Following “Hardhome’s” incredible battle is an unenviable task. And while “The Dance of Dragons” did not exactly reach those grandiose levels, it had its own exciting and important pinnacle. This pinnacle, however, was reached surrounded by a much more emotional episode, both for the characters and the audience. “Hardhome’s” action was not surpassed in Season 5’s penultimate episode, but its importance may have been.
Daenarys and her story in Meereen has felt piecemeal all season, which makes sense considering a large part of her plot has been reacting to things that go on around her. There have certainly been some exclamation points – whether it be feeding her chained up dragons a noble or Berristan and Grey Worm fighting the Sons of the Harpy – but it has lacked cohesiveness and direction.
So it should come to no surprise that the crumbling face of the harpy outside of Meereen’s fighting pit stadium seemingly comes out of nowhere after the entire episode has been checking in elsewhere. Here she presides over the fights with Tyrion, Daario, and her husband (in name only) Hizdahr. Although the banter between Daario, Hizdahr (RIP), and Tyrion is solid, and Daenarys’s true emotions coming out while watching a struggling Jorah fighting below her, things don’t really heat up until the Sons of the Harpy try to assassinate Daenarys and then attack the queen and her guard. And just when it seems that Daenarys is surrounded and has little hope of escape, Daenarys’s random storyline gets yet another twist as Drogon swoops in (or Daenarys possible summons him?) to defend her.
But nothing truly happens until the final part of the fight, where Daenarys climbs on the back of Drogon and they fly off. Making a literal escape from the pit, flying high above Meereen, perhaps in a moment of self-discovery. While it was a timely escape, it feels like so much more. Everyone has been clamoring for Daenarys to leave Meereen and somehow, Drogon rescuing her and her climbing on his back to fly off, feels like the visual representation of that – even if she doesn’t leave immediately. Drogon is the very simple solution to all her complex problems in Meereen.
She has tried brutality, punishment, politicking, and appeasing and yet the Meereenese, specifically the Sons of the Harpy, have not responded. She has exhausted her options for ruling Meereen and it takes Drogon to remind her of who she is and the power she possesses. Clearly she did not know she could ride the dragons – only the legends spoke of dragon riders – but this fact can only help her in future battles. Drogon and her dragons are, and always have been Daenarys’s trump cards, and she only needed to be reminded of who she was to realize their importance. Whatever the direct aftermath is of the Sons of the Harpy attack at the fights, it seems like it will hold little significance. Now Daenarys’s plot can begin to take shape. Whether she stays in Meereen and rules behind her dragons or simply decides to leave Meereen entirely and make her way towards Westeros her literally being over Meereen in the final shots of the episode feel as though Daenarys’s Meereenese quagmire has been solved, or she now knows how to solve it.
Stannis also reminds himself of who he is and unfortunately his true self is a lot more terrible than anyone reckoned. With his camp not only freezing and starving but now also lit ablaze by Ramsay and his 20 good men, Stannis (with his haggard appearance) realizes he must either die in the cold or appeal to the Lord of Light one more time. Stannis being who he is opts for the latter. This requires him to sacrifice someone with king’s blood so that Melisandre can do her thing (she seemed to enjoy her thing a little too much this time) and get the Lord of Light to help them out. And thus the brightest part of the show in the north, Shireen, is burnt alive as sacrifice. So it goes in Westeros – another innocent character being undeservedly punished.
The decision made logical sense for Stannis’s character but the lack of emotionality (even ice queen Selyse wants to save her as it is happening) was somewhat disturbing. Only a few episodes ago we saw him not only hugging Shireen but also regaling everyone of the tale of how hard he tried to save her from grayscale as a baby. And though he is unkempt and his soldiers are unable to march towards Winterfell there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect from the Stannis who saved Shireen and the Stannis who offered her as sacrifice. In fact in this episode Stannis seemed more defeated than anything. Perhaps that is the point when he is only given one option besides starving/freezing to death, but the fire in his belly to rule Westeros certainly did not seem to be crackling enough for him to make this decision about Shireen in so little time. If only Davos could have snuck her off to Castle Black.
But what does this make of Stannis? He had become somewhat of a sympathetic figure, or at least someone the audience could root for considering he was going against the Boltons. Stannis’s calculated decision may even make him more despicable than Ramsay, which is a hard thing to do. Perhaps Stannis will meet his end soon, but if he doesn’t his victories will hopefully be tainted.
Arya’s desires have always been unknown but it is clear she is still unsure of herself when tasked to kill those she doesn’t know. Or at least that’s how it seemed as she moved the poison from her pocket to her pouch as she approached the insurance agent. Until she got distracted by seeing Meryn Trant, who was the knight her killed Syrio in the first season when he was trying to apprehend Arya. Arya also does not make a great faceless man as she conspicuously follows Meryn throughout the city for at least a few hours. There don’t seem to be many girls selling oysters in Braavos, let alone girls who Meryn kind of recognizes and/or may be to his sexual tastes considering the girl he ends up with at the brothel.
Though it seems like Meryn may have been more welcome in Dorne, where Ellaria informs Jamie that his love of his sister would be perfectly acceptable in the land of sand and wine. On the other hand, Ellaria certainly is not too fond of Doran, who she finds far too soft. But Doran’s softness finally feels strategic. In previous episodes he seemed to be portrayed as a wheelchair-bound weakling but in this episode his release of Jamie and Bronn, as well as requiring Jamie to put Tristane on the small council felt more more shrewd than kind. It helps that he was able to put Ellaria in her place as well, but Doran has become more intriguing after “The Dance of Dragons.”
“The Dance of Dragons” will forever be known as the episode in which Daenarys discovered she could fly on a dragon’s back. Hopefully it will give her overall story lift off as well. “The Dance of Dragons” was not as exciting as “Hardhome” but it threw some new wrinkles into the plots of both Daenarys and Arya, two of the least focused plots. Perhaps it will give these characters some forward momentum.
Other Gamey Morsels
• Shireen’s death is the most wrong thing to happen to someone on the show. You could argue that Sansa has deserved some sort of punishment for basically disowning the Starks when she first was to wed Joffrey – though clearly she has gotten far more than she has deserved by now. Likewise, Theon should have been punished for betraying the Starks as well. But Shireen is completely innocent. Her desire to help her dad out made Stannis’s decision all the more abhorrent and Shireen all the more loveable.
• Davos also had a hand to play in Shireen’s death. His loyalty towards the “just” Stannis didn’t allow him to whisk Shireen off to Castle Black. Perhaps he didn’t know what Stannis’s entire plans entailed but it seemed pretty clear he knew something bad would happen to her. Davos is a very likeable character but that could change depending on what his reaction to Stannis’s action is.
• Alliser let Jon twist in the winter wind just long enough before he opened the gate to let he and the wildlings through. The reactions to the giant were awesome but there certainly didn’t seem to be any urgency in Jon telling everyone exactly what they met up at Hardhome.
• Tyrion saving Missandei was pretty awesome, as was Jorah’s spear throw to save Daenarys. Though all were left in the dust as Daenarys flew out of the fighting pit. Again, this may be foreshadowing for how Daenarys will rule from here on.
• The Sand Snakes need their own spinoff.
image courtesy of Peter West/ACE/INFphoto.com