Welcome back to Compare the Throne, our weekly in-depth look at the differences between HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. Last week we examined how Tyrion and Jorah actually meet with Daenerys (Tyrion ending up in her service, Jorah again exiled) and how Jon Snow personally attends the journey to try to save Hardhome. Like almost every episode this season, this one will likely be remembered for many years to come. Without further delay, let’s get right to the action.
Episode 9 The Dance of Dragons
This episode opens with a twilight shot of the encampment of Stannis’ army. Melisandre senses something is wrong and upon exiting her tent sees several fires break out all over the camp. Ramsay and his twenty men snuck in and burned both the army’s food stores and horses. Stannis finds himself now without the resources to either press forward or return to Castle Black. This does not happen in the books—at least as far we know by the end of book five—as Stannis’ army is stuck in the snow not far from Winterfell.
Jon Snow arrives with the wildlings he was able to save at the North side of the wall of Castle Black. Ser Alliser Thorne stares him down ominously for a moment before ultimately opening the gates and letting them all in. On the other side of the wall, the Night’s Watch brothers solemnly watch as the wildlings pass through. Jon realizes that he is losing the support of the Night’s Watch as a whole and even his squire Olly. This is largely accurate, but the main difference is that it’s not the Hardhome survivors that pass through at this point, it’s the remnants of Tormund’s band of the wildlings, and it’s only after he’s negotiated a tax with Jon Snow for them all to pay in order to pass through.
Stannis gives Davos a direction to head back to Castle Black to ask for food and more horses of the Night’s Watch. He makes the argument that nobody but his hand could formally negotiate on his behalf. Davos visits Shireen and gives her a wooden stag carving as a gift for her helping him learn how to read (and by his words become an adult). This all doesn’t take place in the books as Davos never comes South with Stannis’ army. He’s sent on to White Harbor to attempt to persuade Wyman Manderly to join Stannis’ cause. Also, Shireen is still at Castle Black with her mother and Melisandre.
All the way down in Dorne, Jaime is brought to meet with Prince Doran, his son Trystane Martell, princess Myrcella and Ellaria Sand. Doran questions why Jaime would attempt to steal Myrcella back by force and he explains the threatening message they were sent earlier in the season, Ellaria appears the likely culprit. Doran offers to allow Myrcella to return to King’s Landing with Jaime, so long as Trystane accompanies them and is placed on the seat originally reserved for Oberyn Martell on the small council. The marriage between the two must go on as was originally planned. Ellaria leaves in disgust, but not before Doran issues a warning to her that any further backtalk will cost her nothing less than her life. Jaime inquires as to the safety of Bronn and ultimately negotiates conditions for his release. Down in the dungeons, the Sand Snakes are playing a game of wills slapping each other on the hands. Areo Hotah arrives to retrieve Bronn and Tyene insists that he tell her one more time she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. Upon arriving to where the rest of the group are, he’s overjoyed to learn he’s going to be freed, but the price is a solid punch to the face by Areo Hotah. It’s a fun and engaging scene, but none of this takes place in the books. As we’ve discussed in detail previously, Jaime and Bronn never go to Dorne to attempt to take Myrcella. It’s Arianne Martell that hatches the scheme to try to take her to ignite a war, and as of the end of The Dance of Dragons, Myrcella is still in Dorne.
All the way up in Braavos. Mace Tyrell and Ser Meryn Trant arrive to negotiate with the Iron Bank. Arya is close at hand on her way to murder the insurance man she was ordered to dispose of by Jaqen H’ghar. She aborts her mission at the sight of Meryn Trant and promptly reroutes her day to follow him. She sees them negotiating with an emissary from the Iron Bank and then follows Ser Meryn to a brothel where he disgustingly insists on sleeping only with an underage girl. There’s a moment where Ser Meryn sees her and appears to almost recognize her. Arya is shushed away by the brothel’s madam. Arya returns to the House of Black and White and lies to Jaqen about why the insurance man is not dead. He appears to believe her. It’s noteworthy that in the show Ser Meryn is one of the names on Arya’s list that she counts out to herself every night. Apart from the planned hit on the insurance man, none of this takes place in the books. Mace Tyrell and Ser Meryn never journey to negotiate with the Iron Bank in Braavos. Though, Arya does take a detour of sorts killing a certain night’s watch brother that has clearly forgotten his vows.
Prince Doran gives Ellaria the chance to survive by pledging her allegiance to him. She does so tearfully. Then, she visits Jaime in his quarters and has an awkward conversation with him where she hints she’s aware of his love affair with Cersei and that he likely had nothing to do with the death of her lover Oberyn. Again, for the same reasons listed above, none of this happens in the books.
