09 “The Dance of Dragons” (Game of Thrones season 5) [SPOILERS]

game of thrones season 5

Episode nine of a series of Game of Thrones is where the exciting stuff happens, traditionally.

That, to be honest, is going to be a bit of a struggle with season five. It has its detractors, but I think that actually it has showcased the very best of the series yet. The darkness is closing in on all sides, and the story marches along like the White Walkers themselves are snapping at its heels.

Quite what can be pulled out of the hat as a season crowning moment remains to be seen. I, for one, will be very disappointed though if it doesn’t see a whole new crowd swearing off the series entirely.

On the road to Winterfell, and faced with the deepening winter, Stannis embraces ever darker and more desperate measures to secure victory. In Braavos, the appearance of an old adversary distracts Arya from serving the Many Faced God. In Dorne, Jaime and Doran negotiate Myrcella’s return. At the Wall, Jon and his Wildling friends receive a frosty welcome. And in Meereen, the Great Games begin.

So, last episode Ramsay persuaded Roose Bolton to let him take 20 men and attack Stannis’ camp. This episode he does it. There’s no big battle, no drama, and in fact we don’t even see him or his 20 men. All we see is fires bursting up across the camp, and a look of horror on Melisandre’s face.

So Stannis is getting desperate. He ignores Ser Davos’ entreaties to return to Castle Black, because he’s so damn determined to win. He does, though, agree to send Davos back to the Wall to command Jon Snow to send him supplies and horses. In exchange King Stannis will give him enough men to man all 19 castles along the wall.

Davos is uneasy, and with good reason. Upset at her father’s despair, Shireen asks what she can do to help. It turns out, she can die.

Shireen being burnt at the stake by Melisandre is one of the most horrible, most harrowing things that Game of Thrones has done in a long while. Her father ignores her desperate pleas for help, even as Selyse cracks and tries to save her, being held back by Stannis’ knights.

So what is this about? Well, Game of Thrones has certainly been getting darker, but Stannis has more and more been looking like a good guy. Which, of course, he isn’t. He’s a maniacally obsessed man, who has no qualms about using dark magic and dark methods to get what he wants: the Iron Throne. And unlike with Mance Rayder, there is no merciful arrow here.

At the Wall, Jon arrives home with those who he managed to save. After a tense standoff, Ser Alliser opens the gates and lets them back through. He’s not happy though, and nor are the men of the watch. There’s some serious resentment going on, and the look on Olly’s face is like murder.

Jon, meanwhile, considers his mission a failure. As those he saved troop by him, those he couldn’t are forefront of his mind.

In Braavos, Arya is still dogging the thin man, selling him oysters each day. Except, today, she spies a ship with Lannister sails coming into the harbour. Mace Tyrell is finally arrived to treat with the Iron Bank, with Meryn Trant in tow. Meryn, you’ll recall, being on Arya’s list.

She follows him to a brothel, and watches him refuse girl after girl for being “too old”. He eventually accepts a distressingly young girl, to the obvious unease of his companions. I think we can see where this is going as far as Arya killing him.

Back at the House of Black and White, she lies to Jaqen that the thin man wasn’t hungry, and he either believes her or just runs with it.

In Dorne, Jaime and Prince Julian Bashir Doran treat over how to resolve their standoff. Doran won’t have Jaime executed, because he does not want to bring the horrors of war on his countrymen. And the threatening message regarding to Myrcella did, clearly, not come from him, but from Oberyn’s paramour Elyria. He agrees that the Princess can return, and his son Trystane will accompany them and take Oberyn’s place on the small council. Trystane agrees to pardon Bronn for striking him, in exchange for Areo Hotah knocking a few of his teeth out.

Doran forgives Elyria her rebellion, but makes clear he won’t tolerate any more. And Elyria and Jaime share a moment over forbidden loves in King’s Landing, both his and Cersei’s and the way her and Oberyn’s was frowned upon.

In Meereen, the Great Games begin, opened by an uncomfortable Daenerys. On the podium with her Hirzac and Daario banter about strength versus speed. When Jorah comes out, Dany refuses to stop the fight when he appears to be losing. Whether that’s faith in him or acceptance of his fate is unclear. But he does triumph, before taking up a spear and hurling it at the royal party

…into the chest of a Son of the Harpy sneaking up behind them.

Dany’s bodyguard are appalling. All of a sudden the crowd is filled with Harpies, who set about butchering everyone else. Despite numerous hints that Hizdahr is behind it all — which Daario clearly suspects — including his late arrival and comment that he was “just making sure everything is in order”, he gets stabbed repeatedly in the chest.

The royal party are herded into the centre of the fighting pit, Daario, Jorah and a handful of unsullied protecting the Queen, and Tyrion even saving Missandei. Only the timely arrival of Drogon saves them, chomping on some harpies and burning a load more. Except for reasons unknown, he stays on the ground while they chuck spears at him. Dany climbs onto his back, and together they fly off into the sky.

So this was an odd episode. There was an awful lot of darkness, but a big triumphant moment to close.

One thing is becoming clear: there is no easy way to victory. Jon has bolstered the Night’s Watch, but will get no thanks for it from his brothers. Stannis may have secured divine aid in his battle, but the price was monstrous. And although she may hope to conquer the seven kingdoms with dragonfire, Drogon’s intervention at the pits is less than decisive.

The night is getting very dark indeed, but to simply say it’s gone “too far” and turn off would be to oversimplify.

Closing thoughts:

  • Prince Julian Bashir Doran’s toast is interesting. “Tommen, first of his name, king of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.” In the books this would have included and the Rhonyar, the people of Dorne. In the book this hasn’t been used. So I can’t tell if Doran omitting it is making a point or not.
  • Mace Tyrell singing. Sweet merciful Jesus.
  • Olly will turn on Jon. Mark my words.
  • The sudden appearance of the Sons of the Harpy in the crowd is extremely creepy and well played.
  • So Dany flies off at the end. What about the others? Are Daario, Jorah, Tyrion, Missandei and the unsullied just left to be butchered?

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