Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
MOTHER’S MERCY…WHAT MERCY?
The finale of season five, entitled Mother’s Mercy, had anything but that. There was little mercy to be found for any character and almost every plotline took a turn for the worse for its respective characters. In fact, things got so perilous in this episode that death often seemed preferable to other alternatives, namely Arya’s excruciating blinding and Cercei’s character-breaking walk of shame, not to mention Jaime watching his daughter die in his arms just moments after she finally acknowledged that he was her father. These painful experiences cut at the very nerves of human emotion and made it one of the hardest episodes for Thrones viewers to endure, much less enjoy.
Yet still, it was one of the greater Thrones episodes to date and certainly the best finale yet. Thus far, Thrones has become notorious for an action-packed ninth episode with the finale serving as a somewhat disappointing follow-up. The ninth episode of previous seasons has offered up game-changing events such as the Battle of Blackwater, The Red Wedding and the epic battle at the Wall between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch. What happened in the finales that followed up these events? I couldn’t really tell you. But this was a completely different type of finale – one we certainly won’t forget anytime soon as many of the events within are likely burned into our mind’s eye. The finale was bold, ruthless and intensely unforgiving to most all characters.
As we sit back and attempt to process how things got so out of hand in this episode, we must also look forward and envision how this changes the landscape of things to come. It is widely accepted that there will likely be seven seasons to the Thrones show – which means only two more seasons to go. We’re no longer in a place where there are so many seasons left that it is foolish to try and predict how this thing comes to an end. Well, it actually may still be foolish to try and imagine how this all comes to an end, because even in two more seasons there will naturally be dozens of twists and turns and unpredictable events. But, the point is, assuming that there are indeed only two seasons left, things are coming closer to an end than you may think, and the tragic events that we witnessed in this finale episode might set into motion the final series of events for each character as we head towards the homestretch. So let’s jump in…
A FALSE DUTY
The episode began with Melisandre watching a melting icicle and telling Stannis that the Lord of Light has answered their sacrifice and has melted the snow to ease their march towards Winterfell. Could it have really been that easy? Is it really as simple as just sacrificing somebody with “king’s blood” and the Lord of Light carves out your path for you? If the Lord of Light is indeed the one true god, then this would seem too easy and discredit the legitimacy of the Lord of Light. And, as we would find out moments later, it was not in fact that easy. Stannis’ sacrifice of his daughter was in vein as we see that half his army has deserted him – and they talk all the horses too. And if that wasn’t enough of a stab in the gut, moments later we see Lady Selyse hanging from a tree after she could not take the pain of knowing she allowed her daughter to be burned alive.
This spoke volumes about Stannis’ situation, considering that it was Lady Selyse that had been unrelentingly devout to the Lord of Light ever since she came into the company of Lady Melisandre. Furthermore, it was Lady Selyse that was cruel and unloving to their daughter Shireen; when Melisandre suggested the idea that Shireen may have to be sacrificed, Lady Selyse even seemed amenable to this notion if that what was required by the Lord of Light. So to now realize the guilt she felt was so great that it forced her to take her own life speaks volumes to the unspeakable emotion that must be running through Stannis, who just lost his entire family. Yet, true to form, Stannis shows no emotion and simply states that they will march on. Of course, at this point, did he really have any other choice? It was kind of like when you’re sitting at a blackjack table and you’ve already gambled away 75% of your money. You don’t really want to keep playing, you know you’re sure to lose the remaining 25%, but do you really have any other choice? You put those last few chips on the line because you’ve come too far and lost too much already — so you’re prepared to lose it all. And moments later, that’s precisely what happened as Stannis’ depleted army was slaughtered with ease.
But things would not come to an end before Stannis found himself face to face with Brienne, who had vowed to avenge the death of her beloved Renley by putting her sword through Stannis. As she asks Stannis if he killed Renley using Melisandre’s blood magic, he does not deny it and tells her, “Do your duty.” Simple as they may be, these are powerful final words from a man whose entire storyline was dedicated to the idea of duty – the idea of him fulfilling what he believed to be his fate, whether or not he liked it. It is powerful and moving and sad all at the same time to reflect back on one of Stannis’ quotes from an earlier season about his duty, “My duty is to the realm. How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? The darkness will devour them all, she says. The night that never ends. She talks of prophecies . . . a hero reborn in the sea, living dragons hatched from dead stone . . . she speaks of signs and swears they point to me. I never asked for this, no more than I asked to be king. Yet dare I disregard her? We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must . . . we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty.”
In the end, it was his false belief in this duty that got him killed…And killed by another person carrying out her duty. It was quite a poetic way for Stannis to go. And as we finally see that this duty was false; a duty that he had sacrificed every part of his existence for, we can’t help but to feel a terrible sadness for a good and decent man who didn’t realize the mistakes he had made until it was too late. Oh, and let’s just note that this is all assuming he is in fact dead, which he very possibly is not. Generally speaking, if a character is going to die, especially a leading character, we will see their death – it is of course more impactful this way. So, we have to assume that because the scene cut away before we actually saw his death, that he is in fact alive.
