May 14, 2019

What Went Wrong With Game of Thrones Episode 'The Bells'

What Went Wrong With Game of Thrones Episode 'The Bells'
Why didn't the penultimate episode of the beloved series stick the landing?

Ending TV shows in a way that is both satisfying and surprising is very hard. Time and again shows in this 'Golden Age of Television' have had finales that left viewers and critics alike angry, hurt, and screaming “DRACARYS!” At their TV sets. We're not here to do that today. Whatever you thought of "The Bells," there are a lot of flaming hot (pun intended) takes out there, so instead we're going to break down the 'why.' 

Screenwriting is an art, but there are some near scientific elements to it that have been identified and honed over the centuries. Storytelling and making sense of the world in narrative patterns is innately human.

Many have studied it. The result is certain rules, guidelines, and commonly agreed upon methods that build tension, create drama, and deliver satisfyingly.

Did GoT break screenwriting rules or are people just angry because they like to be angry?

Well, it's a little of both, so let’s break it down as everyone plays Monday Morning Network Executive (or Showrunner).

[Spoilers!!!]

Character Development and Character Arcs

This is one of the big topics that’s going to come up.

Got Development meme

Might be a little harsh... but that's how some people are feeling. 

The crux of the conversation will be “does it make sense that so-and-so did such-and-such” And since plots are built around characters and their choices, you could argue that this is… well… everything!

TV shows often face the challenge of creating big arcs that end because the medium is in its nature a series of small episodic arcs that must be renewed.

GoT was always a contained story arc (though it is based on a still unfinished book series), so finality existed.

The end, THIS END, to be specific, has been known for some time. Writer George RR Martin sat down with HBO Showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss to tell them how it would end so they could wind their way there.

We can assume that while they varied things in some ways, Daenerys Targaryen was designed to make this "heel turn." That is, she was set up to “become the very thing she swore to destroy”... and destroy everything in the process.

As many will point out, the seeds have been planted long ago...she crucified slavers, burnt Dothraki, and wanted to demolish Meereen. Weiss and Benioff even said themselves; she took some glee in watching her brother die at the hands of Khal Drogo. She's killed those who surrendered. 

Her father was the 'mad king' who wanted to burn everyone to the ground as well.

At the same time, there is the suggestion she decided in the heat of the moment (pun intended) to burn King's Landing. But it had been motivated by a series of other events.

So why then are people unsatisfied with Dany's arc?

There is a lot to this question. Let's get out of the way right off the bat that "Dany" has become part of the cultural lexicon. Babies are named after her. There are a bunch of memes circulating now about how naming your child after her might feel a bit weird now…

We won’t get into her place in the cultural landscape here. We’ll approach this from the technical side of storytelling.

The old saying "truth is stranger than fiction"  applies here. While Dany's actions make sense from a logical standpoint, they may not have unfolded in a satisfying way from a storytelling standpoint. Yes, people can "go crazy" suddenly with family history and plenty of recent trauma. But motivations are extremely important to a character's arc. Dany's goal for the entire show has been to sit on the iron throne. There was no obstacle left in her way. 

She had suffered many losses in recent episodes; Jorah, Missandei, her dragons, and even Jon's love. But it all happened very fast, and you'll hear people say "the runway wasn't long enough.”

What does that mean exactly?

Just that we spent every year of the show MOSTLY seeing Dany as a breaker of chains, a person of mercy, and unwilling to hurt innocents. In a relatively short amount of recent screen time, she’s suffered a lot. But it was a disproportionately small amount of screentime.

The result?

It doesn't "feel" earned to everyone. Even if technically it makes sense.

Another problem: The last straw for Dany in her turn was actually Jon Snow resisting her advances the night before the battle because... she's his aunt.

This one is a tricky final straw since Dany and Jon only just recently fell in love. Fans wonder why she doesn't also feel weird about the incest. Or why she cares so much about Jon's reciprocated love that it would replace her caring about countless lives.

Got Meme

Little explicit there, but when we put 2 + 2 together in the sequence of events, it leads us here and it feels... weird. 

But the bigger evidence that the evidence wasn’t quite there is that the writers themselves seemingly piled it on this season. They gave Dany one big motivating loss after another. Did they too feel this needed to work and they couldn’t find that ONE thing that made it work perfectly?

Truly smooth screenwriting makes you feel like big moments are surprising and yet inevitable at the same time. That’s very hard to pull off, but it requires some swiss watchmaking like precision.

The glut of ‘reasons’ Dany lost it stands on one side of the ledger. On the other side stands that fact that audiences feel it wasn’t earned. That tells us something important about those reasons.

