“The Dance of Dragons” was a decent episode, but it was slightly disappointing considering how late on we are in the season. For the majority of its run time it was dark and cold, but it ended with a moment of hope in which Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) really felt like this series’ protagonist again. However, this part of the episode was actually pretty weak for me, not because of the special effects, but because the dialogue and action sequences were sloppily executed.
I thought it was interesting that the episode opened with fire raining down on Stannis (Stephen Dillane), because he uses fire to his advantage so often and worships his god by utilising it. Also, Stannis’ arc in this episode ended with fire as he put his own daughter to the torch, which brought things around full circle – I’ll dig into that scene in more detail, but for now I’ll just say that I enjoyed how it was signposted at the start of the episode, and how Ramsay’s (Iwan Rheon) actions inadvertently caused Shireen’s (Kerry Ingram) death.
I liked all the scenes in The North this week, because the scenery looked beautiful and everything had the same bleak atmosphere. Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) return to The Wall was very tense, as he appealed to Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) for entry through the gates. I was surprised that Alliser was so quick to allow Jon through said gates, because I thought that moment could’ve been drawn out for a little bit longer, as we know that most of Jon’s brothers don’t want to live amongst the Wildlings. Right now things are very precarious for Jon, he’s making friends of his enemies and enemies of his friends, and he can’t trust either party.
Another group that weren’t very happy this week was the Baratheon army. Stannis’ appearance this week was haunting, and his actions were absolutely horrific. To see Shireen die in such a horrible way, at the hands of her father, was very distressing and destroyed any notion of heroism that we might attach to Stannis. It wasn’t as bad as some people have made out, because we’ve seen this sort of thing before and we shouldn’t be so selective about when it’s disturbing, but when something so nasty happens to a child it is hard to watch.
The reason that people have been so affected by this scene is that the writers have worked hard to position Stannis as a possible protagonist this year; they’ve also done a similar level of work in attempting to create a positive relationship between the audience and Shireen. In my opinion, those who are complaining about this scene are actually complementing everyone involved, because they’re basically telling the showrunners that their plans have worked and Stannis’ scenes have had their desired effect.
Of all the character arcs this season I think that Stannis’ has been the best, so I was conflicted when I saw this scene – was it in keeping with the Stannis that we’ve grown attached to during season five? Well, no… but that’s not to say that character continuity has been broken.
Over the course of the last nine episodes Stannis has come across in a more positive light because he’s been fighting for what seemed to be a just cause, to take the Iron Throne (which rightfully belongs to him) and protect the world from a White Walker invasion. Plus, he’s been friendly (in his own way) with one of the most beloved characters on the show, Jon Snow, so by extension he’s been more likeable. However, this doesn’t change what Stannis really is – brutal, aggressive, and cold. It seems like over the course of this season we’ve forgotten about the terrible things that Stannis has done previously, and we’ve also overlooked the fact that he burned another important character alive at the start of the season.
Stannis is a worshipper of dark magic and a murderer, so his actions in this episode make complete sense with his character as established on the show. Killing his own daughter might’ve been a level above the horrendous crimes he’s committed thus far, but his situation is also more dire; he finds himself hungry, freezing, and walking into battle unprepared, so his actions reflect that. He believes that if he succumbs to the Boltons and fails to take the throne then the whole world will be under threat – in his mind only he can save it from the White Walkers, he’s a god on earth. He’s a slave to his own ego, to the legacy that he believes is his right, and he truly believes he has no choice as far as Shireen is concerned.
Dillane’s performance was once again fantastic here – the way he sluggishly closed his eyes whilst blinking and let his head fall every now and again made everything he did appear incredibly laboured. He looked so tired and distant, a shell of the man that had left The Wall, and that was exactly what was required of him in order to convey to the audience that Stannis had reached the point of no return. Stannis’ confidence was drained and so was his spirit, which Dillane portrayed perfectly.
