Daenerys sails into the air above them. She strafes the turrets along the city walls, destroying all of the Scorpions and soldiers.
Captain Strickland looks at Grey Worm across the field. Suddenly Drogon blasts apart the gates behind him. The dragon pours fire into the Golden Company. The remaining Dothraki charge through the breach, followed by the Unsullied, and northmen. Strickland is thrown off his white steed. Grey Worm spears him through the back as he tries to run away.
Daenerys' army is charging through King's Landing. The Lannister soldiers are chopped to pieces by the Dothraki cavalry, then waves of Unsullied and northmen. Drogon finishes off the Golden Company, then returns to clear a path for the advancing troops. Cersei is stupefied by the scene unfolding before her. She tells Qyburn that all they need is "one good shot". Euron's Iron Fleet killed one of her dragons. Qyburn reveals the bitter truth. The Scorpions are destroyed. The Iron Fleet is burning. The Golden Company is gone. Cersei refuses to believe it, "The Red Keep has never fallen. It won't fall today."
Grey Worm leads Jon, Davos, and the rear guard through the city. They come upon a frightened contingent of Lannister troops. Tyrion enters the breach, surrounded by burning bodies. He looks nervously at the silent bell tower. Jaime continues to seek another way into the Red Keep. Peasants run in terror as Drogon lands on a tower. The dragon emits an ear splitting shriek. The Lannister soldiers have had enough. They throw down their weapons. A cry of "ring the bells" echoes through King's Landing. Daenerys waits atop the perched Drogon.
The bell towers ring across King's Landing. The city has surrendered. Cersei's face drops in defeat. Jon and Tyrion breathe a sigh of relief. But Daenerys does not heed the tolling bells. She looks at the Red Keep with fury in her eyes. Drogon leaps toward the castle, incinerating everything in its path. Soldiers and peasants are engulfed in flame. Tyrion looks on in horror. Grey Worm has heard his queen. He throws a spear into a Lannister soldier. The Unsullied, Dothraki, and northmen begin to massacre everyone in their path.
Jon screams for his men to stop, but it's too late. Heads are chopped off, men split in half. Grey Worm charges ahead with unfettered rage. Daenerys rains fire and death from above. Buildings explode, peasants burn to ashes, Cersei and Tyrion watch as King's Landing is razed. Davos screams for the peasants to flee the city. Jon walks in a stupor as his army shreds every man, woman, and child in their way. He stabs his own soldier who was assaulting a girl. Drogon punishes the castle with dragonfire. Towers fall as the Red Keep bears the brunt of Daenerys' wrath.
Jaime has made it to the beach. He's trying to enter the castle from the cave, when he's confronted by Euron on the shore. Euron pulls his dagger. He taunts Jaime, "I f**ked the queen. I'll bring your head to Cersei, so you can kiss her one last time." A vicious struggle ensues. Above them, Drogon is laying the castle to waste. Chunks of debris crush people below. Jaime loses his sword. Euron stabs him in the side.
Qyburn rushes to Cersei. The Red Keep has fallen. They must escape immediately. Cersei breaks down in tears, but allows Qyburn to lead her and the Mountain away. Euron taunts Jamie again, "You fought well...for a cripple." Jaime crawls for his sword, but is stabbed again. He pivots and runs his sword through Euron. He pulls it out of Euron's stomach, then trudges off into the cave. Euron smiles as blood pours from his mouth and abdomen. His dying words, "I got you. I got you. I'm the man who killed Jaime Lannister."
Arya and the Hound have made it to the map in the courtyard. The castle is burning and falling down around them. The Hound tells Arya to go home. She rushes past him. She must kill Cersei. The Hound grabs her, then looks her directly in the eyes, "Look at me. You want to be like me?" He holds her head, "You come with me...you die here." Arya replies sadly, "Thank you." He walks forward as she turns around to escape.
Cersei and her guard are fleeing down the stairs. The Mountain covers her as the roof falls on the soldiers. The Hound confronts them. He kills the remaining soldiers easily, as the sky is now open above. "Hello big brother," the Mountain advances to face the hound. Cersei orders the Mountain to stop, but he refuses. When Qyburn says "obey your queen", the Mountain smashes him dead into the rubble. Cersei quietly walks past the two brothers. Drogon is seen flying around, still raining fire on the castle.
