War Machines: “The Dance with Dragons” (Episode 9 Recap)

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“The Dance with Dragons” episode is the ninth episode of season 5, and the ninth episode (aka end of Act 3) is always the most climactic episode on Game of Thrones. While this year’s episode 9 did not pack the same emotional wallop as Ned’s beheading, the Red Wedding, or the Battle at Castle Black, it was equally special in its own way – notably for its wondrous, transcendent closing scene.

This episode is about war machines whether they be burned siege engines, the children civilizations sacrifice to wage their wars, or fire from above.

The Siege at Winterfell: Stannis’ great sacrifice

Stannis’ siege of Winterfell is not going well. As we saw last week, his army was freezing and dying in the winter weather. This week Ramsey’s “twenty good men” attack Stannis’ camp at night — while Melisandre was trying to see the future in the flames.

Ramsay’s men burned Stannis’ food stores to the ground, destroyed all his siege weapons, and burned hundreds of horses to death. Stannis and his army are now in truly dire straits.

They don’t have enough food to survive the trip back to Castle Black. They are stuck in the massive snow drifts and can’t march forward to attack Winterfell.

Melisandre has already advised Stannis to sacrifice Shireen to the Red God to get them out of this quagmire. Until now, he has refused. In this episode, all of that changes.

But, how good is Melisandre’s foresight anyway? For all of Melisandre’s ability to see in the flames, she didn’t see the previous night’s flames coming. At the very least, her oversight, and its consequences, are steeped in irony.

**

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Click to enlarge and see the castles along the Wall. (Map freely distributed via Westeros.org.)

Stannis summons Davos to his tent. He wants his Hand to take a message to Castle Black. If Jon Snow gives Stannis the supplies he needs, when Stannis sits on the Iron Throne, he will make sure that the Night’s Watch has all the men it requires: Jon will be able to man all 19 castles if he wants.

Stannis commands Davos, “Ride for castle black. Don’t come back empty handed.”

Davos bullshit detector goes up. After all, why doesn’t Stannis send a boy to deliver his request and keep his Hand nearby? Stannis claims the message is too important and implies a boy won’t be able to argue with Jon.

Davos isn’t an idiot. He knows how desperate the situation is and the power of “king’s blood” – after all, Davos personally freed Gendry from Melisandre’s clutches. And, likewise, Stannis knows that Davos is the one person who would stand up to him and perhaps even successfully stop Stannis from sacrificing his daughter.

Perhaps, Davos can’t really believe what he suspects may happen. He makes a bid to bring Shireen with him to Castle Black. Stannis merely says that his family “stays with me.”

**

Davos stops by Shireen’s tent to say goodbye before he leaves for Castle Black. The little princess is reading a history, “The Dance of Dragons: A True Telling.”

Shireen tells Davos about Ser Byron Swann’s attempts to kill a dragon, and this tale could easily be a metaphor for the vain Stannis’ future fate.

Shireen recounts how Ser Byron polished his shield for a week1 . When he approached the dragon, he crouched behind the shield and crept forward, hoping the dragon would only see its own reflection.

DAVOS — “But the dragon saw a dumb man, holding a mirrored shield.”

SHIREEN — “And burnt him to a crisp.”

DAVOS — “Thus ending the dragon-slaying career of Ser Byron Swann.”

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The two wisest people in Stannis’ camp.

Davos gives Shireen a little stag wood carving to thank her for teaching him to read. This is symbolic gift and one that creates quite a bit of foreshadowing as we shall see.

**

By now, it’s pretty clear that Stannis is thinking of sacrificing Shireen. When Stannis enters Shireen’s tent to say goodbye, she is sitting by the fire, playing with the stag Davos gave her before he left.

The flames frame the stag, foreshadowing the events to come.

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The camera angle frames Shireen’s stag against the flames, foreshadowing her fate.

Shireen tells her father a different story from the book. This is one is about the story of the Dance of the Dragons war.

It’s a 170-year old story of a civil war that devastated Westeros. Here’s how Wikia describes it:

“Rhaenyra Targaryen fought her half-brother Aegon II Targaryen for the throne, the great lords of the realm chose sides between them, and ultimately Targaryen fought Targaryen and dragon fought dragon. So many dragons died in the civil war that the Targaryens “never really recovered.””

Incidentally, the twelfth-century English civil war fought between rival claimants Stephen and Mathilda (and known as the Anarchy) vaguely resembles the Dance of the Dragons war. The timing is about right as well. The Anarchy ended in 1154. This is 170 years before 1324, the year when tensions began between France (with Isabella and her family) and England (with Edward II and Hugh Despenser) – and this arguably marked the period leading up to the Hundred Years War.

Stannis completely misses the message in the story. Instead, he gets distracted by a titular word he finds puzzling: “dance.”

Stannis asks Shireen for advice. If she had to choose between Rhaenyra and Aegon, who would she have chosen? Shireen replies that she wouldn’t choose.

Stannis’ ambition cannot let him except this wisdom however. He tells her that sometimes a person has to choose. Sometimes the world forces his hand, so ultimately the “choice is no choice at all.” He must fulfill his destiny, and become who he is meant to be. However, much he may hate it.

Shireen wants to help him. She comforts her father and becomes the parent – a sign in the modern world of a truly dysfunctional parent-child relationship.

Perhaps, Stannis takes the girl’s words as sign that she is meant to be sacrificed. He  murmurs, “Forgive me,” as he hugs her for the last time.

