‘The Dance Of Dragons’
Following last week’s incredible episode, the question was whether this week would live up to its ‘episode nine’ billing and deliver thrills and spills in equal measure. I’d say it did, as we got some truly shocking moments, or rather, one shocking moment and a bunch of other strong ones. With the visually striking end scene of Dany riding off on Drogon’s back, it almost felt a bit more like an ‘episode ten’, just due to the fact that the show always ends each season with a memorable and significant image (Dany emerging from the flames with the three dragons, or a glimpse of the Wights and White Walkers, for example).
Starting with Dany and given how much screen time she was given this week, it may well end up being the last we see of her this season, with that emphatic scene forming quite a nice bookend. Regardless of what happens next, what we just saw was strong, if simplistic. By giving the reopening of the fighting pits such a lengthy build-up over the last few episodes, it feels as if we know how each character feels about them already. The dialogue didn’t really further the characters, other than for Hizdahr zo Loraq to briefly grow in confidence, just before meeting his untimely end. The moment we heard Jorah’s voice however, the scene was elevated immensely.
With Jorah in the mix again, we saw a very conflicted Dany. On the one hand, she knew the time to close the fighting pits had been and gone; opening them only to change her mind again would cause even more damage and surely show weakness. Yet she also knew it went against everything she thought she stood for. And then we saw her struggling with her emotions toward Jorah. She wanted him to die for his betrayal, yet she was visibly disturbed by his appearance in the fighting put. Dany’s fight with her emotions was palpable and this is a testament to the oft overlooked Emilia Clarke, who never seems to have the same degree of praise bestowed upon her as some of her cast mates.
In terms of the big action – Jorah spearing the encroaching Harpy and gaining redemption, and half the crowd somehow smuggling in their gold Harpy masks without anybody noticing (is gold so cheap in Mereen that they can afford all those masks by the way?) – it all played out rather well. It couldn’t possibly be on par with last week’s Hardhome sequence, but it held it’s own nevertheless, and the appearance of Drogon was a great moment. It’s also interesting for Drogon to now be portrayed as less than invincible. The whole thrust of Dany’s part of the show has mostly been built on the assumption that her dragons are so mighty that they could easily rip apart whole armies. Yet here, it seemed as if those few Harpy spears actually caused some damage.
We’ll leave Dany now though, to talk about what I’d consider the most important moment of the episode, as Stannis made a massive decision. I remember writing a couple of weeks ago that this would be a point of no return should he have Shireen killed, and here we are. The scene itself was as horrible as could be expected, seeing a child tied to a stake, on her own fathers command, as he stood and watched. It was heartbreaking to see that it took such tragedy to shake Selyse from the spell she had been under; only as she watched her daughter burn did she realise the error of her ways and the gravity of what was happening.
Stannis, however, showed no such remorse, and it does sort of deflate his character. Of course, this has never been a mythology that takes the wishes of the audience into consideration, but we were just starting to like this character. Stannis has gone from an ever-fluctuating shade of grey – moving between compassionate and steadfast – to pure black in the space of a single episode. How does he redeem himself from here? If Theon is seen as irredeemable for betraying his stepfamily and killing (or pretending to) his adopted brothers, then surely Stannis is even worse for killing his only child.
Next week needs to show a big payoff in terms of Melisandre’s powers, while Stannis himself surely has to fall apart a bit. It also adds a new complexity to the coming Baratheon-Bolton battle, given that it’s gone from being ‘basically good’ vs evil to ‘very questionably good’ vs evil.
Meanwhile, we got a few brief developments elsewhere. Arya’s reconnaissance of Meryn Trant only served to demonize him further, given he got a good look at her a number of times and failed to recognise her face. And it turns out that had Jaime just asked nicely, Mrycella probably would have been returned to the capital after all. The fact that Trystane is coming with them also adds a strong twist to the arc, and will likely be a big development next year. Should they make it back to King’s Landing, without Ellaria and the Sand Snakes intervention, as I can’t believe they’ll end the season still imprisoned.
Overall, episode nine had some big moments and some small moments, generally keeping the ball rolling. And with that, we’re somehow down to just one episode left. My how time flies when you’re watching little kids burnt at the stake (or something like that…)