Here we are. The end of Game of Thrones. It always flies by so fast. 10 episodes used to be a cakewalk for traditional shows, especially broadcast networks where they can pump out 22-24 episodes of NCIS. Or NCIS: Los Angeles. Or NCIS: New Orleans.
Game of Thrones is a distinctive beast all it’s own with a hyper-violent and seemingly sadistic need to torment us, not unlike the Indominus Rex from this weekend’s box office record-setter Jurassic World (my review here).
NOTE: You may notice I don’t reference the books nearly as much as I usually do. That’s because this episode straggles the edge of the end. Many stories reach their book conclusions tonight, with only bits and pieces missing that can be used next year. Just know, by-and-large, this season concludes the main thrust of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
But I’m going to shut-up now because this episode had Climaxes-Up-the-Wazoo (a sex move I am pioneering).
Meereen: Tyrion, Jorah, Daario, Missandei, & Grey Worm
We’re going Tarantino this review and start in Meereen this week. In the aftermath of last week’s Sons of the Harpy attack, Dany’s supporters are left to maintain some semblance of control of Meereen amidst the chaos while their queen is absent. We some of the very scant light humor of the episode, courtesy of Tyrion’s big mouth of course.
What this episode did much, much better that last year’s “The Children” was provide the necessary bows on character arcs and storylines while setting up next season’s arcs with satisfying teases. In this case, Dany’s supporters argue up a plan: Jorah and Daario will track down and find Dany and, while they’re gone, Missandei and Grey Worm will help Tyrion enforce rule in chaotic Meereen.
After Jorah and Daario depart, Tyrion contemplates his new role . . . and is pleasantly surprised by the arrival of Varys. The spymaster has been missing since Episode 3 when Jorah kidnapped Tyrion from a brothel they were visiting. The two sparring partners warmly receive each other and immediately a crucial book twist is undone.
BOOK SPOILERS START!
The final epilogue of A Dance with Dragons is from Kevan’s perspective, after Cersei’s walk of shame. He’s trying to hold a splintering King’s Landing together along with Pycelle (both appear very briefly dialogue-free this episode). He is summoned to Pycelle’s chamber, only to find the old man dead. That’s when he’s hit with a crossbow bolt shot by Varys. There’s window dressing to the scene but that’s the just. Over all, I’m not sad we didn’t see it, as it would have deadened the other blows. And there’s a distinct possibility we’ll see the scene remixed next year. You don’t hire actors to appear without dialogue for no reason.
BOOK SPOILERS END!
Meereen has finally recovered from its seasonal rot, in my opinion. It’s a delicious set-up of partnerships, a call-back to Tyrion’s most popular year, Season 2, when he successfully ruled and defended King’s Landing against Stannis’ army. Speaking of ole Stannis, let’s see how it’s going in light of last week’s barbecue . . .
The Battle of Winterfell (1): Stannis & co.
Shireen’s burning seems to have had the desired magical effect. The snows have halted, ice is melting, and the path is opened for Stannis’ army to lay siege to Winterfell. Oh the benefits of child sacrifice.
Almost immediately, Stannis’ seemingly-magicked fortune change. He brushes off Melisandre’s advances and Stephen Dillane’s face is dead behind the eyes. This episode placed a special emphasis on faces and identity and its clear moments later from Melisandre’s “Oh, Crap” face that she realizes how wrong she truly was. Thank god, the first few minutes seemed like an endorsement of child sacrifice to halt global warming.
In quick succession Stannis the former Mannis finds out half his men took his remaining horses and deserted in the night, his wife committed suicide, and Melisandre abandoned him. The emotion, the strain, it’s barely evident because Stannis’ character would never allow something as petty as emotion stand in the way of his path. Even if that path is now very clearly failure.
They finally reach Wintefell. Stannis starts barking commands, such as digging trenches and sending out foraging parties. One of his lieutenants tells him none of that will be necessary, pointing at the larger cavalry army charging from Winterfell’s gates. Once again, Dillane’s face fascinates as he faces defeat. The flicker of fear, of doubt on his face that we rarely see. Then it’s all gone, he pulls his sword, and his army is routed.