Here is another character who's arc proved problematic:

Jaime Lannister went from an easy to hate villain to a conflicted kind of hero. He went from a liar to a man of his word.

His actions in the final season have been a bit confusing. He seemed content to walk away from Cersei and find new happiness and different life, but when he sensed Cersei was in danger all that changed. 

When Jamie said goodbye to Cersei in Season 7 to honor the vow to fight for the living, he could have then reasonably wanted to come back to her eventually. But he chose Brienne. Until he changes his mind because Cersei is in danger. 

But why didn't Jaime realize Cersei was in danger when the surviving armies of the Long Night and the Dragons, started their march down to face her? 

Some fans thought Jamie was going back to Cersei to kill her and save everyone, instead, it seems he just wanted to be closer to her. To save her? To convince her to turn good? 

When he speaks to Tyrion in the tent before being freed he says he was caught for being stupid about exposing his golden hand. He also says he thinks Cersei has a chance to win. So has his allegiance changed again? When he was offscreen? 

The core problem is you can feel the pull to get him 'back to Cersei', but so much of it is happening in the margins of the story, and without clear changes in the plot that would reasonably explain his changes of heart.

But what happens on Jaime's final road to Cersei leads us to other issues: 

Coincidences in Writing

Coincidences happen in real life, and we are usually tickled by them. The universe aligned in a such a way that two people both wore the same outfit on the same day unplanned!

(Just don’t say it’s ironic)

But coincidences in writing?

Those are always bad.

Why?

Because audiences know that what they are watching isn’t real. So they also know that if a coincidence takes place, a writer decided that.

It follows then that they also recognize that the writer did this for a reason. And the reason usually serves some other goal or need, obvious or not, that takes everyone out of the story.

So you can see how a coincidence ruins the experience. It fractures the suspension of disbelief.

Is this fair?

No. Coincidences happen all the time.

Could Euron Greyjoy, having jumped from the wreckage of his Iron Fleet, found a way to the shore and cave that happened to have Jaime Lannister walking by that spot at that moment?

Sure, it COULD happen… but it’s not super likely… that makes it a coincidence.

And pretty soon audiences are looking at the situation recognizing that it’s the end of the show, Euron has been set up as Jaime’s rival and they must battle it out… and it feels very falsified. It feels fabricated. It ruins the illusion.

A coincidence that makes it harder for characters to reach a clear objective is said to work better if you must have a coincidence.

Euron was there to block Jaime from reaching Cersei, so this coincidence is bad for Jaime. 

But does it work? It certainly is up for debate and people around the world have very strong feelings both ways. The bigger problem is that the last few episodes hadn't sharpened Jaime's character focus, they've dulled it because he's made a few choices, and statements, that contradict his past. 

Jaime Lanniser meme

Jaime does end up with Cersei, as was his goal, and they die together, so whatever obstacle Euron provided through the convenience of his arrival on the shore, it was a very minor one. 

Plant and Payoff

Finally, we’ll look at another screenwriting guideline that helps make stories flow, but if it isn’t utilized properly also takes audiences right out of the moment. The plant and payoff idea is pretty simple, and it’s often referred to by another name Chekhov’s gun. Here is how he put it:

“If, in the first chapter, you say there is a gun hanging on the wall, you should make quite sure that it is going to be used further on in the story.”

It’s also called foreshadowing.

We sort of touched on this idea in the section about character arcs, but let’s also look at how it effects plotting even in one episode or action sequence.

In prior episodes, it was established that Cersei’s army had access to giant crossbows that could take out the Dragons. This re-appears as the Dragons fly to King’s Landing and the catch one by surprise.

This was a kind of plant-and-pay.

The threat established of the crossbows though, at that moment, seemed to pay off in reverse in ‘The Bells’. The scorpions (there were too many to count) all seemed useless at once.

The dragon, on the other hand, suddenly dispatched them, and every boat with them, with relative ease.

There are no actual rules to any of this of course, except the rules the show itself has established. The show planted that the crossbows are a real danger to the dragons.

It paid off that the dragon seemingly has no problem with the crossbows at all. This is one where having established a new tactic for the dragon against the crossbow would help the audience feel the resulting easy win was earned.

Even more dynamic could be a plan to handle the crossbows that goes awry, leaving the dragon and Dany to look for some other alternative route to victory, only finding one in another well established planted option that maybe audiences have forgotten.

Instead what we saw was a rock paper scissors game where the rules changed halfway through.

