Goddamn “Game of Thrones.” Watching this show is sometimes like being in an abusive relationship. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss subject us to horrible, soul-crushing events time and time again, but then by the end of the episode, someone’s riding a dragon and we’re sucked back into the magic once again. But are those triumphant moments truly worth the horrors that we have to slog through to get there? This has been called into question way too often this season, and episode nine, “The Dance With Dragons,” just might be the tipping point for some.
Obviously, the world of Westeros is not a safe place for little girls (or anyone, but especially girls). But as the showrunners push their agenda over the storyline from the book, that element of danger is a crutch that they rely on far too frequently, and in a way that is gratuitous and often feels unearned. This episode took the theme to new and darker places, when we’ve already been in very dark places this season. As viewers, there’s a hope that these bleak depictions will lead to some kind of glorious vengeance, but it’s just not clear if we can trust Benioff and Weiss with that hope. We’ve been burned too many times before. Quite literally this time around.
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the small number of survivors of the White Walker attack show up at Castle Black, bedraggled and downtrodden. Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) hesitates before opening up the gates to this sorry bunch, but eventually relents. He tells Jon upon their return, “you have a good heart, Jon Snow, it’ll get us all killed.” He might not be wrong about that, but Thorne’s always been an eternal pessimist. On the other side of the spectrum, eternal optimist Sam (John Bradley) assures Jon that the mission was not a failure, pointing out that he didn’t fail those individuals who are solemnly filing into the yard, including the giant, whose presence causes everyone to fall silent in awe.
Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), supposedly the most hated man in Dorne, has been treated pretty damn well on his kidnapping trip, put up in a posh room in the Water Gardens, even after he tried to kidnap his daughter/niece. Maybe he should just stay there, since King’s Landing is a terrible place filled with class inequality, and run by militant fundamentalists. He’s even invited to a very hip and groovy dinner with the Martell family, who do some light interrogating about his mission, which he says was spurred by the threatening message, of the necklace in the viper’s mouth. It soon becomes clear this was the doing of meddler Ellaria (Indira Varma), and Doran (Alexander Siddig) is none too pleased with her war-mongering. She even pours out their toast to King Tommen. In a peace offering, Doran suggests that Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) and Trystane (Toby Sebastian) go back to Westeros with Jaime, and that Trystane will take Oberyn’s place on the small council. Cool, so basically Westeros will be ruled by horny teen boys.
Jaime, who is laying on the smarm thick, requests Bronn (Jerome Flynn) be released from the sexy women’s prison where they are holding him with the Sand Snakes, who are playing hand slapping games, and once again, do nothing of consequence. When Bronn is brought up to the groovy dinner party, he receives a wallop across the face in retaliation for smacking Trystane. Everything that happens in Dorne is just nonsensical and silly right now.
But, Ellaria is being made to pay for her mouthing off to Doran, having to kneel and kiss his ring. She seeks out an alliance with Jaime, telling him that she has no problem with his incestuous ways (oh that sexually liberated Dorne), and that in fact, she doesn’t even hold him or Myrcella accountable for the Oberyn’s death. She’s gunning for one person, and that person happens to be in the dungeon of King’s Landing. Also, apparently Jaime is the Most Popular Guy in Dorne, and not the other way around.
Arya (Maisie Williams) is still on her undercover mission, to murder the gambling insurance man via tainted oyster. However, she gets distracted by the arrival of the jolly, singing Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) and evil knight Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie). Because Trant is on The To-Murder List, Arya stalks her new prey, even going so far as to bring her oyster trade into the brothel where Trant goes to fulfill his dark and horrid fantasies. Because the only way to show that someone is horrible on “Game of Thrones” is through rape. So Trant turns up his nose at every prostitute in a ruffled vest, declaring them all “too old,” and accepting only the bewildered pre-teen scullery maid on whom they hastily slapped some rouge, dragging her off to a back room and demanding a “fresh one” for the next day. Ew, “Game of Thrones,” just ew. That wasn’t necessary, and was truly awful to witness. But perhaps, the House of Black and White will take on the case of Trant the Pedo, since he poses a threat to the community and all.
