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Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5, Episode 10, ‘Mother’s Mercy’: What Is Dead May Never Die?

Review: 'Game of Thrones' Season 5, Episode 10, 'Mother's Mercy': What Is Dead May Never Die?

PREVIOUSLY: Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5 Episode 9 ‘The Dance of Dragons’: Fire Reigns

Post-“Game” Analysis

Season 1 of “Game of Thrones” ended with the beheading of Ned Stark. Season 3 with the murder of Catelyn and Robb Stark. Season 5 took out another Stark child, and though book readers have always been a bit hopeful that Jon Snow would survive his wounds from his betraying brothers in black, it’s not looking too good.

The “previously on” scenes that preceded the Season 5 finale took viewers way way back in time to Season 1, with shots of Syrio Forell just before he was murdered by Meryn Trant, and Jon Snow’s uncle Benjen Stark heading out beyond The Wall. We also got a little sneak of Qyburn’s medical experimentation on The Mountain. Those old scenes and old characters came into play during this finale, at times for the betterment of our favorite characters, and at times for the worse. 

Most Poised to Take the Throne

The first half of this finale was a rush of action that just kept on going. After Shireen’s tragic murder, the snow began to melt, the mud began to thaw, green grass poked through the white frost and Stannis ordered his troops to march on Winterfell. But some of his men apparently weren’t on board with the whole “burning his daughter alive: thing, and abandoned the cause in the night, taking many of the horses. Not only that, but the men found Selyse (Stannis’s wife) had hanged herself. Then…THEN Melisandre just took off for no apparent reason. Forever ignorant and stubborn, Stannis marched on, and the Bolton army didn’t hesitate to attack as soon as they were within range. The bird’s eye view shot of the Bolton army, orderly and massive, surrounding Stannis’ army, scattered and fleeing, was simultaneously sad and yet funny. It’s almost as if the Lord of Light was also not cool with the murder of Stannis’s only daughter.

The next sequence of events was a mad dash of cause and effect. Sansa, having stolen a corkscrew of some sort, picked her lock and made her way to the broken tower to light the candle. Except the candle went unseen by Brienne, because just moments before, Pod informed her that Stannis’ troops were approaching.

From the tower, Sansa witnessed the same attack, and headed back through the gates of Winterfell. Was she headed back to her room? Or elsewhere? That remains a mystery, but she was stopped by Myranda sporting a bow and arrow. This additional character has always been a frivolous one, but her threatening of Sansa made Reek/Theon snap out of his walking coma and he threw her over the banister to her death. It’s definitely unfortunate that Sansa’s suffering has primarily been a way for Theon to find his humanity again — Sansa’s rape and her imprisonment was a means to an end for a male character’s growth, and that’s incredibly disappointing. But it was satisfying to see the two team up in the end — hopefully, they survived that jump. 

Back in the forest, the episode interestingly skipped the uneven battle, and Stannis was left wounded. Brienne approached him, sentenced him to death and quickly swung her sword, but the show cut away without actually showing Stannis’ death. So…is Stannis really dead? It’s interesting that this confuses some viewers. We’ve come so accustomed to seeing the violence and seeing the deaths on screen, that any off-screen death is questionable. The show has never shied away from allowing the viewer to see a character’s death, so why here? Why Stannis? As far as this review is concerned, his status is still unknown.

Great Moments in Feminism

Brienne’s swinging sword then cut to pervert Meryn Trant whipping three young girls with a switch. But there was something odd about the third; she didn’t scream when whipped. He sent the other girls out, and lifted her face — one more hit was all that was necessary for Arya Stark to remove her borrowed face and stab Meryn Trant in both eyes, the chest and the back. She told him he was first on her list. She told him her name. Then she slit his throat. It was brutal and dark, and though Arya has killed before, this was the first time that she did so with viciousness in her heart. Which may be why things didn’t turn out so well moments later. 

Most Magical Moment

Upon returning to the House of Black and White, Arya placed the borrowed face she used back in its place and was confronted by Jaqen. “A girl has taken the life, the wrong life,” he said. “That man’s life wasn’t yours to take.” Only death can pay for life, he said, and drank a bottle of poison, falling to his death. Arya screamed in agony; Jaqen was the only friend she’d had for ages. But how little she knew in reality. Jaqen, or a man with Jaqen’s face, was then right behind her. We’ve assumed that the man Arya’s been dealing with this entire time was Jaqen, the man she encountered back on the road. But who is he really? Is that Jaqen gone? Did Jaqen ever exist? Or does Jaqen’s face exist on any man of the Many Faced God? She’s learning a lesson of deception and identity that came along with entering this arrangement. Arya began ripping various faces off of the dead man. One after the other until finally stopping at her own face. Then she abruptly lost her sight, leaving her true fate unknown until Season 6. 

Death in Dorne?

Next up, Jaime, Myrcella and Trystane were embarking on their journey out of Dorne. The Dorne storyline has been somewhat disappointing this season: The Sand Snakes were mostly caricature; the silly flirtation between Tyene and Bronn pointless. Doran has been a great plus, and with so many deaths on this show, hopefully he’ll stick around next season to take on more of a role. As they boarded, Ellaria Sand approached them to say goodbye. “Forgive me child, I wish you all the happiness in the world,” she said before planting an odd kiss on Myrcella’s mouth. Aboard the ship, Jaime noted that it was wonderful that Myrcella actually loved Trystane, since once cannot control whom one loves; it was his botched attempt at telling her that he’s actually her father, but before he could even get the words out, Myrcella revealed that she’s known the truth for quite some time. This is the first time Jaime has been able to embrace one of his children as his child. It was heartbreaking and touching… And naturally, the tender moment was interrupted by Myrcella’s nosebleed and collapse. Back on shore, Ellaria wiped her mouth and drank what was no doubt an antidote to the poison she had just inflicted upon Myrcella. Though once again, Myrcella’s death is not a sure thing. There’s little hope for her, but until she’s lying in state like her elder brother, the question will remain. 

