Mother's Mercy

(11 comments)

In case you missed it, I responded to some more stuff John C. Wright has been saying, and pushed Recursive Occlusion to a wider release as well.

State of Play

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:

Lions of Meereen: Tyrion Lannister
Lions of Dorne: Jaime Lannister
Lions of King's Landing: Cersei Lannister
The Dragon, Daenerys Targaryen
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Burning Hearts of Winterfell: Stannis Baratheon
Ships of the Wall: Davos Seaworth
Burning Hearts of the Wall: Melisandre
Snakes of Dorne: Ellaria Sand
Direwolves of Braavos: Arya Stark
Direwolves of Winterfell: Sansa Stark
Archers of the Wall: Samwell Tarly
Flowers of the Wall: Gilly
Butterflies of Meereen: Missandei
Swords of Meereen: Daario Noharis
Spiders of Meereen: Varys
Chains of Dorne: Bronn
Kraken of Winterfell: Theon Greyjoy
Flayed Men of Winterfell: Ramsey Snow
Shields of Winterfell: Brienne of Tarth
Coins of Braavos: No one
With the Bear of Meereen, Jorah Mormont

The episode is in nine parts. The first is three minutes long and is set in the Baratheon camp north of Winterfell. The opening image is of melting icicles.

The second is four minutes long and is set at the Wall. The transition is by hard cut, from Stannis to Jon Snow.

The third is eleven minutes long and is set in Winterfell. It is in sections. The transition is by hard cut, from Jon Snow to an establishing shot of Stannis's march.

The fourth is six minutes long and is set in Braavos. The transition is by family, from Sansa to Arya Stark.

The fifth is five minutes long and is set in Dorne. The transition is by hard cut, from Arya's blinded face to an establishing shot of Jaime and company boarding a boat.

The sixth is six minutes long and is set in Meereen. The transition is by family, from a wide shot of Jaime's boat to Tyrion Lannister.

The seventh is four minutes long and is set in what one assumes is the Dothraki Sea. The transition is by dialogue, from everyone talking about Daenerys to Daenerys.

The eighth is thirteen minutes long and is set in King's Landing. The transition is by hard cut, from a wide shot of Dothraki swarming Daenerys to Cersei in her cell.

The ninth is four minutes long and is set on the Wall. The transition is by hard cut, from Cersei to the elevator at Castle Black. The final image is of Jon Snow, dead in the, well, snow.

Analysis

As a cliffhanger, it's something of a puzzling one. It is, of course, the biggest cliffhanger from A Dance With Dragons. But the reality of television production is that they cannot actually keep us in suspense as to whether Kit Harrington is in the next season. Of course, there are plausible outcomes here that amount to some version of "recast the role," including replacing Kit Harrington with an actual lost puppy, but... yeah. Really wondering how that's going to play.

More broadly, taking "cliffhanger" in the sense of talking about where all the characters are, it's almost jarring to end up so close to the state of play in the books after a season that has felt this defined by its departures. In some ways this is actively difficult to parse; the fact that Littlefinger and the Tyrells disappeared all the way back in The Gift is at this point bordering on a plot hole, for instance. And the cut from Melisandre's arrival at the Wall to Jon Snow, hours later, reading messages is ridiculous in its "let's just not deal with any of the consequences of these events."

Indeed, there are ways in which the decision to have everything line up almost exactly with the state of play in the books is something of a hinderance. This is not an entirely satisfying finale in terms of drama. In particular, watching the Battle of Winterfell, an event that hasn't actually taken place in the books, collapse into a near-exact retread of Jeyne Poole's escape, with the entire "candle in the broken tower" being a feint is downright anticlimactic, which is an impressive feat to pull given that it features the death of Stannis. In particular, the cut from Brienne to Ramsey borders on trolling.

It is, of course, entirely understandable. It's pretty clear that Martin is on a desperate charge to get The Winds of Winter out before April or so of 2016. Given that there is a zero percent change he'll have A Dream of Spring out by 2017 and that the show is, in fact, going to be doing the first draft of the overall finish, it is a perfectly understandable mark of respect to avoid moving much beyond the books. All the same, this doesn't quite work as a chunk of television. More than any other Game of Thrones finale, this feels like an exercise in ticking boxes.

All of which said, there are some very good boxes here. Maisie Williams is absolutely incredible, finding incredible new ways to sell "brutal killer" as she murders Meryn Trant, and then moving compellingly through a huge range of different forms of anguish in her final scene. Stephen Dillane's weary resignation is absolutely brilliant. And Lena Headey turns in her best performance to date in the series, managing to turn a scene that could easily have been an absolute train wreck into a tour de force by delivering a performance controlled and majestic enough to hold focus over the surface spectacle.

