Political Analysis of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 9, “Dance of the Dragons”

Another Episode 9 has come and gone, and my essay at Salon.com tries to answer whether any “great thing has ever been accomplished without killing or cruelty.”

Check it out!


37 thoughts on “Political Analysis of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 9, “Dance of the Dragons”

  1. Keith B says:

    Divine or supernatural justice is not fit for human beings. We should make our own, or do without.

  2. Will Rogers says:

    I wonder what’s the bigger tragedy: the burning of Shireen, or Stannis not knowing that he’s not the true messiah Mel keeps seeing in her visions – making it all pointless.

    • Captain Splendid says:

      Hey, for all we know, show!Stannis actually is the messiah, and not a very naughty boy…

    • That’s the thing people don’t seem to be considering about Stannis’ actions – that they are meant to set Stannis up for a tragic realization.

      • winnie says:

        I’m betting that moment is coming very soon…like at his moment of death when Mel tries to heal AA and it doesn’t work-for him.

        Alternatively, Jon gets resurrected another way and Stannis lives just long enough to hear about it or see Jon in person as AA at which point Mel will abandon Stannis without a qualm.

  3. jpmarchives says:

    To say I’m unhappy with this turn of events would be something of an understatement. The writing for Shireen’s death was on the wall, but it was only to set up the anguish of seeing her burn rather than spark a debate about ways and means. As usual in the show, spectacle must be everything or people will start to think about the inconsistencies.

    In that vein, not actually showing Ramsay’s attack was a distinctly crafty move on the showrunners’ part because if filmed the logistics of it would not make sense. A heavy blizzard might disguise a team of men, but would also put out fires.

    The real question is why Ramsay’s men didn’t slit the throat of every soldier they found, since they can move throughout the camp with immunity and not get caught.

  4. Keith B says:

    By the way, the point of the Isaac story is that God does NOT require that kind of sacrifice. Up to now, the theme of GoT has been that the world is horrible because people make it so. If the truth is that the world is horrible because God is cruel, that’s a much less interesting story.

    • That’s one version of the story, certainly. But there’s other examples from the Bible where people do have to follow through.

      • winnie says:

        Jeptha’s daughter for instance.

        But the point remains that since Stannis isn’t AA, Shireen’s death may not have been necessary at all.

        interesting to learn this was always Martin’s end game so I guess we have to be mad at him rather than D&D for this one.

        In retrospect I wonder if their knowing what was to come colored their depiction of Stannis who many argue has been ill served by the show. But if they knew he was going to sacrifice his own child however ‘rightous’ his motives that couldn’t help but seep into the way they wrote him and Selyse. (And for that matter how they viewed Mel.) In any event as awful as it is, if it had to happen I think they made the right choice to have it happen now rather than delay any longer even if this is one helluva spoiler for TWOW.

      • Keith B says:

        You mean Jephthah, I suppose. But the point remains. Are we dealing with malicious gods or merely human evil? I know what kind of story I’d rather see.

  5. SummerIsComing says:

    Some other folks are getting snippy about how come Stannis is ignorant of the Dance of Dragons. I think it’s more like a man goes into a room and asks his daughter what is she reading and she answers “A Dance of Tanks” and he says, “What’s that” and she says “about how when the heir to Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated and so all the major European nations went to war with each other. You know, the First World War.” I like my dad, but betting he couldn’t tell me that much about the events of WWI so not that bothered that Stannis doesn’t remember all his history lessons. “A Dance of Dragons” is just the title of his book rather the definite name of that prolonged series of battles and events between Rhaenyra and Aegon II. Plus it feels like a more natural way for Shireen to mention all this if Stannis asks her about it rather that him saying “I know about that” and she just tells him information he already knows.

