Once again, Game of Thrones reminds us that the series owes us – and our feelings – nothing (no “fan favourite”, no “hero” to root for – nothing), and the showrunners are still committed, despite all the book differences this season, to showing what an inventive, murderous author George RR Martin is by staying faithful to the big, heartbreaking happenings in his story. Never before has a GoT Season Finale topped the penultimate episode in terms of brutality and death. Like “The Rains of Castamere”, “Mother’s Mercy” has irrevocably changed the direction of the show and has left us with a whole heap of questions to mull over until Season 6 begins next year. Don’t believe me? Go check Twitter.
As it turns out, Melisandre is full of it and her spellbinding power over Stannis is finally broken as he realises that the Red Woman has abandoned his cause, alongside half of his army. To top that off, his wife has just succumbed to grief for Shireen and hung herself. So what does Stannis do? He still marches forward, placing honour above everything else despite that beautiful wide-angle shot of Roose Bolton’s army meeting his own head-on in the snow. This wasn’t going to be a siege like Stannis expected, this was always going to be a slaughter.
Unfortunately we don’t seem to have much time for The War in the North, but it’s the aftermath that matters the most. Ramsay is off killing those who surrender, while Stannis is wounded in the woods, the last man standing until he runs into Brienne, who finally gets to avenge Renly. Killing off a character with so much riding on him isn’t new to the show, of course, and it’s a stark (pun intended) reminder that death is less about gimmickry for Game of Thrones and more about subverting narrative conventions. Of course, it keeps the show interesting, and it’s challenging to those who are a bit too spoiled by all the fan-service that hold most series back. Just last week there was a massive outcry against the writers, accusing them of ruining Stannis’ character development as if we want to bog the show down and make it a linear narrative without the complexities and game-changing moments it has been about ever since Jamie pushed Bran out of a window. This isn’t CW, this is HBO; fan-service and catering to a more superficial crowd who just want entertainment is not going to happen.
With Stannis gone and only Davos and The Red Woman left from that storyline, who are both now back at Castle Black, the remaining shreds of The War of The Five Kings have dissolved and that huge part of Game of Thrones is over. But this is just one of the ways this episode has reinvented the series.
Before we get to discussing that gut-wrenching ending, let’s stay at Winterfell a bit longer, where we get some closure from the Sansa/Reek storyline. While lighting the candle in the tower didn’t end up doing much, Sansa takes it upon herself to try escape but is stopped by Myranda and Reek. We all knew what was coming with Reek in the picture, but that didn’t make it any less sweeter. Reek throws Myranda to her death and takes Sansa as Ramsay is marching back to Winterfell. Them jumping over the wall is a cliffhanger but I highly doubt anyone would buy that they just fall to their death. It’s going to be interesting to see how they get away from Ramsay next year.
Circling back to the books, Sam started his journey to Old Town to become a Maester and defy his father. This shows book readers that Sam heading to Old Town actually may play a crucial part in the endgame of the series, since for awhile there it looked the entire storyline had been scrapped. It’s a rushed way to wrap Sam up, but it promises him some worthy material next season. Unless we skip him completely like Bran this year.
With all the death thrown at fans this episode, at least one was satisfying. Arya stabbing the FUCK out of Meryn Trant was a gloriously gory sequence that felt triumphant as the girl who is supposed to be no one taunted the pedophile knight by stating the reason for his death and who was killing him. Arya straying from her training didn’t sit well with the Many-Faced God though and her punishment is particularly severe. First, we see that Jaqen really is nobody and him killing himself has little consequence as he is just a faceless ghost, Second, Arya is now blind as her punishment.
We visit Dorne one last time and get Jamie and Bronn the hell out of there before bad acting threatens to infect them for good. Everything seems nice, peaceful, and undramatic, plus we get a truly D-Grade, straight-to-DVD film worthy line from Tyene to reinforce how it’s a good thing these three weren’t focused on more this season. Even Ellaria has come around as she apologises to Princess Myrcella and kisses her directly on the lips. After the relief that Bronn is still alive passes, we get a nice scene from Jamie and his daughter, who reveals to him that she knows his secret and is absolutely fine with it. And then the poison begins to take effect. Myrcella dying (most likely) in her father’s arms was tragic but we won’t really see the emotional fallout until next year; and Cersei’s going to be mega-pissed.