A LEAP OF FAITH
In Winterfell, no time is wasted before we see Sansa successfully sneak out of her locked room and make her way up to the watchtower to light her candle – a signal to Brienne for help. I found it a bit convenient how quickly and easily she was able to escape out of her room and find her way to the watchtower, whereas to date she hasn’t been able to sneak an inch past Ramsey, but we can let that one slide… In frustrating fashion, Sansa’s candle burns for help literally seconds after Brienne abandons her watch to go find Stannis. While Brienne swore an oath to protect Sansa, there was one oath that was even more sacred to her — the oath to avenge the death of Renley.
And so, Sansa was left on her own to escape, until Theon steps in and saves her from Ramsey’s crazy kennel keeper who was seconds away from putting an arrow or two into Sansa. And just like that, Theon and Sansa are on the run together, and the best escape they can conjure is apparently to jump from the top of the Winterfell walls, hundreds of feet high. Once again, the scene cuts away before we see what happens to these characters, which I really don’t like because I do not understand how they will pick this back up next season. Assuming they are not dead, which is again a safe assumption since we did not see them die, the show is not going to continue their scene mid-jump next season, which means we are never going to see what actually happened, and only be left to learn it through some sort of character dialogue. I guess they could’ve landed on a really cushy patch of powdery snow to break their fall, but let’s face it – a jump from that height would kill anybody – so if they’re not dead, I just don’t love the show prohibiting us from seeing how they survived and finally escaped, especially when we’ve been waiting for Sansa to escape from being a prisoner for the last five seasons.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE
We arrive back to Braavos and finally get some significant progression in Arya’s story, which was starting to get a bit stale. As Meryn Trant is brutally beating helpless little girls, we quickly learn that Arya has changed faces for the first time, as she pounces on Ser Meryn and gouges his eyes out before stabbing him several times. Her revenge is slow and drawn out as she makes a point to let him know who she is – Arya Stark – an explicit reminder that she is in fact not ready to become nobody and still holds on dearly to her identity – one that is rooted in avenging the deaths of those she has lost. Nonetheless, it was gratifying to watch Arya get this kill, not only because of what an evil man he was, but because Meryn Trant was the very first name on Arya’s kill list, dating back to season one.
Arya returns to the House of Black and White to return the face she has used, to find Jaqen H’ghar and the other girl who tell her that Meryn’s life was not hers to take and that a life is owed to the Many-Faced God. For a second, it looked like Arya’s life might be in jeopardy, but Jaqen drank his poison vile and gave his life for Arya. We see the emotion pour out of her as she once again lost another person she cared for and we are again reminded that she is not ready to become nobody. But what we quickly learn, or better yet are reminded, is that Jaqen is not the person she thinks he is – Jaqen does not in fact exist. The person that was wearing Jaqen’s face was nobody – just as she must become. He had no identity, no character – he had stripped himself of all of this to become a Faceless Man. It was simply the face that he wore, which Arya quickly peeled back to see all the faces that existed behind it.
And just like that, another person appears behind Arya once again wearing Jaqen’s face. This was presumably the other girl who was proving the point that “Jaqen” did not in fact exist, and that anybody can wear any face to become somebody else, if they are in fact nobody to begin with. Of course, the person wearing Jaqen’s face was an actual human body that existed — but the point is that it a person without any true identity. And just when things seem like they can’t get any more confusing, Arya starts to lose her vision and screams helplessly that she is going blind. It’s unclear what caused this or how it was done to her, but one idea is that this was punishment – an eye for an eye, quite literally. Just like Meryn’s life was not hers to take, nor were his eyes, and perhaps now she is losing her eyes as punishment. And perhaps, without her vision and the ability to see things through her own eyes, she will take steps closer towards becoming nobody and only be able to see the world around her through the eyes of other faces.
Elsewhere on Easteros, Mereen is without its queen and her cast of sidekick characters are left to figure out what comes next. It is decided that Daario and Jorah will lead an expedition to find Khaleesi while Tyrion will stay back with Grey Worm to govern the city. And to no surprise, Varys is back who will certainly be an invaluable asset to Tyrion.
We then see that Khaleesi is somewhere in the grasslands of Easteros, unsure of exactly where she is or how far Drogon has flown her. As she tries to get him to return her home, we see that she still only has minimal control over her dragons. She wanders away to find food as she is discovered and then surrounded by hundreds of Dothraki riders. Before they approach, she slips off a wrong, presumably the ring from her wedding to the highborn of Mereen that we know she married (though we never saw the wedding). Khaleesi would not want the Dothraki to know she married another after she had been married to Khal Drogo.
