News

Game of Thrones 'The Bells' Reviews: Episode Tanks With Series' Lowest Tomatometer Score

Critics lament "queens be crazy" turn in season 8, episode 5 — the penultimate episode of the series.

by | May 13, 2019 | Comments

(Updated: 5/14/19, 6:45 a.m. PT)

It’s not an easy thing to be the lowest-scoring Game of Thrones episode of the series’ history, but Episode 5: "The Bells" 49% has done it.

Five seasons had passed before an episode of the series got a Rotten score, and then another two passed before it got another with season 8’s “The Last of the Starks,” which, critics complained, was “anticlimactic” and “a huge letdown.” And now another.

The series’ eighth and final season is struggling relative to its predecessors. With its latest episode at 49% on 68 reviews (updated) following the previous week’s 57% score, season 8 dropped to 73% on Monday — every other season is Certified Fresh at 91% or higher on the Tomatometer. The final episode will have to score an 89% or higher for the season overall to qualify for Certified Fresh status. It is now mathematically impossible for the season to be anything but the lowest-scoring season of the series.

There were no dancing Starbucks cups derailing Sunday’s episode, but plenty more to complain about, according to reviews.


But, first, some good news…or not

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Writer/producer George R.R. Martin, winner of the award for Outstanding Drama Series for 'Game of Thrones', poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images)

UPDATED: “Absurd,” author George R.R. Martin wrote in a vehement denial of a statement actor Ian McElhinney made to a Saint Peteresburg, Russia, fan convention that books six and seven were written but shelved until after the series concluded. (See the video here, starting around the 32-minute mark.)

McElhinney who played Ser Barristan Selmy in the series dropped that bomb at Epic Con in April, revealing/purporting that Martin has already finished writing the final two books of the Song of Ice and Fire novel series that the hit TV show is based on.

“He struck an agreement with David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], the showrunners of the series, that he would not publish his final two books until the series has completed,” McElhinney said at the con. “So [if] all goes well, another month or two, we might get books six and seven.”

Martin responded to the video: “No, THE WINDS OF WINTER and A DREAM OF SPRING are not finished. DREAM is not even begun; I am not going to start writing volume seven until I finish volume six … HBO did not ask me to delay them. Nor did David & Dan. There is no “deal” to hold back on the books. I assure you, HBO and David & Dan would both have been thrilled and delighted if THE WINDS OF WINTER had been delivered and published four or five years ago… and NO ONE would have been more delighted than me.”

Still, if you don’t like the way the show ends, there’s always the option to read the author’s take on it — whenever the books arrive. (And those people who have been dragging on Martin online about finishing the books still seriously need to apologize — that’s still bad form.)


Armed with that information and before you set your expectations about the finale, read on to find out what critics had to say about “The Bells.”


No, After Eight Seasons, Critics Aren’t Buying This

Jon, Grey Worm, Ser Davos in season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (HBO)

“For viewers who have stuck around for eight seasons of the HBO fantasy series, all that’s left after the penultimate episode is ash and a bad taste.” — Kelly Lawler, USA Today

“For a battle that’s been years in the making, that was more than a little disappointing.” — Paul Dailly, TV Fanatic

“The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, ‘The Bells,’ has too much to do and too little time for people to stop and explain how they’re feeling. As a result, everything is big.” — Dave Gonzales, Thrillist

“Sorry. But no. I just didn’t buy that. Any of it.” — Michael Deacon, Daily Telegraph (UK)


Read more: Game of Thrones’ Penultimate Episode: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Dragon Queen Scorned


 Whither the Daenerys We Know and Love?

Jon and Daenerys in season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (Helen Sloan/HBO)

“Dany got a raw deal.” — Glen Weldon, NPR

“It’s understandable that she would act rashly as a response. But the show doesn’t actually set that up. Instead, it presents us with mounting evidence that she’s suddenly inherited her father and brother’s mental illness, with no prior symptoms.” — Anne Cohen, Refinery29

“I don’t want to spend too much time second-guessing the show runners here, but I saw a bunch of people carping on Twitter as soon as the episode ended that this turn of Daenerys’s is unearned, and I have to say it felt that way to me too.” — Mike Hogan, Vanity Fair

“The Thrones series finale will have to do a LOT of repair work to make me understand what the hell happened to Dany, the woman who once locked up her dragons for months because one of them accidentally killed ONE child.” — Huw Fullerton, Radio Times


We Need to Talk About the Writing

Jaime Lannister in season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (Helen Sloan/HBO)

The show’s perverse desire to dumb down its characters just to fill out inorganic plot beats is maybe the biggest overall problem with this final season. — Clint Worthington, The Spool

“Drawing out aspects of the character which have been there in more than just her gene pool but hidden in the gestalt complicates a picture that is much more fun to leave a little less novelistic.” — Daniel D’Addario, Variety

“In doing so, the thing that GoT is actually pushing is a debate about Dany’s morality, bringing that question into the foreground of the show after letting it sit quietly in the background for so long.” — James Hibberd, Entertainment Weekly

“It’s like Jamie Lannister stabbed the Mad King in the back, and the writers of the show stabbed Jamie Lannister in the back!” — Jeremy Jahns, JeremyJahns.com

