A Dance With Dragons was the title of the last book within the series proper, so it is fitting that this episode’s flirtation with finality is palpable. It may not have held the gravitas of other ninth episodes from previous seasons, such as Baelor, Blackwater, the Red Wedding, or The Wall, but it did serve as an expert launching pad for dynamic new character directions, at times wondrous, and at others, horrific.
Dance of Dragons was a treatise on the danger of growing comfortable with the lesser of two evils. Dany has broken for the lesser of two evils hoping to appease the unruly upper class by reopening the fighting pits and taking Hizdar Zo Loraq, a prominent nobleman, for a husband. Ideally, Hizdar would be dragon snack and the barbaric fighting pits, often filled with slaves, would still be closed. But after the attacks from the masked Sons of the Harpy, Dany went for appeasement and sought the lesser of two evils. Ultimately, her attempt at diplomacy was spit upon and never had a chance. Any ground she could have been making, any tactical advantage she could have worked toward during the interim was lost to the hope of appealing to the lesser of evils.
After fighting off a surprise assault from the Harpys, Drogon, the wayward black dragon, swoops down upon the killing fields only staying long enough to rescue his mother. There is a return to square one in this scene. The Pyramids she leaves beneath her are the mountains she has valiantly made up from the molehills she was left to start amid the Dothraki grasslands. Dany has fulfilled her legacy of riding the dragon, and she is now one with her elders. With the sheer force of the White Walkers present and full-sized dragons coming home to roost, this season has effectively shown the quest to sit atop some pointy smelted chair in some smelly backwater burb small fries in comparison to where the real story is happening.
As significant as this scene was, I couldn’t help wondering what Tyrion is going to do now that it looks like he’s out of another job.
Arya is faced with a name to cross off of her prayer list when all-around scumbag Meryn Trant comes to shore in Braavos. It is a conflict of duty versus revenge. Her initiation is one of self-annihilation. The girl who bore this man his death mark was supposed to have been cast away in an attempt to become something more. To kill him and slack on her assassination of the ‘thin man’ would be to regress back to the vengeful child she was. Personally, I wouldn’t get my mail forwarded to the House of Black and White if I was Arya anyway. This is a stop along the path of her continuing evolution. I don’t see her really owing this front such unyielding devotion. She just needs to wake up early and fit both targets into a busy schedule.
Look, some stuff happened in Dorne too, but this entire subplot is so underwhelming, thoughtless, and meaningless it doesn’t deserve the space it takes to write about. Even if there is some form of surprise payoff in the last episode, the road they took us on to get there was clumsy, over-wrought and a frustrating exercise in untapped potentials the entire season.
Stannis Bartheon defines himself by his right to the Iron Throne, his existence is in orbit around his claim to the throne. Trapped in the throes of a northern winter with dwindling supplies he is on the verge of losing not only his life and those of all that follow him, he is at risk of losing his legacy. When he said he will not be known as ‘the king who ran’ a few episodes prior, he meant it. He is not a true believer in the Red God but he has seen the efficacy of its methods first hand and Stannis is nothing if not pragmatic. His character has come a ways since his introduction on the shores of Dragonstone. Like the Grinch who grew a heart, he became the audience’s loveable curmudgeon, even serving as a surrogate father for Jon Snow in his time at the Wall.
About those parenting traits…
It takes a particular man to endear both followers and audience alike all the while burning innocent men and woman alive to pacify a single religious fanatic, but that is why Stannis was the Mannis. Any credit he may have earned was cashed in Sunday night, when he turned to his daughter, Shireen, the next sacrifice to the Red God. There is no coming back from this and I think Stannis knows this as well. Shireen’s death signals the end of everything for house Baratheon. With Melisandre winding him up like a toy, how is a Stannis kingdom any safer than one with the Mad King, Areys Targaryen?