Game of Thrones 5.9: The Dance of Dragons – Review

That was probably the most horrific thing I’ve seen on Game of Thrones, and that includes the Red Wedding.

No coincidentally directed by the same man, David Nutter, this week saw Shireen of the House Baratheon and Stannis’ daughter burned by Melisandre at the stake at her parents’ consent, though her mother Selyse’s fanaticism broke after it was too late and she was watched her child burn alive.

It’s a move that has NOT happened in the books, though it seems likely to happen in the coming sixth book The Winds of Winter and, in the Inside the Episode segment provided by HBO, the writer/producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss expressed shock but understanding when Martin first informed them of Stannis’ dark decision.

It was a gut-punching episode with a horrific turn of events, but it is what the show excels at. As said previously, it pays to remember this is the show that executed Ned Stark in Season 1, Episode 9 and killed his son, wife, and daughter-in-law at a wedding in Season 3, Episode 9. It speaks to the power of the show that these moments still have a punch after years of seeing hope crushed like a watermelon by some dude “The Mountain.”

The Wall: Jon & co.

Jon returns to the Wall with the Wildling survivors of Hardhome – including Wun Wun! – and his remaining Ranger(s). Alliser Thorne is typically less than pleased to see Jon actually succeeded in saving thousands of lives, because they’re Wildling lives. Hopefully after he hears word of the massacre by the White Walker and their wights (the correct term I should have used in my own review. My inner nerd failed me) he’ll ease up on his hardline anti-Wildling attitude. Buuuuuut I’m not holding my breath.

So Jon’s back at Castle Black, Tormund is shepherding the Wildlings onto the Gift, Gilly de-virginized Sam, and the amount of shots of Olly stink-eyeing Jon rose to 2,807 today. Like the Shireen thing (much more on that below), the subtly wore off a while ago. In any case, that is the state of the Wall going into next week’s finale. Next!

The Road to Winterfell: Stannis & co.

Ramsay’s nighttime raid actually works (goddamn, I can’t wait for something to not go this fucker’s way), successfully burning precious food and siege equipment at Stannis’ encampment. Amid the smoking ruins of burnt tents, Davos tells Stannis they no longer has the option of going back to Castle Black and the way ahead to Winterfell is, as Roose Bolton said last week, snowed-in. Stannis is backed against a corner. What is he going to do?

Selyse, who from the beginning has been one of the shittiest mothers on the show (saying something) by constantly ragging her daughter for not being a son, for being scarred at birth with greyscale etc. Her fanaticism was always in contrast to Stannis who, despite his black-and-white worldview, had always seemed to be paternally protective of his precocious daughter. This season’s “You are Shireen of the House Baratheon and you are my daughter” scene was amongst the most popular (presumably until tonight). Just in his last appearance, he appeared disgusted at Melisandre’s suggestion of sacrificing Shireen for victory the coming battle.

All misdirection, because Stannis starts this week by sending off his moral compass Davos, who has a softspot for the princess who taught him to read. Despite reservations, Davos accepts the king’s mission to return to Castle Black to request additional supplies. He visits Shireen one last time, dripping with all the trappings of a last meeting: a promise to talk next time, a final look etc.

It’s been no secret Stannis’ wife and now Melisandre wanted Shireen on fire. The only person standing in the way was Stannis’ fatherly instincts. But this episode definitively portrayed that Stannis refused to be confined by moral restrictions. In his warped view, the ends do justify the means. He must sit the Iron Throne. Anything else, including the life of his daughter, is secondary.

I have to admit, I’ve loved Stannis since I read his character in the books. My heart doesn’t pound easily but Shireen’s sacrifice got my heart pumping as much as Mad Max: Fury Road. It was clear, the path was paved, but still I didn’t want to believe it. Stannis is a unforgiving, uncompromising man but he wouldn’t betray the idea of family. He wouldn’t become a kinslayer. He would’t burn a child in front of his ENTIRE army, like her screams would be pump-up music. They can’t all be religious fanatics, right?

But he would and he did. And in the last instant, the wife who had arguably put the idea in his head in the first place, who had rejected her daughter as a failure, in the moment, rediscovered her maternal instincts. All it took was the mortal danger of her daughter’s death by immolation. But it’s far too late. This was always going to happen.

The scene was expertly shot, I must say, as tasteful as it could be for as horrific the subject matter was. I guarantee it won’t have the reaction to this that viewers had to Sansa Stark’s sexual assault in Episode 6. What that says about us as viewers is up for debate.

