Well I think it's safe to say that Stannis is out of the running for Father of The Year. More on that in a minute. First we open up in the North where Melisandre, apparently unbothered by the cold as she is wearing her normal plunging neckline gown, (heh-heh) seemingly senses something awry and walks out of her tent. She sees what is probably one of Ramsay's men scurrying away. Then fire breaks out across the camp. Tents, horses, and men are all set ablaze. It's chaos and near panic. The next morning Davos gives the grim report to Stannis. We see what Ramsay wanted those twenty men to do. Much of the food stores and all of the siege engines have been burned. Stannis' army has also lost horses, Going forward just became even more difficult. Even if they reach Winterfell they have no way to besiege it now. Stannis is, needless to say, more than a bit perturbed. He can't understand how twenty men can infiltrate his camp so easily. This lack of security around a ruler will be bookended in the episode's final scenes. Stannis is not mollified by Davos' excuse that the southerners are unused to the grim North and don't know the terrain. Not raising the alarm while you're on guard duty means that you're either incompetent or you're a traitor. Stannis has no use for either; he orders the guards hanged. His march looks like it's dead in the water...or rather dead in the snow I guess.
Later on Stannis summons Davos to undertake a new mission. He is to return to Castle Black to ask for food and supplies with the promise that once Stannis becomes King, he will ensure that the Night's Watch is provisioned and manned far beyond the skeleton crew it currently has. Stannis doesn't seem to care that this request would require the Night's Watch to break the neutrality it's supposed to maintain. And he cares even less that, as Davos angrily points out, that this message could and should be carried to the Night's Watch by someone far less senior than Davos, the King's Hand. But orders are orders. Right. Before he leaves Davos visits Shireen. He has carved her a beautiful wooden stag. A stag is of course the Baratheon sigil. It's a gift to her for not giving up on him, and for teaching him to read. There's some very obvious subtext here as to why Stannis wants Davos temporarily gone. You probably know what it is too. Davos may even sense it which is why he gave Shireen the gift. Just in case you're really thick, we see Stannis give a meaningful look at Melisandre. And I don't think he's checking out her womanly goodies though probably everyone else is.
Bronn is retrieved from his cell. Nearby the Sand Snakes are playing a slapping game. Bronn makes sure to respond affirmatively to Tyene's parting query of who is the most beautiful woman in the world. Taken before Doran and Jaime, Bronn is pleased to learn from Jaime that he will be set free. But there is one condition. At a nod from Trystane, Areo gives a quick brutal elbow to Bronn's face. Pow. Right in the kisser. Right to the moon!!!! Afterwards, as the manacled Sand Snakes look on sadly, Doran quietly and angrily explains to Ellaria that, family or not, he's done playing with her. Her disrespect and rebellion ends now. Or she dies. It really is that simple. After she kneels and kisses the ring, Ellaria goes to visit Jaime, who is trying to write left-handed. He's not very good at it. She lets him know that she knows all about his incest, but does not judge. After all the Targaryens famously wed brother to sister, uncle to niece, aunt to nephew. Love comes in many forms. She also claims she would not have hurt Myrcella. What's her game?
In Braavos, it's time for Arya to take out the corrupt insurance agent. She is about to do so, in her guise as a seafood vendor when she sees something that makes her forget all about her mission. She walks past her target, who is actually desirous of purchasing her wares. It's Ser Meryn Trant, with Mace Tyrell. If you recall Tyrell was sent to Braavos by Cersei in order to get him out of the way while she went after his children. But the cover story, which Tyrell was too dim to see through, was that he needed to renegotiate terms with the Iron Bank. But if you recall back further in the story, Ser Meryn Trant is the one who killed Syrio, Arya's sword instructor. Also, though Arya doesn't know this, Trant also beat and stripped Sansa Stark. Anyhow he's on Arya's list. She follows him and Tyrell as Tyrell ineptly (does he do things any other way?) tries and fails to charm the head banker, Tycho. At the day's end Arya follows Trant and two of his companions to a brothel. Arya uses her cover as an oyster seller to get inside. Oysters have zinc. So they are famously supposed to help put lead in a man's pencil. So a few of the ladies of the night want to buy some oysters. We see that Trant is a pedophile. He doesn't want older women. He doesn't even want young attractive women. He wants young girls. Arya's cover is almost blown when the house madam catches her spying and Trant seems taken aback by her face. But never mind. As he takes his child prostitute to the room, Trant reminds the madam he'll want someone new tomorrow. As she is kicked out, you can see the wheels turning in Arya's mind. When she returns to the House of Black and White she lies to Jaqen H'ghar by telling him that the insurance agent wasn't hungry today. Jaquen doesn't slap her. So maybe he believed the lie? Or maybe he didn't? But as we know, Arya is not no one. She is still Arya of House Stark, Princess of Winterfell.
