UK VOD TV review: Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 9
Children (ok, dragons)8
Ivan Radford | On 08, Jun 2015
Already seen Episode 9? Read on at the bottom for some spoiler-filled analysis.
Last week, Game of Thrones brought us the shocking reminder that no matter how much politicians pussyfoot around, when death rises up from the ground and tries to kill you, there’s no time to ponder: you do anything to save your own skin. Wildlings. Crows. Tyrells. Lannisters. Who cares? Everyone’s equal in the eyes of the White Walkers. It’s the kind of sobering realisation that everyone can identify with, which is one of the things that makes George RR Martin’s fantasy world so horrific.
But self-preservation is just one of several motivations for committing cruel acts. This week presents another.
“If a man knows what he is and remains true to himself, the choice is no choice at all,” says Stannis Baratheon at one point.
It’s a noble sentiment, one that has you nodding in approval. Yes, you think. Stannis is a wise man.
It’s been three years since we first met The King in the Narrow Sea, who converted to the Lord of Light under the influence of red priestess Melisandre. Promised an heir as well as the Iron Throne, he was easily seduced, and his royal blood helped conceive a weird shadow baby that killed his brother. That’s ok, we thought. We don’t like Melisandre one bit, but we don’t really like Renly either.
Stephen Dillane has been fantastic as Stannis over the seasons, his knack for being a hard-nosed tough guy making it easy to imagine him as a long-lost brother of Jason Statham. Even in his darker moments, he’s brought some logic to his behaviour, from punishing those who have gone against the Lord of Light to dispensing justice to Davos (a thief and a pirate) before knighting him. It’s only in the past season that we’ve been shown a truly soft side to him, a compassion for Shireen that appears to trump his near-fanatic devotion to Melisandre and her doctrine that he is the One True King. The scenes between Dillane and Kerry Ingram’s dragon-scaled daughter have been some of the most touching in Season 5.
“Is there any way I can help?” she asks this week, with a moving innocence.
Melisandre, of course, would love to get her hands on some of that royal blood, which seems to act as a sort of viagra to her impotent black magic. She’s been on at him for some time now to let her, something that has made his resolve not to even more winning.
Remaining true to one’s self. That’s the real achievement for anyone in Game of Thrones. We’ve written before about how each character is slowly having to leave part of themselves behind to survive: this whole series is the story of that declining sense of self; a fantasy that starts off with traditional fairy tale characters and chips away at their identities, bit by bit.
Arya, of course, is stubbornly true to herself, despite the fact that she’s meant to be adopting a nameless, faceless identity. “Oysters, clams and cockles!” she trills, as rehearsed – but all that goes out of the window when she spies people from King’s Landing in Braavos.
Jon Snow stays true to his altruistic innards, bringing the Wildlings back to the Wall – something Alliser Thorne almost prevents from happening. Should Thorne be true to his own, albeit them not very nice, thoughts, or true to his vow to the Night’s Watch?
Dany, meanwhile, appears to be staying less true to herself every week that she spends in Meereen, as she presides over the fighting pits; every time she has to clap her hands to begin a skirmish another bit of our respect for her dies. Tyrion certainly doesn’t approve, sparking a wonderful argument with Hizdahr that continues the show’s tradition of giving give Peter Dinklage all the best lines. “My father would have liked you,” he quips, looking at Dany; a glance that suggests there’s still some of the good old Dany waiting to fly out of there.
Meanwhile, over in Dorne, Jaime is breaking bread with Prince Doran in an attempt to come to some form of peace. He remains, impressively, a calm and polite man – the opposite of Oberyn’s bloodthirsty former lover, Ellaria.
Episode 9, traditionally the episode with each season’s traumatic climax, only focuses on these story lines, presenting us, it seems, with a call sheet of the main challengers for the Iron Throne. Up until now, our loyalties have been torn between several contenders, but it’s not been hard to spot the evil ones. Killing to stay alive is one thing we can all relate to. Killing to get power? That’s something we can’t, which makes the bad eggs really stand out from the pack. Think of the Boltons or the Lannisters.
In the opposite corner, Jon Snow is compassionate, but perhaps too much. Doran, as the latest to put his hat in the ring, is more suspicious in his apparent kindness than anything else. Stannis, meanwhile, has proven himself to be increasingly more mindful of the real world than the myth portrayed to him by Melisandre.
“If a man knows what he is and remains true to himself, the choice is no choice at all,” he says. But then adds: “He must fulfil his destiny, and become who is meant to be.”
