Game Of Thrones S5.10 "Mother's Mercy" review

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So this is it. Game Of Thrones has finally reached the end of its source material. There are no more big surprises for readers of A Song Of Ice And Fire to feel smug about. No more threatening the unsullied show watchers with spoilers. It’s a weird place to be in as a book reader - this must be how season one felt for everyone new to George RR Martin’s saga. I can’t quite decide whether I’m excited about that, or whether it’s deeply, deeply scary. It also presents another dilemma: if Martin can get The Winds Of Winter out before season six, will I read the book then watch the show, or watch the show then read the book? There’s a solid argument for both, I’ve never experienced the show on its own, but then I prefer reading over watching.

In a finale stuffed with exciting moments it’s hard to say what was best. Every single character had a defining scene.

One of the most touching moments was between Jaime and Myrcella. It was a beautiful scene, one that is missing from the books and yet felt so right. As Jaime says, things aren’t always black and white, and in Game Of Thrones our feelings about the characters aren’t either. This might not be the redemption arc that Jaime gets in the books, but it was just as powerful when it comes to making us feel sympathy for the Kingslayer. Myrcella’s acceptance of his incestuous relationship and her happiness at Jaime being her father, followed by her death was just one time this episode was a little bit heart breaking. The only problem with this was how telegraphed the poisoning was. As soon as Ellaria kissed Myrcella on the lips you knew what was coming. Has Game Of Thrones become predictable or was that to purposefully add to the tension of the scene? If anything for me it was a distraction in what was an otherwise excellent moment - I spent a lot of their conversation staring at Myrcella wondering when she’d drop dead.

The scene between Daenerys’s entourage, bereft without their queen in the throne room of the Great Pyramid, was fun to watch purely because we so rarely see all these characters together without Dany. It’s a shame they all split up, because the dynamic between them, especially since Tyrion is new to the Mereen team, is genuinely interesting. Varys’s sudden arrival is a little jarring - where has he been? Who let him into the presumably well guarded pyramid? But the banter between him and Tyrion has been missed, so it’s good to have him back on team. This is all a little different to the book - Barristan is meant to be alive and in charge while Dany is off on her dragon holiday. But having Tyrion around makes more sense than introducing yet another handful of characters and plotlines, which is what you’d get if he was hanging around outside the walls of Mereen as he is in the books

Dany’s escape on Drogon has left her stranded god knows where while her dragon has a little nap. Drogon definitely channels his inner Toothless (from How To Train Your Dragon), curling up like a very scary looking cat and falling asleep while his mother shouts that they need to go home. Teenagers, all they do is sleep and defy you. He’ll probably grow out of it. The arrival of the Dothraki is nail-biting. The lack of communication between Dany and the encircling riders creates a lot of tension and leaves so many questions. Why are there so many in this Khalasaar? What do they want with Dany? How did they know where she was? How did she not notice all those guys riding around earlier? The sight of them riding up out of nowhere was really cool, but so unexplained. And not in a good cliffhanger way - in more a, “uh does it make sense for her to have had no idea they were there until the last minute?” way.

This is pretty close to the scene from the books, except in the books Dany is naked and she gets her period (meaning that Dany is infertile, as was assumed during the end of season one). Instead of being nude Dany has quickly adapted last week’s dress to suit the rugged terrain around her, with little hand wraps that are a nice throw back to her iconic Dothraki clothing. This seems like a strong nod to her going back to being a Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea in more than name, with a horde of Dothraki screamers at her back.

They Said The Thing!

This week the episode title gets said a couple of times while Cersei is asking the Mother for mercy when it comes to judging her many sins. If walking through King's Landing naked is mercy we don't want to know how she'd have been punished without it.

