Game of Thrones S5E9 “The Dance of Dragons”
As the now sadly deceased Princess Shireen Baratheon told us in the episode, the Dance of Dragons was a civil war in Westeros that tore apart the country and tore apart House Targaryen, which was on both sides of the conflict. That turns out to be a very fitting name for this penultimate episode of season five of Game of Thrones because there are civil conflicts everywhere. As we know by now, Jon’s decision to bring the free folk south of the wall creates major tension within the night’s watch. Dany’s decision to peacefully confront the class conflict in Meereen nearly gets her killed, and then there’s Stannis who’s brought to the awful decision of whether his daughter’s life is worth more than everyone in his army. But that’s leadership, all three of them are in a leader position and it’s almost always going to lead to difficult decisions. Along with those, “The Dance of Dragons” brings us Arya regressing in her training, and a seeming end to the much criticized plot line in Dorne. We’ll talk about it all, starting now.
I suppose we’ll start in Dorne. Jaime Lannister is escorted into a rather nice room in the Water Gardens where Prince Doran, Ellaria, Trystane, and Myrcella are already present. After some unneeded small talk, Prince Doran gets down to business and asks Jaime why if he had the king’s orders, why he needed to kidnap Myrcella instead of sending a raven or meeting with him personally to explain. Jaime defends the failed plan by citing the threatening letter with Myrcella’s necklace. Doran quickly realizes that was the work of Ellaria, and not wanting conflict, decides to defuse the situation. He allows Myrcella to return to King’s Landing on the condition that she and Trystane’s engagement continues. Trystane will come with Myrcella to the capital and take the vacant spot on the small council that was left by Oberyn. Jaime finds the terms agreeable and consents to the proposal.
They all drink a toast to Tommen and the peaceful end to their conflict but Ellaria isn’t having any of it, and pours her wine on the floor to make a statement. She angrily leaves, telling Doran the reason he can’t stand is that he has no spine. Doran threatens her, saying if she ever speaks like that to him again, it will be the last time she ever speaks. To make sure this is truly behind them, Doran provides an ultimatum to Ellaria. Swear her his allegiance and never pull a stunt like she tried to again, or be killed. Ellaria tearfully bends the knee, deciding to swear her loyalty to Doran. Ellaria also apologizes to Jaime for antagonizing the Lannisters for Oberyn’s death, saying it wasn’t really their fault (that was obvious to everyone except her). Ellaria leaves as Jaime contemplates what just happened, sort of like how the viewer feels watching this mess of a plot line seemingly come to an anticlimactic conclusion.
Braavos is up next where Lanna finds herself being a whole lot closer to Arya than “no one”. Arya is continuing her training and today marks a big day as she is to kill the thin man with poisoned oysters. She comes pretty close to the thin man who yells at her for not coming his way. Arya is ignoring him because she spots someone from her past. Ser Meryn Trant (and Mace Tyrell) have arrived in Braavos and this goes a long way to show you that Arya is not ready to give up her identity yet. Arya’s kill list was such a large part of her throughout the show’s run and now that she’s been given an opportunity to follow through on her list, there’s not really a hard choice for Arya here.
Arya spends the day following Meryn around Braavos and it eventually leads her into a brothel. Here Arya learns that Meryn is sexually attracted to teenaged girls who haven’t fully developed (as if you need another reason to dislike him). Arya is kicked out of the brothel but I reckon the information she learned in there was important because that was the only extended scene of the stalking mission of sorts. Arya returns to the House of Black and White where Jaqen awaits the results of her mission with the thin man. Arya lies and says that the thin man wasn’t hungry. Jaqen quips perhaps lack of appetite is why the man is thin but you don’t really get the feeling Arya sold the lie well enough. Whether Jaqen doesn’t know, or just let it slide, he allows Arya’s request to try again tomorrow. So will it be the thin man or Meryn tomorrow? My money’s on Meryn.
