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Game of Thrones - The Dance of Dragons - Review

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Game of Thrones, “The Dance of Dragons,” is the second last episode of season five and managed once again to cause a furor on the Internet. The episode was written by the team of David Benioff and DB Weiss and was directed by David Nutter. The episode shocked viewers with the death of Shireen (Kerry Ingram), and also provided long-in-coming satisfaction as Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) mounted her Drogon and flew off on him. I have to admit that I was shocked that people were shocked by Shireen’s death. While I understand she’s still alive in the books, I’m not sure what people are expecting when watching the show. After five seasons, including Ned Stark’s head, the Red Wedding, etc, etc, etc, I’m prepared for the violence of medieval warfare. Was it horrific? Yes. Was it out of character for the show? No. It’s when violence and horror don’t touch you that you need to be worried.

This was another beautifully crafted episode. Be prepared for another long review! Several scenes stand out as exquisitely written. A number of chess pieces move around the board, setting us up for the final episode, yet I’m pretty sure we’re going to be left with a few major cliffhangers. I’m already dreading the long wait for season six.

The episode begins with Ramsey’s (Iwan Rheon) stealth attack on Stannis’ (Stephen Dillane) camp. They set fire to tents, horses, food stores, and siege weapons. Stannis continues to refuse to march back to Castle Black and the weather prevents them from going on. It’s clear that the men are freezing, starving, and generally losing all hope. Davos (Liam Cunningham) continues to try to talk sense into Stannis. He couches his advice with “I’m not here for my military expertise” and this will come back to haunt him. Davos still doesn’t trust Melisandre (Carice van Houten), and is clearly right not to.

Stannis know he has to get Davos out of the way to carry out Melisandre’s plan. Stannis sends Davos to Castle Black for supplies. He throws Davos’ own words back at him: “I didn’t want your military expertise…” Davos reminds Stannis that he made him the Hand of the King and a Hand should never abandon his King. Stannis counters that Davos isn’t abandoning him, he’s carrying out an order. Davos suggests taking both Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald) and Shireen and then just Shireen with him. Stannis insists that his family must stay with him. Davos has no choice but to concede to Stannis’ orders, but it’s going to be very interesting to see his reaction upon his return.

There are two beautiful parallel scenes as both Davos and Stannis come to take their leave of Shireen. In both instances, she is delightedly reading The Dance of Dragons. It’s telling, however, that she describes the book very differently to the two men who come to her. To Davos, she relates the tale of a failed knight who attempted and failed to slay the dragon. He used a polished shield to try to hold a mirror up to the dragon, but the dragon recognized him and burnt him to a crisp. Will this be Ser Davos’ fate? Will he try to hold a mirror to Stannis’ own face to show him what he’s really done? Will he try to show Stannis Melisandre’s true agenda only to have the queen of fire burn him too?

Davos and Shireen are adorable as they laugh together over the tale. He’s brought her a present of a carved stag. She wants to know why she’s getting a present and he tells her it’s because she deserves it. It’s a thank you for her making him an adult by teaching him to read. She asks him to make her a doe so the stag won’t have to be alone. He tells her he wants to hear all about The Dance of Dragons when he returns, and she tells him that he can read it for himself – little do either realize that he will have to read it himself. He kisses her goodbye.

When Stannis comes to Shireen, they also talk about The Dance of Dragons, but their discussion is serious and revolves around the Targaryen rulers at the heart of the story. The politics of Kings and Queens rather than the exploits of their servants. Unlike Davos who is easily able to see where the knight went wrong, Stannis is puzzled by the very title of the book – the DANCE of Dragons – saying it doesn’t make much sense and not understanding why it’s a dance. His very lack of vision makes him easy prey for Melisandre. Stannis asks her who she would have chosen between the two Targaryens and Shireen astutely points out that she wouldn’t have chosen because it was the choosing that caused all the problems.

Stannis tells her that sometimes you have to choose: “If a man knows what he is and remains true to himself, the choice is no choice at all. He must fulfill his destiny, and become who he is meant to be. However much he may hate it.” It’s hard to believe after we’ve heard what he did to save Shireen in the first place that he could even contemplate sacrificing her and doing it in such a heinous way. What is he meant to become? A monster? This is a terrific contrast to the scene with Daenerys as they discuss the Great Games later in the episode.

