Game of Thrones: 510 “Mother’s Mercy” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
This week’s episode represented curtains on another hugely successful series of Game of Thrones. Now that we have seen the characters arcs for the season to completion, it puts us in the position to look back on each and see how far they have come. As such I’m going to tweak the format of the review to include a section on each of the main characters. First though some comments and a verdict about the episode itself and what made it so successful. Naturally an episode verdict will also be included, albeit slightly earlier in the review than normal.
Mother’s Mercy turned out to be an apt title for a narrative which revolved around the first concept which springs to our mind when we think of Motherhood: Love! Furthermore the story was able to explore various facets of the ideology of Love. The most obvious example is Cersei’s Walk (of shame) in which she subjects herself to abuse and disgrace, all for the sake of being in the position to protect her son. It is a truly selfless act borne out of love for her child. Romance is also present through Myrcella-Trystane, Jaime-Cersei and to a lesser extent Daenerys-Jorah. Interestingly only one of the couples actually shared a screen within the episode, but for all three the actions of characters where based upon their love of the other.
Friendship (ie non-romantic love) also plays a part in the motivations of characters this week, this is best evidenced by Brienne who turns her back on one oath to deliver justice for a good friend. Likewise hate too is the driving force behind some of the events of Mother’s Mercy, namely Jon’s murder and Arya’s revenge on Ser Meryn. Whilst not a specific focus of the narrative, it is undoubtedly the thread which ties the various stories into an effective unit. This is never more apparent than through Jaime and Myrcella’s conversation about the true nature of her parentage. “You can’t choose who you fall in love with” True in life (and something which I’m sure almost every viewer can relate to), but also the very undercurrent of everything that has happened in the last fifty hours we have spent in Westeros.
If you asked me to pick a fault from the episode I honestly would struggle to find one, the best I can come up with is that Dany somehow scaled a cliff in a matter of seconds between scenes. The fact that’s all I can find shows just how good the episode was! Everything that was done was executed to perfection and framed with some of the most diverse scenery we have had within a single episode so far. Cersei’s walk which had the potential to be an enormous pitfall was simply sublime focusing more on Lena Headey’s sublime acting skills than the fact there was a naked woman. The fact she was able to convey so much pain, suffering and resilience through just her facial expressions is something to be admired. The Battle for Winterfell turned out to be a rather pitiful affair, but that was in a way fitting for what had become of Stannis’ character, going out with a whimper instead of a bang. Likewise Jon’s betrayal didn’t feel forced, and it was fitting that Olly, whom Jon had taken under his wing was the one to deliver the fatal blow. Symbolic perhaps of how Jon was ultimately responsible for his own downfall.
Mother’s Mercy Episode Verdict – 10/10
For the remainder of the review I am going to focus individually on the key characters of Series 5 and assess how the narrative saw their stories end for the year. I am going to assign each a score out of ten based on how effectively they were used and how satisfying their character arc was. Hopefully some of the readers will follow suit in the comments section and put their character ratings up for discussion.
Jon Snow (+ the Night’s Watch) – 10/10
In the first episode of the show we witnessed Ned Stark execute a deserter of the Night’s Watch, nine episodes later Ned met a similar fate. In Series Three when Robb Stark executed Lord Karstark, he too didn’t last long afterwards as the Red Wedding occurred later in that series. In episode two this series, Jon exacted justice on fellow brother of the Night’s Watch. Eight episodes later and his bothers exacted justice on him for what they deemed as a betrayal. Honestly we shouldn’t have been surprised, the pattern for Stark males has become very noticeable. In fact that isn’t the only parallel between Ned and Jon, both men make decisions based on their nobility and act upon them. For both this ultimately results in their death at the hands of a betrayal. The mystery of Jon’s true parentage was always a lingering question for fans, which is likely now to go unanswered in the wake of the characters demise. However, unless the show decides to resurrect him, I think these parallels with Ned indicate that Jon truly is his son.
