We’ve hit the penultimate episode of HBO’s Game Of Thrones and things are heating up. For some character, I mean that quite literally.
Let’s bitch it out…
Following last week’s instant epic battle at Hardhome, it was unclear whether episode nine would fulfill the show’s tradition of depicting a game-changing action sequence. The answer: kinda?
Let’s break down the top three power plays in this week’s episode:
1) Stannis (Stephen Dillane) sacrifices his daughter
After an off-screen attack by Ramsey Bolton and his band of merry arsonists, Stannis decides to regroup his army and muster his strength. They’re stuck at an impasse due to the snow and now they’re running short on food. Clearly something drastic needs to be done.
The first step is to dismiss Davos (Liam Cunningham), tasking him to return to Castle Black for supplies. With his conscience gone, Stannis succumbs to Melisandre’s (Carice van Houten) urge to sacrifice his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram), to the Lord of Light to get things back on track. It’s an odd request, considering the ties that Stannis has forged with his daughter in recent weeks and the out-of-nowhere concern his wife Selyse has for their daughter (it also seems unusual that Davos isn’t more suspicious when Stannis denies his request that Shireen accompany Davos, although Davos may have asked in part because he suspected this was bound to happen).
I imagine I’m not alone in my pained reaction to Shireen’s fiery death, which seems to take both an excruciatingly long time and features no shortage of horrible screaming. Despite taking place offscreen like Sansa’s wedding night rape, Game Of Thrones knows how to target our imaginations without being graphic and explicit so this was still a horrible viewing experience. Five seasons in, we know that Game of Thrones loves to subvert traditional narrative norms by having most of the terrible stuff happen to quote/unquote “good” characters…and yet this feels like yet another misfortune to occur to a powerless female in a season that has come under scrutiny for its depiction of women and violence.
2) Daeny (Emilia Clarke) requires a rescue by dragon
If any one sequence can be said to follow in the footsteps of legendary “Episode 9″s of seasons past, it is the events that occur in Meereen. As the fighting pits open, the Sons of the Harpy stage their most brazen attack on Daeny (Emilia Clarke) yet. Obviously they could not have anticipated that one of the combatants would be Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), who immediately becomes part of her protective detail once the attack begins, alongside Daario (Michiel Huisman) and, to a lesser degree, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Lest we wonder if Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry) is involved in the uprising, he is unceremoniously murdered before the group is surrounded in the center of the arena, requiring a sudden rescue by Drogon.
I wish that the CGI of Drogon flying was a little more impressive, though. This may seem like a petty issue, but considering the epic scope of the scene, it was an unfortunate time to be distracted by a less than convincing dragon. When he’s on the ground, immolating usurpers and taking arrows to the hide, everything looks and works much better. We can focus on Drogon’s plight and Daeny’s attempt to reconcile with him, which pays off their scene earlier this season quite nicely. In the end, the arena attack is pretty spectacular.
3) Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) negotiates in Dorne
Admittedly there isn’t really a third “power play” in this episode, which has any number of interesting scenes, but few big moments. With King’s Landing and Moat Cailin completely off the map, there’s a clear gap that the scenes in Dorne don’t even come close to filling.
Jaime’s negotiation skills come through for him as Prince Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig) agrees to allow Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) to return home, on the condition that Trystane (Toby Sebastian) accompanies her and is made a member of the Small Council. Thankfully Jaime also manages to free Bronn (Jerome Flynn) from his cell, where he surely would have died of boredom listening to the Sand Snakes play childish hand games with one another.
The only truly interesting moment in all of this occurs when Ellaria (Indira Varma) chats freely with Jaime about the capacity to love the one you love, regardless of politics. It’s a common meeting point for the two semi-outcasts, but it doesn’t carry a great deal of weight or implications. It’s nice, but it feels a little pointless. That’s basically the critique i have with all of the Dorne scenes, which have proven surprisingly lifeless. With only one episode remaining, the creative decision to dedicate a limited amount of time to this unique part of the world will wind up as one of the big, glaring problems with this fifth season.
- Not to put too fine a point on it, but even Melisandre seems to realize that she isn’t completely in touch with the future after the Boltons torch their tents (and one unlucky horse). I realize that forecasting the future isn’t a science, but the look on the red witch’s face when she sees that she didn’t anticipate a sneak attack reads more “I’m fucked / I need a distraction” than anything else. One has to wonder if burning poor Shireen is more about keeping Stannis’ ire at bay than a legitimate sacrifice of king’s blood.
- Also distracted: Arya (Maisie Williams) when she sees Mace Tyrell land at the Braavos docks. Instead of focusing on the Thin Man, she lies to Jaqen and follows Tyrell’s men to the nearby brothel, which the lead soldier reveals that he likes his women young (quite young). One wonders if Arya will end up using this to her advantage, or if Jaqen will realize she’s planning an act of revenge that is tied to her former life.
- There’s only a brief scene at the Wall when Jon (Kit Harington) returns with the wildlings. Alliser Thorne reluctantly allows them entry, but it’s the look on young Olly’s face as even more of his enemies arrive that portends doom in next week’s finale.
- Did anyone else totally have Spartacus flashbacks during the Meereen sequence? I half expected the ladies to rip open their shirts for some “Spartacus!” boob calls, or to see slow motion blood staining the sand. Aww memories…
- I did wonder what the cliffhanger ending means for everyone else in the arena. After all, they’re still surrounded and no one else has a dragon ready for emergency airlifts!
Your turn: what did you think of Shireen’s sacrifice? Did the Meereen sequence satiate your desire for Episode 9 action? Were you disappointed with the dragon CGI? Has Dorne been a misstep this season? Will Jaqen discover Arya’s plan? Will Olly do something stupid? Sound off below.
Game of Thrones airs its fifth season finale next Sunday at 9pm EST on HBO. Next week: it’s finale time, which usually means a reset to prepare for next season. Here’s your preview.