The Battle of Winterfell (2): Sansa, the Boltons & Reek a.k.a. Theon
Sansa watches the battle between the Boltons and Stannis from afar and seizes her chance to get to the broken tower and light a candle per Brienne’s instruction. In typical Game of Thrones fashion, trying to meet up with a character only works accidentally at the magical Inn at the Kingsroad Crossing (Catelyn & Tyrion, Arya & Polliver, Brienne & Sansa etc.).
Brienne story’s is explained a bit below. Following Sansa, her time is running out now that her sadistic husband Ramsay (last seen killing people on the battlefield. Shocker) is coming back. She races along the wall and is confronted by a bow-and-arrow touting Myranda, Ramsay’s psycho mistress, and Theon / Reek. She pulls the bowstring, giving her typical psycho spiel about dismemberment, torture and whatnot. Sansa for her part stands her ground until Theon finally breaks through the Reek shell and he hurls Myranda into the courtyard to her splattery death.
It’s a great moment. There’s a ton of hate for Theon and he has done terrible things but I have always had empathy for his identity confusion caught in a civil war and his endless torture by Ramsay was so over-the-top I can’t even understand people who think it was justified in any way.
So I’m rooting for the guy. His bond with Sansa is stronger than the character who served Sansa’s role in the books so his redemption as they clasp hands and leap from their prison of a home was satisfying for me. Your mileage may vary. I can imagine the Internet will disdain that Theon had ANYTHING to do with Sansa’s escape and stole her agency, I don’t know. People are weird.
Back to Brienne: Podrick informs her of Stannis’ marching army. Torn between her oath to save Sansa and oath to kill Stannis, she takes the chance at Stannis. This of course a few moments before Sansa lights her candle in the window.
Stannis is in the woods, the bodies of his men littered about. Two Bolton men arrive and, in the last display of Stannis the Mannis, successfully kills both after they injure his leg. Bleeding to death against a tree, Stannis sighs like he just lost a game of pool at the local inn. That was what was so great about the show Stannis. He was so humorless, so cold and logical, that he at times played like an autistic child, possibly with Asperger’s, thrown in the royal court of Middle-Age fantasy land.
Brienne arrives. She does her oath thing. Stannis is already done. He wants the weight, the burden to end. “Go on, do your duty,” he says after admitting he murdered his brother. Brienne carries out the execution. Stannis’ fate is still up for debate in the books, as the climatic Bolton battle hasn’t been detailed yet. The book version of the conflict is very different, with much more conflict inside Winterfell and Stannis’ having a bit more success. Most notably, he has NOT burned Shireen alive in the novels. She remains at Castle Black. But more on that cruel place later.
Braavos: Arya & Jaqen
As we see Meryn Trant whipping little girls in the Braavosi brothel, we realize one thing: this guy needs to be dead like yesterday. Fortunately, one of the girls does not scream when he hits her. That’s a no-no for him apparently. Then, Arya changes her face and uses his shock to stab him in both eyes, gag him and repeatedly stab his torso. She reminds him of her reason for revenge: he killed Arya’s initial sword teacher Syrio Forel waaaay back in Season 1.
The murder was satisfying (which, no matter the context, still sounds like a terrible thing to say) and removed my issue with drawing out the murder. After, she returns to the House of the Black and White and returns to the disguise to the Hall of Faces. Too bad Jaqen and her rival catch her in the act. For taking a death from the Many-Faced God, another life must be taken . . . and Jaqen swallows the vial. Arya cracks when yet another of her mentors perishes. But that’s before another Jaqen H’ghar appears behind her.
He reminds her that she is not yet ready to be no one. She broke the rules of the Faceless Men and would have to pay the price. She would learn the hard way to be no one, to be Faceless. She will become blind.
Dorne: Jaime & Bronn
Dorne, Dorne, Dorne . . . I thought we were done with you. Thankfully, I can say that SOMETHING happened in Dorne this episode that will have repercussions beyond “No hard feelings.”
