June 8, 2015 by kbaldy15
The Dance of Dragons
Season 5, Episode 9 Review
I’ll say it straight off–it’s a real shame that much of this episode is going to be overshadowed by one of the more hotly debated decisions I’ve seen the showrunners make. If you thought Sansa’s rape caused an uproar, it’s almost nothing compared to the reaction I’ve seen following last night’s big moment. Sadly, I’m not talking about Dany flying away on Drogon’s back following the disaster at the fighting pits (or, what the showrunners hoped would be the big moment of the episode), but Stannis’s decision to burn Shireen, his only daughter and heir.
Unlike in weeks past, I’m going to address this first, as I think it’s important to have some sort of “cool off” discussion before looking at the rest of the episode, in the hopes that how good the rest of it was will be able to be recognized once this is out of the way. I’ve read reactions on all sides of the issue–this is assassination of Stannis’s character, this is completely true to his character, this is simply shock value for D&D (Dan and David, the showrunners), this came from GRRM himself, and on and on. Here’s where I stand: this is in line with Stannis’s character, more so in the show, but also in the book. However, it was handled poorly by D&D, which ups the “shock value” criticism.
Taking a look at Stannis, there are certain traits that have always stood out. He’s rigid, duty-driven, and coldly logical. In fact, the only place his logic doesn’t seem to win out is when it comes to Melisandre and the Red God. He’s been brainwashed into believing he is the Red God’s chosen one, and it’s important to remember that he still believes that to be true, even if it has seemed like he’s been relying on Melisandre less this past season. Stannis also hasn’t shown much resistance to killing family before–he murdered Renly and was willing to kill Gendry as well if it meant helping his cause. Not because either were things he wanted to do, but because he felt it was his duty; he must do whatever it takes to put himself on the throne because that is his destiny as the chosen one.
There are book readers out there who maintain that the show has butchered Stannis from the start, making him feel like more of a villain than anything else, but I never shared the sentiment that he was a hero, or even someone worth rooting for, until the most recent book, which is more or less where his character is during this season. At that point, he saves the Watch and moves against the Boltons, all heroic things that the book readers want to see, thus making him much more sympathetic. I think the show had been doing a spectacular job with that–show watchers seemed to be much more receptive to Stannis this past season until last night. And that’s where I take issue with last night’s actions. Given the two scenes concerning Stannis/Shireen this season, both his excellent, touching speech to her about how she is Princess Shireen Baratheon and she is his daughter, and his straight up denial of Melisandre when she suggested burning Shireen two weeks ago, his decision to burn Shireen seem out of place, a strange flip flop from the normally rigid man we’ve seen all along. It feels like we were given those scenes only to heighten the shock of his reversal. However, even though I do still have problems with it, I’d argue that Stannis has changed his mind somewhat regularly, from killing/not killing Davos and the same with Edric Storm in the books (Gendry in the show, kind of)–Stannis may be rigid, but his logic is usually enough to get him to reassess as circumstances change, and then he usually sticks to that course until they change again. Ramsey’s attack on his camp changed Stannis’s circumstances. He’s been shown the power of King’s Blood before, and he desperately needs a miracle before his entire army is frozen in a wintery hell. Shireen is his best bargaining chip with the Lord of Light, and Stannis is prepared to go all in. Do you really think Stannis is the type of character who would be happy to accept failure if it means he can go and live happily with his family? Absolutely not, and I think that’s what most people are overlooking. Yes, in the books Stannis makes a point on numerous occasions that if he dies, it’s everyone’s duty to do whatever they can to place Shireen, his heir, on the throne–but Stannis also recognizes that Shireen probably isn’t going to sit on the Iron Throne if he doesn’t first. He needs to win, no matter the cost–it’s his duty and it’s his destiny.
*There’s another part of this controversy that’s a bit more book specific that I’d like to address, so I’m just going to include it in the “spoilers and speculation section below”*
Now, as the for the rest of the episode, it was quite excellent. The opening scene of Stannis’s camp burning set the stage well for the rest of that camp’s scenes this week, and went to show that Ramsey and the Boltons still can do pretty much anything without consequences, which kind of sucks, because it’s hard to want Stannis to absolutely crush them now, since that validates his burning of Shireen. Hopefully Brienne swoops in and delivers sweet, sweet justice to all of them, while getting the added bonus of upholding all her vows at once. Stannis sending away Davos was interesting because you have to believe that Stannis only did it so that Davos couldn’t change his mind from burning Shireen, and because Davos seemed to know what was coming. Part of me hopes that this is what will break Davos’s loyalty to Stannis, but the idea that Davos recognized what was happening suggests that it won’t be. Props to all the actors in this camp–Liam Cunningham, Stephan Dillane, and Kerry Ingram were all typically excellent as Davos, Stannis, and Shireen, especially considering the sizable weight of the material this week.
