Game of Thrones “The Dance of Dragons” follows “Hardhome,” one of the best episodes in the series. Jon Snow has forged an alliance with the Free Folk built out of desperation and fear of a common enemy. On the other hand, the shared hopes of Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister have brought them together with the goal of creating a better future. The status of King’s Landing remains a question that is further complicated by Jaime Lannister’s imprisonment in Dorne. The conflict between the Boltons at Winterfell and Stannis Baratheon’s army will decide the fate of the North, at least for now. The Stark sisters are on very different paths, but both are fueled by survival instincts and a desire for vengeance. “The Dance of Dragons” shows us that Game of Thrones continues to excel at suspenseful, emotionally-driven storytelling.
[For the recap, continue reading—but if you want to go straight to the review analysis of this episode, click here.]
Jon Snow, Eddison Tollett, Tormund Giantsbane, the giant Wun Wun, and the other survivors from the battle of Hardhome approach the Wall. As Alliser Thorne looks down at Jon and his group, for a few tense moments it appears he may not let them in, but Alliser does eventually order the gates opened. Jon feels he has failed the Free Folk as so many were lost, though Sam points out that what Jon did matters to those he did save. The appearance of so many wildlings, including a giant, doesn’t sit well with many men of the Night’s Watch, including Jon’s personal steward, Olly. Alliser walks over to Jon and says, “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It’ll get us all killed.”
Jaime Lannister is received by Prince Doran Martell, Ellaria Sand, Prince Trystane Martell, and his niece Myrcella Baratheon. Jaime doesn’t approve of his niece’s revealing dress. It’s not easy being a secret dad. Though some in Dorne, including Ellaria Sand, are clamoring for war, it’s not on Prince Doran’s agenda. He agrees to send Myrcella back to King’s Landing, with the stipulation that her fiancé Prince Trystane accompany her. As Prince Doran’s brother, Oberyn Martell, was slain in combat against the Mountain, Doran requires that Prince Trystane take his place on the Small Council. Jaime is able to negotiate for Bronn’s release, though the terms leave Bronn with a broken jaw. Seems like a win-win negotiation for everyone, except maybe Bronn. If they knew the state of affairs in King’s Landing with the Faith Militant, neither Jaime nor Doran might be so eager to send their children there.
Prince Doran makes Ellaria choose between swearing allegiance and death. The Sand Snakes look on with disgust as Ellaria kisses his ring. He warns there won’t be a third chance. Ellaria goes to see Jaime. Rather than try to kill him, as we expected, she talks about how his love for Cersei would not be looked down upon in other places and during different times. Jaime doesn’t say a word. The incestuous relationship between Jaime and Cersei seems to be worst kept secret in Westeros.
Arya continues in her role of Lana, a Braavosian Molly Malone, but with assassin powers. When she gets close to the man she intends to kill, she appears tentative about killing him. Before she can complete her task, she sees Lord Mace Tyrell arrive, accompanied by Meryn Trant—one of the people on her own personal kill list. Arya believes that Meryn Trant killed her combat instructor Syrio Forel.
As poor Lord Tyrell embarrasses himself with the representative from the Iron Bank of Braavos, Arya follows them through the city. Later that evening she follows Meryn Trant into a brothel, selling her oysters as she watches him. She must hide her face when he looks her way because Meryn Trant is someone who could recognize her as Arya Stark. In the brothel, she learns that Meryn Trant’s taste for girls runs young, making him that much more of a despicable character. Even his own soldiers don’t approve. Arya learns that Meryn expects the brothel owner to procure him another young girl the next night.
Arya returns to the House of Black and White and lies to Jaqen H`ghar. It’s not clear if Arya has become such a skilled liar that she can fool him, or if he’s waiting to see if she’ll yet complete her task. It’s likely that Jaqen H`ghar is aware Arya is failing her first test.
Ramsey Bolton was successful in his attack on Stannis Baratheon’s camp, setting fires, killing horses, and destroying food stores. When Davos points out they don’t have enough food to make it back to Castle Black, Stannis tells him they are not going back. He walks towards Melisandre, who waits with his daughter Shireen. We consider not watching the rest of the episode because we don’t want to watch Stannis sacrifice his daughter Shireen. The part of us that hopes he has another plan wins out, and we continue to watch “The Dance of Dragons.”
