Game of Thrones S05E09 – The Dance of Dragons
We arrive at the penultimate episode of the season, famously anticipated as the best each year. And I am not happy!
!! This post contains SPOILERS for the BOOKS and the TV SHOW up until this point !!
For what is traditionally the most eventful episode of the season… not a whole lot happened here. There are two major scenes that everyone is talking about, so I’m going to focus on those.
Stannis & Shireen
Yes, yes. The internet is in a tizzy. Book readers, in particular, are pretty furious. Stannis does not sacrifice Shireen in the books. At this point, he and his armies are starving on their way to Winterfell, while Shireen is at Eastwatch. There is, however, reason to believe that Shireen will be sacrificed in the next book. Ah, but I can’t talk about that until next week.
It is horrifying. Tragic, and it would make any person with a heart very angry. On one hand, I don’t find it hugely surprising. Stannis had his own brother killed earlier in the show to get what he wants. He’s arguably as responsible for Robb Stark’s death as any Frey or Bolton. What’s a daughter to throw on the list?
On the other hand, it feels pretty inconsistent. After the bonding scenes earlier in the season, it felt more likely that Selyse would give up Shireen. The woman’s a rigid follower of Melisandre’s, and has never been particularly motherly to her daughter. Instead, she tried to stop Stannis and had a total meltdown about it. That’s literally the last thing I’d expect Selyse to do.
I feel like I should care more about this, but I don’t. Stannis is not my Mannis. I’ve always found him cold, and the lack of context or consistency in his plot doesn’t really matter to me. Patchface isn’t there, so I’ve checked out. All I can think about at the moment is…
The Daznak Pit
Apparently, this is the redeeming scene of the episode that everyone’s raving about. Allow me to rain on your parade: I hated it, far more than I was bothered by Shireen.
Let me preface this by saying that, in a book where Daenerys was about as interesting as Brienne in a brothel, this scene single-handedly elevated Dany to my player of choice for the Throne. It completely blew my mind, and I have been waiting something like four years to see it.
Here’s what happened in the show: Dany is uncomfortable with the fighting. Witty banter. Jorah steps out, kicks butt, then somehow eagle eyes a Harpy behind Dany. Harpies materialize and start killing people. Hizdahr tries to save Danaerys – is killed. Jorah spreads his grayscale all over Daenerys before taking her to the pit, where she stands helplessly while Harpies surround them. Linking hands with Missandei, she seems to call Drogon, who toasts some fools and flies her away to safety… leaving her saviors to fend for their selves.
It was basically S.O.S. Daenerys, the Helpless Targaryen with a really pretty choker – and, “Whoop, fuck you guys, thanks for saving me, peace out!”
Truth is, I’ve been worried about this scene since Tyrion and Dany met mid-season in the show. Let me give you a run down/reminder of how it happened in the books
Part of what made the scene so exciting were the threads coming together. Tyrion was there, yes – as entertainment in the pits. The two of them hadn’t met, and Tyrion was still a slave. This was the first time they would ever be near each other. He was to be a folly act with a fellow dwarf he’s enslaved with – a girl who is absent from the show. They rode pigs with wooden swords and mocked a joust as a sort of half-time show. The excitement had me beside myself. Would they finally meet? How would he approach her?
From Dany’s point of view, you find out that they intend to set lions lose on the dwarfs to kill them. Tyrion, no! What will he do with a wooden sword? Did he come all this way, only to be slaughtered in a pit before finally meeting her? Would George RR Martin do such a thing?
NOPE – none of this tension in the show. Let’s plop Tyrion in the stand and have him banter instead.
A sense of foreboding builds, much like the scenes preceding the Red Wedding. You know something’s wrong. They keep offering her honeyed locusts to eat, which she refuses because gross. Strong Belwas – another character absent from the show – happily partakes, and starts to get sick. He blames it on the screams of the dying, saying it makes him nauseous.
“A shadow rippled across his face.
The tumult and the shouting died. Ten thousand voices stilled. Every eye turned skyward. A warm wind brushed Dany’s cheeks, and above the beating of her heart she heard the sound of wings. Two spearmen dashed for shelter. The pitmaster froze where he stood. The boar went snuffling back to Barsena. Strong Belwas gave a moan, stumbled from his seat, and fell to his knees.
Above them all the dragon turned, dark against the sun.”
Eventually, Dany’s had enough. She rips off her tokar (a garment worn in Meereen that she destests) and intends to leave, when Drogon descends on the arena to feast on the carcasses and surviving fighters. Hizdahr calls for the dragon to be killed, and everything clicks for Daenerys.
“Dany and Drogon screamed as one.”
Up until this point, Dany had been suffering an identity crisis. In attempting to unravel the Meereenese knot, she’d lost herself as a Targaryen. Two of her dragons were locked up in a dungeon, while the other roamed unchecked. The guilt of losing her dragons ate away at her, while the Meereen politics further consumed what was left. She had even lost sight of Westeros.
In the moment that she sheds her tokar, she finally gains perspective. This tokar and these Meereenese customs are not her, or what she cares about. It’s this dragon, her dragons, and her quest to return home that matter. The girl gets tunnel vision, oblivious to the fact that she’s been betrayed and an assassination attempt is in progress. It doesn’t matter, she can see it all clearly now. She launches into the pit, retrieves a whip from one of the dead fighters, and whips that motherfucking dragon into submission.
He didn’t arrive by some call from his mother. He plopped in because he was hungry, and out of control. When this girl starts cracking a whip at him, he fully intends to kill her, but she’ll have none of that. The chaos in the rest of the arena is just background noise. Daenerys is a Targaryen, and this is her god damned dragon. Refusing to be bullied, she vaults on to his back to pull the spear from his neck. Unbidden, Drogon takes off with her along for the ride. That he also lifted her out of danger was purely coincidental.
It solidified Daenerys as an incredibly powerful woman. She tamed the most out of control beast this realm has seen in years, and rediscovered herself as a Targaryen. Taking control of Drogon and flying away was more than just something that happened – it symbolized her embracing and seizing control of her destiny, leaving behind the Meereenese mess that’s holding her back from her goals.
A very different scene from what I just watched on HBO. The show portrayed her as utterly helpless, a Princess Peach waiting to be rescued. Rescue was literally the only purpose Drogon served. Fucking Tyrion put up a greater fight than she did. Sure, it was a beautiful moment. But it wasn’t a moment that Daenerys had earned. The pieces leading up to that moment simply weren’t there.
The writers seem to be losing touch of the context of everyone’s actions, focusing instead on fleshing out their own versions of the story, while using Martin’s scenes as a crutch to get by on.
The inconsistencies in character development are too difficult to get past. Selyse, a cold and unloving mother, trying to save Shireen. Stannis, after being a loving father, sacrifices her. Ellaria goes from spilling her drink in a toast, to begging for Doran’s forgiveness and chumming it up with Jaime about incest. Who even are these people?
At least, for now, they have iconic scenes from the books to set everything back on track. What will they do in Season 6, when they only have an outline to work with? What kind of madness will our characters spiral into? Will they even be recognizable?
We have one more episode, and they’ve caught up with all the material the books have to offer. Two more major events that I’ve been looking forward to seeing. Next week, we’ll see how they handle it. And I suppose I’ll have a year to decide how badly I want to see who ends up on the Iron Throne.