Each week, Adam and David Shimer analyze the latest episode of Game of Thrones from the perspective of a non-book reader. This week they discuss ‘Mother’s Mercy,’ but first they would like to assign some weekly awards:
Tywin Lannister Memorial Award for Best Political Maneuvering: High Sparrow, Season 5’s big winner
Honorable Mention: Melisandre, who apparently knows when to jump off a sinking ship
Eddard Stark Memorial Award for Worst Political Maneuvering: Jon Snow for upholding the timeless Stark tradition of being suicidally honorable and trusting
Honorable Mention: Stannis, who went from optimistically looking at melting snow to decapitated in the blink of an eye
Brandon Stark Award for Most Boring Storyline: Sam and Gilly’s (hopefully permanent) farewell
Honorable Mention: Selyse committing suicide
Jaime Lannister’s Right Hand Award for Best Fight Sequence: Injured Stannis vs. two Boltons
Honorable Mention: Theon shoving Myranda to her death (if she wanted Ramsay all to herself, why wouldn’t she let Sansa escape?)
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DS: Game of Thrones no longer has to deal with an enormous cast — half of the show’s characters just died. In the Season 5 finale, the showrunners had their own version of the Red Wedding, and everyone paid the price. In Westeros, there is no such thing as a good guy or a bad guy (unless your name is Stark). All characters make mistakes and all characters have to face the consequences, with only some of them shown any level of mercy along the way. Stannis and Selyse lucked out. Compared to what they did to Shireen, their deaths were relatively painless. I’d throw Cersei (the sinner) and Arya (the avenger) into the mercy category as well. Based on their circumstances and actions, they both should have died. Instead, Cersei lost her dignity and Arya lost her vision. Things could have turned out better, but they certainly could have turned out much, much worse. Think about Jon, Myrcella, and Shireen, all of whom faced horrible, undeserved deaths. Where was their mercy?
AS: I would not say that Stannis “lucked out” because he certainly had a tough day in the office — his wife killed herself, half his army mutinied and his personal mistress/priestess/evil-witch-who-convinced-him-to-burn-his-daughter-alive abandoned him. At least he had the Bolton’s army and Brienne to put him out of his misery. I almost pity Stannis — he wasn’t a monster in the way that Ramsay is and Joffrey was, but rather just a desperate soldier who was led astray by a fanatic. While Stannis originally thought otherwise, there was never going to be a siege of Winterfell — only a slaughter. I was afraid at the end of the battle that Ramsay was going to find the mortally wounded Stannis and give him the gruesome death that he truly didn’t deserve, so I was glad that his death instead provided Brienne with her opportunity for revenge. It’s ironic that she ultimately got her vengeance only by committing her first dishonorable act: Brienne pledged to protect Sansa, but she left her post where she was watching the tower in order to pursue a personal vendetta. (After weeks and weeks, you couldn’t just stay there for one more minute?) Brienne abandoned Sansa right when she needed her most in yet another example of twisted Game of Thrones logic, where justice and any semblance of karma are nonexistent. At least Stannis’s death was somewhat just in its simplicity. Brienne and Stannis were very similar characters, two soldiers that valued loyalty and responsibility above all else. So when Stannis muttered his last words to Brienne — “Go on, do your duty,” — I could not think of a better way for him to die, nor a better person for those words to be spoken to.
DS: The interaction between Stannis and Brienne reminded me of the honor that doomed the Starks of old and no longer defines the remaining Stark children. The tragedy of the Starks centers on honor and obliviousness, a dangerous combination in an even more dangerous world; a combination that cost Ned, Catelyn, Robb, and Jon their lives. Fortunately, Arya and Sansa are in the midst of escaping the flaws of their elders. Rather than linger in Winterfell, Sansa fled because she realized that Ramsay would eventually kill her. That decision might seem logical at first, but it’s also highly significant. Ned, Catelyn, Robb, and Jon failed to recognize the dangers around them, and they paid the iron price. Instead of behaving in the same way, Sansa took action while she still could. Now she has a fighting chance. Just as Sansa defied Ramsay in the season finale, Arya also defied the Faceless Men. She put honor aside, stole a face, and used that face to facilitate the execution of Meryn Trant. Arya hasn’t learned what it means to be “no one,” but her actions suggest she is no longer a traditional Stark. Sure, both sisters made mistakes this season. Sansa let Littlefinger manipulate her, and Arya failed to recognize the repercussions of her actions — a classic Stark mistake, though I doubt she’ll remain blind for long. Sansa and Arya still have room to grow, but they made significant progress this season. Here’s to hoping the tragedy of the Starks dies with Jon.
