Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen the “Game of Thrones” season five finale, titled “Mother’s Mercy.”
Mother have mercy on us all, since it seems that “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss saved the most brutal and bloody episode of the season for last, with series regulars and supporting players falling victim to the Many-Faced God in equal measure.
The exec producers offered an in-depth look inside the making of the episode in their weekly behind-the-scenes video, providing a few interesting tidbits about the fates of the characters, which we’ve included below.
We kicked off the hour with Stannis Baratheon preparing to march on Winterfell, since his unforgivable sacrifice to the Lord of Light in last week’s episode (burning his daughter Shireen alive) had the desired effect — melting the snows keeping his army mired on the road. Unfortunately, said sacrifice also scared off half his fighters (who also absconded with all his horses) and drove his wife, Selyse, to hang herself, after finally developing a conscience too late to be of any use to her child.
Murdering his daughter may have been enough to thaw the road, but it apparently wasn’t enough to secure Stannis’ victory against Roose Bolton’s forces, who didn’t wait for Stannis to mount a siege against Winterfell and instead attacked his depleted army in open combat. The resulting bloodbath left Stannis alone and injured in the woods — a sitting duck when Brienne finally caught up with him, ready to dispense long overdue justice for his role in his brother Renly’s death.
“Stannis did the worst thing a person can possibly do in the world, and when he realizes it was all for nothing, I think he’s probably ready to be done at this point. In a way, Brienne showing up to kill him was almost a welcome relief,” executive producer D.B. Weiss noted in the episode’s behind-the-scenes video.
“She’s known in her heart of hearts that it was Stannis, that she saw Stannis’ face on the shadow, but no one else believed her — people thought she was complicit in the murder of Renly Baratheon, so this is a great weight off her shoulders, to finally corner him,” David Benioff agreed. “In the final moment, though, it’s not relief, because she was expecting this monster and what she finds is Stannis, who has certain monstrous qualities — he’s a man who’s willing to sacrifice his own daughter — but he also has certain very human qualities, and one of them is bravery. He’s not going to go out whimpering … He probably has a number of regrets, but he’s not going to share them with this stranger.”
The only survivor of the bloody battle was, unsurprisingly, Melisandre, who rode back to Castle Black to deliver the news by not saying anything — especially not what she incited Stannis to do to Shireen — to Jon and a devastated Ser Davos. (If he only knew…)
Back in Winterfell, Sansa finally succeeded in lighting a candle in the tallest tower to signal her need for help while Ramsay was out killing Stannis’ men, but it wasn’t a loyal northerner who came to her aid in the end — it was Theon, who finally rebelled against his master’s brainwashing and pushed Ramsay’s sadistic lover Myranda to her death. Rather than waiting around to see how Ramsay might react to that particular act of agency, the two joined hands and jumped from the wall of Winterfell to an uncertain fate.
“We’ve seen terrible things happen to Theon and we’ve seen him refuse to rebel against his master time and time again, and finally, in this moment, he does,” Benioff noted of Theon’s eleventh-hour change of heart. “I think the great original sin of his life was turning on the Starks and betraying them, and he’s regretted it ever since. And now, finally, after all this time comes a chance for a little bit of redemption.”
Concurred Weiss, “Both of them are people who have suffered so much at the hands of horrible people, but no matter how far gone they are — he’s as far gone as anybody we’ve ever seen — they can still come back and find the inner strength to keep on keeping on.”
Over in Braavos, Arya finally got the opportunity to cross another name from her kill list, disguising herself as a young prostitute to give her an opportunity to be alone with the depraved Meryn Trant. After blinding him and going on a brutally gleeful stabbing spree, she asked if he knew who she was, before coldly telling him, “I’m Arya Stark. Do you know who you are? You’re no one. You’re nothing,” before slitting his throat.
