Season Five, Episode Ten: “Mother’s Mercy”
By Jarrod Jones. *rubs temples* Where to begin.
Well, the tenth episode to Game of Thrones‘ fifth season kept tradition by supplying us with a violent burst of daunting cliffhangers, a whole bunch of epilogue, and two utterly satisfying deaths with an altogether frustrating one. All told, five people presumably went off to the great unknown last night, but c’mon. This episode was so squeamish that it could scarcely keep its cameras on the bodies long enough to see the deeds done. (Except in the case of Selyse Baratheon or Ser Meryn Trant, but fuck that guy forever.) And maybe that’s deliberate: for years, smug readers of George R.R. Martin’s fabulously obtuse novels have known that death is a rather impermanent thing in Westeros. Perhaps with the White Walkers on the march, showrunners David Benioff and D.W. Weiss are implying that resurrection may be on its way for more than a couple of their characters. Hope! Implied hope!
But, for real: oh, Olly, you silly, stupid little boy… I had that little shit pegged for a dagger-wielding sycophant the moment I laid eyes on him. And where. In the fuck. Was Jon’s direwolf when he really needed him, huh? Huh?
Yeah, there was an awful lot of shady convenience tossed into our narrative this week, which paradoxically helped the show in finally getting over the hump of this entire season’s dawdling place setting. The pace of the episode, as it ratcheted through plot line after plot line (only to linger when it was time for Cersei to suffer), had only one thing on its agenda: getting a fucking move on. And it did so while creating *sigh* more disheartening obstacles that can only portend further gloomy thumb-twiddling to come. So now Mereen will be under the stewardship of Tyrion and Varys. (That ought to be hilarious.) Jamie finally leaves Dorne with his
daughter niece, though he’ll likely regret that decision. Brienne has trouble picking which oath she finds more vitally pressing. And Jon Snow finally gets his Julius Caesar moment. In all, it was a predictable, uncompelling evening of television that somehow meant more for the series than the nine episodes that preceded it.
WHAT WORKED: Now, if you’ve read the books, or paid any attention to this season at all, you must have seen the unceremonious and lamentable end of Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) coming from a mile away. Not a one of us wanted to see the “Stark Bastard” dead, but the truth of the matter is you don’t piss off a squadron of frostbitten virgins and live long to brag about it. Jon was always working against time to broker a shaky truce between the men of the Night’s Watch and the Free Folk before the White Walkers decided to walk all over them anyway, and this has definitely put any progress in that regard on hold indefinitely. (Expect a massacre around the beginning of Season Six, or The Winds of Winter, whichever comes first.) This was a conclusion — sad as it was — that made perfect sense.
Whether you flat-out enjoyed the walk of shame for Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), or you’re a human being with a wide spectrum of emotions, there is one thing we can all agree on: this is the first time we’ve ever got a good look at the actual scale of King’s Landing. Yeah, it’s big on all those damned maps, but this is the first time where it felt like King’s Landing was more than a small collection of rooms. That walk felt like it took forever (by the time the Queen Mother finally made it to the doors of the Red Keep, her bare feet were a blight of shredded flesh and scarlet gore), not only because it was such a disgusting, harrowing sight, but because the show always kept the scope of its kingdom at the forefront. I don’t know if you’d call that a balance, but it’s something.
Ah, so go figure. Nobody wanted to fight and die for some upstart zealot who had more faith in a dubious religion than his own men. After a presumably good night’s sleep following the sight of his own daughter burning to death, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) wakes up to find that nearly half of his marching army has fucked off to anywhere else. And then he’s confronted by a bannerman with even more news. “Speak up. Can’t be worse than mutiny.” And once more, Stannis Baratheon is dead wrong. With the suicide of his wife, Stannis’ arc felt like it had finally come full circle. And watching his plans quickly unravel just before Roose Bolton’s armies encircle his beleagured horde showed us a man who had made his peace with impending oblivion. (And we finally got to see Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) do something aside from staring pensively at Winterfell.) So thank you, Stannis, for the shortest battle in Game of Thrones’ history. Melisandre sure backed the wrong horse.