The show flips dynamics around and creates new ones over in Meereen, with a lot happening to re-arrange these characters so we get Tyrion staying to oversee the city with Varys, Grey Worm and Missandei by his side; Jorah and Daario heading off the track Dany; and Dany being discovered by a very large khalasar while Drogon decides to be a petulant little dragon, refusing to fly her back. This gives season six some very, very exciting material to play around with and it’s especially exciting to see Varys back by Tyrion’s side, with the two smirking at each other, realising that they get to try their hand at ruling a city “choking on violence, corruption, and deceit”.
There’s little room in “Mother’s Mercy” to even briefly catch up with Margaery or Littlefinger, but there’s plenty of time for an extended ‘walk of shame’ with Cersei. Much was riding on this scene for book readers, and aside from some pretty awkward looking GCI (placing Lena’s head on that naked body double) Director David Nutter did a very fine job circling Cersei as her spirit breaks with every step. There was some crude humour thrown in from the common folk, and a thick tension stemming from the last time we have seen such a huge riot outside of the Red Keep.
We get a surprise at the end of Cersei’s long walk, coming in the form of Qyburn’s experimental knight. From his stature and the dead look in his eyes, plus the fact that Qyburn, the show’s Dr Frankenstein, was the last person seen with The Mountain’s body, makes this pretty obvious. Now we just need The Hound back.
With so much happening in this episode HBO really should have given the crew at least an additional 10 minutes to return to Castle Black and really flesh things out. I was anticipating what Davos’ reaction would be when he found out about Stannis/Shireen but that was brushed over quite quickly and really only served to bring The Red Woman back through the gates, looking all defeated and cowardly. What is undoubtedly the biggest death since Ned Stark was also criminally rushed, wedged into the end for the sake of a longer ‘Cersei’s shame’ sequence. It’s not a good look for the show but the pacing doesn’t matter as soon as you hear that squishy sound of sword piercing flesh and realise that Thorne has just stabbed Jon Snow.
For awhile now, the show has been foreshadowing Snow’s death and Olly’s involvement. It didn’t come as a surprise but it didn’t hurt any less. Olly tricks Jon into thinking that they’ve caught a wildling with information about Benjen Stark but it turns out to be a trap by the Lord Commander’s sworn brothers who, yet again, kill their own boss. Snow is stabbed multiple times by multiple black brothers, the first being Thorne and the last being Olly. The episode ends with a shot of Jon staring directly into the camera while his own blood pools around him in the snow.
This was a moment much too big to be allocated such a short time, but I guess none of that matters when you feel the emotional gut-punch and come to the realisation that yet another Stark, one who many pegged the entire endgame on, has seemingly been killed. He never got to see Bran again, nor Arya, nor Sansa – who only just learned that he was still alive.
There are a lot of questions left blowing in the wind, assuming that Jon is gone. What’s going to happen with the wildlings? the White Walkers? At least Jon told Sam about Valyrian steel before he was murdered. But then what purpose does Sam serve; is he going to want to be a Maester for a group that just murdered his best friend?
Stannis and Jon exiting the story raises a lot of new possibilities and we have to wait until those begin to play out before we can know if killing them off was a good decision or not. Though, Season 5 did give us enough reason to place faith in the showrunners and know they will do a good job despite the show now surpassing the books.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
– Arya ticks Meryn Trant off her list
– Cersei’s shame executed well, with Ser Robert Strong at the end
– Jamie and Myrcella share a moment before she dies
– Exciting developments in Meereen
– Stannis dying off-screen felt cheap
– Not enough time with Jon Snow before his “death”
– Tyene brings D-Grade dialogue to Bronn’s ear
Game of Thrones will return on HBO and Showcase next year for its sixth season.