Shireen is moved by her father’s obvious distress. She insists that she wants to help and asks if there is anything she can do to help him. He tells her she doesn’t know what he’s saying and therefore not what she’s agreeing to, but it’s clear that he takes this as her complying. In contrast to the scene with Davos, Shireen hugs him and he simply begs her forgiveness. Kerry Ingram is simply outstanding in every scene. This is a young actor to watch.

Shireen clearly thinks she is going to help her father, but she’s not a stupid child. She knows the minute she sees the pyre – or at least suspects – and really knows as soon as she sees Melisandre. It’s hard for anyone to watch this scene, but I can only imagine how a parent would feel. Shireen begins by demanding to see her father and then begging for him as she is dragged onto the pyre and tied up.

        Stannis finally appears and Selyse appears by his side. She begins by saying “It’s what the Lord wants. It’s a good thing. If we don’t act, we’ll all starve here.” It’s clear that she’s always been jealous of Stannis’ relationship with Shireen. However, when Shireen finally calls for her mother, Selyse crumbles immediately and tries to go to her daughter. It’s too little too late, but it did make me feel a little more sympathetic towards her.

Stannis remains virtually unmoved and Melisandre actually smiles. This scene is horrific, but it does not show us Shireen burning – we only hear her frantic begging turn to screams. It focuses on the reactions of those in the crowd. I think there is a clear winner in the hearts of viewers for the next to sit on the Iron Throne – the choice is not a choice at all.

Meanwhile, Jon (Kit Harington) has arrived back at the wall. There’s a wonderfully tense few moments as we wait to see what Ser Alliser (Owen Teale) will do. Will he open the gates or refuse to let the Freefolk in? But he proves to be a true Knight of the Watch and he obeys his Lord Commander. As the Freefolk file through, it seems that no one is happy, least of all Jon Snow. He sees only his failure. It falls to Sam (John Bradley) to point out that every person who walks through the gate is someone who Jon has not failed.

When Jon sees Olly (Brennock O’Connor), he smiles, but Olly doesn’t return his smile and Jon’s face falls. Ser Alliser may have let Jon in but he’s still going to speak his mind and he tells Jon, “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It’ll get us all killed.” Even Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) doesn’t seem pleased, and Jon continues to worry about the Night’s Watch accepting the Freefolk. I did love everybody’s reaction to Wun Wun (Ian Whyte)! Jon’s choice was not to make a choice between the Freefolk and the Watch, but can he make them accept each other?

Choices really are the theme of this episode – and the dance that choosing entails. In Dorne, Doran (Alexander Siddig) choses diplomacy – the dance of politics – over inciting a war. Ellaria (Indira Varma) is forced to choose between her life and her quest for revenge. The sets in Dorne are again simply breathtaking and the set designers have once again outdone themselves. I loved the polite sparring of the very uncomfortable dinner party. A similar verbal dance goes on during the Great Games.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is unsure of his position when he arrives, and I loved the exchange between himself and Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free). He comments on her lovely dress, and she knows he dislikes it. He clearly finds it too revealing and asks whether she’s cold. She replies that the Dornish climate agrees with her – her choice is Dorne over King’s Landing.

Jaime then asks after Prince Trystane’s (Toby Sebastian) jaw. Trystane remains cool and calls it a “flea bite” – assigning it no importance. All the while Ellaria is clearly seething, doing nothing to disguise her emotions or couch them in diplomacy. She wants to know what Jaime is doing there. He tells her he’s checking up on his niece, and Doran suggests that he could have sent a message. When Jaime tells them about Myrcella’s necklace arriving in the mouth of a viper, everyone is shocked – except, of course, Ellaria. Doran glares at Ellaria – she’s tied his hands and created the entire situation.

However, Doran proves that he is an astute ruler. He proposes a toast to King Tommen. They all drink, again with the exception of Ellaria who pours her wine out. Doran tells Jaime he’s not going to behead him, but asks if it is Tommen’s will that his sister be returned to him. Jaime lies and says it is. Doran is not done, however, and insists that Trystane will accompany Myrcella home and that Trystane will take Oberyn’s place on the Small Council. Jaime gives his word to carry out Doran’s demands, but it’s unlikely that he thinks he can control Cersei (Lena Headey).

Ellaria has had enough and stands up to storm out, but pauses to insult Doran: “No wonder you can’t stand. You have no spine!” But she’s pushed too far now and Doran catches her wrist, telling her, “You are mother to four of my nieces. Girls I love very much. For their sakes, I hope you live a long and happy life. Speak to me that way again, and you won’t.” Dorne will continue the dance of civility in public, but in private, Ellaria is now going to have to pay the price of her choices.

