Sunday, June 21, 2015

Game of Thrones (S5E10): "Mother's Mercy"

The finale of Season 5 (S5E10) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "Mother's Mercy." The significance of this episode to the overall project of adapting George R.R. Martin's landmark fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire can not be overstated. The fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons was released in July 2011 and the most of the events depicted in this book have now been depicted in Season 5 of the show. What this means that unless the next book, The Winds of Winter is published before HBO's Game of Thrones Season 6 begins in Spring 2016, the television show will be revealing aspects of the story have not appeared in the books. This basically inverts the usual relationship between written source material and a filmed adaptation. In reality this inversion has already been going on, because some of the events depicted in earlier episodes of Season 5 do not appear in Book 4 or Book 5 so either the producers were deviating from the source material or they were depicting events that would appear in the as-yet-unpublished Book 6.

This episode contained one of the highest body counts of previously introduced characters in the show's history. After the murder of his own child on a fiery altar to the Red God (in S5E09), Stannis Barratheon has sold his soul to try to sit on the Iron Throne and although we see that the weather has improved his overall situation has gone from bad to worse. Unsurprisingly, at least half of his troops have abandoned his cause (taking all the horses with them), presumably repulsed by the man who would be King willing to sacrifice his only child in such a barbaric fashion. Additionally, his wife Selyse decided that she could not live with the reality that she had stood by and watched her only child burn to death and she hung herself. Stannis grimly (or stupidly) decides to continue ahead with his siege of Winterfell (even though he also gets word at that point that Lady Melissandre has been seen leaving the camp in the direction of Castle Black). However the Boltons decide to come out behind their protected walls and  meet him on the field of battle, using their now overwhelming numerical advantage to basically slaughter the remaining troops led by the person Lord Petyr Baerlish called "the greatest military mind in the Seven Kingdoms." At the end of the battle, Brienne catches up with Stannis and is finally to inflict the ultimate punishment on  Stannis for his use of the Red Witch's blood magic to kill his brother Renly Barratheon way back in Season 2 right before her horrified eyes when she served as Renly's Kingsguard. And thus House Barratheon is basically ended (although technically teenaged Tommen Barratheon is on the Iron Throne, everyone knows that he is actually full-blooded Lannister).

Sansa takes advantage of the battle happening just outside the walls of Winterfell to finally use the device she squirreled away previously (in S5E07) to escape from her room and finally light the candle at the top of the old tower (but Brienne is out hunting for Stannis and thus again  only to be caught by Ramsay's mistress, the dogmaster's daughter Miranda and Reek. Happily, Reek finally realizes he is still Theon and saves Sansa by pushing Miranda to her death. Then, holding hands, Reek Theon and Sansa jump over the balustrade in a way that looks like an attempted suicide or the famous jump from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. we'll have to wait until Season 6 to find out if Sansa survives, but it is known there are Sansa chapters in Martin's Book 6.

The show then cuts to the other remaining female member of House Stark where arya has fully realized her ability to impersonate another person and does so as an underage girl in a whorehouse that Ser Meryn Trant frequents in Braavos. She whips out a knife and violently stabs out his eyes and then as he whimpers she tells him her name and then slits her throat. However, when she gets back to the House of Black and White, she is chastised by her Faceless mentor for killing someone who was not on her task list and through a magical potion she is blinded. This is what happens to Arya in Book 5, so we are fully caught up with her story now.

In Essos, we see a bedraggled Dany trying to get a very unwell looking Drogon to get up and fly her back to Mereen,but he won't respond so she starts walking and finds herself in a verdant valley. She realizes someone is watching her and soon a person on horseback approaches, slipping a distinctive ring off her finger, she watches open-mouthed while what looks like hundreds of Dothraki on horseback suddenly appear from the grassland and surround her. Since Dany's story began way back in Season 1 as a timid little girl who was sold by her brother to a Dothraki warlord, it is ironic indeed that she find herslef back among them. Happily, she does speak excellent Dothraki and knows their culture very well. Back in Mereen we see Ser Jorah and Daario deciding to go out and search for Dany, leaving Tyrion, Missandei and Grey Worm behind to rule the city in their mistress' absence. Happily, Varys finally makes and appearance, reminding Tyrion that he has some experience running a city filled with deceit, graft and despair.

In Dorne, we see Jaime and Bronn setting off at a dock with Myrcella, leaving Prince Doran and the San Snakes behind. The Viper's widow Ellaria Sand has sworn her allegiance (on pain of death) to Doran earlier but as the party leaves she gives a curiously long and intense open-mouthed kiss on the lips to Myrcella. Later on we see a heart-to-heart conversation with Jaime where he finally tries to tell his niece that she is in fact his daughter, but she stops him, saying "I know, and I'm glad that you're my father." Just as Jaime's heart swells with relief and joy, blood starts pouring from his daughter's nose and we realize that Ellaria has finally gotten her revenge, using poisoned lips to kill another one of Cersei Lannister's children.

Back in King's Landing we get one of the most famous scenes from the book, Cersei's comeuppance, known by fans as the Walk of Shame. Her head is shaved and she is stripped naked and forced to walk naked from the High Sept all the way to the Red Keep (through the slums of Fleabottom), with crowds of thousands throwing refuse and abuse on her head. It is a harrowing scene, almost 10-minutes in length and Lena Headey does an amazing job. Apparently a body double was used for the scene, but it is still incredibly powerful.

Finally we come to one of the most important moments in the show, the final 2 minutes of the episode. It happens at the Wall, of course. First we see Melissandre arriving and when Ser davos asks her about Shireen's well-being she says nothing but looks grim and walks on. Then we see Olly rushing in to the Lord  Commander's office where we see Jon Snow writing at his desk and tells him that his Uncle Benjen has been sighted at The Wall. Benjen disappeared beyond the Wall in Season 1 and was one of the reasons why Jon jioned the NIght's Watch in the first place. He rushes outside to a vantage point to try and see Benjen and is confronted with a sign that says "Traitor" instead. When he turns arund, he is surrounded by his men and Ser Alliser (his deputy) growls "For The Watch" and stabs a knife between his ribs. Two others follow, and as Jon sinks to his knees Olly, the orphan boy who Jon saved from certain death and brought into the Night's Watch stabs Jon through the heart, saying "For The Watch." We watch as Jon Snow sinks to his back, face up, eyes wide open as a pool of dark red blood grows larger and lager behind him. They killed Jon Snow!

The highlights of this episode were:
  • Cersei's walk was incredibly emotional. One of the high points of the season. You definitely feel like even though you have hated her for five seasons, did she really deserve that? (The answer is yes.)
  • The banter between Varys and Tyrion was great, as always. There's also the hint that the banter between Daario and Ser Jorah, two men who both love Dany, will also be entertaining in season 6.
  • Arya's butchering of Ser Meryn Trant was scary to see and shows how far down her vengeful path she has traversed.
There were no lowlights although it was very sad that we did not get to see any kind of telltale glow in Jon Snow's eyes and this seems to indicate that he really may be dead, crushing the hopes of millions of viewers who saw him and Dany as the only chance of some semblance of good triumphing over evil in the entire story. Plus the fact that Ramsay Bolton is shown torturing dying soldiers at the end of the skirmish with Stanis' force, unharmed and shouting "I want to see my wife, she must be lonely." If the odiously evil Ramsay has not beem punished in the story it really seems like good will not triumph over evil after all. But then again, as the saying goes, "If you think this story has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention."
Grade: 10/10.

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