Mother’s Mercy: Previewing Game of Thrones’ Season 5 Finale

Spoilers, duh.

What will ‘Mother’s Mercy’ refer to?

Unlike other dramas, Game of Thrones‘ episode titles are rarely cryptic. They always directly refer to something in the episode itself, and often to something linking all the exhaustive, limitless storylines.

This season’s premiere was titled ‘The Wars to Come’ – that exact phrase was used twice in that hour, once by Varys and then at the Wall. Last season’s finale was titled ‘The Children’ – this directly referred to the little world beaters Bran found with the Three-Eyed Raven, but then it also could refer to Sansa, Arya, Tyrion, Jaime, Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Bran (again), who were all born into dynasties and who all graduated in that episode with their own fateful actions and decisions.

Will ‘Mother’s Mercy’ refer to Shireen’s mother and Stannis’s Queen? Will it be about Cersei, who doesn’t just have a broken-down, depressed son (King Tommen) but also a daughter in law (Queen Margaery) who she had imprisoned?

Or will it (likely) be carried by Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons who’s probably a world away with Drogon?

Stannis: The Necessary Evil

Yes, what the boring Baratheon did in Episode 9 – burning his daughter alive at the stake, as a sacrifice to turn the God of Light to his side, once again – was maybe the worst thing we’ve seen on the show to-date. Seriously. It was stomach-dropping, blood-curdlingly awful. It was a scene that made me want to roll into a fetal position in the shower under cold water – and it happened halfway through the episode.

But really, doesn’t the show need Stannis to become a villain?

He almost certainly won’t win the Iron Throne. He’ll either lose to Ramsay (who has to die by Theon’s hands) or he’ll be killed by Brienne, who’s been watching over Winterfell from a hotel across the way, and who’s still hell-bent on killing Stannis for what his shadow did to Renly way back in 2011, sorry, Season 2.

This show can’t have too many heroes, and there are plenty: Sansa, Tyrion, Arya, Daenerys, and Jon, to name a few. They just aren’t winning.

Stannis is a killer, as The Hound told Sansa during The Battle of Blackwater. You may forget it for a second, but he’s not a hero. He was never supposed to be.

We need to hate him, maybe even more than Ramsay or Tywin or Cersei… or Joffrey. We need something to look forward to during next week’s finale, and Stannis’s death is now another knot that needs a pull.

(*How far we’ve come, by the way, from Season 1. Back then, Ned Stark risked his own life by refusing to sign-off on killing Daenerys, a child he’d never known who was thousands of miles away. Now, the King-to-be is killing his own kids.)

‘Things Fall Apart’ and the Achebe connection

In Chinua Achebe’s most famous novel – titled Things Fall Apart – the story’s protagonist, an African villager named Okonkwo, is ‘forced’ to sacrifice his adopted son. He does this for the sake of tradition, believing that butchering the boy will work in his favour, at the will of the village’s Oracle.

It’s really no different than what happened with Stannis and his daughter, Shireen, whose death was demanded by the Red Woman, Melisandre, on behalf of her god.

(In Achebe’s novel, Okonkwo is actually warned not to kill the child, by an older man. A little like what Ser Davos does to Stannis as well, no?)

In Things Fall Apart, the murder of the boy becomes Okonkwo’s downfall – it’s the first rock to fall in what becomes a crumbled life, proof that we always have a choice and that abandoning our virtue is always the death that really counts.

Stannis has this conversation with Shireen, before he decides to off her. He tells her he has to make a choice, but that it’s not really a choice – he knows what he has to do, and he says he can’t abandon what’s made him a man, not now, so close to victory.

But really, hasn’t Stannis lost sight of what he’s fighting for? Okonkwo didn’t realize that once he lost himself, he lost the village. And Stannis doesn’t realize that he’s fighting for a crown that won’t mean anything once he gets it.

What if he takes the Iron Throne – what will it even be for now?

Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch

Similarly, Jon Snow may have lost the Night’s Watch by bringing all those homeless (well, they’re always homeless) Wildlings to Castle Black. He’s certainly lost Ollie, who’s family was killed by the same tribes Jon is now risking his own life to save.

But unlike Stannis, who lost his reason for winning the war by killing his own daughter, Jon is trending down for an honourable cause. Certainly, it has to even out. (Even his longtime nemesis, Ser Alliser Thorne, tells him he has “a good heart” before the quick scene at the Wall closes.)

The ones who get it will get it. And the ones who don’t won’t.

