Tragic Ending or Tragic Cliffhanger?
The formula for ending the first three seasons of Game of Thrones was having episode nine serve as the season’s climax and episode ten serve as the resetting for next season. But Season four began to murk those waters, with the Wall battle making the usual action-packed episode nine, but also featuring a finale with a significant amount of story resolutions.
Season five continued the new normal for Game of Thrones, using the finale to put the pieces into place for next season, but also bringing forth much anticipated moments, and one tragic conclusion.
The stabbing of Jon Snow is the last scene we have of him from the source material. It’s been considered a cliffhanger going on five years now because we don’t have a chapter to confirm the death. But Jon’s body sure did look lifeless as the screen turned to black. And both the producers and Kit Harrington seemed to indicate that, as far as the television show goes, Jon Snow is dead.
But some interesting things happened at the Wall before the big moment happened that still have me doubting. I intend to discuss all of those in the Wall portion of this recap. But we also see one claimant to the throne meet his end, everything changing for Cersei, one final blow from Ellaria and the Sand Snakes, a new order for rule in Meereen, and did we mention Jon Snow is dead?
Melisandre wakes up to the melting of ice cicles. Much of the snow on the ground has melted and she seems to have some initial optimism about the impending battle. But while there may have been an improvement in conditions, Stannis is not exactly warm to the red priestess. And other than some melting snow, things are just awful in Camp Stannis. Half his men abandoned him in the middle of the night (when your leader burns his own daughter alive, that will have an affect on you). And his wife is found hanging from a tree. With all the signs pointing against him, Melisandre decides to turn tail and run, information Stannis is informed of right before he means to set out. That’s a pretty sad move by Melisandre considering she was the inspiration for last week’s (now meaningless) sacrifice of Shireen.
But she could apparently see the writing on the Wall. And for the most of this episode, it seems like Stannis is seeing it too. But the man is all in, and rides on, knowing he truly is out of options. His small force marches to Winterfell and is confronted by Ramsey and his crew, who ride out to meet them.
Meanwhile, Brienne is still watching, waiting for that candle. But Pod notices Stannis’s army marching and immediately informs Brienne. Unfortunately, Sansa made her way up to that tower and lit that candle just after Brienne left to go deal with Stannis.
It was earlier in the season that Brienne vowed to kill Stannis if she ever got the opportunity. And thanks to a complete massacre by Ramsey and his men, Brienne finds Stannis helpless and up against a tree. Brienne informs the “true king of Westeros” her intentions, and he simply says, “Do your duty.”
Everything seemed to fall very suddenly for Stannis after a promising start to season five. He couldn’t help the snow, but how does a man keep the loyalty of men when they see you burn your own daughter for the purposes of a throne? And now Shireen’s sacrifice seems meaningless, though having Stannis benefit from the injustice last week might have been worse.
Meanwhile, Sansa sees while she’s lighting her candle that a battle is happening outside Winterfell. She attempts to take advantage of the opportunity, but is met by a bow and arrow wielding Myranda and Theon/Reek. She means to take Sansa back to her cell and proceeds to tell her all the things Ramsey has planned for her. None of them sound pleasant and seem to be enough to finally knock Theon/Reek out of his Ramsey stupor as he throws Myranda off the side of the rail and kills her. Theon/Reek knows he must get out know, so he takes Sansa by the hand and they head to the top of the Wall surrounding Winterfell. Ramsey’s men have returned from battle and Theon and Sansa have no choice but to jump. Interesting note here; the height of the wall surrounding Winterfell is higher than the one Myranda feel and died from. I guess they won’t be going face first like she did. The two take the leap, and we will have to wait until season six to find out their fate.
I was relieved to see that Meryn Trant’s pedophilia was not just to make the man a sick and twisted freak who deserved to die. Arya used it brilliantly in her plot to kill the man. Three young girls (much younger than the girl last week) stand before Trant and he proceeds to whip all three. But the third girl doesn’t react the way he wants. So the other two are sent out, leaving the third to face extreme punishment. Her identity had been covered by her long blonde hair, but the girl reveals herself to be the girl Arya fed the poisoned water earlier this season. One pulling back of the mask reveals Arya, and she proceeds to brutally stab Meryn Trant in the face, back and chest.
Arya sneaks back to the House of Black and White to return the mask. But she was still supposed to be nobody!!! And since she was Arya Stark with her first kill, she still needs more training. Her punishment; the loss of sight. Though the scene where Arya thought Jaqen had poisoned himself, only to find that wasn’t really him was confusing, this was one of the best scenes we’ve seen all season in the House of Black and White and the clearest statement of their purpose. The faceless men don’t choose their kills or kill for revenge. They kill those they’ve been assigned to kill.