It was unclear whether they were circling her in a threatening way, which is entirely possible, as she did not part with the Dothraki on peaceful terms. But, it is also conceivable that they were surrounding her in a reverent manner, as she is now widely established as the Mother of Dragons and known all over Easteros, so perhaps they were honoring her as they rode in formation around her. Either way, Khaleesi ends the season more or less where she started, still on Easteros and seemingly still quite far from being ready to conquer Westeros.
THE KISS OF DEATH
For a second, it seemed like we might’ve gotten peaceful outcome to the storyline in Dorne. Myrcella would return home peacefully with both her father and Prince Trystane who she has fallen in love with. Only Myrcella doesn’t know Jaime is her father…Wait, yes she does! In an unexpected twist, Myrcella tells Jaime that she has not only been aware from a young age about Jaime and Cercei – but that she is happy that he is her father. What a moment this was for Jaime, a man who has had to live a life of denying the children that he brought into this world. Though the show has not touched upon this idea very much, the books more thoroughly expose the pain Jaime has had to endure by denying to the world the children that he has. So, to finally be acknowledged as a father, and by his daughter no less, who is happy to have him as a father, is an enormous moment for Jaime’s character. But things go full 180 just seconds later, as Myrcella dies in the arms of her father, Jaime helpless to do anything. This is now the second child that has died in his arms from poison as he’s been unable to save them (Joffrey was the first). Perhaps this is the gods way of punishing Jaime for bringing children into this world that he has failed to raise, even if not his decision.
And while this was a tragic moment for Jaime, it is more significant for the implications of what is to come. While there was already bad blood between the Lannisters and Martells, things are now exponentially exacerbated as Cercei (and Jaime’s) precious daughter was murdered by the Dornish. What is interesting to consider is that this was not Prince Doran’s doing and he was explicit in wanting to avoid war, so much so that he was willing to allow Myrcella to return safely to King’s Landing with Jaime and the rest of them. So, Prince Doran will likely have to now choose between backing Ellaria and the Sand Snakes in the war they’ve started, or perhaps turn them over to the Lannisters. We know that the Sand Snakes have a lot of the support of the Dornish people, so this could possibly ignite a civil war within Dorne as well. We’ll have to wait until next season to find out, but it seems likely the war is imminent, especially considering Cercei’s current disposition and her new weapon, the Mountain, who has pledged to kill all her enemies.
THE WALK OF SHAME
Finally, Cercei breaks and confesses to her sins, or at least to one of them. She admits to sleeping with her cousin, but denies incest with Jaime and the dozens of other sins she has committed. At the moment, it seemed like she may have just been giving a half-hearted confession in order to find her way back to the Red Keep. But when all was said and done, there was certainly no quick pass back to the Red Keep in exchange for her confession, and Cercei, like so many other characters after this episode, will never be the same. After being stripped and having nearly all her hair cut off, she is forced to walk through the peasant-filled streets of King’s Landing in an unimaginable walk of shame. As she is cursed at, spit at and completely defiled in every way possible, Cercei continues to walk through the streets towards the Red Keep which looks impossibly far away; at one point, it looked like she might not make it. The length of this scene and the seemingly never-ending walk made viewers extremely uncomfortable – something that was intentional and unmistakable. The show wanted viewers to feel Cercei’s discomfort – so much so that we may have even felt empathy for a character who has been so ruthless and vicious for as long as we’ve known her. Still, she experienced something that perhaps nobody ever should, and it seemed as though Cercei’s character was finally broken, something we might’ve thought was never possible.
As she steps back into the Red Keep, we see a much different Red Keep and cast of characters than we’ve become accustomed to. No longer is this Cercei’s home or place of rule. She looks and feels like an outsider and she doesn’t exactly get the warmest of welcomes back. Qyburn is the only one to embrace her and we finally see the Mountain, although in a disappointing reveal. After a full season of waiting to see what kind of freakish monster the Mountain has become, I was hoping to see a more impactful reveal. I was waiting for him to jump in during Cercei’s walk of shame to save her. Or at least let us see what the guy looks like, explain what he has become..Is he human? Monster? Something in between? Tell us something! It was the same giant Mountain in full armor that we’ve seen before – the only difference is that his face was discolored and we are told by Qyburn that he’s taken a vow of silence until all of Cercei’s enemies are killed. Kind of disappointing…
THE PRINCE WHO WAS PROMISED
The foreshadowing had been thick and the writing was on the wall (no pun intended). We had seen several times that Ollie was set on avenging the death of his family; the brothers of the Night’s Watch had questioned Jon Snow’s decision; and in last week’s episode, Ser Alliser Thorne had gone as far as to explicitly tell Jon Snow “You’ve got a kind heart…Be careful, it’ll get you killed.” But still, the death of Jon Snow probably took us all by surprised. Even in a world where we’ve come to learn that anybody can be killed off, we still thought that Jon Snow was in it for the long haul – that he was going to be one of the last guys standing in the battle of ice versus fire.
