For a Game of Thrones episode that kept us lingering in dread, wishing for the worst to, please, for once, just not happen (Don’t die, Shireen! Duck that spear, Jorah! And Arya, for Death’s sake, leave Meryn Trant alone!), “The Dance of Dragons” ended with a surprising victory; a sorely needed triumph for Daenerys after a season-long losing streak.
With a single command (“Valahd,” what a delicious word), the Mother of Dragons took flight on Drogon’s (!) back and fled from Daznak’s Pit, the surprise site of a bloody battle between the Sons of the Harpy and the Unsullied (and one of the most impressive sets, CGI or otherwise, the show has ever assembled). The Harpy uprising was a genuine shocker: We’d been led to suspect that Hizdahr zo Loraq, Dany’s new “husband,” had a hand in the earlier Harpy attacks—after all, the attacks had stopped as soon as Daenerys wed him and agreed to re-open the Pits, pleasing the Masters of Slaver’s Bay.
But from the way the Harpies cut down both Hizdahr and dozens of other Masters inside Daznak’s Pit, targeting every rich person in sight, it seems the Harpies may never have been under noblemen’s employment at all. Are the common folk of Meereen acting out on their own? Or have some of the noble families turned against each other? There are no spoilers from A Song of Ice and Fire to solve the mystery for us this time; this is a whodunnit the show is figuring out all on its own.
Daenerys’s ride-or-die moment came with a few more nagging questions, of course. For starters, what about your friends, Dany?! Jorah, Tyrion, Missandei, and Daario are stuck on the Pit floor outnumbered by a bazillion bloodthirsty Harpies. Is this a Rose-and-Jack-from-Titanic “There’s only room for one” situation? And yes, Drogon was drawn to the Pit by the scent of blood and all that screaming—but what made this the moment he decided to quit the runaway rebel act and listen to his mom? Was it just his fickle teenage heart?
I barely care. The sight of Dany riding her dragon into the sky (cheesy green screen effects and all) felt like a personal victory, a reward for powering through a season of dry Meereenese politics. That moment when the camera, seemingly mounted on Dany’s back, gave us a fleeting first-person view from the back of a flying dragon? Pure, unadulterated fan service—which is to say, bliss.
It was almost enough to offset the queasiness of the rest of this agonizing penultimate episode. “The Dance of Dragons” was not a kind hour to little girls, with Princess Shireen Baratheon tricked into a fiery death by her own father, and assassin-in-training Arya Stark putting herself in arm’s reach of danger at a brothel.
That’s where she found Meryn Trant, a man she vowed to kill as revenge for her (presumably murdered) “dancing teacher,” Syrio Forel, back in Season 1. As it turns out, Trant is a hardcore pedophile because of course he is. Arya, undercover as Lana the clam girl, waltzes into a brothel and eyes him from afar as he dismisses every lithe, half-naked girl brought to him as “too old.” For a moment, it seems like Arya might think of using his pedophilia against him to get within striking distance—an act which would have apparently been foreshadowed by a lewd man asking her earlier, “How much for your little clam?” (Gross.)
Then, it seems like she’ll have no choice, as another guardsman pushes her into the room with Meryn, who looks her straight in the eye—and doesn’t recognize her.
Thankfully (if “thankfully” is even the right word here), the brothel’s Madam shoos Arya away and drags in some poor, wide-eyed girl around the same age. Meryn deems her “good,” Arya is out of harm’s way, and TV viewers’ collective panic spiral subsides. Well played, Game of Thrones. This show knows we wouldn’t put it past ’em to lure a character as young as Arya into a sex trap. As a bonus, we get a grotesque sense of relief at some other character’s statutory rape instead. Hooray.
Making matters worse, Jaqen seems suspicious of Arya’s day of inactivity. She’s supposed to be scheming to serve a corrupt insurer the House of Black and White’s death-water—not settling personal vendettas from her past life. Punishment for those serving the Many-Faced God seems like a serious thing (Jaqen already beats Arya over minor infractions), boding ill for her if he catches on. And with the way things usually go on this show, he will catch on.
In Stannis-land, Melisandre has convinced the would-be king that the only thing that will save him and his army from starvation is burning his only child, Shireen, to death, prompting the Lord of Light to shoot lasers from his eyes and melt all the snow between here and Winterfell. (Or something like that.) So much for “You are my daughter,” eh Stannis?! The little bookworm innocently offers her father “help”—which he takes as permission to flame-broil her as soon as Davos Seaworth leaves to fetch supplies from Castle Black.
Shireen’s piercing screams, Melisandre’s smirk, and Stannis’s betrayal are all hard to stomach—but surprisingly, it’s Lady Selyse’s reaction that is most excruciating to watch. Selyse has treated her only child like a burden, an embarrassment, a failure, and a freak because she was born a girl and happened to catch a life-threatening disease. In this episode, we see her motherly instincts outweigh her shame for perhaps the first time in Shireen’s life, as she begs Stannis to spare the girl.
It’s too little, too late—but the pity we feel for this otherwise condemnable character stands out, much like the unexpected sympathy I felt for Ellaria Sand as she sobbed while kneeling before Prince Doran. (Ellaria’s poor planning skills and bratty confrontations with Doran had almost erased all love I had for her this season.) In other Dorne news, Myrcella Baratheon is heading back to King’s Landing with her beau Prince Trystane, probably just in time to watch her mother stand trial for incest, treason, and murder. Lannister family reunions: always a party.
And so here we are, with just one hour left in the season and a million lingering questions. Where the hell is Varys? What’s with all the camera time spent on Olly, of all people, at the Wall? Is Sansa ever going to deploy that pointy-looking thing she hid in her sleeve two episodes ago? What will the White Walkers’ next move be?
Oh and, you know, who will die? That seems like something we should worry about too.