Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 9 – The Dance of Dragons

<–S5E8 – Hardhome                                                             S5E10 – Mother’s Mercy–>

There is only one more episode to speak about after this one, and this one…oh this one.  Well many people were up in arms (or flames…too soon?) about the major event of this installment.  That shall be the last thing I cover, though I will provide videos to theorists who had…slightly harsher things to say than I.

*******SPOILER ALERT*******

And have a care for those spoilers

I actually rewatched a few of these videos today in prep and reminder for this analysis.  I couldn’t quite remember what had happened with Arya in Braavos and couldn’t care less about what happened in Dorne so a refresher was necessary.

Bar gives her two cents on the Stannis Situation.

We have Charlie in Westeros whose version of upset still seems quite relaxed comparatively 🙂

Then…we have Tony Teflon who has some shall we say stern opinions about Stannis.  Honestly though I felt bad for Tony.  Stannis was his guy from the get go, and I know that was a huge let-down/betrayal for the Don.  Be warned, there is very harsh language in this.

I guess it’s easier for me since most of my favorite characters in any fandom area already established villains; therefore, I can’t be blind to their flaws.  Game of Thrones is heart-wrenching in this area for good or ill reasons, but we’ll talk more about character assassination later.

After that we need some comic relief with Preston Jacobs who nonetheless cuts to the bone with his deadpan wit.

Maester Payne and Clare Grey give probably the calmest review of them all.  MP is a really balanced guy who’s able to look at everything and present the most rational view of events.  Also, yours truly gets a shout out, all the way from London no less! 😀

Next are Ideas of Ice and Fire with more “Wtf just happened?”  The questions everyone is asking.

And finally we have the Small Council discussion hosted by James Johnson.  Three plus hours, but well worth every second of your time.  I think this is the one where James reads some Yeats at the end, but I could be wrong.  That might be the season finale review.

The episode actually invokes the title of the latest book:
Though it changes the wording a little.  We see a literal dance with a dragon in the fighting pits of Mereen, but the theme is present elsewhere.  In Dorne (which I’m not going to discuss, because there’s really nothing to discuss.  Ugh, Dorne…) the tense discussion and intrigue could be considered a dance.  Jaime, Doran, and Ellaria are playing with political fire with the former two not wanting to make any brash moves (yet); however Ellaria is prepared to let it all burn.

Arya plays with fire by deviating from her faceless mission and chasing her real target Meryn Trant who doesn’t realize how close he’s dancing to the flames.  Then of course we have the Stannis/Shireen Situation, which will be discussed last.  Geez…there are so many situations this season, and they all begin with the letter S.  Sansa Situation, Stannis Situation, Shireen Situation.  Okay there are only three and arguably two since the latter is the same situation.

This week I shall be eschewing Dorne because there really isn’t anything worthwhile to talk about.  I’ve already said how much I hate what D&D did with that area, and there’s really nothing good that has come of that.  The sections shall be as follows: Broken Promises, The Dragon Dance, and Blood in Fire.

Broken Promises

Arya is on her way to becoming a Faceless Man.  Hahaha, who am I kidding.  No, Arya is going to use the skills and techniques that they can teach her and kill everyone who ever did her and her family wrong.  She will become a living embodiment of valar morghulis and afterwards become the incarnation of valar dohaeris, if James Johnson’s theory about her being a vessel for the Night’s King is true, which…I could see.  When Arya met the Ghost of High Heart (Melisandre on the show), the old woman tells her to begone from her because she is a “wolf child” with a “dark heart.”  I can see the hatred consuming the youngest Stark daughter (where Sansa would be more likely swallowed by despair), and that makes her the perfect vessel for the true king of winter who has had such burning within him for millenia and more.

Arya, as a faceless novice, has a target, the gambler, which she summarily abandons the instant she sees Meryn Trant disembarking with Mace Tyrell.  Observe how both of these men’s initials are MT and both of them are that: empty.  Trant is a monster, a pedophile who not only rapes the girls he purchases, but beats them, too.  He was set up as a beast meant only for the blade.  He has no other traits except for that, though D&D throw even more malice his way by making him a hypocrite.  He speaks of Renly being a “boy fucker;” however Renly wasn’t a rapist going after underage youths.  Loras and the deceased king were in love (despite the show’s attempt to cast doubt on that), but people will find any justification for their own behavior while shunning someone else’s.

