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Game Of Thrones Recap: Thank Heaven For Little Girls

This show doesn’t trust viewers to recognise villainy unless we see it inflicted on female characters.

This is a recap of the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. Spoilers.

If Matthew Weiner were put in charge of Game of Thrones, I bet he would have played this song over episode nine’s closing credits:

Just as Maurice Chevalier sounds super sleazy and wrong, something about the way Game of Thrones uses girls as pawns sits badly with viewers. “Too old!” barks the villainous Ser Meryn Trant in the Braavosi brothel. “Too old!” It was like watching a Hollywood casting session. Of course Ser Meryn turns out to be a Humbert – this show just doesn’t trust viewers to recognise villainy unless we see it inflicted on female characters.

This episode focused on relationships between girls and older men. Arya Stark’s desire to cross Ser Meryn off her death list leads her to rashly abandon her make-or-break mission of poisoning the dockside insurance shyster. Myrcella remains a bargaining chip between her uncle-dad Jaime and Prince Doran Martell (basically the only person in Dorne who’s not a total embarrassment). Ser Jorah Mormont’s dogged love for his Khaleesi finally pays off. And as for poor Princess Shireen…

I found this episode thrilling rather than exploitative or dishonest to character. It didn’t hesitate to make things happen. While earlier episodes this season have felt torpid, as if the showrunners were losing their forward momentum, this week saw an emphatic payoff for moments that were seeded weeks – and sometimes whole seasons – ago.

But let’s get the less interesting plotlines out of the way. Jon Snow, the Moses of the North, leads the rescued wildlings back to the Wall, where for a long moment it seems Ser Alliser Thorne won’t let them in. He does – but he doesn’t like it, warning that Jon’s “good heart” will “get us all killed”. When will these black-clad bigots realise what they’re really up against?

Dorne

“I’m so sorry we squandered these gorgeous locations.”

Jaime and Bronn’s incredibly stupid Dornish adventure ends with surprising cordiality, as the wily Doran arranges for Trystane to travel to King’s Landing with Myrcella to take up Oberyn’s old seat on the Small Council. Everyone’s happy – Bronn’s tit-for-tat punch to the face notwithstanding – except Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes. After pouring her wine on the ground in poor grace, Ellaria is forced to tearfully kiss Doran’s ring as the Sand Snakes make comically distressed faces.

snakes

LOL

Then she… apologises to Jaime for threatening his daughter?

A girl is discovering the wonderful world of sexual objectification.

Some might find Arya’s “Oysters, clams’n’cockles!” costermonger cry amusingly suggestive. But to her, a clam is just a clam – until some hurr-hurring bozo treats Lana the coster-girl to her first taste of street harassment. She doesn’t break character – Arya Stark would’ve lopped off his cockles in a trice.

But when Ser Meryn shows up in Braavos, as I predicted Arya just can’t play it cool at all when given the chance to avenge her dancing master Syrio Forel. Her opportunistic brothel surveillance trip reveals a new and lewd adult world. Has Ser Meryn recognised Arya, or is she only an especially fresh clam to him? And can she use her illicit sex appeal to get him alone, gut him with her oyster knife, poison the Thin Man on her way home, and be back at the House of Black and White in time for tea?

GoT baratheon BBQ

Okay. You might be all, “But Stannis saved Shireen from greyscale! How could he straight-up barbecue her now, just when I was getting to like him?” Stannis himself answers that question for you: “Sometimes a person has to choose. Sometimes the world forces his hand. If a man knows what he is, and remains true to himself, the choice is no choice at all. He must fulfil his destiny and become who he is meant to be.”

We know that Stannis is stubborn and uncompromising. He believes his is the righteous claim to the Iron Throne, and even had his own rival brother Renly murdered. Even now that Ramsay’s guerrilla strike force has neatly sabotaged his food, horses and siege machinery, he refuses to retreat to Castle Black.