But all it should really take is for Jon to stand before the Night’s Watch and tell them what he saw at Hardhome – that the White Walkers and the Army of the Dead can multiply, that they’ll kill everyone in Westeros unless the entire world bands together – to convince them he’s right.

And if they still won’t follow him, then there’s really no reason to care what they think of Jon, is there?

So, Tyrion is…

Good for Dany. She flew off to safety with her favourite child, the dragon that rescued her and her most trusted from being murdered in Meereen’s Colosseum.

But really, isn’t Tyrion kind of fu*ked now? He’s left there to survive with (and re-prove his worth to) Jorah, Daario, and Missandei? Where does he go from here?

Will they even make it out of that arena alive? They’re still surrounded by the Sons of the Harpy’s assassins, aren’t they?

And where the hell is Varys?

Where the hell is Varys?

No, seriously. Where the hell is he?

The Sons of the Harpy

Say Tyrion and Jorah and Daario (and Missandei, I guess) make it out of the Fighting Pit alive. That probably means the Sons of the Harpy just abandoned their quest for chaos and revolution.

Or, it means they’re now going to take over the town, but they only really wanted to murder Dany, the Queen who stole their city from them (as I’m sure they see it).

I’d be happy if they just served as one giant Iraq metaphor here: Sorry, Daenerys, but no matter how honourable you think your government is, you can’t just take over another nation and expect flowers will be thrown to you on the stage.

And, please: Can you get Tyrion and Jorah to safety? This is killing me.

Dany and the Dragon(s)

I’m pretty sure the Queen and Drogon are thousands of leagues away right now, chilling out on a beach and happily torching pigs for their pork.

This means Emilia Clarke’s campaign for Westeros is almost surely put on-hold until Season 6, which makes sense.

But what about her two other dragons? They’re still locked away in that pit, right? Are they dead meat, now that a bunch of murderers have control of the city?

On the Fighting Pits and Dany’s sudden wussiness

I get why Daenerys is a little queasy about re-opening the fighting pits: she thinks it’s barbaric and violent and backwards. Of course, it is. But Daenerys isn’t a normal girly girl.

Didn’t she also come to power through the Dothraki? Don’t they still fight for her?

She seemed to find death and bloodshed pretty amusing when Jorah was telling her the Dothraki valued ‘strength above all’ – when her people were pouncing on women, and killing each other at her and Drogo’s wedding. It was almost a way of legitimizing violence, of setting the Dothraki up as savages, but at least they had principles – as long as it’s done to men who are willing to die, it’s probably all right. (But, isn’t that exactly what’s happening in the Fighting Pits, the Game of Thrones version of Gladiator?)

Dany had to be tough to prove her worth with the Dothraki, not just eating a horse’s heart but watching her brother die via the classic ‘scalding gold to the head‘ move.

And now, we’re supposed to believe she’s too good for a little fun and games in the arena?

Cersei, remember?

I almost forgot about the imprisoned Queen Mum – oh, and Margaery ‘GIF-worthy’ Tyrell and her brother, Loras ‘Gay Cartoon’ Tyrell. All of them are rotting in prison, thanks to the Faith Militant and their whole ‘burn the world and own the ashes’ approach.

This will come to a head in the finale, especially with Jaime and Bronn bringing Myrcella and her fiancee back to King’s Landing. And just maybe, they show’s writers will finally tie Dorne and the Martells into this somehow – otherwise, why the hell have we wasted so much time with them this season?

Arya, remember?

Arya’s playing the long game right now. Unlike Jon Snow or Cersei or Tyrion or Daenerys or Stannis or the Boltons, she’s not involved in the actual game of thrones right now. She’s just learning her trade – as an assassin – across the sea in Braavos.

But there are big possibilities for her, heading into the finale:

She’ll no doubt try to kill Meryn Trant, who’s been on her hit list since Season 1. (I liked the extra push from HBO, making Meryn a pedophile. You know, just in case we didn’t think he was deserving of being killed already.)

She also has to balance her old Stark wishes with the demands of her current employer, Jaqen H’Ghar, who has made her surrender her entire identity and past in order to become a ‘Faceless’ killer for hire, or just for fun.

But don’t forget – they never got rid of her sword, Needle. It’s all she kept from her Stark days. She didn’t hide it for no reason. That has to come back to either haunt her or be of use to her.

And with Meryn Trant’s ship heading back to King’s Landing soon, carrying its main passenger Mace Tyrell, Arya could always sneak aboard and be on her way home.

It might be a whole lot safer, now that Cersei’s death is knocking on the door.