Wit of the Week

Tyrion: “My Valyrian is a bit nostril.”

In Meereen, the sad little trio of Tyrion, Daario and Jorah sat around moping about the fact that Daenerys had flown off aboard her dragon Drogon. Though Tyrion’s shoddy Valyrian doesn’t make him the perfect match for a role of power in Meereen, it was eventually decided that he would stay and help govern with Missandei and Grey Worm, while Daario and Jorah went searching for Dany. They’ll have to travel pretty freaking far, if the mountains and grassy rocks where Dany ended up are any indication. Though Drogon saved her life, it didn’t appear that he was interested in taking her home, or that he understood a damned word she was saying either. Then, it became a bit more clear where exactly Dany had landed, as hordes of Dothraki horsemen circled her. She dropped the ring she was wearing. (As a signal that she was there? Because it was a wedding ring to Hizdahr?) Point is, Daenerys ends her Season 5 journey in the Dothraki Sea.

Shame, Shame, Shame

Cersei finally came to the realization that the only way she was getting out of that cell was by confessing. She was allowed to return to the Red Keep, but only before walking through here “atonement,” which included having her hair chopped short and walking naked through the streets of King’s Landing. Atonement through further nudity on “Game of Thrones”? You don’t say. Sympathy for Cersei skyrocketed during this scene: Bravo to her for enduring such oppressive religious judgement, and bravo to Lena Headey for having the bravery and acting chops to pull this scene off. Then, as she entered the castle, an enormous new member of the Kingsguard emerged to carry her to safety. The Mountain has returned… in one form or another.

Why, Show, Why?!?

Who knew that those Benjen Stark scenes before the episode began would be such a horrible, horrible tease? At the start of the episode, Sam asked Jon Snow if he could take Gilly and her baby to Oldtown, where he could train to become a Maester. (Interesting note: in the novel, it’s Jon who orders Sam to do so.) During the conversation, Jon noted that he was the first Lord Commander to risk the lives of the Night’s Watch to save Wildlings, and that action came back to haunt him at the end of this finale. After Melisandre mysteriously arrived back at Castle Black, Jon sadly read the news of Stannis’ defeat. Then, Olly rushed in to tell him that a Wildling had seen Benjen Stark out beyond The Wall, but the whole thing was a ruse. Alliser Thorne led Jon to a grave marker that read “traitor” and one by one, the group stabbed him. “For the watch,” they said, as they plowed knives through his chest, Olly getting the last knife in before Jon Snow collapsed, bleeding and Season 5 ended.

For the Book Nerds (May Contain Spoilers from “A Song of Ice and Fire”

“A Dance with Dragons,” the fifth book of the series, ends with this mysterious, presumed death of Jon Snow. Book readers have been theorizing for four years about how this was going to pan out — the show has cut the character of Lady Stoneheart, but rest assured that, in Martin’s world, it is possible to bring people back to life… sort of. But Jon Snow…JON SNOW? He’s supposed to be the “Song of Ice and Fire.” He’s supposed to be the Stark and Targaryen offspring that would be able to use both ice and fire to his advantage. Can he still be? Melisandre arrived back at Castle Black at a mysteriously convenient time. Various theories have emerged: Jon wargs into Ghost at the last minute. Or Jon is burned and resurrected a la his Targaryen aunt Daenerys. Or Jon becomes a White Walker. Or… All of that could be wrong. Jon Snow could simply be dead, and Kit Harington has all but confirmed that it is so. Keep the dream alive, Jon Snow fans; he’s not in Season 6, but hey — there was no mention of Season 7. 

It is Known

Way back in April, a humorous Reductress article posited that “Game of Thrones” Season 5 would kill off its audience. That might not be such a far-fetched idea, with the things that have happened this season. With Sansa’s rape, Shireen’s death and now Jon Snow’s probable demise, plenty of audience members will most likely flee. Those remaining will maintain the hope that one of their favorite characters will survive to take the throne, but how many of those characters do we have left to root for? Daenerys and Tyrion, definitely. Arya and Sansa yes, but their story lines have more to do with their own personal achievements and survival, rather than conquest. Prince Doran is a cool addition, but does anyone care about him yet? And even if they do, how many of a show’s beloved characters can a show torture and murder before an audience gives up?

We’ve arrived at the end of George R.R. Martin’s novels as well, and while plenty of readers have stuck it out until now, many have also jumped ship. And unless Martin pumps out the sixth book before Season 6 premieres next spring, he might not maintain the readership that his series has so far enjoyed — not only because folks will simply watch the series, but also because of the hopelessness. 

Season 5, all in all, had its ups and downs. There have been epic moments and there have been moments that have caused rage and regretful watching. But successful shows have always been polarizing. Plenty of “Lost” watchers gave up after the death of Charlie. Plenty of “Battlestar Galactica” fans were enraged when… Well, they were enraged a lot. But that’s kind of what comes with watching genre TV, or any TV these days, because TV has gotten so damned good. Fans stick it out for the battles, the White Walkers, the dragons and the hope, the teeny tiny hope, that maybe one of the good guys will make it through all of the death and darkness and snow and either sit on that Iron Throne, or melt the sucker down. We eagerly await the next season, to find out who that might be.

Episode Grade: B+

Season Grade: B+

READ MORE: Thanks, ‘Game of Thrones.’ Now We Have to Explain Why Rape and Fantasy Violence Are Not the Same Thing

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