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5.10 “Mother’s Mercy”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Dave Nutter
Commentary by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, David Nutter, and Lena Headey
Gather round, children, for this season finale begins the random wild flailing that characterizes all of season six. Benioff and Weiss have just about run out of book material, and now they’re just making stuff up, though they’re still not above claiming that their more shocking moments are totally going to be in the books because Martin told them so.
Stannis is generally unhappy with Melisandre, despite her claims of victory over the elements and upcoming victory at Winterfell. Then her optimism is dashed as messengers begin running up to Stannis. Every remaining sellsword they hired has deserted, taking all the remaining horses. Another messenger arrives, and Stannis tells him to spit out whatever the news is: “It can’t be worse than mutiny.” And that, my dears, is how Benioff and Weiss turned Selyse’s suicide into a punchline. Tres hilarious! By the time they get Selyse cut down, Melisandre has abandoned them ’cause she sees which way the wind is blowing, and it ain’t pro-Stannis.
Stannis marches on Winterfell anyway, because he’s apparently lost all hope and reason to live along with all of his strategic prowess. The march is intercut with Sansa escaping her room and hiking up to the tower, where she lights her candle just after Brienne has learned that Stannis is here and abandons her post because who needs to keep their oaths, amirite? Revenge totally takes precedence over a sworn oath to a dead woman, especially one that you’ve been insisting on keeping even though the new recipients of that oath have told you to go away multiple times. Stannis tells the men to start digging in for the siege, but there isn’t going to be a siege because ain’t nobody got time for that; the Boltons’ army is descending on him right now.
Then we skip a bit, Brother Maynard, because we spent all our money on Hardhome and Dany’s miraculous dragon escape. Instead we go straight to the aftermath, where all of Stannis’ men are dead and he’s nearly dead, too, but not so nearly dead he can’t fight off two Bolton soldiers. When Brienne shows up, though, he gives up. He admits to killing Renly with blood magic, and when she sentences him to death and asks for his last words, he simply says, “Do your duty.” The actual killing blow isn’t shown, because apparently that would have been gratuitous.
Back at Winterfell, Sansa tries to sneak back into her room, but Theon and Myranda catch her. Myranda is super gross about wanting to torture Sansa because Ramsay only really needs her reproductive system intact, and then Theon shoves her off the walkway. (Somehow showing her fall, hit the ground and bounce once, then the red smear under her, wasn’t gratuitous like showing Stannis taking a sword would have been.) Now that Theon has switched sides, he and Sansa run away and jump off the wall of Winterfell apparently into a snowbank, though it’s not as clear as it could be, so a lot of people were wondering whether Sansa and Theon were dead over the hiatus.
So, Sansa’s pretty much rescued now, and despite all the protests that her situation would make her stronger and better and not a victim anymore, she (surprise!) got rescued by a dude. The most she managed to do in her own rescue was plant a “come help me!” signal that wasn’t even seen. So much for not being shoved into Theon’s storyline and rescuing herself. (It only gets worse next season.)
Over in Braavos, Meryn is being absolutely disgusting because we have to further establish that he’s a Bad Guy who Deserves to Die. He apparently not only likes raping little girls, he likes to hit them first. He decides which one of the girls the madam brought him he wants to play with by smacking them with a whip; the one that makes no noise even when being hit three times is the one he picks. Unfortunately for him, it’s Arya wearing another girl’s face and she proceeds to stab the unholy hell out of him before bragging about getting to be the one to kill him and cutting his throat. She then goes back to the Hall of Faces and puts the girl’s face back; Jaqen is less than pleased and the Waif gloats about Arya not being cut out to be No One. To make his point, Jaqen says that killing Meryn was theft from the Many-Faced God and now that death has to be repaid—with more death, apparently? Because he poisons himself, and when Arya starts crying and tells the Waif he was her friend, she says he was no one, and now her face is Jaqen’s, too, and Arya pulls faces off the body on the floor until she gets to her own. She freaks out and suddenly goes blind.
