Warning: if you have read the whole book, this episode will not be entirely interesting and trilling to you. But if you haven't, this will be very thrilling.
Spoilers through Season 5 of ‘Game of Thrones’ follow.
I won’t mince words: I’m very unhappy with tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Dance of Dragons.” It’s not that it was a bad episode. Quite the contrary. It was thrilling and tragic and intense.
It was also one of the most disturbing, baffling and unnecessary departures from the books we’ve seen yet—and wholly inconsistent with one of the most powerful moments of the season.
That moment was when Stannis Baratheon told his daughter, Shireen, how he found a way to save her from the greyscale—to save her life, against all odds, when she was just a baby. When he was told to send his sick daughter to Old Valyria to live out her days with the stone men, he refused.
“Because you did not belong across the world with the bloody stone-men,” he told her at the time. “You are the princess Shireen of the House Baratheon and you are my daughter.”
She repeated those words back to him tonight, after Stannis sent Davos Seaworth away so that he would not intervene. And then Stannis Baratheon, the man who would be king, burned his own daughter at the stake to give Melisandre the magic she needs to break through the snow and ice. We even get two heart-warming scenes where the young, smart, brave, kind girl tells both Davos and Stannis about the book she’s reading, the titular “Dance of Dragons” which is all about the horribleness of war. Not that Stannis will listen to her.
All I can say, to HBO and to the showrunners, is good grief what a monstrosity of a writing decision. What a horrible, no-good, very bad, infuriating way to ruin Stannis as a character and to twist the events of these stories beyond recognition in such a grotesque manner. It’s one thing to get rid of Jeyne Poole and place Sansa in her plight instead—at least it furthers the story of Sansa and saves a bit character from a horrible fate.
But killing off Shireen this way absolutely decimates Stannis as a character (the show already ruined Barristan Selmy, and now it’s ruined Stannis, too.) It renders his passionate, moving speech to his daughter meaningless. It makes him not so much a hard-to-like good guy struggling against the villains, but a villain himself and one of the worst we’ve seen. Even the ever-deplorable Cersei would never stoop so low. Even Roose Bolton treats his horrible, sadistic son better than this.
It’s also a bait-and-switch. We finally see Stannis’s softer side, we finally warm a bit to his character, and then he kills his daughter. It’s terrible storytelling. Surprisingly bad.