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Monday, 15 June 2015

Game of Thrones S5E10: Mother Mercy.

Apologies for being some two hours behind schedule. There were matters preventing me from writing this.

Game of Thrones
Series 5 Episode 10:
Mother Mercy.

It's here, the finale! And before we start, yes, the bingo card is full now, Melisandre does perform magic in this episode. I'm not going to post it up, because my computer, after suffering through many months of issues, has finally given up and become unusable, and now dwells in the dining room of shame where no light can reach it, and the bingo is on it. But yes, complete bingo card. Good. I need to stop doing those, I get quite nervous about finishing them.

The last episode left us with a surprising amount of loose ends to tie up, so this episode has to deal with all of those. Let's see how it manages.

In this week's episode, Stannis and his army awake to find the snows melting - but misfortune quickly strikes when Stannis learns that half his remaining men have deserted, and must march on Winterfell with only a fraction of his force. At Winterfell, Sansa takes advantage of the battle to light a candle in the broken tower. At Castle Black, Jon is approached by Davos, and the discontent amongst the Watch comes to a head. Meanwhile, in Braavos, Arya faces repercussions for straying from her mission. In Meereen, Tyrion must find a way to govern without Daenerys, who has found herself carried far North by Drogon. In Dorne, Jaime and Myrcella set sail. In King's Landing, Cersei confesses to the High Sparrow in an attempt to win back her freedom, and must face a degrading and traumatic punishment.

So! I will say this to start: The episode does tie off its dangling storylines, I will give it that. It's not as bombastic a finale as we've sometimes had: It certainly has its moments, but they are quieter moments compared to the large battles we've seen in the previous two episodes. That's fine, to be honest. An effective, quiet moment can be just as heartstopping as something massive, loud, and dramatic. I'm all for quiet moments.

Not the time, Melisandre.

The rotting wooden cup for worst storyline of the week goes, without question, to Jaime's. Again. I'm sorry, as far as quiet moments go, I'm not really here for a quiet moment where a young woman gently tells her father how great incest is. Nor am I really here for the senseless murder of a character we have never even really seen for more than about six minutes before. Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid, none of it. Is this going to have a knock on effect on the next series? Maybe! Probably! But probably not an interesting one.

The golden cup for best storyline, then, goes to - I'm actually not sure. Jon and Arya are both contenders here, and their final scenes are both very striking. 

Jon's is a much quieter one than Arya's, which is odd as it it's also a much stabbier one - but it's very effective, too. Everyone watching knows, from the moment Steward Traitorkins tells Jon to come with him, that he's heading into a trap - only Jon, who has the common sense of a brick, is fooled by it. It's still a very unpleasant, gut-twisting moment when he shoulders his way through the crowd only to find a wooden board with 'TRAITOR' written on it - partly because, as macabre as it is to see the realisation dawn on him moments before he gets stabbed over and over again, it's actually kind of funny. There is something very comedic, very clownish, about the whole scenario, and that makes a nicely nauseating contrast with the brutality of it all.

Arya's is the louder of the two, and while it's less macabre, it is certainly more sinister. Again, it seems like Arya is the only one who hasn't realised what's coming - the audience, I imagine, all knew from the start that the Jaqen she had been training under was not the Jaqen she met in Harrenhal. It's still very effective when the unnamed girl, who has been an antagonistic figure since her first appearance, suddenly and offscreen turns into a new Jaqen, to replace the one that just died. Arya's shredding off face after face away from the dead Jaqen, never finding the real one, has a nightmarish quality to it, and the whole scene is pitched perfectly. It feels dreamlike and sinister, as all the scenes in the House of Black and White do.

That leaves Tyrion, Daenerys, Stannis, Cersei, and Sansa to scrabble over the remaining cups. Cersei takes the silver cup with ease, and Sansa takes the actually-nice-wooden cup. 

Seriously, Arya, how did you not figure that one out.

Sansa's storyline, while it wrapped up her plotline for this series, feels pointless insofar as her entire story this series feels pointless. So she escaped the Boltons (c'mon, we all know she's not dead) - big whoop, being their prisoner didn't serve her character arc at all. There was no pay-off, no moment that lent itself to character development. At best, Sansa ends this series much as she started it - at worst, she's suddenly been replaced with pre-Blackwater Sansa, in a massive disservice to her character.

Cersei's storyline, meanwhile, has a quiet but nauseatingly brutal scene much like Jon's, but it's nauseating in a different way. While the gut punch in Jon's comes from the betrayal, and the contrast of clownishness with brutality, the gut punch in Cersei's comes from the degradation of a powerful character. I want to draw a clear line between Cersei's treatment in this episode and Sansa's treatment throughout this series, because Cersei's humiliation actually serves a plot purpose - it not only sets up the Sparrows as being even more chillingly awful than first thought, it also sets up Cersei to become an even more brutal character next series, and that has always been the path that Cersei's character has been on: She has always been a deeply loving and deeply cunning woman who has been driven to greater and greater extremes of self-destructiveness and outward violence by the excesses of others. Cersei has, in that respect, always been a very tragic villain.

It was a scene that hurt to watch. Cersei is one of my favourite characters, and seeing the Sparrows break her down, the chant of 'shame', the people turning on her more and more, the violence of it all - it was all very sharp, very impactful, and very painful, not just because it is such a blow to Cersei's character, but also because it aligns very closely with how actual religious extremists treat women in real life. 

I don't like the High Sparrow.

Tyrion, Daenerys, and Stannis are left to war over tin, copper, and bronze. It's actually tough to decide, but I will, with some reluctance, give Stannis the bronze. While Tyrion and Daenerys' storyline could have easily been left at the last episode, Stannis needed a conclusion to his plot, and after the crimes of the previous episode, it's a very fitting conclusion: As Tyrion warned Daenerys, violence against the devoted does not inspire devotion, and Stannis lives that lesson, as he achieves what he wants (the melting of the snows - a supernatural event that speaks to his god's power: Remember, the winters of Westeros aren't natural, they are at least in part the product of the White Walkers), but at a terrible cost, both strategically and personally. We don't get to see if Brienne actually kills him, but I'm guessing not. Rule of thumb, never believe someone's dead if you don't see their head separated from their body.

Tyrion's storyline takes copper, for no other reason than that it sees the return of Varys, who I adore. It is in all other aspects entirely unnecessary. Daenerys' storyline, then, takes tin, but respectably so - I liked seeing her interact with Drogon and the arrival of some Dothraki bodes interestingly for the next series. 

All in all, a finale that will no doubt be met with justifiably lukewarm reactions from fans, but which I personally enjoyed. It's a very quiet finale, and in that respect it is not unlike the last series' finale. The key difference here is that I actually enjoyed this series, by and large, and I'm looking forward to the next one, where we should be in entirely new territory. If we're truly lucky, George R.R. Martin will have the next book released by then. I mean, I burst out laughing just writing that, but you know.

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