  6. new djinn says:

    Of course, the sacrifice of his only heir(Agamemnon had Orestes, Iphegenia and Electra) for good weather in the name of a foreign religion combine with the fact that he had within his power several people of ”king’s blood” in Castle Black(Mance, Aemon) and Melisandre never insisted on having any of them taken as prisoners for latter use just paints the whole situation as rampant idiotic(disreguarding Ramsay’s SEAL Team 6, of course). Never mind that he now has no ”ammo” to use against the Frey, Lannister, Tyrell and White Walkers, no but wait!, Sansa and Theon both have ”king’s blood” as well, so i guess there that to look forward to. For someone that aspires to lead Westeros, to so publicly present himself as to sink to moral depths that Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, Cersei\Tywin Lannister, Olenna Tyrell and Balon Greyjoy didn’t, clearly shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what binds the Westeroosi society together. There’s no real reason for him not to sacrifice(or at least try) every person of presumed royal blood he can from now on, no matter how much some may try to polish the turd.
    Congratulation Benioff & Weiss, goal achieved.

    I’m surprised that Doran Martell agreeing to send Myrcella(his potential hostage) and Trystane(his heir and now Cersei\Tyrells potential hostage) to KL didn’t make your analysis?

    • David Hunt says:

      I had assumed that Doran has some sort of intrigue that he’s working here. It’s can’t be the same one from the books, but I’m guessing that Doran Martell is still the master of making people underestimate him. Maybe he plans for Tommen to die so Myrcella sits the Iron Throne.

      • Captain Splendid says:

        Since I’m convinced that Doran Martell is GRRM’s way of deconstructing the “patient chess master genius” (ie I think everything and anything Doran cooks will either come to naught or blow up in his face), it scares me tho think how boring the show version will be.

      • new djinn says:

        That still doesn’t change the fact that by sending Trystane and Myrcella to KL, he loses his most important political assets to the Lannisters. With Tommen’s death, Myrcella becomes Queen under a Lannister regency and the Tyrell’s have a reason to blame Trystane if they can, and Doran going to do, all the way from the Water Gardens?

        • Captain Splendid says:

          You say all that like it’s not something the showrunners might do anyway.

          • new djinn says:

            Oh, i’m sure they would consider it, but it paints Doran as a fool that sends his heir into the same place were his sister, nephews, brother were killed by Lannister men in different occasions(third time is the charm?). Remember when people complain that GRRM makes all of Daenerys opponents in Essos fool’s? Well, that’s what happening in show Westeros.

    • winnie says:

      I wouldn’t put it quite like that but there’s no question that Stannis has now assured the death of House Baratheon with his daughter.

      And yeah it does make you wonder what he might do with Sansa or Theon. I’m pretty confident Sansa’s going to survive but Theon is a lot less certain. I just hope that Sansa takes Book Asha’s role and convinces him to kill Theon via sword in front of the weir wood rather than burn him. He’s been tortured far too much already.

      • new djinn says:

        In the end, it’s a question of stakes: does a short term gain in his long campaign for the IT justify sacrificing the future of House Baratheon? If it was to create the magical weapon that would allow the defeat of all of his enemies(Lightbringer or Dragons), then the net gain would make some sense, but just to get to WF without any guarantee of victory? Nope, it very foolish thing to do. But the real beauty of B & W work is that it fits very well with their version of Stannis, the short sided religious fanatic.

        • winnie says:

          To be fair he probably saw it as saving an entire army at the cost of one life.

          But like Aganemon, he’s sealed his own doom and damned himself with this one. And sadly this seems to be on Martin rather than the showrunners. God this may be the most sadistic series of all time.

          • new djinn says:

            But what the point of saving a small army of sellswords at the expense of your only heir and likely any future support in the Realm? He already had the Lannister, Tyrell, Greyjoy, Frey and Bolton supporters against him plus the Faith Militant reborn and with this, all those unaligned so far are unlike to support him as well.
            The irony is that House Baratheon is pretty dead and he’s the one that did the most for it.

          • Crystal says:

            And he just committed kinslaying, a big fat hairy no-no to just about everyone in Westeros. I wouldn’t be surprised if Davos hears of this and tells Stannis to go step on a Lego, and then goes over to Rickon and the Starks.

      • Rufus Leek says:

        Stannis could keep his dynasty going by legitimizing one of Robert’s bastards. Edric/Gendry/Mya/whoever would probably be perceived as less legitimate than Shireen would have, so a civil war would be more likely in that event.

        The last king in Sansa’s family tree bent the knee to Aegon I. There are probably a few dozen men in his army who have some Durrandon blood dating only a bit further back.

