Game of Thrones S05E10 - Mother's Mercy - just ended a little while ago on HBO Defined here in India, and the season finale was tightly packed. With a kill count of six (or maybe five, we'll know for sure next season) named characters, this might be one of the bloodiest episodes in recent memory. If you're watching from India, then the 6.30AM air time isn't really convenient, so if you missed the episode and can't hold on till the repeat telecast this evening, we can fill you in.
Warning: This article is full of spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 10, general spoilers for the whole show, and spoilers from the book. We talk about character development and try to guess at where things are headed, and talk about the ways in which the books and the show differ. There are lots and lots of spoilers below.
SPOILER ALERT: THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE, THE SHOW, AND THE BOOKS BEYOND THIS POINT.
Last episode - The Dance of Dragons - ended with Daenerys riding off into the sunset, abandoning her people in Mereen, including her newest advisor, Tyrion Lannister. Without her and Drogon, Tyrion, Jorah, Daario and Missandei still survive the slaughter in the Great Pit, and make it back to the throne room alive, somehow. And that's when we meet Varys again. Varys "the Spider" has always been one of the most interesting characters on the show, and his interactions with both Littlefinger and Tyrion have been one of its high points, so it's great to see him back with the gang.
The group breaks up quickly enough though. Daario and Jorah (who still hasn't told people about his greyscale infection) decide to head out of the city in search of Daenerys, which shouldn't possibly succeed. The dragon flew away, and they don't leave footprints or other tracks, so there's really no hope for finding her. It's not much different in the books, where Daenerys' remaining Khalsar (the Dothraki horsemen) are sent off into the wilds to search for her, with no luck at all. With Daario and Jorah gone, none of the people who really held power in Mereen are left, and the city is instead going to be ruled by a council made up of Tyrion, Varys, Grey Worm and Missandei.
In the books, things go pretty similarly, in that Daenerys disappears, and a council is formed to lead. The difference is that Barristan is still alive, and the council is supposed to be made up of the city's own leaders, such as the Green Grace, the leading priestess of the city. The big difference though, is that there doesn't seem to be a battle for Mereen at all, on the show. Which makes sense, since all the pieces that was going to move - Tyrion, Jorah and Barristan - are already in place now.
As for Danaerys - in the books, Drogon carries her to a cave in a mountain, where she stays for a while before finally walking off on her own. She manages for a while, but eventually is in real trouble when a Dothraki horseman - not one of her own - finds her. Before he can do anything, Drogon returns again and kills the man (and his horse). Daenerys herself eats the latter, and then is found with her dragon by the Dothraki.
In the show, this is cut short, with Daenerys just walking away from the dragon to look for food, only to be suddenly surrounded by the horsemen. If the dragon returns, then much like the books, here too Daenerys will be in a stronger position to convince the Dothraki to fight for her, and return to Mereen and beyond.
Back on Westeros, Stannis Baratheon continues to have a bad day, and everything he's worked towards comes crumbling down. In the wake of Shireen's death, Melisandre is extremely smug as the ice starts to melt. Stannis' wife, who was Melisandre's greatest supporter earlier had her moment of doubt last episode when Shireen was actually burning, and this episode, she hangs herself. It might have been better if she hadn't taken up the faith of the Red God, and cheerfully watched other people being sacrificed by Melisandre, but better late than never, perhaps?
Things continue to move downhill for Stannis though. More than half of his army deserts him, and when Melisandre realises this, she gets on to a horse and heads off for Castle Black as well, leaving Stannis alone to continue to march on Winterfell.
This turns out to not have been a great strategy either - Stannis has, in the books at least, been talked about as a seasoned and successful military commander, but at this point his options are limited and he thinks that there's only one thing he can do - a charge at first light.
Except that Ramsay Snow, who was able to create absolute havoc in Stannis' camp with a small team of 20 men, is now waiting before the walls with a much larger army, and smashes Stannis' host in much the same way as Stannis himself had fought the Wildings at Castle Black.
