television -> Game of Thrones Season Five Finale recap/ review

Game of Thrones Season Five Finale recap/ review

Mother’s Mercy


After last week’s episode, “The Dance of Dragons,” which featured a controversial child sacrifice and a thrilling end sequence featuring an escape on “dragonback,” many wondered just how “Game of Thrones” will top what the audience had already seen going into Sunday evening. After all, a quality finale is what makes viewers return to watch the next season. Last year, we saw Arya leave for Braavos, Sansa joined Littlefinger’s charade, Stannis saved the Night’s Watch, Bran finally met his destination, Tyrion killed Tywin and Shae separately, and Brienne killed the Hound in combat. This year, we aren’t given such an exciting conclusion, but we do receive a fitting one. Director David Nutter (“The Reins of Castamere,” “Mhysa” episodes) returns after helming last week’s episode, as well. He opens on melting icicles in the North, Melisandre rushes to Stannis to confirm it as a sign from the Lord of Light accepting their sacrifice. She tells him she’s seen “Bolton banners burning” and that he will take what is his “by right.”  As the two walk about the camp, a knight tells his king that many men (presumably half) deserted before dawn.  As Melisandre listens to the news, her expression greatly changes to grim from what was once confidence, perhaps even hubris. Another soldier interjects with bad news, leading Stannis to the corpse of his wife swinging from a tree.  It looks like Queen Selyse Baratheon hanged herself shortly after the burning of Shireen. As the soldiers cut the body off the noose, yet one more soldier approaches his king with bad news—Melisandre was just seen riding out of camp for Castle Black.  None of these are good signs for Stannis Baratheon, who believes himself to be Azor Ahai, the prince who was promised, after following Melisandre’s teachings. The king has his men assume formations to march on Winterfell.

A little farther north at the Wall, Jon tells Sam about the dark magic he witnessed from the (literal) hands of the Night’s King at Hardhome. They determine Jon’s Valryian steel blade has some power against the White Walkers, but can’t quantify it. Jon recognizes that he was the first Lord Commander to sacrifice the lives of the Watch to save wildlings, making him the “most hated man at Castle Black.”  After they toast themselves, Sam asks Jon for leave to Oldtown so that he can begin maester training, something the Wall desperately needs following the death of Aemon. Against what he wants, Jon agrees that Sam should go. “At least the end of the world’s working out for someone.” The next scene stays at Castle Black with Sam and Jon waving goodbye before Sam, Gilly, and baby Sam leave on a horse-pulled wagon for the Citadel in Oldtown.  Nutter then jumps back to Stannis and his army, arriving at the snow-filled field in front of Winterfell to lay siege. The camera then takes us inside the castle as Sansa begins to make an escape, unlocking her bedroom door with a corkscrew, and ducking out in a shroud.  She walks through the courtyard with a candle in her hand to hold Brienne to her offer.  The camera then turns to Podrick, who drops everything at the sight of Stannis’ banners.  He rushes to Brienne and lets her know what he’s seen. Pod turned out to be just the squire she never knew she needed. 


Sansa ascends the abandoned tower that Brienne looks upon from her camp. The flame shines and the camera jumps back to Stannis and his men preparing for the siege. One of the knights from before tells his king that “there’s not going to be a siege” as the camera pans over a dominant, densely-populated Bolton army. From her window, Sansa sees the armies meeting on the field outside Winterfell. As the Bolton army charges for the much smaller Baratheon army, Stannis’ men either fight or bail.  If Azor Ahai is out there somewhere, it isn’t Stannis Baratheon. The last thing Sansa sees before leaving the tower is the Bolton army surrounding and dominating the opponent.  Nutter then jumps to the end of the battle.  A man pulls his legless torso along the snowy, dirty ground.  The Boltons wiped out and completely decimated Stannis’ army. Stannis, wounded, staggers alone about the battlefield. Two men approach him to fight and the beleaguered king kills them both. He props himself against a tree and watches his wounds bleed as defeat is all but written.  Brienne appears from thin air and introduces herself as one of King Renly’s kingsguard. She accuses Stannis of dark magic used to kill Renly and executes him in the name of her king.  This was not how he ever fathomed his life would end.  Seeing Brienne claim vengeance for Renly is one of the sweetest moments ever on “Game of Thrones” as it arguably began her arc in the great scheme of things.  If Stannis hadn’t killed Renly, or if she had never been blamed for it, her involvement would have ended a long time ago.