So, just like in Jon’s story, they’re telling the whole thing out of order and minus a whole lot of context. In the books, Arya’s blinding is part of her training. She alternately loses all her senses to give her experience navigating deaf and blind. It’s not a punishment, because book-Arya is legitimately trying really hard to do everything the Kindly Man wants her to do. Book-Arya doesn’t go off-mission when tasked with killing the Thin Man; she strategizes and thinks hard and figures out a really clever way of doing it that can’t be tied back to anyone in particular. She does get to kill one of the men on her list (Raff the Sweetling) while in Braavos, and it does burn the identity she’s using at the time, but what longer-reaching repercussions it has remain to be seen (this happens in the sample chapter from The Winds of Winter). But this is after she’s done most of her training, not in the early stages of it. Again, they’re turning Arya into a little killing machine rather than really examining her character and her psyche. (It only gets worse next season.)
Jaime is finally leaving Dorne, but Dorne—more specifically, Ellaria—isn’t going to let it be that easy. Bronn bids Tyene farewell and she says maybe she’ll come visit him; he says she’d better hurry because he has a noblewoman to marry back home. She nuzzles up to his ear and tells him he “want[s] the good girl, but [he] need[s] the bad pussy” because of course she does. Ellaria bids Myrcella farewell by kissing her on the lips. On the boat, Jaime and Myrcella get to have one kind of sweet moment where she reveals that she knows he’s her father and then her nose starts bleeding and she keels over. Back on the docks, Ellaria’s nose also starts bleeding before she downs the antidote which apparently can stop the poisoning process when it’s already far enough along to start tissue damage.
There’s so many problems here and they all deal with the way women of color are hypersexualized. Exhibit A: Tyene. If any of the women exemplify Bronn’s “fight and fuck, fuck and fight” comment, it’s her. So of course he kind of likes her, despite her embodying the “crazy” he claimed to want nothing to do with on the way to Dorne. Exhibit B: Ellaria. This is where the problems get really tangled up with each other. First, you’ve got the young white woman who spends a whole lot of time around people of color and gets all “corrupted”—look at Myrcella’s clothes and the way Jaime reacts to them. Look at her acting like a spoiled teenager instead of a poised princess. Then you take that same POC-corrupting-our-white-girls motif and throw in some gay panic—Myrcella is literally killed by a same-sex kiss. So they’ve hit just about every offensive stereotype possible here: POC women are hypersexual. Gays are dangerous. White girls can be corrupted by POC. White girls can be assaulted/seduced by POC and killed because of said assault/seduction. Women, especially women of color, are irrational, uncontrollable, and treacherous. Not to mention the whole thing about how Ellaria’s sexual orientation is used for titillation until it’s used to murder an innocent white girl. Like, seriously, did they pick up a bingo card for this? (It only gets worse next season.)
Over in Meereen, Dany’s advisors discuss what to do now. Jorah and Daario decide to go find Dany and rescue her, but they refuse to allow Tyrion to come along. Instead he gets to stay and govern the city because the people will totally accept a foreigner they don’t know who didn’t even conquer the city with dragons and freedom. Also he’s going to have help: Varys swans in and offers to act as the Spider for him.
Off somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Dany tries to get Drogon to take her back to Meereen, but he’s having none of it. He’s actually acting a lot like a spoiled puppy and it’s adorable. So she starts walking, but a few hours later a Dothraki outrider finds her, and the rest of the khalasar isn’t too far behind. She takes off her ring and drops it in the grass, I guess trying to leave a trail? As if the thousands of horses currently trampling every inch of grass aren’t enough of a marker that something happened here. Also the riders of those thousands of horses are war whooping like a Native American horde out of an old Western and could this be any more problematic?! (Guess what? It only gets worse next season!)