Again, did the rules really change?

Maybe not. Maybe a dragon can be attacked by a fleet of ships that were unseen, and then the next day the dragon uses some cloud cover to hide, and swoop in, anticipating the crossbows.

But the visceral experience we have of the action on screen is more important than how one explains the make-believe maneuvers.

One day crossbows posed a major dire threat. The next day they didn’t. We were given no new information about the reason for such a pivotal shift in power.

Up Next: other writing tools and what’s up with that lens flare?

Hopefully, we’ve helped illuminate some of why the choices made in ‘The Bells’ haven’t sat well with so many viewers. 

There is always the fact that ending TV shows of this size and scope is hard, and wait… there has never even been one of THIS size and scope.

There will always be detractors out there, it becomes important (probably) to listen when many of them are saying the same things.

One rule of thumb always worth remembering is a quote from the great Rod Serling:

“Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.”

And while people will certainly blame Benioff and Weiss for the perceived flaws in Game of Thrones, it’s also worth keeping in mind that they wrote plenty of amazing episodes of television and helped craft and create a show that has captured many an imagination.

Also, maybe George R.R. Martin deserves at least some blame too. After all, he named the dragon Drogon.

He probably didn’t read our character names post.     

Your Comment

28 Comments

I thought Jamie went to the boat just to be able to get into the castle via the back route Tyrian told him about, not for the boat to escape himself, unless I missed something.

May 14, 2019 at 9:57AM, Edited May 14, 9:57AM

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rehan
62

Great point- I didn't consider that we'll make note.

May 14, 2019 at 11:22AM

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George Edelman
Editor-in-Chief
Producer and Screenwriter

The logical place for both Jaime and Euron to be in the situation is to be going through the back route into the castle to get to Cersei. Not that big of a coincidence for them to both be there, honestly. Coincidence, yes, but a sometimes coincidences are more likely than we think.

May 14, 2019 at 4:42PM

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Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
992

Who's not happy? That episode was writing genius. Especially what happens to Daenerys. It's not only a great and logical "pre"-end, it's also a good metaphor of politics. During history there are many leaders who wanted to save the people from tyranny until they become worse that the previous leaders.
The end for Jaimie and Cersey was surprising and beautiful. I cried. I thought he would kill her at one point, but their actual end is much better.
Amazing episode, I don't see any problem in it. The last one will be even greater I'm sure.

May 14, 2019 at 4:09PM

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Vincent Galiano
Filmmaker / Screenwriter / Photographer
373

The only episode the "fans" seem to have liked this season was episode 2, which I thought was just filler than could have happened in episode 1. Episodes 3, 4, and 5 have all been good old amazing GoT in my mind. The show has ALWAYS had twists and turns that weren't completely set up or characters making surprising choices that could go either way. None of the characters are purely good or purely evil. They all have their motives and in the end they have to decide if they really care as much as they think they do about their motives.

I thought the end for Jaimie and Cersei was amazing as well. Cersei died how she deserved to die (cowardly and begging for her life and her child's life) and Jaimie's death was bittersweet.

I've been pleasantly shocked, horrified, stunned, and amazed by the episodes this season. The only thing bringing it down for me is the obnoxious fanbase that seem to both want every plot point to happen in a completely telegraphed way but also want to be surprised by each twist and turn. Can't have both, people!

May 14, 2019 at 4:50PM

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Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
992

> Who's not happy?

Anybody with wont just accept everything thrown in the screen as a hardcore series fan ― and for the reasons well defined in the post.

> That episode was writing genius. Especially what happens to Daenerys. It's not only a great and logical "pre"-end, it's also a good metaphor of politics.

Then again hardcore fans might also like Jar-Jar and midiclorians.

It's sloppy writing. When R.R. Martins material was finished (and I haven't read the books, so I don't speak as a books fan) the show's writing and dialogue went downhill.

May 15, 2019 at 5:20AM

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Actually, a good point on 'metaphor' and history. I agree, After all, Caesar went mad and burned down Rome while he played the fiddle. Same for Dany. Almost.

May 18, 2019 at 8:54AM, Edited May 18, 8:55AM

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Peter J Tisma
Head of Production
8

Of course Daenerys turning into the mad queen is not implausible, but the way it was written was stupid. It almost felt like a fan-fiction parody of GoT at some points.
I mean, who was it that Daenerys hated most? It was Cersei, definitely. But instead of going straight for her, she decides to almost let her get away and instead burn the whole city full of women and children. I would have loved it if she went for Cersei with rage and by accident burnt the whole city. But no, she totally forgets about Cersei and burns all the innocent women and children in the streets? Methodically eradicated them. That was just weird and unbelievable.