Of all the characters this season it is Jon who has come on the most, quickly establishing himself as a favourite for those who did not already see him as one (myself included). What we are presented with is a genuinely nice guy who cares about others, even those his traditions dictate that he shouldn’t. This is most evident in Hardhome where Jon fights for the lives of the Wildlings. It’s fitting too that his last act is also a selfless one where he allows his friend to pursue his dream even though he would rather have him stay to help him. Whilst he may have been a great man, Jon was a terrible leader, and that is essentially what cost him his life. Whether that cost is permanent, or just a method out getting him out of his Night’s Watch Vow remains to be seen. Melisandre’s arrival could be timely indeed, especially when priests of R’hllor (The Lord of Light) have been known to preform resurrections.
Stannis Baratheon (+ Family + Davos + Melisandre) – 9.5/10
Last week’s burning of Shireen proved to be a drastic turning point for Stannis and for those around him. I’m not going to analyse what happened before that, because I covered most of it last week. Suffice to say there was major fallout from his drastic decision with half of his men abandoning him and his own wife committing suicide. It’s an incredible feat by the writers that they are able to make us feel sorry for Stannis, especially in the wake of last week. The final nail in Stannis’ coffin was the departure of Melisandre who had forged his journey thus far. This was the point he realised that he had been led down the wrong path, compromised his morals and killed his family for nothing.
With this bleak outlook he decides to march on Winterfell in the knowledge that what transpired was inevitable. He hadn’t completely given up hope after surviving the battle clinging onto what life he had left, and fighting for it. This changes when Brienne shows up and sentences him to death for murdering Renly, this is the moment he realises the true monster he has become and gives up completely. Stannis before the previous episode would have executed (for treason) anyone who stated that someone else was the rightful King of Westeros, yet here he accepts it without raising an objection. Furthermore he actually begs for death telling Brienne to do her duty, but the scene cuts away before we see her deliver the fatal blow. If Stannis has indeed been killed, it marks the end of House Baratheon, which would be the first great house to be eradicated entirely. A far cry from what Stannis believed his destiny to be.
Brienne (+ Podrick) – 6/10
The series started well for Brienne and her squire with the narrative offering them a generous slice of the screen time, however this petered out as the series built to a climax. This early attention allowed for some expansion on Brienne’s character and ultimately set up her actions in the finale. The character’s defining trait has always been her loyalty to her word, even her sword is called Oathkeeper. The finale presents her with the dilemma of an opportunity to fulfil one of her two oaths, but at the expense of the other. She unsurprisingly opts for vengeance for Renly, which was fitting after the conversation earlier in the series. We see her sentence the guilty party to death, but we don’t actually see her carry out said sentence, rather odd given the other death within the same narrative.
Ramsay (+Roose) Bolton – 7.5/10
The antagonists for the aspects of the story set in the North are some of the vilest people to ever grace a television screen. This is something the narrative is extremely keen to remind us of, using every opportunity possible to show Ramsay in a horrible light. Arguably what we see this season is not a vehemently evil as some of their previous crimes, Ramsay will be pushed to do worse than what he did to Theon, whilst Roose will never be forgiven for his part in the Red Wedding. One could argue that Theon deserved what he got, the same however could not be said for Sansa who endured a torturous time at the hands of the family we love to hate.
Sansa Stark – 3/10
The biggest crime committed by the writers this series was their usage of Sansa. Naturally I have to reflect back to what occurred at the end of the sixth episode of the series, and in retrospect I can say that how it was addressed afterwards was simply not good enough. In fact, it’s worse than that, instead of being treated as a character in her own right, Sansa is used solely for the advancement of the character arcs of Littlefinger, Ramsay and Theon. If we look at how she started the season and how she concluded it, there is very little change, and certainly no clear development. From this it would appear that one of the shows strongest female characters has been sacrificed to advance the stories of three of its male characters. It seems to be somewhat recurring theme that the writers fall short when it comes to characterisation of female characters, so hopefully that is something they can improve on next season.
