Now that is how you end a season of Game of Thrones!
Season 5 has been all about the show’s unprecedented transition from a series concerned with adapting Martin’s work to a series laying the groundwork for its own ambitions. With Mother’s Mercy, the show completed this transformation in exciting form. It was the strongest episode of the season and one that leaves the show in a place where it has well and truly eclipsed its source material.
Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 10, ‘Mother’s Mercy’ Review
Warning – Spoilers Follow
Season 4’s finale, The Children, ended with many of our favorite characters leaving their pasts behind them – and Mother’s Mercy got a lot out of exploring the consequences of what happens when that past catches up.Season 5 has marked the start of a new era for Thrones. However, Mother’s Mercy makes a strong case that this new world may have just as much bite as its predecessor.
And if there was anyone who learned this the hard way, it was the late Stannis Baratheon. Hot off the heels (too soon?) of last week’s horrific sacrifice, Stannis’ journey reached its tragic conclusion. His army – halved in size by mutiny and morale by Selyse’s subsequent suicide – was absolutely decimated by the Bolton’s forces. Though I enjoyed the scale and thought the prolonged sense of futility attached to Stannis’ defeat added a lot to his scenes, I was a little frustrated at the show’s failure to account for Stannis’ oft-referenced strategic brilliance here.
Though Stannis’ fate does seem very sealed at this point, it’s not impossible that his final words – “Do your duty” – might have resonated with Brienne in an unexpected way that gives her reason to spare his life. While facing consequences of murdering Renly does feel like a poignant way to close out his story, there’s a distinct ambiguity to the killing blow that leaves room for the possibility that Stannis could live to fight another day.
Sansa’s escape with Theon was another interesting cliffhanger that Mother’s Mercy threw at audiences. It’ll be curious to see where their storyline takes them next season. Presumably it’ll involve helping Theon piece his identity back together, but in terms of where the pair will seek refuge, things are pretty much a mystery at this point.
Arya’s plotline made a similar pivot. We finally got to see her cross a name off her list through her brutal slaying of Meryn Trant. I liked how the show depicted the magic of the Faceless Men here and Arya’s blinding certainly leaves the plotline with some new directions to go next year.
Though Myrcella’s death added some punch and consequence to this season’s otherwise toothless Dornish subplot, Tyene’s final words to Bronn really hammered home just how far off the mark the series landed with this plot. Hopefully next season offers some much needed improvement in this area.
On the other side of things, Cersei’s confession and atonement was probably one of the strongest elements of Mother’s Mercy. Like Stannis’ defeat, her walk of shame through Kings Landing was drawn out in a way that maximized its impact. It says a lot about the handling and direction of the sequence that it managed to draw out sympathy for Cersei in spite of the countless cruel things she’s done. I did miss her line about hair growing back from the books though.
Across the pond, there was little action but lots of time spent picking up the pieces left in the aftermath of last week’s The Dance of Dragons. While Daario and Jorah’s quest to track down Dany does simmer with comedic potential, it’s Tyrion’s struggle to salvage something out of the chaos left in Meereen that’s the more compellent side of things. As for Dany herself, she looks to have washed up in Dothraki Sea – and it’ll be interesting to see where her character goes now that she’s been cut off from the power she spent the last five seasons amassing.
Finally – we come to Jon.
When Sam left for Oldtown, it should have been a sign. When Olly burst through the door offering convenient resolution on the mysterious case of Benjen Stark’s disappearance, we should of known something was amiss. However, like Jon, we didn’t realise how bad and unsalvageable his relationship with the rest of The Watch was until it was too late. There was some impressive scoring here which helped uplift our spirits when we heard the name of Jon’s uncle and then tear us straight back down again when we grasped the reality of the mutiny.
Jon’s betrayal and murder was an impressive note on which to end the season – and one that like many of Mother’s Mercy’s cliffhangers, gives us lots of questions to mull over in the wait until season 6.
And so our watch begins.