Two days left until the premiere of Game of Thrones season 6! We’re being flooded with new season photos and clips, and our Memory Lane is almost at its end. For the second-to-last chapter of our look back at episodes past, we welcome back SirSquinty! -Sue the Fury
Really? I’ve been given the incredibly daunting task of revisiting the jam-packed penultimate Game of Thrones season 5 episode? Guys, this is a really hard one to take – so much happens! Is there anyone out there to help me? Bueller? Bueller??? Not only is this episode so full of iconic moments, but it also follows a universally praised episode (“Hardhome“), and precedes a never-ending water cooler of an episode (“Mother’s Mercy”).
Before “The Dance of Dragons” aired, people had three thoughts on their mind:
1. For the first time in 5 seasons, an episode title is as close to a book title as ever. It must be a special one. This episode is sure to be full of awesome moments. I can’t wait to see what amazements/tragedies await!
2. Episode 9! This one is always big! It must be a special one. This episode is sure to be full of awesome moments. I can’t wait to see what amazements/tragedies await!
3. Episode 8 was “Hardhome.” How could episode 9 possibly top that? This episode is sure to be full of awesome moments. I can’t wait to see what amazements/tragedies await!
As you can see, there were three very large expectations most fans had going into it.
The episode opens with Ramsay and his “twenty good men” wreaking havoc on Camp Stannis. While Ramsay himself doesn’t appear in this episode, the damage has been dealt. It’s this devastation that drives Stannis over the edge, allowing him to cave to Melisandre’s suggestion that burning Shireen is the only way forward. He orders Davos north to the Wall to “get more supplies,” which really seems like Stannis is getting Davos out of the way so the Onion Knight won’t try to stop Stannis from burning Shireen.
Davos and Shireen’s final scene together is so powerful, and one of my favorites of the season. As per usual, the acting stands above all else, and Liam Cunningham and Kerry Ingram bring their A-game, further adding to the dynamic. What’s particularly noteworthy is that they talk about the story, “The Dance of the Dragons,” which does two things:
1. It refers to the episode’s title.
2. It lets people think that this is the only reason for the episode’s title, so hopefully their guard is down at the end of the episode, when Drogon comes roaring on to the screen.
The strength of the Davos/Shireen chemistry only makes the burning of Shireen even sadder. Davos was basically the father she never had, and has clearly raised and taught her as much as she has taught him. So long as Davos continues bettering his reading ability, a part of Shireen will always live on. Go read your letters, Onion Knight.
And then…well…we all know what happens. Kerry Ingram (Shireen) goes the way of the furnace and gets the honor of the most gut-wrenching singular death in Game of Thrones history. No, we don’t have the character attachment to her the way we have with our dearly departed Stark family members, but the way this episode built towards its brutal conclusion, and had elevated her character in recent episodes, we the viewing audience were collectively sucker punched and barely found room to breathe going into the final episode. But wait- Shireen being burned wasn’t the end of the episode?! It’s weird how in retrospect many people have likely come to remember it being at the end because the scene is such a natural cliffhanger button, but no, there was more story to tell.
As the episode careens over to Meereen and the fighting pits, director David Nutter (of “The Rains of Castamere” directorial fame) knows that the audience is going to need a moment to take everything in, and so the transition into the Essos storyline ebbs slowly. It leaves us on a lasting shot of Stannis as he faces what he did. Then the sound of embers crackling and snow falling turn into the roar and applause of the crowd.
The camera cuts to an outside shot of the fighting pit’s arena, then slowly but surely carries itself upwards and into the battle. A good director understands that unlike the ending of Star Wars: Episode 1 (sorry, George Lucas), scenes with different emotional beats need breathing room.
One of my favorite parts of this whole sequence remains from when I first watched it: Iain Glen does his own stunts! But also one of my least favorite parts remains: when Jorah is knocked down and about to be killed by one pit fighter, he is saved by another pit fighter. I found that a cop-out. It would have been way more interesting for Jorah to fight his way back up. This is a minor quibble, as I had forgotten about it, but when re-watching this episode, it all came back to me.
And then come the Sons of the Harpy to turn Game of Thrones into full-on horror. Chaos, madness, and death ensue as Hizdahr zo Loraq is GOT’s latest casualty, a mere 11 minutes after Shireen was taken from us (I counted). But there’s no time to grieve a character whose allegiance we barely trusted – there are the lives of characters we care about at stake here! And then, just when all hope appears lost, the 12 days spent filming the sequences at Daznak’s Pit prove they were worth it, as Drogon comes roaring in to save the day.
And that ends that! After putting an end to the white male hero narrative, Daenerys the Unburnt rides off into the sunset on Drogon’s back. Leaving all our other characters behind watching her fly away in bewilderment.
The episode checks in on Jon and the Night’s Watch, still reeling from the recent massacre at Hardhome. Very little happens here, but tensions between Alliser Thorne and Jon hit an all-time high, as Alliser almost won’t open the gate for the survivors. Olly also gives Jon (yet another) death stare. Clearly, it’s set-up for the finale where we all know what happens.
Way down in Dorne, Jaime and Bronn are about to be sent home to King’s Landing, but first Bronn receives some elbow-face from Areo Hotah. He might need some soup after all.
Meanwhile, Arya is a mere street trader when she notices a familiar face on the docks…a familiar face who just happens to be on her kill list. And then many GOT fans proceeded to roll their eyes when they found out that Ser Meryn Trant had been turned into a pedophile rapist to give us (more?) motivation to hate him. Cool. I guess 3 episodes between sexual assault victims is a step further than other TV shows, so there’s that.
You know what? I had a whole list of good quotes, but when this quote exists, all others fall to the wayside. The ONLY quote:
“I’m the princess Shireen of House Baratheon, and I’m your daughter!”
– Princess *sniffle* Shireen *sniffle* of House *sniffle* Baratheon… *sniffle*
- Hizdahr zo Loraq
- Princess Shireen of House Baratheon