At the end of the battle, Stannis is alone, his army destroyed, bloodied and beaten. And that's when Brienne of Tarth arrives - not to save Sansa, but to have her revenge for her lord Renly Baratheon, whom Stannis murdered.
At the very end, Stannis' basic character shows through again - he has done horrible, terrible things, but he has not really taken pleasure in them. He's done what he believed was the right thing to do, and this shows again in his last words to Brienne. He tells her, "Do your duty."
And then she does.
The show did a great job of making Stannis likeable, and of course that was just to tear him down in the previous episode. But even so, the way the show finally ends for him is unexpected. That's because, in the books, Stannis' fate isn't really known, and many people believed that he was still alive after the battle of Winterfell.
Meanwhile, another plot that plays out at Winterfell leans a little closer to the books. Sansa tries to escape the castle in the chaos of the battle, only to have Ramsay's psychotic girlfriend Myranda confront her, bow and arrow in hand. Sansa begs to be killed, but Myranda would rather wound her and torture her. Theon, who had earlier shown that he's so terrified of Ramsay that he is not capable of independent action, finally snaps, and knocks Myranda off the wall, killing her instantly. He then takes Sansa, and the two jump off the castle wall into a snowdrift. This is more or less in line with how Theon and Jeyne Poole (who got to be the bride of Ramsay in the book; while Sansa continued to live in the Eyrie at this point) actually escaped Winterfell.
In the book, the two were rescued close to the walls of Winterfell by one of Stannis' allies and rushed to his camp, but that's obviously not going to happen. The two would probably want to make for Castle Black now, since that's the only place they know of where people might shelter them, but we'll only know more next season now.
In Braavos, Arya makes her move, and takes her revenge on Ser Meryn Trant. Last week, we saw him in a brothel, looking at successively younger girls - not women, girls - and saying too old. We were already rooting for Arya of course, and this just makes it excessively clear that Trant is the bad guy, so we don't really feel bad when Arya stabs Trant in both his eyes, and then slits his throat.
Unfortunately, his life was not Arya's to take - she was supposed to assassinate another man, which she chose not to do - and so after a slightly weird scene with Jaqen H'ghar, which may have been a dream sequence, Arya goes blind.
There are some similarities, and some differences, between the show and the book here. In a preview chapter from the upcoming book, Arya is shown killing a soldier called Raff, who had made it to her list as one of Gregor "the Mountain" Clegane's men. But well before that, she meets Sam, who's been sent by Jon Snow to the Citadel in Oldtown, along with another Watchman, called Daeron. She kills Daeron for abandoning the Watch, and then confesses this to the Faceless Man in the Temple of Black and White.
It's because of this that she has her sight taken from her, and frankly, it's not clear if this was a punishment, or a promotion as a part of her training - she gets her sight back well before she's ordered to kill the ship insurer, while that's her first test in the show.
Dorne, which has been nothing but a series of changes from the books - and usually not for the better - continues to throw a curveball in the last episode. The slow acting poison that Bronn was nearly killed by earlier this season makes a return, and lays in place the foundation for a war between the Iron Throne and Dorne.
Doran Martell has honoured his agreement, and is allowing Jaime Lannister to leave Dorne, with Myrcella, his daughter-neice. Before they go, Oberyn Martell's paramour Ellaria bids them farewell, kissing Myrcella on the lips as she does so.
On the ship, Jaime and Myrcella are having a real conversation, and she finally reveals that she knows that he is her father. It's a touching moment, as the two hug, and clearly the show couldn't just leave that alone. Myreclla starts to bleed from her nose, and then falls, showing much the same symptoms that Bronn had, except that there's no one waiting conveniently at hand to give an antidote.
On the shore, Ellaria also starts to suffer the same symptoms, making it clear that the poison was on her lips, but then she takes an antidote. Just like that, she has singlehandedly undone the peace that Doran Martell had built. In the books, and even on the show, it's clear that Doran's character has a lot of depth and there is power behind his restraint. There's a line from one of the books which shows how difficult it is to do the best for your people in an age where the glory of kings is shown again and again as more important than the lives of the common people. There's a line from the books that sums up the character: "Until the Mountain crushed my brother's skull, no Dornishmen had died in this War of the Five Kings. Tell me, Captain, is that my shame or my glory?"
