Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 9 - The Dance of Dragons - just finished airing on HBO Defined here in India, and picked up right where last week's episode - Hardhome - left off in terms of blood and murder.
The 6.30AM simulcast isn't really convenient for most people though, so if you're keen to know what happened in detail without waiting for the repeat telecast at night, well we're here to help.
Season 5 has steadily been diverging from the show, and this episode is the one which really proves that the book is the book, and the show is the show. There are a couple of really big events, one that sort of happens in the books, and one that - so far - hasn't, and which would be a big surprise to many book readers. Our spoiler heavy recap looks at how things have changed from the books, and tries to guess how things are going to develop, though at this point, it's pretty much just a guess, and not actually a spoiler, as the show keeps changing things around. On the other hand, there are obviously episode spoilers, and there are two big events in particular that some people might prefer to watch without knowing they are coming.
S5E09 was, as expected, a bloody episode with plenty of memorable scenes to remember. So what all happened this week?
The action starts at Stannis's camp, on his march to Winterfell. Melisandre is gazing at her fires, when the entire camp goes up in flames - a result of Ramsay's commando raid. If you were hoping for some Ramsay action this episode, you're going to be disappointed, but there's enough awfulness even without him on screen.
Ramsay slipped in and out of Stannis' lines without warning, and has effectively halted his war machine. Without enough supplies to fall back, or horses to press on with, he's crippled in the snow, and turns again to Melisandre and magic to save himself.
Stannis packs Davos back off to the Wall and tells him to bring back food and supplies. Davos tries to talk him out of this, but Stannis won't be swayed. Davos then tries to take Shireen with him, and is again denied. By this point, if you've been paying attention to the show over the first four seaons, you already know where things are headed, right?
So does Davos, who has an emotional farewell with Shireen. We also get a little exposition about the Dance of Dragons, one of the histories of Westeros, set during a Targaryen civil war.
Later, Stannis will also visit Shireen, and we hear a bit more about the book she's reading. The backstory - which is available in depth in The World of Ice and Fire - is delivered quickly enough, and then Stannis tries to talk to Shireen about hard decisions. She tells him that she wants to help him, and asks him if she can. Stannis replies that she can, and then hugs her, and says, "forgive me."
So far this season, we've seen the best of Stannis when he's with Shireen, and now we're seeing him at his very worst as well, thanks to how he treats the girl.
The very next shot has her being escorted out by guards - alone - to a pyre in the snow, with Melisandre waiting. Shireen begs for her father, but he's not there. After the little girl is tied up, Stannis finally emerges, and Melisandre sets the pyre on fire.
She's screaming for her father, her mother to put a stop to this, to save her, and it is Selyse - who has been harsh about the girl in every episode of the show she's been in so far - that finally breaks and tries to save Shireen. Stannis intervenes and has guards hold Selyse, and lets his little girl burn - in her last moments, the camera plays over the faces of Melisandre, Selyse, and Stannis, while Shireen screams, in a disturbing echo of Sansa's rape by Ramsay.
None of this has happened in the books, but it wasn't a complete surprise if you're familiar with the tropes of this show. The twist was apparently suggested by George R R Martin, but it feels like a disservice to the character. In the book, Stannis marches on Winterfell without his family, and while there is a sacrifice to Melisandre's Red God R'hllor, the it happens for different reasons.
In the book, Stannis' army has been stuck in the snow on the route to Winterfell, and the soldiers are starving daily. When some of the men died, a few others didn't report it, but instead took the bodies, and cooked and ate them. The three men who did this are condemned to die, and burnt at the stake as a punishment. In the books, Shireen is left at Castle Black, and Stannis tells his men that if he falls, they must win her the Iron Throne, or die trying.
The changes made for HBO's version mean that Stannis is a much weaker character, in many ways, than his book counterpart. In the book, he's one of the only people - other than Jon Snow - who can see the bigger threats to the realm and questions beyond who should sit on the Iron Throne. Here, he becomes just another monster hungry for power. He might not be a sadist, like Joffery was or Ramsay is, but he's hardly any better than Littlefinger, who sent Ros to be murdered in Season 3, and left Sansa with the Boltons.
The other big event of the episode takes place in Mereen, but we've got a couple of short scenes at the Wall, in Dorne, and Braavos, which are likely setting up the next episode, and the next season. Dorne has been completely off the books this season, but finally ends in a way which seems to be reconciling the books and the show - sort of - and much the same could be said about the action at the Wall.
At the Wall, after the rout at Hardhome, Jon Snow has led his rag tag team of Wildlings survivors to the Wall. Alliser Thorne has a decision to make as well, of whether to let them in or not. While he decides to let the Wildlings in, you can see that the Watchmen are not happy with things.
While the few survivors of the attack slowly file past the Wall, the Watch looks on angrily at Jon, though the giant Wun Wun gives everyone pause. Jon doesn't seem to realise though and when he spots Olly - his steward - and smiles, the boy just glares. Making the point absolutely clear, Ser Alliser comes up to Jon and says, "You have a good heart. It'll get us all killed."
The show is really trying to make things obvious here, so it's not much of a spoiler to tell you that in the books, getting killed is pretty much exactly what happens. The men of the Watch start to feel that Jon has gone too far, and loves the Wildlings more than his own people - and honestly, there's some justification for that in the books - and so, like Caesar, Jon is also stabbed repeated by a procession of his former supporters, for the good of the Watch.
