This is it: we’ve reached the end of our long and winding Game of Thrones Memory Lane. What started with the long-ago first episode “Winter is Coming” comes to a resolute finish with the season 5 finale “Mother’s Mercy.” The journey has been filled with laughs, twists, love and death, and every step of it a reminder that there is still more to come, as we head into the sixth season of Game of Thrones.
“Mother’s Mercy” is not the “clean-up in aisle 3” finale that we’d grown accustomed to in the first few years of the show. Rather than tidying up after the events of previous episodes, the season finale is packed with huge moments and big deaths, and leaves many characters’ fates and next moves up in the air. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss won an Emmy for writing this episode, David Nutter picked up one for directing it, and it’s no surprise that this is the episode they chose to submit. The board is reset in a major way, and it gives the stars of the show plenty of rich material to play with.
Fun memory: I rewatched this episode before sitting down to write this. I also watched the “Previously on Game of Thrones” quick recap before the episode, and remembered what a furor it caused last year with its inclusion of Benjen Stark. Everyone thought it meant we would be seeing Uncle Benjen returning in the episode. What a glorious trolljob that was.
The episode begins on a slight upbeat note- the freeze that’s blocked Stannis’ army is thawing, according to the icicles Melisandre is eyeing. (The icicles were hilariously dubbed “a Winterfell clock” by Lena Headey in the Blu-ray commentary.) For just a moment, we’re led to believe that Stannis’ horrific act of burning his daughter Shireen has brought him the success his red priestess promised.
But as it turns out, there’s also bad news: soldiers apparently don’t like it when you torch your own offspring. The storm may have gone, but half of his army have deserted with the horses, and to compound that, Selyse has hanged herself out of remorse for her daughter’s death. It’s always been apparent that there’s no real affection between Stannis and his wife, but he prides himself on being a man who does his duty- and he did not do his duty by his wife and child, in the end. He chose his ambitions and a supposed duty to a throne he didn’t really hold over their wishes and lives, and was more loyal to his priestess and her visions than his family. Things are very grim, indeed.
And then the worst of the news is delivered: Melisandre has deserted him as well. There’s nothing left for Stannis, but to press on and march on foot to Winterfell.
At the Wall, we get the pleasure of one last Jon and Sam bonding talk. The Lord Commander relates to Sam the nightmarish battle at Hardhome, and the necessity of dragonglass and Valyrian steel for the war ahead is highlighted. Sam asks for permission to leave the Wall for Oldtown. He says it’s to study as a maester to help the Watch, but really it’s to get Gilly and the baby away from the Wall and the encroaching threat from the north. Naturally, being Jon and Sam, they find time for a little awkward sex talk.
No matter how many times I watch this scene I always laugh at Jon’s careful and then incredulous, “Sam.” “What?” “Sam. You’ve just been beaten half to death.” Kit Harington honestly doesn’t get enough credit for his performance. It can’t be easy, playing a character as stoic as Jon is, but he makes it work. I think Benioff and Weiss throughout the series have done remarkable work in developing Sam and Jon’s friendship, along with the natural partnership the actors bring to the table.
After agreeing to Sam’s request, Gilly, Sam and the baby are on their way. It feels like a truly final goodbye this time, for the two men who have become like brothers.
At Winterfell, Stannis and his army arrive, trudging along without horses in a rather sad death march, just as Sansa escapes her room in order to finally ask for Brienne’s help with the highly questionable candle-in-the-window trick.
With remarkly good (bad) timing, Pod brings the news to Brienne of Stannis’s impending arrival. She makes the fatal decision to abandon her post in order to hunt down Stannis, just before Sansa’s flame flickers to life in the tower.
If you cock your head and listen closely, in the distance you can still hear millions of fans shrieking, “OH COME ON!”
Stannis’s pathetic remnants of an army assemble and discover that the planned siege isn’t going to happen. Realizing that the opposing army is in shambles, the Boltons are riding out to greet them in force. Understanding now that everything Melisandre predicted for him has come to nothing, a resigned Stannis Baratheon draws his sword and plunges into battle.
The Baratheon army is swallowed up by the Bolton forces, surrounded and decimated in a devastating attack.
Perhaps not surprising for a man as stubborn as he is, Stannis survives the initial attack, albeit injured. He fights off Bolton men (ah there’s the Mannis we remember!) but his leg is slashed, and he can no longer even stand. Collapsing against a tree, he’s done for. It’s here that Brienne of Tarth discovers him.
Stannis doesn’t even know who she is, this woman who has sworn vengeance against him for so long. And the Brienne who watched Renly die is like a different woman altogether. I somehow doubt this will bring her as much peace and resolution as she’d hope.
Brienne introduces herself, explaining how she watched Renly die at his hands thanks to blood magic, and in the end, Stannis admits he is responsible for his brother’s death. She sentences him to die.