May 20, 2019 at 3:56AM

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Sure, some people did not like this episode. Some people hate 2001 and Citizen Kane. If you actually want to look at why it did not land for everybody, you've overlooked a much more powerful argument. It's one storyline and arc that's aired over 10 years. Most viewers have not rewatched the whole series prior to this last episode.

My GOT friends (we've also read the books) and I rewatched the 1-6 before season 7. Before 8, we rewatched 1, 6 and 7. We are 100% blown away by this season. It was horrifying to watch Dany turn but totally earned. Because we had rewatched.

I think people that are having trouble with Dany about how they feel about themselves i.e. not wanting to think any of us would be capable of such evil. But America fire-bombed Dresden and nuked Japan "mercy for future generations". We all could be Dany. We drank the Kool-Aid they she was going to turn out good as we imagine we would.

GOT is great tragedy and it's hard to watch tragic events unfold when we were not sure, until this last episode, if it was a tragedy. But if you read the books, and rewatch the show in compact time period, it's more than "earned", it's frakkin' brilliant.

If you can do better, do it. If not either enjoy it or find something more constructive to write about.

The first big problem with any criticism is it only useful to the person giving it. It's of zero use to anyone else. Needless to say the episode landed 100% with me so this is all dust in the wind. Second, Brene Brown's online talk on creative feedback nails the point that "unless you are in the arena", nobody wants or cares about your feedback.

We all want to think our opinion about something matters. Just like my stated opinion here of GOT, it only matters to me.

May 14, 2019 at 8:08PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
467

I agree so many people loved the episode and felt it was all earned, the goal in this post was to look at how the writing of the episode maybe have left as many viewers as angry as it did. Not to say they were right, or wrong for having that reaction. Just to consider the reasons from a screenwriting perspective.

I tend to disagree with the point that people only want feedback from other people in the arena. Some filmmakers or creatives want input from audiences who aren't creative. Entertaining, as a pursuit, isn't just about entertaining ourselves. Or other creators. But that's my opinion. As a screenwriter I found it very hard to take seriously some of the opinions from other creators I was supposed to, but feedback from audiences who saw my work was always invaluable. To me, of course.

May 14, 2019 at 10:06PM

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George Edelman
Editor-in-Chief
Producer and Screenwriter

You are muddling how an audience connects with your work vs. criticism. They have nothing to do with each other. I totally agree I judge my own work on how it plays with audiences accepting that not everything works for all audiences.

GOT is the biggest show on TV and arguably in history. People love to gripe about the biggest thing as ego reinforcement i.e. "let me inform the most successful television show in history what you are doing wrong".

That's just hubris. Enjoy it or move along. If you want to watch something poorly executed to learning, watch some Neil Breen. But we all know he's made more feature films than you or I and has a much bigger audience as well. So he still wins in the end :)

If only No Film School would write more about how they achieved the most memorable epic television in history and less about coffee cups and how you can write GOT better, we could all be engaged far more constructively.

May 15, 2019 at 1:36PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
467

I believe it's perfectly natural for critique of a film or TV to be tied to an audience's reaction to it. In fact, the two are inextricably connected. You can't have criticism without an audience's engagement with it because the former is born directly from the latter.

Also, as a filmmaker you know that we are a passionate bunch. One of the favorite pastimes at any film school is discussing ad nauseum your opinions about your favorite films, why somethings work or don't work. It's the nature of being as artist.

One of the greatest aspects of art IS the discourse around it. Without that discourse, much of the change we see in art and even in the world wouldn't happen. The documentaries that move people to change laws or to engage with a cause happen because of discourse. We as filmmakers improve our craft because of discourse.

I for one really appreciated what this article attempts to do because he's doing what a lot of people online aren't doing: he's taking emotion out of it. Regardless of whether or not you liked the episode, he's offering objective aspects of storytelling and screenwriting that may have contributed to the huge disconnect between what was on screen and how fans reacted. IMHO, I actually find that just as important, if not more important than how the makers of GoT did the spectacle.

And it should be stated that the reason they achieved the most epic TV show in history was NOT because of spectacle. It was precisely because of great writing and storytelling. So IMHO, this article does exactly what you were asking. :)

May 17, 2019 at 1:15PM

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Ron Dawson
Managing Editor | Frame.io Insider
271

> If you can do better, do it. If not either enjoy it or find something more constructive to write about.

You missed the part where the writers of this post literally can "do it better", but criticizing the parts which were done wrong.

