The past few weeks, "Game of Thrones" has been dishing out one hard blow after another, pushing many fans (yes, this one included) to the brink. I've said before that Season 5 seemed to be the low point, dramatically speaking. But with so many plot threads, there has been a raging debate about whether the show had gone too far or wallowed too much in the low point. Well, tonight with "Mother's Mercy," the series finally gave us a break from so much bleakness to give us some long-desired deaths, and one satisfyingly gutting one.
We begin in the ruins of Stannis' camp post-horrible-terrible-hideous Shireen sacrifice. The ice is melting, apparently due to the Lord of Light, but nothing else is going in Stannis' favor. Half his troops have bailed, his wretched wife has committed suicide (so long, Selyse!) and Melisandre has fled. I doubt I'm alone in feeling smug satisfaction over these events. And it just goes from bad to worse for this bad dad.
For season after season, we've heard Stannis speeches about why he deserved the Iron Throne. And while he's made some pretty cruel calls over the years (including fratricide and kidnapping his nephew for blood magic), setting his lovely little girl on fire was the last straw for many Stannis the Mannis fans. So, damn wasn't it sweet to see him get massively outnumbered by the Bolton forces? Then, it got all the sweeter, but only after some delicious tension.
We get back to Winterfell, and right away Sansa has used her coveted corkscrew. Unfortunately, not to put a billion holes in Ramsay, but escaping to call for help was also great! Look at her fearful but resolute face as she took advantage of the distraction of the battle to make her bid! It's breath-taking in its hopefulness. Sansa Stark has not been destroyed! But how my heart sank when Brienne missed the signal.
"I, Brienne of Tarth, sentence you to die."
Back to Stannis. The look of resignation on his face as he saw the Bolton's enveloping army was schadenfreude defined. Yet he survived the first wave, only to be cornered by Brienne of Tarth!
For once, Brienne's seemingly bonkers speech about a shadow with Stannis' face is not met with derision, and she finally gets to redeem herself for Renly's death. My only complaint here: I wanted to see it. Of course, this could mean Stannis isn't really dead. But I'd bet a Brienne blow to the neck gets the job done.
The theme of tonight was character's getting what they deserve -- for better and worse. On that note, back we go into Winterfell, where that mean little witch Myranda was tormeting Sansa with torture talk and a bow and arrow. And finally after much abuse, Theon is pushed to his limit and so pushed that sadistic sidekick right off the wall!
Did anyone else throw their arms up and cheer when that happened? That was basically my Super Bowl, wrapped up into one radiant moment of revenge. But that wasn't even the end of Theon's courage: He grabs Sansa's hand, and leads her to a wall of their own. And they do a Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid-style leap into oblivion … or better yet, an unseen snowdrift? Remember, these are Winterfell kids. They surely know some tricks.
"You were the first person on my list, you know."
But Sansa and Theon weren't the only Stark-raised kids to get a win tonight. Far away in Braavos, Arya snatched a mask to bring an end to the heinous Meryn Trant! It was bloody and glorious. Or bloody glorious? No matter. It rocked.
Here's a question for you: Arya has been trained by three warriors, Syrio Forel the water dancer, Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, lover of chickens and massive swords, and Jaqen H'ghar, the assassin with many faces. Whose style did she employ here today? Because I'm going with all three, although not all reverently. The Hound's influence is obvious in the hard and merciless manner of Arya's psycho stabbing. But to get close, she abused the faces of the House of Black and White. And when it looked like things might go against her, you can almost hear her mind scream Syrio's catchphrase "Not today!" So, should her mentors be proud of her? Does it matter?
Of course, Arya herself has some time to ponder this situation as her crossing of the Many-Faced God has gotten her a surreal and nasty punishment. It's a shame too, because how Arya would have loved to see what is going down in King's Landing.
"Naked before the eyes of god and man!"
I know she's evil, but damn, I like Cersei. Even in her lowest moment, forced to starve, be covered in dirt, and kneel before a nut she put in power, she won't give up her secrets. Lancel, sure. Jaime? Never. And so she walks, that long, hard road to back to the Red Keep, but stripped of her lustrous and protective Lannister locks, her clothes, and her dignity. To her credit, she held it together even as her subjects seethed with stares that shot daggers, even as the cold crone yelled "SHAME SHAME SHAME!" behind her. But then came the spitting, the obscenities, the flashings, the wave upon wave of loathing she's long earned.
Of course, Cersei deserves all of this and more. Yet in this moment, even the most hardened "Game of Thrones" fan had to feel for her, right? Especially because we know a heartache she still has coming. The first episode of the season began with a premonition that Cersei's children would all be killed, and tonight it was Myrcella's turn.