Episode 9’s trauma stems from the fact that, in the Game of Thrones, sometimes even the heroes consider playing the villain. Which makes the climax involving Dany even more striking: suddenly, the difference between grim reality and the shining stuff of legend has never been clearer.
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Oh, Stannis. You despicable man. It’s a golden rule of Game of Thrones that the nicer someone is, or the more you get to like them, the more likely it is that they will either die or do something horrible. In Stannis’ case, our outpouring of affection for both Shireen and him sentenced them both to a grisly end: the heartbreaking shot of his wife, Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald), trying – and failing – to rescue her screaming daughter from Melisandre’s pyre condemns Stannis once and for all in our hearts. It’s impossible to see a way for us to forgive him now.
– That’s even taking into account the dire circumstances his army is in: after Ramsay Bolton’s sneaky burning of their tents and supplies, the troops are trapped in the snow near Winterfell, unable to go forward or back without a very high likelihood of death. The moment Stannis sends Davos away to the Wall to fetch help, you can see in his eyes the cogs whirring. It feels out of character from what we’ve seen recently, but George RR Martin’s version of a fairy tale land is based around that shifting sense of good and bad; anybody during a time of war can commit atrocities. To feel cheated, then, is part of the show’s surprising, and saddening, raison d’être. More fool us for thinking that someone could be kind.
– As an act of streamlining the narrative, Stannis’ decision actually makes a lot of sense: as the show increasingly chops out chunks of the books (Shireen’s death hasn’t happened – yet? – in the novels), we find ourself needing to dispense of unnecessary subplots to make way for the rapidly approaching end game. If Stannis is destined not to be a final player (his boats, remember, are now with Jon Snow), then this has effectively wiped him off the board. Now we have time to focus on Snow and Dany, who are surely the favourites for ultimately ending this thing for the better. Which, of course, probably means they’re next on the hit list. (Damn you, GRRM!)
– “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It’ll get us all killed,” says Alliser Thorne, honestly. You wonder if that could spell bad times for him ahead. Because, you know, Jon Snow hasn’t had enough of those already.
– It’s nice to see Doran allow Myrcella return to King’s Landing, even if Trystane has to accompany her and be on the High Council in exchange, but the prince’s sympathy (combined with his freeing of Jaime and Bronn) only makes him more suspicious. What will happen when they get to King’s Landing? Will Trystane somehow get revenge? And we haven’t seen the last of those Sand Snakes, have we? Compared to the amount of time we’ve spent with Dany, Tyrion and Jon Snow, it’s unlikely that Doran would enter the game now and suddenly become one of the good guys.
– Shout out to Mark Gatiss as the representative of the Iron Bank of Braavos, who gets to twiddle his metaphorical moustache and play the smug, snide money lender. What a perfect fit.
– Less of a shout out to Meryn, the gruff guard accompany Lord Mace Tyrell to Braavos, who, it turns out, likes little girls. If we didn’t already have enough of a reason for Arya to kill him, being a pedophile cements his fate.
– As for Maisie Williams’ oyster girl just wandering around the brothel without being detected, you do marvel at how stealthy she supposedly is – this whole plot line, unless it resolves sharpish, could rapidly become less believable by the minute. After all, what’s the point of her killing the gambler from last week anyway?
– And so to Dany, who finds her fighting pits even worse of an idea that we could possibly have imagined when the Sons of the Harpy ambush the event and try to kill her. Hizdahr presumably had something to do with it: how else did they get their golden masks and weapons in past security? At a football match, you can’t even sneak in a plastic water bottle with a lid on it.
– Shout out to Jorah Mormont for lobbing a spear at the Harpy right by Dany’s head – and killing him stone dead. King of the Friend Zone’s still got it, yo.
– But a bigger shout out to Daario, whose idea to round up all the heads of the royal families and murder them suddenly seems like very sage advice.
– A dragon-sized shout out to Drogon, who turns up just when our royal group are surrounded in the fighting pit to save the day. Dany climbing on his back is a wonderful, fairy tale image to end the episode on: a soaring visage of someone, in the words of Stannis, fulfilling their destiny. The difference is that hers doesn’t involve killing a daughter to make it happen: hers is a reunion between parent a child, a contrast to Stannis’ Greek tragedy that only emphasises how much better a ruler she is. Tyrion, just like the rest of us, has just found a new myth to believe in. The question is: where’s she flying to? And will she return to make sure the rest of the group aren’t murdered by the few remaining Sons?
And that is how to train your dragon. #GameofThrones
— Daenerys Targaryen (@Daenerys) June 8, 2015
– Place your bets below for what will happen in the final episode…