Game of Thrones S05 E09
'The Dance of Dragons' - Recap by
Expectation can be a tough master, especially on a show like Game of Thrones. The fans have come to expect ‘big’ things as we near the end of the season.
As we know, episode 9 is traditionally THE episode of the entire season. But last week, producers Weiss and Benioff broke with tradition and turned things on their head.
What we got was 17 minutes of pure adrenaline as Jon Snow battled for survival against the White Walkers and the Ice Lords commanding them. Any other time, that would normally rank as the season’s crescendo. But that was episode 8.
So, going into “The Dance of Dragons”, there was always a risk that it wouldn’t measure up to “Hardhome”. The weight of expectation meant that it had to go one step further and top it.
From the outset, there was one big thing in its favour. It was directed by David Nutter, who delivered the heartbreaking “Rains of Castermere”, better known as “The Red Wedding”. (He’s also got the gig for the season finale “Mother’s Mercy”).
I have to admit, the synopsis didn’t fill me with confidence as it looked a little anti-climatic:
“Stannis confronts a troubling decision. Jon returns to the Wall. Mace visits the Iron Bank. Arya encounters someone from her past. Dany reluctantly oversees a traditional celebration of athleticism”.
Fortunately, looks can be deceiving. Whilst this isn’t the traditional offering from Game of Thrones in episode 9, it does offer two distinct OMG moments that were a little unexpected.
It opens in the snowy encampment of Stannis’ army. Tents burst into flames and it’s obvious Ramsay Bolton and his ‘band of twenty’ have successfully launched their first attack on the southerners.
As he wanders around, surveying the damage, Stannis gives Ser Davos a mission. He orders his Hand to return to Castle Black for supplies if he’s to have any chance of surviving a siege in freezing conditions or launch an assault on Winterfell.
But troubling is Stannis’ refusal to allow his wife and daughter to go with Davos to the safety of the Night’s Watch. Surely their safety is paramount? But the King is insistent that they stay with him.
Before he departs, Davos visits the Princess Shireen and gives her a carved stag as a ‘thank you’ for teaching him how to read. Intriguingly, she’s reading a book called “Dance of Dragons”. More on that later.
Still in the north and Jon Snow has made it back to Castle Black in one piece and he’s managed to lead a few thousand Wildling survivors of Hardhome to safety. Ser Alliser begrudgingly orders the gates to be opened.
As they make themselves home, Ser Alliser tells Jon: “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It will get us all killed”. But not just yet, because that’s all we see of the Lord Commander and the Night’s Watch for this episode.
Instead, we head to Dorne, where Prince Doran has decided it wouldn’t be in his best interest to not start a war with King’s Landing by executing Jaime.
Instead, he promises to send Princess Myrcella home with Jaime. His son, Prince Trystane, will go with them to taken his uncle Oberyn’s place on the Small Council, much to the disgust of Ellaria; Oberyn’s lover and mother to his Sand Snake daughters.
And in an encounter with Jaime, she lets it be known that she’s aware of his relationship with Cersei and his true relationship with Myrcella.
She comes right out with it: “I know your daughter had no part in the terrible thing that happened to the man I loved. Perhaps even you are innocent of that”.
Is there anyone in the Seven Kingdoms who doesn’t know about the special ‘bond’ shared by Jaime and Cersei? That could come back to haunt a lot of people. Maybe in episode 10.
Meantime in Braavos…
Arya is plying her new trade as a shellfish saleswoman as she tries to get closer to the Thin Man, the man she’s been assigned to kill.
She has the bottle of poison in her hand, but as he calls out to her, Arya is distracted by the arrival in Braavos of Ser Mace Tyrell and a White Cloak by the name of Ser Meryn Trant – a man she recognises.
She follows him to a local brothel and its clear her ‘mission’ has been forgotten. Here’s someone the ‘old’ Arya wants to kill. Back at the House of Black and White, she’s chastised for letting the Thin Man live.
Until this point, Dance of Dragons was a little tame and anti-climatic after last week’s jaw-dropping “Attack of the White Walkers”.
But the producers have something in store for us in the howling snow and prove that not all evil acts are carried out by the blue-eyed ‘un-dead’. This is very much in the realm of the living.
Stannis visits his daughter Shireen and they have a philosophical discussion about the Dance of Dragons; a story about two warring factions fighting over the Iron Throne.
As they discuss the choices made by either side, it becomes clear that Stannis is thinking of something other than the book and the Targaryens. He tells her:
“Sometimes a person has to choose. Sometimes the world forces his hand. If a man knows what he is and remains true to himself, the choice is no choice at all. He must fulfil his destiny and become who he is meant to be. However much he may hate it. Forgive me”.
As Shireen is led out into the snow, it’s clear now that Stannis has let himself be convinced by the Red Woman to sacrifice his only daughter to the Lord of Light. She needs Royal Blood to help Stannis fulfil his destiny.
Shireen shrieks for her father as she’s tied to the stake and Melisandre lights the fire. He does nothing as Shireen pleads for him. As the flames begin to grow, she calls for her mother.
As the fire consumes her daughter, Selyse finally melts. Until now she’s been a fervent and almost maniacal supporter of the Lord of Light and the Red Woman. But it’s too late, Selyse, too late.
It’s harrowing stuff and demonstrates how much Stannis is willing to sacrifice to fulfil his ‘destiny’ as told to him by Melisandre. Let’s not forget he and the Red Woman used sorcery to kill his brother Renly. And now he’s sacrificed the daughter he loved.
Before we have time to recover, we head to Meereen, where Daenerys is overseeing the Great Games in an arena very much like Colosseum of ancient Rome.
The gladiators fight and die and then walks in Ser Jorah Mormont. A stunned Dany makes eye contact and claps once for the fight to begin. He goes down, gets up and goes down again. He looks to Dany, but she looks away.
“You can end this,” begs Tyrion as Jorah falls to the ground again. He wins his fight, but is wounded. As he struggles to stand, he throws a spear at his Queen, felling a masked Son of the Harpy, as he was about to kill Dany.
The camera pans across the stadium as more masked killers emerge; slaughtering anyone they can get their hands on. What follows is a tense mass slaughter on a Caligula-eque scale.
They’re soon surrounded by The Sons and it seems the Mother of Dragons will meet a bloody end in a fighting pit that she sought to abolish.
She closes her eyes .. .. and then a reptilian shrieks sounds out as a dragon swoops. It’s the missing black dragon, Drogon, who has come to save his ‘mother’.
He goes on the rampage, tearing apart some attackers and torching others, as spear after spear is thrown at him. He’s wounded, but enraged. Yet he quietens as Dany approaches and reaches out to him.
There’s recognition as he sniffs her hand and she climbs on his back as he takes to the skies. Those below can only look up in wonder as Drogon flies her ‘away’.
And there we end episode 9.
No, it’s not as impactful as in previous years, but I suspect there will be plenty of fireworks to come in the season finale.