With as mixed a bag as its entire season, Game of Thrones’ fifth finale jammed in a lot of forward movement, while still leaving several characters’ fates unknown. There was barely a moment to think about, or recover from each previous scene, and for fans of cliffhangers, “Mother’s Mercy” delivered in spades. But from the unexpected defeat of both Stannis and Melisandre, to the momentary triumphs of Arya and Sansa; from Cersei’s submission, to the mutiny against Jon, there wasn’t much to cheer about.
Whatever punishment or fate they faced, Stannis, Cersei, Daenerys, Jon, Sansa (even Reek), bravely took on what came their way. After Shireen’s seemingly pointless death, it’s a testament to Stephen Dillane’s phenomenal skills that we could feel anything at all for a man who watched his daughter burned alive. It was difficult not to admire Stannis leading his men, and fighting alongside those that remained after he’d lost everyone close to him. The wounded would-be-king faced his last two opponents alone, his broken countenance giving way to resignation as Stannis confessed his part in Renly’s murder; the lone Baratheon brother accepted Brienne’s judgement and willingly submitted himself to her sentence.
Though her attack wasn’t unexpected, Arya’s horrifically violent vengeance against the first name on her list may have most surprised. Knowing Meryn Trant’s awful proclivities gave a girl (and us) the idea of how she’d get close and dispose of a man, but for the blinding (and wrongly taken life), Arya must pay with her own sight. In this case, does a life in service pay a death-debt (“Only death can pay for life” means a Stark girl must finally become no one); perhaps her youth and unreadiness earned Arry her second chance. It’s one of several foreshadowings (or in the case of Jaime and Myrcella, ridiculously obvious precursors) come to fruition, as the hour’s punishments are doled out. Of course, as soon as Jaime is for the first time allowed to acknowledge one of his children — right after Ellaria’s awkward mouth-to-mouth kiss off — moments later his daughter would die.
And left alone, after his one friend leaves for Oldtown to become a maester, Jon hears out Davos’ request for aid to Stannis as Melisandre arrives; her cowardly, wordless response confirming the Onion Knight’s worst fears. Jon may wonder why the red priestess returned to the wall, but after Olly’s conversation with Sam, Jon’s fate was written. After Snow is easily led to the mutinous attack, book readers are left in the same spot as non; it’s no spoiler to wonder if Melisandre will rescue Jon (or make another shadow baby). (Kit Harington has made a statement about his character’s fate.)
Rushed through their own lead-in to up-in-the-air fates, Daenerys, Ramsay, Sansa and Theon, almost served as filler material, and rather unsatisfyingly so, at that. There was no word of Margaery or Littlefinger, and though the Tyrion/Jorah/Daario triad provided fabulous wordplay and brief comic relief, our attention was commanded elsewhere — by Cersei’s submission to her act of atonement, and Lena Headey’s exceptional and nuanced performance.
The series’ tendency toward gratuitous nudity aside, if ever an actress laid herself bare, it was Headey as she inhabited Cersei Lannister’s temporarily humbled brain. Defiant until she could no longer stand, Cersei refused to confess all her sins to the High Sparrow, even insisting her one transgression was earned by Robert’s philandering. With gritted teeth and grim acceptance, Cersei stood naked and bore her humiliation; from being scrubbed and shorn, to that long walk of shame, the camera lingered on Headey’s expressive face. It was as if we walked right along through the unforgiving throng in Cersei’s bared and bloody feet, bystanders tossing insults and waste…felt the spit on our own faces. We could feel her let go in utter surrender as the sworn-to-silence, newest King’s Guard member (aka a resurrected Mountain) lifted a broken queen into his arms, Qyburn preparing to tend her wounds.
Tyrion and Daario were on word-fire in the palace; kudos to Michiel Huisman for warming us to Daario 2.0. The boys were nearly as enjoyable as the Varys return that followed, though no one can quite quip it up with Dinklage’s Tyrion, or deliver as drolly as Conleth Hill. “The birds sing in the west, the birds sing in the east, if one knows how to listen.” Tyrion: “If only I knew someone with a vast network of spies.” Varys: “If only. A grand old city, choking on violence, corruption, and deceit. Who could possibly have any experience managing such a massive, ungainly beast?
Taking nothing away from Lena Headey’s performance, there was something wonky about the CGI body double composite that made it all too obvious there was a double.
Was that penis-shot during Cersei’s walk Benioff and Weiss’ nudity equality shoutout?
Dany dropping the ring — to be found, or to keep the Dothraki from knowing she’s a married queen? Presumably, Drogon will fly down and scoop up his mother just in the nick of time again, but that last minute save will tire as quickly as acknowledged daughters die (although, maybe they could swing by pick up Sansa and Theon before the pair hit that snowy ground).
What a Dornish disaster the whole Sand Snakes plotline — and decidedly un-extreme finale — that was. And what would stop Jaime from going straight back to Doran? Will Jaime exact revenge on Trystane? Will Cersei demand it?
We bid emotionless goodbyes to Selyse and Myranda.