**

Guards escort Shireen to the stake. She naively surveys the crowd, but she does not see the stake.

Melisandre meets her in front of the unlit pyre. As Shireen realizes what Melisandre has planned for her, Shireen demands to see her father. Melisandre replies, “It will all be over soon princess.” Melisandre is evil personified in so many ways.

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The vile Melisandre misses seeing the flames in more ways than one.

As Shireen tries to flee, the guards grab her. She screams for her father. She still believes that Melisandre and company are planning to sacrifice her without her father’s knowledge. It’s heartbreaking.

I hate to use this word, but Stannis “bravely” emerges and looks Shireen in the eye. He is resolute, even though this is (almost) killing him. He is willing to sacrifice his beloved daughter for his vainglorious ambition.

Selyse consoles Stannis saying it is what the “Lord wants; it is a good thing, a great thing.”

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Not devastated enough.

Melisandre smiles rapturously and says an incantation before the sacrifice. The fire will cleanse Shireen. The light will “lead their way.” Melisandre beseeches her lord to accept this child sacrifice, “this token of our faith.” Frankly, its revoltingly and so is the please-let-me-smack-the-smile-off-her-face Melisandre.

Shireen screams and begs for her despicable mother to save her. Melisandre lights the pyre.

For me, this is far more terrible than Sansa’s rape, the Red Wedding, or anything else. And, this is quite possibly one of the most potent symbols protesting against modern-day war that I’ve ever seen on film: child sacrifice.

Selyse stays composed – until the flames begin to creep towards this tiny little girl and burn her. Finally, Selyse’s maternal instincts finally kick in.

Selyse makes a break for the funeral pyre, but it’s years too late. The guards stop her. Where has Selyse been all this time? How did it get to this point? After all, it’s only because of this sick zealot’s collusion that Shireen ended up here in the first place.

Selyse sinks to the ground. After all the many people she has sacrificed to the cleansing flames, including her own brother, now it matters.

I can’t help but think that this is a metaphor for war. It’s the elders who decide to fight and the children who are sacrificed (through the draft or whatever). When countries send their children off to war, the sacrifice doesn’t strike home until it’s your child.

Who is the sickest one of all in this scene –  the neglectful mother? the ambitious-at-any-cost father? No, it’s Melisandre who smiles wickedly at the flames; she is the evils of religious radicalism made manifest.

The Wall: The Wildlings enter Castle Black

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When Jon first arrives at the gates of Castle Black with the 5,000 or so Wildlings, it’s unclear if Alliser Thorne will let them in. The acting commander finally agrees.

As the Wildlings stream through the gate, Jon describes the mission as a failure to Sam. It’s unclear if Jon means that he couldn’t save enough people, build a large enough army, or prevent the White Walkers from growing their forces. Jon mutters the men of the Night’ Watch aren’t happy with all the people he saved.

Jon watches as the Wildlings enter Castle Black. His men are not so happy to see so many Wildlings alive and entering the castle.

Jon watches as the Wildlings enter Castle Black. His men are not so happy to see so many Wildlings alive and entering the castle.

Ser Alliser Thorne speaks for the Night’s Watch when he tells Jon, “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It will get us all killed.”

Dorne: Stannis’ foil and the power of redemption

After seeing the warmongering, child-sacrificing lengths that Stannis will go to achieve his ambition, Dorne and Prince Doran (his foil) are a refreshing change. It’s redemption and peace contrasted against vainglorious ambition.

Jaime arrives in a magnificent Moroccan style sitting room for a parley with Doran. Doran isn’t going to execute him since that would cause war, which means orphans, death, and hunger. How uplifting it is to hear some medieval-esque figure care about this. In terms of his pacifism and ability to give second chances, Doran is a foil for Stannis.

Myrcella and Trystane are also at this sit-down. Jaime is less-than-thrilled to see his “niece” wearing a bare low-cut gown. Reminiscent of Cersei’s words about Margaery’s attire in seasons past, Jaime comments that Myrcella “must be cold.”

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Trystane and Myrcella. Apparently, “you must be cold” is Lannister speak for “your clothes are trashy.”

Doran wants to know why Jaime came uninvited to smuggle Myrcella out of the country. When Jaime explains the received a death threat — the princess’ necklace in the jaws of a viper, Doran sees Ellaria’s hand at work.

Prince Doran smoothly puts words in Jaime’s mouth to arrange to get Myrcella away from danger: “King Tommen insists on his sister’s return.” However, Doran adds a few other terms: the match will remain intact. Prince Trystane will accompany Myrcella to King’s Landing and sit on the small council.

Ellaria refuses to toas the new terms and dumps her wine on the floor. As she leaves, she comments that Doran can’t walk because he “has no spine.”

Doran warns Ellaria not to speak with him with so much disrespect.

After Ellaria leaves, all that remains is determine Bronn’s fate. The Knight of the Blackwater is still rotting in his jail cell across from the Sand Snakes. Bronn is guilty of striking a prince.

Doran leaves it to Trystane to decide on Bronn’s fate – will he live or die?

**

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Bronn and Aero Hotah

When the guards arrive to fetch Doran, the Sand Snakes are playing slap hands in their prison cell. It’s a pretty amusing scene of sisterly rivalry.

As Bronn walks out of his cell, Tyene, who flirted with him before as she tried to kill him, reminds him that she is the most beautiful woman in the world.