The saddest fact we’re left with – other than the horrible feeling from Shireen’sdeath – is that Stannis has leaped across the Moral Event Horizon. Once a character passes it, there is nothing that can be done to redeem the character, at least in the eyes of others. For Stannis, I can say unequivocally that burning your own daughter at the stake on faith magic will ensure victory is the point-of-no-return. Stannis, a previous favorite, gave up his soul today. He is damned. All that’s left is his battle with the even-worse Boltons, the House of the Flayed Man.

In Westeros, the phrase “lesser of two evils” takes a whole other meaning.

Dorne: Jaime & Doran

This Dorne storyline has been less-than-thrilling. You know, let’s be blunt: it sucks. Whereas in the books, Jaime goes about the Riverlands settling wartime disputes, here he’s been on a rescue mission that’s not much of a rescue mission against enemies who aren’t very effective enemies. The Sand Snakes have been one-note; Ellaria’s villainy cartoonish, Doran’s done absolutely zilch in his wheelchair except send his personal axeman Areo Hotah to break up a fight filmed like the cinematographer had a stroke prior to setting up the shots. This week, we’ll get a bomb-drop, a justification for all our time in Dorne right?

Wrong.

Instead, we get more cat-calling between the Sand Snakes, Bronn, Doran, Ellaria and I just couldn’t care less at this point. The characters aren’t interesting. What they’re saying isn’t interesting and the big plot twist that happened in the books in regard to Dorne hasn’t happened in any shape or form, nor has it been foreshadowed like, say, Shireen’s death was. Let’s sum up this week, in Dorne:

Jaime negotiates the return of Myrcella in return for Doran’s son Trystane’s accompaniment and a seat on the Small Council. Ellaria’s still pissed and storms off. He even freed Bronn, who escaped punishment minus a punch from Doran’s axeman Areo Hotah for hitting Trystane a couple weeks ago. Later, Doran asks for Ellaria’s loyalty on pain of death. She acquiesces, kissing her prince’s ring before visiting a letter-writing Jaime. She reveals she knows the truth of Jaime and Cersei’s relationship but she doesn’t judge him. In fact, she says she finally realizes neither Jaime nor Myrcella were responsible for Oberyn’s death last season. The resolution is so nonviolent I just don’t believe it. Does that say worse things about the show or me?

The worst part though? I bet you a million dollars this was the end of the Dorne story this year. Next week, they’ll most likely sit out. I can’t describe how aggravating I find this storyline.

Braavos: Arya, Mace Tyrell & Meryn Trant

Arya’s mission to assassinate last week’s unscrupulous gambler goes awry pretty quickly. She spots Mace Tyrell meeting with Tycho Nestoris, who we met last season when Davos convinced him to give financial backing to Stannis’ campaign for the Iron Throne. Accompanying him is Arya Kill List Victim #4: Meryn Trant.

She abandons her regular oyster-and-clam route and follows Tyrell to the Iron Bank, where he annoys the fuck out of Nestoris and Trant. Nothing relevant learned on the Iron Bank front. That’s disappointing after Tywin built them up last season as a credible threat. I have to assume they still have a part to play, but know would have been a good time for a little peak behind the curtain.

Arya follows Trant and a couple Lannister red-cloaks to a Braavosi brothel. There she finds Trant indulging in his pleasure, but “unfortunately” none of the women are young enough. We got a pedophile here. He finally finds one to his liking but not before spotting Arya and giving a look like a fly was buzzing too close to his face. The only comfort in this scene is that we know, deep down, he will be dead next week.

Honestly, he should be dead now, pedophile child-beater he is. For as great and emotional as the episode’s two big finale sequences were, the drapings around the episode was disappointing and lackluster. I can’t say I’m pleased entirely. But make no mistake: Shireen’s sacrifice is one of the most powerful scenes of the season and the ruckus in Meereen comes to a satisfying climax.

Meereen: Daenerys & Tyrion, Jorah

Daenerys watches with their retinue which now includes Tyrion, proving that adding Dinklage to any storyline is like adding The Rock to your movie franchise. Dany’s new betrothed Hizdahr zo Loraq is suspiciously late to the opening of the games.

There’s some good banter about tradition and ruling between Dany and Hizdahr, with some Tyrion interjections and a humorous bit where Daario acts a third wheel to the king and queen’s conversation. It’s a lull and it works because when we hear Jorah’s voice, it’s a surprise for us, just like Dany.

Jorah, suicidal after his second exile from Daenerys and growing greyscale infection, is competing in the massive opening of the fighting pits in the coliseum Daznak’s Pit, presumably after some dude named Daznak. The looks shared between Emilia Clarke and Iain Glen, reflecting their previous 5 years of being essentially on their own show, are powerful as ever. She claps, beginning the match.