Doran's peace is crushed now, but what will happen to Ellaria?
King's Landing also gets a long and uncomfortable scene as Cersei Lannister is pushed to extremes. We've been waiting all season and more for her actions to finally catch up with her, but when they do, the show makes it hard to watch or gloat.
Cersei confesses to the High Sparrow that she cheated on her husband with Lancel Lannister, who had already confessed as much. She denies however that her children are the result of an incestuous relationship with her brother, and so the High Sparrow decides that she must be given a chance to atone. This involves cutting her hair, and sending her naked and barefoot to walk through the streets to pay her penance before the good people of King's Landing. It's a long scene, with the street lined with extras who are cursing her the whole time.
But at the end of her walk, Cersei is met by Qyburn, who gives her a cloak and says "it's good to have you back", before taking her to the newest member of the Kingsguard - an armoured knight who has taken a vow of silence. We learn a little bit more about him in the books - the knight is never seen without his helmet, hasn't been heard to speak, and doesn't seem to eat or sleep either. He's strongly hinted to be a reanimated Gregor Clegane, and we got a bit of a hint of this in the show too.
But the biggest surprise for show-only fans would be the events that took place at the Wall. When we go to the Wall, Jon is telling Sam about how Valyrian steel (which his sword is made from) can also kill the White Walkers, much like dragonglass. Sam meanwhile tells him about his plan to sail to the Citadel in Oldtown with Gilly, where he will train to become a maester.
Ser Davos arrives and looks for the military support he was sent for last episode, but Jon refuses. Melisandre then arrives, though she doesn't give the men the news of Stannis' defeat. Finally, Olly, Jon's young steward whose family were killed by the wildlings shows up to call Jon away. It's a trap, of course, and the moment we've all been waiting for finally comes, as the men of the Watch surround him and start stabbing him one by one. The last dagger is placed by Olly himself, and Jon falls to the ground, apparently dead.
This is almost exactly how things play out in the books too, and the show ends on a cliffhanger too, because it's not clear how Jon can survive this, but he's not clearly shown as dead either.
Here's what we're wondering though. The books make a long point about how there was a wild boar that belonged to a wildling also at Castle Black, and so Ghost was locked up to keep the two animals from fighting. And it's because Ghost wasn't around that Jon was open to attack. In the show though, we've not seen any reason for Ghost not to be there, and if the direwolf can show up to keep Sam from getting his face bashed in, maybe it could also show up to keep its human alive?
And of course, there has been speculation for a while that Jon will survive, because he is supposed to save the world if some interpretations of a prophecy are to be believed. Melisandre is at the wall, and with Thoros of Myr and Berric Dondarrion, we've seen the Red God resurrect people already in the show. Because of that, we're not going to rule out that Melisandre could bring Jon back to life, but that's something we'll know more about when either book six, or season six, finally roll around.
Counting Jon though, there are six major deaths this episode - smaller players like Selyse and Myranda, notable deaths like Meryn Trant and Myrcella, and of course, Stannis to round out the list. With all this, and of course Cersei's walk of shame, this episode ended up feeling crowded, and at least a few of the different climaxes could have been pulled back into earlier episodes. This season's pacing was very slow, particularly in the first half; and the result is that this episode ends up just feeling like a teaser for Season 6 next year.
All told though, it was satisfying to see so many stories finally pay off, in one way or another, and we're seeing some threads set up for the next season. There are some deaths that took place this season which were unexpected, and some major deviations from the books, but things have ended up more or less in the same place anyway. However, the books are continuing to sprawl, while HBO's shoe keeps pruning the branches, so it will definitely end first. That means that next year, there will be no book-readers and show-watchers. We're all going to be going in cold in this journey. One thing is certain though - no one is safe, and there are no happy endings.
What were your favourite moments from the season finale? Tell us via the comments.