‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5, Episode 9 Recap: ‘A Dance with Dragons’
It seems a trying task to top last week’s spine-tingling episode, but “A Dance with Dragons” (also the title of George R.R. Martin’s fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, on which this show is based) comes pretty darn close.
Let’s start with Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), who is caught in a catch-22 we do not envy him of. After Ramsay Bolton and his 20 good men set fire to Stannis’ camp (though we never actually see them), the self-pronounced king must finally face his dilemma: decide between the love of his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram), or his ambition to sit on the Iron Throne, something he has lived and breathed since the beginning of Season 2. And while Stannis’ role as a father has until this point made his otherwise rigid character somewhat affable — his few stolen moments of vulnerability and kindness are solely when he’s with his daughter — all of that came crashing down this past Sunday.
The Red Woman, Melisandre (Carice van Houten), warned her king that his army would starve in the snow, unable to retreat or reach Winterfell, if he did not sacrifice Shireen to the Lord of Light. And despite his loyalty to his daughter, Stannis is unyielding in his want for power and justice. So after the sweet princess asks if there is anything she can do to help her adoring dad — making this scene all the more heartbreaking — he obliges and has her burned at the stake. You think he’s going to say no, but it turns out Stannis is really as coldhearted as he’s seemed all along, not even blinking an eye as he watches Shireen burn and scream. Her equally callous mother, Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald), on the other hand, surprises us all when her motherly instincts finally kick in. Hearing her scared daughter call her name is like flicking on a light switch, and it is Selyse rather than Stannis that goes into parental protective mode. But Selyse is quickly detained and collapses to the ground in genuine tears as she watches the pyre engulf Shireen in scream-inducing flames.
And though we don’t actually see Shireen turn to ash, the helpless look on Selyse’s face and pained expression shared by everyone else seals the deal that this ranks among Game of Thrones’ Top 10 horrible moments.
Meanwhile, Ser Davos Seaworth (played by Liam Cunningham), Shireen’s only friend, missed the family bonfire after he was calculatingly sent riding back to Castle Black.
There, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) returned with the few wildlings (and one giant) that he was able to save from the battle against the White Walkers. As their enemy shuffles in (which, I guess, includes Jon) inside The Wall, they are met with stern silence and disapproving looks. Leave it to Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) to make light of the situation, reassuring Jon that he did the right thing and that his journey was a success — at least, for those wildlings that are still alive.
But the woes of the Night’s Watch are not even in the realm of Arya Stark’s mind, or should we say “Lana’s.” Things are going smoothly for Arya (Maisie Williams) in Braavos as she makes progress in her quest in becoming a Faceless Man, set in her routine of spying on the gambler per the request of Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). But all her hard work is undone as soon as she is confronted with a person from her past: Ser Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie), who is accompanying Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) on his visit to the Iron Bank. As one of the few names left on her sacred kill list, Lana’s identity is quickly abandoned and Arya Stark takes over. She ignores her assignment and instead follows Ser Meryn with her oyster cart — in a kind of creepy and obvious way — all day and into the night, eventually stalking him in a Braavos brothel.
And though he sees her, she goes unrecognized (for now). There is no doubt that with her enemy having willingly walked right to her doorstep that she can’t ignore him now. Arya may have lots of practice playing the game of faces, but she’s not fooling anyone. It’s hard to tell whether she pulled off her lie to Jaqen, though his quizzical stare suggests otherwise.
While these events were indeed plot thickening, it was the debut of Meereen’s reopened fighting pits that really lit a fire under this episode’s metaphoric belly.
Despite Queen Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) reluctance to once again make killing a sport in the former slavers city, the excitement of the common people was palpable even through the 2D television screen. The massive CGI fighting arena was reminiscent of Gladiator’s marvelous Roman Colosseum, although without the same nostalgic grandeur. With a clap of her hands, the bloodbath began, though Dany tried her best to tune it out. It wasn’t hard with Daario Naharis’ (Michael Huisma) flirtatious and boastful banter, obviously an attempt to show-up Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry).
But Dany could not ignore the familiar baritone voice of Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), who she has now banished from the city twice and who keeps reappearing nonetheless. He vowed he would fight in her honor in the pits, and he’s come back to do just that. Though throughout the duel, it seemed like his old age and lack of practice had gotten the better of him, with a few close calls. All the while, Queen Daenerys watched with bated breath (as did we), her inner struggle of whether or not to stop the fight clearly written on her face.
He miraculously comes out victorious, awaiting praise from his queen, but in a confusing turn of events, he is seen throwing his spear at a Son of the Harpy, who’d snuck up behind Dany to assassinate her. It’s in that moment that all hell breaks lose, gold masks popping up all over the stadium. The Sons of the Harpy start slitting throats left and right, onlookers flee screaming, and Dany and company are left sitting ducks.
Soon Jorah is once again by his beloved queen’s side, serving as her protector. Amidst the chaos, they share a briefly beautiful moment together, and though neither one of them says anything, Dany’s outstretched hand is enough to indicate that her bear is (at last!) back in her good graces. The two of them, along with Daario, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) — Hizdahr is repeatedly stabbed at one point, and like his role throughout this season, his death is insignificant — fled the scene. Eventually, the queen and her companions are surrounded in the center of the arena, hundreds of Sons of the Harpy aiming their pointed spears at them. Knowing this is the unfortunate end, Dany clasps Missandei’s hand, closes her eyes, and steals herself one last peaceful moment — that is, until the scream of a dragon awakens her, and Drogon in all his impressive glory swoops in, setting their enemies on fire.
Just like Moses and the Red Sea, the pandemonium parts until Daenerys is face to face with Drogon, who like a child, could sense when his mother was in danger. As the Sons of the Harpy throw spears at the fearful, fire-breathing giant, Dany slowly and apprehensively mounts her dragon and flies away, with everyone else behind her left in awe. Tyrion’s expression of wonder and hope at the end perfectly captures this scene, and clearly solidifies his belief that Daenerys may be the one true queen after all.
Throne Room Notes:
- Shireen dying in this episode was awful and totally unexpected. Some father you are, Stannis. You better hope this plan works.
- Why wasn’t there a conversation about the fact that an army of White Walkers is headed toward Westeros? It seems the Night’s Watch is more concerned with wildlings on their side of The Wall than the fact that they’re all probably going to die soon.
- Jorah may have betrayed Dany, but he is clearly the only one who can save her ass.
- Flying on a dragon looks awesome.
Video courtesy of Game of Thrones.
Video courtesy of Game of Thrones.
Tune in to HBO, HBO Go or HBO Now this Sunday at 9 p.m. for a new episode of “Game of Thrones!”