Jons story in the books ends on a cliffhanger, and when the actor - Kit Harrington - cut his hair slightly shorter, many people speculated that this meant that Jon dies in Season 5. We have a feeling that the season will also end on a cliffhanger for him, and frankly, hair grows back, so we don't think Jon's part in the story is done yet.
Down in Dorne, Jaime is presented to Prince Doran, along with Ellaria Sand, Trystane, and Myrcella. Doran says he won't behead Jaime, because he doesn't want war. Bronn on the other hand is a commoner who laid hands on a prince, and needs to be punished. Trystane is allowed to decide the punishment, and he agrees to free Bronn, on one condition. That turns out to be a hard elbow in the face from Aero Hotah, and the whole scene plays a little like comic relief.
There are also some small bits with Ellaria and the Sand Snakes that didn't really serve the story; these characters could all pay off in the next season - however Trystane is being sent to serve in the Small Council in King's Landing, along with Myrcella, while in the books, it was Nymeria Sand (the one with the whip) who filled this role - so it's not really clear how this will work.
In Braavos, we see a bit more of Arya's storyline, but we didn't actually see it pay off yet as many were expecting. Arya was sent off by the Faceless Men for an assassination, but she got distracted when she saw Ser Meryn Trant. He is one of the men on her list of people to kill, and he arrives in Braavos as Mace Tyrell's escort. She forgets all about the man she's supposed to kill and spends the day following Ser Meryn around instead, and later that night, she follows him into a brothel with her tray of oysters.
There, we learn that Ser Meryn likes girls young - young enough that we, the audience, can tell that he's a bad guy - and he makes it clear that he's going to hurt the girl he eventually hires, telling the madam of the brothel to organise a fresh girl for him on the next day. Arya is very likely going to kill Ser Meryn soon, and the show wants to make sure we root for her even as she plots cold blooded murder. In the books, Ser Meryn doesn't come to Braavos, but one of the other people on her list, Raff the Sweetling, does. In a preview chapter from the next book in the series, titled Mercy, we see Arya stab him to death, but we already had a scene like that in the show, so it looks like Arya gets to move further along her list here.
Finally, in Mereen, the great pit has been opened and the games begin. Hizdar is excited by the games and talks about their importance in the traditions of the city, while Daenerys talks about how brutal it is. It's Tyrion who has the best lines as usual though, as he quickly cuts Hizdar down with words.
But then, Jorah Mormont is led into the pit, and the fight begins. While he had little difficultly in smashing his way past the gladiators in his last fight, this time he's up against better fighters and barely manages to survive the fight. Just as it's over though, he picks up a spear and seems to throw it at Daenerys. It turns out that there was an assassin right behind her, and he's saved her life.
The Sons of the Harpy - the mask wearing group that killed Ser Barristan earlier - have filled up the stadium, and start attacking everyone. They kill Hizdar, and drive Daenerys, along with Missandei, Tyrion, Daario and Jorah into the fighting pit, where it looks like they're going to finally kill everyone.
Suddenly, there's a roar, and a fireball. Drogon has returned, and starts biting off the heads of the Harpies, and setting groups of them on fire. Many scatter, but some remain, and start throwing spears at him. Daenerys tries to remove a spear from his side, and he immediately turns and roars at her. She stands her ground, and when he turns to attack more Sons of the Harpy, she climbs on and tells the dragon to fly. The episode ends with the dragon soaring off, with her happily on its back, leaving her closest supporters behind.
Like many of the other events of this episode, this moment plays out sort of like it did in the books, but in some ways, feels a lot weaker. For one thing, in the books, there are no Sons of the Harpy at the pit, but there is an assassination. Someone has poisoned the food meant for Daenerys, and the suspicion will later fall on Hizdar, leading Ser Barristan to stage a coup. On the show, there is a stray reference to Hizdar arriving late, because he was arranging things, but when Daario looks at him suspiciously, the man gets stabbed by one of the Sons of the Harpy, setting aside all doubt very quickly.
Also, on the show, the dragon swoops in as if to protect Daenerys when she needs it the most, and fights off the evil Sons of the Harpy until she climbs on and tells it to fly. Things go a little differently in the books - there, Drogon was attracted by the sounds of fighting and the blood in the arena, and landed in the middle of a fight. He killed a gladiator and started to eat before getting attacked. Daenerys does climb on to the dragon's back to try and pull out a spear, but he flies off on his own free will, leaving her little choice in the matter.
In the show, Drogon is shown as coming to fight for Daenerys, and there are clearly defined good guys and bad guys. In the book, he's much more of a force of nature, and Daenerys isn't the one in command.
With the last episode of the season coming next week, it's going to be interesting to see how the show's creators bring all these separate threads to a close. We're expecting both Jon and Arya's stories to pay off next week, and the episode, titled Mother's Mercy sounds like a reference to something the High Septon said about justice. Of course, Cersei's walk of shame through King's Landing was revealed in interviews before the season even began, so that has to take place next week. We also saw in the preview that the Siege of Winterfell takes place next week, which hasn't happened yet in the books. That means that once again, the show is taking us to uncharted waters, and of course, Season 6, which will air next year, could be completely new ground as there's still no indication of when the next book in the series will be released.
We'll continue watching every Monday morning to keep you up to date in case you miss the episode, but did you watch this one already? What were your favourite parts of the episode? Tell us, via the comments.