‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5, Episode 9 Roundtable Review: ‘The Dance of Dragons’

Each week, Adam and David Shimer analyze the latest episode of Game of Thrones from the perspective of a non-book reader. This week they discuss ‘The Dance of Dragons,’ but first they would like to assign some weekly awards:

Tywin Lannister Memorial Award for Best Political Maneuvering: Drogon (you can’t teach timing)

Honorable Mention: Melisandre — when she wants people to burn… they burn.

Eddard Stark Memorial Award for Worst Political Maneuvering: Hizdahr (what a moron — he ambushed himself)

Honorable Mention: Ellaria (she was forced to kiss Doran’s ring, but she did not seem pleased)

Brandon Stark Award for Most Boring Storyline: The two Sand Snakes playing patty cake

Honorable Mention: Bronn getting freed in exchange for an elbow to the face

Jaime Lannister’s Right Hand Award for Best Fight Sequence: Drogon’s fire-breathing and head-biting display

Honorable Mention: Jorah’s stop-drop-and-roll thrust combined with his perfectly thrown spear

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AS: I didn’t think it was possible, but Episode 9 topped last week’s tremendous Battle of Hardhome sequence. An emotional rollercoaster, ‘The Dance of Dragons’ presented somewhat of an overarching theme: protect the ones you love because if you don’t, no one else will. Jorah and Drogon adore Daenerys more than anyone (yes a dragon can love — he isn’t the Night’s King), and whether it be when the Sons of the Harpy first appeared and Jorah instinctively threw his spear, or when Daenerys seemed on the brink of death and Drogon soared into the scene — they protected her when she needed them most. The same cannot be said for Stannis and Selyse Baratheon, who in a shocking and heart-wrenching twist doomed their daughter to a horrible death. They failed to protect Shireen, instead allowing Melisandre’s fanaticism to cloud their judgement. Westeros is an unforgiving world where even the rich and influential are helpless at times. As Cersei said to Oberyn in Season 4: “What good is power if you cannot protect the ones you love?” Moral of the story: when the situation is in your control — when you aren’t in a helpless position as Ellaria was when Oberyn’s skull got crushed, as Catelyn was when Robb got gutted, as Arya was when Ned’s head got chopped off — do something about it. There will be a time in the near future when you are not so fortunate. Stannis had the ability to protect his daughter and chose not to, and I suspect he will live to regret that desperate decision in the near future.

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DS: Sure, this episode showed us the importance of taking control. But what happens when you can’t? What happens when you truly become helpless? So much of this show is dedicated to laying “the foundation,” which often frustrates fans. But it was that foundation that enabled The Dance of Dragons to succeed, because pieces set in motion episodes — even seasons — ago could not be stopped tonight. We got to watch the chaos that ensued. I have no doubt that Hizdahr supported, and probably led, the Sons of the Harpy, but his organization had grown so large that its members could no longer distinguish friend from foe. Rather than dramatically reveal himself to be the enemy, Hizdahr died pathetically. At least he had the opportunity, at some point, to choose which path he would take. Shireen never did. I naively assumed she would be saved by one of her parents. When Selyse’s humanity finally emerged, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I watched a woman writhe in the snow, powerless to save her only child, and a father resigned to Melisandre’s wishes. In many ways, Stannis decided to let Shireen die when he assassinated Renly (RIP). At that moment he fully devoted himself to the Lord of Light, a religion larger than he could ever be, and he gave Melisandre a blank check in the process. In Season 3, Tywin mockingly asked, “You think a crown gives you power?” In Stannis’s case, the answer to that question is clear.