Elsewhere in the North (…Brienne waited and Sansa wasted an opportunity while Ramsey was away…) Jon returned to the Wall, much to the resounding dismay of his Night’s Watch brothers. There wasn’t much to be said about the Wall’s only scene this week besides some more shade being thrown around by Olly and some more vocal shade being thrown around by Thorne. The Hardhome Mission can only be considered a failure, and it seems like everyone’s pretty unhappy about it, although I am very disappointed we didn’t get any sort of discussion about what happened between those that were there and those that were not. Hopefully we get a little more mission recap next week.
Way down south in Dorne, we finally got some resolution. Jaime will get to take Myrcella and Trystane back to King’s Landing because Doran doesn’t want war so he won’t disobey Tommen. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are sad because their plot didn’t work, so Ellaria cries as she swears allegiance, and then apologizes to Jaime, because she’s realized the flaws in her ways and knows it’s not their fault….wait, WHAT!? Seriously!? If this is what the entire Dorne plotline was building to, I’m going to be very upset. It will have been a total waste of time, and a waste of Jaime’s character. Literally nothing will have come from it. I can only assume D&D are aware of this and are setting us up for something big next week (you know, like the material they’re adapting has).
Arya set about her first assassination this week, but got a little distracted as she came upon the Thin Man. She recognizes Meryn Trant getting off the boat and suddenly all the talk about being No One went right out the window, and Arya Stark’s list of people to kill came rushing back in. After following Trant to a brothel (and getting a reminder of what a piece of s*** he is), Arya had a small opportunity to try to slip him some poison, but didn’t manage to. On top of that personal failure, Arya then lies to Jaqen about why the Thin Man isn’t dead, so next week will presumably feature the results of that lie, as well as the fate of Meryn f****** Trant (RIP, the Hound). Also of some note with this story–Tycho Nestoris is back, and hates Mace Tyrell just as much as you’d expect him to. Looks like Cersei will be disappointed about her Master of Coin’s trip to the Iron Bank.
Finally, the last sequence of the episode. The fighting pits are open, and Dany is naturally conflicted about the opening of the games. She’s been struggling with the decision for the whole season, and it’s finally come to head. Still, she claps, and the fighting begins. The first fight isn’t overly eventful, with more of Dany’s “I’m gonna do you” look to Daario getting more shots in than the actual fighters. Still, it was worth it just to hear Daario cocking off and getting shut down when the bigger man lops the head off of the quick man in the pit. And then Jorah comes out and all those looks Jorah wishes had been thrown his way more often become something else entirely. Despite her obvious reluctance, Dany claps again, and more fighting ensues. Jorah gets his ass kicked for a majority of the fight, but miraculously comes out on top, but we never get to see how Dany would react to that situation as Jorah instantly picks up a spear and makes a 300-esque throw to snipe a would-be assassin from behind Dany. The Sons of the Harpy are back, and they’ve come in full force, slaughtering the Masters (wait…whose side are these guys on? And who was it that suggested killing all the Masters…?) and making their way towards Dany. As promising as this sequence began, it felt pretty clunky all the way through. Everything that worked with Hardhome last week–the rapid pace, sense of danger, and terror–just wasn’t there this week. Everything just felt slow and without much urgency. People were getting butchered all around her, but Dany just kind of stood there, and when she did move, it was a half jog to wherever she was headed. I understand staying within your guards, but they maybe should’ve wanted to get her out of there a little quicker. Related to that, the Unsullied have really been made out to be pretty crappy this season. I get that there’s a lot of Harpies, but the Unsullied get cut down pretty easily. While this was more acceptable in the back alleys of Meereen, it’s a little more out of place here. Regardless, the whole sequence was redeemed when Drogon came soaring in through a cloud of his own flames. The CGI team really killed it with Drogon this week (even if his size seems to fluctuate every time we see him), and seeing Dany walk up to him and climb up onto him only to fly off out of the pit was just about everything I could’ve hoped it to be. Since reading this scene in the book, I’ve been excited to see how it played out on screen, and they delivered with this one.