Back at Stannis’ encampent, Stannis visits Shireen in her tent. She recounts to him how she is reading The Dance of Dragons (the book in the story not the book in real life) and what the story details, how two siblings divided notion of who should rule the Seven Kingdoms more or less devastated the country. He vaguely implies to her that a man often knows his choice even before he’s been asked to make it, and that he knows he about to do something terrible. Shireen can sense that her father is troubled and offers to do anything she can to help, unaware of the impending threat. She’s marched off to a makeshift stake. As soon as she sees Melisandre she knows what’s about to happen. She frantically calls for her father and mother. Stannis stands by unwavering and watches as his only child is affixed to the cross and is set ablaze, screaming through every moment. Queen Selyse breaks from her usual unending fervor for the Lord of Light and makes a last ditch attempt to save her daughter, but it is too late and guards stop her from reaching the stake. Shireen burns alive in front of Stannis’ entire army. Now, this gets really tricky, as show creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff reveal in the inside the episode vignette after the episode that the idea to have this done to Shireen came from George R.R. Martin himself. It’s not said for sure, but it’s likely this is what he had in mind to happen to Shireen later in the books after the last part we’ve seen her in book five. It may well be the show has now actually finally gotten to the point where it has spoiled something from the novels. By the end of book five, Shireen is still alive and well at Castle Black with her mother and Melisandre. Expectedly, fans and pundits everywhere are outraged, as Shireen was quite possibly the sweetest, nicest character on the show, and never done anything wrong to anyone.
And lastly, upping the ante on the finale of last week’s episode at Hardhome, comes the great melee at the grand re-opening of Mereen’s fighting pit championships. Daenerys, Missandei, Daario Naharis and Tyrion are seated at the high dais of honor above the pits. Daenerys’ husband to be Hizdahr zo Loraq arrives late claiming he was just making sure everything is ready. As the first combatants are brought out, each makes a confident statement about how they are willing to fight and die for their queen. Hizdahr indicates she needs to clap her hands to give them the signal that it’s okay to begin. She does so after a long pause and the crowd goes wild with ferocious, bloodthirsty glee. As the first contest is underway, Hizdahr and Daario argue about whether strength or speed is the greater asset in a life-or-death battle. Tyrion expresses a disdain for this type of entertainment. Strong wins, and the quicker combatant is beheaded. As the next 3 pairs of combatants are brought forth, the debate continues until everyone realizes the final fighter is none other than Jorah Mormont. Daenerys is clearly vexed beyond words at his presence, but ultimately claps for the fight to begin. Twice Jorah is nearly slain, but ultimately prevails. Right when it looks like he is going to drive a spear into his final foe, he instead throws it straight towards the dais, perfectly striking a masked Son of the Harpy that was attempting to kill Daenerys unaware. As the group realizes what happens, everyone realizes to their horror that the stands are now half represented by masked Sons of the Harpy assassins. All hell breaks lose as Daario calls for the Unsullied to protect their queen. Tyrion narrowly saves Missandei’s life. Hizdahr is stabbed in the heart by the killers. They all run for it but find the nearest gate blocked and shut. They make a stand surround by nearly a hundred Sons of the Harpy. As they are slowly closed in on, Daenerys takes Missandei’s hand and closes her eyes, seemingly prepared to accept her fate. Then, a wild roar is heard in the distance. Fire and wind greet the return of her large black dragon Drogon. He lands in the pit, quickly rips a man in half with his bare teeth and then sets half the of the remainder on fire. As assassins start to land spears in him, Daenerys bravely approaches him face first. He lets out a mighty scream right in her face, but ultimately relents recognizing her. She climbs on his back and softly urges him to fly. She flies off into the distance as Jorah, Tyrion, Missandei and Daario look on in amazement.
Now, most of this does happen in the book, just for slightly different reasons. First of all, Daenerys is already married to Hizdahr (and the marriage has been consummated). He does not get stabbed. Daario is not present, angry at the marriage taking place. Barristan Selmy is still alive and is present along with a character not in the show, Strong Belwas. Jorah is not present in any way. Tyrion shows up in the games, but only as a comedy spectacle with Pretty Pig, Crunch and their owner Penny. The plot against Daenerys is apparently carried out only with poisoned honeyed locusts (which Strong Belwas is the only victim of, though not killed). There is no mass slaughter perpetrated by the Sons of the Harpy. Drogon shows up, mostly because he senses the conflict and he only barely recognizes Daenerys. It takes a whip for her to cow him enough to jump onboard to ride him away. And, no one is really sure if she even survived the flight away.
Nevertheless, this might be one of the most impressive moments in television history. Never before has been something of such scale and impressive quality been put forth outside of a movie. For the story and high-caliber acting alone in this scene it will rank as one of TV’s greatest moments.