Stannis’s situation is more dire than ever before - turns out Ramsay’s idea of taking out 20 men was a good one, because 20 men can set fire to a lot of stuff before they’re even seen. All of the food supplies, siege weapons, plenty of horses, tents and even some men, all burned to a crisp with one strike from Ramsay. It’s a classic tactic - go after the supply line, weaken the health and morale of the army and then finish ‘em when they’re weak.
Pretty much the only thing that can save Stannis’s campaign is some sweet divine intervention. Or he could just give up, like Davos suggested. But Stannis’s pride was bruised before, after his defeat at King’s Landing, so he clearly feels there’s no turning back. Which leads to the most horrifying thing this episode: Shireen being sacrificed at the stake.
If, like me and many others, you’ve been rooting for Stannis this season then this is a cruel awakening. Stannis isn’t "The Mannis", as half the internet calls him. He’s a ruthless, cold-hearted ruler, who, let’s face it, is more than a little cracked. You have to be, to be willing to burn your daughter. But we already knew this. We’ve seen Stannis do some pretty dodgy stuff but the writers, those clever bastards, have tricked us into a false sense of Stannis security. Just weeks ago we were all declaring Stannis the true King of Westeros and feeling warm and fuzzy because of his fondness for Shireen. But this is a man who rewarded Davos for saving his life, and the lives of his people, by chopping off his fingers. You can talk about justice all you want, Stannis is, and has always been, ruthless. So all praise to the writers, for making this scene shocking, surprising and thoroughly heartbreaking. Shireen’s screams, the horror in her cute disfigured face when realised what was going on, it was all too much.
This moment is twice as shocking for book readers, because this is completely new material. Shireen, as far as the books are concerned, is safe(ish) and snug at Castle Black, with her mother and Melisandre. There’s been no suggestion of burning Shireen, though just because we haven’t read it yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It is quite possible that this scene is canon. Stannis’s book campaign is going about as well as in the show (if not worse), and Melisandre would do anything to help him, because she truly believes he is Azor Ahai reborn, the saviour of humanity. This zealous belief is downplayed in the show, instead Stannis is all about taking the throne and Melisandre is just there helping. It’s a shame this religious/magical aspect has been dropped, as whether Stannis truly is the chosen one is a good mystery in the books - something that drags plenty of other characters in to the speculation. It also seems quite important to the overall story, but perhaps that’s all misdirection on George’s part, since it doesn’t seem all that important in the TV show.
They Said The Thing!
This week’s episode title is also the name of the book Shireen is reading. She discusses it with Davos and Stannis. If you want to know more about The Dance Of Dragons we’ve written up a little history of it down in the “extra bits” gallery below.
We barely spend any time at The Wall with Jon, though the few scenes we do get are a good follow up to last week’s spectacle. The view of the Wildling army from the top of The Wall shows how many, but more importantly how few, made it back from Hardhome. This might seem like a big crowd to the 50-something Watchers left on The Wall, but compared to the thousands left to die at Hardhome it’s a very small crowd indeed. Not that anyone at Castle Black cares (well, except Sam), they’re all pretty peeved at Jon for succeeding with his plan. They might not be saying anything, but everyone is staring daggers and young Ollie is the worst of the lot - he’s obviously reaching his boiling point with this whole wildling business, but will he tip over in episode ten, or will it be saved for season six?
Arya is selling more oysters, clams and cockles and she’s doing a great job at it. What she isn’t doing well at is actually killing people. Fair enough she got distracted by bumbling idiot Mace Tyrell arriving in Braavos with Meryn Trant, but she could have slipped the Thin Man his poisoned oyster then followed the Tyrell party around the city all day. And let’s take this moment to point out how conspicuous she was. If you saw the same oyster girl everywhere you went, in a city with presumably hundreds if not thousands of oyster sellers, I think it’s safe to assume you’re being followed. And yet Meryn was just like “meh whatever going to the brothel!” At this point we’re still somewhat in book territory: a delegation sent by King Tommen does visit the Iron Bank in the books, but we only know about it because it’s a sample chapter from The Winds Of Winter that was released on George’s website (unfortunately it’s no longer available, though you’ll find summaries and possibly a copy of it elsewhere). Arya does have a run-in with them.
But we’re also still in Arya’s Feast For Crows timeline - she’s still learning and is as-yet unproven when it comes to assassinating people on behalf of the Many Faced God. The change is welcome - it helps to speed up her story. In case you needed a reminder that Meryn Trant is a slimey bastard who needs stabbing, he very creepily insists on a very very young prostitute. May as well buy the man a badge that says “bad guy”. You have to wonder why they’re focusing on Meryn… Surely revenge on Meryn for killing Syrio Forell (and for beating Sansa, though Arya doesn’t know, that’d be purely satisfaction for the viewers) is Arya Stark’s business, and this girl is no one. Or is she?
Dorne was disappointing. The Sand Snakes are a compelling, and huge, storyline in the books. But the removal of Doran’s daughter Arianne Martell means that the story is lacking something - perhaps genuine motivation? (Arianne wants to rebel to secure her place as heir). Or maybe the actors just aren’t carrying the story well enough. Watching Nym and Tyene play slaps was amusing but ultimately pointless - a metaphor for the whole of the Dornish storyline perhaps?
The final scenes in Meereen are possibly the closest this episode has to being a traditional episode nine shocker. In the past episode nine has been the highpoint of the season, but this year the standard format is somewhat thrown out the window. Certainly the events in the fighting pits are no Red Wedding or Ned’s head chopping but they are very exciting all the same. Some things come as surprise, such as Hizdahr being stabbed by the Sons Of The Harpy. In the books it seems pretty certain that Hizdahr is the leader of the rebellion, but he’s presumably dead in the show so maybe we were all wrong with that theory. Jorah’s fight in the pit is tense, and it really does seem like he won’t make it at several points. His quick thinking and accuracy with the spear was heartstopping but brilliant. I don’t think there’s anyone watching who doesn’t love Jorah Mormont. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of Tyrion, Daario and Hizdahr battling wits, which was undeniably everything we wanted from Tyrion joining Dany’s entourage. The scene builds to Drogon’s arrival and it does not disappoint - we finally get a taste of what an (almost) full grown dragon can do. His blood stained muzzle is terrifying and oh so cool. We don’t see nearly enough dragons fighting in this show, hopefully that’ll change next season. The CGI at the end during Dany and Drogon’s take off was a little ropey, which is disappointing considering that everything with the dragons has been stunning so far.
Dance Of Dragons
The Dance Of Dragons was a civil war between two opposing Targaryens: Aegon II and Rhaenyra. As Shireen says, the war was bitter and bloody and made enemies out of the closest friends and caused the death of many of the mightiest Targaryen dragons. This history can be explored in George RR Martin’s novella "The Princess and The Queen: or, The Blacks and The Greens", found in the Dangerous Women anthology.
Separated At Birth
Is it just us or does the announcer in the fighting pit look just like Doran Martell?
Mother Of Bling
Dany has some strong outfits this season and her spikey dragon necklace is the icing on the cake.