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Game of Thrones – The Dance of Dragons Review

"Drogon Ex Machina"

How does a show follow the greatest episode of its five year run? If that show is Game of Thrones, it burns a young girl alive at the stake. Because, lest you forget, on Game of Thrones, it always ends in tears. There was no real way the series could possibly hope to carry over the amazing high from last week’s “Hardhome,” so instead of trying to match or top that excellent hour, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss decided to put the focus on the fire side of The Song of Ice and Fire.

Before we dive into the episode’s two complex stories, I want to touch a bit on the three more sedate elements of the episode. Jaime and Bronn’s impending departure from Dorne proved to be just as dull as the rest of the Dorne subplot this season. While this storyline was not particularly thrilling in the novels, the show has managed to dilute the story even further, making each trip to the dessert area a painful slog. The series has even managed to make the Sand Snakes dull. Although, for those keeping count at home, Doran Martell mentions that there are four Sand Snakes, while we have only ever seen three of them. I suspect that piece of information will pay off down the road.

Another storyline that has inched along at a snails pace lately is that of Arya, seller of cockles along the sea. With the arrival of Ser Meryn Trant, it’s clear that Arya will have to choose between killing one of the names on her list or following the orders of Jaqen H’ghar (who certainly knows that Arya shirked her duty to the Faceless Men). While it isn’t as flashy as some of the show’s other storylines, this decision will determine whether Arya cares more for vengeance than she does for her new career as an assassin.

And then there’s Jon Snow. I was a bit surprised with the ease Ser Alliser showed in allowing Jon and the Wildings through the gate. That being said, sure looks like Olly isn’t happy with Jon’s new batch of friends.

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Now onto the fire. Well, Stannis is now one of the most awful people in Westeros. And to think I was pulling for him. Although, compared to Ramsay Bolton, I suppose I’d rather still have Stannis as king, but really? Burning poor little Shireen at the stake? Ugh. I’ve been trying to sort through my feelings on this, and the one thought that keeps coming up over and over again is why? Why was this even remotely necessary in terms of character building for Stannis? We know that he is heavily invested in the Lord of Light and that he deeply believes that Melisandre has the power to raise him up to the Iron Throne. Sure, he’s been wavering a bit on her abilities of late, but sacrificing his daughter to ensure victory takes things a step too far.

Stannis is not a hero. He’s not someone we have been conditioned to root for since day one, like Jon Snow or Dany. Rather, he’s a prickly taciturn man who has the only legitimate claim to the throne (based on what we know as an audience) and who seems to be one of the few people in Westeros who might not royally screw things up were he to become king. He wouldn’t be a great king, but I don’t think Westros would burn to the ground if he were on the throne. And I certainly think he would address the threat of the White Walkers post haste. But by having him kill his daughter (someone we know he truly loves and cares about), the show has turned him into a villain. Now, it’s completely possibly that the novels will, at some point down the road, have Stannis do the same thing, but the show has now made it clear that we should not want Stannis to become king. And that is troubling.

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With the Battle for Winterfell looming large (with only one episode left this season, it is completely possibly we won’t see the results of the battle until season six), there really isn’t anyone to root for. I guess we still have Brienne, who will likely have a hand in rescuing Sansa and Theon, but I just want the Boltons and Stannis to massacre each other. A man that will sacrifice his daughter isn’t someone I want ruling the Seven Kingdoms.

Finally, let’s talk a bit about the super iconic ending to the episode. How absolutely awesome was that? Since the end of season one, we’ve been waiting to see Dany accept that she is the Mother of Dragons and have her hop on board one of the beasts and take a ride. It is a huge moment in her story. For so long she has been wary of accepting her role as a Targaryen. Part of being a Targaryen (after the expected incestuous marriage and having super blond hair) is controlling dragons. And that is exactly what she did.

Yes, Dany’s escape from Meereen raises a number of questions (what will Daario, Tyrion, and Jorah do now that she’s gone and what happens to the other two dragons chief among them). But after spending so much time with Dany shying away from the fact she has three HUGE advantages in her goal for taking the Iron Throne, she’s finally embracing her dragons. Hell, she called Drogon to come rescue her and then rode him out of the pits. That is a queen I can get behind.

“The Dance of Dragons” wasn’t anywhere near as masterful of an hour as “Hardhome,” but it did push two stories closer to their close. I am very disappointed in the series for turning Stannis into just another power hungry, morally bankrupt character within the show’s tapestry, and, as a result, cheapening the upcoming Battle for Winterfell. But with only one episode remaining, I remain eager to see what else the show has waiting for us.

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Final Thoughts:

— While the series has moved further and further away from the novels this season, there are still a few loose ends from the books that I suspect will be officially tied off in next week’s finale. Dany’s escape with Drogon marks, aside from one additional moment that may not make it into the series, her final element of “book story.” With next week’s finale, I believe the novels will be officially exhausted (save for one rumored storyline for next season), meaning book readers and show watchers will finally be on a completely level playing field.

