Monday, June 15, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Season Five Finale: Mother's Mercy

"For the Watch."
Well another year has come and gone. And I can stop with these recaps. Thank you for reading and commenting though. I may write one or two more posts on Game of Thrones. Or I may not. I really wish that Martin was a faster writer because this season saw the greatest number of and most significant kind of divergences between book and show. Sometimes these differences worked. Sometimes they didn't. Although there is a great deal of book material which was left out or severely altered, more and more characters have reached the end of their storyline in the published books. So this season also enabled book readers to be just as surprised as show-only viewers. Benioff and Weiss either made changes to what we read in the books or possibly depicted events that Martin created but had not published yet. Anyway we open up in the aftermath of the horrible sacrifice of Shireen to the Lord of Light. Initially it looks like the magic delivered. There is a thaw. Melisandre looks approvingly at melting icicles. The way to Winterfell is open. Melisandre goes to crow about this to Stannis; she also wants to get a little cuddling in. Well it doesn't really matter that she's showing off the goodies, Stannis is in no mood to hear about the Lord of Light or canoodle with Melisandre. Murdering your own daughter tends to kill the mood. There will be no sexual healing for Stannis. But any grim satisfaction Stannis may have with the improving weather quickly dissipates when he gets bad and worse news. Apparently roughly half his already small army has deserted, presumably because they aren't too happy about fighting for someone who murdered his daughter. Even for money or loyalty there are just some things mercenaries or other soldiers won't do. The deserting mercenaries and regular soldiers have also taken all the horses. But wait, that's not all. In addition to that Queen Selyse has hanged herself. Melisandre didn't foresee any of that. How embarrassing. Well she rides off when Stannis isn't looking. It's bad enough to lose your wife but when your girlfriend dumps you it's going to be a long day. So, to recap, Stannis has virtually no men left, no siege engines, no horses, low morale and no family left. But Stannis being Stannis cannot admit defeat even as it's clear that he's an utterly broken man. The deaths of his wife and daughter have left him with nothing to fight for. Still he orders the march on Winterfell. A man has got to have a code. And Stannis' only remaining element of his code is that he's supposed to be king. It's all he has left.