We then jump to Ramsay as Oathkeeper descends on Stannis. After his army wins, Ramsay kills a surrendering man.  What else would you expect from him? The camera pans out to show the snow littered with the recent dead before jumping to Ramsay’s wife, Sansa, in the middle of her escape.  Unfortunately, Myranda interrupts her stroll with a bow and arrow.  She points the arrow at Sansa with Reek standing at her side. Sansa stands her ground, daring Myranda to shoot her because she’d rather have it over with now than find out what fresh hell Ramsay has planned. Before Myranda can shoot off the parts of Sansa that Ramsay “doesn’t need,” Reek tosses his captor’s lover over the edge of the outdoor corridor, plummeting to her instant death.  He finally found that redemption. They’re forced to act quickly, however, as the Bolton army returns from battle almost immediately after Myranda’s flight. Reek takes Sansa’s hand and they jump off the high castle wall together into the snow below them on the other side.


In Braavos, Meryn Trant continues his hideous, lecherous behavior with a small cane to beat three young girls to blood-curdling screams behind closed doors.  The first two girls react how one would expect someone reacting to a hard blow from a cane; however, the last girl doesn’t flinch or make a peep until he singles her out of the others. He punches her stomach, knocking her to the ground.  The girl looks up at him, removes her face, and reveals herself to be the one formerly known as Arya Stark. Arya immediately begins stabbing and shanking him all over the body, relieving him of sight for a while before eventual death. She shoves a cloth in his mouth to suppress his shouting. After announcing herself as Arya Stark, she slits his throat in a shot almost exactly like the shot of Catelyn Stark slitting the throat of Lady Frey in Nutter’s “The Reins of Castamere.” The camera stays with Arya when she returns her mask to the room of faces at the House of Black and White. Jaqen and the Waif confront Arya, informing her that she has stolen a life from the Many-Faced God and that a “debt is owed”—a life is required to essentially restore balance.  The Waif holds Arya as Jaqen reveals a vial of poison.  He raises it, and instead of pouring it down Arya’s throat, he drinks it and drops dead on the floor. As she cries and mourns, the Waif reveals herself as Jaqen, as well. But how? Arya hasn’t been listening to these people, as they explain one more time that each and every one of them in the Faceless men is “no one at all.”  Arya takes several masks off of the corpse until she sees a mask that looks just like her face. “Faces are for no one. You are still someone. And to someone, faces are as good as poison.” No one at all, indeed. As she looks at her face on a corpse, Arya’s sight begins to leave. “What’s happening?” she screams as her eyes turn milky white.   

Down in Dorne, Doran, Ellaria, Areo, and the Sand Snakes bid farewell to Jaime, Bronn, Myrcella, and Trystane. Ellaria kisses Myrcella right on the lips as if she wasn’t just behind a plot to kill her for the past few weeks. On the ship, Myrcella admires her Lannister necklace. Jaime and Myrcella share a scene together below deck where Jaime expresses how happy Cersei will be to see her daughter.  They speak about arranged marriages, family feuds, and how unlikely it is for arranged marriages to turn out okay, especially when one between the Martells and the Lannisters. Jaime tries to confess something to Myrcella, but she already knows what he’s going to say and she’s known for a while—Jaime, not the deceased King Robert Baratheon, is her real father. The princess embraces him, unashamed, and they smile, however, her nose begins bleeding, she gasps for breath, and she falls dead in his arms as the camera leaves the cabin and shows Ellaria and the Sand Snakes watching from shore.  Her poisoned kiss killed the princess.  Ellaria’s nose starts to bleed, as well, however she wipes the lipstick off her face and drinks the life-saving antidote. Jaime failed in his mission and let Ellaria have her contrived revenge. Weiss and Benioff failed Dorne as much as Jaime failed his mission there.  Streamlining all the Dornish characters for a payoff of Myrcella dying in a ship hardly feels like an adaptation of Martin’s work.


We then jump to the throne room in Meereen following the aftermath in “The Dance of Dragons.”  After Daenerys leaves on Drogon during the Sons of the Harpy uprising, the queen’s small council contemplates their next step. Grey Worm apologizes for not participating in what Daario deems “a good scrap.”  It is decided that Daario and Jorah will search for Daenerys while Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm rule Meereen together until the queen returns.  Daario and the dying Andal leave to gather horses as Tyrion approaches his new co-rulers of the city. While Tyrion watches Jorah and Daario leave, a familiar voice emerges from behind him. Varys greets his “old friend” and they chat about recent events. Tyrion asks for advice and Varys offers what he has. “I did miss you,” Tyrion tells Varys after a thinly-veiled analogy comparing his new role in Meereen to his role of Hand of the King in King’s Landing. We all missed the character who stayed absent since Tyrion’s abduction.  The camera then turns to the errant queen and her giant dragon.  She tries to communicate, but the dragon is much too injured to care or listen. Daenerys tries mounting her dragon again, but it bucks her off to the ground and chooses to rest. She wanders about an open field and stops when a Dothraki rider approaches. She ditches her wedding ring to Hizdahr and the Dothraki quickly populate the valley and ride in a circle around her.  If a khaleesi doesn’t join the dosh khaleen at Vaes Dothrak, there isn’t really another protocol for us to refer.  In A Dance with Dragons, it is Khal Jhaqo’s army that Daenerys meets.  However, Drogo killed Jhaqo in the first season, so it will be interesting to see how much Weiss and Benioff streamline this.