The good news is that still may be the case, especially if you consider the prophecy of the Prince Who Was Promised. And while the show has made several mentions of the Prince Who Was Promised, namely through Melisandre, it has failed to fully explain the importance of this idea – an idea that is more significant now than ever if you want to believe that this is not the end for Jon Snow. So let’s reexamine.
About 8,000 years ago, during the Long Night, the White Walkers invaded the Seven Kingdoms and nearly wiped all of humanity to the point of extinction. Darkness came for all, and at the time, there was no Wall or Night’s Watch to fight it back. And thus emerged Azor Ahai, otherwise known as the Prince Who Was Promised. He would go on to become the most legendary hero that the world would ever know. Recognizing that he must make a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, he put his sword through the heart of his wife, a woman that he loved more than anything. It is said that her soul became one with his sword, a flaming sword that would henceforth be known as Lightbringer. With his sword Lightbringer, Azor Ahai led the fight against the White Walkers and pushed back the darkness that almost consumed all of humanity. After this battle, the Wall was built to keep the White Walkers from ever invading and the Night’s Watch was form to protect the Wall and all that lurked beyond it. At the time, it was prophesized that at some point, Azor Ahai, otherwise known as the Prince Who Was Promised, would be reincarnated to once again fight back the darkness. Throughout history, many characters have been thought to have been the Prince Who Was Promised – most recently Rhaegar Targaryen and then Stannis Baratheon.
Since the inception of the show, Melisandre has told Stannis that he was the Prince Who Was Promised – the one chosen soul to fight back the darkness that was once again coming for all of humanity. But what if she was wrong? What if Stannis was not the Prince Who Was Promised? Well, as it turns out, it seems like we found out that he was in fact not the Prince Who Was Promised and sadly he sacrificed everything all for nothing. What is interesting is that before Stannis even went into battle, Melisandre deserted his cause. The moment she heard that half his army had been lost, a look came over her face – not a look of complete shock, but rather a look of “oh shit, I knew there was a chance I was wrong about all of this..and it turns out I was.” Had Melisandre truly believed 100% that Stannis was the Prince Who Was Promised, the revelation that he was not would have been shattering to her – the point that she would have nothing left to live for. After all, she has been living solely for the Lord of Light, so to find out it was all bullshit would leave her with little left to live for. But she didn’t collapse into despair – rather she knew exactly where she had to go the moment she realized that Stannis was not the Prince Who Was Promised – and she went straight there – to Jon Snow.
Which leads us to one conclusion – Jon Snow is in fact the Prince Who Was Promised. Of course, looking back at previous episodes, there are other tidbits that point to the idea that Melisandre may have thought this, or at least considered it, all along. The very first time Melisandre arrived with Stannis at Castle Black, she exchanged a long stare with Jon Snow – that was not for no reason. Then, there was of course the scene where she tried to seduce him and told him that he had king’s blood. So, in reality, she probably had some idea all along and the moment things went sour for Stannis, it seems like she immediately realized the mistake she had made and who the Prince Who Was Promised truly was.
And now, with Jon Snow dead, she has the opportunity to prove the truth of her magic and that of the Lord of Light – will she be able to bring Jon Snow back to life? We’ve already seen the Lord of Light’s magic and the Red Priest, Thoros of Myr, bring back to life Beric Dondarrion several times. So we know this is a possibility. It is also important to consider the very final image we saw after Jon Snow died. While his face was powerful as he lay there dead – it was not the most prominent component of the final image we were left with. Rather, it was his blood as it crawled through the snow, looking dark and mysterious, almost having a life of its own. It looked eerily similar to me to the way Melisandre’s dark shadow moved through the air – another allusion to the idea that Melisandre’s magic could be used to bring him back to life. (Check out the video below, you will see the way his blood moves through the snow, appearing to have a life of its own like Melisandre’s shadow ghost).
It’s unclear whether or not Jon Snow is dead for good – just as it’s unclear whether or not Stannis, Theon and Sansa or dead or not. What we do know is that everything has changed in a major way. Stannis, if not dead, is without any army at all and it will be interesting to consider what role he might play if he is in fact alive. What comes next for Sansa and Theon if they are alive and on the run? Will Arya be blind for good, and if so, will that force her to abandon her identity and finally become a Faceless Man? What happens in Mereen with Varys and Tyrion and do Daario and Jorah find Khaleesi? And what about Khaleesi’s other two dragons? What kind of person will Cercei be after her life-changing experience and will she wage war against Dorne after she learns of the death of her daughter? There are so many questions and we’ve got a full year to wait to get any real answers…And so it begins, life without Thrones… Stay tuned into ThronesLife for updates and interesting content…