After the massacre at Hardhome, Jon, Edd, Tormund, the free folk they rescued complete their long journey to the wall when they make it to the gate of Castle Black. Atop the wall, Thorne tensely stares down the group Jon has brought back to them and after a minute, reluctantly orders the gate to be opened. As the wildlings walk through Castle Black, Jon laments to Sam that the mission was a complete failure. Sam reminds him that they’re talking about human lives here, and thanks to him, every single wildling that is walking through their gates is alive when they would have died back at Hardhome without him. Thorne coldly tells Jon that he has a good heart, and that it’s going to end up getting them all killed. Thorne is most definitely not a happy camper.
The march to Winterfell for Stannis has hit an abrupt halt. In the night, Ramsay and his twenty good men arrived and destroyed the camp, setting supplies, siege weapons, and horses on fire. Recapping the situation the next day, Davos tells Stannis they’re only option is to retreat to Castle Black because they don’t have enough food to wait out the blizzard and don’t have enough food to make it to Winterfell. Stannis however, has come to the uncomfortable decision that Mel is going to have her way and they’re going to sacrifice Shireen. Knowing that Davos would stop at nothing to stop the sacrifice, Stannis orders Davos to go back to Castle Black and ask Jon to resupply them. The always calculating Davos questions the move, saying that even if he succeeds, he likely won’t make it back in time but Stannis is as stern as ever and commands him to go. Davos says his goodbyes to Shireen, not even remotely aware that this will be a final goodbye. Davos hands her the wooden stag toy he’s been carving as a gift for everything she’s done for him. He tells her he looks forward to hearing more about the book she’s reading (The Dance of Dragons) when he returns from his small trip to Castle Black.
Stannis stops by Shireen’s tent sometime later and finds her reading the same book as before. Shireen recounts how the two sides from the book destroyed their house and the country in their conflict and says she wouldn’t have picked any side when Stannis asks her which side she would have picked. Stannis uncomfortably says that sometimes the world doesn’t allow a man to choose and that he has to do something, no matter how much he hates it. Shireen asks Stannis to allow her to help him. Even if she wasn’t willing to help, this sacrifice was going to happen anyway but her willingness to help makes it all the more tragic. Stannis hugs his daughter and whispers forgive me.
Shireen is escorted out of her tent sometime later and people have lined up a path of sorts as Shireen wonders what exactly is going on. As she walks down the path, she sees Melisandre and a huge pyre at the end of it. Realizing what’s going on, Shireen immediately asks for her father to stop this but she is forcibly put on the pyre. Mel goes through her typical chanting routine as Shireen begs her mother and father to stop the proceedings. Stannis and Selyse watch on as Selyse tries to tell herself and her husband that this is the right thing to do. But when the fire is lit, Queen Selyse hits a breaking point. She’s been an awful mother to Shireen her whole life but she now realizes that she’s willingly watching her own daughter burn alive. She tries to rush to the pyre, begging for the sacrifice to be stopped but it’s too little too late. Shireen’s horrifying yells for help go silent as Stannis can hardly watch anymore and Selyse breaks down on the floor sobbing. As Mel would say, if it doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s no true sacrifice. By that definition, this was a very true sacrifice.
We conclude things in Mereen, where Dany, Hizdahr, Tyrion, Daario, and Missandei spectate opening day of the fighting season in Meereen’s great stadium, Dany reluctantly claps to get things underway while there is mixed reaction in her entourage. Tyrion shares Dany’s disgust of the events while Daario and Hizdahr wager against each other on who they think will win (Hizdahr wins). The games continue and a group melee takes center stage, one of the contestants being Jorah. Dany tensely stares at him and then decides to clap, letting Jorah’s fate be decided in the pit. Things go rather mediocre for Jorah who is getting up there in age after all. A Braavosi water dancer has him facing death but wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings and gets killed from behind. Jorah manages to beat the guy who saved him and wins the melee! No time for celebrating though because Jorah spots a son of the harpy on the royal stage, trying to assassinate Dany. Jorah throws a spear and manages to kill the harpy. Way to go Jorah.