Jaime proves once again that he’s one of the few Lannisters to see beyond himself, and he asks about Bronn’s (Jerome Flynn) fate. Doran asks what the punishment would be for a commoner who struck a noble in King’s Landing. Jaime uses Trystane’s words against him – just as Stannis did with Davos – and reminds them that Trystane said it was just a flea bite. Doran leaves it up to Trystane to decide Bronn’s fate as lesson in judgment. Trystane says that his father has taught him mercy, and he will set Bronn free with one condition.

Flynn is delightful as always even if we only get him briefly in the episode. He asks Areo (Deobia Oparei) if he’s going to be happy at the end this walk when Areo comes to fetch him from prison. He also concedes one more time that Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) is the most beautiful woman in the world. On being presented to the dinner party, Bronn apologizes for striking Trystane, and admires the pie. Areo deals out the condition – and of course you’d get him to take the punch for you if you were getting a free payback shot, right?! Doran suggests afterwards that Bronn – who looks a little betrayed – might like to try to the soup instead! This was some much needed levity in an otherwise pretty heavy episode.

Privately, Doran makes Ellaria chose: “Your rebellion is over. You can swear your allegiance to me or die.” She gets down on her knees, crying, and kisses his ring. The Sand Snakes watch and are clearly not impressed that Ellaria has given in. Doran tells her that he believes in second chances but not third. Will the Sand Snakes act without her? Will their actions seal her death warrant?

In the final scene in Dorne, Ellaria goes to Jaime. We haven’t seen Doran insist that she go to him and apologize, so I thought at first that this was a curious scene. She lets Jaime know that she knows about him and Cersei. She commiserates, having faced censure over her relationship with Oberyn. She tells him that a hundred years ago, no one would have blinked an eye, especially had their name been Targaryen – lest we forget the incest in that house. Jaime doesn’t deny or confirm any of what she says.

I think the clue to what Ellaria is really up to is in her last speech to Jaime: “I know your daughter had no part in the terrible thing that happened to the man I love and perhaps even you are innocent of that.” Ellaria calls Myrcella Jaime’s daughter and he doesn’t deny it. If Myrcella is the product of incest, she is not a descendant of Robert Baratheon and therefore, not a Princess. If that truth comes out, Tommen will lose the throne and Myrcella and Trystane’s marriage will never happen. The discussion of the incestuous Targaryens in this scene actually dovetails nicely into the scene that follows in which Shireen and Stannis discuss the dance of the Targaryens. Love careful attention to structure on this show!

Meanwhile, in Bravos, Arya (Maise Williams) is also faced with several choices. This show is really full of some amazing young actors and Williams is definitely one of them. As Arya makes her way to the Thin Man (Oengus MacNamara) to carry out the will of the many faced God as tasked by Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha), we see that she is not nearly as self-possessed as when she was telling the story to Jaqen. When a man offers to buy her clam, she looks taken aback and unsure of how to respond. As she approaches the Thin Man she looks increasingly worried. However, when she does arrive, she is suddenly confronted with another choice besides whether to administer the vial to the Thin Man or not – really the choice is his – does he ask for oysters or not? Does he ask for the vinegar/his death or not?

In the end, Arya completely ignores the man because she suddenly sees Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) arrive with none other than Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie). Trant is, after all, on her list – and she clearly has NOT given up that part of herself. She completely abandons her task and follows Trant. I loved the entire sequence of Tyrell trying to win over Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss). It’s also interesting to see that Mace may be a pompous fool but he’s not completely foolish. He knows his business.

        He knows how to sweet talk an investor. His first attempts to bond over wine fail when Tycho tells him he doesn’t drink, and Mace falls back on flattery – and a keen understanding of how Bravos is built on gambling – exactly what the Thin Man is doing with his “insurance.” By the time Tycho and Mace leave the Iron Bank, with Mace demonstrating his singing skills – he’s going to find a common interest with Tycho if it kills him! – the small smile on Tycho’s face does appear to be genuine.