Mace is portrayed as merely a puppet for the Iron Throne even doing a literal song and dance for the Iron Bank.  He is so clownish it’s a caricature to a point where we must wonder if he isn’t as “MT” as he appears and is in fact playing his own game.  I doubt it though.  Nothing in his earlier dealings show Mace to be anything but a buffoon or a yes man, toadying for whomever is in power.  It’s ironic as his name is “mace” which is a brutish instrument of war capable of immense destruction.  Mace Tyrell seems incapable of anything beyond what he is told to do.  It really wouldn’t matter if he were in King”s Landing during Margaery’s ordeal.  She’s an MT, too…imagine that?  That throws more question on her chances of being the “younger and more beautiful queen” though she fights more against her shell status than her hapless father.  Despite this, the rose queen is at most a placeholder and receptacle for Cersei’s hatred until the real queen (whomever she might be) comes along.  My money is still on Danaerys especially considering recent events that I can’t speak of since they’re in the final episode.  Sansa is still a consideration though.  Actually, both Dany and the  true Lady of Winterfell are equally matched.  It is the song of ice and fire, and they are the incarnation of that unity.

Holy shit…just random and sorry to go off on this, but I was mouthing “A Song of Ice and Fire” to myself and remembered that Leaf told Bran that the Children are  “those who sing the song of earth,” and I now have chills running down my spine in addition to shaking hands.  Ice is frozen water, so that fulfills that elemental.  Has anyone been the embodiment of air?  We could look towards the Eyrie.  I don’t know, dear readers.  I just thought of it so my mind is all a muddle, but the fact that the entire narrative is “A Song of Ice and Fire” and Leaf declares that they (the Children) “sing the song of earth” makes me wonder if GRRM threw that hidden opposition in there on purpose, and the Children truly are against men.  I linked this article in the last post: Faceless Men and the Many Faces of the Children, but it bear repeating and leads me into the idea of the many faces that Martin does present.

The Faceless Men ironically serve the Many-Faced God, but the Westerosi served a many faced (seven at that) one, too.  Then there’s the “god of death” that Syrio Forel mentions, but death has a multifaceted face as we constantly see in this narrative.  The old gods of the North who live in the weirwoods are being overseen by Blood Raven who has “a thousand eyes and one.”  Even the Lord of Light has a shadowed face (more on that later with some deeper symbolism involved), and the whole of the story of A Song of Ice and Fire is the cycle, the rotation, and how it all repeats.

Joseph Campbell’s brilliant work The Hero With a Thousand Faces

must surely be a template for this.  The same story repeated over and over again from antiquity and on to forever, showing that there is no one facet to the journey and no single side to any tale.  It all coalesces into the one which is many.  GRRM in showing all of these people, many of whom are so wrapped up in their own importance, doing seemingly grand things, is really showing us how petty and worthless so many of our endeavors are in the face of looming destruction (not only that but whether you die by ice or fire, it doesn’t really matter; you’re just as dead), but the story has been heard before.  It’s been repeated over and over again, but humanity never learns.  Jeor Mormont spoke of this after the wight attack.  He lamented to Jon Snow how the Night’s Watch had forgotten its true purpose, and then he died later killed by his own men, the same way Jon would die afterwards.  Perhaps it is the “song of earth” we need and not merely the “song of ice and fire.”  Maybe that’s the secret hidden below where even the darkness dares not dream.

The Dragon Dance

This was the scene that book readers had been waiting to see since the beginning of the season and possibly the show.  There were some…less than stellar takes on it, and I’ll admit, I laughed at the Neverending Story references, because they were fucking hilarious.  We get a sort of prodigal son returns motif in Drogon coming back, not to beg, but to save his mother from imminent death.  Prior to his arrival, I swear it looks like Dany is calling him/warging

It looks like there some kind of mental shenanigans going on here.

and the dragon hears and answers.  I…hope this doesn’t confuse show only watches or obfuscate a point.  I don’t think Targaryens are supposed to be wargs.  Per the histories, they controlled dragons with whips, horns, and spurs, not their minds.  So I don’t know if D&D are crossing over Targs with Starks (which we already have with Jon), but Dany shouldn’t be able to warg Drogon.

Let me back up a little bit.  Prior to the climactic scene, we have Hizdar and Daario snarking at each other, and Tyrion taking the crown of King Snark in telling Hizdar that his father would’ve like him, which is an elegant/ironic insult worthy of Cousin Violet from Downton Abbey.

Whom I aspire to be when I grow up.