Terse to the bitter end, he tells her to do her duty. She does, and the sword falls.
Her questionable-candle method a failure, Sansa tries to get back to her room undetected by Ramsay. Unfortunately she runs into Myranda first, on the walkway over the courtyard. The young woman menaces her as Reek looks on, conflicted. Myranda taunts Sansa until Reek snaps and throws Ramsay’s favorite torture pal over the railing and down to her death on the stones below. With no other good choice at hand, Sansa and Reek- no, Theon– have to run. The two clasp hands, deciding to take a chance on the dangerous leap of faith over the walls of Winterfell, rather than face Ramsay ever again. They might die, but if so, it will be as themselves.
But we all know that Ramsay won’t let go of his wife and his plaything that easily.
Across the Narrow Sea in Braavos, the other Stark sister is also reclaiming her identity, albeit in a very different fashion.
Having discovered in the previous episode that Meryn Trant (murderer of her water dancing teacher Syrio Forel) is in town and visiting very young brothel workers, Arya slips away from the House of Black and White to make her move. Using the face of the young girl Ghita whom she helped die a few episodes ago, Arya infiltrates the girls Meryn is choosing from for the evening.
Once alone, she wastes no time, taking her vengeance ruthlessly without hesitation. We’ve spent episodes this season watching her insist she’s no one, and watching her try to at least be someone else, but in the end, Arya rejects the training. With Meryn on his knees, she reminds him of what he did to Syrio Forel and announces her name, taking back her identity before cutting his throat. Another name crossed off her list.
Her escapade hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Faceless Men, however, who teach her the lesson once again that there must be balance. A debt is owed, only death can pay for life. Jaqen, her only friend left in the world, appears to die before her. Except it’s a trick- the faces are for No One, and to Someone like her, the faces are like poison. Caught in some sort of fevered hallucination, she sees several faces including her own on the corpse, and the world blurring until she looks up- blind.
What will this mean for Arya in season 6? The blind assassin is a popular trope in literature and film, and based on the trailers, her lack of eyesight won’t prevent her training from proceeding in the House of Black and White.
On the docks in Dorne, Ellaria begs for Myrcella’s forgiveness for their kidnapping attempt with an uncomfortably long kiss on the mouth. Bronn and Tyene Sand bid farewell and no one said anything else, certainly nothing about bad pussy, I refuse to acknowledge it ever happened.
Aboard ship, Myrcella and Jaime share a tender bonding moment. In the discussion, the princess admits she knows that he’s her father- and she’s actually glad about it. (With a guy like Robert Baratheon as the alternative, I don’t blame her.) One of Jaime’s children finally knows they’re his, and embraces him as their father. It’s a beautiful moment.
Naturally that means it had to go to hell immediately. A trickle of blood flows from Myrcella’s nose, and then more. As the blood pours from her, and the good-hearted princess dies in her father’s arms, we return to the docks. Ellaria, we see, was dosed with the same poison on her lips. Only she has the antidote, and poor Myrcella presumably doesn’t.
This is a bit of a predicament, with Trystane Martell on board the ship, and Jaime likely in a murderous rage. We should’ve known that Ellaria’s tearful apology to Doran and her docile behavior wasn’t genuine. It was nearly a suicidal move on her part, but for Ellaria, perhaps it’s worth it. Or perhaps she has faith in her cunning and that of her Snakes to maneuver their way out of anything Doran can throw at them.
In Essos, Meereen’s Saddest Boyband sits lost without their khaleesi. (Hey, at least Grey Worm is back on his feet finally.) After quality moping and sniping, the men make plans – Daario and Jorah will go out and search for Daenerys, while Tyrion, Missandei and Grey Worm will stay in the city to govern. Tyrion has become a Hand once more.
It’s very funny how Varys resurfaces just in time- as usual, he avoids the carnage and chaos, and slides into a neat spot of power. Season six looks promising, with the team of Varys and Tyrion once more taking on a city with wine and snark.
Speaking of the khaleesi- she’s touched down in the Dothraki Sea which is far less wet than it sounds. The wounded and petulant Drogon refuses to budge, much to Daenerys’ chagrin. Stranded alone and hungry, Daenerys is out of options until the dragon is ready to move. She wanders across the field- and within moments finds herself engulfed in a Dothraki khalasar. As she spots the warriors approach, she slips a ring from her finger and leaves it behind- a signal to anyone who comes looking. (It’s pretty obvious someone will find that tiny ring in the massive expanse of Dothraki Sea, as unlikely as it should be. I’d have believed it easier if she’d left it near Drogon’s bony nest.)
So it appears that in season six, in order to move forward, Daenerys has to go back to the beginning. She’s in the hands of the Dothraki, but now she’s older, wiser, fluent in their tongue and her (wounded) dragon is nearby. She may be retreading some steps, but her moves can have a completely different spin on them this time.