There’s hardly time to investigate the scene to see just how the harpy got that far because this isn’t a one person act. Dany looks around the stadium and sees this is a massive terrorist act, there’s more harpies than there are civilians in attendance. Hizdahr tries to lead the way to safety through the fighting tunnel but is stabbed in the process, confirming that he wasn’t in with the terrorist group. Daario tries to lead the group to the other exit but it’s really no use. They get stuck dead center in the ring and they are severely outnumbered. Dany seems to actually come to terms with the fact that she’s going to die, and takes Missandei’s hand as she closes her eyes. She’s got some more living to do though because an unexpected turn of events changes everything. Drogon is heard roaring ferociously nearby and as everyone looks around to see where he is, Drogon dramatically flies into the pit to save her mother. Most of the harpy flee on site while others decide to fight on. The fighters actually aren’t as screwed as you would think, a stationary dragon is actually a pretty easy target. Plenty of spears end up piercing Drogon and Dany can see that things are only going to get worse if Drogon stays. Dany summons the courage to climb on Drogon and command him to fly. Drogon takes to the skies as Dany leaves the stadium and the city of Meereen behind, leaving Jorah, Daario, Missandei, and Tyrion behind to stare in awe at what they just witnessed.
We’ll start with Stannis. I don’t think his decision went against his character. Stannis has always been about duty. On this march of nightmares, Stannis is responsible for the wellbeing of his troops, who for many reasons are doing very poorly. Mel’s sacrifices have worked in the past and Stannis in his own mind, was being selfless, sacrificing his daughter for the wellbeing of everyone else. It doesn’t take away from the horror of it though. It doesn’t change the fact that Mel is probably evil for smiling through the entire affair, and it doesn’t change the fact that there are still some major questions to be answered. Who will be Stannis’ heir if the sacrifice works and they take back the throne? Will some troops leave the camp after the horror they just witnessed? I know Stannis did it for the wellbeing of his troops, but most people aren’t likely to react positively to watching a father burn his daughter alive.
Dany’s departure from Meereen is breathtaking, but it’s going to leave some unresolved issues. It didn’t really solve anything long term. Dany is likely flying far away (no way Drogon is dropping her off somewhere in Meereen) while her city is in the middle of a civil conflict that has turned extremely bloody. Tyrion came to advise, but it’s looking like he’s going to do some ruling, serving as an acting king in Dany’s absence. Good thing he’s got experience doing basically the same thing in King’s Landing.
No King’s Landing may seem like an odd choice but our strongest (not literally) characters in the capital are Cersei and Margaery, who are both in prison. We likely would have just seen more of the same prison scenes. I guarantee the capital will feature in the finale, and one of our two imprisoned queens will have a significant scene.
Olly gave Jon a mean death stare. Come on Olly, Jon rarely ever smiles, and the one time he does, you’re going to give him that look? Who knows the next time Jon’s going to flash some teeth?
It’s rather odd that Jon and the wildling’s had a tense moment with Thorne north of Castle Black because that’s not how they got to Hardhome. They traveled the wall on its south side to the Night’s Watch castle/port of Eastwatch by the Sea and sailed to Hardhome from there. Why they would change routes and go along the much more dangerous north side of the wall is rather questionable. After what they’ve seen, you think they’d want to get on the south side of the wall as soon as possible.
In news that surprises no one, Mace Tyrell is a singing kind of man. Mace singing through the streets of Braavos was awesome. Hope to see more of it in the finale.
Nearly forgot, Prince Trystane showed Bronn mercy and granted him his freedom, on one condition of course. The condition is a mean elbow to the face by Areo Hotah. Bronn can’t complain though, he did strike a prince after all.
“The Dance of Dragons” proves to be a rather grim episode of Game of Thrones, featuring a terrorist attack, and a ruthless sacrifice that we won’t soon forget.