Last week we saw the stakes of winter's approach hit "Hardhome." This week we were reminded what a shit show it is south of the Wall with "Dance of Dragons." Plus, I've discovered which 'Game of Thrones' character I relate to most.
Fire was a major theme, established in the episode's first sequence at Camp Stannis. You might have thought we were North of the Wall, what with all the snow and miserable-looking people milling about. But it's just the dregs of Stannis's shivering army, which is running out of food and out of time. Ever the hard-line disciplinarian, Stannis decides even this is no time to be lenient when his guards miss Ramsay's "20 good men" sneaking in and setting horses and tents ablaze. So, you know, torture then execution. That's how you teach loyalty. Or something. We'll get back to Stannis in a bit. I can't deal with that just yet.
"You have a good heart, Jon Snow. But it'll get us all killed."
There's fire of a different sort fueling Jon Snow. His love of Ygritte has introduced him to the wild idea that Wildlings are people. And this is not a concept his fellow crows are all on board with, leading to an Alliser stare down that had to be uncomfortable for Snow. (Props to Kit Harington for cracking Snow's frosty demeanor for a moment of "Oh, thank the old gods!" when the gate finally opened.)
But once the crew got through the gates and Thorne growled something ominous, we were out of Castle Black without much ado. Is this where we'll leave Snow and his snarling crew for the season? Or will something actually happen at Castle Black next week? (Admittedly, after almost a full season of setup, setup, setup, I am growing impatient. Yes, even after the awesomeness of last week's final action extravaganza.)
"No wonder you can't stand, you have no spine."
Spitfire Ellaria Sand was spitting venom at Lannister and Martell alike when the Prince of Dorne laid out a sweetheart deal to the Kingslayer. It basically boiled down to "one free shot at your man Bronn, and you can take the kids and go." I get that Doran doesn't want a war. But is he really so out of touch with what's going on at King's Landing? Tommen is crying in his room, Cersei and Margaery are in chains. 1) The Lannisters are not allies worth worrying about betraying anymore; 2) King's Landing is no place to send a prince you don't want murdered; 3) Who cares when the white walkers are coming?
Seriously, Dorne, get your shit together.
Book readers have gone on and on to me how awesome Dorne and the Sand Snakes were supposed to be. But man, Season 5 has kept their screen time so minimal that the girls have no distinction (they're all smug, violent and obnoxious) and Ellaria's kneeling before Doran didn't have enough build-up to make it impactful. The best thing that's happened in Dorne was the sword fight when Jaime and Bronn first arrived!
"You'll have a fresh one for me tomorrow."
Speaking of plotlines that are trying my patience, Arya is finally out on her first hit as a Faceless Man, and she gets distracted when Meryn Trant shows up. I know. She wants him dead. He's a key figure in her twisted lullaby; she's all fired up. But could she have not poisoned the old crook, then followed Meryn around?
But that's not even my biggest issue. I get it. Just like she hid Needle, this isn't about the hit gone wrong, but about how Arya is not ready to just become "a girl." But she goes into that brothel. She sees an opportunity to get close to Meryn ("too old") and instead allows herself to get chased away, and by extension lets a poor child get raped. (Yes, it was a girl presumably working at a brothel. But clearly this was not a prostitute from the reaction of the girl herself and the madam. And even if she were a prostitute, her being a child means she couldn't consent to what was about to go down anyhow.)
I get it. More tension, ore building the arc. Blah blah blah. We spent two seasons and some change waiting for Arya to reunite with Jaqen, and after all that it feels like David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are just stringing us along. Just let her KILL someone major already. Meryn's right there! Stop teasing.
"He must fulfill his destiny and become who he's meant to be. No matter how much he may hate it."
I recognize I'm pretty angry, as I scrawl this out moments after it aired. Part of it is that I find it harder and harder to enjoy "Game of Thrones" as the devastating moments increasingly outweigh the uplifting ones. I could really use a scene of Brienne training Podrick to sword fight. Or Bronn bantering after getting knocked to his knees. But instead, we get the horrible, awful murder of Shireen. And man, did they play that for all the bitterness possible.
Yeah, it's been a longtime coming. They planted the seed of burning sacrifice back at Dragonstone. Gendry was used for his king's blood. (Then he disappeared at sea or into King's Landing, never to be relevant again.) And Melisandre has repeatedly stared at Shireen like a cat eyeing a canary. That didn't make it any easier to watch a daddy's girl be burned alive while her father looks on.