It turns out that Trystane has decided to forgive Bronn. He has one condition however. Areo Hotah – Doran’s massive guard – gets to hit Bronn in the jaw.

**

Prince Doran summons Ellaria and informs her that she can either swear allegiance to him or die. She submits weeping. Ellaria kneels and kisses his ring, as the Sand Snakes look on with their wrists bound The humbling of Oberyn’s (effective) widow is almost as humiliating for them as it is for her. Prince Doran warns Ellaria, “I believe in second chances; I don’t believe in third chances.”

 

Later, Ellaria visits Jaime, where she finds him struggling to write a letter with his left hand. The purpose of this visit isn’t completely clear – is it an apology? a chance for Ellaria to get some closure?

Ellaria frankly acknowledges Jaime’s feelings for Cersei2. She then says, “You think I’d disapprove. Why? Because people of disapprove of that sort of thing where you are from. They disapprove of Oberyn and me where you from. Here, no one blinked an eye.

But, then Ellaria makes a most interesting statement: “A Hundred years ago nobody would have blinked an eye — if you’d been named Targaryen.” Is this an ironic hint about Jaime and Cersei’s true parentage? I may hold the minority view, but I think there is a chance that Jaime and Cersei are Targaryens.

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Ellaria to Jaime: “It’s always changing… who we’re supposed to love – and who we’re not. The only thing that stays the same is that we want who we want.”

Ellaria’s final words are a testament to how grief can distort one’s perspective: “I know your daughter had no part in the terrible thing that happened to the man I love. Perhaps, even you are innocent of that.”

As philosophical as she is, Ellaria cannot see that Oberyn chose his fate, even though the Lannisters are to blame for his desire for vengeance.

Arya hasn’t lost her identity yet

Arya’s on her mission to kill the thin man. Just as she reaches his stall by the docks, she spots Ser Meryn Trant and Mace Tyrell getting out of a skiff.

Arya hates Ser Meryn since he is the one who (presumably) killed her beloved “dancing” (sword-fighting) master Syrio Forel. And, Syrio died for her defending her against the men in the King’s Guard who came to collect (and possibly kill her). In short, Ser Meryn is on Arya’s list.

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Syrio’s last stand against Ser Meryn Trant.

Arya spends the rest of the day shadowing Ser Meryn and his men. During this time, we see Mace Tyrell try to butter up Tycho Nestoris without much luck. Mace even serenades him.

Come nightfall, Arya follows Ser Meryn and his blokes into a brothel. A brothel bouncer almost kicks Arya out, but a whore pities her and the bouncer relents. Arya discreetly weaves her way to the back room where she sees Ser Meryn procure his evening’s entertainment: a girl who looks younger than Arya. It’s clear that he intends to abuse this girl and he wants a replacement for her the next night. Will Arya volunteer?

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Arya with her beloved “dancing” master, Syrio Forel.

Arya’s transformation into one who serves the House of Black and White isn’t as complete as Jaqen, and perhaps even Arya, might hope. After all, it didn’t take much to divert her from her mission in favor of her own personal goals. Faceless men don’t have identities or desires, so Arya is – thankfully – about as far away from being subsumed by this twisted religion as you can get.

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Arya tries to fool Jaqen. As practiced a liar as she is, will she succeed in fooling the master?

When Arya arrives at the House of Black and White late that night, she tells Jaqen that the thin man wasn’t hungry that day. Does Jaqen buy it? It’s hard to say, but if he doesn’t Arya will certainly pay.

Meereen: The Great Games

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Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry) and Dany (Emilia Clarke) talk as the Great Games begin.

The Great Games are by far the best moment of the show, if not the season, if for nothing else than their special effects. But, frankly, there is a lot more to this riveting sequence than CGI.

Much to her dismay, Daenerys is presiding over the opening of Meereen’s Great Games, which resemble nothing so much as the Roman gladiatorial games.

Her husband-to-be Hizdahr zo Loraq arrives late. His excuse is that he was “Just making sure everything is in order.” As we will see later, this is quite fishy.

As the games begin, Dany, Hizdahr, Daario, and Tyrion wax philosophical about the role of the games. The unwittingly dreadful Hizdahr argues that the games are a “necessary part of the great city of Meereen.”

Dany’s not enjoying the games. From her perspective, it’s a senseless waste of bloodshed. And, she disses Hizdahr asking him when he has fought.

When the second combatants appear, Jorah is one of the fighters. He wins in a breathtaking battle sequence.

As Jorah’s last opponent lies dying, Jorah picks up a spear. It looks like he is about to deliver a death blow. But, instead, he throws the spear at Dany’s box seat. The weapon slices past Dany and impales a masked member of the Sons of the Harpy, who is just about to assassinate her.

The crowd panics and pandemonium breaks out. Spectators try to escape the amphitheater, but the Sons of the Harpy descend and slaughter many of them.

After Jorah, Daario, and even Tyrion fight off the would-be assassins, Jorah leads Dany to down into the amphitheater to safety – or so we think.

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The Sons of the Harpy (not shown) surround Dany and her entourage in the fighting pit.

Instead, the Sons of the Harpy bolt the entrances and then encircle the queen and her entourage. Vastly outnumbered, things don’t look good.

Just as Dany shuts her eyes and braces for the end, a dragon roars and Drogon arrives.