North of Winterfell
Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) isn’t having the best of luck with his planned siege of Winterfell, as Ramsay Snow has snuck in with 20 men and set everything on fire. Now as much as Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) enjoys a bonfire, this one happened to destroy their food and supplies. Davos (Liam Cunningham) wants to turn back, but Stannis won’t have it. He sends Davos to go request supplies and men from Castle Black (they have a giant now!), but Davos is highly, highly suspicious of the cozy relationship between Melisandre and Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald), Stannis’ increasingly haggard desperation, and their belief in king’s blood. He even goes so far as to try and get Shireen (Kerry Ingram) to go along with him to Castle Black, but Stannis won’t allow it. He has other plans…
And what horrid other plans they are. Stannis has another father-daughter chat with Shireen, telling her that “sometimes a man has to choose… he has to fulfill his destiny and become who he has to be. Shireen, as trusting, noble and honorable as she is, offers to help her daddy, and sadly, he accepts, saying “forgive me.” At this point, we know where things are going.
Shireen is led out to a stake in the middle of the snowy field, surrounded by dead-eyed Baratheon soldiers. She wants to know where she’s going and where her father is, and sharp as a tack, she knows almost instantly where this is leading, and she is dragged, kicking and screaming to the stake. Melisandre lights the pyre as Selyse and Stannis, out of sight, talk about the importance of sacrifice. And yet, as soon as Shireen starts screaming for her father and then for her mother, Selyse breaks free and runs to her, but of course it is too late. As her screams heighten and then stop, the parents have given up the last thing that made them who they were aside from power-hungry warlords. Stannis continues to fight on, but now, what is he even fighting for?
Watching this moment was truly terrible, truly one of the darkest moments to occur in this series full of dark moments. There’s something about the cruel and cold murder of an innocent, in a world where almost no one is, that just feels especially black-hearted. It’s the kind of moment that will make one want to break up with the show, even in light of its glorious moments, such as…
The fighting pits have graduated to the huge arena coliseum, where Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Hizdahr (Joel Fry), Daario (Michiel Huisman) and new advisor Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) preside over the events. Dany’s in a piece from her Dragon Mom QVC accessory collection, but she’s not pleased about the copious bloodshed in front of her. The group debates the morality of cruelty in relationship to power, and whether the small can ever truly best the large, all against a backdrop of arterial spray on sand.
Dany’s spurned, grey-scale infected Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) turns up to fight for the queen, and it’s like “dude, STOP texting.” It appears as though all he wants is to die by many knife wounds in front of his silver-haired lady, which is probably the best bet for him, tbqh, though he does take out two comers fairly handily. He’d be great as a Stone Man. He suddenly fires a spear into the royal box, nearly beheading Hizdarh and Daario, and taking out a Son of the Harpy creeping up on Dany. Daario Naharis, you are FIRED from security. All hell breaks loose. There are Harpies everywhere in the crowd, slitting throats and stabbing away, pouring in from all sides. This is confusing, because I thought these dudes were pro-fighting pits?
Dany allows Jorah to help her escape the bloodbath, and soon, she, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Tyrion, Daario, and Mormont find themselves surrounded in the middle of the fighting pit, understanding all too well what it’s like to be on the wrong end of a spear. It’s not looking great, until Dany possibly summons Drogon with her mind? Or maybe he was just in the area, but, at any rate, her favorite pet swoops in for a quick Harpy BBQ and snack. Mother of Dragons in the house!
The Harpies fire a bunch of spears into Drogon, which inspires Mama Dany to tend to her offspring, pulling out a spear and nuzzling her boy, who kindly does not breathe fire directly into her face, so you know he likes her. Then, the incredible happens. The thing we have been waiting for since Old Valyrian times. Dany climbs atop Drogon and he flies her right out of there. She’s all “peace out, advisors and friends,” and the two go for a ride to the tune of the Dany Dragon score. That’s great, now can you steer that thing up North, cause there are these really scary zombie guys up there.
This episode, once again, is conflicting. The Shireen scene had me willing to give up the show for good, while Dany’s triumph had me sucked in for at least another week. Still, I’m not quite sure that I think it’s worth the other storylines that are being pushed to the forefront, particularly since there is so much reliance on the abjection and abuse of teenage and pre-teen girls. Certainly men and boys are also subject to horrors in this world, but it seems almost an obsession at this point in time to exploit young girls for facile storytelling, and that’s not okay. You can do better, “Game of Thrones.”