[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter last week’s barnstorming spectacle, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this episode of Thrones. The ninth episode of every season has so far been reserved for showstoppers, big set pieces, and twists designed to dominate clickbait headlines for days. Could HBO afford to splash out for two weeks in a row?
Well, yes, apparently. ‘The Dance of Dragons’ didn’t quite offer the same fist-pumping thrills as ‘Hardhome’, but it was a great episode nonetheless.
While Daenerys’ section obviously provided the biggest spectacle, it was Stannis’ actions that have stayed with me the most. This is mostly because I can’t quite believe that he actually went through with burning his own daughter at the stake.
Is such drastic action incongruous with Stannis’ rigid character? We all know that the last Baratheon standing is resolved to win the Iron Throne, but seeing that determination manifest in such a horrifying gesture has made me reconsider the respect that I had held for the man, who previously seemed the ‘least bad’ contender for the crown.
That is, of course, the point. I can’t imagine audiences will be ready to forgive Stannis and co. any time soon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him die at the hands of the Boltons (or Littlefinger?) to finish his arc as a tragedy.
Appropriately, things were much sunnier in Dorne. Almost suspiciously so, in fact.
Doran’s intervention seemed to resolve everything, with everyone keeping their heads, and getting more or less what they wanted. It all seems a little too neat for a show that usually can’t resist a subversive and/or bloody ending.
Either the writers have lost their teeth, or there’s something waiting in the wings
Brief mention here should go to the conversation between Ellaria (Indira Varma) and Jaime, a short but poignant scene; and to Doran’s atrium, which was so impressive that I can’t believe it will only be used for this one scene.
While the storylines in Dorne and the rest of Thrones’ world have all had their problems this year, Arya’s time in Bravos has been consistently good, in large part due to Maisie Williams’ fantastic performance.
The youngest Stark daughter has really been earning her fan-favourite status, with a story that has been entertaining, engaging, and oddly sad all at once. The reappearance of a prospective target from her old life presents a fitting dilemma for the final episode, and I look forward to seeing it resolved.
But just as ‘Hardhome’ will always be remembered as ‘the one where it all went to shit with the ice zombies’, so will ‘The Dance of Dragons’ be known as ‘the one with the dragon, where all the men in gold masks got set on fire’.
We saw something this week for which we’ve been waiting the best part of five years: fully grown dragons, doing what dragons do best. It didn’t disappoint, even if the strained VFX budget was noticeable in a few places.
That said, Drogon’s appearance was perhaps the part of this segment that interested me the least. There was a wealth of good writing on display in the frosty chat between Daenerys, her husband, and her advisors.
Likewise, Daenerys quietly taking Missandei’s hand in the face of death made for a powerful moment: a note of acceptance, which was the perfect antidote to the testosterone-fuelled chaos raging around them.
While at this point it is nearly redundant to say so, I was amazed at just how much spending was on display for the whole sequence. Everything, from the huge crowds of extras to Daenerys’ dragon-shaped jewellery, shows a level of attention (and a high budget) that just isn’t found elsewhere on TV.
With less than 60 minutes remaining on the clock, this season of Thrones still has plenty of loose ends to tie up. A battle at Winterfell seems a shoe-in, and there’s sure to be something noteworthy in King’s Landing. Only then will we be able to evaluate series five as a whole.