“Game of Thrones” Season Five Finale Recap & Review: “Mother’s Mercy”

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Mother's Mercy
Jonathan Pryce and Lena Headey in “Game of Thrones”
Photo: HBO

A bold new era has begun on “Game of Thrones“. We are now (with a few exceptions) all on the same page. The major events book readers have kept under wraps for as long as they could, have played out on screen. With much of season five carrying the trend of diverting from the novels towards downright invention, the discussion surrounding the show has become more complex. Now that the show has delivered on many of this season’s promises, there is a lot to talk about.

No one will consider “Mother’s Mercy” an optimistic or hopeful episode and Stannis (Stephen Dillane) sets the tone. After his horrific actions seem to have paid off in the form of a thaw, he is quickly dealt three massive blows that could only be interpreted as cosmic retribution. His men have abandoned him, his wife has abandoned him, and his lord has abandoned him when Melisandre (Carice van Houten) rides north. With nowhere else to turn, Stannis presses on. He marches his army south to clash with the Boltons.

Mother's Mercy
Stephen Dillane and Carice van Houten in “Game of Thrones”
Photo: HBO

Stannis has been complicated this season to say the least. He’s had glimmers of humanity — his grammar corrections, his retelling of Shireen’s (Kerry Ingram) battle with greyscale, his relative position in opposition to the despicable Boltons — but he’s also done one of the worst things “Game of Thrones” has put up on screen. Stannis is pragmatic and obviously willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. When events start going wrong all at once, he doesn’t know what else to do but to keep going.

He should have known the tide was turning. After ending up injured during his battle with the Boltons, it should come as no surprise his bad luck gets worse. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) finally arrives, exacting her revenge. Stannis remains pragmatic to the end. He refuses to give Brienne the satisfaction of begging for his life and seems to have no use for it anymore anyway. Stannis’ end comes in a very Stannis way. While emotion swirls around him, he remains bitter and stern and takes what he feels he earned.

Mother's Mercy
Sophie Turner in “Game of Thrones”
Photo: HBO

Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) storyline this season ends in a way I was fearing after the events of “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken“. She does take a bit of control and uses the stolen tool to unlock a door and make her way freely throughout Winterfell. She even lights the candle in the broken tower to signal Brienne, only she does it too late. She even stands up to Myranda (Charlotte Hope) at arrow point.

Unfortunately, it ends up being Reek (Alfie Allen) who gets to save the day. Culminating Sansa’s journey in Theon’s reawakening cheapens some of the progress Sansa has made. All that she had to withstand in Winterfell now seems only to have been for the benefit of Theon. This inevitability is what caused a lot of the outrage with “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” but now that its done, the continued adventures of Sansa and Theon should prove interesting.

Mother's Mercy
Lena Headey in “Game of Thrones”
Photo: HBO

This is the episode where we get another event I was dreading to see on screen. Cersei’s (Lena Headey) atonement walk is an absolutely brutal read in the books. Watching the conviction with which Lena Heady plays the scene from her confession to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) all the way through to when she swears silent revenge while in the massive arms of the reanimated Mountain (Hafthor Julius Bjornsson) is entirely compelling.

The writers took extra care this season to bring Cersei front and center so these events would have significant impact. As hard as they are to watch, they are proof that reprehensible scenes can be handled in a way that can simultaneously highlight the brutality of Westeros and work thematically. This episode turns out to be all about those with any preconceived notion of power losing it all. Stannis felt he was the rightful king, Myranda felt power over Sansa, Cersei felt power over all of King’s Landing, Arya (Maisie Williams) felt power over her past in her assassination of the abhorrent Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie), and Dany (Emilia Clarke), while alone, felt powerful with her dragon. All are proven wrong by episode’s end and what Cersei has to endure is the most brutal reminder of how quickly power can disappear.

Mother's Mercy
Kit Harington and John Bradley in “Game of Thrones”
Photo: HBO

On the other hand, a very strong argument could be made that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) faces the most brutal reminder that he is powerless. His decision to inevitably sacrifice brothers of the Night’s Watch in the effort to save Wildlings was controversial from the start. He believed, as he had to, that being Lord Commander granted him the final say in the matter. He need only recall how the last Lord Commander fared when he lost the support of those he commanded. The show gives Jon’s final scene an emotional touch point not found in the books by giving Olly (Brenock O’Connor) the killing blow.

Many book readers have been against the appearance of Olly since his introduction last season when a group of Wildlings lead by Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) raided his village and killed his family. Most show watchers assumed it was because book readers would be against anything that wasn’t to be found in the books. The fact is, at least for me, Olly fulfilling this role was basically inevitable with the foreknowledge of Jon’s fate.

Foreknowledge will be hard to come by in season six. All the remaining characters are in precarious positions and there doesn’t seem to be any hope on the horizon. I’m excited to see what stories will unfold on “Game of Thrones” next, even if, for the first time, I don’t know what they will be.

Thank you all for joining me these past ten weeks to talk about “Game of Thrones”! There is still a lot to unpack with this finale and the season as a whole. Are you looking forward to the next season? With the various controversies that popped up this season, do you still feel the same way about the show as you did before the season began? Let’s talk about it below!