The Clegane showdown rages on the staircase. The Hound knocks off the Mountain's helmet, revealing his bald, corpse-like face. Their swords clang loudly in an epic duel. Meanwhile, Cersei has made it to the courtyard. She sees the bloody and battered Jaime. The incestuous siblings share a deep embrace. She sees that he's been mortally wounded. Jaime leads her away from the falling debris.
The titanic battle continues on the stairway. The Hound impales his brother, but it doesn't kill him. The supernatural Mountain throws his brother down, then pulls out the sword. The Hound laughs in disbelief. Arya has made her way out of the castle. It's panic in the streets as people are running for their lives. Fire, dust, and debris are falling from the sky. Everywhere she looks are dead bodies, the bloody injured, and screams for help. She runs with a crowd, but is thrown to the ground and trampled.
The Mountain is doing the same to his brother. The Hound is pummeled brutally then thrown to the ground like a rag doll. Arya struggles to get up under the crush of people. The Hound is beaten bloody. Arya is pulled off the ground by the woman and girl that were left outside the gate. They are engulfed in debris. The Mountain picks up his brother. The Hound stabs him repeatedly, "F**king die!" The Mountain begins to gauge his eyes out. The Hound stabs his evil brother through the head. As the Mountain reaches for the blade, the Hound throws his body at him. The Clegane brothers crash through a wall and plummet to their fiery deaths.
Jon and Davos stare at each other through the chaos. As Drogon strafes the city, the wildfire below begins to explode in massive green fireballs. Jon screams for his men "to fall back." He sheathes his sword, grabs Davos, and leads his men out of the city. Arya wakes up, bloodied and covered in dust. Ash is raining down. She coughs and walks gingerly through the dust, but again has to run as another building falls behind her.
Arya takes shelter, then sees the woman and girl that helped her before. They can't stay. She beckons them to follow her. On the streets, Dothraki riders are still cutting people down. Arya stumbles, she runs back to get the woman and girl. Drogon is swooping down behind them. Arya ducks for cover as the dragon incinerates the woman and her daughter.
Jaime and Cersei have made it to the catacombs. The entrance to the cave has been blocked by rubble. There is no escape. Cersei "wants their baby to live." She begs her brother, "Please don't let me die. I don't want to go like this." Jamie holds her face and stares into her eyes, "Nothing else matters...only us." They are crushed as the catacombs collapse.
Arya gets up again, covered in ash and blood. Everything around her has been burnt. She sees the burnt corpses of the woman and girl. Their bodies intertwined in death. She sees a horse in the distance. Arya stumbles towards it. She soothes the frightened animal. Then rides away through a charred and decimated King's Landing.
"The Bells" was superb on a technical level, but did have significant flaws in the plot. Anyone who complained about Miguel Sapochnik's lighting choices for The Battle of Winterfell got their comeuppance here. The fall of King's Landing, particularly Arya's point of view escape from the city, was brilliantly shot. My issues have to do with how easily Jaime, Arya, and the Hound were able to get into the city. Jaime showing up in the nick of time to fight Euron, and save Cersei, seemed totally contrived. I was stunned that Grey Worm didn't get to finish off Euron. Pilou Asbæk was such a bad-ass, his demise felt out of character and sensational.
Apart from Daenerys burning King's Landing to a crisp, the showdown between the Mountain and the Hound was as epic as expected. The Cleganes have been on a collision course since season one. The duel on the staircase, with the castle falling to pieces, was masterfully done. Rory McCann is underrated as the Hound. His character held quite a bit of nuance. Arya's thank you was a fitting end to their long journey together. He loved and protected her, sending Arya away at the right time. The same can be said for Jaime and Cersei. Lena Headey didn't really have much to do this season. I found their deaths underwhelming, but did fit in the context of the story.
Daenerys has officially gone from hero to villain. Completing the destruction that her father had wished upon King's Landing. The final conflict is now set between her, the Starks, including Jon, and Tyrion. Sansa will never bend the knee. Jon will not allow Daenerys to hurt his family, but can they stop her? Drogon, the Unsullied, the Dothraki, and ass-kicker in chief, Grey Worm, cannot be defeated militarily. It leads me to believe that Arya will be the one to dispatch the mad queen. Daenerys does have "green eyes", so maybe that prophecy is yet to be fulfilled. We'll find out next week, as Game of Thrones concludes on HBO.