The HBO fantasy drama “Game of Thrones” has shocked and divided fans again following the airing of its most recent episode.
“Thrones” aired its ninth episode, the second-to-last in its fifth season, on June 7. (Spoilers for the installment follow…)
The show had already sparked debate among fans for its portrayals of sexual violence against women. But the newest episode included a disturbing scene of a different type. In “Thrones,” Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), brother of a now-deceased king, is determined to take the throne himself and is mounting an attack on the castle Winterfell, which is currently held by his enemies, House Bolton. When one of the Boltons conducts a raid on Stannis’s camp and ruins the majority of his army's food and supplies, Stannis begins to listen to the urgings of his priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) that his daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) must be sacrificed to ensure his victory.
Stannis gives his consent for it to be done. His wife, Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald), tries to save her daughter but is unsuccessful.
Has the show made one dark choice too many? And did the narrative choice make sense, or was it simply made for shock value?
It’s another disturbing sequence for “Thrones” fans and some found it to be too much. (In addition, this plotline apparently has not yet happened in the books.) Mashable writer Michael Rougeau wrote of the episode, “It doesn’t get any worse than that on ‘Game of Thrones’ … [it] was one of the worst things this show has ever done … Whatever redeeming qualities he may have, the dude just sacrificed his own daughter.”
Salon writer Libby Hill wrote of the character, “It makes sense to weep for Shireen Baratheon but to do so would be an exercise in futility. Because Shireen Baratheon was a girl and there is nothing in Westeros or beyond that holds as much value while simultaneously being so completely worthless … At some point, what 'Game of Thrones' has to realize is that there’s no need to continually remind audiences that the world at large is a dangerous and cruel place for women."
Some felt the scene didn’t make sense creatively, with Slate writers Jamelle Bouie and Miriam Krule declaring that “this week’s worst person in [‘Thrones’ country] Westeros [is] Stannis Baratheon" and Krule writing that "[the scene was] one of the most painful scenes we’ve had to watch in ‘Game of Thrones’ history ... What happened this week felt so completely impossible to me because I couldn’t imagine him doing this of his own free will.” Bouie disagreed, writing that “Stannis may love his daughter, but she – like everything else in his life – is subordinate to his mission, which is reuniting the Seven Kingdoms under the rightful king.” (Stannis had previously had his brother, Renly, who also wanted to be king, killed.)
But most fans on Twitter were simply outraged.