Well. What an episode. What a reaction. Love it or loathe it you cannot deny A Dance of Dragons is an excellent episode.
Building on the success of last week, the showrunners stuck to the format: designating the final half hour to a great set piece to move everything forward, or skyward.
In pre-season interviews the cast have been hinting for a while that something horrific was going to happen towards the end of this season: the phrase ‘more shocking than the Red Wedding’ has been used by Sophie Turner (Sansa).
Well. This appears to be that episode, unless I don’t know, they kill Jon Snow next week.
More shocking than the Red Wedding is debateable. It was horrific and tear-inducing but it was not as graphic, the deaths weren’t as numerous and the character wasn’t as central.
Whether or not it is more shocking than the Red Wedding probably depends on who your favourite character is or whom you think is most deserving of the Iron Throne. At the end of this episode your options are really quite slim.
Mace Tyrell hasn’t died at sea; he and Ser Meryn Trant have successfully navigated the Narrow Sea, arriving in Braavos, much the Arya’s surprise, to treat with the Iron Bank.
Mark Gatiss makes a brief but welcome return as banker, Tycho Nestoris and Mace makes a fool of himself.
Arya disregards her orders from Jaqen H’ghar and follows the new arrivals across Braavos.
She recognises, and hates, Ser Meryn (he was the one who ‘killed’ Syrio Forel and helped Cersei catch her father).
The audience and Arya then learn that Ser Meryn is even fouler than he appears, rejecting three prostitutes as ‘too old’ until a very young girl is offered up.
There’s some acting in Dorne, Bronn gets hit in the face but nothing actually happens.
Up at the Wall it’s all very tense: Jon arrives back at the gate to Castle Black with Wildlings. After some very tense tension Allister Thorne lets them through the gate. As they walk through to Castle Black it’s still tense. Lots of tense crows tensely looking at each other in a tense manner.
It is tense. Have you got that?
Things are no less tense in Camp Stannis. Melisandre looks on in horror as her precious fire burns away their supplies and siege weapons, set of course by Ramsay Bolton and his 20 good men.
Well. This puts ‘The One True King’ in quite a predicament, stuck halfway between Castle Black and Winterfell with no food and no sign of the snow letting up.
Suddenly Melisandre’s Red God is looking more appealling. It seems desperate times really do call for desperate measures and for Stannis to take leave of all of his senses.
He sends Davos away to Castle Black to bargain for supplies and the impending sense of doom begins to gather about the camp.
Before leaving Davos presents young, sweet, innocent Princess Shireen with a finely caved stag: “This is my own poor way of saying thank you, for teaching me to be a grown up.”
Stannis then gets his daughter to say she will help him however she can. Sealing her fate.
The next truly heart-breaking scene sees unaware Shireen walking through Stannis’ army, who also appear to have taken leave of their senses.
As the frost bedraggled army parts Shireen realises where she is walking. Up ahead standing tall is Melisandre and even taller stands the stake that will be Shireen’s funeral pyre.
Okay, this might be worse than the Red Wedding.
Shireen’s escape attempt is fairly feeble, but then again she is only about 11 years old. She is roughly bound to the stake and the assembled army is unmoved by her pleas.
After all this time Stannis is revealed to be the worst parent in the Seven Kingdoms as Selyse rushes forward at the last moment only to be brought to her knees by the soldiers.
As Shireen screams in agony the camera focuses on Selyse, the army and Melisandre in turn, finally resting on Stannis who looks dead inside as Shireen’s screams come to an end.
The sound of the crackling flames is replaced by a building applause, signalling he start of Daenerys’ Great Games across the sea in Meereen.
The new King of Meereen, Hizdahr zo Loraq (got that?) is suspiciously late to the Games taking his place next to Daenerys on the dais. Tyrion is also present, seated at their right hand; Daario stands behind entertaining them with his wit.
The Games begin.
Jorah reappears and after some difficulty wins his round and then saves Daenerys’ life catching a Son of the Harpy in the chest with a spear – mayhem ensues.
Sons of the Harpy appear all across the arena and soon Daenerys finds herself surrounded in its centre.
Hizdahr is killed, which probably disproves the theory he was the head of the Sons of the Harpy.
All looks lost as she takes Missandei’s hand and closes her eyes to accept her death.
But there is a reptilian scream from the sky. They’ve been threatening it all season – Drogon returns!
Drogon begins to lay waste to the assembled Sons of the Harpy, ripping one in half and burning many more to ash. A few of them put up a fight, throwing spears but he is, after all, a dragon. He can breathe fire. What hope do they have?
In the final moments of this episode Daenerys claims her true birthright. She approaches Drogon, gaining his acceptance she climbs onto his back and commands him to fly.
It has been 39 long hours but Drogon is finally big enough to ride and Daenerys can finally do what the blood of Old Valyria do best – ride dragons and conquer.
Well, she should be able to. But he is, after all, a dragon.
Image courtesy of HBO via YouTube, with thanks.