AS: Ellaria’s words of wisdom to Jaime especially struck me because they were the exact opposite of what Stannis did: “It is always changing, who we are supposed to love and who we are not. The only thing that stays the same is that we want who we want.” Societal norms are always evolving, but it is your job to brush aside the distractions and take what you desire. This is precisely what Arya did when she saw Meryn Trant, one of the hated people on her “kill list.” He helped to slaughter her loved ones in King’s Landing during Season 1, so Arya forgot about her annoying “oysters, clams and cockles” nonsense and the skinny man she was meant to assassinate, and instead sought to avenge her dead family. She stayed true to who she was — something that not many people in Westeros can claim they do these days. Only a few episodes ago Stannis was heartwarmingly telling Shireen that she was his daughter and that he would therefore do anything to protect her. Fast forward a few episodes and suddenly he is burning her at the stake like any common King Beyond the Wall (RIP Mance). Davos has always been Stannis’s moral compass, and sending him away made it that much easier for him to disregard his own identity. Stannis forgot who he was — forgot what was truly important because distractions got in his way — but it was at least reassuring to see that the same could not be said for Arya.

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DS: It’s almost ironic that the Sons of the Harpy ambushed and almost killed Dany in the Fighting Pit, which was the ultimate symbol of Dany’s loss of self. Ever since she arrived in Meereen, Dany has been pressured to abandon her morals in exchange for peace. Hizdahr, for example, constantly pushed Dany to open the fighting pits, and she gave in despite her misgivings about what they stood for. Hizdahr asking Dany to clap was just a formality, but it condensed her moral struggle into a single action. With thousands watching, however, she had no choice. Though Dany technically controls Meereen, in that moment the Meereenese controlled her. That all changed the moment Drogon came bursting into the scene because now Dany has the chance to rediscover herself, to be who we want her to be. Flying away from the disarray and death of the Fighting Pit seemed to symbolize Dany finally escaping the stagnation that has marred her rule in Meereen. On the back of her dragon, Dany is set to depart on a new determined path. Here’s to hoping she seizes the opportunity, as she may never have such a good one again. As Doran said to Ellaria: Westeros doesn’t have the patience for third chances.

AS: Just as Doran gave Ellaria a second chance, I’m glad that Daenerys finally seems ready to give Jorah the second chance that he deserves. Daenerys saw that he was willing to fight and die for her, and yet that is not what got him back in her good graces. Instead it was her own life being in danger that made her realize who she can truly trust and rely on. When Jorah reached out his hand to Daenerys, her natural survival instinct kicked in and she understood that deep down, she still trusted Jorah with her life. Surrounded by dagger-wielding enemies, Daenerys valued Jorah’s unwithering loyalty over the pain that his past betrayal has caused and still causes her. It took a dramatic life-threatening ambush for them to reconcile, but Daenerys needs to be surrounded by devoted friends, now more than ever, and no one is more devoted than Jorah. I’m sure that Daenerys has not forgotten about his betrayal, but after what she just went through and the loyalty that Jorah displayed in protecting her, I think it is safe to say that he has gotten banished from Meereen for the last time.

This week Nicole Shimer guest-stars to provide us with our weekly random thoughts:

NS: Random thoughts to close the review —

  • It was heartwarming to watch Daenerys and Missandei hold hands when they thought that they were done for.
  • That awkward moment when your baby dragon saves you and you leave your four BFFs in the dust.
  • Daenerys definitely has a favorite child now.
  • The look on Melisandre’s face when fire burst throughout her camp because fire is usually her thing.
  • The Giant must have limboed through the gate.
  • Everyone (including Jon) totally thought that Alliser was going to mutiny and not let them back in.
  • Stannis killed his only child out of his ambition (and desperation) for the Iron Throne, while Dany’s child saved her in her quest for the same goal. Can you say ironic juxtaposition?
  • Of course Meryn Trant also rapes little girls in his spare time — because the show needed to add a fresh reason to hate him (fighting Syrio Forel in Season 1 and beating up Sansa with a sword at Joffrey’s request in Season 2 aren’t fresh enough memories apparently).

M.I.A. this episode: Cersei, Tommen, Tyrells, Littlefinger, High Sparrow, Sansa, the Boltons, Brienne and Varys

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