The Dance of Dragons by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
After Hardhome episode 9 had a lot to live up to – but barring pulling another Red Wedding there wasn’t much that would have lived up to it. Has the trend of the most shocking/best/climatic episode being the ninth one ended? Maybe – but this one still boasts one stunning ending sequence and one almighty gut punch. Unfortunately the Dorne storyline follows its counterpart in the books to a lackluster conclusion and while Arya’s section is interesting, it’s merely setting up her part in next week’s finale. Jon gets a few scenes as he arrives back at the wall with the wildling survivors, but it is clear trouble is brewing with the other Night’s Watch members; apart from Sam, they didn’t look thrilled with this development…
The Dorne storyline has disappointed this season – it makes me glad they cut the Greyjoys, who had an equally weak storyline in Books 4 and 5 – while Tyene Sand made an impression and there were some good moments between Bronn and Jaime, it smacked of merely moving people around to where they need to be in season 6. Alexander Siddig and Indira Varma are both quality actors and deserved more than they got – hope next season will rectify that.
Arya’s storyline moves into book 6 territory as she runs into Meryn Trant, one of Cersei’s men on her list (for killing Syrio Forel back in season 1) who is accompanying Mace Tyrrell (a character who is played for comedy effect as usual – to be fair it was an episode that needed some light hearted moments). Meryn Trant is here exposed as a pedophile in a brothel scene where he constantly asks for a younger woman than the ones they are offering – just to remind us what a despicable character he is. My guess is that Arya will use this to her advantage to trap him and try and cross his name off her list in next week’s episode – but will she jeopardise her standing with Jaqen in doing so (here abandoning her mission to spy on Meryn).
Now for the two big moments in the episode – the main sequence is the the final scene in Meereen as Jorah fighting in the Arena is interrupted by a horde of the Sons of the Harpy attacking the crowd and trying to kill Daenerys. The build up, such as the posturing between Daario and Hizdahr was amusing, and the fight scenes were some of the better ones this season (thought Jorah might have had it on a few occasions). Once the Sons attack, a lot of great moments come thick and fast (the shock death of Hizdahr, Tyrion saving Missandei, Dany forgiving Jorah) building up to the epic moment were the surrounded heroes are saved by the surprise appearance of Drogon, Dany’s lost dragon. This was as impressive as any Dragon scenes we’ve had in the five seasons so far and the final shot of Dany riding Drogon as he flew away was as awesome as I’d hoped it would be.
Last in this review comes the episode’s big gut punch: Stannis sacrificing Shireen as Melisandre advised after Ramsay’s men make a surprise attack which destroys his supplies and leaves him with no other option. Given how Stannis’ relationship with Shireen has been built up this season, it was a shock moment. The sense of foreboding was there in his scenes, as he sent Davos away to go ask Jon for supplies (as Davos would NEVER have gone along with this – might this be what breaks his loyalty to Stannis?) and then had a last conversation with Shireen where you felt sure Stannis would back out – but he didn’t. Even Stannis’ wife Selyse, one of the most hated supporting characters, tried desperately to stop Shireen being burned. Kerry Ingram’s performance as Shireen in these scenes was great and heartbreaking in equal measure, and i will miss her character. Thank god we didn’t actually see her burned (though her screaming was very haunting) as even watching Mance Rayder burn in episode 1 was very traumatic (and this time Jon wasn’t around to do a mercy kill). This might turn a lot of people against Stannis’ character, but it was certainly an interesting and heartbreaking development (who’d have thought Sansa’s rape scene would only be the second most traumatic moment of the season?).
Worse: (or better depending on your view) next up is episode 10, which if it follows the end of book 5 will have at least two major deaths in it, plus some of the actors have repeatedly teased that a non-book twist is coming as well – I’d brace yourselves people…
Overall the episode loses something due to the lack of drama in the Dornish storyline and by setting up episode 10, but the chaos in Meereen and Shireen’s gruesome fate make it a memorable episode, if not on par with other episode 9’s.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Next Time: Stannis makes his move against the Boltons, Tyrion deals with the fallout from events in Meereen and Cersei hits her lowest point…