There’s some banter from the peanut gallery before Jorah shows up and wins the day twice by (semi) defeating the opponents in the pit and then slaying Daenerys’s would-be assassin.  Hizdar’s stabbing would seem to imply he was not in league with the Sons of the Harpy, although since they start killing masters and slaves alike, this is still an undetermined point.  Prior to the start he went to “take care of something” so it’s still possible he was a part of the rebellion, and they turned against him.  I initially thought he might have survived his wounds, but per every source I see, it doesn’t appear so.  The show didn’t bother with the marriage or the poison locusts.  I suppose since there was no Strong Belwas (which we still mourn) to act as the unintended target, D&D decided to dispense with that entire plot.  This leads me to believe that Hizdar will not last long in the book’s narrative either.

Then Jorah takes Dany’s hand *sigh* and they made a distinct point of showing this, and we know the disgraced knight has greyscale.  The question arises as to whether or not Dany now has it and also whether or not she gave it to Missandei when she in turn took her hand.  Are they going to have Dany possibly be immune to the infection?  Are they going to have her be a carrier?  They certainly have her being carried away , and it’s as though she alone is raptured to rise above the folly, leaving the rest below.

I agree with Preston Jacob’s assessment in his video above.  Why did the Sons of the Harpy stop attacking when this occurred?  Where they as entranced as Tyrion, Jorah, Missandei, and Daario at the Mother of Dragons leaving on the back of her son?  They didn’t have any compunctions about spearing the beast when he was on the ground.  I guess it was necessary for the plot. *rolls eyes…kinda*

The book has the ascension come after a far more difficult trial, and it has an almost sexual connotation to it.  If I could find it I would post the quotes here, but she’s thinking along the lines of “Yes.  Take me.  Take me.” And it’s almost orgasmic in its presentation as if she’s overjoyed to be finally free of this place, as if she was just looking for an excuse.  Many feel that Daenerys was just lingering in these foreign lands because she was too afraid to go home, too afraid of what she would face, but Westeros really isn’t her home either.  While she was conceived there, she wasn’t even born on the mainland, but on the island of Dragonstone.  Where does she really belong?  Not Mereen, not destroyed Valyria, and not really the Westeros she has never seen.  Dany really has no place unless (as James Johnson has suggested) she’s meant to take the place of the Night’s Queen for of all the people in this story, the Dragon Queen appears the most “other.”

Blood in Fire

So now we come to it.  It has to be done; it has to be said.  This was the focal point of the episode even though it wasn’t the last scene.  Ramsay’s 20 men manage to get past the guards in Stannis’s camp and set a series of fires throughout the camp, burning all of the supplies and killing half (?) of the horses.  There is a very pointed scene with a burning horse running in front of Melisandre, which could be another Revelation symbol like the Four Horsemen in the last episode.  Melisandre upon witnessing the conflagrations seems too calm, as though she knew what was going to happen.  She’s a priestess of the Red God, the god of fire; the Lord of Light.  She couldn’t have done something especially with her powers increased nearer to the Wall?  Something seemed very off in the way she was looking at both the tent fires and that burning horse.  It’s as if she had found her excuse to do what she’d been begging Stannis for all along.

Stannis, in supposed response to losing half his horses and all of his supplies, tells Davos to return to Castle Black to obtain more from Lord Commander Snow.  Davos is not a fool and beseeches his king to let him take Selyse and Shireen back with him away from the fighting (but really away from the red woman), but Stannis refuses especially not allowing him to take Shireen stating, “My family stays with me.”  I am certain Davos had to have known what Stannis was up to.  Did he go because he felt he had no choice?  He’s stood up to Stannis before.  He did so with Edrick Storm in the books and Gendry in the show, in the latter case a boy he barely knew.  Shireen is like his own daughter and he does less for her?

At least give her a goddamn oar.

But all Davos gives her is a wooden stag with the promise of a doe on his return.  It is already written that this promise is not going to be fulfilled.  I initially thought that Davos might be the one to die, that he was invoking retirony.  The Onion Knight is one of my favorite characters and I love his relationship with Shireen.  It’s fatherly but also more balanced as she was teaching him to read  Indeed that’s what Shireen is doing when Stannis comes to call, reading The Dance of Dragons, which is a nice triple meta reference.  It refers partially to the latest book, refers to the episode title, and also refers to something taking placing on the other side of the world in Mereen.  Again I agree with Preson Jacobs about Stannis not knowing about the historical Dance of Dragons.  He’s supposed to be the best military leader Westeros has ever seen, yet he doesn’t know this major bit of history?  The story Shireen tells her father is a parallel to what happens in the fighting pit, which I’ll admit is a clever bit of foreshadowing.

Stannis speaks to Shireen about hard choices.  This is in comparison to the conversation Sam and Olly had last episode (?), but Stannis is the one who has to bear the brunt of his option.