Theon Greyjoy – 6/10
Theon’s character arc for the season was always going to be about his re-emergence from under Ramsay control. There were hints throughout the season that he was close to breaking out of the alias of Reek, but fear of Ramsay always kept him in check leading to his betrayals of Sansa. His previous admission that Bran and Rickon are alive. Prior to this Sansa had refused to even let Theon touch her. Yet when Sansa’s life is in danger, notably from someone who isn’t Ramsay, Theon reawakens and safes the woman he grew up with. Together they take a leap of faith from the battlements of Winterfell into the snow drift below. In some aspects it was a bit of a cop out as Theon didn’t actually face up to Ramsay, rather acted when his master was not present. Perhaps that could form an aspect of the characters arc in Season Six
Cersei Lannister – 9.5/10
One of the highlights of this series has without question been Lena Headey’s magnificent portrayal of Cersei Lannister. She may well be the only female character written in a way that allowed her to hold her own this season too, something which sets her apart from everyone else. The crux of her character arc came from wanting to protect her children, ultimately this ended up backfiring on her as her past caught up with her. This set the stage perfectly for her walk of shame in the finale which is arguably a defining moment for her character. As Headey herself mentioned in an interview, Cersei has always kept her clothes on, so to be stripped naked and paraded in the street was the ultimate humiliation for her character. This is especially evident as a key facet of her character is her ability to get what she wants without resorting to the more feminine measures that other characters are accustomed to. The walk was one of the best realised scenes this series, and one thing we can be certain of is that it will bring out a new side to Cersei next season
The Tyrells – 4/10
The low score here is not indicative of the fact that the Tyrells were badly used by the powers that be behind Series Five, rather the fact that they were not used enough. Margaery who had been an influential character was relegated to having the sole purpose of serving Cersei’s character arc. Once she was arrested, the only time we see her again is through Cersei’s gloating. At the close of the season we are no more in the know about what the future holds for her than we were three episodes ago. Likewise, Lady Olenna appeared to try to sort things out, only for that plotline to be apparently abandoned.
Littlefinger – 8/10
At the moment he is probably my favourite character from the show due to his effectiveness at playing the Game of Thrones. Most of his actions appear to go under the radar of other influential players. This season we see him from alliances with the Boltons by providing Sansa to aid their claim for the North, with Cersei (Head of House Lannister) by providing her with the means to take down Margaery, and then does the same with Lady Olenna (Head of House Tyrell). The Lord of the Vale has lots of powerful allies, but we still have no idea what sort of game he is playing. Another key aspect of the series was his relationship with Sansa, something which his actions suggest was just another ploy for him to get ahead.
The High Sparrow – 7.5/10
Introduced this season as a new antagonist (if you class point of view character Cersei as a protagonist) and empowered by Cersei so as he was in command of the faith militant, the High Sparrow proved an interesting discussion point for fans. Personally I quite liked him and how he was portrayed as a humble man with no desire for power of his own, dedicated only to serving his god. This sets him apart from the other antagonists of the series because he is not so clear cut as being in the wrong. Undoubtedly the crowning moment for the character was the scene he shared with Lady Olenna Tyrell.
Jaime Lannister (+Bronn) – 6/10
It’s hard to justify reasons for including Dorne this season, especially when there are other areas that could have done with more time. To compound matters further, the twist in the final episode of the series makes the whole endeavour pointless anyway as the very thing they were trying to prevent happened anyway. The only good to come out of the storyline was some development for Jaime and a rare chance to see him act like a father to one of his children (something Cersei criticised him for in the second episode of this series). It’s amazing how much Jaime has changed since we met him and he was a fairly hateable character, yet over the course of the show he has developed into a fan favourite. This series does more to encourage that direction, but it was still a disappointment to have him wasted in such an unsatisfying storyline.
Ellaria Sand (+ The Sand Snakes) – 3/10
Dorne as an experiment may have seemed like a good idea at the time, however its translation onto screen can only be considered as a fail. Aside from Prince Doran, the remainder of the characters was lacking in the depth required to warrant the audiences’ investment in the storyline. Ellaria was the least guilty of this because at least her character had a clear idea and purpose to it. For the rest of the Sand Snakes however it appears characterisation was dropped in favour of sexualisation. This manifested itself in a totally illogical series of scenes between Bronn and Tyene which culminated in arguably one of the worst lines in the history of the show. Not good writing by any stretch of the imagination and an even poorer way to represent women onscreen.
