After last week’s universally acclaimed episode and with David Nutter, of the Rains of Castamere (aka The Red Wedding) episode claim to fame, assigned as the director, there was a lot of high expectations riding on this week’s episode, The Dance of Dragons. Does this episode live up to the hype? Or does it fall short?
For myself as a book reader and someone who keeps a keen eye on gossip, theories and interviews surrounding this series, I had some ideas going in based on the previews what to expect. If anything, I had some hunches as to possible deaths for this episode but as with this season thus far, there’s been a lot added and subtracted to shock viewers and readers alike. The main thing to expect is the unexpected.
The first part mostly shows the struggle Stannis’ army is going through with Ramsay’s “20 good men” setting fire to their tents and hitting their supplies. Unfortunately, we don’t see any conflict between Stannis’ men and Ramsay’s mysterious 20. The main thing here is that Ramsay’s actions mostly are used to hurt the army’s morale and supplies.
In turn, that forces Stannis to make some extremely difficult decisions. First, he sends Davos to Castle Black to get more supplies from Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch. He vows to reward them for serving after reclaiming the realm, which essentially is just lip service since everything hinges upon Stannis being able to execute his plan. Davos does attempt to bring Selyse and Shireen with him but Stannis has other plans.
Turns out, the Shireen wants to help Stannis out in any way possible. He takes her words literally and sacrifices her by Melisandre through fire. Ironically, it is Queen Selyse who attempts to beg mercy. Even Stannis’ men seem to lose faith in their lord. The only exception as to who believes in this ritualistic sacrifice wholeheartedly is Melisandre.
At the Wall, Ser Alliser does end up allowing Jon Snow back into Castle Black, despite lacking faith in Jon Snow’s judgment. Many people within the Night’s Watch show doubt with Jon’s decisions, especially Olly (because Fuck Olly!) That without a doubt will lead to a showdown between them and Jon. The only thing is that now we’re missing both Shireen and Queen Selyse as major figures inside of Castle Black, especially with Queen Selyse acting as an instigator of sorts.
Over in Dorne, we see Jamie and Prince Doran attempting to settle their differences with Ellaria keeping her distance. In some way, Jamie’s actions here finally begins to resemble the storyline with him in the Riverlands where he positions himself as the peacemaker. The difference is that Jamie is a prisoner once again with Bronn. Also, Trystane gets a small dosage of revenge against Bronn where Doran’s guard, Hotah, strikes Bronn pretty hard.
Then with Arya’s story in Braavos, Arya looks to provide “peace” with the insurance salesman, except that she discovers Meryn Trant with Mace Tyrell negotiating with the Iron Bank. Because Arya has not fully discarded her former life, she obsessively tracks Meryn to a brothel where she learns that he’s a pedophile.
Finally, we get to the reopening of the Fighting Pits in Mereen. We see Dany slowly gaining some respect for Tyrion as he exchanges wit with Dany’s new husband, Hizdahr. Eventually, the event has Ser Jorah appear with Dany looking hesitant at his devotion to her. Jorah has some level of trouble, pushing Tyrion to urge Dany to shut down the pits. However, Hizdahr says that it’s impossible possibly due to the crowd’s potential for rebelling against an unpopular idea.
Still, after Ser Jorah slays the last combatant he makes a final move to nail with a spear one of the Sons of the Harpy who was about to assail the group. Chaos erupts with the Harpies descending into the crowd and killing many people, including Hizdahr. Dany and the others retreat into the center of the stadium where they’re surrounded, only having a few Unsullied, Daario, Jorah, Tyrion and Missandei left. At that moment of desperation, Dany seems to utter a prayer or mental call, which summons the MIA Drogon to protect the group, burning a large number of the Sons of the Harpy. Then Dany mounts Drogon and escapes the destruction of the stadium.
For myself, I really had higher hopes coming off from last week’s episode. I pretty much knew the general outcome of the stadium fight so there wasn’t much in terms of shocks there. On the other hand, the big WTF moment probably for everyone was the burning of Shireen.
I suppose that I’m upset over Shireen’s demise partly because of the severe deviation from the book as well as the near nonsensical character arc that we see from Stannis and to a degree Queen Selyse. Considering the build up over the season with Stannis becoming what looks to be the best father on the planet, the episode demolishes that character arc without much rhyme nor reason.
Sure, Stannis requires king’s blood as a sacrifice for his soldiers to supposedly prevail. But what was the point of Mance’s death then? Didn’t his perishing satiate the Red Priestess’ lust for destruction? Or why not use Selyse? Isn’t a queen good enough?
I get that he’s a desperate man and that the situation demanded some sort of desperate measures. But there’s still a great deal left unexplained. Maybe part of the issue here is that Stannis clearly at this point is not the chosen one. If anything it feels as though the writers are doing some sort of character assassination plot so that he fails in his upcoming battle with the Boltons. Many people are predicting that Brienne will get her revenge soon against Stannis and thus Shireen’s death justifies her actions even more.
