In addition to the thousands of murders, this season of Game of Thrones entertained us in one crucial way: It surprised us. From inspiring uncomfortable think pieces about whether rape is entertaining to courting speculation about how a series can adapt books that haven’t even been written yet, Season Five has been knee-deep in strong opinions and absolutely swarmed by question marks. What do we expect of this show? What do we deserve from this show? Are we even having fun? “Mother’s Mercy” was as brutal and shocking a gut-punch as its preceding nine episodes openly warned us it would be, yet the only conclusion we could come to was this: Game of Thrones is a tremendous work of art, and even in the depths of its depravity and heights of its insanity we must be grateful for the shock. In an age of endless entertainment options, surprises are currency, and no show is wealthier than this one.
If that sounds like overly academic excuse-making, it’s probably because I’m beating around the bush. Because on the other side of that bush is a pile of corpses, some of whom used to be important and beloved characters! Jon Snow, Stannis Baratheon, Myrcella, Selyse, Myranda, Ser Meryn. And standing near those corpses are characters with ever worsening frown-lines: Cersei, Arya, Daenerys, Melisandre. Things went badly for A LOT of people this episode, including and especially we the viewers. We’ll have a year to mourn, but for now let’s talk about all that carnage!
Last week’s episode ended with the sight of a woman riding a dragon into the sky, but hopefully you didn’t forget that the scene immediately before that one involved a child getting burned at the stake by her own parents. Because that happened! And perhaps the only way we comforted ourselves in the six days since has been the hope that perhaps Shireen’s death wasn’t for naught. Perhaps the Lord of Light would indeed give Stannis some kind of advantage to justify such a heinous act. And guess what? He did. The Lord of Light melted some icicles! God is truly great.
If we’re being honest, Stannis wasn’t exactly stoked about the melting icicles. In fact, he was being very crabby. Nobody is saying that burning your own daughter at the stake is a good time, but why so grumpy, Stannis? It probably didn’t help that after said murder, half his army ran away and his wife committed suicide.
Oh, Selyse. Yes, she had been mostly awful and had seemed fine with Shireen’s murder at first, but at least she eventually did change her mind at the last minute. Credit where credit’s due.
Stannis’ day really took a turn for the worse when he decided to set up camp outside Winterfell and realized that maybe openly marching an army that close to his enemy’s base would cause them to attack suddenly. So the war came early!
And then the war ended early!
Yes, it definitely felt like the show had spent all of its special effects budget on White Walkers and dragons, so this cutaway was one of the more comical ones in Game of Thrones history. From attacking soldiers to piles of corpses in the blink of an eye!
Next thing we knew Stannis was ambling through the woods knife-fighting soldiers and bleeding everywhere. But then his true angel of death arrived.
Oh god, yes. Brienne has barely been in this season, but this moment was so righteous and perfect I got chills. She finally got to avenge the death of Renly Baratheon, going so far as to get Stannis to confess he’d used blood magic, thus giving her the peace of mind she needed — no, she didn’t hallucinate that shadow baby. So yeah: Brienne killed Stannis! Bye, jerk!
Meanwhile Sansa’s timing was really weird in this episode. First she broke out of her room using that corkscrew she’d pocketed a few episodes back (but dropped it on the floor conspicuously as she fled) and then she tried to light a candle in the tower window even though Brienne wasn’t even watching anymore. Sansa, get it together! We were supposed to think she was finally asserting her independence, but it was a pretty weak showing overall.
I mean, when she came face-to-face with Myranda, all Sansa could do was sass her, and meanwhile REEK was the one to save the day by pushing Myranda over the side of the wall!
Obviously, the sight of Myranda’s body splatting against cobblestone was highly satisfying, because she was a major jerk also! But also FINALLY Theon was emerging from his Reek personality a little more. Been waiting all season for that.
Next thing we knew he was taking Sansa’s hand and they were jumping off the building (from the same height that splattered Myranda) and we didn’t see them land. Tune in next season to see if Sansa and Theon survived! (They probably did.)
Jerk Number 3 bit the dust when Arya went undercover at the brothel as a child prostitute and didn’t wince when Ser Meryn Trant tried to beat her with a stick. But rather than dwell on what exactly was going on in that room prior to Arya ripping off her face and stabbing him in the eyes, let’s just appreciate the fact that Arya was now a full-blown assassin. I mean, look at the bad-ass cold stare she had when she slit his throat! For being a scene about a gruesome murder, it sure was crowd-pleasing. Ser Meryn was a bad person if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Unfortunately Arya’s extracurricular killing was a big faux pas back at the House of Black and White, and Jaqen made it a teachable moment.
By poisoning himself! Except then he jumped out from behind a pillar all “psyche!” and Arya peeled a ton of faces off the poisoned corpse until she found her own, and it was all very dream-logicky. But you know which part was real?
Arya went blind! So that’s what’s up with Arya now. She’s blind. A blind assassin. Will it be a permanent state, or will she regain her vision during yet another teachable moment? Tune in next season.
Good riddance to this Dorne plot. I mean it was fine at first, but who kept hitting the snooze button? The Sand Snakes in particular were really disappointing. Anyway, it was time for Jaime and Myrcella and Bronn and Dreamy Trystane to sail back to Kings Landing, and all the weirdo Dorne folk said goodbye in their own ways.