That momentary satisfaction (and it sure was satisfying) was short-lived, as her act was soon discovered by Jaqen H’ghar and the Waif, her fellow trainee in the House of Black and White. At first, it seemed as if Jaqen had sacrificed himself to balance the scales for Arya’s selfishness, as she stole a life from the Many-Faced God and “only death can pay for life.” But after Arya’s distraught reaction over potentially losing her friend further illustrated that she still wasn’t ready to give up her identity and become one of the Faceless Men, Jaqen revealed he was still alive and had been wearing The Waif’s face to teach her a valuable lesson. He coolly informed her, “The faces are for no one — you are still someone. And to someone, the faces are as good as poison” as Arya looked upon her own face on the fallen body of the person she’d thought was Jaqen, before losing her sight entirely.
“The Faceless Men don’t kill for revenge — they’re not killing out of anger, they’re killing because death is a gift and the idea is a painless death is almost like your letting people go, and that’s not Arya’s way,” Benioff said of Arya’s questionable choice. “Arya’s not dealing out death as a gift to Meryn Trant, it’s for herself.”
Weiss added, “You don’t take a face from the Hall of Faces until you’re ready. She did it for personal reasons, for ego reasons, for Arya’s reasons … She couldn’t really bring herself to throw away Arya Stark, and this was Arya Stark doing this, it wasn’t ‘no one’ doing this. And it was a violation of the rules of the House of Black and White, and she pays for it.”
Elsewhere, Daenerys finally landed in an undetermined location with a wounded and exhausted Drogon, who was in no hurry to take her back to Meereen (where, thankfully, Tyrion, Daario, Jorah and Missandei made it out of the fighting pits in one piece). In search of food, our displaced Khaleesi came across an unexpected sight — a horde of Dothraki warriors who seemingly weren’t in any rush to roll out the welcome wagon for her.
“When she sees the Dothraki she knows what that means, and her relationship with Drogo was one thing, but Drogo is gone and she knows in a way he was sort of an anomaly,” Weiss pointed out. “She drops the ring because she’s smart, that ring is the breadcrumb that’s going to point in the direction that she’s being taken, and that somebody, down the line, hopefully, who means her less harm than the Dothraki, will notice.”
Back in her anarchic kingdom, Daario and Jorah felt compelled to go off on a heroic quest to find their queen (which should make for an entertaining road trip in season six, given that they’re both in love with her and Jorah is secretly infected with greyscale), leaving Tyrion, Missandei and Grey Worm to try and maintain peace in Meereen. Thankfully, Tyrion was left in charge for all of two minutes before Varys reappeared, full of snark, wisdom and his useful network of spies, who could admittedly come in handy in the fight against the Sons of the Harpy.
Sadly (or perhaps happily, from Tyrion’s perspective), his siblings weren’t having such a good day. After a seemingly amicable departure from Dorne, Jaime, Bronn, Myrcella and Trystane set sail for King’s Landing, but not before Ellaria Sand planted a suspiciously lingering kiss goodbye on Myrcella’s lips.
Jaime sat his daughter down to give her a talk about the birds, the bees and incest — and it was just as awkward as you might imagine a talk with your uncle-father could go. Luckily, Myrcella saved him from his fumbling explanations about her true parentage by gently admitting, “I know about you and Mother. I think a part of me always knew. And I’m glad. I’m glad that you’re my father.”
The two shared a short, tender hug — before Myrcella’s nose started bleeding and she collapsed in Jaime’s arms, while back on the shores of Dorne, Ellaria delicately wiped away a drop of blood from her own nose and chugged the antidote to whatever poison was in her lipstick. Those sneaky Sands!
“The thing I love about this scene is that it could end 30 seconds before it does and it would be a really heartwarming scene, because for the first time, he’s being embraced by his child with the child knowing that she is his child,” Benioff said of the surprisingly sweet scene between Jaime and his daughter. “He biologically spawned these three kids but he’s never considered himself their father — he’s never really taken that on, and now all of a sudden this young woman is embracing him and saying she’s glad he’s her father, and he’s really moved by it in a way I don’t think he ever expected he could be. It’s as if he’s feeling the joy of fatherhood for the very first time in his life, and that lasts about ten seconds.”
“It’s a pretty terrible ending for your first father-daughter moment,” Weiss agreed. “He gets to be a father for all of five seconds before he turns into a grieving father, and is probably not going to be facing a very happy Cersei Lannister when he gets back.”
