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Game of Thrones' final season episode 5 ending explained

The last season of Game of Thrones was always going to feature plenty of death, destruction, and chaos, and it certainly didn't disappoint with its penultimate episode, "The Bells," which focuses almost entirely on the long-awaited siege of King's Landing. With the end of the series in sight, Thrones has plenty of plots left to conclude, and it moved closer than ever to the endgame with the fifth installment of the eighth and final season.

After a comparatively slow start, which depicts a number of the show's remaining players talking and plotting, the episode picks up extraordinarily quickly, giving a huge focus to one of the largest battles the show has ever seen (after all the fuss made over the Battle of Winterfell, the sacking of King's Landing makes that installment look like an episode of The Office). Alliances are broken, lifelong goals are accomplished, and the city of King's Landing is brought to its knees thanks to a horrifyingly driven Daenerys, who sacrifices her dwindling moral high ground so she can take Westeros' capital and sit on whatever might be left of the Iron Throne. From major deaths to the horrors of war, here's everything important that happened in the fifth episode of Thrones' final season.

Varys meets his maker

Lord Varys (Conleth Hill), also known as "The Spider," has been one of the most mysterious figures on Thrones throughout its run. The best gossip in the Seven Kingdoms, Varys quietly pulled the strings in the background for much of the show's eight seasons, even as many of the main characters surrounding him thought they were calling the shots. Varys' purposefully vague backstory, which involved a sorcerer who castrated him (who Varys later imprisoned in a trunk), left viewers hungry for information about the conniving Spider, who, despite his constant manipulations, always seemed to want what was best for the Realm overall.

Until the very end, Varys was consistent and pragmatic about who might be the best ruler of the Seven Kingdoms — once he found out that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) had a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), he went against the Dragon Queen, knowing that he was immediately putting himself at risk. In trying to do what was best for the Seven Kingdoms, The Spider signs his own death warrant, and finds himself at the mercy of Daenerys; unfortunately for him, she has little to no mercy left to spare, and Varys dies by flame, the latest victim of "Dracarys."

King's Landing is no more

The destruction of King's Landing has been teased throughout the show, and with two powerful queens destined to face off, this battle was all but inevitable. After the Battle of Winterfell finally took out the looming threat of the Army of the Dead, it was time for Daenerys, Jon, and their Northern forces to take down Cersei, who had already positioned herself at a huge advantage by killing one of Daenerys' dragons, thanks to her fiercest ally, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk).

As the siege begins, it looks as if Daenerys and her forces can't possibly penetrate the defenses of Westeros' capital, but Drogon easily torches the entire Iron Fleet, followed by the ramparts equipped with the potentially dragon-slaying spearguns known as Scorpions. Tyrion, desperate to avoid innocent bloodshed, has gotten Daenerys to agree to call off her attack if she hears the bells ringing inside the city — a sign of surrender — and for a moment, it looks as if his plan has worked: Cowed by Daenerys' awesome display of power, the Lannister army lays down its weapons. But as Daenerys tells Jon during their fraught few moments together before the attack, she believes she's unable to win the love of the people in the kingdom and must earn their loyalty through fear. Faced with the opportunity to take the castle relatively peacefully, Daenerys opts instead for brutality. Her dragon and her army descend on Cersei and the Red Keep, laying waste to the streets and killing Lannister soldiers along with scores of innocents. After years spent fighting over the Iron Throne, there doesn't seem to be much of a throne left to take.

The arrival of the Mad Queen

Thrones has been quietly laying tracks for Daenerys to follow in her unstable father's footsteps for quite some time, but the Dragon Queen's pivot to Mad Queen still seems quite abrupt, even for a woman who's made a habit of burning her enemies. By the beginning of the fifth episode, Daenerys is utterly despondent, having lost two dragons as well as two of her closest friends and confidantes Jorah Mormont and Missandei. She seems to have lost her compass, and she spends some of the episode's earlier moments threatening Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), her Hand of the Queen, as well as trying to rekindle the romance she had with Jon Snow before they learned his secret royal lineage makes him a more compelling contender for the Throne (as well as the fact that she's his aunt). Jon, although visibly conflicted, rejects her romantic advances (probably because, well, she's his aunt) — a rejection that steels Daenerys for her vengeful path.

Even though the bells of King's Landing ring soon after Daenerys' arrival to signal a full surrender to their new queen, Daenerys shows no mercy to the city, setting both soldiers and civilians ablaze in an ugly, horrific move that exhibits the worst of her family's infamous impulses. Without her trusted advisors, Daenerys has run amok, and just to make everything worse, she's massacred thousands of innocents in the process. If Daenerys wants to keep and gain her followers, she might want to try a more merciful approach going forward — that is, if her reign has a future.

Lannisters stick together

The three remaining Lannisters — Tyrion, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and Cersei (Lena Headey) — have spent the show's eight seasons at odds with each other more often than not, but in this episode, members of the fraught family come back together more than once, helping each other get through the war as best as they can. Before the battle begins, Tyrion frees Jaime from captivity in his own camp, asking Jaime to make sure the bells of surrender ring, and reason with Cersei and convince her to escape from King's Landing in a dinghy Tyrion has arranged to have waiting in a secret spot on the shore. The two also share a beautifully tender moment when Tyrion tells Jaime that he loves him because "You were the only one who didn't treat me like a monster," giving the brothers a perfect final throughline.

Jaime repays Tyrion for his help, and at his brother's urging, tries to escape with Cersei after he fights and murders Euron Greyjoy so he can find his way back to her side, but they soon discover there's no way out as the Red Keep collapses above them. The two meet their deaths in each other's arms as the world falls apart around them, proving that no matter what, the Lannisters not only pay their debts, but stick together until the bitter end.

CleganeBowl

One of the show's most highly anticipated moments finally arrives in "The Bells." We're talking, of course, about the long-awaited battle known as CleganeBowl, the final showdown between the righteous yet savage Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), known as the Hound, and his enormous, zombified older brother Gregor (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), known as the Mountain. The two have barely seen each other since the Mountain was turned into a murderous, unkillable zombie designed to defend Cersei Lannister, but the Hound has long sworn to take down his sibling, who pushed him into a fire face-first as a child.

The two finally meet in the Red Keep as Cersei tries to mount her escape, but neither brother gives a second thought to the Lannister queen, who casually sidles away as the two finally prepare to face off (that is, after the Mountain tosses Cersei's Hand of the Queen aside like a rag doll and kills him). After a brutal fight, during which the Hound realizes he can't simply kill this creature who was once his brother, he tackles him as the building collapses, leading both Cleganes to fall to their deaths and providing a poignant ending to the Clegane conflict as well as the Hound's character arc.

Through Arya's eyes

Throughout the battle, viewers are shown the chaos and carnage from the perspective of Cersei, Daenerys, Jon, and several others, but the most striking perspective comes from Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who finds herself in King's Landing with every intention of killing Cersei until she's offered a timely wakeup call from the Hound, who forcefully urges her to understand the ultimate, unavoidable cost of pursuing vengeance for its own sake. Arya escapes the castle without giving in to the worst of her nature, but her difficult journey has just begun: as she traverses the streets of the capital, she's surrounded by suffering and screaming as she's knocked down by collapsing buildings, dragonfire, and Lannister soldiers. Arya might be a trained killer who took down the Night King, but this kind of war — one in which innocents are burned and trampled for no reason at all — still reduces her to wild-eyed shock.

Despite several near-death experiences, Arya is left standing in the ashen aftermath at King's Landing, and the episode closes on her taming a scared, bloodied white horse and riding through the streets astride it, leaving audiences with plenty of questions about what she'll do next.