THE RING OF FIRE
Note: The following review goes into detail about the episode. SPOILER ALERT!
There aren’t a lot of shows on air right now that can compete with Game of Thrones once it gets into its stride. I’ve enjoyed this season a lot so far, but amongst my friends there was a lot of concern that the show had slowed down a lot, and was lacking the punch of earlier seasons. All of that changed with the terrific “Hardhome” though, and “The Dance of Dragons” ended up delivering another, albeit different kind of hard hitting episode this week.
There wasn’t another moment of the same scale as the White Walkers’ attack, but there was devastation of a whole other kind on display. Once Melisandre suggested sacrificing Shireen a few episodes ago, we should have been getting prepared for this, but it didn’t make it any easier to watch, or hear rather. It was great to see Stannis rebuff Melisandre’s suggestion during that scene, and we also had that wonderful father and daughter moment earlier in the season that really solidified Stannis as someone who we could root for. This is Game of Thrones, though, and following a crippling sneak attack from Ramsay that destroyed his army’s supplies, Stannis felt that he was left with no option. We’ve seen rape and murder galore on this show, but watching Shireen getting set on fire was right up there with the most uncomfortable moments we’ve seen so far. And watching it wasn’t even the worst thing about it; the screaming was.
Now I’m not going to attempt to say Stannis did the right thing here or anything. Shireen was a perfectly innocent little girl who didn’t deserve to die. I will say, though, that this is perfectly fitting for Stannis’s character. Stannis isn’t in this for the glory and the riches, he’s in it to do his duty and save the realm from the darkness that we know is coming from the North. I think these following words from the man himself sum it up perfectly: “I never asked for this crown. Gold is cold and heavy on the head, but so long as I am the king, I have a duty. If I must sacrifice one child to the flames to save a million from the dark… Sacrifice is never easy, Davos, or it is no true sacrifice.” Stannis spoke these words to Davos back in Season 3, and now several years later they have proven to be quite true. Melisandre has shown her power in the past, and now that Stannis’s situation was so dire, he simply couldn’t see any other option.
We’re going to have to wait a week to see whether this act will pay off. I have to say that many of Stannis’s soldiers did seem a bit shaken by what he did. Morale is very low in the camp already, and now their food has been destroyed and they’ve just watched their leader burn his own daughter at the stake. Unless they plan to just have Stannis suffer a huge defeat against the Bolton’s and end his entire story, something has to change in the finale. If Melisandre does work her magic and help turn the tide of this battle, then Stannis’s men may be more devoted than ever. The actual act of sacrificing his daughter definitely broke Stannis a little bit on the inside—you could see the anguish on his face. Selyse actually completely broke down in the end, even after all the horrible things she has said in the past. The wildcard in all of this is Davos right now. Part of me thinks that he knew exactly what was going to happen once he left the camp, but we’ll have to wait to see whether his bond to Stannis will be completely broken now.
Following on from last week’s standout episode, it was always going to be hard to match the ending of “Hardhome.” That being said, Daenerys trip to Daznak’s Pit did an admirable job in delivering the action. The Sons of the Harpy have been a notable absence since the first half of the season, so their return here was a great, frantic moment. It all started off with Jorah competing in the pit in some sort of attempt to redeem himself in front of Dany. This was all good enough on its own, with Jorah managing to scrape through by the skin of his teeth, but it was only the start of the action. The Sons of the Harpy descended on the people in the arena and slaughtered a whole lot of them, including Hizdahr. Hizdahr was a bit of a surprise death, considering many people assumed he was actually behind the attacks in the first place.
The action ramped up from there, with the Harpies swarming in from all directions. The only thing that really bothered me about this whole scene was it highlighted how poor Dany’s fighters have been. The Unsullied gave a better account of themselves here than when Grey Worm was attacked, but it was alarming to see how easily Dany could have been killed here. Surely there should have been more protection for her inside the arena. This looked like it was one of those classic Game of Thrones moments, with us waiting for the hero to be saved at the last minute only to be shocked when help doesn’t come. We’ve seen it with Ned, Rob and others on the show, but none of them had dragons.
Drogon’s return was just pure excitement, and it came at a time when Dany seemed to be accepting that she was going to die. I loved that Drogon didn’t come across as completely invincible either. He saved Dany and killed a lot of guys, but he also got a bit banged up himself. So much so, in fact, that Dany decided to hop on his back and get the two of them the hell out of there, leaving Tyrion, Jorah, Daario and Missandei to gaze after her in amazement… while also probably wondering what the hell they were going to do next. We don’t exactly know what Dany’s going to do next. Does she come straight back, or can she even control Drogon to that extent yet? I think the most interesting thing to think about is what she’s going to do if she comes back. Will she take a tougher line with ruling now following on from the attack, or could she possibly decide enough is enough and decide now is time to go to Westeros.
Arya’s storyline took a bit of a swerve this week with the arrival of Meryn Trant to Braavos. Trant was the Kingsguard member who possibly (we didn’t actually see who landed the killing blow) killed Syrio back in Season 1, and also beat Sansa around at Joffrey’s request. He’s done many horrid things and seemingly enjoyed them, but now we’ve been given another reason to hate him. Trant’s proclivity for young girls is disgusting, and it’ll be great to see Arya kill him if she does go through with it, but then she might find herself in trouble with Jaqen. Her target is the “skinny man” and she is supposed to be forgetting about her past. Killing Trant would go against this. Jaqen has to know that she lied to him about why she hadn’t killed the “skinny man” yet, but it remains to be seen what kind of reaction he’d have if she kills Trant instead of him in the finale.
I think the best thing I can say about the Dorne scenes this season is that they appear to be coming to an end. I was very excited at the prospect of Jaime and Bronn going on a secret mission, but this story just meandered and nothing much came of it at all. The Sand Snakes were a bit of a letdown, and it also never really felt like Jaime or Bronn were in any danger at all. The one shining light of this story turned out to be Doran Martell. The wheelchair-bound head of House Martell has been a very intriguing presence in his few appearances this season, and it’s kind of hard to get a read on him. He seemed cautious and commanding all at once, and he ended up giving Jaime more than he had wanted before he began this journey. Not only is Myrcella coming back with him to King’s Landing, but Trystane will also be coming with her. This is important because it essentially means the Lannister’s are gaining and important hostage if Dorne ever decides to pick up arms against them. I was a little bit surprised to see Doran give such a one-sided deal to Jaime. Sure, Trystane will be allowed to take a seat on the Small Council, but that probably won’t do a lot of good. There may be a bigger picture here that I’m just not seeing right now, but Doran seems like somebody to watch out for in the future.
After last week’s blockbuster smackdown north of the Wall, Game of Thrones provided us with a slightly quieter but more emotionally taxing episode. Shireen’s death scene was harrowing, and also watching Meryn Trant’s vile actions over in Braavos wasn’t too fun either. I’m incredibly excited about the finale now for a number of different reasons. First, I can’t wait to see the fallout from Stannis’s actions and whether or not Melisandre can whip up another miracle for him. Secondly, we need to see how the Night’s Watch reacts to the events of Hardhome. Jon had a very small appearance here this week, where he returned to the Wall with the Wildlings. There weren’t a lot of happy faces amongst his brothers, but we’ll hopefully get to see how they react to his tale of events at Hardhome. There’s a whole hell of a lot more to fit into the finale, but let’s hope it doesn’t end up twisted like a Meereenese knot.
95/100 – Superb
Do you believe Stannis did the right thing, or was his act just too reprehensible to even think about justifying it? Tweet me @OldSnake24. And be sure to follow us @YouNerded!
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