The ninth episode of every season of “Game of Thrones” is the one people remember. The last four seasons gave us the fate of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), the Battle of the Blackwater, the Red Wedding, and the Battle of the Wall. For season five, the memorable action-packed episode was delivered early in the form of “Hardhome“, but “The Dance of Dragons” features an ending that should find its way into that pantheon.
Before that ending, the show has a bit of business to take care of to set up the finale. In Dorne, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Prince Doran (Alexander Siddig) broker an unstable peace. Doran, again, recounts his horrendous experiences with war which serve to highlight why he is, seemingly, willing to do anything to prevent hostilities with King’s Landing. He is even willing to let Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) return with Jaime provided his son, Trystane (Toby Sebastian), is also able to go and is promised a seat on the Small Council.
Negotiating peace between what remains of the Lannisters and the Martells may seem like more table setting and something more appropriate for earlier episodes of a season, but surpassing the plot of the books requires the writers to lay groundwork in any way, and at any point they can. These scenes also give the Sand Snakes (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, Jessica Henwick, and Keisha Castle-Hughes) a bit more time to shine and they start to actually develop individual personalities. Next season should prove interesting with them back in the mix.
Back at the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) returns with the surviving wildlings from the massacre at Hardhome and it’s an exceptionally somber group. They’ve shared an experience few alive would understand. The brothers of the Night’s Watch certainly don’t understand, and Jon gets nothing but sideways glances, especially from Olly (Brenock O’Connor).
Tensions are on the rise and this is only Jon’s first decision as Lord Commander. The snow continues to fall heavily at the Wall and portends impending doom. Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) gives Jon a disquieting message upon his return, “You have a good heart… it will get us all killed.” Jon did the right thing in more ways than one, he saved innocent lives and also ensured the army of the dead didn’t grow by even more, but he now has to figure out what to do with those he saved and how to win back the trust of those he commands. He may be running out of time.
We also see Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) make good on his plan to take twenty men and disrupt Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and his army. The camp erupts in flames and a lot of supplies and horses are lost in the chaos. This leaves Stannis with no choice – fire has taken away his recourse and now fire is the only option left to him.
Melisandre (Carice van Houten) has been suggesting a horrific shortcut to victory for Stannis for a while now. We’ve seen her unorthodox tactics have positive outcomes for Stannis before, when they are first introduced in the show, burning people on the beach in the name of the Lord of Light. Now, Stannis now feels no other choice but to return to that method, but this time he needs to sacrifice something precious to him.
Melisandre wants to burn his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram), and use the power of the royal blood flowing in her veins. This scene is incredibly upsetting and tough to watch. Even Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald), a true believer in the Lord of Light, can’t stand to hear her child suffer. No matter the outcome for Stannis, I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to root for him.
Over in Braavos, Arya (Maisie Williams) is about to complete her first mission to kill the thin man and take another step towards becoming a Faceless Man. She moves into position ready to administer the poison but her old life comes back to haunt her. Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) arrives in Braavos and Arya purposefully fails her mission in order to do recon on Trant. What kind of consequences this will have for Arya remain uncertain but now that she is utilizing her new life to exact a bit of revenge in the name of her old one, it’s starting to get interesting.
Finally, in Meereen, the Great Pit of Daznak has been reopened. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is trying to appease the citizens of Meereen by doing what has been requested of her many times. The disgust on her face is clear as the action unfolds in the pit but she allows it to continue anyway. Once the Sons of the Harpy emerge from the crowd to ambush Dany, the scene really kicks into high gear. It isn’t long until Dany and her entourage including Jorah (Iain Glen) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), are surrounded with no way out.
“Game of Thrones” isn’t a show to rely on a deus ex machina to save the day, it’s part of what made the show a success in its first season. In this case though, the connection Dany has to Drogon makes his sudden appearance plausible and their final flight together exhilarating. What Dany’s maneuver means for her court and the future of Meereen is unclear but the city is now more unstable than it has ever been.
Will Dany return to Meereen and impose her will with Drogon at her side? Will Arya get her revenge on Meryn Trant? What type of future does Jon have at the Wall? Will the sacrifice Stannis made be worth it? Will the truce between the Lannisters and Martells last?