5.9 “The Dance of Dragons”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by David Nutter
Commentary by David Nutter, Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), and Ian Glen (Jorah)
Once again, there are two or three completely awful moments (adaptationally and narratively) in this episode with a bunch of “meh” moments in between them.
Let’s just get right to it. This was another episode that set the Internet on fire by going off-page and brutally murdering a young girl. Benioff and Weiss, of course, claim that Martin told them this would happen in The Winds of Winter, but obviously the context is going to be completely different, since Shireen, Selyse, and Melisandre aren’t even with Stannis’ army in the books.
Having refused Melisandre’s suggestion that they burn Shireen once already, Stannis is now dealing with the sabotage Ramsay set up, which caused complete devastation to their supplies and a good chunk of their horses. Davos suggests immediately going back to Castle Black, which Stannis rejects, and Davos notices Selyse and Melisandre staring at them in the creepiest way possible. Stannis orders the remaining horses butchered for their meat and leaves, Melisandre with him. Later, Stannis sends Davos back to the Wall to get more supplies with the promise that Jon will have enough men to guard all nineteen castles once he’s taken the throne. Davos is understandably nervous about being sent away and offers to take Shireen back with him, but Stannis refuses.
So Davos goes to see Shireen before he leaves because we needed one more bit of foreshadowing before they actually kill her. He gives her a present—a hand-carved stag—to thank her for teaching him to read, which his son tried to do before he died. Insert heavy-handed foreshadowing here. Is there a stronger word than foreshadowing? What do you call it when it’s not a shadow anymore but a giant flashing arrow screaming she’s gonna die? Davos leaves, and Shireen’s fate is sealed.
Stannis comes to visit Shireen and she tells him about “The Dance of Dragons,” which she’s been reading about. They talk about making choices and how it’s hard, and she understands that he’s upset and offers to help. So he leads her out of the tent and hands her over to Melisandre, who has her tied to the pyre and burns her alive. In a small mercy, they don’t show it happening like they did with Mance, instead focusing on Stannis and Selyse, who changes her mind about halfway through but it’s too late. Selyse loses her mind when Shireen finally dies, apparently just now realizing that she actually loved her daughter. Dave Nutter says the reason they didn’t show Shireen’s death was to “not get too gratuitous with it,” because lord knows they worry about gratuitous violence on this show.
Here’s the thing, though—the sacrifice was gratuitous by definition because it changed nothing. If anything, it made everything worse. We’ll get into that more next week.
Speaking of big gestures that change nothing, Dany’s opening Daznak’s Pit over in Meereen. Tyrion and Hizdahr disagree about philosophy and violence as entertainment, with Hizdahr claiming that nothing great was ever accomplished without violence and Tyrion saying “It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor.” While these philosophies do make sense for these two men, it’s interesting that Tyrion—author-, showrunner-, and fan-favorite) is speaking out against violence as entertainment on a show that has commodified violence as entertainment, while Hizdahr—the foreign, nonwhite Other who represents the world of slavery and violence—speaks up for it. I’d wonder if this was done on purpose, but I don’t think Benioff and Weiss are that self-aware. Hizdahr says that these fights are an essential part of Meereen, part of her legacy, if you will, and Tyrion remarks that Tywin would have liked Hizdahr.
In order to start the fights, Dany has to clap her hands, which forces her to be not only complicit in the ensuing violence and bloodshed, but an actual instigator of it. She can no longer sit on the sidelines and pretend that she’s not an active part of a tradition that glorifies violence; it is ultimately her word that begins the massacre. And it is a massacre; the second fight is a melee involving six fighters, including Jorah, who can’t take a hint.
Then the whole arena turns into a massacre as the Sons of the Harpy attack, slaughtering people left and right, including Hizdahr. So he had absolutely no ties to the Sons, then? He had no influence on the violence in the streets? So why did Dany marry him? What purpose did it serve? Also, how ironic is it that the vocal supporter of violence-as-entertainment dies violently for our entertainment? The odd thing is that, again, the Sons are just murdering everyone. There’s no rhyme or reason to it; it seems very much like they’re just there to cause mayhem, not to make a political statement.