Like, uh, Ellaria kissing Myrcella on the mouth for a really long time. Totally normal.
Later on the boat, there was a touching scene in which Jaime attempted to have the birds and the bees talk with Myrcella (is it a birds and bees talk if you’re trying to tell your niece that she’s your daughter?) and Myrcella embraced him as her father.
But the celebration was short-lived, as Myrcella started bleeding from every face hole and then collapsed dead!
Because, you guessed it, Ellaria had poisoned her with that one poison the topless Sand Snake had used on Bronn in jail. So there she was, squirting the antidote Gusher into her mouth and starting a war between the houses that will probably never end. Cool move, lady.
Back in Meereen, Daenerys’ crew were trying to figure out what to do now that she’d flown away on a dragon. Because Meereen is the worst city possible, nobody seemed super stoked about running it. So after tons of bickering, Daario and Ser Jorah decided to jump on their horsies and go find Khaleesi, while Tyrion and Missandei and Grey Worm were going to stay in Meereen and hate life. Fortunately, though, an old friendly face arrived just in time.
Hey, Varys! Where you been? Anyway, he’s another character that didn’t do too much this season, but it made me immediately happy to see him again. Welcome back, baldy.
As for Dany, she was out on some hillside where Drogon was slurping at bones and refusing to wake up from his nap. He even bucked her off when she tried to get him to fly back to Meereen! Since getting Drogon to do anything was a no-go at this point, Dany decided to go look for food. Instead of food, all she found were ten thousand hunks in leather vests riding horses all around her!
Yep: The Dothraki were back! But would they accept Dany as their Khaleesi again? Will she be marrying their leader again? It’s anybody’s guess. But it made me nostalgic for Season 1, so I’ll take it.
This was tough but riveting: Cersei kinda-sorta confessed to one of her accusations — that she’d sat 'n spun on Lancel a ton — and as a reward she was allowed to return to the Red Keep. But only AFTER her “atonement,” which is safe to say did not look very fun. First there was the violent razor-blade haircut, then the full-naked walk of shame through a public square full of haters.
The amazing thing about this scene (which honestly felt like it was about 45-minutes long) was that Cersei absolutely deserved comeuppance for unleashing the religious right onto her people, yet her treatment here was so horrible that I began to root for her again. I had no choice! She was truly put through hell and now I want nothing more than to see her regroup and erase the Sparrows from existence.
But guess who’s back and ready to help her? The reanimated corpse of The Mountain! Yep, in what appears to be a Frankenstein’s monster situation, the big lug is all purple-faced and mute, and he immediately carried Cersei around like some kind of bizarro Hodor. VERY interested to see where this goes. Tune in next season.
Early in the episode Sam revealed to Jon Snow that he did sex and also wanted to leave Castle Black, because Sam is not a moron.
His reasoning had something to do with Gilly being unsafe, but I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with the ten thousand-strong zombie army currently bearing down on the wall. You know? That’s a good opportunity to call it quits. Unfortunately this meant that Jon Snow’s best and only friend was taking off, leaving him to deal with a castle full of haters on his own.
At this point Melisandre arrived, shell-shocked. Stannis — her No. 1 hobby for several years running — was dead. All her prophecies and visions had been wrong. That is a lot for a fire priestess to handle! Without saying much of anything she informed Davos that all was lost, and Shireen was dead too. Then she went to her room and took a siesta or whatever. Melisandre definitely had some thinking to do.
Then came the episode’s ultimate sucker punch: The straight-up Julius Caesaring of Jon Snow! His compatriots summoned him onto the terrace where he encountered a sign marked “Traitor” and then everybody stabbed him!
Ugh, these jerks. Their mantra was “for the Watch,” meaning they were mad that their friends had died fighting the White Walkers on behalf of the Wildlings, even though, uh guys? Maybe stop being all butt-hurt about that and realize that an ARMY OF ZOMBIES was fast approaching. But there would be no swaying these jerks. Not even Lil Olly could be placated.
Jon Snow was stabbed and stabbed and stabbed and stabbed. Truly a brutal and unrelenting death. And by death I mean all his blood spilled out of his body and his pupils dilated like crazy and the end credits rolled.
But come on, do we REALLY think he’s dead for real? I believe that he’s maybe biologically dead for the moment, but isn’t there a wizardess on the premises with experience in resurrection? Or is that option too obvious? Who cares, just as long as Jon Snow DOES NOT DIE FOREVER. Out of all the shocking deaths on this show, the death of Jon Snow feels particularly wrong and unforgivable and I think this could be the one where the show is like, “Just kidding, he’s fine.” But that’s all speculation at this point. At this point Jon Snow is dead. DEAD. Dead. Game of Thrones, you reprehensible destructor. Why have you wrecking balled our hearts so?
This is what we signed up for. Game of Thrones will always be this way. We can scream, lament, curse the sky, whatever it takes for us to exorcise the unpleasant emotions this show provokes in us. But remember that it does get a rise out of us, and that’s invaluable. That being said, and more so than any season before, we can probably be glad there are only ten episodes at a time. The human heart can only take so much.
Same time next year?
What was your favorite moment from “Mother’s Mercy”?