Now we get to see the power of a nearly full grown dragon. His fiery breath incinerates hoards of the Sons of the Harpy. This is a preview for what these incredible war machines will be like. It’s World War II’s fire from above.

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Dragons are the game changer in Game of Thrones. They symbolize fire from above like the fighter planes in World War II. (c) HBO.

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Dany reaches out to stroke her child’s nose. Drogon responds with a look of great love.

And, then came the moment that took my breath away. Dany climbs onto Drogon and flies away. It is amazing, beautiful, and truly awe inspiring. Not only do we see the love between Dany and Drogon – and Emilia Clarke delivers a great performance —  we get to see somebody fly a dragon.

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Dany flies Drogon. (c) HBO.

The scene is so magnificent with this beautiful girl-woman flying on this amazing dragon that it creates a sense of wonder and awe. For a fleeting second, I almost felt what it might be like to fly on the back of a dragon. And, that’s Game of Thrones. We have the horror of child sacrifice, the darkness of assassins, the freezing and starving soldiers, and the destructive capabilities of the ultimate war machine. Yet amidst all the darkness comes the power of forgiveness and the soaring beauty of the impossible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. 12:34 []
  2. 29:43 []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

35 Comments

  • I thought it was epic. Stannis failed Chris Rock parenting 101: he failed to keep his daughter off the pole.

    GRRM is frequently unpredictable. But the whole Shireen plot arc had me thinking she would end this way from the start. All the contenders in the war of the five kings would be lousy choices for the throne. Joffrey is a psychotic bastard whose first act as king triggers a civil war. Renly has no legitimate claim, Robb makes a faithless bargain, Greyjoy is a barbarian pirate thief.

    But Stannis is at once the best choice and the very worst. He does know how to rule, the throne is his by right. But he disqualifies himself by making a pact with the devil. He wins his victories by sorcery and witchcraft. He murders his own brother with a shadowbaby and the other three claimants are murdered using Mel’s leeches. He is also a fraud, he knows that the sword isn’t lightbringer but he tells people it is.

    Stannis has made a pact with the devil. This is even more clear in the books where the red god is raising the dead just like the White Walkers do. Finally the full cost of that pact is made clear and Stannis is more than willing to pay the price. It is his wife who is now having qualms about the monster she has helped create.

    The Stannis/Shireen sacrifice is contrasted against the ritual slaughter of Danzak’s pit where Dannerys has made a similar compromise for similar reasons. But at least she isn’t murdering her own family, the fighters are at least nominally volunteers. This is the way of life she is trying to eliminate.

    Fire kills Shireen, fire saves Danny. Cersei will do anything to save her children regardless of the consequences for the kingdom, Stannis sacrifices Shireen to grab the crown.

  • Reply June 9, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Since they have changed (or brought things forward from the unpublished as yet) books, I wonder what Davos’ reaction to the sacrifice of Shireen will be. I had absolutely fallen in love with the character of show Shireen, due in part to Kerry Ingram’s acting ability and I am still reeling from the after effects of Shireen’s murder (to me it was murder). Of course in times past there were human sacrifices (I think there was a feature about it on this blog around last Christmas time). I know the sacrifice of Shireen had been foreshadowed but I kept hoping I was wrong. Will Selyse come to her senses now? There was a scene in the previous season where Melisandre told Selyse that some of her magic is trickery. It seems to me that the red god has some goodies on his side and some baddies (yes I am thinking about you, Melisandre). Flawed red priest Thoros of Myr, however, was definitely not a goodie-goody but he wasn’t a baddie-baddy in the way Melisandre is – and earlier in the season before Ser Jorah captures Tyrion, he (Tyrion) sees a red priestess who praises Dany, though she was just a character who made a fleeting appearance (like Karsi last episode).

    Although I felt as though I had had the heart wrenched out of me with Shireens fate, I did enjoy Dany riding Drogon. Some people have criticised the special effects but I liked them.

    • Reply June 9, 2015

      hallambaker

      The better the special effects get, the harder the match between filmed and CGI sequences becomes. Danny was doing a pretty good job of making getting on top of a bench with a blue sheet over it look like she was getting on Drogon.

      • Reply June 9, 2015

        Jamie Adair

        So I thought the CGI was pretty good – like really well done in fact. I’m far from expert on such things but it was very seamless to me. When I look at the early Harrypotter movies, to me the CGI there is really obvious. But I didn’t see anything like that with Drigin. Granted the early HPs are really old…

    • Reply June 9, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Well, I was wondering if this would cause a permanent break between Stannis and Davos, if Davos would say “take this job and shove it.” IMO, Davos will never accept it. But is Stannis the kind of guy who will let Davos live if he resigns??? I don’t know.
      I seriously didn’t think GoT would go there, but it makes perfect sense thematically and it really drives home the message about how corrupt Stannis is. Phil put it beautifully above when he talked about Stannis making a deal with the devil. Somebody who wins his throne by sorcery, by killing his own brother and daughter, should not be king. Despite his leadership skills, he has done everything wrong/amoral. I was shouting at the TV once I realized what was going to happen. Seeing that tiny girl on that stake . As many people have said, #stannismustdie.

    • Reply June 9, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Also, I too was really fond of little Shireen. 🙁 Did you notice how she kept making all these really wise statements? They were almost prophetic. Imagine bringing your child with you so she was handy for slaughter. E.g., Selyse. It’s really quite vile.

      • Reply June 9, 2015

        hallambaker

        It was the cute statements that convinced me she was a gonner. There was no character flaw or anything objectionable about her.

