How far is too far? That’s the question that lingered as Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode rounded the third quarter, having burned a child at the stake as she screamed for her mother and father, begging them to save her. It’s a question we’ve been asking all season, as women were belittled, abused and raped, and the show has gone off-book several times to give us more than we bargained for, even in such a place and time. Melisandre’s threat to Shireen had grown ever more ominous despite — or perhaps because of — her father’s un-Stannis-like behaviour in “Sons of the Harpy,” but even when all the signposts (Stannis sending Davos away, Davos’ touching moment with Shireen, Stannis visiting his daughter and accepting her offer to “help”) began to topple like dominos, nothing could prepare us for that terrible scene. George R. R. Martin isn’t one to shy away, so it’s impossible not to note the showrunners’ decision to always make a man worse. (***Spoilerish Note:
During this week’s Inside the Episode, David Benioff intimates this scene may be upcoming in one of the future Song of Ice and Fire books). ***End Spoiler.
What is there to say about such a horror visited? At least Stannis wasn’t a coward, he came out and faced his daughter’s cries in order to become “the man he was meant to be;” Shireen’s awful mother finally (too late) broke down and found actual emotions for her child. Should we congratulate Melisandre’s Carice van Houten on her new reign as most reviled character, or Kerry Ingram on making an audience cry? Rather we would watch a hundred hours of Theon’s torture, or let Ramsay Bolton remain alive through the series’ end, than to relive Shireen Baratheon’s final scene even once. And, to what end? It is miscalculation to say anyone thinks Stannis’ habitual burnings left him regarded as a great leader; rather, it was an earlier quiet moment with Shireen that made the greatest impact and left the impression of a man who might be king. After last week’s beautifully realized “Hardhome,” and with this hour’s exceptional end, it’s difficult to fathom the necessity of such an extraneous death and scene. There’s a point where shock value has no value at all, and whether Game of Thrones has crossed that threshold is a question worth pondering.
Arya’s distraction from her mission may trip up the girl who would become no one. At the last moment of the day’s report, Jaqen seemed to detect her lie. But, the surprise appearance of a man on her list (Syrio’s possible killer) proved so compelling, Arya simply couldn’t forget who she was. As for Meryn Trant’s disturbing proclivities, perhaps we should just thank our stars that the brothel mistress didn’t see fit to recruit a fish salesgirl. It was unusually foolhardy of Arya to so closely follow as far as she did; Trant paid notice more than once, but it’s unclear if he remembers her. Though she’s gotten a better storyline than the girls of Dorne, it’s hard not to be frustrated by this slow-motion journey.
How much greater might the final scene have been had Shireen’s brutal death not played out just before? Left reeling, we’re thrust into Daario’s (and Michiel Huisman’s) finest moments, proving himself far more useful to Dany than marrying Hizdahr. With Clarke, Dinklage and Glen all at the top of their game, the hour crescendoed with the trio’s soulful expressions; a master class in wordless acting against a background of the violent and chaotic fighting pit. Unable to deny she needs her every ally, Daenerys finally accepts Jorah’s help, but none of those sworn to love or protect her is enough against the Sons of the Harpy mass. Surrounded and resolute as she takes Missandei’s hand, the Mother of Dragons is ready to accept whatever fate has destined — proven beyond a bloody Meereen stadium. Drogon powerful screech heralded his just-in-time-arrival, awing everyone — including Dany — as he tossed and burned Harpies. And though a mother’s control may be tenuous, Daenerys proved herself a true Targaryen, mounting Drogon and commanding him to fly her away.
If the question was “How can Game of Thrones possibly top “Hardhome?” the answer this week is, “It can’t.”
Davos, Ser Davos, we’re counting on you to exact revenge. Though nothing could give us solace, there is simply no way the good Onion Knight will let this unforgivable deed go unpunished.
Making anything good of the Sand Snakes’ storyline continues to prove a challenge, with Tyene and Nymeria relegated to slapping games, and Obara standing in for the audience with a sigh of disgust. The highlight of Dorne is Ellaria’s stubborn refusal to drink to the Lannisters, followed by Doran’s demand that she swear allegiance to him. She’s smart enough to do what she must, but also clever enough to hand deliver a mea culpa to Jaime — despite her quick bow, we’ve surely not seen the last of rebellious Ellaria. Both Alexander Siddig and Indira Varma made the most of their screentime, though we have to question the wisdom of Doran sending Trystane into the lion’s den.
Leave it to Jaime and Bronn to provide the hour’s only respite, Coster-Waldau’s lighthearted smirk as Bronn gets the agreed upon Hotah smash.
Kudos to Emilia Clarke for her great interactions with a CGI dragon; with a loving tenderness and the appropriate awe of the moment, she absolutely sold that final glorious scene.