At Winterfell we see that Sansa has used the tool she stole to unlock her door and make for the highest point of the broken tower where she finally lights the candle to signal that yes she really does need immediate assistance. The Bolton legions are making ready for battle or are in the process of leaving. Luckily no one notices Sansa. Or more likely they do notice her but don't want to be the one to stop her as the capricious Ramsay is just as likely to blame them for letting Sansa out as he is to reward them for recapturing her. I mean really, no one notices an almost six foot redhead walking around freely? Yeah. Brienne is watching for the lit candle but leaves just before Sansa lights it because Podrick notices the approach of Stannis' (much reduced) army. Brienne has sworn to kill Stannis, as you may recall. Like many people in Westeros, Brienne takes oaths very seriously. Meanwhile, Stannis is true to his nature to the bitter end. He tries to take control of a bad situation. He's ordering foraging parties and watches to be set but it's too late. The Bolton army has arrived. Most of them are mounted. They outnumber Stannis' group by at least three to one. There's a brief window of opportunity where Stannis might have ordered a retreat and lived to fight another day but as you should know by now, that's just not how the man rolls. He orders his men into battle. His army is wiped out. In the aftermath the wounded and weary Stannis takes down two more Bolton men, being wounded again in the process before Brienne finds him and explains who she is. It's payback time. Close to death anyway, Stannis admits to killing Renly and tells Brienne to do her duty. And that's the apparent end to Stannis.
A joyous Ramsay is sadistically putting an end to survivors who tried to surrender. Finally he gets bored and decides to head back to Winterfell. Seeing that the Boltons won and that the candle didn't work Sansa starts to sneak back to her room but is stopped by Myranda and Reek. Armed with a bow and arrow the gleeful Myranda explains that neither she nor Ramsay will kill Sansa until she delivers male heirs but that she probably doesn't need all of her body parts for that job. When Myranda is about to hurt Sansa Reek Theon pushes Myranda over the side of the wall. Splat. Exit Myranda. Well with Ramsay's return there's nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Going to a high point on the Winterfell walls, Theon and Sansa lock hands and...jump. We knew from last week that Meryn Trant has a sick thing for very young girls. Part of that perversion involves beating them. He has three children in his room. He whips two of them. The third girl does not cry out no matter how hard he whips her. Angered, he orders the other two girls out and punches the remaining girl in the stomach. Brought to her knees the girl's face changes. It's Arya Stark. It's Kill Bill time. Yes it is. She stabs Trant twice in the eyes, blinding him, before she starts to really go to work on him. It's a bloody brutal scene. Trant comes to know what pain really feels like. Arya makes sure that Trant knows just who she is before she puts his lights out. Say my name pendejo! And that is what you get when you f*** with Arya of House Stark. But wait, Arya may not be as skilled at deception as she thinks she is. Just because you're able to put one over on Meryn Trant doesn't mean you're able to fool more perceptive people like Jaqen. Jaqen has been at this for a minute now.
When Arya returns to the sub-basement of the House of Black and White to return the stolen face she's met by Jaqen and the girl, who inform her that she's taken a life that was not hers to take. There must be a settling of accounts. Jaqen takes out a vial of apparent poison. It looks like he and his creepy aide are going to make Arya drink it but instead he drinks it himself and drops dead. Arya is horrified. She's crying about the loss of her friend. The girl says that Jaqen was not her friend but was no one. And no one is who Arya should have been. The girl turns into Jaqen while dead!Jaquen turns into many different people. Arya pulls face after face off of the person she thought was Jaqen until she sees her own. Wow. How does that work. That's a new level of creepiness. Once again Arya learns that she doesn't know as much as she thinks she does. As new Jaqen tells Arya , wearing that face without permission and the right was like drinking poison. The face masks are only for people who are no one. Arya goes blind. She screams.
Jaime, Bronn, Myrcella and Trystane are leaving Dorne. Tyene and Bronn flirt. Or rather they flirt as much as two people who tried to kill each other can flirt. Ellaria Sand is also there. She wishes Myrcella happiness and gives the younger girl a very long goodbye kiss on the mouth. Later on the ship Jaime tries to use the strangeness and different nature of Myrcella's experiences in Dorne to explain to her that he's her father. It's very awkward. It's like a birds and bees talk gone very very bad. Eew. However, like apparently everyone else in Westeros, Myrcella has figured out her true paternity already. She's happy Jaime is her Dad. Shocked but happy Jaime embraces his daughter. But since this is Westeros there can't possibly be a happy ending can there? Myrcella has a nosebleed. She collapses, dying. It's apparently the same delayed acting poison that Tyene used on Bronn. We know because we skip to Ellaria and the Sand Snakes. Ellaria has the same nosebleed. She wipes off her lips and takes the antidote. Tyrion, Daario and Jorah are all in the throne room trying to decide what to do next. After some banter about who really loves Daenerys and who Daenerys needs, they decide that Jorah and Daario will head out to look for Daenerys while Tyrion, Grey Worm and Missandei stay behind to try to keep a lid on things. Varys shows up later to share some sarcastic banter with Tyrion and obliquely offer his intelligence gathering services. Somewhere north of Meereen Daenerys tries to get Drogon to take her back to Meereen but Drogon is tired, wounded and hungry. He's just licking his wounds. He briefly tries to do as his mistress commands but he's not going anywhere at the moment. Daenerys heads out to forage for food and/or return to Meereen but from out of nowhere she's surrounded by a Dothraki horde.
In King's Landing the prison experience has finally, if not completely broken Cersei, definitely taken the edge off. She decides to confess to the High Sparrow her sin of adultery with her cousin Lancel. She doesn't admit to incest with her brother because that would of course mean that Tommen is illegitimate. Say what you want about Cersei and her evil vindictive ways but it's unlikely in the extreme that she would sacrifice her children to save herself. Is that a saving grace? Perhaps. It's not clear that the High Sparrow really believes Cersei's denials. Revealing his own brand of sadism and bullying, the High Sparrow says that it's good that she confessed but that because there are other charges she's still going to trial. Being merciful though he agrees to let her return to the Red Keep, just as soon as she's atoned for her sins. Cersei doesn't like the sound of that. In a scene that is no less disturbing for its use of a body double, the Faith Militant chops off Cersei's long tresses and forces her to walk naked through the streets, while a septa chants "shame". The people of King's Landing come out to see the great Queen brought low. They're quiet at first but soon start hurling insults. They throw rocks, fruit and feces. They spit on her. A few of them flash her or try to physically assault her. Cersei, bloodied and shaken, does not give anyone the pleasure of seeing her fall apart emotionally until she reaches the safety of the Red Keep, where Uncle Kevan, Pycelle, Qyburn and the Lannister soldiers are there to greet her. Qyburn rushes to cover his Queen's nakedness. He's gentle and solicitous of her wounds. He also introduces the newest member of the Kingsguard, a giant of a man who has taken a vow of silence until all of his Queen's enemies are dead. Let's call this man FrankenGregor...
At the Wall Jon Snow tells Sam about his experience with the Army of the dead and of his inability to bring the dragonglass into use quickly enough. And there aren't enough Valyrian steel swords left in the Seven Kingdoms to make a difference. Jon is depressed about what he sees as his failure and about being hated by most men of the Night's Watch. Sam tells Jon been there done that buck up. Remember that no one liked Sam when he arrived. Speaking of the Night's Watch the death of Maester Aemon has left the Night's Watch without a maester. Sam wants to become a maester, something he should have done anyway. He also wants to get Gilly away from the Wall. He can't protect her from the more feral members of the Night's Watch or from the White Walkers should they come. He wants Jon's permission to take Gilly and her child to go to Oldtown, where he will study to become a maester. After a moment Jon agrees but reminds Sam that the maesters also have a vow of chastity. Sam accidentally reveals that he too knows how to make a woman smile, thanks to Gilly. Sam leaves. Davos arrives, arguing for assistance from the Night's Watch and wildlings. Jon responds that neither is his to give. This angry debate is stopped by the entrance of Melisandre, atypically no longer self-assured. Davos knows something is up and asks after Shireen. Melisandre says nothing. Davos knows. Later Jon is reading messages in his office. Is this news of the Bolton victory or of Sansa's marriage? We don't know. Olly comes into his office with good news! There's a wildling who saw Jon's uncle Benjen Stark at Hardhome and knows where to find him. Jon leaves his office, encouraged at last. He sees Alliser Thorne who points him to where the wildling is, surrounded by Night's Watch men. The men part for their Lord Commander. But there is no wilding there, no Uncle Benjen. There's only a sign nailed to a post that reads "traitor". The Night's Watch men have evidently been watching American Me on their DVD players because they proceed to enact that film's penultimate assassination scene. Alliser Thorne steps up and stabs Jon in the stomach, saying "For the Watch". And after he does this so does every other Night's Watch man in that group. Forced to his knees and with little time left Jon can only watch and silently ask "Et tu, Olly?" as the boy Olly steps up and repeats the mantra "For the Watch" and stabs Jon. The boy kills the man. Jon lies bleeding out in the snow, looking sightlessly up at the stars. And that's all folks!!!!