In King’s Landing, Cersei is given yet another chance to confess and she looks to be at her wit’s end.  All of the threats she threw last week seem oh, so empty. The camera quickly jumps to Cersei and the High Sparrow sharing an audience where the queen mother confesses to “laying with a man outside of the bonds of marriage” and incest only with Lancel Lannister, stating the rumors about her and Jaime are falsely spread by Stannis Baratheon to strengthen his claim to the Iron Throne. The High Sparrow states that her trial will separate the truth from lies, but when she asks for “a drop of the mother’s mercy” to see her son, he says that she can stay in the Red Keep. She asks if she’s free to go, and the High Sparrow tells her, “After your atonement.”  We then cut to a dark room where Silent Sisters strip the queen mother of her clothes and scrub her like livestock before brutally hacking at her hair. They lead her outside to the High Sparrow, who addresses the public crowd in King’s Landing.  He lists her sins and tells them she has confessed. The Silent Sisters disrobe her, revealing Cersei’s naked form for all of capital city. One sister shoves her to begin the penance walk, dinging a bell and declaring “Shame” all the way from the Sept at Baelor to the Red Keep.  The walk progressively gets nastier with the people growing more angry and unruly the farther away she walks from Baelor. Cersei manages a stiff upper lip for most of her walk, only breaking down in tears once as she approaches the Red Keep.  By the time Cersei reaches the castle, the crowd’s toll on her body looks obvious as she’s covered in filth and blood. All the while, a slow, instrumental version of “The Reins of Castamere” plays.

Mother's Mercy

Once inside the castle, Qyburn places a blanket over Cersei before introducing her to the newest member of Tommen’s kingsguard, Ser Robert Strong. A knight who doesn’t take off his helmet with a vow of silence until all he defeats all of Tommen’s enemies and evil is driven out of the realm.  He bears an unmistakable resemblance to Gregor Clegane, the Mountain that rides. This surely is the shaking corpse from the slab in Qyburn’s lab. Ser Strong carries Cersei to Qyburn’s lab, presumably so the ex-maester can tend to her feet.  Nutter then finishes the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” at Castle Black, where Jon off-boards the giant elevator at the Wall talking with Davos, who wants the wildlings to go and fight for Stannis. Their conversation gets very heated, but is ultimately interrupted by the arrival of Melisandre at the castle gates.  Jon wants to know about Stannis almost as much as Davos wants to know about Shireen, but Melisandre only offers melancholy silence. Will Davos take the black?  As Jon reads messages in his chambers, Olly interrupts to tell him that there’s news of his Uncle Benjen’s whereabouts.  He hurriedly rushes outside where Thorne tells him one of the wildlings is ready to talk about Benjen. Thorne directs Jon to the man and the Lord Commander pushes through a crowd of brothers only to find a post with a sign nailed to it, reading “Traitor.”  Thorne plunges a dagger into Jon and says, “For the Watch,” as other brothers follow suit to betray Jon. Olly emerges and delivers the finishing blow, saying the same line as the rest of his brothers.  The camera lingers on Jon, dying and bleeding out on to the snow.  

It’s a shocking end for those who haven’t read A Dance with Dragons, certainly more shocking than last year’s finale which focused mostly on sending the characters out into the world.  We have a few new storylines to look forward to next year: Reek and Sansa on the run to find Brienne and Podrick, Jorah and Daario searching for the queen, Cersei and Qyburn manipulating a zombified Mountain, Davos and Melisandre at the Wall, Sam and Gilly headed for Oldtown, Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm rule Meereen, Arya is a blind assassin, and the Sand Snakes began their revenge. Many storylines ended in “Mother’s Mercy”: Stannis and Selyse, Myrcella and the Dornish experiment, and now Jon’s command of the Night’s Watch.  Make no mistake—this cliffhanger is enormous with thousands of people commenting all over the web about next year.  Is Jon dead? Is he Azor Ahai, ready for rebirth? According to the actor who plays Jon, Kit Harrington (Seventh Son, Silent Hill: Revelation 3D), Ned Stark’s bastard is dead without a planned return.  Those of us in the R + L= J corner may need the year to reevaluate this idea, but keep in mind one small conversation from earlier this season: Littlefinger and Sansa talk about Rhaegar Targaryen right in front of Lyanna’s grave underneath Winterfell.  Is there a harp in that tomb? Only season six will tell and Melisandre is now at the Wall again.  Remember the last time a priest in service to the Lord of Light lost a friend?  It was season two when Thoros of Myr resurrected Beric Dondarrion.





Keywords: game of thrones, mother's mercy, recap, review, hbo, jon snow, arya, night's watch, stannis,
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