Still imprisoned, Cersei sees the only way out of her situation is to play the High Sparrow’s game. She confesses to (some of) her sins, owning her infidelity with Lancel but lying with admirable skill about the parentage of her children. Clearly she knows admitting that would cost Tommen his crown and possibly all of them their lives. She begs for mercy, to be allowed out of the prison and to see her son, but first, the High Sparrow declares, she must complete her atonement.
The walk we saw earlier in the season with the previous High Septon was just a small preview of the one in “Mother’s Mercy.” Shorn of her long hair, there is no way for Cersei to hide her body from the public. The queen regent is marched before the people of King’s Landing, exposed as a sinner, and forced to walk naked from the Great Sept of Baelor all the way to the Red Keep, where she will remain free until her trial.
Lena Headey was nominated for an Emmy for this episode, and she damn well should have won it. She was incredible.
Initially, Cersei holds herself like a queen, despite being made to parade through the filthy streets of the city. The harsh Septa Unella follows close behind, with her endless cries of “Shame!” The shouting begins almost immediately. The people whom Cersei and the rich nobles have lorded over enjoy the show, subjecting her to thrown refuse and exposing themselves at her in return. There isn’t an ounce of mercy or a single sympathetic face in the crowd. They hate her, they absolutely loathe her, every one of these people of King’s Landing. Cersei isn’t going to forget that.
Cersei’s pride wanes as she walks, the roar of the crowd growing, and she begins to stumble close to the end. Her feet are raw and bloodied, but she sees the Red Keep, and presses on homeward to her son. Though teary-eyed, Cersei Lannister doesn’t stop. She always keeps moving; that’s her way. I’m reminded of her in “Blackwater,” and of how she was determined to take her own life and that of her son rather than sit quietly and wait to be slaughtered. Even when it was destructive, Cersei remains in charge and active in determining her fate.
Now, her fate is largely in the hands of others…but not for long. Covered in blood and filth, she enters the Red Keep. Safe from the eyes of the crowd, it’s only then she gives in to sobbing.
Strangely perceptive in his way, Qyburn presents her with a tool of vengeance at once, a gift to soothe the indignity she’s just suffered. The silent and monstrous new Kingsguard who carries her will no doubt be a weapon in the near future. Hatred burns in her eyes harder than ever. Cersei isn’t broken, there isn’t an ounce of shame in her and there will be no mercy for her enemies in season six.
Returning to the Wall, Melisandre arrives back at Castle Black a different woman. Davos sees at once the change in her. Without words, he understands: Stannis, Shireen, everything. Lost. The confident woman we’ve known since the second season is shaken and we have to ask: was there any meaning behind Melisandre’s visions? What now for the red priestess and the Onion Knight, both of whom have shaped their lives and goals around their king?
In his office, Jon Snow is dealing with the tedious scrollwork of his job when Olly interrupts with incredible news: his uncle Benjen has been seen alive! A wildling saw him at Hardhome. Amazing! Wow! So incredible it’s hard to believe! Because it’s totally not happening!
Instead of his long-missing uncle, Jon finds a sign reading TRAITOR tacked up. Confused, he finds himself surrounded by members of the Night’s Watch.
Alliser Thorne delivers the first blow and you know he’s been waiting for that since “Lord Snow” first showed him up in the training courtyard, years before. His fellow mutinying men take turns delivering their blows, stabbing into Jon, but it’s the final one that cuts the most. Olly faces Jon, knife in hand. “For the Watch,” the boy says, the blade driving into him.
Jon falls to the ground. Against the snow, he bleeds out and the light leaves his eyes. Jon dies.
With the death of Jon Snow, it appears Game of Thrones has killed off a leading man once again. But they wouldn’t really do that again…would they?
Introductions: The silent new Kingsguard member, who is suspiciously tall and huge.
Deaths: “Mother’s Mercy” had no mercy whatsoever, knocking off Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Selyse Baratheon (Tara Fitzgerald), Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and his entire army, Myrcella Baratheon (Nell Tiger Free), Myranda (Charlotte Hope) and Ser Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) within a single episode.
The Walk of Atonement was a painfully dramatic moment. So naturally it became a meme of sorts.
The Walk has become a popular choice for cosplay and Halloween costumes.
And oh yeah, there are remixes. Septa Unella’s “Shame” and her bell-ringing cried out for it.
And that wraps it up! Our Memory Lane has come to an end. I’d like to thank our WotW staff- Petra, Oz, Nate, Geoffery, Marc Kleinhenz, Cian, Bex, WinterPhil and Axechucker- for their contributions to the #GOT50 project.
We’d also like to thank the guest writers for stepping up and providing their own takes on the wild, weird and amazing world that is Game of Thrones:
Greatjon of Slumber
Game of Thrones has the best fans, and I’m proud to be a part of this community with them, and you all.
One day remains until the season 6 premiere, and now we’re ready.