After the thrilling conclusion to last week's episode it was hard to imagine how Game of Thrones would top it in this week's penultimate and characteristically momentous ninth episode. And while it may not necessarily reach the epic heights of "Hardhome", "The Dance of Dragons" was no less dramatic - for reasons both good and bad.
A Pointless Detour
Presumably, this episode concludes Jaime and Bronn's adventure in Dorne, leaving us to ask just what was the point of this divergence (beyond seeing Nikolaj Coster-Waldeu in the pretty scenery of Spain)? While what transpires in the novels isn't a whole lot better, the events that do occur - the rebelling and the imprisoning of the Sand Snakes, Arrianne's kidnapping of Myrcella, and Doran's eventual reveal of his true plans - have the added benefit of reading like they would take more than an afternoon to achieve.
Here what's shown comes across like a weekend of bad decisions and all is resolved once Doran gathers everyone and forces them to sit and talk like adults. If there was a point in sending Jaime instead of another unknown Kingsguard (as happens in the novels) then why not simply have him meet with Doran initially, as visiting dignitaries do. Why all the pointless subterfuge of sneaking into Dorne? Why that cringe-worthy attack on the Water Gardens? Especially once it all boils down to basically the same conclusion.
However, in the novels, it's Nymeria and not Trystane that is supposed to fill Oberyn's seat on the Small Council, but given how the Sand Snakes were treated more as a nuisance than respected leaders, this isn't too surprising of a change. And obviously, there's no mention of Quentyn Martell (if he even exists) and what he's been up to across the Narrow Sea. There's still a chance for next week's finale to shed a little more light on Dorne - and Doran's behind-the-scenes scheming in particular - but I fear we've seen the bulk of what this narrative has to offer this season.
Fight and Flight
Make no mistake, the scene in Daznak's Pit is one book readers have been eagerly awaiting the show to recreate. And in true HBO fashion, this scene does not dissapoint. The effects used aren't quite at the level of last week's White Walkers and wights, but Drogon's entrance was grand, he burned up and ate a few Sons of the Harpy and just looked fantastic doing it. Then Daenerys hopped on his back and flew away, and even that didn't look too 'made for TV'.
Yet, it was the few changes Game of Thrones made to how the events in the pit shake out that really make the Daznak sequence a thrill. Jorah fighting in the pit, for instance, is a great change from the sad sack he is for most of A Dance with Dragons, and at this point in the novels still outside the city with Tyrion. Having Tyrion there, too, is a great asset as his observations of the fighting are both enlightening and quippy.
The poisoning plot is done away with in favor of a full-on attack from the Sons of the Harpy which - while not as nuanced in its reveal - is far more exciting to watch unfold. And, like in the novels, there's a suspicion that Hizdahr may be involved. But then he appears to die from being fatally stabbed so maybe not?
And now with Hizdahr dead and Daenerys off on a new adventure, those left in Meereen - mainly Tyrion, Jorah, and Dario, judging by the preview - are going to have a hell of a time trying regain control of the city. Plus, Jorah's greyscale can't stay hidden for much longer. Just how contagious is it?
The Price You Pay
For as exciting as it was to watch Dany and Drogon fly out of Daznak's Pit, seeing Stannis burn his only daughter at the stake was equally, if not more, unsettling. Throughout the entirely of Game of Thrones we've witnessed children pay the price for their parents' mistakes and ambitions, but never has it been done so callously and with such forethought.
Throughout the season it's been foreshadowed heavily and specific changes between the novels and show indicated the future didn't bode well for sweet Shireen. Still, I'd like to believe everyone watching last night was holding out hope that somehow, someone - mostly Stannis - would stop the horror unfolding on screen. But even when her mother breaks down and rushes towards the pyre, the mother who's shown her no kindness, it's too late. The deed is done.
What makes this particular twist of fate all the more heartbreaking are the lengths at which Game of Thrones went this season to make Stannis appear more sympathetic. Not only was there the heart-wrenching scene between Stannis and Shireen - just three episodes back, mind you - but the several gruffly admirable exchanges between Stannis and Jon, as well as Sam.
Though for book readers, what this poses about how Shireen's death will occur in the novels (since it has been confirmed this will happen in The Winds of Winter) is even more interesting. On the show, Stannis is largely complicit with her burning, to the point it almost appears out of character for someone who loved his daughter so dearly. But Shireen and Melissandre aren't with Stannis in the novels, they both stayed at Castle Black. Given the events about to transpire there, how will Melissandre burn Shireen? And will Stannis still be involved? If not, then Game of Thrones just made a fundamental change to his character, one that will surely not sit well with any fans of Stannis the Mannis.
How did you think season 5's episode 9 measured up to penultimate episodes of the previous seasons? What did you think of Drogon's arrival in Daznak's Pit? What will Shireen's death mean for Stannis going forward? Will it grant him the power needed or has he finally lost any and all sympathy from the audience?
Game of Thrones will conclude season 5 with "Mother’s Mercy" next Sunday @9pm.