Speculation is ripe regarding the repercussions of Shireen’s death, with a few different theories floating around. Shireen’s death is supposed to give Stannis an advantage, so most theories are going down that route; if that’s the way things are going to play out then there are a couple of avenues that the narrative could take:
- Things don’t have to be tangible for Stannis to gain an advantage; it could just be that his men feel rejuvenated, or that the weather becomes less harsh. Personally, I don’t think that time would’ve been wasted killing off Shireen if there wasn’t going to be an exciting pay-off, but my point is that although the Lord of Light should be on Stannis’ side, that doesn’t mean that something massive has to happen on screen.
- (SPOILER ALERT) There’s a chance that certain characters from the books will be revived as a result of the magic, characters that would inadvertently help Stannis in his war against the Boltons. One possibility here is that Lady Stoneheart will be introduced. I won’t go into too much detail about the character, because there’s a chance that people could stumble on this paragraph without reading the spoiler warning, but let’s just say that she’d have a big problem with how Sansa (Sophie Turner) has been treated this year. People wanted her to be in the finale last year, so the writers might’ve worked her into the story this time around, which I think would work really nicely given where Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) is at the moment.
Things could also work against Stannis, because despite the fact that he’s pleased the Red God there’s no assurance that he’ll be helped. I’m actually hoping that Ramsay will come out on top now, because this would hurt Stannis so much, and I believe that it would make for some fantastic scenes.
What I really want from this story is for Melisandre to betray Stannis – I keep getting that kind of vibe from her, so I’d like the twist in this story to be that she’s working against him for another cause. I thought that she’d sacrifice Shireen without Stannis’ consent after he initially balked at her plan, but now I’m hoping that she’s using her magic to solve an unrelated problem she’s seen in the fire.
(SPOILER ALERT FOR THE FINALE AND THE BOOKS) I don’t want to be overly specific, because what I’m writing about might not happen in the finale, and it really shouldn’t be spoilt, so let’s just say that by the end of the season Jon Snow might need some dark magic. If he does, this could be the real reason that Melisandre wanted to sacrifice Shireen.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Jon Snow may have royal blood, and I doubt that this was hinted at earlier in the season if it wasn’t going to count for something by the end. What if Melisandre wanted to keep Jon safe, so had Shireen killed to protect him? I think this would be amazing to see in the finale, because Stannis could fail in his battle against the Boltons and then we could cut to Jon Snow’s last scene, somehow aware of Melisandre’s scheme. It would be a crazy way to end the season, and I think this kind of twist is what’s needed to elevate the season to another level.
In Braavos, Arya’s (Maisie Williams) story was connected to events elsewhere by the inclusion of Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie). His appearance in this episode has given things a bit of impetus in Braavos, because we couldn’t really hate the thin man that Arya was tasked to kill. We don’t know a lot about him, and frankly we don’t have time to find out who he is – Arya’s arc needs to kick on and get out of first gear, so fleshing out side characters just won’t do right now (the finale is next week after all). By bringing a disgusting character into the story, a man that Arya personally hates, it creates friction between the duties that she has to the Many-Faced God and her own desires, and also gives the audience a reason to care about her actions.
I did enjoy Arya’s scenes this week, and I really do want to see Trant get what he deserves following his clear villainy in the brothel. At least now I’m somewhat invested in how things will play out in Braavos, but I’m still not excited for those moments – does anyone really believe that Trant will get the better of Arya?
Events in Dorne once again took away from the episode, as previous actions in the region were spat on, and it was revealed that nothing that’s happened so far will have any significance whatsoever. After nine episodes the storyline has barely moved – everything that’s happened in Dorne could’ve taken place in one episode! The stakes feel so low that it’s almost laughable; Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) wasn’t harmed for his conspiracy to kidnap Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free), and likewise Ellaria (Indira Varma) was given a pass despite her intention to murder the Princess. Jaime is now going to leave with exactly what he wanted, which basically means that he should’ve walked up to Doran (Alexander Siddig) and asked for Myrcella’s release.
Of course, Doran may have an ulterior motive, in fact it’s likely that he does given the fact that he sent Trystane (Toby Sebastian) back to King’s Landing, but that doesn’t make things feel any more exciting for the time being. Whatever plan Doran has is likely to be put on the backburner whilst Cersei’s (Lena Headey) life hangs in the balance, so we’re going to have to wait for the Dorne storyline to pick up, presuming it ever will.
