[Review] - Game Of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 9, "The Dance of Dragons"

Courtesy of HBO
And so, we have the least effective episode nine since season one. I suspected as much when last week ended with the attack by the Army of Darkness. And, as I've been saying all season long, nothing in the previous eight episodes was building towards anything, leaving episode nine with little other choice but to pull events randomly from the event-o-matic and hope that it works. Which it didn't; not really.

Episode nines, as has been the pattern, serve a very specific purpose. They serve as the climax to the events of the previous eight episodes, and pivot on a major event that defines the season to come. Ned loosing his head was the natural conclusion to what the rest of the season had been about, and Ned loosing was the precipitating factor in the events of season two. So too with the Blackwater, with the Red Wedding, and with the Battle of the Wall. And perhaps that was where this season's troubles were born from, because the Wall storyline is so insular, that having that be the payoff and the catalyst only effected a minority of the rest of the storylines. Without something effecting the greater regions of Westeros, this season they languished in inactivity. And as such, while the Wall storyline had ample opportunity to feed off Jon's success against Mance, the rest of the show puttered. And produced an episode nine that only barely felt like it knew what else had happened this season, and only barely will leave a mark on next.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that could do without it in their leisure time.

With the context of episode nine's climaxing and contributing, let us then examine this episode under the guise of cause and effect. And really, in that regard, only two scenes mattered: Stannis' and Danys. Jon's scene was his epilogue to last week, the relax and reflect moment that seeds greater danger down the road. He's won his battle, and seen what waits for them in the winters beyond. He's returned home, his mission accomplished by his trust depleted. The Wall remains the only storyline not to have bowed under lethargy, and continues both forward and strong. Arya's section is actually a slight reversal of her arc this season, but abandoning her quest to become the Professional, and instead becomes obsessed with crossing another name off her list. Certain, her scenes stauling Meryn Trent were creepy, but they were there for little more than padding.

Finally, the Dorne storyline ended anticlimactically, and if you examine it as a whole, it has no dramatic purpose. Jamie was sent to Dorne to retrieve the Princess. So, sparingly, over several episodes, he went to Dorne, found the Princess, and it seems now that he has succeeded. And despite the terrible sword fight a couple weeks back, without issue or impediment. There is no dramatic weight to this story. It's inclusion, considering that the novel's meat of the Dorne storyline, which was dripping in politics, subterfuge and purpose, seems to be so that Bronn could be kept in the series, and Jamie could have something to do (or more importantly, somewhere to be other than King's Landing).

What is overly apparent is that the writers had no idea what to do with Dorne. The Sand Snakes contributed nothing, and have made no lasting impression other than their uselessness and impulsiveness, running strictly counter to their father's legacy. And Doran has proven to be the wet blanket of his family. Ellaria is right in her criticism. In the novels, he had a reason for being so cowed by the prospect of war with the Iron Throne. Here, he just seems ineffective (or, overly effective in terms of sound statesmanship, but not what viewers want from blood-lustful Dornishman).

To cause and effect, then. Stannis has spent this season not having to make any hard choices. He took up his new cause, and despite a few episodes of trying to throw his weight around on the Wall, left with little issue. Now, he's been bogged down on his way to Winterfell for several episodes, basically caught between the angel Davos telling him he's the best military commander in the Seven Kingdoms (something that is informed, not witnessed, as he has lost every battle and siege he's planned), and the devil of the women in his life, telling him that his daughter must be sacrificed so that magic can win his war for him. That is the crux of his storyline this year. So, rather than being the payoff to a built up plot, this episode was more the just plain doing what they said they would.

One could argue that the emotional arc has been strong for Stannis, but in retrospect, it seems like all that was uncharacteristically added so that this event would seem more meaningful. I mean, Stannis has been a cold-hearted bastard from go, but this season he was crying and hugging. We should have known he was going to do something monstrous. And speaking of uncharacteristic, Selyse's breakdown was completely out of nowhere. Utterly outside and counter to her development. Again, one could argue that she's her desire carried out broke her, but she loved Shireen no more than the river loves the shore; she was just something she butted up against every so often.

The effect of these events I hope will be far more pronounced. First off, Davos will no longer be Stannis' man. Davos has been loyal to a fault, but he's the most honourable character on the show, and loved that girl like his own. Better and more than either of her parents. If the writers keep Davos loyal to Stannis after he finds out what he did, that will be the most disingenuous thing they'll have done in the entire series' run. Sacrificng Shireen is an unforgivable act, for the characters and for the audience. Until now, we were meant to sympathize with Stannis' plight, as see him as at least a contender for heroship. He has mostly been on the side of right in most of his time. Not any more. In the question of who do we route for between the Boltons and the Baratheon's, the audience has no reason to care who wins.

The writers burnt our sympathy and our commitment to that arc when they burned that girl, and event that didn't need to happen, and wasn't the natural outcome of events. The writers made it happen, so they could have an Event. And I feel that it'll backfire on them, narratively. Because it is also unbelievable that his host would stay loyal to Stannis after that. Trapped in the North, far from home, cold and with no food and no clear victory in sight, and suddenly he's burning little girls by the camp fire. If there isn't a mutiny, than that isn't loyalty, it's the writers not having thought their actions through carefully enough. Because after a public event like that, desertions would be high. So, if the writers had meant ot use this as an empowering moment, to galvanize and sanctify Stannis's mission to free the North form the Boltons, what they have actually done is undercut Stannis's effectiveness and ruin the Nothern storyline.

Cause and effect in the west was the reverse of that. All season, the Sons on the Harpy have been an increasing and gathering threat, and that plot came to a natural conclusion here. Dany's stoyline has precipitated on the notion that her indecisiveness makes her a less then powerful ruler. She garners attention through acts, not continuous rule. She frees slaves, which endear her to the slaves in the moment, but as soon as she pauses and lets reality sink in, her paint-with-a-wide brush techniques come back to bite her. This was the bite. And the payoff fit. The Deus Ex moment of the dragon miraculously showing up to save it's mother really soured the the earnings of that narrative. In the novel, that moment is one of the highlights of the series, in part because Dany isn't in trouble. She's simply sunk into a quagmire of her own success and her own sacrifices. In order to maintain peace, she had to compromise over and over until she didn't feel true to herself. Drogon showing up was the equivalent of Rome burning, or a meteor wiping out a city. It was her restart.

Here, she never achieves peace. She has refused to compromise, and as such the city itself is the natural disaster. Drogon is less her savior and more a lazy way out of trouble. Not for the rest of them, whom she left to be killed, but Dany didn't need to be freed by her dragon here, because she more or less was still free. Her riding off on her dragon, amidst the worst CG this show has displayed in a long time and invoking too heavily the Neverending Story, is actually the worst choice that could have been made. Dany has stayed this long in Meereen because she wants to prove that she can rule. And she has ruled, and attempted to find ways to strengthen that. Her riding off on Drogon is a physical admission that she is willing to simply give up when things get too difficult. She literally abandons her rule, and her most loyal subjects, when the going got too hard. She never cowed to the threats, but rather cut and run. And if Dany is whom we're meant to be rooting for in the ongoing quest for the Iron Throne, what does that say. In one thirty minute segment, the writers managed to take the only characters worth of the throne and neuter them. Now who, besides Jon, is worth rooting for at all in terms of leadership? Do we care anymore about who plays the game of thrones?

Or, was all this self sabotage the writer's way of making the audience realize what Shireen was saying about the Dance of Dragons: that picking sides is what causes problems in the first place?
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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