Arya’s murder of Meryn Trant was brutal and oh so cool. The slick way the face slid off and revealed Maisie Williams underneath was gasp worthy, as was the scene in the Hall Of Many Faces between Arya, The Waif, Jaqen and Not-Jaqen. Arya’s storyline is a mash up of various bits from the books, but it works just as well. Her screaming “I can’t see” after the triumph of Trant’s bloody execution was a perfect Thrones moment - the writers giving you a brief moment of happiness before ripping it away and kicking you while you're down.

Sansa’s storyline was tense, but disappointing. I was really, really hoping to see her have more agency in her fate. Sure she tried to escape using the candle, but wouldn’t it have been better if she found her strength, knocked Myranda off the walls, grabbed Theon and saved him, instead of the other way around? I know the writers want to redeem Reek, which is somewhat what happens in the books, but it would have justified that rape scene if they actually had Sansa grow as character. She’s was defiant in the face of death, yes, but she’s still a damsel in distress. She’s not any more cunning and barely more capable than she was before. So really it just proves that that moment was the start of a redemption arc for Reek and not a new learning curve for young Lady Stark. And I presume there’s enough snow under the walls for them to land softly, otherwise we just saw them commit suicide and this episode’s main character death count is getting out of control.

Speaking of main character deaths, who else cheered when Brienne executed Stannis in the name of King Renly? Unless she didn’t actually kill him - we didn’t see what happened. Maybe Stannis shouted one final word in his last moments and Brienne changed her mind? Hopefully not though, because that man deserves killing. (Shireen, gone but never forgotten.)

Another person who got what they deserve is Cersei. Her walk of repentance through the streets of King’s Landing was both painful and enjoyable to watch. She started out defiant, despite her nakedness and lack of hair, but as she got more and more covered in filth, and as the people got meaner and louder I actually felt a twinge of sympathy. Not a lot, but certainly enough. By the end, with Cersei weeping, covered in blood and what you can only assume is the worst Flea Bottom had to offer, I genuinely felt sorry for her. And that’s what Game Of Thrones is so perfect at - making you identify with the characters you hate.

It’s also really good at making you shout at your TV, which is exactly what the ending did. In a moment that definitely rivalled The Red Wedding Jon Snow was killed off by his own brothers. For The Watch, as book readers are known to call it, presumably put an end to one of the show’s favourite characters. A lot of people could live without Stannis but will they cope if there isn’t Jon Snow in season six? In a way this is worse than The Red Wedding - at least we weren’t that close to Robb. Jon, on the other hand, has been around, and a focus of the show, for a long time now. If he truly is dead, and that is unconfirmed in both show and book, then it will leave a huge gap in the story and cast. Who will fill his place at The Wall? With Sam gone it’s to be hoped that Davos and Melisandre stick around, otherwise this storyline could go the way of Brienne and Pod, or even worse, poor Gendry.

It’s satisfying to get a season finale where we get to see all the storylines, but the constant jumping around can begin to feel disjointed. This is how we’ve been watching Thrones since the beginning - essentially it’s several smaller shows crammed into roughly an hour. But this format is starting to feel, if not annoying, then certainly a little uncomfortable. We don’t get enough time to settle in with each of the characters before we move away. It all feels like constant jumping between those shocking bits that have become so standard for Game Of Thrones, as though they’re just being ticked off a list. "Hardhome" was the strongest episode this season and that’s because, like "The Watchers On The Wall" last year, it (mostly) just stayed in one place. This disjointed way of telling the story works so well in the books because there’s no need to rush. But with just an hour to tell the story of the finale each segment feels too lean.

Many have considered this season too grim, too full of death and lacking any hope. But if anything it has made me more hopeful for the future seasons. Culling the characters should provide a fresh feeling for the series. Not that the show is getting stale, but it won’t hurt to have a bit of a shake up for the sixth season. This season has felt a little slow at times (though nowhere near A Feast For Crow levels of slowness), suffering from a dip in action in all the plotlines, but it's now likely to pick up again next year, with new and more dire situations.

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WritersDavid Benioff & DB Weiss
DirectorDavid Nutter
The One Wherelots of people die.

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Available platformsTV