Stannis is sending Davos back to Castle Black to negotiate for supplies and food. Davos wants to take Shireen, but Stannis insists, “My family stays with me.”
Before he leaves, Davos visits Shireen and gives her the gift of a beautifully carved stag. Despite her upbringing by a cold father and fanatical mother, Shireen is a sweet and generous girl and it’s clear that Davos cares for her. Davos has always been mistrustful of Melisandre and he must realize the risk to Shireen because of her royal blood.
Stannis comes to see Shireen, who is playing with the stag Davos gave her and reading The Dance of Dragons. She tells him of the story:
“It’s the story of the fight between Rhaenyra Targaryen and her half-brother Aegon for control of the Seven Kingdoms. Both of them thought they belonged on the Iron Throne. When people started declaring for one of them or the other, their fight divided the Kingdoms in two–brothers fought brothers, dragons fought dragons. By the time it was over thousands were dead. And it was a disaster for the Targaryens as well. They never truly recovered.”
Stannis asks Shireen if she would’ve chosen Rhaenyra or Aegon, but Shireen responds is that it’s all the choosing of sides that made things so horrible. He tells Shireen:
“Sometimes a person has to choose. Sometimes the world forces his hand. If a man knows what he is and remains true to himself, the choice is no choice at all. He must fulfill his destiny and become who he is meant to be, however much he may hate it.”
Shireen can see her father is troubled and offers her help. When he points out that she doesn’t even know what he’s talking about, she tells him that it doesn’t matter because she wants to help: “I’m the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon and I’m your daughter.” Shireen hugs her father, and for a moment we have hope that he won’t murder his own child, but then he whispers, “Forgive me.”
Holding the carved stag, Shireen is marched out and tied to a pyre. As Shireen yells for her father, Melisandre lights the pyre, intoning a prayer to the Lord of Light. Standing amongst the soldiers watching in horror, Stannis and Selyse see Shireen calling to her father. At first Selyse says, “It’s what the Lord wants. It’s a good thing, a great thing.” She says the sacrifice will keep them all from starving to death. When Shireen begins to call for her mother, Selyse says, “We can’t,” but Stannis responds, “There’s no other way.” Selyse’s newly emergent motherly compassion comes far too late for Shireen. Once the pyre is lit, Selyse tries to get to her screaming daughter, but she’s held back by the soldiers. No viewer will ever forgive Stannis for this, and it’s hard to imagine how any of these soldiers would continue to fight for such a man.
Daenerys Targaryn is at the opening of the Great Games at the great pit of Daznak. Her fiancé Hizdahr zo Loraq arrives late because he was “just making sure everything was in order.” Sounds suspicious. Hizdahr and Daario Naharis get into an argument about the outcome of the fight. Their argument reflects a sort of competition for Daenerys, which Daario is clearly winning. Tyrion watches their bickering in disapproval. A fighter decapitates his opponent, ending the first match. When Hizdahr asks Tyrion if he doesn’t approve, Tyrion responds, “There’s always been more than enough death in the world for my taste. I can do without it in my leisure time.”
Ser Jorah Mormont is presented as one of the fighters, causing Daenerys to pause before clapping her hands to start the match. At one point it appears Jorah will be killed, and Tyrion tells her, “You can end this,” yet despite her clear concern for Jorah, she does nothing. Jorah is saved when another fighter kills his opponent. Jorah wins the match, much to the disapproval of the Meereenese crowd.
As he stands before Daenerys, Jorah throws a spear past her, killing a Sons of the Harpy assassin standing behind her. Suddenly the coliseum is filled with members of Sons of the Harpy. Where were they hiding their masks? Daario and the guards try to protect the Queen and her companions. Hizdahr panics and is killed, despite Daario’s efforts to help him. It appears our suspicions of Hizdahr’s involvement in this attack were unfounded. Jorah arrives, and Daenerys takes his hand as he and Daario help her down to the floor of the fighting pit, where they are cut off in their escape. Daenerys, Missandei, Tyrion, Daario, and Jorah find themselves in the middle of the fighting pit, with a handful of guards, surrounded by the Sons of the Harpy. Daenerys takes Missandei’s hand and closes her eyes, as if in resignation or deep thought. Then we hear the sounds of a dragon.
