Episode: 509
Airdate: June 7, 2015
Directed by: David Nutter
Showrunners: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss (creators); George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire” by); David Benioff & D.B. Weiss (written for television by)

Penultimate episodes of Game of T|hrones have traditionally been focused on shocking plot turns (Seasons 1 and 3), or on larger-than-life battles (Seasons 2 and 4), so what does the second-to-last episode of Season 5 hold in store? Following last week’s amazing battle (and overall fantastic episode – read my review here), showrunners Benioff and Weiss seem to have chosen to throw their creative climax at us one episode earlier than usual, and now they have two more episodes to set the table heading into the long inter-season hiatus rather than the usual one. While it’ll be hard to outdo “Hardhome,” there are still plenty of storylines left dangling – and there’s always the danger that we could see more missteps like those we’ve seen in the episodes leading up to last week’s opus (Episode 506 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” was particularly egregious). That said, based on the pattern of previous seasons, I suspect we may be in for some sort of a shock ending to this week’s episode – I have my thoughts on this, which I’ll discuss below. For the preview video, and my speculation on what this week will bring us, click through after the break.

<Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 9 “The Dance of Dragons” will include discussion of events from recent episodes, as well as speculation about what we might see in upcoming episodes.>>

The best thing about what’s happening in Game of Thrones for me, as a viewer, is that large sections of the show have not only caught up with George R.R. Martin’s books, but have surpassed them into uncharted territory. While there have been some pretty major changes to events that are covered in the book (such as events at Hardhome last week, as well as some characters being dead in the books but not in the show), the spirit has remained true to the source material; most changes have had more to do with condensing the material than in changing it in any fundamental way. Now, I get to be just as surprised as someone who hasn’t read the books, and this has got me on the edge of my seat heading into the next two episodes (well, not literally – I do have to work and stuff between shows). That said, I have a pretty clear notion of just exactly what the shock ending I alluded to above will be, because it’s an event from the books that not only makes sense for the current stream of events, and it hasn’t happened yet. I’ll make my prognostications at the end of this article, with text roll-over masking so that you don’t get any book spoilers if you don’t choose to.

First, let’s begin by parsing out the episode summary from IMDB:

Jon returns to the wall. Arya runs into someone from her past. Mace visits the Iron Bank. Stannis faces a difficult decision. Daenerys oversees a celebration of athleticism.

I have a bad feeling about this

I have a bad feeling about this

Mostly straightforward, with a couple of mysteries. Jon’s return is going to be problematic (more on that when I look at the promo video below), but is the obvious next step after saving those he could at Hardhome. Arya running into someone from her past. Hmm. For a moment I thought it might be Mace Tyrell, as we see that he’s going to be in Braavos this episode; however, I don’t believe that she ever met him (certainly not in the timeframe the show has covered, and it’s doubtful she’d remember him from when she was a small child, if she’d ever even met him). Off the top of my head, then, there are only two people that she might run into: Varys, returning from Volantis, or her old sword instructor, Syrio Forel. Remember, we never did see his body following his fight with the Lannister men. If he survived, Braavos would be a natural destination for him, as it was his home. If it is Syrio, I have no idea what plot point it will service; if it’s Varys, however, expect him to see finding Arya as a political opportunity. (All that said, I’d be very surprised to see Varys show up in Braavos – his motivations should move him further eastward as he seeks to counsel Dany in Meereen, despite having lost Tyrion.)

Is Ser Davos more loyal to the father, or the child?

Is Ser Davos more loyal to the father, or the child?

Mace’s visit to the Iron Bank is in his capacity as Master of Coin, so makes perfect sense – the Iron Throne is deep in hock, and he’ll be looking to negotiate better terms (although he’s not the brightest or best for that kind of job). Of more interest is Stannis’s “difficult decision.” While the promotional trailer indicates that his camp will be attacked (likely by Ramsay and his “twenty good men”), I don’t think this is the decision he has to make. Recall a couple of episodes back when Melisandre basically told him that she needed more blood to work miracles for him, and hinted that Shireen, Stannis’s daughter, had the right kind of blood in her veins? This week might give us a sense of just how serious/desperate Stannis is about his claim to power. While he won me over with his wonderful talk with his daughter a few episodes back, choosing to sacrifice Shireen would be an unforgivable move – and would likely result in revolt within his own ranks. For all that she sees in the fires, I don’t think Melisandre is as prescient as she presents.

The happy couple...

The happy couple…

And Dany will be overseeing the reopening of the fighting pits, something that’s been building for several episodes now, and, combined with the title of the episode, could mean we’re in for some dragon dancing. The big question will be what she’ll do when she inevitably sees Ser Jorah in the pits. Will she feed him to Drogon? Forgive him? Exile him a third time? This could end up being a great opportunity for Dany to show her compassion as a leader – have her angered by his arrival, but allowing him to fight, whereupon he takes a grievous wound and his grayscale is revealed, allowing Dany to forgive him and for him to die, tidying the whole messy affair up neatly. But personally, I think the Drogon snack option would be pretty cool too – he’s already a dead man walking, so might as well provide some entertainment for the crowd.