It’s brilliantly choreographed and heart-pounding but ultimately, Mormont is victorious. The crowd hates the foreigner who won. They call for his death. Before Dany has to make that decision, Jorah grabs a spear and hurls it at her pulpit suddenly. It kills a Son of the Harpy preparing to assassinate Dany. Suddenly, Daario sees Sons of all kind of freaking Harpies come out of the woodwork, like the Jedi on Geonosis in Episode II.

Chaos envelops the stadium. Mass murder is taking place. There is a ridiculous amount of Harpies and a dwindling supply of Unsullied. Hizdahr is unceremoniously stabbed to death escaping while Jorah successfully reunites with Dany as her protector once more. But not before long, Dany and her group are surrounded in the arena. They are hopelessly outnumbered. In the moment, Dany accepts her fate . . . and Drogon shows up in a blaze of flame.

The budget for this show must be enormous now and it shows. After last week’s amazing Hardhome battle and this week’s dragon action, it is entertainment on a level TV has never attempted before. The coliseum sequence was awe-inspiring. Dany, with her Targaryen blood, has a deep connection to her dragons, particularly Drogon, the largest and fiercest. She climbs on his back and rides him out of the arena, taking flight about Meereen to parts unknown. Tyrion, along with Jorah, Daario, and Missandei, watch with the awe I felt.

MISSING THIS WEEK: We didn’t see Winterfell or King’s Landing this week, a rarity. Varys remains in the wind, no doubt waiting to make a big appearance in next week’s finale (*wink*wink). And once again, let us reiterate: no gives a FUCK about the Greyjoys.

NEXT WEEK: 

Episode #50: “Mother’s Mercy” (season finale)
Stannis marches. Dany is surrounded by strangers. Cersei seeks forgiveness. Jon is challenged.

Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss; directed by David Nutter.

 Airs Sunday, June 14 at 9 p.m. EST 

Here we are. The end. We fear it every June, when each Thrones finale is upon us. Last year’s “The Children” was nominated for Emmys but went over less well with fans. I’ll save all my speculation for following the finale.

This one’s titled “Mother’s Mercy” and, from the synopsis, we’ll finally see the Stannis and Bolton confrontation. Dany will be surrounded by “strangers” who, I’ll give you a hint, like to ride horses. Like a lot. Meanwhile, Cersei will have a huge moment and something very unexpected will happen at Castle Black. Beyond that, keep safe, my fellow bannermen. As tonight’s episode showed, the night is dark and full of terrors.

About Sam Flynn

Wasting oxygen since 1992, Sam thanks the gods he doesn't believe in everyday his parents didn't discard him as an infant. It would have been the sensible thing to do.
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7 Responses to Game of Thrones 5.9: The Dance of Dragons – Review

  1. I’ll have to rewrite my post then. I’d defended GRRM, saying, “Well folks, you all said it’d be great when the show deviates from the books but look what happens when the man in the sailor’s hat isn’t doing the writing” but apparently then it was upcoming in the next book?

    I get this is a show that shows the brutality of medieval times and pulls no punches but…come on…

    • Sam Flynn says:

      You’re referring to Benioff saying Shireen’s burning was Martin’s idea, correct? If so, you’re right, the Inside the Episode segment where he says it will be on YouTube by tomorrow I’m sure, if it isn’t already.

      It’s tough dude I agree! I’m not one to be squeamish because as a writer, I know from practice writing fiction you got be true to reality no matter how bleak, but even I was like Whoa, partially because it hadn’t happened in the books and partially because I was still in denial that Stannis, who I previously was a fan of, would leap off the moral cliff like that. But my affection for him blinded me to his religious fanaticism. Gotta hand it to Game of Thrones for breaking through this writer’s hardened shell, so I give them props, even though my props are covered in tears.

      • I also didn’t like that whole brothel scene. Seeing Arya walk into a house of ill repute, just seemed disturbing to me to see a child actor in that setting. Between that and what happened to Shireen I was just left feeling like someone made an odd decision like “let’s heap as much abuse on the kids as we can tonight!”

        • Sam Flynn says:

          Yeah, when the writers didn’t have Arya kill him in this episode mystified me. Why drag it out until the finale? Between that story and the total dud that was Dorne this season, the episode was really love/hate for me, more so than any episode this season including the controversial sixth episode with the Ramsay and Sansa rape scene.

  2. Pingback: Game of Thrones 5.10: Mother’s Mercy – Review | Sam Flynn's Slog

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