And the other person to think about in this is obviously Melisandre. They’ve made it quite clear for a while that she’s not a “good person,” at least from a strict moral standpoint. Yet we don’t really understand her motives in all of this. Book readers are treated with a single chapter devoted to her viewpoint, which demonstrates a regular woman who is brain washed by visions of what she believes is communicated through her god. Maybe at the end of the day she’s simply just a highly misguided person with some power. She might just be a religious fanatic that can do something with her faith. Either way, you can’t hate Stannis without linking his motives to the brainwashing that Melisandre is doing to him.
Next, let’s focus on Arya’s storyline. At this stage, it’s pretty obvious that her storyline is just from A Feast for Crows. But if anything the big problem with her storyline is that the pacing is god awfully slow this season. If Season 6 is supposed to align with The Winds of Winter, then Arya’s storyline has to be put in a mega fast forward run. It feels with the whole Meryn Trant storyline they’re trying to add some more character details to remind us why we need to hate him. So rather than a nice, clean death tonight, we might have to wait at least a week or more to see anything come from that situation.
The same can be said about Jamie’s storyline. But his storyline is just so weird and fucked up at this point that it’s beyond the point of frustrating. For myself, the only death I thought would happen was Bronn’s. Instead, we were treated to him getting a nice slugging and he gets to live perhaps for another season. I get that the writers want us to be on our toes but switching things like Shireen for Bronn (who, I’m guessing, is the storyline of the guard that accompanies Princess Myrcella to Dorne in the books) really felt hair pulling.
Moving away from that infuriating moment, the other parts of the Dorne storyline follow the general spirit of the book, although I don’t remember Trystane being assigned to the Small Council. I don’t know what this implies for the Sand Snakes nor Ellaria. However, I feel the overall plot for Dorne in this season was almost a complete waste. Maybe having Jamie in Dorne was supposed to make viewers care more about the new characters introduced in Dorne while avoiding introducing more characters for the Riverlands (as well as a fairly unintriguing storyline). But for me it really did nothing.
I suppose the only real thing of interest was Ellaria’s switch of character when she spoke in private with Jamie. She admitted to knowing about Jamie’s incest with Cersei but hinted that the Dornish people didn’t care because of their core values. There was some rumors that talk about how part of the Dorne master plan/conspiracy was to install their own on the Iron Throne so that Dornish law becomes prevalent. This is important to Jamie (and potentially Cersei) since it frees him up to be with the woman he loves as well as potentially empowering both Myrcella and Cersei while giving the true ruling authority to Dorne. However, all the critical details of Dornish history and culture pretty much are left out with the exception of that small detail, so it’s underemphasized. I would’ve preferred them going into larger dialog about that aspect rather than seeing Nym and Tyene play games in their cell.
Now, the one person who got severely fucked in all of this (outside of Shireen, who was somewhat obvious) was Hizdahr. I’m sure that virtually everyone had pegged him to be someone working with the Sons of the Harpy. Heck, the fact that he was delayed to watching the games, made him the prime candidate to invoke the assassination. Instead, he gets a nice knife through the chest. So in short, he was innocent which is sad in many ways because in retrospect we can see that he was pretty much attempting to advise Dany in a supportive way.
But I suppose that leads me to my final point where I want to say that Dany really is a cunt. I suppose that we’ve been lead to believe her as someone we should love. As Tyrion previously pointed out though, she’s not such a nice person. Another person over on reddit enumerated all of her cruel acts and you can almost run her in parallel to Stannis as an adamant ruler. Her only positive aspect is that she owns 3 Dragons (two of which she locked up personally, not to mention those two not doing any of the crimes that her special baby Drogon had committed).
Also, she’s mostly a very hands-off type. Everyone does things for her and she demands respect because she’s a self-entitled queen and of her heritage. Thus far, Tyrion is the only person to really force her to question herself and even then she’s pretty arrogant. Some people describe her as having strength. Maybe in the first season she was someone who gradually was forced to become strong but in all honesty people follow her because of her dragons.
Compare her form of leadership to Jon Snow. Jon Snow starts off arrogant but quickly gets his ego smashed from everyone berating him. He learns to earn things on his own, hanging out with epic heroes to become one himself. He gains respect through self-sacrifice and mercy, learning how to listen as well as when to listen. Of course, he doesn’t know everything but the fact that he learns to learn over time and is able to get people to listen demonstrates what a great leader he becomes.
Obviously, many people are rooting for all three (Dany, Jon and Tyrion) to align themselves. It’s a good balancing act where they play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Or there’s a chance that Dany’s slow descent into insanity (if that happens as a result from her Targeryan blood) makes her a foe to Jon. Those questions are still several continents away.
At any rate, I was a bit letdown this week. The pacing wasn’t as sharp nor did the story feel as focused. I’m hoping that with the season ending next week, they’ll be able to bring all these stories together somehow since there’s a lot of loose ends created in this season that have greatly deviated from the books.