We get quite a lot more from the short promo video released by HBO earlier this week:

We open on a shot of the giant Wun Wen with Jon and the wildlings as they approach the Wall, Ser Alliser and others atop it looking down. A stand-off is indicated between Jon and Ser Alliser – will the newly minted First Ranger resist allowing the newly minted Lord Commander back through to Castle Black? I suspect yes, but only after some angry words and disgusted looks. Next to Dorne, where Prince Doran gives Jaime a hard choice. Dorne has been terribly under-utilized this season, what with all the build-up it had at Comic Con last year with the casting announcements, and the promise that Prince Oberyn’s angered Sand Snake daughters seemed to have. I doubt they’ll recoup this storyline before the season is over, but hopefully they can do something to make it at least relevant. We get quick shots of Bronn languishing in his cell, and one of the Sand Snakes – Tyene, who cut him in a fight and later gave him an antidote to her poison – looking concerned.

A girl has work to do

A girl has work to do

Cut to Braavos, with a glance of Jaqen H’ghar fading to Arya, in her guise as shellfish monger, approaching the shady insurance salesman she scouted last week, and choosing a vial (not of vinegar, I suspect) while we hear Jaqen in voiceover: “A girl has work to do.” We cut to her watching intently, a look such as a child might have as they watch a spider taking a fly in its web.

Next we get Stannis’s camp near Winterfell. I looks as though things are going somewhat awry for the erstwhile king. As he says in voiceover, “If a man knows what he is, he must fulfill his destiny,” we get shots of tents on fire and horses riding through the camp, a scene of Ser Davos and then Melisandre, lit by firelight, looking concerned, and ending on Stannis walking through his camp (this scene looks to be out of order, as the tents appear fully intact behind him). We end in Meereen, as Daenerys reopens the fighting pits. It looks quite the spectacle, and these scenes will likely be the centerpiece of the episode.

So we get to see a little action (Stannis under attack), a little tension (Jon and Ser Alliser), a little dullness (Dorne in general), a little assassination (Arya’s christening, as it were), and a perhaps not-so-little spectacle (the fighting pits). While the fighting pits have a lot of potential, and should be exciting (especially if Ser Jorah makes his appearance), none of these are the big caliber ending we’ve come to expect from penultimate episodes of this series. I think there’s likely something more that Benioff and Weiss are hiding from us. To figure out what that is, I’m turning to the books; if you don’t want to be spoiled by an event that is in the books, and will likely be in the show (I think it’ll happen this week), don’t read the next couple of paragraphs. If you want to get my take, simply highlight the paragraphs with your mouse in order to reveal the text.

I fully expect the shock ending to occur in the final moments of the episode, and for it to occur at the Wall. Jon will be allowed back through by Ser Alliser and the others still at Castle Black, but when he is least expecting it, several members of the Watch – including, tragically, the young Olly – will turn on Jon and stab him, intoning “For the Watch” as they do so. This is a scene from A Dance with Dragons, and the episode’s title firmly suggests that we’re going to be seeing something from that book; Jon’s apparent assassination fits the time and the place perfectly. I do say apparent, because in the book things are left hanging. It certainly seems as though Jon is dead when we leave him, but it is not definite – and there are several ways in the world of Game of Thrones whereby an apparently dead character can be brought back to life. We’ve seen at least two already: the first was when Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie ran into the Brotherhood without Banners. Ser Beric Dondarrion is killed in single combat by the Hound, and Thoros of Myr, a Red Priest who follows the same god – R’hllor – as Melisandre, is able to resurrect him, healed but scarred; the second happened just last week, as the Night’s King raised the hordes of dead wildlings in order to join his army – how alive they actually are is, however, somewhat debatable.

As I am going with book spoilers in this section, I’ll mention that there is a third way in which Jon might survive the attack (beyond simply, you know, surviving with injuries and all): he could warg into another body, likely his Direwolf Ghost. Bran is the stronger skinchanger, but Jon has also shown an affinity for this skill, and in a moment of great stress might find himself inhabiting Ghost’s body. However, I feel that we might see something more along the lines of Ser Beric’s resurrection. Don’t be surprised if Melisandre somehow manages to get her fingers into Jon, bringing him back from the dead. The Night’s King’s methods are no option whatsoever.

You know nothing, Jon Snow

You know nothing, Jon Snow

So there you have it – we had the big battle last week, so I don’t expect to see another this time around. Instead, much like in the other odd-numbered seasons, expect Season 5’s ninth episode to end on a shocker. While perhaps not Red Wedding level, I think we’re going to see a lot of tears, and the requisite flood of reaction videos going up over the next several days.

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