By now you might have seen or heard about the most recent Game of Thrones episode, “Bells,” or “Season 8: Ep 5.” If you haven’t and you don’t want it spoiled, you should probably stop reading now. You’ve been warned.
I read something today that claimed that this episode was the most poorly reviewed episode in the history of the show. People online are complaining about multiple plot points, and to be honest I agree with some claims, especially those about plot developments feeling rushed. But one point in particular caught my attention, and that was the complaint about the deaths of Varys, and Cersei and Jaime Lannister. As a fan of the books and the show, I have followed these characters for years, just as many of you have. As fans we become invested in these characters—we want their life and death within these worlds to have a certain impact and meaning within their world that’s proportionate to how they have impacted ours.The deaths don’t feel right because they are too realistic. There is no closure. But isn’t that the way of death?
Varys’ death has been referred to as pointless in some circles. It does happen quickly and without much fanfare, but I wouldn’t call it pointless. Varys was a great character. He saw saw and played all the angles—all in the name of stability for the realm. Personally, I expected him to survive all the way to the end and was surprised at his demise so early in the episode. But was it pointless? Varys was executed for his betrayal of Dany, an object lesson at the beginning of an episode that would showcase how unstable she had become after repeated failures and losses. My first thought seeing this was: “If she’ll kill him, who is safe?” But, more than that, Varys was aware of what the punishment for his actions would be, and he calmly accepted them. There was no fussing, no begging, he did what he believed to be right and was willing to pay the price for doing so. That’s not a pointless death, but one to be admired, especially in the incredibly tragic and morally grey world of Westeros.
Jaime and Cersei came into the world together and leave it together. As Jaime returned to Cersei, people have complained about the complete destruction of the redemption path that he seemed to be on. But was it destroyed? Jaime knew who he was. He might have mellowed and learned a few lessons in friendship along the way, but he was still Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer. He loved his sister more than anyone. All of the personal growth in the world wouldn’t change that feeling, so he returned to her. As they found themselves trapped beneath the crumbling castle, he spent his last moments calming Cersei. Jaime’s redemption was intact, and whether he could voice what was happening or not, I believe that he attempted to extend the same thing to Cersei.
Finally, Cersei is quite possibly the best villain ever created for television. There is no redemption arc here. Cersei is a true villain in every sense of the word. The complaint that I’ve seen about her death is that it wasn’t enough. As bad as Cersei was, everyone wanted her to suffer. People felt a need for her to be punished for everything she had done, not die ignominiously buried under the castle with her brother.
In our eyes, at least within the show, we want the deaths of these characters to mean something, to matter in some way. But what we see in this episode is that they aren’t really special. They are no different from the crowds that are fleeing from the soldiers or Drogon. They are no different from the random Wildlings and Dothraki that died in the North. These characters that we have come to love, respect, or even revile are no different than you or I, and that I think is the lesson in this episode. The deaths don’t feel right because they are too realistic. There is no closure within them. But isn’t that the way of death?
We often don’t have closure when we lose a loved one. We are left with regrets, unspoken words, and emptiness. Even with an adversary this can be the case. And that’s what we experienced in this episode of Game of Thrones. Reality. And it was uncomfortable, and it wasn’t rewarding, and many people don’t like it. We watch shows like this to escape from the real world around us, not to be reminded of it. But that reminder being present is what changes the deaths in this episode from bad, or disappointing, to at least appropriate, and maybe in the case of Varys, admirable.