(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" 48% 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.
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.”
“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)
“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
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
“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)
“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
“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.