We knew Ellaria wasn't done with the Lannisters. But I marvel that Bronn -- who knows about the Sand Snakes love of poison -- allowed the still clearly enraged woman so close to the princess. Jaime not seeing the danger doesn't surprise me; he's been the Golden Boy so long it's left him a bit too clueless to live. At least he got a heartwarming moment before he lost his second child. Here's hoping Season 6 will have a scene where he has to tell Cersei. I suspect she'll get the news while alone in the Red Keep. You know what, either way that's going to be some rich drama.
"Meereen is ancient and glorious. Try not to ruin her."
A team needs to be assembled to find the MIA Dany. This whole section felt purely like setup for Season 6, but I'm cool with that because the plotlines it promises are so enticing. First: You've got dueling romantic rivals Daario and Jorah in search of their love/queen. Expect more thinly veiled sword metaphors, and much scowling. Then, in Meereen we've set up an unlikely trio of power, with Tyrion, Grey Worm and Missandei. Yes, we know each as a savvy strategist and trusted ally. However, each is an outcast in some sense, and now they rule one of the land's most ancient cities, while it in the midst of civil war. Finally, Meereen's plot just got truly juicy.
Of course lastly, you have Dany far-flung and ready to go home. But the Mother of Dragon's lay-about son isn't about to move, and so she's discovered by a sprawling storm of Dothraki warriors. And remember, they're not too found of her after her poor choice led to the death of their leader. Speaking of leader deaths ...
"How's it feel to be friends with the most hated man at Castle Black?"
Finally, the saddest goodbye we've had this season. Poor Jon Snow got Caesar-ed. (Et tu, Olly?) This is another death (like Shireen's) that the show has been telegraphing hard. Jon's never been particularly popular at the Wall, but he -- like Ned Stark -- seemed to believe being right and righteous would shield him. His wildling-loving was too much to bear. And so he dies, wide-eyed in the snow. And so the season ends with my whimper and the wind. But is it the end for Jon Snow?
Let's consider quickly: First off, the Night's Watch would be wise to burn him so that he doesn’t become a White Walker. But we've previously established that some followers of the Lord of Light have the ability to resurrect the dead. And Melisandre high-tailed it back to the Wall … why exactly? Could it be she looked into the flames and realized Stannis was not the LoL's champion after all? Basically, did she plant herself there knowing Jon would need to be resurrected? Also, where the hell was Ghost during all this!? These are a few of the many questions that will haunt us until winter has come and gone, and "Game of Thrones" has come again. And so our watch has ended.
- "Here's to us then, long may they sneer." At least we can take solace in that Gilly and the Sams are safely away. Sam was right, the Wall is no place for him anymore. And had he stayed, Jon would still be dead, but so too would those three.
- "I'm glad the end of the world is working out for someone." I'm glad Sam and Jon got to share one last moment of simple camaraderie before the end.
- For a second there I thought we might actually get a big battle this episode! But I'm fine with the VERY wide shots of forces moving then cutting to the dregs at the end. Enough time has been spent on Bolton plots.
- After kicking Brienne off to the side for so much of the season, this Stannis scene was such a needed reward for our collective patience. Damn you, "Game of Thrones," for how you play with my affections!
- "If I'm going to die, let it happen while there is still some of me left." You know what, that is actually something the Stark departed have had. Ned, Robb and Catelyn (even Jon) all died because of choices they made, and stood by. They died whole, in some sense.
- Ramsay has lived to torture for another season.
- How many of you cried out for fear that Jaqen killed himself? I know I'm not alone here.
- Jaime telling dad lies (that Cersei could ever like her would-be son-in-law) was endearing in a Mace Tyrell way.
- The Sand Snakes have been a pretty big letdown this season after so much book reader buzz and press teases. But their exit, of "yeah, poison, antidote, whatevs" was cold-blooded cool.
- Varys has returned! And as Tyrion says ("I did miss you."), so say we all! It's been bizarre to see a world without the Spider's meddling. One clever friend of mine compared his disappearance to the Internet going down, no one knows what's going on elsewhere. But now he's back to banter with Tyrion, and help rule Meereen. Season 6 is how many months away?
- I feel like Dany needs a Sam, a bookworm who can read up on dragon training. Because right now, all kinds of oof.
- Cersei's walk may be one of the best sequences on "Game of Thrones" yet. It forces you to empathize with a despicable character. It also allows you to revel in their comeuppance. It ends with the promise of revenge, via a giant Mountain monster risen. It's geek out good.
- Plus, good use of "Rains of Castamere."
- Davos and Jon rearranging furniture on the Titanic as Melisandre arrives is even sadder when you think back on it post-Jon death.
- Davos asks about Shireen, and my heart she breaks anew!
- For finale funsies, an ode for all those "Game of Thrones"/"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" fans:
Well, it's been a mad ride. Thanks for taking it with me. Until next season, Valar morghulis!