“I still greatly enjoyed ‘The Bells,’ the penultimate episode of this last-minute-bungled series, because anytime there’s a lot of killing, it translates to minimal dialogue, a blessing at this point.” — Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, The Muse/Jezebel

“Game Of Thrones has always been a show to cast a realistic eye (magic and dragons not withstanding) on how people treat each other when power is in play, and there were multiple examples here. Just not all of them worth our while.” — James White, Empire Magazine

“Sure, there was something wonderful and terrible to behold as she and her Drogon rained terror down on King’s Landing, but all those pyrotechnics — and the resulting ash — couldn’t obscure how mechanical this drama has become.” — Ellen Gray, Philadelphia Inquirer


Read more: Game of Thrones’ Final Season Is Officially Its Worst, According to the Tomatometer


But What About Those Effects?

Drogon destroys King's Landing season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (HBO)

“There was so much that could have worked here, so many emotional pay-offs and beautifully shot scenes – and it was all let down by how little work was put into earning those moments.” — Sarah Hughes, Guardian

“The cinematic pyrotechnics to accompany this grim symphony were occasionally repetitious but overall extraordinary.” — Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic

“The CGI was spectacular.” — Neela Debnath, Daily Express (UK)


The Acting?

Tyrion in season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (HBO)

“In general, this episode was beautifully executed and really well-acted, with a lot of clean action and intelligent cross-cutting between set pieces. But it felt so hollow to me, the narratives stakes entirely obliterated, once Daenerys made her move.” — David Sims, The Atlantic

“The acting was spectacular. The effects were stunning. But that prowess was in service of a story that was extremely obvious in some ways (Dany becoming the Mad Queen, something fans have predicted for ages) and absolutely illogical in others.” — Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic


Read more: All Game of Thrones Episodes, Ranked by Tomatometer


Final Verdict?

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (Helen Sloan/HBO)

“I’m going to err on the episode working in a vacuum and rate it as positive if middling, but just as this week has come to make last week’s loathsome in hindsight, next week’s final hour will provide the final details to really evaluate this ending.” — David Crow, Den of Geek

“I wish I could go back to living in a world where Game of Thrones was still a great show, something I recommended to my friends, colleagues and my cab driver. But now, I feel like sinking into the ground, embarrassed for ever promoting or defending it.” — Soumya Srivastava, Hindustan Times

“Just because the outcome wasn’t surprising, that doesn’t mean the result wasn’t spectacular.” — Jeremy Egner, New York Times

“Game of Thrones should end the same way it did its best work – surprising us. Or perhaps surprising us about the way it’s surprising us.” — Hillary Kelly, New York Magazine/Vulture

“Whatever the thinking, the result is clear: Game of Thrones marches towards its final episode a lame duck.” — Nick Hilton, Independent (UK)

“The only character I care about survives, so I’m good. Beyond that, this episode is full on chaos.” — Leona Laurie, Geek Girl Authority

“It is sufficed to say that the beautifully shot swarming of King’s Landing and pitiful death of Cersei may stand as the pivotal and most recalled episode of Game of Thrones ever – no matter how things shake down next week.” — Dominic Patten, Deadline Hollywood Daily

“Maybe that’s the core truth revealed by ‘The Bells.’ There may just be too many arcs in this show for these final episodes to feel truly earned as an ending, too many threads that were just destined to never connect.” — Myles McNutt, AV Club

“I loved it and hated it and I think it could have been the perfect culmination of everything this show ever set out to do, if only they’d earned it.” — Erik Kain, Forbes

“By the end of this 90 minutes, as the ash settled, it is difficult not to feel one was looking at the charred remains of an era-defining television show’s integrity.” — Hugh Montgomery, BBC.com

“‘The Bells’ stands as one of the most artful, poetic, and upsetting installments in Game of Thrones history, as the true cost of war hits home in a devastating and visceral way.” — Laura Prudom, IGN Movies

Did you agree with the critics? Tell us in the comments!

Game of Thrones season 8 finale airs Sunday, May 19 at 9 p.m. on HBO.



Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

directors Winners San Diego Comic-Con Trailer fast and furious Mary Poppins Returns dc nbcuniversal ESPN Kids & Family YouTube Red Trivia X-Men Trophy Talk ratings basketball FX GoT diversity criterion Winter TV technology documentaries laika TCA Winter 2020 docudrama vampires south america reviews wonder woman twilight women kaiju See It Skip It crossover golden globe awards Action Avengers Family BBC One YA cancelled TV series richard e. Grant Funimation binge Premiere Dates dark toy story zero dark thirty Mystery rt archives festivals Comedy NBC RT21 christmas movies italian TV One dramedy A&E travel spanish language Universal Biopics Pacific Islander child's play book Pop best Tomatazos nature Pop TV Holiday Animation halloween BET First Reviews Starz TCA 2017 Disney Plus spider-man DirecTV cancelled TV shows obituary Comedy Central spy thriller dragons psychological thriller popular facebook police drama Crackle 2020 crime Marvel Television crime thriller USA Network TCM National Geographic Awards Tour theme song Sundance TV Watching Series know your critic The Purge The Academy The Walt Disney Company composers international ViacomCBS Warner Bros. SDCC Superheroe Classic Film Netflix football LGBTQ Disney Channel Superheroes harry potter cooking a nightmare on elm street Emmy Nominations superman screenings Writers Guild of America Valentine's Day TNT remakes TV renewals Travel Channel Legendary Sony Pictures suspense The Witch game show Countdown heist movie VICE golden globes Polls and Games CBS E! Ellie Kemper Amazon Prime Video Amazon renewed TV shows Paramount superhero TruTV Schedule tv talk werewolf sag awards Pet Sematary all-time Broadway MCU sports BAFTA Cartoon Network kong Lifetime zombies DC Universe Spectrum Originals blaxploitation comic mission: impossible monster movies Tarantino Fox Searchlight Rom-Com Pirates cats japanese Musical deadpool romantic comedy CNN Walt Disney Pictures HBO Max witnail chucky justice league Music batman comedies Lucasfilm TBS Certified Fresh independent Toys universal monsters TCA Awards Drama hidden camera concert medical drama worst The Walking Dead canceled boxing Opinion Election hollywood saw Crunchyroll The CW Pixar streaming movies cars Rocky video Mary poppins Nickelodeon Photos thriller OWN spain sequel Columbia Pictures A24 space hist Masterpiece aliens YouTube Premium adventure Cosplay Lifetime Christmas movies Apple TV+ Sundance Now Spike Best and Worst NYCC IFC Films 007 2021 Acorn TV ITV Teen Hallmark Christmas movies Character Guide pirates of the caribbean 93rd Oscars Holidays Star Wars cops DC Comics Reality revenge 99% satire YouTube james bond Mudbound adenture Marvel BBC America Freeform Dark Horse Comics latino GLAAD Adult Swim target Netflix Christmas movies telelvision nfl WarnerMedia serial killer new york war new zealand true crime rotten Infographic Disney+ Disney Plus Calendar Chernobyl TV movies Oscars Fantasy black classics Hulu IFC Apple AMC comic books finale series 24 frames legend cults king kong Ovation cinemax Interview History Star Trek green book singing competition Heroines scary movies supernatural jurassic park cancelled television PaleyFest versus parents Western 2016 Baby Yoda SXSW critics doctor who jamie lee curtis films discovery Sneak Peek BET Awards kids comiccon TCA stop motion PlayStation Esquire Paramount Plus children's TV mutant NBA talk show anthology halloween tv Stephen King HBO scene in color Showtime sitcom MTV social media Image Comics Extras movies HBO Go Comic-Con@Home 2021 Discovery Channel First Look Set visit MSNBC archives Nat Geo Shudder joker Wes Anderson Quiz Fall TV SundanceTV Academy Awards 2015 Video Games toronto Film Festival die hard Syfy casting Logo Summer franchise Sci-Fi Turner news 2018 cancelled elevated horror Awards American Society of Cinematographers Arrowverse Fox News E3 new star wars movies Mary Tyler Moore OneApp Super Bowl cartoon ghosts New York Comic Con Cannes Comics on TV TIFF CBS All Access ABC festival FOX Anna Paquin trailers book adaptation quibi slashers asian-american Christmas 4/20 Britbox CW Seed 90s Shondaland FXX Black History Month Amazon Studios Alien Brie Larson Elton John historical drama Tumblr 2019 rom-coms Grammys Martial Arts Women's History Month PBS boxoffice science fiction GIFs stand-up comedy teaser 2017 natural history Pride Month zombie spinoff psycho transformers Hear Us Out Disney Bravo Marvel Studios comics indie Epix disaster politics ABC Signature Thanksgiving prank stoner 71st Emmy Awards olympics australia Rock what to watch unscripted political drama anime Disney streaming service adaptation Creative Arts Emmys Endgame high school fresh 21st Century Fox ABC Family docuseries Horror free movies razzies dceu streaming FX on Hulu Turner Classic Movies Peacock miniseries Binge Guide period drama Tubi Lionsgate crime drama 45 El Rey lord of the rings Mindy Kaling Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt live action animated Vudu WGN APB Food Network Paramount Network spanish USA 20th Century Fox screen actors guild Amazon Prime mockumentary Year in Review DC streaming service ID The Arrangement indiana jones biography television CMT Ghostbusters Nominations Chilling Adventures of Sabrina romance blockbuster movie foreign documentary breaking bad Red Carpet Reality Competition Sundance japan Captain marvel Exclusive Video reboot Television Critics Association Spring TV TV strong female leads Black Mirror name the review Rocketman Emmys Tokyo Olympics venice scorecard Podcast worst movies video on demand rotten movies we love TV Land aapi Country 1990s Marathons award winner LGBT Film 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Musicals 72 Emmy Awards VH1 marvel cinematic universe Box Office canceled TV shows VOD Comic Book hispanic BBC blockbusters DGA game of thrones Television Academy robots RT History dogs french godzilla based on movie Apple TV Plus President sequels Song of Ice and Fire emmy awards Hallmark TLC