Arya Stark (+ The Faceless Men) – 8/10
I’m aware this is an opinion I’m going to take some stick for in the comments section, but I really couldn’t get into Arya’s story at all this year. Part of the problem is the fact that within the first half of the series she only appeared twice, with six appearances in the entire series. That said three of those appearance has been the last three episodes where major events in other storylines have overshadowed hers. The gaps between her appearances and the time allocated to them make it difficult for me to feel invested in the Faceless Men storyline, especially when Arya herself was so non-committal. Still it was nice to see her take another name off of her list and Maisie William’s acting is always a privilege to watch.
Daenerys Targaryen – 9/10
The Mother of Dragons has endured a somewhat difficult season as she faced a lot of adversary to her rule in the first half of the series. This seen her grow as a character and make the decisions which although difficult for her on a moral level needed to be made. This completed her development from Khalesi, to Queen and then onto Politician. The latter stages of her development where made under the advice of Tyrion Lannister and it seemed like everything was going well in Meereen. AS is the case with Game of Thrones, it couldn’t last and the Sons of the Harpy unleashed a vicious attack that saw Dany flee on the back of her dragon Drogon. Of all the places he could have taken her, they ended up in the Dothraki Grass Sea, incidentally this took Dany back to where she began her journey towards Westeros. It shall certainly be interesting to see if her experiences lead her to do anything differently this time.
Tyrion Lannister – 9.5/10
The self-professed God of Tits and Wine began the season depressed and lacking in purpose to give him a motivation to live. His journey took him to the only person he views as suitable to sit on the Iron Throne: Daenerys Targaryen. In their short time together, she his able to inspire him and relight the fire which brought back the Tyrion who had endeared himself to the hearts of many. The point his character reaches in his final scene is quite fitting indeed, we have seen him previously as Hand of the King, and now he is presented with a chance to rule. Furthermore this is a chance to prove himself to Daenerys and could cement a union between the two which could take them all the way to the Iron Throne.
Jorah Mormont – 9.5/10
The concept of ‘The Friendzone’ is in my opinion a stupid one, but I shall use it in relation to Jorah’s character because it fits to an extent. His entire story arc has been about trying to win back the favour of the woman he loved, but betrayed. It is somewhat ironic that after saving her life and appearing to win back her favour, they are separated again. As demonstrated multiple times already this season, Jorah will not let this stop him and sets off to find her again. Jorah has been one of the surprise highlights for me this series, so I am eagerly anticipating his scenes early next season with Daario on their hunt for Daenerys.
Varys – 7/10
The Spider is another character who has had very little to do this series. At the beginning of the series we see him share scenes with Tyrion initially setting him on the journey that leads him to Daenerys Targaryen. Since their departure in the brothel, Varys had remained unseen until his re-emergence in the finale and his offer to help Tyrion rule the great city of Meereen. I can be pretty sure that the former Master of Spies was up to something in the interim, but it appears we will have to wait until next season to find out what.
Gendry – ∞/10
We can’t have a list of key Game of Thrones characters without mentioning Gendry. Despite not featuring at all, he has found himself in the surprisingly position of being the only surviving member of House Baratheon which technically gives him the best claim to the Iron Throne. All he needs to do is turn up again and be legitimised. Which the former as unlikely as the latter, it’s not something I see happening any time soon, or ever for that matter.
Series Verdict 9/10
All in all a very solid series of Game of Thrones, although it didn’t quite live up to the high standards set by Season Four (meaning it breaks the trend of the show getting better each series), it slots in the middle of my list. Hopefully the reasons discussed above along with my reviews throughout the series justify this rating. It’s amazing to think that is the show over for another season and that we face an agonising ten month wait for new material. Even book readers will suffer as I am led to believe the books are at the same point. Finally I’d like to take a moment to thank anyone who has been reading the weekly reviews and has been commenting on said reviews. It is appreciated!