'Game of Thrones': Surprise Move Leads to Jarring and Disturbing Death

Game of Thrones 509 - H 2015
Nick Wall/ HBO

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones, "The Dance of Dragons."]

Can Game of Thrones get any darker?

Stannis (Stephen Dillane) made one of the series' most disturbing moves in Sunday's episode, choosing to burn his own daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) alive in order to jumpstart his quest for the Iron Throne. Shireen screamed for mercy as her father looked on.

Why did he do it? Stannis found himself in an untenable position, with his men mired in the snow and Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) leading a party of twenty raiders to burn their food supplies and kill their horses. With winter only getting worse, Stannis' priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) had previously implored him to sacrifice his daughter to help their cause.

See more 'Game of Thrones': What Happens After You're Killed Off

Death and destruction happen every week on the show, but when it happens to a character the fans love — and an adorable kid none the less — it's all the more gut-wrenching.  
With the series venturing further beyond material that has been released in George R.R. Martin's books, fans have been left to wonder which events in the show will actually happen in the books and what has been invented for the show. Bad news for Shireen fans: showrunner David Benioff said the scene was borne from Martin's mind, confirming the news in a behind-the-scenes segment following the episode.

A few questions linger. Stannis has never been the most cuddly contender for the Iron Throne, but many fans considered him a worthy leader — a man who at the very least understood the threat of the White Walkers and the impending winter. A major theme of the show is that good men can be bad kings and that bad men can be good kings. But is there any hope for Stannis after this horrific act?

Other big developments: 

Daenerys rides! 

After last week's surprise battle pitting Jon Snow against the Night's King, it didn't seem like the show could get any bigger. Wrong. It pulled off one of its most ambitious scenes yet, complete with a gladiatorial battle, followed by a last-minute rescue from Drogon, Daenerys' (Emilia Clarke) previously MIA dragon. She climbed onto his back for the first time, riding to safety as Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and the rest of her entourage looked on in wonder.

See more 'Game of Thrones': 25 Best Quotes

The attack shook up things in other ways. Jorah (Iain Glen) is back in Daenerys' good graces, while her betrothed Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry) didn't make it through the battle. It also illustrates that her position in Meereen truly is untenable. She barely escaped the stadium with her life. Is it time to move on to Westeros? Last episode, Tyrion tried to convince Daenerys to stay in Meereen, but the attack — in addition to how impressed he looked with her dragon prowess — might convince him that it's time for her to make a play for the Iron Throne.

Arya faces a mortal enemy

Arya (Maisie Williams) discovered her enemy Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) has traveled to Braavos, escorting Lord Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) to negotiate with the Iron Bank. Arya has given up her identity to train with the Faceless Men, but she can't let go of her death wish for Trant, who killed her sword instructor Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou) in season one.  Technically, Arya should not take action against Ser Meryn, as that grudge is part of her old life. However, the series is giving viewers plenty of reason to want Arya to act. 

At a brothel, Meryn repeatedly told the proprietor the prostitutes presented to him were "too old," until a serving child (who appeared to be around 12 years old) was presented to him. He was pleased by her age. To make things more disturbing, he returned the hour glass to the proprietor, saying he'd let her know when he was done, and advising her to provide him with another young girl for the next night. In other words, for every day Arya fails to act, there will be another victim.

Jaime and Bronn are safe

Doran (Alexander Siddig) shows mercy to Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), as he has seen the horrors of war and does not want that for Dorne. The deal is that Jaime's daughter/niece Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) may return to King's Landing — but only if Doran's son Trystane Martell (Toby Sebastian) can come along and sit on the Small Council. Trystane seems like a good kid, as he allowed Bronn (Jerome Flynn) to leave relatively unscathed, too. 

There's only one week left until the finale. What do you think will happen? Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Stay tuned to The Live Feed for much more from the show.