Dorne has been a major disappointment all season. So of course, the finale had to stay consistent with that theme. That’s not to say that the Sand Snakes and Ellaria poisoning Myrcella wasn’t interesting, it’s just I was really hoping for some insight into the motivation of Doran Martell (I mean, the man is supposed to be in charge here). But we only see the Prince of Dorne sending off Trystane and Myrcella as they leave with Jamie and Bronn.
Jamie and Myrcella have a heart to heart on the boat, one of the few moments where Jamie gets to be a father, encouraging her in her love for Trystane. And Myrcella also admits she knows Jamie is her real father and she’s happy about it. The two embrace, and all seems happy on that little boat heading to King’s Landing. That’s until Myrcella’s nose starts bleeding. Returning to the dock, Ellaria’s nose is bleeding as well. She made contact with Myrcella while using some of Tyene’s poison. But unlike Myrcella, Ellaria has the antidote and takes it before she and the three Sand Snakes walk away. Jamie will have a lot of explaining to do when he returns to King’s Landing. And Ellaria was told last week she will not get a third chance. But the greater question is do we really want all these hanging story arcs over Dorne, meaning we have to return to this place next season?
Daenarys has flown away on her dragon, leaving her council of advisors to rule in her place. But Daario has a plan. I’ve liked Daario significantly better this season than last season, and he makes the best temporary governing plan I think this group could’ve come up with. Jorah and Daario will go out to look for the queen. Tyrion believes he should go, but Daario correctly points out that Tyrion’s skill set does not fit the requirements of him and Jorah’s expedition. The halfman is left to rule in Meereen with Grey Worm (who reappears and is in need of some major summarizing of recent events) to keep peace in the city. As he watches Daario and Jorah ride away, Varys reappears and informs Tyrion he is here to help. I am really glad Varys and Tyrion are back together again. But it seems very convenient to have him appear so suddenly. But can I say again that I really look forward to seeing these two men rule a city together!!!
Speaking of Daenarys, it would appear Drogon has taken her to the field he’s been hanging out in while he’s been away. Drogon lays on several burned carcases while Daenarys tries to get him up to go back to Meereen. But Drogon is like a teenager who won’t get up in the morning. So step 3 in training your dragon will be getting him to fly where you want him to fly instead of dropping you off in the middle of some random field.
Dany goes out looking for food because, once again, Drogon is not flying around looking for any right now (probably not hungry from all the human he just finished eating in those fighting pits). But while out searching, Daenarys sees a large group of horse riders approach, and they surround her. That’s right folks!!! Making their first appearance since the first season are the Dothraki. And while the horse lords don’t make their intentions clear as they scream and yell, circling Daenarys, she drops the ring on her fingers for that search party she just knows is looking for her will have something to track her by.
Cersei sits before the High Sparrow and does the only thing she’s been advised to do; confess. Well, not exactly a complete confession, but enough, she hopes, to get her out of her cell. She confesses to sleeping with Lancel, but won’t admit to her children being Jamie’s and not Robert’s. She knows Tommen would likely be removed from the throne for sure if she admitted that.
Now one cannot simply just go to the High Sparrow, admit to doing something, and then bam, be forgiven and move on. The Sparrow informs Cersei that a trial is still forthcoming for everything she has denied. Cersei also pleads to be with her son again. The High Sparrow grants this request, but not until atonement has been granted. And of course, this wouldn’t be the High Sparrow if atonement was simply water baptism.
A group of Septas bath Cersei and chop off her hair, leaving it very short. She is then presented before a large mob of peasants, stripped and naked, and made to walk from the Holy Sept to the Red Keep. At first Cersei stands proud, walking like we are used to seeing her. It all doesn’t seem so bad if one can get over the fact they are only in their birthday suit. But then the name calling starts. And the more she walks, the louder it gets. Some people spit on her as she walks by. Others expose themselves to her while throwing food, mud (or dung, I’m not sure) on her. By the end of it, Cersei is slumped over and in tears, falling down towards the end, her bare feet bloodied from the long walk. Lena Headey did a fantastic job portraying the range of motions required for one of “A Dance With Dragons” most important scenes.
She finally makes it to the safety of the Red Keep, where Qyburn, Kevan Lannister, and Pycelle are there to greet her. Qyburn is the only one who seems to embrace her, wrapping a rob around her and presenting a large man, the newest member of the Kingsguard, wearing a knight’s mask. It would seem Qyburn’s work in resurrecting large men is complete. The former mountain picks up Cersei and carries her off, as Qyburn informs her that he will not speak until all her enemies are vanquished (and since Cersei has a lot of enemies, that sounds like a permanent vow of silence).
