GAME OF THRONES Season 5 Finale Recap: “Mother’s Mercy”

     June 14, 2015

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Stannis’ Camp

At the outset of tonight’s finale, Stannis is sticking to his guns in his decision to go to battle with Winterfell … even after half of his army deserts him … with all of his horses … and then he finds his wife dead, having hanged herself … and the Red Priestess Melisandre leaves him in the lurch. Still he marches, to certain doom. More on him in a moment.

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Winterfell

Stannis’ paltry forces march on Winterfell while the Boltons prepare a rather disheartening surprise.  Those who salute the banner of the Flayed Man, all on horseback, ride down Stannis’ beleaguered forces even as most of them scatter and flee. It’s a harrowing scene even if we don’t get a front-and-center view of the carnage. Despite the rout, Stannis remains alive, struggling through the forest past legions of his wounded men. He holds his own against two of Bolton’s men, but is utterly spent by the time Brienne shows up to exact her revenge for the death of Renly Baratheon. And so passes Stannis (or did he?). Was it a deserving end, or did you feel a twinge of regret for Stannis’ death, after so much sacrifice? Do you think he’s actually dead, or maybe not since we didn’t actually see his demise on screen?

Meanwhile, in Winterfell proper, Sansa used her stolen corkscrew to pick a lock and head for the tower in order to light a candle as a last ditch effort at calling for help. Though she manages to send the signal, Brienne, who had been sitting vigil for untold days, had just left in order to confront Stannis. Of course she did, because if you couldn’t tell by now, this show loves twisting the knife deeper into our hearts at every turn.  The lone bright spot in Sansa’s arc is that Reek finally shows a glimpse of remembering his true nature when he throws Ramsay’s sadistic concubine Myranda over the edge to her death. However, the hope is tempered when Theon and Sansa leap to their death (possibly?) from atop the wall of Winterfell. So since we don’t see them meet their ultimate demise on screen, I’m assuming they Assassin’s Creed‘d their way into a hay wagon, deep snow drift, or just shattered their legs, right? Assuming they survived, just where should they travel next? The Eyrie, or perhaps Pyke?


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Braavos

In case you didn’t get enough child abuse on last week’s episode, Ser Meryn Trant now has three young girls in his chambers, and he’s caning them one by one. However, one of them refuses to cry out, no matter how hard he hits her, even to the point of breaking his stick. Arya, in disguise as the face of the girl she helped pass on in a previous episode, then stabs both of his eyes out, gags him, stabs him repeatedly in his chest, back and stomach before chastising him for killing Syrio Florel and landing on her list. She mercifully (and rather slowly) slits his throat to end his life, in what was one of the more drawn-out and, once again, sadistic deaths on the show so far, whether he deserved it or not.

However, Arya’s story is not done. When Jaqen finds out that she took the wrong life, he declares that Arya is not ready. He appears to have killed himself in order to punish Arya and repay the debt she owes the Many-Faced God, but the dead body is actually no one … or everyone. Jaqen appears behind her and says that she is still someone, and “To someone, faces are like poison.” Arya goes blind because, simply, she’s not ready to serve as No One. In my opinion, the end to Arya’s arc this season was handled much better than the rest of it, which saw her bumble along without a proper disguise only to pass up her first assassination assignment. At least now she won’t be able to see any of the people on her list. But will she be able to survive in such a state?

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Dorne

Ah, peaceful, serene, sunny Dorne. Nothing terrible can happen here, right? Jamie, Bronn, and Myrcella are set to head back to King’s Landing with Trystane in tow, though the Baratheon/Lannister princess is worried that her mother won’t like her fiance. When Jamie tries to confess her parentage to her, she says she already knew, and is glad for it. Then, due in part because of Ellaria Sand’s poisoned kiss and in part because anytime there’s a heart-warming moment (even one born of incest) that person has to die, Myrcella Baratheon/Lannister also passes away. So the whole trip to Dorne has been a futile effort for Jamie, much like the time spent there this season. The Sand Snakes showed promise, but were reduced to little more than naked chicks and deliverers of one-liners before long. Maybe next season…


Mereen

Surprisingly, in this land of bloody sand and slavery, we get perhaps the most uplifting moment of the finale. Jorah, Daario, and Tyrion are somehow still alive, as is the bandaged Grey Worm. Daario, taking the place of Wise Old Ser Barristan the Bold, shows some good sense when he suggests that Tyrion stay behind and help to rule Mereen alongside Grey Worm and Missandei. Jorah and Daario, meanwhile, team up to go look for Daenerys. (If ever the Sons of the Harpy wanted to take back Mereen, now’s the time to do it.) And in my favorite moment of the entire finale, Varys shows up to be all buddy-buddy with Tyrion again. With these two in charge of Mereen, I actually think the city has a chance of functioning half-way decently. It’s just a shame we were deprived of their chemistry for the latter part of the season.

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Somewhere Green

Having landed in the highlands and scorched a small herd of cattle, Drogon is still looking rough despite his full belly. Daenerys, however, is being all demanding and wants him to fly her back to Mereen. He’s not having it. So while she wanders out in the open, unescorted, a massive band of Dothraki horsemen encircle her. She’s either in for a really rough night or will be end up being their leader by season six … but will the Dothraki horde cross the narrow sea?