        • new djinn says:

          I could be wrong but Edric\Mya don’t exist in the Show, Gendry is unlike to accept given their past history and most of the others were killed right? Mance and Drogo were seem as good enough so Sansa, sister to the late King in the North and descendent to Torrhen Stark would fit. Theon, son of the King of Salt and Rock and descendent of the Grey King could also do.

          Any man with Durrendon ancestry in his camp would actually be further related to a King that Sansa, at least.

      • Keith B says:

        “King’s blood” probably means Targaryen blood. The Targaryens are “blood of the dragon”, hence magical. The Baratheons are related to the Targaryens; that’s why Robert was able to claim the throne and why Shireen and Gendry have king’s blood. So Theon and Sansa wouldn’t qualify. (The Starks have their own magical qualities, but not the kind Melisandre needs.)

        As for Theon, my sympathies are with Sansa when she says she’d do the same to him that Ramsay did. The show wants you to feel pity now that he’s been tortured and broken, but the show is highly manipulative about the audience’s feelings towards many of the characters.

        • Lann says:

          Khal (king in dothraki) Drogo and his son Rheago were enough to wake dragons from stone so plainly the blood of any king is powerful.

          • Keith B says:

            Rhaego was Daenerys’ son too. But wasn’t it Daenerys plus the fire plus burning Mirri that hatched the dragons?

  7. Matthias says:

    Regarding the reasons for Stannis’ decision: I first thought, too, that he burnt Shireen because he believes to be Azor Ahai and it is a necessary step to save humanity. But that is book Stannis. In the show there is just no evidence to support this. In fact, the opposite is true. He is talking about taking Winterfell before heading to KL. If he really wanted to fight the WW that would not be his plan. Hence D&D are right when they point out his ambition as the main reason for sacraficing his daughter.

    • new djinn says:

      Yep, B & W have building this different Stannis(and his motivations) since season 2. It’s just book fan deceive themselves into thinking that it was just minor details.
      Book Stannis Baratheon=\= Show Fred Baratheon.

  8. Space Oddity says:

    So… regarding Hizdhar–while this obviously ends his story far earlier than his book counterpart, I’d argue this strongly hints that the entire ‘Shavepate did it’ theory is… on thin ice.

    • Winnie says:

      At the very least it demonstrates that Hizdar is *not* going to play an important role in any of the events to come.

      And since Jorah survived the Pit, 10 to 1 he’s going to be spreading Greyscale to Westeros.

    • Matthias says:

      I do not understand your argumentation here. For me hizdhar’s death at te hand of the sons of the harpy indicates that he was clearly not the leader of them. This makes it even more reasonable to assume that he had nothing to do with poisoning the locusts.

      I agree that Hizdhar won’t live for long in the books, too. But I assume he will be one of the first victims (together with the little cupbearers), when the shavepate decides to slaughter as many nobles in Meeren, while Dany’s Barristan, GW fight outside the city walls.

      • Space Oddity says:

        So the fact that the locust poisoning has been substituted with a blatant Harpy attack doesn’t suggest that no, the locust poisoning was not a frame-up of the Harpies in the books to your mind.

        And moving on to Hizdhar–if those of us who put him as in on the locust poisoning saw him as the mastermind, his death would be a setback–but as most of us (so far as I can tell) view him as a puppet of the Harpy with pretensions of power, not really. (Add to that, show-Hizdhar isn’t quite the same character as book-Hizdhar.) For me, Hizdhar is ultimately a charming twit playing a game he’s not really prepared for.

  9. Nilan says:

    Hey Stephen, nice article

    Just wondering — did anything in the episode make you re-evaluate your opinion of Stannis? Or parts of your opinion? Or rather, let’s say, is your opinion of Stannis now the same as it was this time last year?

    I’m wondering this partially because you and I, elsewhere, once discussed historical parallels for Stannis and I suggested Richard Nixon, which you weren’t big on. Certainly, Tiberius Caesar is the most acknowledged parallel as it comes from Martin himself, but this episode combined with Stannis’s depiction in book 2 had me thinking of this parallel again. Not only because of Nixon’s infamy, but also because despite his driving personal ambitions, I think it’s possible that there was a strange sort of honor Nixon had when it came to the needs of the nation.

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