AS: Jon’s ending wasn’t the only tragic one, with the storyline in Dorne also meeting a violent and depressing end. Jaime failed on his mission to save his only daughter from Ellaria and her trio of murderous minions. Moral of the story: When someone passionately kisses you goodbye after swearing to kill you only the day before, something has probably gone horribly, horribly wrong. Jaime served on the Kingsguard for half his life, but at this point I wouldn’t trust him to protect his left hand. Only last episode Ellaria said to Jaime that she understood that Myrcella had no part in Oberyn’s death, and yet the next time they met Ellaria was suddenly planting the kiss of death right smack on her lips. This death was especially painful because Jaime and Myrcella had just shared one of the most emotional scenes of the season in which one of Jaime’s children accepted him as a father for the first time. It was a heartwarming moment, which is unfortunately the show’s own version of giving a character the kiss of death. This scene connected back to the very first one of Season 5 when the witch promised a young Cersei that “gold will be [her childrens’] shroud.” Two down and one to go and so it seems that Tommen is now in mortal danger. Cersei’s children are suddenly perishing as fast as her dignity (ouch, okay, too soon…too soon). It seems that the fate of the Lannister family is quietly becoming as tragic as that of the Starks. Joffrey, Tywin, Myrcella, Ned, Catelyn, Robb, and now Jon — Westeros is riddled with Lannister and Stark corpses, which is apparently the price of playing “the game” at the highest level.
DS: In many ways, Cersei would benefit from dying like so many Starks and Lannisters already have because she wouldn’t have to watch her three children die, one by one. After all of the tragedies Cersei has been through, it is remarkable that she remains unbroken. But Myrcella’s death could change that. In the season finale, Cersei lost her daughter and probably her lover/brother, as she will most definitely blame Jaime for the death of Myrcella. That makes Tommen the only person in the world Cersei absolutely loves, and we all know he will die before she does. Cersei knows that too, which is why she was so desperate to regain her freedom. Her deep desire to see Tommen — to take one more step toward the Red Keep — blinded her to larger political realities. On the outside, it appeared the High Sparrow was allowing for Cersei to return to her source of power. But that walk robbed her of any power she once held, as her authority diminished in front of thousands of vengeful eyes. To the people of King’s Landing, the High Sparrow has become more powerful than the Queen herself.
AS: While the High Sparrow solidified his power, Jon Snow’s shocking death marked the end of his illustrious (aka disastrous) reign as Lord Commander. He was one of the last good guys left on the show, which was why, unfortunately, it was his time to exit, at least for now (more on that in the random thoughts). Ned Stark tried to be Hand of the King and died, Robb Stark tried to be King in the North and died, and now Jon Snow has met his end while trying to be Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The Stark men were great fighters and even greater people — they placed the highest priority on honor, loyalty, and responsibility — but they were not politicians. All three failed to see the mutiny and betrayal that their actions were fermenting amongst their own allies. Jon did what he believed to be right when he defied popular opinion and allowed the wildlings to go south of The Wall. He did this even though he knew it would anger most of the Night’s Watch, and while he recognized the anger that his actions caused, he failed to comprehend its ramifications. He saw the world through his own lens of honor and commitment, and just as Ned never saw Littlefinger’s betrayal coming and Robb never saw Roose Bolton and Walder Frey’s, Jon never understood that Alliser’s disagreement could turn into outright mutiny. It wasn’t in Jon’s DNA to mistrust his allies, which is why he has now joined Ned and Robb on the list of honorably foolish Starks that were too pure to survive in the world of Westeros.
AS: Random thoughts to close the review —
- Is Jon Snow really dead? Will Melisandre use her dark magic to revive him? Why wasn’t an orchestra playing “The Rains of Castamere” in the background?
- For a second I thought that Sansa and Theon made an impromptu suicide pact and jumped to their deaths while clutching hands, but apparently there was a snowbank!
- I really hate Olly, the little kid in the Night’s Watch.
- Jaime has now held two of his children in his arms while poison slowly killed them. This was certainly a tough episode for the Lannister twins.
- Things I’m most excited for next season: Tyrion and Varys ruling Meereen together, the adventures of Sansa and Theon (I miss Arya/the Hound and Jaime/Brienne), and Cersei using her new Frankenstein warrior to go on a rampage of revenge.
- The only thing I’m not excited for next season: Sam and Gilly playing house while he trains to be a Maester.
- Jaqen H’ghar just went from lovably creepy to just plain creepy.
- Watching Daenerys interact with her captors from a point of weakness next season will be a great change of pace for her character. Her best moments have always come when she defied the odds and did something awe-inspiring. She rarely had the chance to do that from her Meereenese throne.
M.I.A. this episode: Roose Bolton, Littlefinger, Tommen, and the Tyrells
Deaths: Selyse and Stannis Baratheon, Jon Snow, Myrcella Baratheon, Meryn Trant