  • Reply June 9, 2015

    hallambaker

    I really hope that Arya kills off the faceless men on the way out.

    Not sure whether Davos, Brienne or Selyse is going to kill Stannis. But the list is surely growing.

    • Reply June 11, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Selyse really could or might kill Stannis, eh? I hadn’t thought of that. It would make sense though — angry irreconcilable mother kills man who sent child to death.

  • Reply June 10, 2015

    Annette Smith

    You ask who is the sickest in Shireen’s death scene. Certainly Melissandre would be the sickest of the humans but we’re forgetting about the invisible agent, the god. If the sacrifice produces results, it must be the god R’hllor that is the most evil agent. Keeping in mind that this is a fantasy and therefore the gods can be real and powerful then why does R’hllor require a child sacrifice? It has not been explained but is R’hllor in need of sacrifices from humans in order to have power? Or does he already have the power but with holds it until followers have done what pleases him such as sending their own children to a screaming death?

    • Reply June 11, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Annette, that’s an excellent point about the god! I was just reading today that the later Greeks abhorred stories about human sacrifice and they saw any god who required human sacrifice as evil.

      Very interesting thought — R’hllor’s power could theoretically almost in a way be like Voldemort (where Voldemort had to be built back up). In this case, R’hllor could theoretically need to be built up by blood sacrifices.

      I’m very curious to see what Sunday’s episode brings for Stannis. I keep hoping that it will turn out that Melisandre’s sacrifices don’t work.

      • Reply July 3, 2015

        rosswittenham

        I was having some thoughts about this. You notice that the nature of the sacrifices has gotten more and more extreme?

        In the first example, Melisandre uses Stannis’s sperm (which he was pretty damn happy to supply) to father the demon baby.
        In the second example, she uses Gendry’s blood (forcibly taken – to reference Harry Potter again) to ‘influence’ the deaths of Robb and Joffrey, and the dismemberment of Theon.
        In the third example, she BURNS TO DEATH an innocent (and presumable virginal) girl in order to, what, melt some snow?

        Is she losing her power? Or do repeated requests demand bigger sacrifices?

        • Reply July 10, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          That’s interesting about losing her power. Hadn’t thought of that. I’m often on the fence about whether I think she has any power or if it is all a coincidence — although I guess the shadow assassin proves that she does have it. Every time I see her using blood magic, I’m skeptical that the results aren’t a coincidence.
          I think sacrifices kind of fuel Melisandre. When you think about it, all the blood she sheds doesn’t seem to get her that far with the Red God. Thoros of Myr can bring people back from the dead and that’s (arguably) an even bigger power than death.

          • July 11, 2015

            rosswittenham

            I was thinking maybe it’s more like an addictive substance, with diminishing returns.

  • Reply June 10, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Years ago I heard somebody sing “Susie Cleland” – a ballad about a young Scots woman being burned for being in love with an Englishman. Of course that was not the reason Stannis “sacrificed” Shireen and having looked the ballad up on the internet, it seems there may not even have been a real Susie Cleland and that the ballad (and group of ballads it belongs to) may come from a time when people in England were seeing not “reds under the beds” but perhaps “witches under the beds” – a bit like what happened in Salem in the early days of the United States (though I suppose they were still “colonies” then?) Here is a link to some information about the ballad in case anyone is interested:- https://mainlynorfolk.info/peter.bellamy/songs/ladymaisry.html

    I remember reading something about the Conquistadores being shocked by the Aztecs’ human sacrifices, including children, when they first went to the American continent (though the Conquistadores did some dreadful things themselves). Man’s inhumanity to man or should I say humankind’s inhumanity to humankind really has been dreadful at times.

    I must say that having seen all the people that Melisandre has put to the torch thus far (though as a viewer the Shireen one was the most heart-wrenching – though I did feel sorry for Mance also).

    Possible Book 5 Spoiler

    In the books, Melisandre’s back history has not been fully explained though it appears she was a slave at some time (I think that has been mentioned in the show). I saw a lady interview the actor to played Maester Cressen near the beginning of season 2 and he rather jokingly said he had spoken with Carice V H and asked her why she was immune to the poison and she had said “Well I am 400 years old”. Perhaps in one of the future books a fuller explanation will be given as to why she is such a fanatic.

    When Thoros of Myr asked R’hllor to restore Beric to life, he just seemed to pray from the heart. I don’t recall him sacrificing anybody, so does Melisandre practise an extreme form of the red god religion? Of course any religion is only as good as the people in it.

    Dany’s burning of the witch woman in the last episode of series 1 of GoT made me wonder about how stable Dany was, but at least she had reason to be angry with the witch in that she had brought about the deaths of Dany’s husband and baby.

    I still have to catch up on “Wolf Hall” – though having looked at the blog of Olga who posts here sometimes it may not be all that wonderful a programme. However, apparently Kerry Ingram (Shireen’s actress) had a small part on that.

  • Reply June 11, 2015

    Jamie Adair

    I haven’t seen any of Wolf Hall – although I’d certainly like to see it.
    Come to think of it, I guess we have proof that blood magic works: Dany’s dragons. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Melisandre can wield it successfully. (I hate the thought of Melisandre winning, btw, since she is so awful.)

  • Reply June 11, 2015

    Grant

    Sorry but I think this is where I leave this. Increasingly characters have lost nuance and three dimensional behavior, contrivances have appeared just to force an action rather than let it occur naturally from events and it seems to be more and more clear that the writers just aren’t up to writing complex politics.

    There were always good bits in the show like the acting, some of the dialogue and the dragons and White Walkers to bring me back, but ultimately it’s reached a point where I can’t take this seriously. Perhaps if the next season were exceptionally good, but with how this has been handled I don’t see that happening as they’re forced to move increasingly away from the books. For what it’s worth, I hope you continue to enjoy the series and I hope the historical parallels you write here will continue to be interesting for me to read.

    • Reply June 12, 2015

      Watcher on the Couch

      Grant, obviously you must do what seems right for you.

      I admit that I am disappointed that

      Possible Book 4 and Book 5 spoiler for people who have not read them

      show Ellaria has been made something of a vengeful spitfire whereas book Ellaria was a peacemaker. I’m not sure what the motivation was for changing the Dorne story-line so drastically from the books this season. I’m not as disillusioned as Grant though. Shame Mr Martin does not write very rapidly and that we don’t have the complete story in book form.

      The scene with Drogon did not seem radically different from the book version although

      Possible book spoiler

      I seem to recall Dany was more isolated from her entourage in the middle of the ring and that she (or at least) some of her clothes were burned by Drogon’s breath.

      At school I remember (when we were studying Shakespeare’s “Othello”) something was mentioned about the cathartic effect of tragedy. Though I didn’t feel surged about the plight of poor Shireen, just shocked.

    • Reply June 13, 2015

      Jun

      I feel more or less the same way as Grant does, except that I decided to more or less abandon the TV series at the start of this season. I did see the Hardhome episode with a friend who is not nearly as bothered by the series’ departures as I am, but I was a bit bored by even that relatively well made episode.

      I think Season 4 and Season 5 especially have crystallized for me why I love GRRM and his books, the thin, thin line he walks between truth and exploitation, cliches and the overturning of cliches. As brutal and cruel as the recent TV episodes, they are still “safe” entertainment that threatens nobody’s sense of invincibility for living in 21st century first-world countries. It is GRRM’s books that still make me shudder with remembrance of history and reality. His depiction is not safe because I connect it with real people and real life. That is the difference. Perhaps it is an intentional difference because TV cannot afford to truly threaten their viewers’ worldview. Perhaps it is just a difference of writers’ insights and knowledge and skills, and their own sense of reality.

      Incidentally a few years ago I happened upon a novel written by David Benioff — yes, THAT Benioff — at the local bookstore. I flipped through it. It was set in Soviet Union under invasion by the Nazis during WWII. I only remember the scene in which he describes how a villager was punished by the Nazis for something. A young woman (IIRC) got her feet sawed off by the Germans. It was pretty disgusting. But it was safe in the way horror movies are safe. The reader can feel the thrill of reading such a horrible scene without being disturbed in the depth of his/her heart. I am perhaps particularly sensitive to this type of “entertainment” and less thrilled than average. I still remember this scene and wonder about the author’s intent. It is not the same kind of horror though when I read the part when Theon saw, when Jeyne Westerling took off her clothes on her wedding day, her scars of having been whipped (presumably after Ned was beheaded and his entourage was arrested in King’s Landing). I won’t go into a long analysis of why GRRM’s writing is more horrifying but less exploitative and more sincere. I am not totally clear in my own mind, but I can feel the difference in my gut: Fundamentally there is a clear chasm separating Benioff’s depiction of cruelty and GRRM’s.

      So that is that.

      • Reply June 13, 2015

        Jun

        Correction: Jeyne Poole, not Westerling.

      • Reply June 13, 2015

        Jamie Adair

        I haven’t read any of Benioff’s novels, but do you mean that we should feel repelled by violence? E.g., We should flinch when we read or see bullets shot or somebody get killed. It shouldn’t be the thousands of bullets flying through the air like in movies like the Matrix? If so, I agree. Years ago, I remember thinking that violence should be more like the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs than the violence in the Matrix. (Admittedly that ear scene is probably a bit gratuitous.)

        >>Perhaps it is an intentional difference because TV cannot afford to truly threaten their viewers’ worldview.
        Do you think so? That’s a really interesting comment. Please elaborate. Would people tune out if their worldview was threatened? How much of a threat would that have to be? What do you mean by threat?

        • Reply June 14, 2015

          Jun

          I don’t know, Jamie. I would not pretend that I do not enjoy any violent scenes. For years I was and still sort of am a fan of nondeadly violent scenes in Kung Fu cinema, as long as nobody dies realistically on screen. Who am I to judge people who enjoy watching horror movies or, say, the ear-sawing scene in Reservoir Dogs or the Saw movie series. I certainly do not mean it as self-congratulatory moralization. (BTW, I think Tarantino had fun and was not disturbed at all writing and shooting that scene.) Everyone has a different threshold but we are all thrilled by violent scenes from distance that is safe for us. Perhaps, for a man, watching violence against women provides some of this distance, while for women watching violence against men has similar protection.

          Anyway, I’m not sure what my original point was. Ah, eh, I am not against cheap and safe thrills. I just think the way the TV series handle this material is inferior to how GRRM did in the books. If this were an original series, I would not dislike it nearly as much. I think it’s contrast with the novels that kind of did me in. I’m a bit of a snob about adaptations.

          Regarding threatening the viewers’ worldview. Here is one example: Why is it OK for Jeyne Poole to be abused by Ramsay Bolton in ADWD, but it’s not OK to substitute her with Sansa? (All the world building and characters’ internal logic aside.) Is it because Sansa is a main and viewpoint character and Jeyne is more dispensable? Maybe. But I also think that the point for Jeyne to be abused by a number of people (in no way limited to Ramsay) is the class divide. There are several themes that seem rather uncomfortable in American popular culture, including class struggles and slavery. Jeyne Poole is worthless to her captors because of her lower birth status. Sansa — especially her virginity — is extremely valuable to anyone who gets hold of her (except Cersei of course who just wants her dead). This is at least part of why Jeyne is abused and Sansa is protected. If the TV series remained loyal to this point and highlight the importance of birth/class rather than individual control of their destiny, surely that would be uncomfortable to an audience who believe they live under meritocracy.

          I have also found the TV series’ handling of 1) slavery and 2) foreign occupation of ancient and decaying cities to be very safe for an American audience. They are very careful not to remind people of America’s history with slavery and failed “liberation” of Iraq, etc. One would have to be in deep denial not to see the allusions in the novels, especially ADWD, but one can blithely see the TV series without making the connections. I often wonder about readers’ anger at Dany’s inability to turn Meereen into a thriving, prosperous, new democracy where everyone has achieved happiness and self actualization.

          • June 15, 2015

            Jamie Adair

            All of these points are fascinating and intelligent.

            re: Sansa and Jeyne Poole
            You’re right. By removing the Jeyne Poole plot, they remove the opportunity to tackle a storyline that centers on classism. I’m not sure why the show removed it except maybe that it would just be too many characters. However, the show did add in some class struggle with the story of Ros and Shae. I keep meaning to write an article about “Girls like us,” as Ros puts it. (I have a lot of sympathy for medieval prostitutes.) I seriously can’t see the show deliberately avoiding class struggle when they already do so much that is controversial.

            But, I do agree that American audiences are extremely uncomfortable with notions of class. But, there is so much stuff about class in graduate English programs, I’m not sure if it matters to an American TV audience?? I could be wrong; a book on literary theory is a far cry from TV show.

            I’m trying to think of how the books remind people of America’s history with slavery more than the show does. To me, having a whole story that centers on slavery is a pretty big reminder. Whenever I see slavery on TV, it is one of the first I think of. (But, then again, I’m not American.)

            re: Iraq
            Slaver’s Bay is (IMO) very similar to Mesopotamia. Mesopatamia = Iraq (and other places).

            re: “I often wonder about readers’ anger at Dany’s inability to turn Meereen into a thriving, prosperous, new democracy where everyone has achieved happiness and self actualization.”
            The GRReat one said something along these recently IRT Sansa’s rape. He commented that if he were to portray an egalitarian society, he’d be writing futuristic sci fi and not historically-based fantasy.

        • Reply June 14, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          BTW, I don’t mean the last questions sarcastically. I’m actually interested to hear what you have to say. It’s an intriguing statement. I always think we should be challenging people’s worldviews… it is important to try to explore other perspectives…

  • Reply June 11, 2015

    Iknownothing

    I’m curious to see if Tyrion and company will rejoin Dany. Also, where did Dany go ?

  • Reply June 12, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Edit to previous post. Sorry should have said “purged about the plight”.

  • Reply June 14, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    I can think of one “classic” novel that had a bad reception in some quarters because it contained one particularly bleak scene. Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure” contains a scene

    possible spoiler for people considering reading “Jude the Obscure”

    where because the family are so poor, the eldest boy kills himself and his brother and sister because he has overheard his Dad and stepmother discussing their poverty. Of course even I wasn’t around in the 1890s but Hardy said the bad reception of the book had cured him of writing novels for life (though there are some academics who think he might have “written himself out”).

    Jun, you seem pretty knowledgeable about Shakespeare – can you comment about catharsis in tragedy? I had a look on Wikipedia concerning Euripides’ “Iphigenia at Aulis” and see that a deer was switched for Iphigenia at the last minute in that play (a bit like the ram being switched for Isaac in the Bible). Not recently, but I have had disturbed sleep in the past because of things I have read. I don’t usually watch horror films but clips from “Nosferatu” (I know that wasn’t about human sacrifice) gives me the creeps to this day.

    • Reply June 14, 2015

      Jun

      Hmm, I am no expert in the cathartic effect of tragedies. Yet we do all agree that Shakespeare’s tragedies are vastly better than his comedies. Curiously, however, even his comedies are sometimes not that comical. Some of his plays are called “problem plays,” such as Measure for Measure. I suppose it just means that “We don’t know how we are supposed to feel about them.” Should we laugh or cry? Should we feel sad or happy? Should we root for the hero or despise him? Shakespeare did not make it easy on us. Even those not classified as problem plays are full of such problems. Is “Henry V” a patriotic rallying cry or antiwar piece? Can we feel sorry for Richard II? Should we spit on Shylock? Is Brutus an honorable man? Should I hate Othello for the violence he commits against a good woman? (The answer to the last question is I do not, even though I suppose I theoretically should.)

      So, in the case of Shakespeare, I don’t think it is necessarily the bad endings of the tragedies that make these plays great. It is how he disturbs us and makes us feel so damned conflicted uncomfortable. I mean, anyone can kill off all the main characters in the end, or burn a young girl for shock value, but does that automatically make the story/play great? If it were only that simple.