“Who has choices need not choose,
We must, who have none.
We can love, but what we lose-
What is gone is gone.”
-Peter S Beagle “The Last Unicorn: Elli’s Song”

Shireen says her father’s words back to him from the episode where Stannis declares that she is Shireen of House Baratheon and his daughter.  Remember?  When we got this scene?

Clearly we can never have nice things, because after Shireen says she wants to be of use to him in words she surely regrets later, we see her being marched across the snow to a stake where Melisandre awaits with a smile.  It is bad enough that this poor child is going to be immolated, but to see that red bitch grinning was more than I could take.  Shireen had always had nightmares about being eaten by dragon and in the end she was consumed by flame 😦

Selyse, proving that she is not Westeros’ worst mother of the year (I’m looking at you Cersei) begs her husband to reconsider and then falls to the ground finally revealing what was happening in the trailer.  I was a little surprised by that, because Selyse seemed to own her cold glory with no warmth to leak, but in the end, she did love her daughter, though it was far too late.  I don’t believe she actually ever hated her.  I think the Baratheon queen was just ashamed to have given Stannis what she thought was “weakness and deformity” in addition to the “crime” of Shireen not being male.  However, the “deformity” was dispelled in the “heartwarming” episode where Stannis explains to the princess how she contracted greyscale and what he did to prevent her exile and death.  When Selyse saw her daughter on the pyre, the queen finally realized that she was a mother first and a follower of R’hllor second

Everything in this episode was counter to the character of Stannis that D&D had built up and GRRM had created.  I was never really Team Stannis, but I was starting to have a respect for the trueborn Baratheon king, but after this…Ideas of Ice and Fire makes an excellent point.  As fucked up as the Sansa Situation is, burning your own flesh and blood alive is far worse, and D&D did a terrible job at showing how dire Stannis’s situation was to warrant such an atrocity.  The Face-Heel Turn is too abrupt.  You don’t vehemently insist your not going to burn your daughter (like every good father would), then the next moment out of virtually nowhere decide to do so.  Though Stannis has already been a kinslayer in the killing of Renly, that was a different circumstance.  While it was (literally) shady, they were at war and Renly was willing to kill his brother in battle after slaughtering all of his men, but what Stannis did to Shireen is an abomination.  Your brother is your blood, but your daughter is not only that but an almost literal creation/recreation of your flesh.

“Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves,
Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence,
Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
Joseph Campbell “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”

In slaying Shireen, Stannis does slay himself and brings an end to House Baratheon.  She is holding the stag when she is burned to symbolize that sigil being consigned to the flames.  The doe shall have no mate and will die lonely and childless when the fire goes out and winter comes.

Shireen’s immolation could also be a distortion of the Azor Ahai mythos for the legendary hero was forced to temper his sword by plunging it through his beloved Nissa Nissa’s heart.  Stannis loved his daughter more than anyone in the world, yet he burned her to supposedly secure his rightful place on the Iron Throne because he “believed” the prophecies of a red witch, which I don’t buy for a second.  I don’t believe Stannis is a follower of the Lord of Light.  I think he believes the throne is his by right and duty, but I severely doubt that last Baratheon thinks that he is the hero come to save the world.  Melisandre is helping him achieve his goals, so he will suffer her idolatry and religious babble if it will get him what he wants.

The burning of Shireen is Stannis’s moral event horizon.  There is no redemption from the most ultimate betrayal I have ever seen anywhere.  Unless we can show/prove that Stannis was not in his right mind and was perhaps being mentally manipulated by Melisandre, I have no defense, because that’s pretty much my ubiquitous one.  There is nothing to indicate that this is the case though.  Stannis seems to have come to this decision of his own free will.  Shireen’s immolation could also be another echo of “kill the boy” in “killing the girl” and proving that he is the false Azor Ahai, a false savior of a false Advent.

To continue along the Biblical path, I’m not the only one to see the similarities between Shireen’s burning and the Binding of Isaac.  In the Bible story, though, an angel of God stops Abraham at the last minute, but of course this doesn’t happen in Game of Thrones because there are no angels.  There are some that suggest the angel that stopped Abraham was none other than Lucifer himself suggesting that perhaps God did want Isaac to die, but his command was intercepted.  R’hllor is the Lord of Light, and the Lucifer is the Light Bearer.  I’ve already talked about the connection between the fallen angel’s name and the sword of the savior, how those two narratives intertwine.  Light is not always good and dark is not always evil.  They are often just two sides of the same concept.  Melisandre herself says that in order to have light you must have shadow and vice versa, and I think the concept to which she is referring is an aspect of the Tree of Life.