Stannis was such a cad about it too. First he sends of Davos, who may not know exactly what's going on, but he knew enough to try to get Shireen away from the Red Woman. (The Onion Knight is smarter than anyone gives him credit for.)
Then Stannis basically tries to apologize to his little girl without telling her at all what he's asking of her. That's just sick. Yes, she responded by saying she'd do anything. But she's a child seeking to prove herself as a princess and a Baratheon. She thinks perhaps her standing or her wits or her strength of character will be of value for once, instead of being sneered at because of her face. And no. Sorry kid. You were born into the wrong story. You remarkably survived greyscale just to be a pawn in your dad's pitiful bid for the throne.
Now I'm rooting for Stannis to burn too, and I don't think I'll be disappointed. Remember, Melisandre's mysterious visions never showed Stannis winning Winterfell. They showed a battle in the snow and her up on the battlements of its walls. The stag will fall.
"My father would have liked you."
I feel like the writers made a mistake by making Shireen's death the penultimate sequence of the episode. After witnessing her panicked face, hearing her screams, and seeing that damn smirk of Melisandre's I was tapped. And yet the episode continued to Meereen.
Watching Daenerys squirm at the fighting pits, I found my "Game of Thrones" doppelgänger. Like her, I was watching something I feel that I have to. In my case, not just because I'm recapping, but also because I've been a loyal "Game of Thrones" viewer for years. And no matter how bad it gets, I got to hang in until the end, right? And like Dany, I'm sitting there, watching attentively out of obligation, but not enjoying the carnage.
I was numb watching Jorah fight for Dany's forgiveness. The bickering about "cruelty" being necessary to make change felt like a barb. Then the Sons of the Harpy unleashed their attack and I was still having a hard time caring. I know we didn't spend tons of time with Shireen, but she's one of the few characters who was relentlessly selfless and sweet. In a world of Lannisters, dark secrets and agendas, that means a lot. And the show just plodded along like, "Yeah, so anyways."
Finally, we end on Dany paying off on seasons of build-up and actually flying on the back of a dragon. And it felt kind of underwhelming, right? Part of it was the janky CGI that didn't seamlessly blend the live-action actress and CGI dragon. But the other part was that she flew off and never looked back to the people who'd just repeatedly saved her life! What even is this show anymore?
"I think it's poetic."
If we consider the series as a whole, it makes sense that things are getting so damn dark right now. We're in the thick of the low point, heading into the Darkest Night of the Soul before a rousing big finish that will be act three. Or Season 6. But in a movie, this low point lasts a few minutes. On this show, we've been watching literally hours of low point! Will we get any relief in the final episode of season five? Maybe Ramsay will finally get slayed by Sansa? Maybe Davos will give Jon Snow some much-needed support at Castle Black? Maybe Arya will murder child-rapist Meryn with the kind of panache that'd have made her dancing instructor proud!
- I predicted Ramsay's 20 men would kill our shot at the epic battle suggested this season. I'm wishing I'm wrong and we get it next week with "Mother's Mercy." Much blood on both sides needs to be shed.
- Did the giant ride one of the boats out of Hardhome? Last we saw him he was just walking into the ocean, swatting off wights like gnats. Did he walk all the way to Castle Black? Is he an Ocean Walker?
- Uh, angry Olly, go cry to some bats.
- "It's my own poor way of saying thank you for teaching me to be a grownup." My heart!
- "You can read it yourself!" Dread. This is what dread feels like.
- I think I'll retire in Dorne.
- Oh, Mace Tyrell. We missed you. Please more of his awkward social interactions and random singing. Thanks.
- I appreciate that Meryn's men exchanged a "he's the worst" look, like co-workers do at office parties when their boss cracks lame jokes.
- So, Ellaria's up to no good with the Jaime interaction. But to what end? Who specifically does she want dead?
- Everyone in camp knew this girl was going to be burned alive in front of them. And they all just stood by. Some even holding back her mother. I don't know I believe Selyse would actually fight to have her saved, what with her loathing of Shireen and her fanaticism of the Lord of Light. But I hate Selyse, so I am biased.
- At least this didn't air on Father's Day.
- Yes, yes, your knife is very impressive and the symbolism is so subtle, Daario.
- The staging of the arena ambush is right out of Legend of Korra. For real.
- At least the only one of importance to die was Dany's irritating fiancé.
- Dany could really stand to take some self-defense lessons. Lots of people want her dead. It couldn't hurt.
- For fun, discover what Tormund Giantsbane does in his offtime. (Answer: magics up a big stack of pancakes while looking fab.)