Dany, Daario, Missandei, and Tyrion are driven down into the pit itself, where they’re surrounded by Sons. Things do not look good for our heroes until Drogon descends from the heavens and begins a massacre of his own. Dany yells at him, and he calms just enough for her to climb up on his back and completely abandon her companions in the pit to fly off.
This is, again, really bad adaptational work that suffers from a complete loss of context. They’ve shifted the entire meaning and purpose of Drogon’s arrival from Dany finally getting so uncomfortable with being the person she needs to be to rule Meereen that she literally sheds the trappings of Meereenese society—taking off her toqar—and preparing to leave the pit before Drogon shows up. She rescues Drogon from the fighters who attack him, not the other way around, and while she abandons her people, she doesn’t abandon them in immediate mortal danger. Hizdahr survives to take control of the city and immediately start undoing a lot of Dany’s decrees, sidelining her non-Meereenese advisors (like Barristan). Tyrion and Jorah haven’t even made it into the city yet. (Tyrion’s actually been in the pit with Penny, doing their dwarf jousting routine.) Instead, we have Dany as a damsel in distress being rescued by her dragon and continuing to be a terrible leader and friend by abandoning her people in their time of greatest need. And this is framed as a triumphant moment for her.
There's a really brief moment with Jon and the Watch when they return from Hardhome, where it looks for a moment like Alliser isn't going to let them in. He does, of course, and Olly gets super pissed off about the Wildlings coming through the gate, especially Wun Wun. Alliser tells Jon he has a good heart, and that it'll get all of them killed. But not if Alliser, Olly, and company kill him first.
Over in Dorne, Jaime, Doran, Myrcella, Trystane, and Ellaria have a big meeting in which we find out that Jaime’s whole sneaking in plan was completely unnecessary because someone stole Myrcella’s necklace and Doran would have let Jaime come by to visit without being sneaky and murdering people if he’d just asked first. D’oh! Diplomacy might have actually worked! Who’d have thought? Doran has no intention of starting a war with Westeros proper, much to Ellaria’s disgust, and actually wants to continue the engagement and send Trystane to King’s Landing to serve on the Small Council in Oberyn’s place. He also agrees to release Bronn, despite having struck a prince, on one condition.
Down in the dungeons, Nym and Tyene are playing some sort of hand-slappy game and taunting each other because these girls have such a healthy relationship. Aero takes Bronn out of the cell and Tyene gets him to tell her she’s pretty again before he leaves, prompting Obara to call her a slut. Totally healthy relationship.
The condition turns out to be Bronn taking an elbow to the face.
Doran tells Ellaria she can get in line or face the executioner; she kneels and takes his hands, sobbing, while the Sand Snakes look on, aghast. Ellaria then goes to try to make up with Jaime, admitting that Myrcella and Jaime didn’t have anything to do with what happened to Oberyn. Of course, it’s all a big fake-out, because women can’t be reasonable about anything, especially hot spicy southern foreign women, amirite? (Gag.)
Over in Braavos, Arya’s headed out to do her very first sanctioned job but she gets distracted by Lannister sails in the harbor and even more distracted when she spots Ser Meryn, who murdered (we’re supposed to believe) Syrio Forel (still refusing to believe he’s dead). She stalks Mace Tyrell and his entourage for most of the day, then follows Meryn into a brothel, where Meryn rejects girl after girl until the madame brings him a very young one. Arya has a plan. She goes back to the House of Black and White and lies to Jaqen about failing to kill the Thin Man, then goes about her duties. Jaqen, of course, isn’t fooled.
These last couple of sections are setup for the great big slaughter of major characters that starts in the season finale and continues on into season six. Apparently, when they’re completely set loose from following an established storyline, Benioff and Weiss really go nuts and just start hacking people out of the story (often literally).
Hizdahr zo Loraq
Sons of the Harpy
Next week: Death. Murder. Mayhem. A jump off a wall. The return of the Dothraki. Cersei goes for a walk.