Drogon appears above the Daznak fighting pit. He lands and kills a bunch of Meereenese with his flames and very sharp teeth. The Sons of the Harpy throw their spears into Drogon. Daenerys approaches him and pulls a spear out, resulting in him roaring in her face. They then have a tender moment before spears begin to be thrown his away again. Daenerys climbs onto his back, and they fly away.
“The Dance of Dragons” Review
Despite “The Dance of Dragons” being filled to the gills with dramatic storytelling in other locations, Game of Thrones is still able to provide some closure on the “Hardhome” episode. The moment when Alliser Thorne looks down at Jon Snow and the wildlings was just as suspenseful as some of the moments at Meereen and Stannis’s camp. Jon truly didn’t know if Alliser would open the gates and was immensely relieved when he did. Though Alliser hates Jon Snow, he does seem to be an honorable man who believes that Jon is also honorable, but greatly misguided. Will Eddison Tollett and the other Night’s Watch survivors of Hardhome be able to convey to the other watchmen the terror that awaits them? If so, will this ease tensions, or only serve to increase the conflicts at the Wall?
At first the storylines of Braavos and Dorne felt like distractions we needed to get through in order to get back to the narratives we are most interested in about the North. We reach resolution, at least for now, with the Dorne story. If the party makes it back to King’s Landing, the presence of Prince Trystane on the Small Council could be interesting. Though the Dorne storyline was somewhat lackluster in “The Dance of Dragons,” the narrative in Braavos was quite gripping. Arya doesn’t seem ready to give up her kill list, and we can’t blame her. If we were on the fence about Meryn Trant, his pedophilic tendencies solidly placed his character squarely in the category of villain. Though we haven’t found the Braavos storyline to be particularly compelling this season, we can’t get enough of the fantastic backdrop this bustling city provides.
When Stannis has the watchmen killed we’re reminded of how cold and rigid he is. We were so hopeful that Stannis would stand strong for Shireen, but apparently Ramsey Bolton’s attack brought out the worst in him. His blind ambition to be a heroic figure with a great destiny has turned him into a villain. We aren’t the biggest fans of the types of storylines in which characters we love are tortured, killed, or both, though we can’t deny it left a huge emotional impact. Let’s hope that Shireen is secretly a Targaryen—but her screams indicate otherwise.
During “Inside the Episode,” Game of Thrones Executive Producer and writer David Benioff mentioned that Shireen’s death was something that George R.R. Martin told them about as part of the Song of Ice and Fire narrative. Perhaps the writers don’t want to take the blame for another example of violence being visited upon a female character, the worst we have seen so far. Benioff wanted us to know this act of filicide came straight out of Martin’s storytelling.
When the narrative moved from the emotionally draining story of Stannis killing Shireen, to the bureaucratic nightmare that is Meereen, we couldn’t help but wonder how it made sense. We were still mourning Shireen and not excited to revisit Meereen, which hasn’t been one of our favorite locales this season. When we actually finished watching the episode, we were grateful to end on an emotional high as Daenerys flew off with her beloved Drogon.
The conflict between Hizdahr zo Loraq and Daario Naharis was going to get tired very quickly, which was evident in how Tyrion and Missandei were responding to their one-upsmanship. With Hizdahr’s death, chaos in Meereen, and the return of Drogon, it seems that Daenerys may be freed from having to marry a Meereenese.
What does this turn of events mean for Jorah? Daenerys clearly cares for him a great deal. Perhaps Jorah helping to protect her is the excuse she needed to forgive him. But what of his greyscale? Let’s not forget that he took her hand. However, we suspect that Targaryens may be immune from greyscale because they have so many other superpowers. Of course that doesn’t preclude anyone else from getting the disease. Jorah may not be long for this world if the greyscale takes its normal course.
It’s not clear what Drogon’s return will mean for Daenerys, Meereen, and Westeros. Will Daenerys return to Meereen and take control? Will this spur her to free her other dragons and make her way towards Westeros? With the White Walkers and expanding army of the dead, Westeros may need a Targaryen more than ever.
In “The Dance of Dragons,” Game of Thrones kept us on the edge of our seats. After such a big episode in “Hardhome,” another blockbuster episode with grand settings was a surprise. With “The Dance of Dragons” being this suspenseful, we can only imagine what the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones will bring.
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