The Martells see Jaime, Myrcella, Trystane, and Bronn off on a ship for King’s Landing. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are there. Ellaria lovingly kisses Myrcella good-bye while Bronn flirts once more with the barely-legal Tyene (seriously, actress is 18) then struts off, the cockroach of Westeros living to fight another day. I hope he gets the Iron Throne.
On the ship, we get a nice, quiet character moment. It’s a breather between the monstrous deaths and story turns elsewhere. Jaime actually gets to embrace his daughter, who is not at all ashamed that he is her father. In fact, she is grateful for it. For once, Jaime realizes what it would be like to be a father, not just to sire children, but to actually be accepted by them.
And then its ruined. Myrcella starts bleeding from the nose. She’s choking. The symptoms are familiar. Her brother Joffrey was poisoned the same way. Fortunately we’re spared the same details we saw when that sociopathic fucker had the life choked out of him.
We cut back at the docks, Ellaria’s nose starts bleeding. Tyene points it out and she promptly swallows her antidote, satisfied to have finally gotten back at the Lannisters for Oberyn’s death. Two down, one to go. Watch out, King Tommen.
King’s Landing: Cersei, Tommen & the Tyrells
Cersei is ready to confess. Septa Unella, her harsh-faced jailer, escorts her to the High Sparrow’s austere chapel. There, she confesses to her affair with Lancel, but denies that her children are Jaime’s and the other charges of regicide and deceit. She tries to tell him everything he wants to hear, spouting the Faith’s theology, but the Sparrow isn’t stupid. He says there will be a trial yet but he will allow her to return to the Red Keep to be with her son King Tommen. Cersei is so relieved her hell is over until the Sparrow reminds her she must first make “atonement.”
What he means by this is shaving her head to toe, stripping her naked and parading her through the streets of King’s Landing. The entire huddled masses, sick and tired of war, hateful of their evil queen’s reputation, respond accordingly to her public confession. Food and feces are tossed at her. Obscenities left and right. It’s a horrible misogynsitic display, one that caps a season of controversary concerning (yet again) the show’s treatment of women.
I admire the bravery of a story to show us the horrors of reality and to cope with them through a narrative. Otherwise, we deny our flaws, we bury our faults, and we never change for the better. Remember, stories are told over years, with many different high points and low points – just like real life. This is about quality; this is about things going the way we want them to. Which, considering the ending, is a poignant theme for this episode.
Cersei’s hell ends at the Red Keep gates, when she escapes the mob and finally breaks down crying at her humiliation. Upon her return, she’s treated with cold stares by her uncle Kevan (the new Hand of the King and Lord Regent of Westeros) and Maester Pycelle. Her only ally time and time again has been Qyburn and he’s here to cover her and comfort her. What’s more, he has a “gift.”
A giant Kinsguard knight clad completely in gold a.k.a. the unmistakable undead body of the artist formerly known as the Mountain. Qyburn purrs that he’s sworn a vow of silence until all the queen’s enemies are vanquished. And as her new champion carries a broken Cersei away in his arms, her eyes replace tears with gleams of vengeance.
The Dothraki Sea: Dany & the Dothraki
Daenerys anxiously takes shelter at Drogon’s nest, looking like the Hyena’s hideout in The Lion King (ok, maybe not that big). She wants to return to Meereen, where her entire power base lies. Drogon has other plans, like sleeping and recovering from last week’s coliseum grill session. Thankfully, Dany’s not the kind of character to rest on her laurels waiting for her dragon.
She wanders out onto the grassy plains and we start to realize this place is vaguely familiar. Are those horses’ stomping? Getting closer? A horsed man appears with a spear on the horizon, decked out in tattoos and with a long braid. The camera pulls back to show hundreds, maybe thousands of Dothraki bloodriders coming to surround Dany.
