A father sacrifices his only child to a fire god and a queen dramatically escapes her attackers on “The Dance of Dragons,” the season-5 penultimate Episode 49 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Would-be-king Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and his troops are bogged down in the snow as they attempt to topple House Bolton in northern Westeros. Making matters worse, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) and 20 commandos sneak into Stannis’ camp and destroy food supplies and weapons.
Now Stannis sees only one path to victory — kill his daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) to appease the Lord of Light. This at the urging of Stannis’ advisor, priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten), who claims there is great power in royal blood.
Stannis walks in on his daughter as she reads “The Dance of Dragons,” the story of a civil war between rival factions of House Targaryen. Stannis tells Shireen he has “no choice” in what happens next.
“If a man knows what he is and remains true to himself, the choice is no choice at all,” Stannis asserts. “He must fulfill his destiny and become who he is meant to be, however much he may hate it.”
Then Shireen is led away and tied to a stake.
“Accept this token of our faith, my Lord, and lead us from the darkness,” Melisandre intones as Shireen burns alive.
At Castle Black, meanwhile, Night’s Watch Lord Commander Jon Snow (Kit Harington) returns with wildling refugees who fled supernatural White Walkers and their army of reanimated corpses.
“You have a good heart, Jon Snow,” remarks Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), a commander who profoundly hates the wildlings. “It’ll get us all killed.”
In the far warmer climes of Dorne, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) makes peace with Prince Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig) and his son Trystane (Toby Sebastian).
Jaime had clandestinely entered Dorne to rescue his “niece” (actually his daughter) Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) after she received death threats from vengeful Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma).
Doran allows Jaime and Myrcella to return to King’s Landing, providing she goes ahead with her marriage to fiancé Trystane.
“If the alliance between the Iron Throne and Dorne is to continue,” Doran emphasizes, “this engagement must stand.”
In Braavos, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is ordered to make her first kill as a trainee with the Faceless Men assassins’ guild. Her target is “the Thin Man” (Oengus MacNamara), who sells insurance to sea captains but often refuses to pay their widows.
The Thin Man lives to see another day, however, when Arya is distracted by the arrival of Lord Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) and his entourage. Mace is visiting the Iron Bank of Braavos in hopes of easing the crushing debt load at King’s Landing.
Finally, Queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) reluctantly oversees the Great Games, in which gladiators entertain the masses by fighting to the death. Dany is shocked when her former advisor, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), enters the ring.
After Jorah barely emerges victorious, he saves Dany’s life by hurling a spear at a masked member of the Sons of the Harpy, an insurgent group determined to restore slavery in Meereen.
Just when Dany is surrounded by rebels and about to be assassinated, her largest and most powerful dragon, Drogon, makes a timely appearance after being AWOL for months.
Not knowing how Drogon will react, Dany tentatively climbs onto the back of her fire-breathing “child” and flies away to safety.
How will Dany respond to this nearly successful rebellion in the Season 5 finale? As long as Dany has Drogon and his two siblings by her side, this “Mother of Dragons” seems invincible.