The Dance of Dragons Plot Summary:
Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is struck by a surprise Bolton assault and is completely immobile in the snow. Desperate for change, the man makes an unthinkable decision. Jon (Kit Harington) returns to Castle Black defeated and dejected. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) breaks bread with Doran (Alexander Siddig), but Ellaria (Indira Varma) is displeased. Arya (Maisie Williams) runs into a face from her past. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) opens the fighting pits in a last ditch effort for peace in Meereen.
Let’s be totally honest here. None of us have moved on from “Hardhome.” How can we? Watching the Night’s King completely decimate an army of Wildlings was a truly terrifying sight. It was also the culmination of years of waiting, constantly hearing about the White Walker threat but not seeing it. That masterfully crafted set piece has permanently altered our perspective on what happens on this show. Truly none of this matters with an army of the dead marching down to the Seven Kingdoms totally unabated. Yet until everyone else in Westeros gets on board with the mission to ensure humanity’s survival, ignorance will still run rampant as these people focus on what they believe to be “more important.”
Like taking the iron throne, for example. We’ve known how dedicated Stannis has been in his quest for king since the moment we first met him. This is a man who has killed his brother, worshipped a new god, sacrificed many people, and nearly brought his followers into ruin at the Blackwater. This past season has seen him take his forces to the North to gather more support. He’s now on a relentless march to Winterfell that has quickly gone to shit and very far away from Castle Black. To say he’s between a rock and a hard place is putting it mildly. Defeat isn’t in Stannis’s dictionary though. He will do anything to further his cause to the throne.
Now we know that his family is no exception. After seeing Stannis make some amazing headway with his daughter Shireen only a few episodes ago, he’s decided that ruling is more important than being a father. Listening to Shireen’s screams as she burned at the stake was a truly terrifying moment, and it’s a relief that we didn’t have to witness any of it. It was infinitely more powerful to watch how Stannis and Selyse reacted to what was happening. Selyse quickly broke down, begging for everything to stop, but Stannis is stone when it comes to worshipping R’hllor. He barely flinched when his daughter was scorched alive. A king must be strong, but this? This is too much. By murdering Shireen to further his cause, Stannis proved that he is not meant to be a king at all. Otherwise he’d be the Mad King Stannis.
Davos (Liam Cunningham) was easily my favorite part of that entire focus. Cunningham hasn’t had a lot of screentime this season, but his scene with Shireen was beautiful and heartbreaking. He knows what is coming and clearly doesn’t like it, but he knows that Stannis is too far gone for any of his trademarked words. Getting sent away by Stannis was basically the most merciful thing that could have happened, though it was definitely done to reduce opposition. At the very least, now we know that Davos (if he actually goes to Castle Black) is a definite survivor of Stannis’s campaign. It thankfully keeps a very interesting book storyline alive that will hopefully appear next season.
Speaking of Castle Black, it’s appropriate that Jon received little attention this week. Everyone at the Night’s Watch needs a break after the insanity of “Hardhome.” Plus, you know that this isn’t over between Jon and Alliser. There simply wasn’t enough time to fit that in this week, and I have no issue waiting until the finale to see what happens.
The stuff going on at Dorne was probably the least interesting part of the episode. In fact, I’d say that this entire focus has never really elevated beyond being a side story, unless something truly mind blowing happens next week. This was easily the most focus we’ve had on Doran and it’s the ninth episode. The entire mission was quickly washed away as a horrible mistake too, or at least looks like it. We know that the Martells hate the Lannisters, but Doran is quick to make it clear that the snake and necklace message Cersei received was not his doing. Now Jaime is leaving without Myrcella, believes that there really isn’t a threat, and Trystane is coming to sit at the small council. At least Bronn (Jerome Flynn) getting punched was a nice bit of humor. I have a feeling that Ellaria bowing down to Doran doesn’t mean things are over though. Quests for revenge never end this cleanly.
Arya’s section was a nice bit of original material for the show. When it was time for her first mission as a Faceless Man (Woman?), book Arya dispatched the thin man without much interruption. This time however, her attention is quickly diverted when Mace Tyrell and Meryn Trant arrive in Braavos. Watching her trail Meryn was pretty intense, especially those repeated moments where it looked like the guy recognized her. The visit to the brothel felt very extraneous however. Granted, this could be Arya’s way of sneaking up near him for a quick death, but a lot of the focus was definitely on the guy’s fetish towards young girls. We already know him as an abhorrent human being, so turning him into a pedophile doesn’t do much. Well, I do want him dead more now, which I guess was the point?
Now as with all penultimate episodes for a Game of Thrones season, it was expected that “The Dance of Dragons” would have a major defining moment. Perhaps it would have been better to save the Night’s King’s appearance to this episode as that definitely was more exciting, but take that away and Dany riding Drogon fits this requirement beautifully. The chaos that came with Dany opening the fighting pits was brutal as everyone on her side was fighting for their lives. Many people didn’t make it of course, like Hizdahr. Drogon rescuing her was absolutely incredible too. Clearly a lot of the CGI budget went to this moment and the final scenes of “Hardhome.” Watching Drogon scorch Dany’s enemies was glorious, and her flying away had a distinct Neverending Story vibe. This really is a game changer. Dany learning how to control Drogon is pivotal to her involvement, and now anyone will think twice before they cross her. Hopefully she will come back to liberate Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Jorah (Iain Glen), and Daario (Michiel Huisman).
“The Dance of Dragons” was a pretty crazy episode. It wasn’t as explosive as “Hardhome,” but not much can be at this point. It was still totally nuts though. Shireen was burnt alive and Drogon saved Dany while burning everyone else alive. Jon returned to stares from his opposition, Arya is desperate to cross a name off her list, and Jaime isn’t getting murdered for assaulting a prince. Next week is bound to be a crazy finale, and I’ve very excited to see how everything wraps up. Especially in the North. No matter how Stannis’s campaign will turn out, it will be hollow without his daughter there.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.