It’s finale time for HBO’s most popular show and death, unhappiness and a few fist pumping moments are on the menu.
Let’s bitch it out…
As we have all season-long, let’s break down the top three power plays for this final episode:
1) Fall of Heroes
In a not entirely unexpected turn of events, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) loses half his army, his wife and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) in advance of a stunning defeat by the Bolton army. It’s another pathetic development in the sad history of the Baratheons; one perfectly captured in a bird’s eye point of view as the Bolton army converges on Stannis’ small group from all sides. The poor guy never really had a chance. After a season of watching Stannis battle for legitimacy and glory, this is another kick in the teeth by Game of Throne showrunners/writers Benioff and Weiss. The pair have grown Dillane from a wannabe challenger to a legitimate contender for the Throne. Alas, like all heroes, Stannis proves no match against bad men, though there is some satisfaction in watching Brienne (Gwendoline Cristie) deliver her Inigo Montoya speech to him before striking the killing blow.
Back at The Wall, Jon (Kit Harington) laments that his work with the Free Folk has made him the least popular Night Commander ever, which has basically doomed him for failure since he took the reins as Lord Commander in 5×02 ‘The House of Black And White’. Sam (John Bradley) chooses this delicate moment to ask if he and Gilly can escape to Old Town so Sam can become a Maester, which ends up being a wise decision (and fortuitous timing). In the final scene of the season, Jon is betrayed by Alliser (Owen Teale) and Brenock O’Connor’s Olly (no surprise there) and left to bleed to death from multiple stab wounds in the snow. This leaves the Night’s Watch – and the balance of power in the North – in a very precarious position heading into S6.
At this point, any kind of outrage about the death of supposedly “good” characters is hilariously misplaced. As Slate wrote earlier this week in anticipation of the finale, it is time to accept that Game of Thrones is essentially a tragedy in which characters’ good traits and decisions ultimately doom them to death and misery. Audiences are being sent a very direct message: Westeros is a world that does not reward selfless choices, so stop looking for heroes (especially male heroes).
2) Stark Triumph?
There are more than a few ironic moments in ‘Mother’s Mercy’ that are clearly intended to make audiences howl in outrage. Chief among them is Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) act of reclaiming her agency: picking her locked door, sneaking to the tower and lighting the candle to indicate she needs aid. Naturally at that exact moment Brienne has gone to kill Stannis, leaving Sansa alone to deal with her problems. As she realizes Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) will return soon, Sansa runs into Myranda (Charlotte Hope) and Theon/Reek (Alfie Allen). In a moment that has been heavily foreshadowed all season, Theon finally aligns himself with Sansa, preventing Myranda from wounding the Winterfell heir and, in an unedited, flawless CGI shot, tosses the crazed groupie over the side of the castle to her bloody death on the rocks below. Cheers all around! The pair then make their own desperate jump into the snow before they can be discovered.
Half way around the world, in one of the most satisfying scenes of an otherwise downbeat finale, Arya (Maisie Williams) exacts bloody (and graphic!) revenge on Meryn Trant, one of the first members of her REVENGE list. As predicted, the deception does not sit well with Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), who kills himself to balance the scales. Naturally, as so much of the action in House of Black and White has been, the suicide is a ruse and Jaqen is still alive. When Arya bends down to inspect the body, she discovers that its face bears a seemingly limitless number of masks, including Arya’s own. Only when she sees her own death mask is the true price of her deception revealed and Arya is blinded.
So not quite a total victory for the Stark sisters, but at least they both got some bloody satisfaction.
3) Walk of Atonement
In one of the most audacious scenes of the finale, Cersei (Lena Headey) confesses her adultery to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). Her penance requires her to be stripped, shaved and forced to walk nude through the city. It’s a truly naked performance by Headey (literally and figuratively) who allows the dawning humiliation to slowly spread across Cersei’s face as she is assaulted, pelted with food, and called vulgar names on her bloody walk. It’s a humanizing moment for a character who has committed some of the most reprehensible acts in the series and the transformation is in large part the result of Headey’s performance, which seems destined to garner awards attention. Considering how the vitriol escalates in hatred, anger and intolerance as the walk just goes on and on, it’s impossible not to sympathize with the Queen Regent. Cersei’s walk is degrading and offensive, but as drama, it works wonders to change the way we look at this character.
- After stumbling into the Keep, Cersei is clothed by Qyburn (Anton Lesser), who reveals a potential silver lining for the emotionally defeated woman: he has successfully resuscitated the Mountain. I’ll admit that I’m still wary about introducing Frankenstein-style reanimation story lines into this world, though I suppose this development is no less “magical” than what happens to Arya.
- In a rather disappointing end to the events in Dorne, Ellaria (Indira Varma) murders Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) using the same poisoned kiss we saw afflict Bronn (Jerome Flynn) in 5×07 ‘The Gift’. I imagine that this is meant to pay off the former scene, but it doesn’t. With the season complete, the creative decisions made regarding Dorne in the adaptation have made this trip seem like a huge waste of time.
- I’d be lying if it isn’t a nice moment when Myrcella accepts Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as her real father. She dies moments later, so the tender conversation is overshadowed by tragedy, but still…a fleeting moment of happiness is pretty much all you’re guaranteed on Game of Thrones.
- Varys (Conleth Hill) returns! In Daeny’s (Emilia Clarke) absence, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is called upon to govern Meereen along with Grey Worm and Melisandre. Thankfully the Spider arrives just in time to offer council on friends and foes as the dwarf reaches a level of power he never had back in King’s Landing.
- Daeny, meanwhile, is essentially stripped of power. After a stubborn (and sleepy) Drogon refuses to return her to Meereen, Daeny is surrounded by hundreds of Dothraki men in an unknown location. It’s a little reminiscent of her entry into Meereen when she was surrounded by freed slaves, but in this case, there’s a much more malicious (read: rapey) suggestion as a single female is surrounded by hooting men on horseback.
- Jon (learning Sam and Gilly had sex): “I’m glad the end of the world is working out for someone.”
- Tyrion (making a small error in language): “My Valyrian is a bit nostril.”
- Tyrion (admitting his need for Varys in controlling Meereen): “If only I knew someone with a grand network of spies.”
Your turn: what are your thoughts on S5 in hindsight? Are you surprised that Jon and Stannis died? Glad that Theon finally helped Sansa escape? Looking forward to watching Tyrion govern Meereen with Varys? Dismayed by the sexual connotations of Daeny’s scene? Disappointed by Dorne? Sympathetic to Cersei’s plight? Sound off below and – for the first time ever – have at it with comparisons to the books since we have officially overtaken George RR Martin’s texts!
Game Of Thrones has finished airing its fifth season. It will return Spring 2016 on HBO. Thanks for reading.