As Shireen plays with the stag which Davos gave her, Stannis comes to see his daughter. She has been reading about the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of Dragons. Stannis is trying to decide whether to sacrifice his daughter. This is a pretty powerful scene. Stannis speaks obliquely about some of the problems he's having. Happy to see her Daddy and having no idea of what he's really talking about, Shireen says she would be happy to help. After all, as she reminds Stannis, using the same line he told her a few episodes back, she is Princess Shireen of the House Baratheon, and she is his daughter. Stannis tells her that actually she can her. Stannis embraces Shireen and mutters "forgive me." Cut away to Shireen being led to the pyre by soldiers. She's calling for her daddy. She's still holding the stag. At every point you think that someone is going to intervene because a few of the soldiers appear disgusted. Melisandre appears and tells Shireen that it will all be over soon. Stannis and Selyse are watching and holding on to each other. Shireen screams for their help. Selyse tells the shaking Stannis that this is the right thing. But as Melisandre lights the stake, it's actually Selyse, not Stannis, who reveals there's a drop of parental love still left inside. She runs to the stake, but soldiers catch her. Selyse collapses and sobs as Shireen screams for her parents and ultimately just screams. Still want Stannis to take Winterfell?
In Meereen Daenerys watchs the opening of the fighting pits. On stage she is joined by Hizdahr,Tyrion, Missandei and Daario. Hizdahr and Daario like each other about as much as you would expect, which is to say not at all. Daario can't stop boasting about his own time in the fighting pits and showing off his skills with daggers and short swords. He's doing this right in Hizdahr's face so it's less passive-aggressive and more "I don't like you one bit, pretty boy!" Daario and Tyrion are a bit taken aback when Hizdahr correctly predicts the outcome of the first match. Daario and Daenerys can't stop themselves from needling Hizdahr about his own lack of fighting experience. Hizdahr shrugs that off. He gives a very pragmatic defense of violence, saying that good or bad, everything that is accomplished relies ultimately on the threat of force. Daenerys is kidding herself if she believes otherwise. This prompts Tyrion to mutter that Tywin would have liked Hizdahr. Hizdahr is probably unaware that the sardonic Tyrion means this as an insult. Daenerys doesn't like the fighting. She is disturbed by how into it the crowd is. People are cheering for blood. But philosophical discussions and poorly hidden sexual rivalries will have to wait for later. The next match is about to start and wouldn't you know it's Lord Friendzone again, back for more. Yes good old Jorah Mormont is there to show these easterners how a Westerosi knight does things. The crowd boos him lustily, preferring their home town favorites. After a pause Daenerys gives permission for the melee to proceed.
Although he's not the quickest, youngest or largest opponent, Jorah does have the advantage of good protection, experience and a weapon (longsword) that if used correctly is one hit, one kill. He's last man standing, to the crowd's severe displeasure. Suddenly he grabs a spear and with surprising accuracy throws it right at Daenerys! Well of course he didn't throw it at Daenerys. He threw it at the Son of the Harpy who had somehow gained access to Daenerys' stage and was just about to kill her. Again, where's that security? Or perhaps the Sons of the Harpy were security. Suddenly there are Sons of the Harpy everywhere in the stadium. Some have swords and daggers, others have spears. And they aim to misbehave. It's the perfect kill zone. Their enemy is trapped and outnumbered. Hizdahr is killed. Daario, Jorah and the Unsullied make a shield wall around Daenerys. Or they would if they had the numbers. They don't. Still this is not a situation where surrender is an option. The butchery commences. Daenerys and Missandei think they'll be dead soon. Things don't look good for Team Targaryen. But wait. Look at the skies! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Drogon! You don't tug on Superman's cape. You don't spit in the wind. You don't pull the mask off the Lone Ranger. And you don't mess with Drogon's mama. Drogon starts slicing, dicing and burning people. However he's apparently not at full growth and is still vulnerable to spears. Well what mother can stand to see her children harmed? Selyse ultimately couldn't. And neither can Daenerys. She yanks spears from Drogon's hide. She mounts Drogon and flies out of the pit. To where we do not know.
What I liked
- Dillane's acting as Stannis is something that needs to be recognized.
- Arya's recognition of Trant and her refusal to forget herself.
- Davos' gift to Shireen (and his request to take Shireen with him). He had to know something was up. This will really set up a conflict between Davos' morality and his sense of loyalty.
- It appears that Daenerys is linked telepathically to Drogon (and her other dragons?)
- The attack on Daenerys. Who knows if Hizdahr was in on it or not. But it was a perfect set up. Or it would have been if not for Drogon.
- The sight of soldiers dragging Shireen raised some general questions. Any sovereign can give orders. But why do people obey? What would happen if soldiers refused to obey criminal orders. That question may not be answered unless we see Davos in the finale but very few people can wreak havoc without the active support of others. Just something to ponder.
What I didn't like
- I don't know if this ultimately came from Martin or not but I didn't think Stannis' sacrifice of Shireen made sense for the Stannis character. The book mythical hero whom Stannis is emulating had a similar moment with his wife but I just don't think the Stannis who loved his daughter so much would have watched her burn. It feels like shock for shock's sake.
- I thought Drogon should have been a bit larger but that's just a small nitpick.
- Dorne continues to be a waste of resources and time.
- There was a bit too much foreshadowing.
*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes. If you have book based knowledge of future events or have seen future leaked episodes please be kind enough not to discuss that here. NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea....