We’ve almost reached the end of the season now, and most of the major storylines are converging towards where they are at the end of the fifth book. It’s been a good season overall, though with some significant low points, and I will give this episode a 6.5 out of 10 points. For reference the best episode ever in this show, probably something in season 1, would get a 9 and the worst ever, probably episode six this season due to the Dorne bullshit, would get a 4. As usual, this review will contain spoilers from the books, even from preview chapters of The Winds of Winter, if you don’t like that then I would advise either immediately pressing Ctrl + W or punching your screen very hard.
This review will start with a complaint, since the episode quite frankly starts with a bad scene. I’m talking here about Ramsey’s gang of picked men torching Stannis’ camp. We see Stannis camp from above as many small fires break out here and there as though on command. How in the hell does a band of misfits start a dozen or more simultaneous fires when everything is cold and wet or covered with snow? What caused them? Was it some dudes with oil? A dragon? A drone strike?
On a more serious note, the whole thing was too short, we saw the fires and then we saw the aftermath. It felt like something out of the second season when Robb was fighting his battles against the Lannisters and HBO couldn’t afford to show them, so we saw a wolf jumping a guard and then it was morning and we saw who had won. Now that they obviously have a better budget, and insist on including two different shots of a burning horse, they could at least have shown us Ramsey and a couple of others crawling around in the dark and lighting the first fire as a signal for some other people to start the rest. Or something else, but I think you understand what I mean, it was quick and sloppy and that’s that.
Then we have Dorne. The material we got in Dorne was some of the best material we’ve had from Dorne in this entire season. There was one small detail that bothered me, I liked the rest but I shall mention that small detail first to get it out of the way. Doran Martell said something to Jamie about “the alliance between Dorne and the Iron Throne” and referred to Dorne as “my country”. First of all, there is no alliance between the Iron Throne and Dorne, Doran Martell is a subject and not an ally of king Tommen, and is holding Dorne by the grace of the crown. Not recognizing that means that he is in open rebelliona against his king, and while it might seem like I’m nitpicking trivial errors Dorne as a whole has throughout this show been miss-characterized as some remote place not part of the seven kingdoms and it bothers me.
That aside, the rest of the dialog was quite well written. The sand snakes have been under-preforming for most of the season, but the only real scene they had in this episode worked. Likewise Ellaria and Doran, after we accept that they are more aggressive than they are supposed to be, handle their stuff in this episode. Having Hotah hit Bronn like that felt like childish nonsense done for shits and giggles, but I’ll leave it be. What is more relevant is that good as most of this was, it doesn’t do for a wrap-up of the Dorne arc. It simply doesn’t, this is not an end worthy of this show, I expect some sort of throw-down in Dorne next episode or I shall be very cross.
As for Arya, remember when I in my episode four review wrote the following:
I expect Trant to take the place of Ralf the Sweetling and die in a few episodes, so that Arya can scratch one name from her list.
I will leave that as a standing comment regarding Arya’s scenes in this episode.
Before getting to the main plot development of the season, the proverbial dance of the dragons, we have to mention the grotesque scene involving the Baratheon family. Of the burning itself there is not much to say, it was horrible and I watched the last parts of it with the audio turned off, but it was extremely well acted. The actors playing Stannis, Shireen and Selyse have all done a great job this season.
I’d rather seen the writers skip this though, I know there are hints in this direction in the books but it hasn’t happened yet and I’m still hoping it won’t. But even it it does eventually happen in the books, it will seem less like something just done for shock value, since the book makes a bigger out of prophecies and so on. Not to mention that the book, being a book, will perhaps be able to convey more complex emotions than the purely visceral ones. Sometimes I fear that people just tune in to the show to “see what whacky new thing they do this week”, be it nipple-gate in season three, or anything involving Ramsey or in this case the immolation of a child.
The episode ended as I suspected it would, in the arena, to the clash of swords and the roar of dragons. I have to repeat what I’ve said plenty of times before, the masks the harpies wear are brilliant. The short segment when harpies suddenly appeared among the crowds was beautifully done, their dead golden stares are always creepy. Then the spell usually breaks when they start fighting, but that is to be expected.
Besides the harpies, I also liked that Jorah for all intents and purposes lost his fight with the Bravo, or whatever he was. It made sure he doesn’t seem invincible, the show has in the last few episodes threatened making too much of Jorah’s skills and I like that they toned it down now to keep it at a reasonable level. Those kinds of things may not seem relevant but I care about consistency even when it comes to small details like that one.
The only criticism I really have of the scene in the arena, besides Dario running his mouth and spouting bullshit that we could have skipped in favor of more dialog between Tyrion and Daenerys, was that it seemed too easy for Dany to deal with Drogon. He did attack some unsullied as well as harpies, but he did swoop in as more of a savior than a calamity, which I don’t like. Maybe if Barristan Selmy had been alive, and Drogon had tried to burn him but missed or something like that, it would have added the extra sense of danger to the good guys that was missing, but having Selmy in this scene was of course a boat that sailed a long time ago.
This could very well be the last episode with Dany this season, I don’t know if it was but it could be. In that case, I want Hotah and Bronn to clash in Dorne next week, and also for something to happen with Stannis seige of Winterfell that makes Shireens death be more than just a way to traumatize the audience. We shall see how it goes, but either way the season is soon over, and when it is I shall proceed to review the second season of True Detective. Don’t miss it.