King’s Landing

Now we get to a scene that many book readers had been waiting for. After Cersei confesses her sins to the High Sparrow, he allows her to visit her son in the Red Keep … after her atonement. The Sisters scrub her naked body clean and chop her hair away with a straight razor as the “Rains of Castamere” plays. She stands before all of King’s Landing as the High Sparrow presents her and her sins before removing her last simple garment. Cersei makes the long walk home, naked except for the excrement and rotten food the commoners throw at her, along with their disparaging remarks. Her feet bloodied and her spirit nearly broken, she arrives at the gate to the keep, her sanctuary. She holds back her tears until she’s safely among her tenuous allies.


Qyburn, of all people, is the first decent human to offer her a cloak, while Maester Pycelle simply leers at her. A hulking man – possible spoiler here: the revived Mountain – now acts as the latest member of the King’s Guard, who has taken a vow of silence until all her enemies are dead. Cersei’s face as she contemplates all of those who will fall in bloody heaps before him is absolutely priceless. But I’m curious, did Cersei’s harsh treatment seem a fitting punishment for all the evil she’d wrought? Did you actually feel bad for her, and would you like to see her get some revenge next season?

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Castle Black

And now the moment that most book readers were hoping would not come to pass. After his return from Hardhome, Jon retells Sam of the raising of the dead army by the Night’s King, at which point Sam highlights the importance of Valyrian steel (wink, wink). Sam’s quickly sent off to Oldtown with Gilly and Baby Sam in the hopes that he might complete his Maester training in order to better assist the Lord Commander. How ironic then that Sam could have better assisted him by staying behind…

After Sam leaves, Melisandre arrives to break the bad news to Davos, though she says nothing at all. I wonder what she’s doing at Castle Black… Later, Olly draws Jon Snow out of his office, saying that a Wildling knows where to find Snow’s uncle Benjen alive. (Fuck you, Olly.) It’s obviously a trap. Thorne stabs Jon in the guts, but he’s just the first of a handful of “Brothers” claiming they’re stabbing him toward a slow death for the greater good. (Gripe: Where the fuck was Ghost???)

Now there are a few things that could happen here. One, Jon might not be dead just yet. It’s cold at Castle Black and he might hang on a bit longer than what we saw at episode’s end. There’s also the possibility that, since she’s there anyway, Melisandre will use her voodoo to resurrect Jon (spoiler: a la Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion). Here’s the long odds: Jon’s dead (the end?), and before his body can be burned, the Night’s King will attack Castle Black and raise him as the leader of his undead army. Perhaps Bran will have something to do with his resurrection instead? Stranger things have happened on this show, though the books have not answered this question and the show may differ from George R.R. Martin’s plot points from here on out. Give us your best theories in the comments below!


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Image via HBO

As for the finale, this is one of the more sadistic hours of television I can remember in recent history. That’s all well and good since that what makes Martin’s writing so emotionally charged and what gives the show such a rabid fanbase. That being said, with so much death, darkness, and depravity, there’s so little hope to hold onto that I ask myself, what’s the point? As far as I’m concerned, for both the books and the show, I’m invested to the point that I’ll see it through to the end, but that’s not the same as actually enjoying the experience. Lately it feels like sadism for sadism’s sake; I wouldn’t be surprised if an army of S&M-clad warriors showed up next season to scour the Known World of all humanity.

And still, the final hour did an excellent job at tying up most of the threads of the season. Stannis’ ultimate sacrifice became his ultimate (perhaps) undoing; Snow’s rise to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch led to his fall at his brothers’ hands; Arya’s lack of commitment to the Many-Faced God left her deprived of her most reliable sense; Daenerys’ inability to lead her people was tempered by her innate gift of communing with dragons, even giving her a chance to win over yet another army; and Cersei’s lifetime of sin culminated in a humiliating walk from the most common area of King’s Landing to her home overlooking it, though I highly doubt she’s learned any humility from the experience. So while the finale was unnecessarily painful to the characters within it and the audiences watching it, each of us has only ourselves to blame because we keep coming back for more. Shame, shame, shame.

Episode Rating: ★★★ Very Good

Season Rating: ★★★ Very Good

Miscellanea: 

Melisandre: “The Lord of Light has made good on his promise, my king. The fires have melted the snows away. The way ahead is clear.”

Stannis: “Speak up. Can’t be worse than mutiny.”

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Image via HBO

Jon: “How’s it feel to be friends with the most hated man in Castle Black?”

Jon: “You know the Citadel will make you swear off women, too.” Sam: “They can bloody try.”

Stannis: “Send out a foraging party. Siege begins at sunrise.” Soldier: “There’s not going to be a siege, your grace.”

Ramsay Bolton: “Looks like we’re done here.”

Sansa: “If I’m going to die, at least let it happen while there’s still some of me left.”

Jaqen: “That man’s life was not yours to take. You have stolen from the Many-Faced God. Now a debt is owed, and only death can repay life.”

Jaqen: “To Someone, faces are like poison.”

Tyrion: “Apologies. My Valyrian is a bit nostril.”

Sister: “Shame. Shame. Shame.”

Qyburn: “May I have the honor of presenting the newest member of the King’s Guard.”

Olly: “For the Watch.”

For more Game of Thrones Season 5 finale coverage, peruse the links below:

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