I think that line best segues to where I’m at with the show, as well as numerous other people judging by their reactions. We’re almost out of scenes that can “live up to our expectations,” and the scenes that go beyond what we’ve read now have no lens to be filtered through. If Stannis burns Shireen in the early chapters of the next book, will anyone disparage D&D for how they did it? If we’d already read that scene in a book, would it have felt out of character? It’s the perpetual problem of book-to-screen adaptations, and the challenges were only heightened by the fact that this story wasn’t completed when the adapting began, and is now being surpassed by the adaptation. Characters may go routes we wouldn’t have expected them to, and while some may criticize GRRM for writing out of character if that occurs, I think it’s safe to say he can write them however he damn well pleases. The fact of the matter is that the books are the books now and the show is the show..and that both of them are incredible and among the best in their respective genres. Controversy or no controversy, I’m looking forward to next week.
*As a little bonus for this week, I’ll be including my predictions for episode 10 in the spoilers and speculation. I’ll be drawing from my book knowledge for them, so only read it if you’re okay with spoilers*
Spoilers & Speculation
*Part of the outrage over this scene is that David Benioff stated that Shireen’s burning came straight from GRRM, which seems to make this much more of a confirmed spoiler than the other potential spoilers of the show. For any book reader who complains about this though, I just have this to say: Shireen was bound to burn, and that’s been made fairly obvious since Melisandre basically told Stannis to bring her to the wall because she had a role to play *wink wink*. Whether it’s to help Stannis somehow, like in the show, or whether Melisandre uses her to revive Jon post “For the Watch” remains to be seen, but this is a character death we all could have seen coming. I’ve subscribed to the theory that Melisandre will use her, but it’s not unreasonable that it happens similarly to how the show did it, assuming that the current geographical situation is changed, or if Melisandre is able to help Stannis even while she’s at the Wall. It does still seem unlikely that Stannis would just be cool with burning Shireen, but there is one scenario I’d buy it in–while it isn’t referenced in the show, being the Lord of Light’s chosen one means that Stannis is Azor Ahai reborn, and the original Azor Ahai needed to sacrifice his wife, Nissa Nissa, to forge his legendary sword, Lightbringer. If these events happen in the books in a similar fashion to how the show depicts them, there’s a chance Melisandre convinces Stannis to do it with that information.
–Stannis marches on Winterfell. I see both sides suffering heavy casualties, and I expect a lot of major character deaths. During the battle, I think Theon seizes the opportunity to rescue Sansa and spirit her away. They run into Brienne, who then has to pick between going into the battle to kill Stannis or helping Sansa escape. She picks Sansa. If both sides are left weakened, it sets up Littlefinger to come take over with the Knights of the Vale, but without Sansa he has no Northern leader. If Stannis lives, I think he ends up with Sansa and Brienne somehow. If Boltons win, I have no idea what to think. They’re clearly untouchable.
–Arya is going to succeed in killing Meryn Trant instead of the Thin Man. Jaqen will find out and Arya will be blinded by him, as she was in the books.
–Jaime will head back to King’s Landing with Myrcella, Bronn (who may or may not sleep with Tyene first), and Trystane. Doran will then reveal to Ellaria his grand plans for trouble to befall them on the road and for Trystane to return and marry Dany, through a marriage alliance set up by Varys, who has made his way to Dorne after losing Tyrion. The trouble on the road thing is kind of a longshot, but it may inject some life into this Dorne plot and make it worth it in some way, because if it ends on what it did last night, this whole thing was an utter waste of time. I included Varys because he’s popping back up somewhere and this seems more likely than him doing the epilogue chapter of Dance With Dragons. While I touch on that, I think Littlefinger is going to kill Pycelle, Kevan, and the Queen of Thorns in order to create as much chaos (it’s a ladder after all) and take out someone with the information to bring him down.
–Elsewhere in King’s Landing, we get Cersei’s Walk after she confesses to some (but not all) of her crimes. After hearing that she’ll still have a trial, she demands Trial by Combat and Franken-Gregor is revealed as her champion. Margarey and Loras confess and are released. I saw something about Loras being forced to join the Kingsguard as punishment, forsaking his lands and titles and such, and I kind of like that.
–Davos is going to arrive at the Wall (maybe presenting some version of the Pink Letter?) and Jon is going to agree to his terms, possibly bringing Wildlings with him. Members of the Watch will argue that it’s Hardhome all over again and For the Watch will happen. Maybe Jon’s eyes go white to suggest he’s warged into Ghost. Cut to black.