But more than this, Melisandre has Stannis convinced he’s the reincarnation of Azor Ahai, who within the faith of R’hllor is the Prince That Was Promised to defeat the White Walkers when they rise again. Remember that beach bonfire at Dragonstone back in season two, when Stannis wielded a flaming sword and Melisandre predicted he would betray his family, but it would all be worth it? And remember the season three finale, when Melisandre told Stannis: “Death marches on the Wall. Only you can stop him”?

Carice-van-Houten-Photo-Helen-Sloan-HBO

“It will all be over soon, princess.”

One of the cornerstones of the prophecy is that, to gain his true powers, Azor Ahai was forced to murder his beloved wife, Nissa Nissa. If Stannis believes he is Azor Ahai, then to him, killing his own child isn’t a cruel, bloodthirsty act, but a reluctant sacrifice to help him fulfil his destiny. And he’s not a total monster; he rebuffed Melisandre when she first suggested it.

To me, Shireen’s innocent eagerness to help her dad was what finally tipped Stannis over. And because Stannis never goes back, he was brutally resolute in witnessing Shireen’s horrifying immolation. Selyse, who’s always despised Shireen, broke down on hearing her anguished cry of “Mother!” Too late, she realises that motherhood is what she’s craved above all else, and now she’s losing it.

Ser Davos knows what it is to lose children to Stannis’s mania – his sons perished at the Blackwater. The little Baratheon stag he whittles for Shireen is a potent symbol of paternal love, gratitude and loyalty. Davos knows why he’s being sent to fetch emergency rations: when he gets back there will be no doe.

I appreciated the inexorable way Shireen’s death played out. If the writers had allowed Stannis, or Davos, or anyone else to save her, it would have undermined everything Stannis’s storyline has been leading up to. I suspect Stannis will discover, in true tragic irony, that he’s not the prophesied hero after all. Indeed, in Volantis Tyrion and Varys saw another Red Priestess preach that Daenerys is Azor Ahai. Some fan theories even hold that it’s Jon Snow.

“And they named it ‘Meereen’, which of course in Ghiscari means a whale’s vagina.”

In Meereen, Daenerys is presiding over her first Great Games, as Hizdahr, Daario and Tyrion jostle to say the cleverest stuff about it. When Ser Jorah finally enters the arena – as the ‘Westerosi knight’ in a motley group of world fighters – his yearning gaze at Dany could power cities. It looks like he might get his wish to die for her – but instead, he lobs a spear!

Is this an assassination attempt? Is it what! But not by Ser Jorah, whose spear handily skewers a lurking Son of the Harpy. Shit, these guys are suddenly everywhere, stabbing basically whoever they come across. Seriously, how did they forge so many identical gold masks? I mean, it’s not like buying Guy Fawkes masks on Amazon. Gold is expensive.

Was this Hizdahr’s doing? Probably not, because he cops a multiple stabbing. Tenderly, Ser Jorah takes Dany’s hand – is he forgiven? Guess so. But the Unsullied are frickin’ hopeless without their (presumably still recuperating) leader Grey Worm, and it’s up to an increasingly embattled Daario, Jorah, and dagger-wielding Tyrion to protect Daenerys and Missandei…

“Mum! Mum! Look at me, Mum! I roasted him! MUM!

The Dance of the Dragons – the history book Princess Shireen reads – is a notorious Westerosi civil war modelled on the 12th-century English succession crisis known as the Anarchy. Like the real-life Empress Maud, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen was her father’s chosen heir, but battled her half-brother for the Iron Throne because her patriarchal society baulked at a female ruler. Unlike England, Westeros has never had a queen regnant.

But girls to the front! I was thrilled when Drogon descended into the pit to unleash sick burns. Seeing her baby harpooned, Dany mounts him and flies away – the first Targaryen dragon-rider in 150 years. After ruling Meereen, pretty badly, for nearly two whole seasons, at last Dany is outside the box. Thank heaven.

Game of Thrones airs on Foxtel’s Showcase on Mondays at 11am, with an encore broadcast at 7.30pm on Monday evenings.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk

Read her recaps of Game of Thrones here