Tree of LifeI am not remotely prepared to discuss this too deeply for numerous reasons.  One, I’m still studying it and am barely even a novice as I haven’t even finished the one book, and two, it is far too involved; however, after watching the final episode of season 5 (yes, I know I promised in the last post I wasn’t going to speak of later ones until I was on them, but I need to explain this), which is entitled “Mother’s Mercy” I started thinking about the antithesis to mercy, which is represented on the Tree as the Sephirah Chesed.  If you’ve seen the episode, you’ll understand why I was thinking of the antithesis.  This will be discussed obviously in that analysis, but I’ve been toiling through Dion Fortune’s Mystical Qabalah, and I know that later she has a chapter about the antithesis of the Holy Sephiroth.  I’m also familiar with Yeats’s poem The Two Trees and the apparent meaning behind that.  What does this have to do with R’hllor?  Well Melisandre deals in both light and shadow as mentioned above.  In Fortune’s chapter about the Qliphoth, which are the Unholy or evil/averse Sephiroth, she states:

“The Qliphoth are aptly termed the evil and averse Sephiroth, for they are not independent principles of factors in the cosmic scheme, but the unbalanced and destructive aspect of the Holy Stations themselves.  There are, in fact, not two Trees, but one Tree, a Qliphah being the reverse of a coin of which the obverse is a Sephirah.  Whoever uses the Tree as a magical system must perforce know the Spheres of the Qliphoth, because he has no option but do deal with them.”

So we have heard Melisandre speak of the Great Other, which obviously and immediately invokes the idea of the Others/White Walkers.  The Great Other whose true name is never spoken (another example of “noli nomen vocare” as mentioned in the prior entry) is the god of darkness and cold and is supposedly the antithesis of the Lord of Light, but Mel herself has stated that R’hllor is both light and shadow, and what is shadow but both the absence and the presence of light?  You can’t have light without shadow, but shadow is the proof of the absence or the obscuring of light.  There is no in between.  The Great Other is probably similar to the Qliphoth in that there is not another Tree, but the shadow of the original glory.  I’ve already shown the blue Melisandre statue.

But I’ll gladly post it again.

This is an officially licensed item, which suggests that Melisandre will either turn or be impressed into the service of the Great Other, but with all her talk of shadows and suggestion of the two sides, is it truly switching teams or is it looking for light within the shadow?

Final Thoughts

I initially believed that the theme of this episode was fire, which is a surface observation.  Two of the four story lines in Dance were centered around that element: Dany’s and Stannis’s.  One of the Small Councilors made a brilliant point that juxtaposed Dany and Stannis.  Stannis sacrificed his child to save everyone, but Dany (potentially) sacrificed everyone to save her child.  Who is the better person/ruler?  Dany has been struggling with her role and place in the world since she was born.  She is the Mother of Dragons, but she was treating them like hated step-children instead of beloved sons.  In the end, she made the right choice in terms of that and ensured that Drogon was safe.

Stannis for all intents and purposes was a good father.  He was a cold and calculating commander, but the one person who received his affection was his disfigured daughter, but in the end he sacrificed her for the good of his cause.  I can’t even say that this was done for his people.  Stannis pulled an “ends justify the means” move with the ends being him on the Iron Throne.  It’s reprehensible so I have to give the better person award  to Daenerys, and the better ruler trophy will have to remain on the shelf.

I didn’t really catch a gleam of the fire theme with Arya (lest we consider the flames of her hatred) nor with the Dornish disappointment (lest we consider Ellaria for the same), but upon reconsideration, I see an overarching Phoenix motif.  I’ve mentioned it with Sansa.  We’ve seen it in Sandor/the Hound.  We will see it in Jon.  Some theorists suggest it may manifest in Shireen, and even if she herself does not die, her sacrifice may provide a second life to Stannis’s ventures and in that she will live on.  But in the “child is the father of man” way, Stannis has done nothing but slain himself.  We certainly see the Phoenix paradigm in Dany and Drogon, who both literally rise from the ashes of the burning (fighting) pit (Hell) and ascend into the heavens.  Fire cannot destroy.  It can only transform.

The lesson within the threads is to eschew false authorities and think for yourself, because your heroes will fail  you.  Your angels will fall, and your idols will come crashing down.

Next week will be the final analysis.  I thank you all profusely for putting up with my inane babbling for this long.

<–S5E8 – Hardhome                                                             S5E10 – Mother’s Mercy–>

8 thoughts on “Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 9 – The Dance of Dragons

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