With only the finale left to see, it feels like Season 5 of Game of Thrones is very much structurally following in the footsteps of Season 4 with episodes 8, 9 and (presumably) 10 executing on a series of cascading climaxes for each of its plotlines.
Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 9, ‘The Dance of Dragons’ Review
Warning – Spoilers Ahead
While the biggest of these payoffs came towards the end, there was a fairly interesting thematic throughline to the episode concerning the friction between what characters wanted and what they felt was expected of them. This notion first emerged with Stannis’s troubling decision to let Melisandre sacrifice his daughter.
Given how much this season has worked to humanize Stannis, his choice had a lot of impact and was a real low point for his character. For me, the whole sequence was haunted by Tyrion’s advice in the previous episode that a ruler who kills those devoted to them is not a ruler who inspires devotion. Shireen’s death might secure him victory against the Boltons but it might very well lead Stannis’ campaign to ruin in the long run.
Further North, this thematic throughline continued with Alliser Thorne choosing to stay loyal to Jon and follow his orders when it came to letting the Wildlings pass. Otherwise, there was little action on this front. Though I expect that Davos’ return may shake that up that bit.
In Dorne, things hit an anti-climax of sorts. While Jaime’s successful negotiation with Doran definitely lines up with some of his later character development in the books, the loose-ends here were resolved surprisingly neatly for Game of Thrones. With Bronn, Ellaria, Trystane, Myrcella and the Sand Snakes all making it out alive, the outcomes for this season’s Dornish adventure feel like a diversion. Though there was a fun sense of irony attached to the work Jaime is doing to strengthen the Lannister’s alliance when you consider the damage that Cersei has done to their position.
The developments in Arya’s plotline were a bit more muddled. In the midst of her first assassination for the Faceless Men, she crosses paths with one of the men on her own kill list – Ser Meryn Trant. The episode really went out of its way to demonize Trant (and showcase Mace Tyrell’s vocal talents!) but didn’t lose sight of the precarious dilemma facing Arya. Even if Meryn Trant deserves death so much more than the thin man, her selfish choice to kill him could very well compromise her place at The House of Black and White.
And then, of course, the episode dropped into Meereen where the fighting pits were re-opened – and then everything went to hell. Emilia Clarke did a good job of capturing Dany’s discomfort with the fighting pits and the banter between her, Tyrion, Hizdahr and Daario was a fun touch. I particularly dug the moment where Tyrion bestowed upon Hizdahr the cruelest honor he could: “my father would have liked you”.
On the whole, the chaotic showdown between Dany’s forces and the Sons of the Harpy was really well-adapted. From the moment where they charge into the pit and surround Dany it becomes clear that the situation in Meereen is pretty unsalvageable. Furthermore, her departure with Drogon is a capstone that effectively flips the Meereen storyline on its head. Up until this point, the plotline has been about the consequences of the decisions Dany makes in order to maintain power and order in the city. Remove her from the equation – and what do you have left?
The Dance of Dragons provides a lot of satisfying pay-offs and developments but doesn’t quite manage to escape the shadow of last week’s impressive Hardhome.