    • Reply June 15, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Oh dear. re: “but I have had disturbed sleep in the past because of things I have read. ”
      I am actually working on two articles: one about Iphigenia (which I have not yet finished) so it isn’t very timely and the other about human sacrifice. Don’t read them when I release them. I always try to put violence warnings on these articles so they don’t disturb people. But still… If you are sensitive, please don’t ever read the articles with the violence warnings. I don’t write them to disturb people and it upsets me to imagine that people might read them accidentally.

      As an aside, to others who might be reading, I write the extremely violent articles (about flaying, castration, etc.), in part, because I think history books often gloss over these atrocities. I think the history of these atrocities is not only morbidly fascinating to read but also is an important part of understanding how awful things actually could be.

      • Reply June 16, 2015

        Watcher on the Couch

        I think I may have toughened up over the years, Jamie and I wasn’t referring to this blog when I mentioned disturbed sleep. I don’t know if the wild-life programmes of David Attenborough (brother of the actor, the late Richard Attenborough) are known in the North American continent (sub-continent?) but many years ago, when even I was a child he did something about head-hunters in New Guinea. I don’t know if the tribes he visited were still actively head-hunting at the time he was there but trophy heads (skulls) were shown, presumably collected by ancestors of the tribes at the time of the programme, but I had a nightmare that night. Then again some, not all, zombie/monster films are so hammy and corny that one can laugh at them – there are others of course which do “scare the pants off” folks. There was a factual history series a few years ago on the BBC about the Normans and they (as I’m no doubt you are aware after the research you have done for this blog) could be horrifically violent at times. I slept after watching the Shireen burning scene but did find it upsetting.

      • Reply June 17, 2015

        Jun

        I would love to read about your articles on human sacrifice, even though I might also feel queasy about it. (BTW, the articles on Dracula and flaying also made me feel queasy, but that’s no reason not to read them.) I thought of human sacrifice again when I visited the Stonehenge recently. It is a very common practice across many cultures. One might say it is universally human.

        Jaime, you mentioned last year the idea of war as a sacrifice to the gods. At the time I said I was not aware of such theories. But! Recently I read the Indian epic Mahabharata and this is an idea repeatedly mentioned there. War is a ritual of human sacrifice. It is only one of a number of theories for the epic war described in Mahabharata, but clearly it is a remnant of human sacrifice from ancient times.

        • Reply June 17, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          >>you mentioned last year the idea of war as a sacrifice to the gods. At the time I said I was not aware of such theories.
          Jun, I don’t remember saying that, but my memory is crap these days. Recently, I’ve also been playing around with an article about war as an unwitting form of child sacrifice lately.
          I have a theory that I would love to read about in an anthropology book (because I’m sure some anthropologists must discuss this type of thing somewhere) that human sacrifice arises in cultures with extreme food shortages — or that are under extreme stress — and their desperation drives them to make sacrifices. Many of the cultures that I know of that made human sacrifices were both militaristic and had, AFAIK, extreme food shortages — e.g., the Norse, the Maya, the Aztecs, etc. I know the Romans made them, but I don’t know if they had these resource shortages, or if they learned human sacrifice from other cultures. I think people got so desperate they began to try anything to appease their gods — especially if there was some glimmer of hope such tactics worked previously. No doubt, such extreme sacrifices probably also gave them a feeling of catharsis — e.g., they can show themselves that they are taking action to rectify a situation (or safeguard it) in the most extreme way possible. They have done everything they can.

          BTW, I don’t always enjoy reading or researching gruesome articles myself 🙂 — although sometimes I do. But, like you, I still read (and write) them. Right now, I’m trying to finish an article about Jane Shore that has gotten a little too deep (~3700 words)… :>)

  • Reply June 17, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Oh Jun, years ago (must be early 1990) I saw Peter Brook’s adaptation (with an international cast) of the Mahabharata. The book Sand Snakes made me think of the Pandabat (the five brothers) except that there were eight Sand Snakes and of course they are sisters, at least (some of them) of the half blood, though the ones born of

    NOT REALLY A BOOK SPOILER BUT BEING CAREFUL======================================

    book Ellaria were sisters of the whole blood of course. Though sometimes I wonder if I am seeing similarities to things in GoT when there are none. Mind you, whilst I usually give the two Ds the benefit of the doubt about their adaptation choices the poison kiss was a bit hackneyed (are they fans of Poison Ivy in Batman?) I’m still hoping Myrcella might not be dead – but I spent much of the season that has just ended hoping Shireen wouldn’t be sacrificed so maybe I should resign myself to a worst case scenario.

    • Reply June 17, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Wow. I would ***LOVE**** it if GRRM drew on some Indian history and legends.

      >>Though sometimes I wonder if I am seeing similarities to things in GoT when there are none.
      That’s the problem. It is tricky to know what might have inspired GRRM and what is just a coincidence. For the sake of this website, I have no problem writing or publishing articles about historical that are similar even if they didn’t inspire the event – although I like people to put hedging words in when they write such articles. To me, at least for this site, I think part of my goal isn’t so much decoding GRRM as it is enjoying the journey through history and learning more about it.

    • Reply June 19, 2015

      Jun

      Yeah, I don’t think there is much similarity between the Sand Snakes and the Pandava brothers. At the heart of Mahabharata is a struggle for the throne between two branches of the family, which actually mirrors the War of the Roses.

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