Still reeling from last week's icy White Walkers and their zombie minion attack on Jon Snow and the Wildlings, viewers must have settled in to watching this week's episode, "The Dance of Dragons," braced for anything to happen — and it did not disappoint. Game of Thrones has made a habit of serving up some of its most shocking and exciting developments in the penultimate episodes of its first four seasons: the beheading of Ned Stark, the Battle of Blackwater, The Red Wedding, the Battle at Castle Black, and now ... well, there were two major things that happened in this episode, both to two young women.
Let's start with the most difficult first. Stannis Baratheon has been a difficult character from the start. His self-righteousness has made him at times seem stiff and boring. His religious fanaticism, although extremely dangerous, has never felt completely genuine. He believes in the Red Woman and her fiery god, but, it has aways seemed, when it suits his ends. Stannis, perhaps more than anyone else playing the game, really wants to sit on that Iron Throne. Even if it means sacrificing everything dear to him. Even the only living creature this hard man has ever loved.
|A lovely gift for a lovely girl|
Poor, sweet, Shireen. We could tell ourselves that the show runners were only toying with us, as Stannis declared a few episodes back his deep love for his daughter, and how the Red Woman could never have her. Or how Ser Davos, about to be sent conveniently out of the way on a fruitless mission to The Wall, might be able to come back in time to save her. That the lovely carved stag toy that he gave her before he left was not a harbinger of doom.
I was hoping that her grayscale might somehow save her from the funeral pyre, that the stony disease might protect her from the flames. But her screams, thankfully offscreen, told another story. Stannis didn't only lose his daughter (and any slim fan support he may have gained this season), but he may have lost the war. The comparisons to Agamemnon and Iphigenia are surely no coincidence. The Red Woman may think the fires are on their side, but Stannis is pure ice. He could be well on his way to becoming a White Walker.
I don't think anyone would be too terribly upset if the loathsome Ramsay Bolton decided to flay Stannis and his followers. But I don't think that's how things will play out next week at Winterfell. Another nod to fire this week: Ramsay's clever assault on Stannis's camp of freezing and starving soldiers, burning what little supplies they had left; even the horses.
|Drogon and Dany: reunited and it feels so good|
The other big moment took place in Meereen, at the fighting pits, which were set up quite similarly to Roman gladiatorial combat. To distract the tense queen and amuse himself, Daario tried to needle Hizdahr, Daenerys's intended. The newly installed advisor, Tyrion, looked bored at his boasting and flirting. He wasn't too fond of the pompous Hizdahr, either, paying him the ultimate anti-compliment, "My father would have liked you." And then Jorah showed up. Dany and Tyrion looked scared, while the rich and poor in the audience seemed equally bloodthirsty watching Jorah battle for his life.
He came out on top, and it was clear that Dany still wasn't sure how she felt about that, until Jorah sent a spear hurtling over her head ... to kill an assassin. The Sons of the Harpy poured into the arena and stands and started massacring everyone in sight. Dany, how can you doubt him anymore? All hell broke loose and Jorah extended his hand to his queen. She took it, and like that, he was back in her good graces. Now he can die a happy man — if he can get her out of this. She didn't touch him anywhere near the grayscale patch on his arm, but the internet is already buzzing about that potential infection.
Meanwhile, Hizdhar was stabbed by one of the assassins, but is he killed? It has seemed, all along, that Hizdahr may be one of the Sons of the Harpy himself. But we can't worry about Meereen politics right now, as Dany, Tyrion, Missandei, Jorah, and Daario were completely outnumbered. Tyrion proved he wasn't just boasting about his fighting skills when he heroically dispatched an assassin about to kill Missandei. Our favorite folks in Meereen made their way down to the arena, looking for some way to escape, but they were soon surrounded and outnumbered by the masked killers. It looked like this might be the end. Dany took Missandei's hand and closed her eyes and ... Drogon showed up, breathing fire. He knew just who to eat and kill, taking out her enemies right and left. But the Mother of Dragons could see that he had also sustained some injuries — there is a tear in his wing and a spear in his side. She then did what viewers had been waiting and hoping for since the dragons were just little critters — she climbed on his back and they flew away, rescuing each other, with Tyrion and Co. and the rest of us looking on in awe.
Those two sequences would have been more than enough to make great episode, but there were a few other things that happened which will undoubtedly play into next week's finale. In Dorne, Jaime was told that he could bring Mrycella back to King's Landing — as long as he brings along her boyfriend, Prince Trystane and puts him on the King's Council. Prince Doran is playing the long game, and Myrcella better pack some warmer clothing, winter coming and all.
Arya was still in super-spy mode, selling oysters ... and death. But she got distracted from her main objective when she saw a face from the past — Ser Meryn Trant, the man who killed her friend and "dancing" instructor Sirio. And one of the names still on her death list. And if we didn't want her to kill him enough, we get to see that the creep is also a pedophile. But what will Jaqen say when she kills someone from her own list instead of the many-faced god's? A man will not be pleased. And a girl is likely to get into a lot of trouble.
Jon is back at the wall, Wildlings, giant Wun Wun, and all. And his men are not happy to see him. Especially Olly, who is getting a lot of pinch-faced close-ups this season. Can no one see what's coming? We're going from Greek tragedy to Roman here, people. Next week's episode is titled "Mother's Mercy." Cersei and Jon are due for some big scenes. Will Brienne finally see a light from Sansa or Reek in Winterfell's tower, or be able to make good on her vow to kill the man who killed her beloved Renly? Be careful what you wish for Stannis ...