Game of Thrones: “The Dance of Dragons” Season 5 Episode 9 Review

Game of Thrones is quite literally on fire. Put together with last week’s epic winter arrival, the series may be at a creative peak right now. “The Dance of Dragons” was another classic that will certainly quiet fans grumbling over an occasionally slow season.

So let’s just jump right into the fighting pits sequence. Because, well, you saw it. The last 15 minutes of the episode were everything we love about this show packaged in another awe-inspiring set piece.  There was the wonderfully written conversation between Dany, her husband, and Tyrion about the politics of the fighting pits. There was the tragedy of Daenerys allowing Jorah to fight. There was the sense of dread that Jorah wouldn’t make it out alive. But he does, and then he throws a spear right past his love’s head and into the chest of an assassin. We’re just getting started.

The scene built in scale similarly to the Red Wedding. Several of the show’s characters were suddenly facing an insurmountable threat. Still, just about everyone had their moment to be awesome. Tyrion cutting down a guy actually prompted me to cheer. Then I teared up as Daenerys accepted Jorah’s help, finally forgiving him. But just when it seems like this might be a second Red Wedding, the roar of a dragon bellows outside the stadium. Drogon flies in and just starts incinerating the Sons of the Harpy. Much like Jon Snow fighting a White Walker last week, this is what we’ve been waiting for. The Mother of Dragons using her children for war. Watching her climb on top Drogon and fly him out of battle may end up being one of the show’s single most iconic images.

But the happenings in Meereen weren’t the only great narrative moves of the episode. The other big emotional storyline resided with Stannis. Season five has put a pretty big emphasis on the psychotic religions of Westeros. Stannis serves the Lord of Light, with Melisandre as the messenger. Their road to Winterfell hasn’t been an easy one, and Ramsay made it a lot harder by burning down a lot of their camp. Melisandre’s option to sacrifice his daughter to the Lord of Light is looking a lot better for Stannis. It’s one of the most disturbing scenes Thrones has ever done. Shireen walking to the stake to be burned, with no idea where she’s going, is a moment that will grow to define her father. Thankfully, we didn’t have to watch her burn. But we did hear her. First, she begs her parents. Then she just screams. Finally, it becomes silent. Stannis invading Winterfell is officially a clash of villains.

Arya’s storyline moved forward in a big way as well, with the arrival of Meryn Trant at the Iron Bank. Being taught to become an assassin, Arya’s kill list may get a little shorter. She eyes her prize and follows him around. Now it’s just a matter of whether she’ll succeed.

With everything going on right now so dark or epic, it was actually nice that the Dorne storyline moved forward a lot this week with mostly comic relief. Keeping things light here certainly doesn’t make it any more exciting than it’s been, but at least with some well-placed physical comedy (Bronn getting hit), it’s definitely more entertaining. Throw in an inspiring speech from Ellaria Sand about who it’s okay to love in different lands and we’ve got the first time since Jaime and Bronn arrived in Dorne that this storyline actually worked.

In an episode so packed with story moves, it’s easy to forget the short scene in the beginning where Jon and the wildlings are let into Castle Black. This was a big moment in the season’s storyline that was appropriately quiet.

So yeah, “The Dance of Dragons” was absolutely one of the most well-rounded episodes of the series. The story beats landed incredibly well in each plotline. Throw in some destined to be iconic imagery, breathless action, and multiple moments worth crying over, and we’ve get anther classic episode right on top of last week’s. The way season five is ending may just be the best Game of Thrones has ever been. Grade: A


Some Other Notes:

– This is the second week in a row where after I finish writing this, I’m going to rewatch the last 20 minutes of the episode. Drogon for the win!

– Ellaria’s speech about who we’re allowed to love was beautifully written and one of the most forward-thinking scenes of the series. I know she was talking about incest, but the allegory for the LGBTQ community was obvious. With priests rounding up gay men in King’s Landing, season five has had a lot of material meant to anger people fighting for LGBTQ rights. Some cool stuff.

– Just what is Ser Davos going to do when he finds out what Stannis did? Could it be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

– Might we see Gendry in the finale?

– Going into the finale, we’re still building to a whole lot. The whole Winterfell confrontation has to happen, unless it’s being saved for season six, which would actually be super annoying. The whole King’s Landing storyline wasn’t even in this episode. Arya has to shorten her list. Some aftermath to everything in Meereen has to be shown. It’s going to be a busy finale!


By Matt Dougherty

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