I’ve yet to discuss what I assume was meant to be the iconic episode nine moment, namely Daenerys’ escape from the fighting pits on the back of her dragon Drogon, so I suppose I’d better get into it. I loved the conversations that were taking place between Hizdahr (Joel Fry), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Daario (Michiel Huisman), and Daenerys, but I thought the last ten minutes were quite poor. That might not be a popular opinion, but I’m not just trying to go against the crowd or nit-pick, I truly didn’t like what I was watching.
First of all, I should say that my issue isn’t with the CGI. I didn’t like the moment at which Daenerys climbed atop Drogon, because I thought the way that it was designed was a bit silly – it was far too clear that what we were watching was computer generated, and it really didn’t have to be, because the camera didn’t need to linger on Daenerys so much. However, I want to stress that I didn’t think it was terrible, I can forgive thirty seconds of dodgy CGI, especially given that it was preceded by some pretty good CGI, and a lot of the budget must’ve been spent on episode eight.
What I took issue with in the last ten minutes was the fact that a lot of what happened was just plain unbelievable, and the characters relied more on dumb luck than on their wit. I have two main problems, and although they concern the finer details, I believe that they are quite damning. The first is that Jorah (Iain Glen) threw his spear at Daenerys… DIRECTLY at her! He didn’t throw it just to the side or inches above her, he relied on her moving out of the way in order to hit the Harpy assassin, yet he couldn’t be certain that she’d be able to move. He could’ve killed her easily yet he just threw it!
My second problem is that Daenerys’ moment with Drogon allowed far too much time for someone to stab her to death, or for her to be impaled by a spear. The Harpy’s were all around the arena, they could’ve attacked from any angle, so I’m yet to understand why Daenerys thought she had time to stand still and look into her child’s eyes. In this heartfelt moment she should’ve died 100 times over! Not only that, but someone decided it would be a good idea to run up to Drogon and stab him with a spear when his back was turned, even though Daenerys was right there behind him! That was the perfect moment to kill her and liberate Meereen from her leadership, yet he wasted it giving the dragon a pointless scratch. (Oh, and if you’re going to say that Drogon was shielding Daenerys then I just plain disagree. Daario threw something at a Harpy in the exact direction that a spear could’ve flown towards Daenerys – she wasn’t attacked because the story didn’t dictate that she should be).
As a moment on the show it will serve a useful purpose, because now Daenerys might do something about the Meereen problem; she could leave and let things revert back to how they were before, or she could have all those who oppose her burnt alive, but she can’t carry on doing what she was doing before. I don’t really care what she does as long as her story doesn’t stagnate any further – I just want her to move on.
I should also quickly note that there was a line of dialogue which I’m 99.9% certain was written or read incorrectly. Tyrion said to Hizdahr, ‘you’re an eloquent man, doesn’t mean you’re wrong’… forgive me if I’m the one who is wrong, but shouldn’t it have been ‘doesn’t mean you’re right’? How did that get past editing?
One thing I haven’t touched on is Hizdahr’s stabbing at the hands of the Harpy. This was a genuine surprise for me, because I truly believed that he was their leader. Everything was in place for another Red Wedding moment; Hizdahr had his chance to be the one to kill Daenerys, and it would’ve been fascinating to see him try. If he’s really dead then I don’t know why he didn’t try to kill her, because he could’ve easily pulled out a dagger and thus been the one that Jorah threw his spear towards. That reveal would’ve had a greater impact than a random Harpy being killed, so I have to assume that in reality Hizdahr has survived.
Overall, this was a disappointing episode considering the record that “Game of Thrones” has when it comes to their penultimate episodes. I still think that Dorne has been wasted this season, and scenes in Braavos carry less weight than those scenes happening elsewhere. In my opinion Stannis’ scenes in this episode made it more memorable than its overall quality gave it any right to be, and I don’t think that one character’s decent arc is enough to make an episode great on the whole. The fighting pits finale was an important scene and it did a lot for Daenerys’ story, but personally I didn’t think it was done very well, so it left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.