Arya follows Trant and his soldiers right into a brothel, and we’re reminded of just why Trant is evil. The Madam (Lacy Moore) brings increasingly young and expensive prostitutes to him, and to every one he says, “too old.” Trant is a pedophile, lest we forget. One of the soldiers insists that the men are hungry and drag Arya from where she is lurking to sell them her oysters. She and Trant exchange a look and it’s clear that she’s worried he’ll recognize her. It’s clear that he doesn’t, but it’s also clear that he’s sizing her up as a possible choice for his evening’s entertainment. The Madam finally brings in a girl who is clearly not a prostitute and is likely a servant girl too frightened to say no to the Madam. Trant tells her he’ll want another – new one – the next day. It’s pretty clear that Arya will return to be that girl to get her chance at killing Trant.

Arya returns to the House of Black and White. Jaqen appears to be administering the poisoned water to the ship’s captain from last week. Is this the Captain’s price for revenge on the Thin Man? Regardless, Arya lies to Jaqen, telling him that she failed to deliver the gift to the Thin Man because he wasn’t hungry. Jaqen sagely notes, “Perhaps that is why the man is thin.” He makes no indication that he either thinks or knows that she is lying and simply leaves her to take care of the dead body – apparently, she has not given up those duties to carry out her new ones.

The end of the episode is completely dedicated to the Great Games in Meereen. Hizdahr (Joel Fry) is late to the dias, remarking that he was “Just making sure everything is in order.” I thought this was a great misdirect as this immediately made me suspicious of him. This is a terrific sequence of scenes, both beautifully written and beautifully shot.

As the fighters are introduced, they declare that they fight and die for the Queen’s glory and both Daenerys and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) look faintly horrified. The first contest pits the strong against the quick and Daario (Michiel Huisman) is quick to back the smaller man as he identifies with him. Tyrion is likewise disposed to bet on the smaller man – for obvious reasons. As Daario speaks to the fight, he leans between Hizdahr and Daenerys, physically emphasizing how he intrudes upon their very marriage. He’s very openly flirting with Daenerys and she with him.

Hizdahr points out that he’s spent much of his own life in the arena: “and in my experience, larger men do triumph over smaller men far more often than not.” As he says this there’s a great shot up past Tyrion to Hizdahr, emphasizing visually the disparity in their heights and current positions.

        Daenerys quickly jumps to Daario’s defense: “Has your experience ever involved any actual fighting? You. Yourself. Have you ever tried to kill a man who was trying to kill you?” This is accompanied by another great shot of Daario’s smiling face between the two. There’s also a nice shot of a small smile on Tyrion’s face as Daenerys scores her “hit.” But it also reminds us of Daenerys’ own history and what she’s been through – a great deal more actual violence that Hizdahr.

Daario goes on to boast about his own prowess in the ring as he twirls his knife -
REALLY impressively! – for emphasis. Unfortunately as he talks, the smaller man gets his head lopped off, and Hizdahr is the one smiling now. He turns to Tyrion and asks if he disapproves as Tyrion is clearly not enjoying the spectacle. Tyrion responds, “There’s always been more than enough death in the world, for my taste. I can do without it in my leisure time.” Again, Tyrion, like Daenerys, has seen much in the way of real violence.

Hizdahr’s next question speaks to the heart of the episode: “It’s an unpleasant question, but what great thing has ever been accomplished without killing or cruelty?” And we come right back to Stannis burning his own much beloved daughter alive. Tyrion responds, “It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked in your favor.” Hizdahr clarifies that “I’m not talking about myself. I’m talking about the necessary conditions for greatness.” Daenerys, looking at the bloodied body parts being removed from the arena remarks, “That is greatness?” Hazdahr responds that the arena “is a vital part of the great city of Meereen that existed long before you or I and will remain standing long after we’ve returned to the dirt.” He clearly has no faith in Daenerys’ ability to create lasting change. Tyrion remarks, “My father would have liked you.” And this was another red flag to me not to trust Hizdahr! Any comparison to Tywin…

For her own part, Daenerys tells Hizdahr, “One day, you’re great city will return to the dirt.” He asks, “At your command?” When she says if need be, he asks how many will die to make that happen – seemingly proving his point. She points out the difference: “If it comes to that, they will have died for a good reason.” Hizdahr retorts that the men in the arena think they are dying for a good reason. But Daenerys insists that it is someone else’s reason. Hizdahr asks, “So your reasons are true, and theirs are false? They don’t know their own minds but you do?” Tyrion interrupts to say, “Well said. You are an eloquent man. Doesn’t mean you are wrong. In my experience, eloquent men are right every bit as often as imbeciles.” And here Daenerys smiles at Tyrion’s “hit.” This entire sequence provides a beautiful contrast to the dance of the fighters in the arena with the dance of the leaders on the dais. It’s also an excellent way to show how much Tyrion and Daenerys have in common.