But Cersei had more pressing concerns in the finale — namely her desire to get out of jail and see Tommen. Having been cooped up in a cell for an indeterminate amount of time, she finally decided to “confess” to her sins in front of the High Sparrow — or some of them, anyway.
After admitting she’d been intimate with her cousin Lancel (but no one else, and emphatically denying any relationship with Jaime), Cersei begged the High Sparrow to let her see her son in a rare moment of vulnerability, which the religious leader surprisingly acquiesced to — as long as she atoned for her sins, publicly.
This atonement was more of a walk of shame, with Cersei roughly stripped naked, washed, and shorn of her hair before being forced to walk through the streets of King’s Landing, while the resentful populace hurled insults, vegetables and even less savory things at her. While she managed to maintain her dignity for at least part of the walk, her resistance soon started to buckle, and by the time she reached the Red Keep, she was bleeding and crying, with none of her former allies rushing to her aid except for Maester Qyburn.
Benioff noted that Cersei’s walk has completely shifted the balance of power in the city: “She’s never known what it is to be truly down and out and the High Sparrow wants her to feel that and understand it, and he wants other people to see her humbled, because that diminishes her power. It’s this woman you’ve been afraid of all your life — if you see her with her head shorn, and naked on the street, you’re not gonna be afraid of her anymore and you’re gonna lose a great deal of that respect and fear of the royals, and that’s what he wants.”
“Cersei has done some pretty terrible things to lots of people who didn’t deserve it, and she’s probably got this coming, and yet it’s still hard not to feel for her in this situation because it’s like she’s in the middle of the worst waking nightmare you could possibly imagine,” Weiss added. “As far as she’s concerned, [Qyburn’s] extremely trustworthy — in this situation where everyone is happy to cut her loose, Qyburn comes forward and in full view of all of them, gives her support and looks after her.”
“And not only that, he’s brought her a gift,” Benioff noted, of the Mountainous new member of the Kingsguard — a man who has apparently taken a vow of silence until he’s defeated all of Cersei’s enemies. “The line in the script is ‘she knows vengeance will be mine’ and when he picks her up and carries her off, you see that in Cersei’s eyes… she’s been beaten down, she’s dirty and her feet are bleeding, but she’s not beaten yet.”
The finale was certainly rough for the Lannisters, but it was even more cruel to Ned Stark’s children — especially Jon Snow.
“The problem with Jon is he’s not a cautious man — it’s the problem with him and also the reason we love him. He’s a hero, but heroes are inherently incautious,” Benioff pointed out. After reluctantly sending Sam, Gilly and little Sam off to Oldtown so that Sam could train as a Maester to replace Aemon, Jon found himself out of allies in “Mother’s Mercy,” and that decision proved deadly.
After Olly rushed in, telling Jon that a wildling had information about the whereabouts of his Uncle Benjen (who has been MIA since season one), Jon walked right into a trap set by his Night’s Watch brothers, who actually took the time to write up a “traitor” sign for him (just to twist the knife, so to speak) before taking a page from Julius Caesar and lining up to stab him one by one, “for the Watch.” Most painfully of all, the final, fatal blow was delivered by Olly, before the Crows turned their back and left Jon bleeding out in the snow.
“At the end of the day, Jon is his father’s son — he’s the person who’s honorable to a fault and does the right thing even when the right thing is extremely dangerous to him personally,” Weiss noted, observing that Jon’s decision to save the wildlings sealed his fate this season. “Olly being the one who drives in the last knife makes it all the more horrible, because on some level he’s failed this kid that he wanted very, very badly to do right by.”
“This is obviously a big deal, the death of Jon Snow, this is something we’ve been thinking about for a long, long time, and if Alliser kills him… it’s a bad guy killing a good guy. But when it’s Olly holding the knife, Olly’s not a bad guy, Olly’s a kid who’s seen way too much horror way too early, and he makes a decision that’s a really hard decision for him, but you understand where he’s coming from,” Benioff added. “It’s one of those great conflicts that makes us love the books and this saga: it’s ultimately not just about good versus evil, it’s about people of good intentions who come into conflict with each other because they have very different views of the world, and unfortunately, it did not work out well for Jon Snow in this case.”
That’s an understatement.
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