There’s a moment in Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5, “The Bells,” where it looks like everything is going to work out just fine. Then, the audio really kicks in and the battle goes to hell.
Game of Thrones supervising sound editor Tim Kimmel tells Inverse the episode’s epic audio mix is what really drives Daenerys Targaryen’s transformation from potential savior of Westeros to bonafide Mad Queen. Not only do the growing sounds of screaming civilians, fiery explosions, and even the bells themselves provide a soundtrack for Dany’s insanity, but they may have actually contributed to her downfall.
“We made sure to have multiple pitches,” he says. “Smaller bells and larger bells. Some ringing faster or slower to help build the chaos that really drives into Daenerys’ head.”
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Kimmel argues that Dany’s already gone mad when the episode begins. Likely motivated by the death of her best friend and trusted advisor, Missandei, Daenerys comes in hot at the start of the battle, using her one remaining dragon to burn down countless enemy soldiers — but it only gets worse from there.
When the bells of King’s Landing first ring, signaling the city’s surrender, it looks like Dany will call off her dragon. Then, something switches in her brain. That switch is reflected in the episode’s audio.
“With sound design, especially in those bells, we really start to drive her nuts,” Kimmel says. “You can see her mood start to change and finally get to the point of ‘This is not enough. I need to conquer.’”
Kimmel adds that the episode originally only featured one bell announcing the city’s surrender, but that wasn’t enough to capture the moment leading up to Dany’s Mad Queen transformation.
Aside from the main bell audio, which had to sound like the actual bell tower we see in the episode, there’s an entire library of sounds the team chose from to create a frantic symphony as bells across the city cry out in surrender.
“We decided to build it up more,” he says. “As soon as that first bell rang, then a bunch of bells around King’s Landing started to chime in quickly to really announce it.”
Before that happens, the city under siege fills with the sounds of civilians begging their queen, Cersei Lannister, to surrender. Again, creating the audio for this moment involved starting small and slowly expanding into a cacophony of voices.
“Originally it was just one or two calls that echoed in the distance,” Kimmel says, “and it just dramatically seemed like it needed more. So we recorded more voices. Men and women shouting from different parts of King’s Landing. ‘Ring the bells’ and other things like ‘Time to surrender’ and ‘Let the queen know.’”
Once the destruction really begins, Kimmel’s main task was to keep building up the sounds of explosions until it felt like the entire city of King’s Landing was falling apart. The episode begins with basic rock explosions and crumbling, but as Dany becomes increasingly unhinged, those sounds only grow louder.
“As it progresses, the explosions are getting more frequent and larger and closer, and the debris is falling more and more, especially once you get inside the building,” Kimmel says. “Especially with Cleganebowl, as they call it.”
Kimmel and his co-workers actually faced a pretty difficult task. How do you start big and keep getting bigger as the chaos increases? The answer was to just keep adding different types of sounds.
“There were so many layers of rock debris and concrete debris and rock explosions and wood and wildfire explosions and all that,” he says. “Layers upon layers.”
By the time the episode ends with the entire castle collapsing onto Cersei and her twin brother/lover Jaime, it really does sound like the world is ending. And in a way, it is. With just one episode remaining, “The Bells” is likely the last big battle scene for Game of Thrones ever. One final hurrah before the series finale attempts to wrap things up with what’s sure to be a quieter Episode 6, at least by the show’s standards.
After all, there’s still that big, noisy dragon to contend with.
The Game of Thrones series finale airs Sunday, May 19 at 9 p.m. Eastern.