My interview with Vox Day should go up some time tomorrow over at Pex Lives, along with an accompanying Shabcast in which Jack, Kevin, James and I talk about the interview. There will be an announcement here when they go live.
State of Play
The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:
Lions of Meereen: Tyrion Lannister
Lions of Dorne: Jaime Lannister
Dragons of Meereen: Daenerys Targaryen
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
The Burning Hearts, Stannis Baratheon and Mellisandre
The Ship, Davos Seaworth
Snakes of Dorne: Elaria Sand
Direwolves of Braavos: Arya Stark
Chains of Dorne: Bronn
Archers of the Wall: Samwell Tarly
Paws of the Wall: Tormund Giantsbane
Coins of Braavos: No one
Swords of Meereen: Daario Noharis
Butterflies of Meereen: Missandei
With the Bear of Meereen, Jorah Mormont
Winterfell and King’s Landing are abandoned.
The episode is in parts. The first is two minutes long and is set in Stannis Baratheon’s camp north of Winterfell. The opening image is an establishing shot of the camp in the snow.
The second is three minutes long and is set at the Wall. The transition is by dialogue, from Daavos talking about Castle Black to the northern gate to Castle Black.
The third is four minutes long and is set in Stannis Baratheon’s camp north of Winterfell. The transition is by hard cut, from Jon Snow to Stannis’s map, and by dialogue, with Stannis talking about Jon Snow and the Wall.
The fourth is six minutes long and is set in Dorne. The transition is by deeply idiosyncratic relationships between fathers and daughters, from Shireen to Myrcella.
The fifth is eight minutes long and is set in Braavos. The transition is by hard cut, from Bronn to an establishing shot of the docks.
The sixth is three minutes long and is set in Dorne. The transition is by dialogue, from the House of Black and White to Doran informing Ellaria that she has a choice ending with “or die.”
The seventh is six minutes long and is set in Stannis Baratheon’s camp. The transition is by dialogue, with both scenes talking about Targaryens. It features the death of Shireen Baratheon, burnt to death on her father’s orders.
The eighth is seventeen minutes long and is set in Meereen. The transition is by the theme of barbarism, from Shireen’s death to the fighting pits of Meereen. It features the death of lots and lots of people. The final image is of many people surprised at the unexpected departure of their queen and the means of her conveyance.
In many ways this has the same structure as “Hardhome,” although Meereen is not as large a part of the episode as Hardhome was – this is an episode that deals with some smaller plots and then does a big endcap scene. Given this, there is a certain anticlimax, especially given the near-mythic power that “episode nine” at this point has within Game of Thrones. Put simply, this year the big set piece is not in the ninth slot; it was in the eighth, clearly. Unless it’s in the tenth.
Which is to say that the inevitable comparisons to “Hardhome” do this no favors. “Hardhome” ended with a big battle scene in which all bets were off because we’d careened off the path of the books. “The Dance of Dragons” ended with a big set piece taken straight from the books, with a very well-telegraphed ending. “Hardhome” had the first Tyrion/Daenerys scenes in its buildup. “The Dance of Dragons” had Stannis.
None of which is to say that “The Dance of Dragons” was bad. Actually, it was pretty fantastic. The sacrifice of Shireen was a phenomenal moment. There’s an obvious comparison here to Sansa’s rape; it’s a moment of astonishing horror and brutal cruelty, built to with sickening inevitability. But where Sansa’s rape felt tawdry, obvious, and cynical, Shireen’s death unfolds like a well-structured tragedy, with way out after way out crumpling until the final, awful moment. I have quibbles, most obviously that Selyse’s change of heart is a dreadful and sexist cliche; given how consistent her character has been up to this point, the only possible explanation for it is some sort of essentializing comment about women and motherhood. But like fridging the cool Wildling woman after a badly cliche scene about how she promises she’ll rejoin her kids last week, this is a moment of sighing and rolling my eyes within a tremendously effective bit of television. (Also interesting – the explicit crediting of the scene to Martin in the “inside the episode” bit. Wonder how the equivalent will play out in the books.)
Arya’s sequence was also very good; Maisie Williams’s crazed, wide-eyed expression as she stalks Meryn Trant was fantastic acting. It felt in some ways like Game of Thrones doing True Detective for a scene, full of claustrophobia and obsession in all the best ways. It is a truly wonderful thing to watch Williams develop this character, and I really hope the show follows it through to an appropriately unsettling endpoint.
It’s also probably the best week Dorne has had so far, although that’s damning with faint praise at this point. Alexander Siddig actually gets material, which he predictably shines with. Elaria and Jaime’s scene towards the end is fascinatingly nuanced and ambiguous. But it’s surprising to me how little has actually happened with this plot; at this point it seems all but certain that the real development of Dorne will come next season, which feels like a missed opportunity, and like it will end up being the biggest disappointment in the otherwise stellar work this season has done adapting two very tough-to-do books.
And there was a Wall scene.
But of course the set piece – the one demanding discussion – is the Meereen scene. Except that, well, it’s just not that interesting. I mean, it was well done. There were some real charms – the scale of the Sons of the Harpy’s eruption was impressive. As was the death of Hizdahr, cheerily subverting all the hints of his treachery (hints that would be wholly consistent with the books) by having him turn out to have been an honest and in hindsight wholly sympathetic character, a fact that is revealed when he’s casually knifed down.
But it is in the end just not that interesting a scene. It’s well-executed, and yes, its importance to Daenerys as a character is real, but there are too many ways in which it’s a classic Game of Thrones delaying tactic. And more broadly, as a game-changing moment, it doesn’t rate. It’s a big set piece in terms of amount of spectacle, and the show gets all the moving parts to work very well, but as a conceptual scene it’s merely good.
Although man, in hindsight spear guy’s decision to kill that guy before he’d taken Jorah out instead of right after was a hell of a bad tactical decision.
- The Dance of Dragons
- High Sparrow
- The Wars to Come
- Kill the Boy
- Sons of the Harpy
- The House of Black and White
- The Gift
- Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
So, looks like we’ve got Winterfell, King’s Landing, the Wall, Meereen, Braavos, and I’m pretty sure I heard dialogue from Dorne. So everything.
King’s Landing: Cersei’s walk of shame, surely. With so much else going on, though, I’d be a little surprised if this went much deeper.
The Wall: The mutiny against Jon Snow has to happen, it would seem. It’s not like they’ll be able to hide whether Kit Harrington is in it next season, though, so I really wonder how this will be done cliffhanger-wise.
Braavos: I would guess Arya’s plot goes up to her going blind.
Meereen: I doubt Daenerys will make it back this episode, though there’s not really much Battle of Meereen left to do, and I have to admit, the preview shot of them all sitting in the throne room seemingly exhausted and bored is hilarious. No idea what they’ll do with Daenerys, who is “surrounded by strangers.” In the books, it drops her in with the Dothraki. I suspect this will be changed.
Winterfell: It sincerely appears we’re doing the Battle of Winterfell. I assume Sansa survives it.