Game of Thrones begins its fifth season finale, “Mother’s Mercy,” by directly dealing with the fallout from last week’s controversial burning of Shireen, Stannis Baratheon’s daughter. At first, it seems to have worked: the harsh winter is melting, and Stannis’s army is gearing up to march to Winterfell. Melisandre stands by him, proclaiming approval from The Lord Of Light. What could possibly go wrong? Well, turns out half his army deserted him after witnessing the burning of his daughter. And, oh yeah, his wife hanged herself out of guilt. And Melisandre? She split town on horseback.
Funny thing, that Lord of Light.
Back at Castle Black, Jon Snow tells Sam Tarley about the events of “Hardhome,” namely the resurrection of the dead. After something of a long conversation, Sam asks to be posted at a different site so that he can effectively be fast-tracked to becoming a Maester. Nearly being beaten to death by the would-be rapists that attacked Gilly certainly didn’t hurt either. So, Sam and Gilly mount horseback and ride away.
At Winterfell, Stannis’s remaining army approaches Winterfell while Sansa climbs to the tower to light that one candle she’s been trying to light for a few episodes now. Too bad Brienne, presumably the one for whom Sansa was lighting the candle, turned her back at the last minute, leaving just as Winterfell comes under siege. When the much-planned Battle of Winterfell finally takes place, it’s a small affair. Stannis’s forces are quickly slaughtered, hopelessly outnumbered, and Stannis is nearly fatally injured. Brienne stumbles upon him in the woods and exacts revenge for his “blood magic” killing of Renly Baratheon, an event to which Stannis confesses in a rare moment of clarity. Brienne executes him mercilessly. And so ends the character arc of Stannis Baratheon.
Back at Winterfell, Sansa tries to escape but is blocked by Ramsay’s lover, Myranda. Just before Myranda, who no doubt learned her people skills from Ramsay, begins shooting arrows at her, Reek/Theon pushes her over a railing, allowing her to plummet to her death. With Ramsay arriving back at home, Reek and Sansa have no way to escape save jumping from the highest castle wall into what one has to hope is a snow-filled bank. Or she at least falls on his body.
Arya Stark finally exacts her revenge on Meryn Trant by designing herself as one of his young prostitutes and then stabbing him brutally in both eyes, chest, and leg before taunting him and slicing his throat. What happens next, I’ll fully admit to never understand. Back at the House of Black and White, “a man” confronts her and scolds her for taking the wrong life. He tells her a debt must be paid – a life for a life – and drinks a vial, falling to the floor. Turns out, that wasn’t really “a man” – or was it? Arya panics, thinking “a man” was dead, but rips off multiple faces until she reveals her own face. “A man” disguised himself as the servant girl, and, before she can absorb the events, she starts losing her sight – her eyes turning milky as she screams.
Jaime Lannister finally leaves Dorne with his daughter, Myrcella. Just before leaving, she receives a goodbye kiss from Ellaria Sand, who appears to let bygones be bygones. As they sail away from Dorne, Jaime confesses to Myrcella the “special relationship” between him and Cersei. Turns out, however, that Myrcella already knows this and loves that her uncle is also her father. As they embrace, she starts to bleed from her nose, an event we’ve seen before in the recent Dorne prison scenes. Ellaria hasn’t forgiven anything. Instead, she coated her lips with poison to which only she has the antidote. Myrcella Baratheon is the latest child death in Game of Thrones.
Daenerys has landed in a beautiful field of green, and Drogon is too tired and injured to fly her back to Meereen. She tries to ride him back, but he has none of it, tossing her off his back firmly but gently. As she starts walking away to look for food, she is quickly surrounded by hundreds of Dothraki men on horseback who ride circles around her. In Meereen, Tyrion and Daenerys’s loyal followers are sequestered inside her throne room, pondering their next move. Tyrion is to remain behind and govern the city in her absence while Jorah Mormont and Daario Naharis ride off in search of her. Tyrion will have help, though, as Varys has finally made his way to Meereen with his network of spies.
In King’s Landing, Cersei begs for “mother’s mercy” to the High Sparrow, confessing some of her sins but flatly denying the true parentage of her children. The Sparrow seems satisfied enough but still tells her she must undergo a trial. She is forced to pay an immediate penance, however, as the twisted sisters guarding her strip her naked and cut off all her hair. She is then marched out in front of the city to take a walk of atonement, fully nude while a nun cries “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and rings a bell. It’s a long walk, punishing for both Cersei and Lena Headey herself. Did I say she was fully nude the entire scene? As she walks through the crowd, she is spit on, called “whore,” “cunt,” “slut,” “bitch” and just about any other degrading name you can call a woman. It’s a scene that elicits a dozen emotions all at once. Cersei was an evil woman, but I’m a little shocked at the raw brutality cast on the actress. This scene is going to cause the Internet to rain down on the world with a thousand op-ed pieces about the role of women in Game of Thrones.
If this is what it takes to win an Emmy these days…
When she finishes her walk of atonement, she is welcomed back to the Red Keep. There, she is welcomed by her former servant, the one working on some mysterious object under a white cloth from earlier in the season. The “mysterious object” is the newest member of the Kingsguard, a gargantuan man in golden armor. Or is it The Mountain? Either way, he is sworn to serve until all the enemies of the palace are dead.
Finally, the episode closes with something I honestly never anticipated (maybe I’m just dumb). Jon Snow’s little apprentice (the one whose family was killed by the Wildlings) comes to tell him that one of the Wildlings knows where his uncle is. Jon runs out of his room and comes face to face with a wooden cross that reads “Traitor.” The Knights Watch then proceed to stab him one by one until Jon’s apprentice deals the fatal blow.
The episode closes with blood draining out of Jon Snow’s lifeless body.
So, what to think of Game of Thrones Season Five? I loved the beginning of the season and its method of resetting after the cataclysmic events of Season Four. It somehow lost footing somewhere in the middle with a few poorly structured episodes before regaining its spirit of drama toward the end. I’m still reeling from the events of the season finale, and time is needed to fully absorb the impact of the season. Right now, Season Five is, in my mind, something of a back step. It’s difficult to watch not only the brutal public shaming of Cersei (and Lena Headey) but also the murder of the arguably only good person in the series – Jon Snow. But like his father before him, Jon Snow is a trusting man whose undying honor ultimately led to his downfall.
I’m cautiously awaiting the outcries. In fact, I hear it on the wind just now.