A couple of episodes back, Sam mentioned his desire to one day become a maester. And he makes a very strong case for why he should be. Gilly will be in constant danger at the Wall and Sam will likely die at some point trying to defend her (because we all know Ghost can’t just appear whenever you want him to). Jon is hesitant at first, because he really does lack friends at this point on the Wall. But he eventually agrees, and we see Sam and Gilly ride off, on their way to Oldtown, the site of the Citadel, and headquarters for the maesters.
Later on, Davos arrives at the Wall on that mission Stannis sent him on. I had a sad feeling come over me watching Davos pleading for help for his lost cause. But Davos turns his attention from pleading with Jon to the appearance of the Red Lady, riding alone and arriving at the Wall. Melisandre seems downcast (which I guess you would be too if you arranged the fiery deaths of people for the man all your prophesies and visions were wrong about for five seasons). Davos asks about Shireen, but Melisandre doesn’t want to talk about it. So Melisandre and Davos are back at the Wall with no Stannis to support.
Our last scene is Jon sitting in his office, an office we all wish now he would’ve just stayed in. Olly runs in to tell him a Wildling has seen Benjen Stark, Jon’s uncle, who rode out early in the first season and hasn’t been seen since. When Jon goes to where the Wildling supposedly is, he sees a sign that says “Traitor.” (It’s a trap!!!!) Jon turns around and is greeted by the blade of Allister Throne, who stabs him, saying “For the Watch.” Each man in the group proceeds to do the same thing and repeat the same words, forcing Jon to his knees. Then Olly walks up, and to Jon’s surprise (which considering how he’s responded to all the free Wildlings stuff Jon has lead the group into, it shouldn’t), Olly shoves the final knife blade, also saying “For the Watch.” Jon falls over and lays in the snow, no life in his eyes and puddles of blood surrounding him as the screen fades to a long black screen before finally hitting the credits.
Now immediately after the episode, I went online and found statements by both the producers and Kit Harrington about the death of Jon Snow. They confirmed that this was his death and that he would no longer be on the show. But why is the Red Priestess (and those who work for the Lord of Light are known for resurrection) back at the Wall? I mean, yes, she missed badly on Stannis. But her powers have been evident throughout the show. And what good is she if she can only burn children, but is not willing or able to resurrect someone who would definitely stand with the cause of taking out the Lord of Darkness (the one it’s been implied is behind the White Walkers)? I will assume Jon Snow is dead because of all the direct quotes saying he’s finished. But keep that appearance of Melisandre at the Wall with no Stannis in mind as we head toward season six.
-Once again, Sansa takes on the role that Jeyne Poole/Fake Arya took in Dance with Dragons. She also ran away with Theon from Winterfell and took that rather large jump off the wall of the castle.
-Arya’s lost sight is also a scene taken directly from the books, though it didn’t come as a punishment for killing anyone. I really loved its use here as the final piece of her storyline this season.
-Many book readers were disappointed with the death of Barristen Selmy early in the season. As it stands in the books, he is the man who is ruling Meereen while Dany is on her dragon sabbatical. But I personally love Tyrion as a replacement for that role. I have mentioned many times that Tyrion’s best season was when he served as Hand of the King for season two and I don’t think any character in the show is better suited for a position of power.
-The Church where Cersei’s “Walk of Shame” happened was hesitant to allow the scene and needed convincing to let it move forward. Also, Lena Headey was not willing to do the scene nude, so a body double was used. Her character has not appeared naked in any episode of Game of Thrones until “A Mother’s Mercy.”
-In the books, the resurrected Mountain goes by the name of Robert the Strong. It is also believed that Qyburn resurrected him without his head, as it was sent to Dorne to appease the Martells.
Questions for Next Season
-What do the remaining men of the Night’s Watch plan to do with all the Wildlings hanging out there now that they’ve taken out Jon? And what will their reactions be to Davos and Melisandre?
-Where will Sansa and Theon go to in their attempt to flee Winterfell?
-Will blindness turn Arya to one worthy of wearing a mask? How will her training proceed with her new condition?
-How will those in King’s Landing react to Myrcella’s dead body when Jamie arrives with her? And did Ellaria use up her “second chance” with Doran Martell?
-How will the Dothraki treat a former Khaleesi? And what chance to Daario and Jorah have of claiming her from the large Khalasar? And will Drogon get off his lazy teen ass and save his mother again?
-How can Cersei have any position of power after being subjected to such a demeaning walk? And what about the Tyrells? Do they have to make a walk? Will Littlefinger’s gift finally be revealed next season? Do all three still have to stand trial?
I have plenty of great things coming as I round out season five with a couple of final articles to put the season that was to rest. Here’s the launch schedule:
Tomorrow: Full Season Five Review
Thursday: Season Five Obituaries
Friday: Six Things for Season Six: An Early Look at What to Expect Next Season