— As awful as Shireen’s death was (and it was absolutely awful- perhaps the most awful death the series has put on screen), I have a feeling we all saw the writing on the wall weeks ago. After all, when a minor character suddenly gets fleshed out, it’s pretty clear that they are not long for this world.

— Dany riding Drogon was awesome. But there were some hiccups with the CGI that took away from some of that awesomeness.

— The fifth novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series is titled “A Dance with Dragons,” a play on the story Shireen summarizes in the episode.

Rating
7.5
Pros
  • Dany's development into a Targaryen
  • Drogon's appearance
Cons
  • Death of Shireen
  • Destruction of Stannis as a character

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Comments

  • Irish Jim

    If I am Jon Snow and I get back from being attached by the White Walkers and the dead, the first thing I do is send ravens and ask for help. He didn’t even tell the rest of the Night Watch.
    Stannis killing his Daughter was horrific. They did not do a good job of explaining why he needed to do this.
    I am guessing that Jamie and his party will be attacked on the way back to King’s Landing. I think that was the threat that they were trying to avoid by having him sneak in and get her out.
    These Harpies are nuts. They attacked a dragon with spears?

  • effingreat

    Stannis killed his daughter because he felt there was no other way out. That is why. It was clearly explained and the only confusion is how you missed it. If you paid attention to the preview for next episode, you can hear Melissandre say “The Lord of Light came through on his promise” or something to that effect, and you can see ice dripping and his army no longer encumbered by the snowstorm. This is only going to add to Stannis’ fanatical faith in this so called god.

    • Jean Henegan

      I personally avoid previews for the next episode, so as not to cloud my review with what might happen in a week, so I haven’t seen anything regarding the possible results of Shireen’s death.

      And yes, Stannis did believe there was no way out, but my issue is with how the series has set Stannis up as one of best options for a united Seven Kingdoms. So much of his story this season has been focused on showing us that Stannis has a plan, that he understands the actual needs of the realm. To spend that much time laying the groundwork for a character only to have him turn on a fanatical dime like this is troubling from a character perspective. Yes, Stannis made the decision because he felt his back was against the wall (although, how Ramsay and his 20 men caused the amount of damage they did within no one in the camp the wiser is also a bit of a plot hole), but it still strikes me as a poor choice for the show. Perhaps the lesson is that there is no good option for a ruler in Westeros (and, since the White Walkers are coming, does it even matter?).

      I can’t imagine a man who burned his innocent daughter at the stake getting much long term support in King’s Landing (we saw how the commoners turned on Joffery and his proclivities). So, his actions have effectively shot those aspirations in the foot as well. He may win the battle, but ultimately, this may result in him losing the war.

  • igor thadeu

    destruciton of sttanis???? The same thig will happen on the book. Is his caracter, he was always evil. kill his own brother with black magic. Murdered a lot of inoccents at the beach burned. Kill a lot on black water. Want to kill his nephew. Use black magic to kill rob,joffrey and balon. And the idea to kill shireen was of GRRM. The same will happen on books.

    • Jean Henegan

      Without getting too much into what does or doesn’t happen in the novels (since this is a book-spoiler free zone), I certainly agree Stannis isn’t a white hat of a character. But, then again, no one in Westeros is purely good (although Shireen and Rickon probably could be considered the most pure of characters). I don’t think, in this world, Stannis was evil. I suppose it comes down to what actions within war are considered evil. Surely the actions of the Boltons, Freys, and Lannisters at the Red Wedding are evil. I think we all agree Ramsay is evil. Arya killed the stable boy in season one, but it was so she could escape. Is she evil?

      Getting a smoke monster to kill one’s brother certainly isn’t good. But, Stannis should be the king. Are his actions justified in that regard? Deaths in battles, like Blackwater, happen. And, since Balon is still alive on the show, is the black magic even responsible for the deaths? There are a lot of questions surrounding Stannis and his actions, certainly. But I don’t think he is really at the top of the GoT Evil Characters list.

      As for the statement by Benihoff and Weiss that GRRM is going to kill Shireen in the novels, well, he hasn’t yet (sorry for the spoiler there, kids). And if he will in the future, ok. But the death of Shireen at this point in Stannis’s story is the issue, not if it will happen in the future of the novels (wherein it will be in a different situation than in the show and perhaps for a vastly different reason). To me, the Stannis in the series this season has been far less “bad” or distant that then one in the novels. He has shown a humanity not seen in the books. So, to see him go from the stiff, but loving father of a few weeks ago was jarring. The recent version of Stannis was one who might not be the best king, but who might have united the kingdoms. He is, after all, a great general. But now, he’s simply the man who killed his daughter to win a battle. And that is a character assassination if ever there was one.

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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeaniusIsMe on Twitter.

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