After the monumental action sequences of episodes 8 and 9, the season finale returns to old school Game of Thrones storytelling, driven by stellar character development and interconnected plot lines.
(Warning: This article contains spoilers)
And now our watch is ended.
Despite being titled ‘Mother’s Mercy,’ this episode is brutally unforgiving, bringing plot lines (and lives) that have been present throughout the series to a grinding and emotional halt. The theme of loss is recurrent throughout and most prevalent in the North. Just as the Lord of Light fulfils his promise to clear the way south, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) loses his sellswords, his wife, and Melisandre (Carice van Houten), after she misinterprets the visions of the Red God and flees. With Davos (Liam Cunningham) strategically distanced from the mortifying murder of Shireen (Kerry Ingram), Stannis is abandoned as he marches on Winterfell.
Jon (Kit Harrington) must cope with losing Sam (John Bradley) as he leaves for Oldtown to train as a Maester. The two friends share a final drink together and the musical motif of ‘Goodbye Brother’ accompanies Sam and Gilly’s (Hannah Murray) departure. ‘Goodbye Brother’ is pretty much the soundtrack to heart break in the Northern scenes of Game of Thrones, and it also comes back to haunt us during the episode’s final scene (as if that moment wasn’t soul destroying enough).
Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman) finally resurface after weeks of absence. Unable to resist the opportunity for revenge, she abandons her post and pursues Stannis, bringing his campaign for the throne to an end. Stannis’s scenes have been an interesting aspect of the show, exploring the limits of his morality in search for power, while the respective angel and devil on his shoulders fight for good favour. Luckily, Davos and Melisandre are reunited at the end of this episode, good news for anyone concerned that their feudal dynamic will die along with their king.
Despite tactically timing her escape amongst the chaos of battle, Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) signal goes unseen, enabling Reek (Alfie Allen) to achieve redemption by helping her escape. Sansa’s plotline has been disappointing this season, as her scenes with Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) implied that she would become a great manipulative force and reclaim some agency. But other than planting a seed of doubt in Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) over the news of Walda Bolton’s (Elizabeth Webster) pregnancy, Sansa has been forced to revert to the submissive role she acquired under Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) in order to survive. It’s a shame to see all of her troubles ultimately be used as a vehicle for Reek’s redemption, as her character development inevitably became secondary.
Arya (Maisie Williams) finally crosses the repulsive Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) off her list, using the powers of the Faceless-Men for revenge. This moment is a triumph for the audience who have had their disgust in Trant amplified by the recent revelation of his perverse sexual desires, though this scene lacks the impact of Arya’s murder of Polliver (Andy Kellegher) back at the start of season four. Abusing the powers of the Many-Faced-God to dispose of ghosts from her past has its consequences, and Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschina) takes her sight as punishment. This scene is chilling and filled with a few shocking twists as Jaqen torments both Arya and the audience alike.
The efforts of the refreshingly diplomatic and level-headed Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig) are wasted, as Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) exacts her revenge on the Lannisters. In typical Game of Thrones fashion, the moment of bliss between Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) is shattered, as he must watch a second child die in his arms. After his daughter’s acceptance of his relationship with Cersei (Lena Headey), this is a truly tragic scene for Jaime that leaves him broken and without purpose.
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Jorah (Iain Glen) and Daario (Michiel Huisman) form a plot to find Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and restore balance to Meereen. Tyrion is well placed, with previous experience as Master of Coin and the King’s Hand working in his favour. The ever delightful Varys (Conleth Hill) reappears and their wonderful chemistry is reignited as they consider the future of the city. Daenerys struggles to encourage the wounded Drogon as he rests, and Clarke’s performance here is terrific considering she shares the screen with a CGI dragon. The looming threat of a new Dothraki Khalasar could be dangerous, especially if the new Khal is an old enemy of Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa).
This series has been heavily shaped by the impact of Tywin’s (Charles Dance) death, and Cersei has been on a downward spiral ever since. Finally proving that she lacks the cunning of her father and brother, the consequences of her backfired attempts to regain power are fully realised. ‘The Rains of Castamere’ is the perfect musical accompaniment as she cowers in her cell, paralleling the suffering that her house has put on its enemies. Jonathan Pryce is a joy to watch as the High Sparrow, as his humble appearance and calm voice hides the unrelenting fanaticism that lurks within. After finally being broken by the walk of atonement, Qyburn (Anton Lesser) offers Cersei a gift in the form of Gregor Clegane (Hafthór Björnsson) reincarnate. This revelation has promise for series six, giving Cersei the means for revenge and a chance to re-establish herself as a force to be reckoned with.
The final scene is undoubtedly the biggest upset of the season, as fan favourite Jon is brutally betrayed by his men. It’s almost unbearable to see the mutiny unfold, and when ‘Goodbye Brother’ plays as Olly (Brenock O’Connor) delivers the fatal blow to his heart, the tragedy of the situation truly sinks in. Though all hope is not lost. Melisandre is well placed, providing that she uses the same magic that Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) used to repeatedly save Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dorman) in the third season. We already know that she sees potential in Jon, and without Stannis, she needs a new ambassador for the Lord of Light. After all, “only death can pay for life” and Shireen’s death certainly didn’t pay for Stannis. All we can do is speculate for the next year but for now, the situation is bleak to say the least.
This final episode of the season is completely unforgiving as it tears at the foundations of Westeros and Essos as we know it, leaving a huge amount of space for new plot lines and a serious potential for the coming season next year.
Game of Thrones aired on Sky Atlantic at 9pm. To see our live response read The Edge Live-Blogs Game of Thrones (Season 5, Episode 10).