Episode nine has built itself quite a reputation in Game of Thrones’ history. It’s given us some thrilling sequences like the Battle of Blackwater, and the Attack on the Wall. It also ushered in two of the most painfully horrific, game-changing events in the series: Ned Stark’s execution, and the infamous Red Wedding. So how did season 5’s penultimate episode stack up amongst the rest? Well, let’s talk about it.
In Braavos, Arya is on her way to kill someone when she sees…someone else. Ser Meryn Trant, the despicable kingsguard, escorting Mace Tyrell to the Iron Bank. I assume Arya will be taking advantage of this rare opportunity (please do, I hate him so much), though it’s a shame it didn’t happen in this episode. Will Jaqen sniff out her plans and stop her? Or is it all the same to the Many-Faced God?
The situation in Dorne seems to have resolved itself quickly enough. Jaime is free to take Myrcella back to King’s Landing with Prince Tristayne in tow. Ellaria then apologizes for her treasonous actions and all is well again. It seems we can put this storyline behind us and forget it ever happened. But Doran appears to have something else up his sleeve. I find it interesting that his brother Oberyn went often and loudly about avenging Elia’s death. Yet, Doran has remained completely silent on the matter. Is he masking his own desire for revenge? Or is he playing at something bigger?
Things look exceedingly grim in the North and are only getting worse. Much worse. Ramsay somehow sabotages the would-be-king’s supplies, leaving Stannis to rot in the snow. It seems as though his campaign is over. Until he does something truly desperate: he takes up the Lady Melisandre’s plea and offers Shireen, his own daughter, to the Lord of Light.
We saw this coming and yet, none of us were prepared for it. Because for the past three seasons, we got to know Shireen as a character. We learned of the horror that struck her, and the overwhelming shame that followed ever since. She was a princess, yet she barely saw the outside of her room. Maybe death would’ve been a kinder fate for her. Then, this season we were given a rare glimpse between father and daughter. In a heartwarming scene, Stannis embraced Shireen for the first time. It was a moment that made us root for him. He burned his own men alive, and we were rooting for him right then and there. It appears it was all misdirection.
What I found the most heartbreaking was that it wasn’t Stannis who cried for Shireen. It was Selyse, her cruel and icy mother. There was a human being in her after all, but it came a moment too late. I’m curious though, if there was something deeper going on with Stannis. Perhaps it was a bitter acceptance of his place in the world, and the destiny he has been entrusted to fulfill. It’s been clear since season one that the game of thrones has no place for sentimentality or emotion. It’s a battleground where only the cruel survive. Could Stannis live with who he’s become while his daughter watched? Perhaps it was mercy on his part, though burning someone alive is hardly merciful. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if Stannis has resigned to his fate.
In Meereen, the hunger games are underway when it all turns out to be an ambush on the queen. Poor Hizdahr gets killed in the skirmish (sorry Hizdahr, we barely got to like you), and it seems as though Tyrion faces certain death yet again. Then, from the skies above, Drogon swoops in and aids Jorah, Daario, and the remaining Unsullied. Dany, seeking to help her most precious child of all, pulls away the spears lodged into Drogon’s scales and climbs aboard. And, right out of the final chapters of A Dance with Dragons, Dany and Drogon soar into the free air, leaving this world in the dust. Where they’re going is beyond me. But the moment provided some much needed levity from an otherwise grim episode.
Drogon made quite the entrance, but I couldn’t quite feel the excitement of the moment. Because what came before was so traumatic that I wasn’t ready to feel anything. I just wanted to mourn. So again, as thrilling as the final minutes were, it felt exactly like watching Selyse cry out for her helpless daughter – too little too late.
Game of Thrones has done some notoriously cruel things, but the burning of Shireen was by far the cruelest. I don’t know where the finale plans on taking us, but I hope that there will be some kind of payoff to everything we’ve seen so far. Because I am just about done with this season.