The Dothraki are barbarian horselords similar to Genghis Khan and the real world Mongols. In Season 1, Dany was betrothed to a Dothraki “khal” named Drogo who commanded the largest khalasar. Over the season, their romance blossomed until a mage’s lies resulted in her smothering his coma-fied self. After his death, almost all the Dothraki abandoned her.
They only follow the physically strongest among them and the strongest have the longest braids. The guy in the finale? Pretty long braid. We’ll see how this reunion goes but the idea goes back to Season 1: what if a Targaryen queen had thousands of Dothraki screamers at her back. Would she be able to take the Seven Kingdoms? I hope we find out.
The Wall: Jon & Sam
And finally, we finish were we typically begin: at the Wall. Jon is still sad about the mission to Hardhome, how Night’s Watch brothers died defending Wildlings, and how hated he is at the moment for his decision. Sam as usual is his comfortable shoulder but he has something to ask of Jon: he wants to go to Oldtown, the home of the maesters and train to replace the dearly-departed Aemon.
Jon is reticent to lose his last steadfast ally in Castle Black but Sam reminds him that Gilly and her son won’t survive much longer there. And neither will he, unless he can find the answers to stopping the White Walkers. With the largest library in the world, he’s bound to learn something that turn the hopeless tide against them and their wights. Jon reluctantly agrees and sees them off.
Later, Davos has made it back to Castle Black, steadfastly following Stannis’ demand for supplies and horses. Jon turns him down outright but their argument is rendered moot when Melisandre comes through the gates. She is uncharacteristically shaken. Her fires have failed her. Her supposed savior is dead. The princess, Davos asks? Melisandre says nothing.
At night, Jon broods with his trusty letters. Olly rushes in with news: a Wildling has claimed knowledge that his long-missing uncle Benjen (last seen in Season 1) is alive. He’s led to a group of Night’s Watchmen. Breaking through their ranks, he finds nothing but a sign. Reading “Traitor.” He turns. Alliser Throne plants a knife in his gut. “For the watch,” he says bluntly. Several other senior members follow his lead. “For the Watch.” Stab. “For the Watch.” Stab.
Just when it seems to be over, Olly emerges through the crowd. The mentor and mentee have a moment and Jon realizes he failed him. “For the Watch.” Final stab. They abandon Jon as he bleeds out. The camera holds on the oft-remarked on pretty face of Kit Harington, perhaps for the last time as the blood makes it’s way through the snow, marking yet another noble, heroic character killed by his virtue.
MISSING THIS WEEK: Littlefinger’s last scene this year turns out to be his enigmatic encounter with Olenna Tyrell, his co-conspirator in the regicide of Joffrey, back in Episode 7 “The Gift.” Speaking of the Tyrells, both Margaery and Loras were absent, presumably awaiting trial. Were they allowed back into the Red Keep? Have they confessed? We’ll find out next year. The patriarch Mace is still in Braavos, supposedly dealing with the Iron Bank. Or singing to them, we’re not quite sure.
Check back tomorrow for an in-depth dive into what we know about the upcoming sixth season and evidence for where the show – and books! – will go next.
Game of Thrones will return in Season 6. Coming 2016 on HBO.
A SINCERE THANK YOU
Whether you’ve been awesome enough to read more than one of my reviews or if this is your first foray into my inner madness, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Writing is my pride and joy. Reviewing this show is such a pleasure because it hits every childlike and adult entertainment button I have, from love of high and low fantasy to the complexities of philosophy, psychology, and politics, and flawed, human characters living in a fully-realized world. I feel blessed to live in a world where such special stories can exist and provide comfort and context to myself, and others.
If you will, follow me on a new story . . .
I will begin reviewing the eight-episode second season of True Detective starting next Sunday! Feel free to check out my recent (and first!) Sam Revisits article on the stellar first season in preparation for the hotly-anticipated sophomore run. You can also read all of my Game of Thrones Season 5 episodic reviews, available via links below.
Now, we are left to prepare once more for our 42-week Game of Thrones hibernation. And prepare we must. After all, winter is coming.
5.10: Mother’s Mercy