Fans are fuming over last night's episode, expressing disappointment over the way it unfolded. "But as a statement about what the series has been about all along, 'The Bells' was a stunning success," says Andrew Prokop. "Essentially, Game of Thrones devoted its climax to portraying the horrors of war, and to a longtime hero becoming a monster. It’s a bold, unforgettable statement — an instantly iconic and shocking late turn to the eight-season saga. And it’s entirely consistent with the series’ core themes and motifs: the misuse of power, how innocents suffer when the high lords seek power, and the subversion of expectations. That is, it’s classic George R.R. Martin...If Game of Thrones ended with a triumphant Daenerys Targaryen heroically taking the Iron Throne, it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones. This is the show of Ned Stark’s death. This is the show of the Red Wedding. This is the ending it was headed toward all along."
"The Bells" ranks No. 1 among all Game of Thrones episodes: "This war crime was a long time coming, and the seeds had been planted since the start," says Sean T. Collins. "No, I’m not talking about the innumerable people whose execution by Dany went excused because they were nominally “bad guys.” I’m talking about Bran falling from the tower. Viserys Targaryen and Robert Baratheon and Khal Drogo failing to survive a single season. Ned Stark losing his head. Jaime Lannister losing his hand. The Red Wedding. The Purple Wedding. The Red Viper. The death of the dragons. Every single swerve that upended what the story seemed to be about was building to this moment: A self-styled liberator perpetrating a massacre on a previously unimaginable scale, both as an in-story act of violence and an on-screen work of filmmaking. This is the show, and it always has been. Game of Thrones forces you to look. Long may it burn."
Game of Thrones failed Cersei: "The version of Cersei viewers saw in the time since her deadliest move—blowing up the Sept of Baelor—could have been so much richer," says Shirley Li. "Lannisters always pay their debts. It’s too bad the show does not."
The problem isn't that Dany went mad, it's that she was acting like Hitler: "At no point has she demonstrated a kind of genocidal insanity, a need to kill civilians indiscriminately," says Zack Beauchamp. "Yet that’s exactly what happens in 'The Bells.' Her decision to burn King’s Landing in its entirety wasn’t a misbegotten kind of retribution for Cersei’s killing of Rhaegal and execution of Missandei. If it were about revenge, as it had been in the past, she would have flown straight to the Red Keep and burned it to the ground rather than destroying the entire city first. Daenerys’s rampage was something new for her: the intentional mass murder of civilians and destruction of an entire city, the Westerosi equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb on a civilian population after the war was already won."
Here's a better way Game of Thrones could've arrived at "The Bells" that made sense: "The problem is, as a plot development in a larger story, it seems badly undercooked," says Albert Burneko. "Sure, you can (rightly) argue that the basis for Dany’s growth into the Mad Queen has been in clear development since the first season. But she was broadly herself—vengeful and dangerous, yeah, but also human, in possession of a conscience, and still largely animated by her sense of a mission to make the world better and more just for common people—as recently as like two episodes ago."