And there are several posts and fan alternate versions online that are much better than what was shown.

May 15, 2019 at 5:21AM

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The writers and fans have produced a epic 10 year fantasy show - where can I watch it? :)

This is why opinions and criticisms are truly worthless. Seriously, anyone can write anything. As hard as writing is, that's the easy part. Making it - that's the hard part. The writers of GOT had to pitch it, budget it, plan it, produce it, distribute it over 10 years. You'd better believe that affects storytelling. That's why all these judgements here are from fans don't hold water at all. No one else. NO ONE ELSE has EVER produced a 10 year fantasy show at this level. Either enjoy it or move along. Criticizing it is pure egotism.

May 15, 2019 at 1:26PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
467

Yes!!!! Exactly! Thank you!!!

May 15, 2019 at 9:56PM

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STEPHEN MONTAGNE
Screenwriter in the Trenches
17

Not necessarily "better." Just different.

Who is to say that another fan or writer would have been able to please the "everyone is an expert -- rageaholics" on the Internet, who use Twitter is a bludgeoning tool?

There's no way of saying whether any other writer's attempt at "sticking the landing" would have received any less vitriolic response from "The Internet"...

May 15, 2019 at 10:01PM, Edited May 15, 10:01PM

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STEPHEN MONTAGNE
Screenwriter in the Trenches
17

- As far as Dani goes I think a lot of people failed to see this was all coming, and had been building for a long time. Her initial actions were always brash and violent but she was often talked down by all of her advisors (whom are no longer alive or whom she no longer trusts). More importantly thought, DANI HAD A VISION, in I believe season 2... She enters the iron throne room and its burnt to a crisp and raining ash... the Targaryens have prophetic visions throughout history and it could have reassured that burning the city was the only way to get what she wanted... My first thought, and I imagine hers as well, was that the ringing bells of the city were going to be a trap... Tyrion, the man who seems to never be right about his sister really pushed for that one, but you can't blame her for not trusting them. Obviously tough to see a beloved character become the villain, but I think if you go back and rewatch her initial impulses throughout the show, she was a lot less rational than people like to believe... her first instinct was almost always burn it... then she got talked back by people around her...

- As for coincidences... coincidences are awful in screenwriting when they help the hero, but unfortunate coincidences are great. I'm not saying the Euron, Jaime battle was great, but it certainly wasn't any form of fortune for Jaime to have Euron wash up on the beach and fight him, and stab him twice. Also, it made sense for them to both be going back into the castle, assuming Euron knew about that passage.

- The dragon and anti dragon weaponry... this was the single biggest flaw of the episode, and sadly it had a fix that I was almost certain would take place... they should have put armor on the damn dragon... boom, case closed... putt her in some sweet gear, fly around and wreak havoc...

May 15, 2019 at 1:39AM, Edited May 15, 1:39AM

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Font
1

Euron coincidentally meeting Jaime at that place in time is rediculous and not consistent with the realism that was actually shown in a similar situation to another character earlier in the show.
Back in season 2, during the Battle of Blackwater Bay, Davos' ship gets destroyed and he is thrown from it into the water in almost exactly the same fashion as Euron. Does Davos wash up just in time to help Stannis continue the fight? Nope. He spends several hours stuck on a rock island offshore having to survive the realistic conditions of such a situation.
Euron does not know the secret passage to the Red Keep so its 100% coincidence that he just washes up there right at the very moment. It's almost like the writers were trolling the fans in this situation given how poorly Euron's character in the show has been received.

May 17, 2019 at 12:50AM

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James Arnich
Creative Director
18

Got some feelings during this episode out of the main story arc of GOT; I saw a metaphor of “modern warfare” vs “old heroic/individualistic war”. I felt it the most realistic episode so far, too realistic regarding war. I saw WWII heavy bombers, napalm and later, Arya with ashes raining: Hiroshima. Jamie and Cersei are hiding in a bunker that really has no protection against bombing.
Another realistic part is with the “good” leaders; one want’s to “liberate the people”, the other, does nothing to stop her. Reminds me Mao, Stalin, Pol pot, etc. It leaved me thinking the modern world -second part of XX century- crushes the old fantasy world. Reminds me modern war is devastation and dangerous leaders are the ones obsessed with the people. Frankly, I didn’t expect it. It is clearly very different from the whole story.
Conclusion; there is no need for the Iron Throne if you use bunker buster fire.

May 15, 2019 at 4:52AM, Edited May 15, 5:01AM

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Javier Diez
Director/Writer
224

Bravo, George Edleman, for so intelligently and painstakingly breaking down the elements in the episode that others online have been complaining about.

This article is so important and appreciated by this particular "gentle reader" because so much vitriol and animus has been coming from so many corners of the World Wide Web by people who have no business being as critical of the show, or the show's creators, as they are and the way they express their points of view.

I particularly appreciated the respectful way you addressed the two show creators at the end of the article.

I'm getting really tired of these "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" online thinking they have any authority to speak on what makes for great television writing or whether or not a television show should have a "do over."

An article like this is perfect to post on a Facebook wall as a demonstration of how to effectively discuss a piece of art or television content that may be "problematic" or receive criticism from "the masses.

Thank you for this article!

May 15, 2019 at 9:37PM

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STEPHEN MONTAGNE
Screenwriter in the Trenches
17

Well Dany went nuts. But the first minutes were already doomed. Varys was one of the smartest people and then they didn't do him justice by letting him act the way he did before his death.
Little Fingers death was well done. But the dumbing down of characters, including Dany, is just a shame.

May 16, 2019 at 1:46PM

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My only complaint - it's all a bit rushed. And Jamie's turn around was just a little bit much. But otherwise - it is great.
I don't know if it holds any water or not, but I lay a huge portion of this public reaction to the American Phenomenon - "Build Em' Up & Tear Em' Down. It happens with everything - Art /Personalities/Cinema/TV/ you name it. One second it is the Bomb & next thing you know it is Dogshit. It is just happening sooner than normal with GOT this year. But attribute that to the sped up cycle of Everything.
You can see it coming every time.

May 16, 2019 at 3:22PM

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Hey George, thanks so much for writing this level-headed article. You touched on all the points I felt troubled with and gave some writerly context. And thanks also for making the point about "Drogon," it has made me cringe every time I hear it! Looking forward to EP6.

May 16, 2019 at 6:10PM

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So after reading this article, I get the impression that you do see many issues with the writing.

These same issues have existed from Season 5 onward but have really become quite noticeable since season 7. I would also like to add that there has been a significant amount of subversion of expectations for the sake of it that is becoming more and more prevalent as the age of social media and theorizing have taken over our lives.

We can say that it's difficult to achieve a great wrap up to a TV show. I mean historically, how many of the great shows had truly satisfying endings that pleased the overall fanbase? Not many. But this is still not an excuse for not having a good ending to a show that prided itself on writing quality. People became invested because they were convinced that the ending would be truly special and they were justified in thinking that.

Some like to remove some of the blame from D&D because the show was supposed to be an adaptation and that they should be given a bit of a break because they've had to write 4 seasons of narrative on their own in order to get to a predetermined finale. While you can give them some breathing room, reports have stated that GRRM told them that he wouldn't have the books finished. He planned to have 1 done but not the entire series which is why he gave them the ending. We also have a situation where there are two totally different types of writers behind this project. GRRM is a pantser and he is writing quite possibly the most complex character driven story in history. D&D are plotters who were given the ending. They are also inexperienced plotters and well not exactly great ones. Troy and X-Men Origins Wolverine are Benioff's only significant writing credits. DB Weiss has none. How these two guys convinced GRRM to adapt his books is beyond me because no matter what, they would have had to change the style of the show in order to complete it and there would be a significant drop in writing quality as well.

Anyways, since Dany's arc is the main point of discussion here, I want to summarize why from a purely writing standpoint her turn didn't land and why the author of this article is missing a point that a lot of people are trying to make.

To begin with, Dany's heel turn is not an issue for many people, including myself. The arc has been foreshadowed throughout the entire show. If the writers would have been more competent though, not focused too much on creating forced subversion, and not given themselves such an unrealistic show run time, I think it may have worked better.

So, in my opinion, and what seems to be the opinion of many others is that It failed to stick the landing because they didn't clearly define her motivations for torching the city and really confused the situation by mixing up words and action and giving us several inconsistencies in a short period of time.

If we start with episode 4, we see Dany and her 'council' in Winterfell discussing their attack strategy on KL. During this conversation, Euron's fleet is specifically mentioned as being a significant threat. He had already made a successful sneak attack on Dany's forces in the past and defeated them. We have also been shown the effectiveness of the scorpions (giant anti-dragon crossbows). Lastly, they are also at war.

Later on, we see Dany's fleet of ships and her comrades onboard leisurely sailing on seas, all easily exposed to an attack. Dany is flying overhead with the same relaxed look, she is even smiling appears to be having fun. We know what happens next as it is described in the article above. What is not mentioned is that of all of the people that Euron fishes out of the water its coincidentally Missande. Also, we see a boat mast fall onto Tyrion's head but he's still alive.

