Game of Thrones: “Dance with Dragons”

Sam and Jon, "Dance with Dragons"

This review covers Episode 9 of Season 5 of Game of Thrones. Beware of spoilers, all ye who enter here.

Historically, the ninth episode of the Game of Thrones season has been the one where memorable/horrible moments have happened in the series. The first season’s episode nine, “Baelor” ended with the death of Ned Stark. The following season, episode nine focused solely on the Battle of the Blackwater. In season three we saw Robb Stark’s reign ended as king of the north. In season four, there was the battle of Castle Black, which until “Hardhome” this season, was the most intense action set piece the show had put together.

The expectations therefore, are quite set when the season winds down to episode nine. This year was no exception. The episode starts with a slow burn with the brief fallout of Hardhome taking place at Castle Black. Jon and the Wildlings arrive to find the gate closed and Alliser “I’m always a hard ass” Thorne glaring down at them. After a tense moment, Alliser opens the gate, and the scene ends with him quipping that Jon is going to get everyone killed. Which is pretty normal for Alliser.

Meanwhile in Dorne, the buddy comedy that was Jamie and Bronn seems to be wrapping up with what they would consider the best possible outcome. They are alive, as is Myrcella. The only stipulations are that they take Prince Tristain back to serve on the small council, and that Bronn takes one on the chin from the hulking Areo Hotah. For those that have not read the books, this plot was a massive deviation, with Jamie and Bronn taking the roles of lesser characters, Arys Oakheart and Balon Swann. Overall it’s a sharper and more focused version of the plot that takes place in the book. Even so, this plot seemed a bit padded, despite my affection for the pairing of Jamie and Bronn.

“…this plot seemed a bit padded, despite my affection for the pairing of Jamie and Bronn.”

Meanwhile in the North, Stannis takes a hit during the night, no doubt at the hands of Ramsey Bolton’s Dirty Dozen tactics. The entire season they have been setting up the need for “King’s Blood” in order to make their march toward Winterfell a meaningful one. And each time they have said this, everyone has awkwardly looked in Princess Shireen’s direction. Earlier in the season, Stannis dispelled this notion, in one of the most touching moments of the season. Then in this episode, that moment literally went up in flames, as Stannis uses the goodwill he generated from his daughter to lure her into a fiery demise that must have made the Red Woman feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Davos is not going to be happy when he gets back.
Davos is not going to be happy when he gets back.

As a parent, I hate seeing violence against children in any medium, and I was moved to tears by this particular moment. In a good bit of development, Selyse finally shows that yes, she is in fact a human and not someone for which dogma is above all. This being said, GoT has been quite heavy-handed with the amount of violence against “non-combatant” characters this season, and I can see it being something that could drive a host of the viewership away from the show.

In Braavos, Arya, taking on the identity of an oyster vendor, sees Meryn Trant escorting Lord Tyrell to the Iron Bank. If you recall, Ser Meryn is on Arya’s list of people she’s like to run through with the pointy end. Not much happens here, but it does set up Arya is still holding onto her past, and Jaqen H’ghar seems to have his doubts. The highlight of this scene is Lord Tyrell being the doofus on-screen that he is frequently described as by other characters. Of course he sings operatically at random moments.

The main event of the episode happens in the continent of Essos, in that kooky town of Mereen. Dany and company are watching the reopening of the fighting pit, and Dany could not be more miserable. Tyrion seems to be equally unenthusiastic. After the first match, which sees a man decapitated, Ser Jorah makes his appearance. Emilia Clark really earns her paycheck in this scene, as her face shows a complex array of emotion in an instant. Fury and compassion, love and hate. After what seems to be an eternity, Dany claps to start the brawl.

King and Queen

Jorah wins, and subsequently saves Dany’s life with a well placed spear into the chest of a Son of the Harpy. The Great Games are a trap, the stadium is FILLED with the terrorist group that has been plaguing Dany’s reign. Dany’s husband, who she could not care less about takes about a dozen daggers to the chest, leading to Daario Noharis to have a classic “well I guess he didn’t do this” look on his face.

Our heroes are trapped in the center of the fighting pit, outnumbered and out matched. In a tender moment, Dany takes Missandei’s hand and prepare’s for death. And then her dragon shows up and starts melting people and biting people in half. After a few rounds of dragon fury, Dany hops on the dragon’s back and flies away. Credits.

The fighting pit sequence was tense and a perfect ending to an episode that was filled with slow burns (literally). While it was not the nightmare fuel that ended “Hardhome” it was still a spectacular action set piece.

 Episode Grade: A-

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