With moments of haunting poignance, jaw-dropping tension and sheer amazement in the mix - this week's episode is a fitting installment to ready season five for its bitter end.
As the penultimate episode in the series, this week’s Game of Thrones didn’t have much left to hold back and in true fashion for this episode; violence, shock and large-scale murder were rife throughout. Previously, episode nine has been the peaking point of each season: Ned’s decapitation, the battle on Blackwater, the infamous red wedding, and finally the wildling siege on the wall. It’s safe to say high hopes were to be had for whatever could be thrown at us next and then further intensified after the gut-churning ending of last week’s ‘Hardhome.’
Burning away any memory of Jon’s icy ordeal in the wildling homelands we are introduced to the episode through a strangely surreal vision of Stannis Baratheon’s (Stephen Dillane) campsite being engulfed in flames. However, this quickly turns from dream-like wonder into a devastating loss: supplies, men and horses have been destroyed and the men are stuck between their source of food, equipment and where they need to be. Unfortunately for Stannis, this means making some hard decisions and it is Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) that is drawn upon to replace what has been taken.
Whilst all seems well and good with this it’s soon clear to see that the hopeful-King-to-be has an ulterior motive in sending his hand to run errands: his daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) playing a key part in his real plan for regaining the upper hand in the North. Promising wealth, power and anything he may so desire, Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) has done her fair share of deplorable acts to further Stannis’ standing in the race for the iron throne. This week’s decision is the worst by far. Convincing her king that the next step is taking his own daughter’s life the desperate father takes the order, and we as the audience are faced with one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the series. The knowledge that one of the few pure, innocent beings in Westeros is being murdered is hurtful enough, but to witness it happening after such tender displays of affection between father and daughter throughout the previous episodes drives the pain home. How could he kill the one person he swore he’d always protect? Desperately hoping for Stannis to put a stop to his decision before it’s too late, we are forced to watch as a screaming Shireen is taken to a pyre begging for her father.
As the young girl goes up in flames even her mother (a devout follower of Melisandre’s twisted religion) pleads for a stop to the death she initially sanctioned wholeheartedly: but as it always is in George R. R. Martin’s sadistic creation it is far too late for redemption. Carefully and cleverly, the camera depicts Shireen’s final moments through sound and reaction alone, much like Sansa’s awful wedding night, we never see the action in shot. Whilst the use of this technique may not have been appropriate for Sansa’s ordeal, it works perfectly for this storyline, portraying the broken father and grieving mother as they realise their struggle for power has dominated what matters most. One of the most agonising thoughts that comes from this death is the Onion Knight’s reaction upon his return. Shireen was both his mentor and a daughter figure, much more so than she was to Stannis. It’s Davos that will experience the true loss from this unforgivable mistake.
Over in Mehreen, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) continues her uncomfortable experience with the fighting pits. Sitting with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) alongside her usual party, men slaughter each other for sport in the gladiator-style arena. Before long, the inevitable appearance of Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glenn) occurs and our hearts go out to the lovesick warrior once more. Fighting to prove his loyalty to his Queen, or simply the chance to talk to her, he has risked his life numerous times for this one final opportunity. Battling amongst five other competitors Jorah is almost killed by a swift, spear-wielding combatant but is saved last minute by the bloodthirsty nature of the game.
Finishing with his sword through the chest of the final fighter and hailed as victorious, Jorah launches a spear into the royal seating area, seemingly at Daenerys’ head. Whilst we breathe a sigh of relief realising that this is the camera toying with us, and in fact Jorah is doing what he has always done, protecting his queen, an unsettling wave of panic replaces it. It was not Daenerys he was aiming for, but one of the assassins from the rebel group ‘Sons of the Harpy,’ which soon flood the stands and begin a massacre of the audience. Whilst this is inherently a bad thing, it provides some sick satisfaction that the ever-whining Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry) is dispatached of. At least Dany is now free to marry who she chooses without a sense of obligation and we don’t have to listen to his advice on what ‘the people want’ any longer.
With Tyrion saving Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Daario (Michiel Huisman) finally busting out some fighting moves and Jorah being accepted by Dany once more, the Sons of Harpy seem to have provided nothing but positives to the main storylines; apart from the killing of hundreds if not thousands of innocent citizens. You win some, you lose some. During the fight, the main characters are pushed to the centre of the area; surrounded by spears and creepy, emotionless masks seemingly with no way out other than to try and battle the countless aggressors. Just as it seems that all is lost a roar breaks out in the distance and the prodigal son, Drogon, swoops to the rescue. One of the most badass clips of the season is arguably watching the now full sized dragon toast Daenerys’ captors, alongside picking them up and ripping them apart with his impressive jaws. Finally, at long last, the mother of dragons has a chance to utilise her main asset for her plans to take Westeros. This is the poignant moment that she mounts and successfully rides Drogon to safety: marking a significant tip of the power scales in her direction.
With these two storylines offering the most dramatic insights into the world created from A Song of Ice and Fire, there are three more significant plot points that occur within episode nine. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) is briefly seen portraying his loss of friends in the Night’s Watch after his decision to bring home the wildlings. Hold in there Jon, we all know it’s for the best. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is also shown to be alive and well with considerably more friends and an in-tact niece to bring home to Kings Landing upon departure. Last but not least, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) has been reintroduced to another name on her kill-list, Ser Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) and it seems he has a sick taste in younger girls. Seeing the startled eyes of a girl unprepared for the job she has been given in the brothel is enough to make the skin crawl, never mind his request for ‘a fresh one’ the night after. Hopefully he will be taken care of quickly with aid from Arya’s newly trained skills from the servants of the many faced God as Trant has provided nothing other than abuse throughout the entirety of the programme.
Overall, the episode has provided some of the most heartbreaking and exciting scenes to come from Game of Thrones. The feeling of elation as Daenerys finally (and I mean, FINALLY!) uses her dragons properly is fantastic. This however is not quite enough to wipe away the bitter taste of Shireen’s death. With the final only a mere seven days away – the questions are too many to count. Will Jon successfully navigate a wildling-night’s watch alliance without any hiccups? Will Daenerys finally leave Mehreen to begin her preparation for Westeros? Can Davos ever forgive Stannis? Can Stannis forgive himself? Hopefully some of these will be touched upon next week. If not it will be a long wait until next series. We can only hope that the final, and the series to come, will be as interesting and diverse as what we’ve seen so far – and pray that Martin gets himself together enough to finish the last books, before the producers run out of story!
Games of Thrones airs on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 9pm.