Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 9: Gazing Longingly Into the Abyss

A weekly conversation between an avid Game of Thrones fan, and someone who has actively avoided it until now.

Scaachi Koul is a senior writer at BuzzFeed Canada, formerly the managing editor of Hazlitt. Her debut collection of essays, The Pursuit of...

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Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt’s senior editor. ...

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Scaachi: As always, Game of Thrones dazzles me with a spectacular final scene and makes me furious with pretty much everything that came before it.

Haley: Yep, that’s the way this goes.

Scaachi: The most pressing concern I have is about this child sacrifice. Please explain.

Haley: The only explanation I can offer you is that Game of Thrones is hitting the “corrupting power of religion” theme as hard as possible this season.

Stannis used a blood sacrifice to defeat some un-vanquishable foes in earlier seasons, and it would appear he’s now become a character who is willing give up everything, including his own humanity, to fulfill his destiny. The book Shireen was reading was important: in this moment, Stannis steps out of reality and into existence-as-myth. How else could someone possibly do something like this? He’s now a character in his own life, driven by a misguided sense of entitlement that is fuelled by Melisandre’s religious fervour. 

Stannis’ relationship with his daughter has always been the only humanizing element of his character: his interactions with his wife, Davos, Melisandre, we get the sense that they’re all in service of something. Until this episode, we understood that, much like with Cersei, we’d only see the best of Stannis when he was with his child. It was especially impactful because, in the world of Game of Thrones, Shireen provided no real strategic value to her throne-obsessed father. She would be neither an eligible match for a princeling from any other House, nor much more than a symbolic heir to the throne he’s yet to actually sit on, and yet we thought he was able to love her beyond his ambition. But now we know he merely saw her as an extension of himself, and her contribution to the cause trumped any bond they may have had. In sacrificing Shireen, he also sacrificed his own humanity.

Scaachi: This show hits some varied thematic notes, but many of them have to do with murder and ruining nice things. I thought that poor girl was being burned because she was becoming a rock person, which seems to be a surprisingly slow process.

Speaking of rock people, how is it that these people can have big massive fight sequences and think they have the time to look at each other longingly while there are stabbings happening around them.

Daenerys. Look up. Girl. Come on. Now is not the time.

Haley: Shireen’s illness was cured when she was young, but I do wonder if the remaining visual evidence is part of why the soldiers were able to look on so heartlessly instead of intervening. Greyscale carries a lot of stigma.

Back to Meereen: there is always time for a longing gaze.

Scaachi: No there isn’t, Haley, now is the time for murder, not lust.

Seriously though, are those two in love or related or what?

Haley: Daenerys and Jorah? He was in love with her, he betrayed her, she banished him. She looked up to him and trusted him but didn’t like him “that way.” But he was her closest confidante and it turned out he was spying on her. Hence all the banishing.

Jorah is my most-hated Game of Thrones character, but that spear-throwing scene almost redeemed him for me.

Scaachi: That’s your most hated character? Seriously? I feel like you haven’t been listening to all the bad things I have to say about Jon Snow this entire time, and Haley, I still really hate Jon Snow.

Haley: Please explain why you hate him.

Scaachi: I just think he is so exquisitely useless and yet, people have some warped sympathy or affection for him. Why? Why? What has he done to merit this?! He’s so boring! And not to make this a man vs. woman thing but if a female character were that useless, this show probably would have fed her to literal dragons by now.

I’m getting hot about this. I’m sorry.

Haley: Did you miss the part of the last episode where he saved a village full of people?

Scaachi: I refuse to give him credit for that, it’s not like he was the only one fighting.

But I take your point, maybe I have been irrationally hard on Jon Snow but I just don’t like it when other people like someone this much.

Haley: Well, his default look is gazing-longingly-into-the-abyss, and I feel like you don’t like that sort of thing.

Scaachi: It’s true, I hate gazing.

Did you enjoy this episode? Did it advance the plot enough for you?

Haley: I have a lot of feelings about this episode. The end scene, in Meereen, was one of my favourites of the whole series. As I was watching Shireen’s death, I felt like it was totally gratuitous and out of sync with how they’ve built those characters, but now I’m not so sure. The Dorne scenes were … okay, I guess. The idea of Jaime and Ellaria interacting more is something I am very into.

Scaachi: And what of Arya, and that nightmare she walked into?

Haley: This will be a major test for her. Will she abandon her task to carry out her own vendetta? My guess is … probably.

Scaachi: I’m fine with that because her task was weird and I did not get it. 

A lot of this show, I’m finding, is them saying, “Okay, look at this, ha ha, never mind, look over here now.”

Haley: Yeah, from the very beginning, that’s been a large part of how the story is told. “Root for this guy! Nope, there goes his head. Okay so now, root for his son! Oops, nope, he’s dead too.” It reminds me of the constant betrothals and the promised power that is given and taken as those deals are made and broken.

Scaachi: Which I think can be really interesting but I find a lot of this rather confusing!

Haley: Yes, fair enough! And with so many plot lines occurring, it can be hard to know where to invest attention.

But I think that’s what keeps people so invested in this show. Because they’re so good at switching on a dime, you never get that sense of complacency. It’s never a known quantity.

Scaachi: That’s true. I can never blame the show for not trying.

Haley: A is for effort, D is for Dragons.

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