In King’s Landing, Cersei finally breaks, or pretends to break enough to be released from her cell to negotiate her own release, since nobody’s doing it for her. She confesses to adultery with Lancel (since they already know that), but nobody else. She rejects the idea that she committed incest with Jaime, claiming that was Stannis’ lie to claim the throne for himself. The Sparrow says she’ll be put on trial, and she asks if she can go home. He says sure! After her atonement. Which involves being completely shorn and shaved, scrubbed down, and awkwardly stared at by Septa Unella. Then she’s hauled out to the Sept steps, the High Sparrow says a few words, and Cersei begins her walk from the Sept to the Red Keep, naked, through the streets, practically in real time.
This is another place where not being in Cersei’s head is actively detrimental to the scene. Without the clear decline in her mental state—from “I am the queen and I am beautiful” to “I’m a withered old woman and the people will never respect me again”—to give this whole thing a reason for existing, all it is is a voyeuristic, deeply cringeworthy scene that gives us just about every conceivable angle on Lena Headey’s naked body double. Especially when contrasted with the old High Septon’s abbreviated, non-full-frontal walk, it’s just gross. Maybe if the show didn’t use female nudity as casually as it does, this would be more impactful. Instead, the camera turns into yet another member of the screaming, leering crowd, forcing the viewer to become that, as well, instead of allowing the viewer to see it from Cersei’s point of view and understand her character development through this scene. And, no, the three seconds of full-frontal male nudity when a dude jumps out of the crowd to taunt her does not balance this out.
When Cersei finally reaches the Red Keep, she’s smeared with filth and her feet are bleeding. Qyburn covers her with a cloak and introduces the newest member of the Kingsguard, Ser Robert the Strong (who they’re not even pretending isn’t the Mountain, so I’m not sure why they bothered with the name change). Qyburn says it like this is super important, but they haven’t set up that the reason it’s important is that, as queen, Cersei must be defended in her trial by combat by a member of the Kingsguard. Jaime’s away, and missing a hand, so Cersei needs a champion, and Qyburn makes her one out of Gregor’s poisoned (in the books also headless) corpse. The look on Cersei’s face promises fire and blood, and next season will deliver on both those promises.
Up on the Wall, Sam declares that he needs to go to the Citadel to get training to become a maester since Aemon is dead. Also, he wants to get Gilly away from here. On the one hand, I kind of like that this Sam isn’t a wet noodle, but on the other hand, the whole point of Sam being a wet noodle (except when it really matters) in the books is the toxic masculinity of this hyper patriarchal society and the abuse his father piled on him as a child. It’s a wholly realistic response to his upbringing, which has caused serious psychological damage from which he’s still recovering. Also, there’s a difference between giving the character a bit more spine and turning him into I Killed a White Walker and a Thenn, Everybody! Jon reluctantly gives him permission to go (unlike in the book, where he has to force Sam to go with his authority as Lord Commander).
Later, Davos reaches the Wall and he and Jon argue about Jon’s inability to give Stannis any more than he already has. Davos wants the Wildlings to come help fight, but their argument is ended by Melisandre’s arrival. She looks super bummed about having been wrong about Stannis, and oh yeah also having murdered a kid for no reason. Jon asks what happened to Stannis; Melisandre looks bummed. Davos asks about Shireen; Melisandre looks bummed. I have zero sympathy for her.
Later, Jon’s reading letters from the lords of the north, all of whom have refused to send men to help defend the Wall. Olly busts in and says one of the Wildlings has seen Benjen! And he’s still alive! Jon completely doesn’t see through this obvious ruse and follows Olly down to the courtyard, where he gets cornered near a post that says “traitor” and stabbed by no less than four men before Olly steps forward and puts the last knife in his chest. Jon’s last word is “Olly?” because of course this whole thing is about how Olly doesn’t like Wildlings, not about the layers of politics they stripped out of the show, or Jon’s decision to abandon his vows to go South to fight Ramsay Bolton (which they stripped out of the show), or any number of other things. I have absolutely no idea why they chose to center the whole treachery-and-murder storyline on this kid who doesn’t even exist in the books.
So that’s season five! It was pretty much a hot mess, but season six is even worse, so stay tuned!
Lots of soldiers
Screencaps from screencapped.net. Gif from giphy.com