While this discussion is happening, the announcer (Nicholas Boulton) has been introducing the next fight and fighters. Suddenly, Daenerys is drawn back to the arena by the sound of a familiar voice – Jorah (Iain Glen). Here is one fighter who will die willingly for his Queen’s glory – or win his way back to be her champion. Daenerys is stunned to see him, Daario seems to admire, and Tyrion looks to Daenerys concerned. Hizdahr is oblivious and starts to press her to start the fight, but Daario tells him, “Shut your mouth.” Jorah may have been a rival, but Daario still respects him.

It’s a good fight sequence with Jorah almost losing several times. I had to wonder if we are to assume that the greyscale is making him weak. Tyrion turns to Daenerys to stop the fight and save Jorah. Clearly, his having Jorah sent away was meant to save his life. Ultimately, Jorah wins without her intervention. As their eyes meet, it’s clear that Daenerys is pleased – even while the crowd is not. I loved that all the faces in this sequence were close ups.

        You are focused so entirely on the fight that you don’t see any other movement in the crowd – just as none of those on the dais do either – thus allowing the Sons of the Harpy to move into position and the first we know of it – along with those on the dais – is Jorah throwing his opponent’s spear at the dais. Daario immediately covers Daenerys with his own body while Hizdahr throws himself out of the way – telling! Daenerys knows that Jorah has saved her again.

As chaos suddenly erupts, the Sons are everywhere and the music changes. Daario calls for the guards to protect their Queen and the Unsullied are there, but vastly outnumbered. The Sons appear to be killing everyone, including Meereenese. Hizdahr calls to Daenerys, “Your Grace, come with me! I know a way out” just as he is stabbed to death by the Sons. It seems that any hints to his motives were red herrings and that he wasn’t behind this attack.

Jorah has fought his way onto to the dais and ends up side by side with Daario, who appears happy to have him back. Jorah simply offers his hand to Daenerys and she takes it, allowing him to lead her – hopefully – to safety. There is no doubt that this is skin to skin contact. Has Jorah willingly infected his Queen with greyscale? How can she possibly avoid contracting it?

I loved that Tyrion is the one to save Missandei – and prove that he is also a fighter when need arises. I have to admit, however, that the small group running from one door and then trying to get to another, ultimately trapped in the center of the arena – and then fire playing a big part in the confrontation – totally reminded me of the scene in the witch’s castle in The Wizard of Oz

The situation seems hopeless, and then, the scene we’ve all been waiting for since season one finally arrives – and is beautifully shot both from a composition standpoint and an effects standpoint. I’m willing to wait the interminable amounts of time between seasons when we get effects like this. First we hear Drogon’s cry. Then we see a burst of flames. Then Drogon flies through the flames and into our field of vision. Glorious. I loved the look on Tyrion’s face!! Everyone scatters as Drogon circles the arena, finally landing in front of his mother – and crushing two sons under his feet. He then snatches a third and shakes it apart before it can reach Daenerys.

Daenerys’ reunion with Drogon is fabulous. She is still nervous of what he’s become, but she’s more concerned about his welfare as she pulls a spear from him. He turns around to roar at her, but there is no flame, and his face quickly softens to love – have I mentioned how terrific the effects are??? Daenerys then climbs on his back and flies away, leaving the others still surrounded by their enemies…

The episode begins and ends with fire. The two centerpieces of this episode end in flames and turn on a potential monarch’s children. Both will only increase the stories told and create more awe – and fear of those leaders. Stannis is prepared to march onward, however, while Daenerys appears to have retreated. I wonder if we will see her again before the end of the season or will the season end with her return?

        Many balls have been thrown in the air and with only a single episode remaining, the one thing that is clear is that we will be left with some pretty big questions at the end of this season – there’s just no way that the multiple storylines can all be given attention – at least not enough not to leave us hanging!

What did you think of the episode? Which storylines are you most hoping to see in the finale? If you’ve seen the leaked final episode or heard spoilers, do NOT post them here. Please speculate only if you don’t have knowledge of what’s to come. Feel free to comment on this episode and review, however! Is Jon in danger of a mutiny? Will Stannis make it through to Winterfell? Is Jaquen on to Arya? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.

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