WHAT DIDN’T: Brienne of Tarth’s last-second back-turn on Sansa Stark’s (Sophie Turner) cry for help was yet another moment in Game of Thrones where our arms got some exercise. (What with all the throwing them up in exasperation.) All of this buildup, and all of my dreams imbued with images of Brienne putting a broadsword through the lower abdomen of Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon)… all for nothing. Yeah, ol’ Renly deserved a modicum of justice, but wouldn’t you say that your living charge might take precedence over your dead one, Bree? Eh? Eh? Eh. (Now we get to watch Sansa blunder through the snow with Theon all next season. Hoo. Ray.)
I know you’re probably a seasoned warrior when it comes to Game of Thrones, and you prepare like a good soldier: you get all your snacks ready before the screening, you leave your phone in another room, and you make sure your bladder is rendered completely dry before that HBO logo clicks on. But if you needed a reason to get up and see how the paint was peeling in the kitchen, the scene with Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) squabbling over who gets to look for Dany (Emilia Clarke) was the perfect place to glaze over.
And speaking of Dany, it looks like we’re spinning our wheels with the (Negligent) Mother of Dragons. She’s stuck with a jerkface teenager who won’t listen to her (“I’ll take you home after I eat this cow, Mother!” – Drogon), a kingdom that doesn’t respect her, and now here come the Dothraki to keep her as far away from Westeros as she was when this damn show began. *sigh* I suppose the obstinate lethargy of Drogon is a fitting analogy for Game of Thrones‘ fifth season: sure, it could get moving, but it would rather just sit here and chill for a bit.
“I’m glad the end of the world is working out well for someone.” – Jon, after finding out Sam and Gilly… y’know.
“In the name of Renly of the House Baratheon, First of His Name, rightful king of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, I, Brienne of Tarth, sentence you to die. Do you have any last words?” – Brienne, doing something.
BEST MOMENT: Arya gets to work. Ser Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) bombs around brothel after brothel indulging in primal urges that require females in or around the same age as a certain bloodthirsty Stark hellbent on revenge. There was only one way this was going to end. And while there were no surprises to be found here, save for the sheer brutality of Trant’s end, there was some unnerving satisfaction in knowing that he went straight to hell perfectly aware that Arya Stark sent him there.
EPISODE’S MVP: Cersei Lannister. (I know!) You could almost hear her interior monologue as all the righteously pissed off citizens of King’s Landing finally got to take a poke at their Queen Mother: That’s right, keep at it, you heathens. The second I get back to the Red Keep, I’m gonna — ow, that cabbage was raw. Lena Headey’s face was a roadmap of fury, despair, anguish, and resolution for her entire walk of atonement, shifting ever so slightly from one emotion to the next. In a show where there’s really no one to root for (save for Tyrion; hang in there, buddy!), it’s always best to choose the lesser of two evils. And in the cold war between the Sparrows and House Lannister, there’s really only one person to watch: the Queen Mother.
– For all you kids rightfully losing your shit over the apparent death of Jon Snow, remember this: Melisandre didn’t just cut out on Stannis because she knew his cause was lost. The Red Lady’s ideas of who her messiah would be proved wrong, and cutting her losses only to go back to the Wall (of all places) was a very, very deliberate move on her part. Remember, folks: she has a prophecy to fulfill. Here, read this excerpt from Storm of Swords:
There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.
So keep your eyes peeled; Jon still has much work to do.
– Speaking of Melisandre (Carice van Houten), my little theory that she was a White Walker spy is unraveling faster than a mummy at a disco. Ah, well.
– So Kevan Lannister (Ian Gelder) decided to show his face at the Red Keep as Cersei sauntered through the front doors. He’s been giving his niece the coldest of shoulders since he walked out on her at the beginning of the season, but the newly minted Hand of the King will probably need to yank that silver head of his out of his tuchus if he wants to keep that job. And even if he does that, Cersei is probably going to have him killed anyway.
– I don’t know if HBO has a limited budget for its computer-generated creatures, but the bookkeepers need to figure something out with Game of Thrones‘ show runners; Ghost can’t just pop in and out of the show at random like he did this season. Either put him to good use or put him away.