What I liked

  • Arya's revenge on Trant.
  • Dillane really brought Stannis' arc to life. He rejected what he loved in order for what he thought was right. He lost everything but was stubborn and unyielding to the end. His final line about duty perfectly encapsulated the character.
  • I like that I don't know what will happen next.
  • Lena Headey really brought a perfect mixture of pride, rage, sadness and fear to her big scene in the Walk of Shame.
  • The High Sparrow is not as sadistic as say Ramsay Snow, but he definitely gets off on power trips. The scene with Cersei on her knees before him gives the lie to all his blathering about equality before the Seven.

What I didn't like

  • Although I knew some of this was coming, the episode and this season was almost unrelentingly dark and depressing and made more so by the excision of a few plot elements from the books. 
  • Dorne almost redeemed itself with Ellaria's revenge but it might have been more effective if we had gone down that misdirection path in the first place rather than waste time with action girls. Even so, Trystane is on that ship. The Dornish (including Ellaria) do not yet know of the Lannister reversal of fortunes in King's Landing. It would seem imprudent to start a war that will kill your ruler's (Doran's) heir when you and yours are still very much within Doran's reach.
  • Again, the Boltons and Starks are not the only Houses in the North. The storylines suffered from too tight a focus on the Boltons. The North is a big place. I would have liked to see some focus on the other Houses and what their response to the Bolton power play is.
*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes.  If you have book based knowledge of future events or have seen future leaked episodes please be kind enough not to discuss that here NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea....
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