Dany doesn't blame herself for not being on alert and using her flying dragons to scout the area because as the writers have said "she forgot Euron existed".

Ok, so fast forward to the end of the episode. Dany is standing in front of KL with her last Dragon sitting defenselessly on the ground and her unsullied army surrounding her. On top of KL are several scorpions and archers cocked and ready to shoot. Why didn't they just shoot Dany and be done with it? Cersei's character is that of someone who will do anything to stay in power. It would have been totally within in her character for her to just kill them all right then and there. She also is carry a child and knows the stakes are kill or be killed. But of course, we are only here to see Missande get beheaded. Her head is cut off and we see Dany and Greyworm incensed as she stares down Cersei before leaving.

Next episode, we see Dany looking like she's been in an insane asylum and people plotting behind her back. We also hear that she's not eating. We see her hearing voices for the first time in the entire show. Again, in the entire show. She gets stiffed by her nephew-boyfriend because he's weirded out by the whole incest thing. Understandable. We are to believe that this adds to her madness even though they've only been dating for a short while. Regardless, he still pledges his allegiance to her as a soldier and military leader and has yet to show any break in that loyalty.

Right before the attack on KL, we see a calm and calculated Dany meeting with Tyrion. Here the writers are laying on the foreshadowing really thick, using the 'smartest person in Westeros' to make us think that 'oh, burning women and children may actually happen'.

So after all of this we can surmise that the following two things are happening to her:

1. She is suddenly succumbing to the Targayren madness that has been a running joke (flip a coin) the entire show, I think they even repeated it in episode 5. This is not the kind of madness that causes people to go temporarily insane. This is the mental illness that comes about from incest thus the coin flip comments.

2. Through her entire arc, she has learned that in order to rule she needs to use force and make people fear her and her recent personal losses have finally made her realize that this is the only way. Totally believable reason for her eventual actions. Given that the entire show is based on ruthless people thirsting for power, it makes for her to be the most ruthless of all, especially given her life experience. This would be a great main plot line but at this point it doesn't feel quite right because she is still saying that what separates her from everyone else is her mercy. Also, another thing to consider here is that her reasoning behind possibly using fire on the city is to win and this conversation with Tyrion is only focusing on defeating Cersei and taking KL.

Flash forward to the attack on King's Landing. We see Dany decimate the KL defenses and Euron's fleet. She seems to be in total control of herself and her dragon as she systematically wipes out the weapons that are a threat to her. We are told that she planned all of this before-hand when she tells Greyworm that you'll know when you can enter the city; None of this is the workings of an insane mind.

Next, we see her sitting on her dragon perched on the wall of KL looking right at the Red Keep and we see a staredown between Dany and Cersei. Dany has the same look of anger on her face. Cersei looks FEARful. The bell rings. We see Dany still staring at the Red Keep and Cersei and Cersei back at her still in fear and then Dany lifts off and flies straight toward the Red Keep. D&D have said that in that moment on the wall she remembered her family's history and how they built the Red Keep and what happened to her father and that is why she veers away in flight and spends the rest of the episode burning the city and not the person who it was clear she wanted to personally kill just moments ago.

This brings us to what motivated her to burn the city. Was it insanity, revenge, logical (from her perspective) military strategy or purely shock value? Keep in mind that we see her methodically go down every street and light it up. Also, why don't we ever see her face while she is destroying the city? If its the same face she had when staring at the red keep then we would think she is doing it out of rage (revenge), if we see her plain faced and focused it would tell us she believes in what she is doing, if we see maniacal face it would tell us she is insane. We don't get this. Instead, we see Arya's face, someone who, as far as plot goes, has no reason to be in this position outside of creating cheap emotional tension. Jon Snow should have been there instead as it not only would have done the same thing but also would have added to his arc with Dany.

In the end, not only are writers make basic writing mistakes as the article points out, they are also making the characters act illogically and in many cases down-right dumb. It would be one thing if the characters had been established as such but they haven't. The writing is not just technically bad its also sloppy, rushed, and no longer up to the intellectual standards that the show became famous for. Since D&D knew this going in they definitely deserve a lot of the blame.

May 16, 2019 at 11:53PM, Edited May 17, 12:40AM

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James Arnich
Creative Director
18

Why don't we see Dany's face when she destroys the city with her only dragon? Because that confrontation is being saved for the last episode. Saved for when John Snow confronts her. Dany will sit on the Iron Throne (and lets face it, she is almost over it so a slight flick of Drogor's wing and she's off the beast).
So imagine the scene, Jon Snow walks up to her, angry for what she did when she should have heard the bells (was that a metaphor?). So Jon does not 'bend the knee' and while he argues that he won't be serving a queen who doesn't respect ethics and fairness and indulges in the killing of innocent people by burning them alive (hello irony again? Remember her brother? Same).

Suddenly, from behind, suppose Little Arya sneaks in and gives her the needle (pun intended). Ah, irony, irony. All is irony in GoT. (Pun about Iron Throne also intended).

Or will it be Sansa? Or someone else? A surprise? Because after all waxing here is said and done, the GoT writers LOVE surprises. And to finish this show it will have to be an OOOOH moment that leaves everyone talking (or cursing). Or crying, even. Pass the box of tissues with a GoT brand on them, love, I want to gush. Too late, Kleenex. At least until another GoT Season.

So lets imagine a series of 'peel-offs' like DANY'S STORY or another 'peel off' (like Hollywood is into for the money) giving us franchise 'peel offs' like Star War's Hans Solo is not far from the blossoming tree.

Oh, save us the madness. Give us a Series 9, for goodness sake! One where we find that 'The Hound' really fell in the moat and survived and came back to cynically berate someone else. Cersei hid under Jamie's golden hand and becomes as wicked as ever; learning to control 'wildfire' and throw it from her mouth (not far off what she does, anyway). Brienne sticks it in Cersei for taking the one chance she had for love; take THAT you bitch. A MUCH more satisfying end (see what I did there). Bran becomes even more arrogant (and annoying) and runs over Tyrion's toes and he pushes him off a cliff as he screams "NOT AGAIN..." and Tyrion looks back and says "Didn't see THAT coming in your visions did you? Grey Worm falls for Missandei's twin sister and ... (wait ... what? You didn't notice her? Oh, come on, if you can see a Starbuck's cup on a table surely you can see her twin serving at the Inn)? Davos rebuilds the Iron Fleet and becomes a pirate (what do you mean, boring? He IS boring), Rhaegal comes back and swipes Drogon with his tail for not saving him from a Scorpion spear. and they fight it out. Dany falls off and the winning Rhaegal sit in her. (Ooops, soz Dany). Ghost catches rabies and bites Jon Snow (take that, irony and disloyalty),

And then the BEST ENDING of all. Melisandre returns (probably naked again but made of dust so we are spared her bumpy bits). Then she sits on the Iron Throne and takes everyone back in time with a wave of her hand.

And we all watch Season 1 again thinking that works.
What? It SO totally makes logical sense. Like the whole florilegium does.

And much more believable. Right?

May 18, 2019 at 8:40AM, Edited May 18, 8:58AM

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Peter J Tisma
Head of Production
8

On the contrary to your post, the 'Scorpions' were a threat to the dragons. GoT writers established that when one of them was killed. However, in that episode, 'Dany' charged head-on (what you'd expect of any warrior queen). But this time she drew fire flying head on (risking that one spear by inches) and then took out the Scorpions, one by one, by flying ACROSS their line of fire. Left to right etc. But the Scorpions, heavy and big enough to take out dragons, could not be turned or titled fast enough. And that was the weakness that Dany exploited. And she is good at exploited weaknesses. Believable and strategic at the same time. Bravo, Dany.

May 18, 2019 at 7:59AM

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Peter J Tisma
Head of Production
8

Watch it again.

As she charges head on towards Euron's fleet, only Euron shoots at her. Every other boat has scorpions but only one boat shoots at her and not once but 2x but with more realistic loading times and accuracy. I would say that it's akin to what we see in martial arts movies where the hero is allowed to fight off an entire mob one at a time but at least even a schlocky MA movie is consistent with this throughout the film. As the writer pointed out, the sudden decline in competency is in stark contrast to their abilities just one episode prior. It's comically poor writing that would be more at home in a B-grade fantasy flick than on a show that had the potential to be an all-time great specifically when it came to the writing.

May 18, 2019 at 11:21PM, Edited May 18, 11:21PM

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James Arnich
Creative Director
18

Actually this episode the scorpions were more realistic than the last episode where they hit the dragon right away, first shot, then second shot, boom, dragon down. It is really hard to hit a flying object with a heavy weapon that is really slow to be turned. I'd say it's almost impossible. But still, the episode before this, they just did it twice in a row for plot reasons.

May 20, 2019 at 4:04AM

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