But there are an unusually large number of characters left in positions of vulnerability and weakness here, as opposed to in positions where it's interesting to ask what's going to become of them. Only Tyrion's ending offers anything to be excited about in terms of next season. And, to be fair, it's a lot - Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm, and Varys trying to rule over Meereen is an absolutely great concept. But literally every other character's plot ends with some variation of "something awful happens," with the exception of Sansa, who ends with "well she probably didn't die in that fall." No one really has an exciting new status quo.

All the same, as I've said in past reviews, for a season that sought to cover two deeply flawed and problematic books in just ten hours this has been very, very good. One cannot, of course, simply excuse the show any flaw that originates in its source material. But it has taken what were at best a mediocre pair of books and elevated them to reliably good television. That's an accomplishment.

All the same, it's tough to say that nine months feels like an unbearable wait for more.

Ranking

  1. Hardhome
  2. The Dance of Dragons
  3. High Sparrow
  4. The Wars to Come
  5. Mother's Mercy
  6. Kill the Boy
  7. Sons of the Harpy
  8. The House of Black and White
  9. The Gift
  10. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
A Small Piece of Unfinished Business

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:

The Lion, Tyrion Lannister
Lions of Dorne: Jaime Lannister
Lions of King's Landing: Cersei Lannister
Mockingbirds of King's Landing: Petyr Baelish
Rose of King's Landing: Margaery Tyrell
Snakes of Dorne: Ellaria Sand
Direwolves of Braavos: Arya Stark
Direwolves of Winterfell: Sansa Stark
Chains of Dorne: Bronn
Kraken of Winterfell: Theon Greyjoy
Flayed Men of Winterfell: Roose Bolton, Ramsey Bolton
Coins of Braavos: No One
Stags of King's Landing: Tommen Baratheon
With the Bear, Jorah Mormont

The episode is in seven parts. The first part is six minutes long and is set in Braavos. The opening image is of Arya's hands.

The second is three minutes long and is set somewhere in Essos. The transition is by image, from Arya looking at her arm to Jorah looking at his.

The third is six minutes long and is set in Braavos. The transition is by hard cut, from Tyrion walking to Arya cleaning the floor.

The fourth is five minutes long and is set somewhere in Essos. The transition is by hard cut, from the hall of faces to Jorah and Tyrion walking.

The fifth is five minutes long and is set in King's Landing. The transition is by hard cut, from the face of the slaver to an establishing shot of the city.

The sixth is seven minutes long and is set in Dorne. The transition is by family, from Cersei Lannister to Myrcella Baratheon.

The seventh is appears to only be twelve minutes long, but that can't be right, as it makes the episode about twelve minutes shorter than it should be. Weird. In any case, it's set in King's Landing. The transition is by hard cut, from Ellaria Sand to Olenna Tyrell's caravan. The final image is of Olenna Tyrell giving Cersei some serious shade.

Comments

Ciaran M 2 years, 2 months ago

Stannis' death being a cutaway is an awful nasty ploy to get me to watch next season. There was something doubly heartbreaking as his men pulled their swords with him, even as half of them ran away. Buh. I am very sad. Also, if Stannis really is dead, that is like the fifth bloody shaggy dog story this show has had yet.

The adventures of Davos, Melisandre and ZomJon on the wall should be fun, though.

Tyrion in Mereen fills me with dread with the thought of spending another year trying to resolve foreign military intervention.

Cersei's walk of punishment was bloated and gratuitous. Not an interesting payoff to the season's build. And goodness me did she have a buxom body double for it.

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encyclops 2 years, 2 months ago

I sincerely hope Stannis is dead because it's my very last chance to get any points this episode in the fantasy league. It's too little too late, but given that my most prominent characters were Melisandre and Brienne I think I did rather well.

+1 to the props you gave Lena Headey. Cersei is infuriating at the best of times, but Headey herself is a class act and she reminded us all why the character is worth watching.

And I have to say the Sparrow and his regime is one of the scariest, ugliest things I've seen on this show to date and I want to see him brought low more than just about anyone else on offer, including the Boltons.

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Matt Marshall 2 years, 2 months ago

So how many characters whose deaths they cliffhangered on are actually dead, do people think?

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Asher Elbein 2 years, 2 months ago

Sansa is alive. Stannis...that's a tough call. It's as good a point as any to leave off with him, but the prospect of Brienne pulling that punch and having buddy cop adventures with Stannis is too hard tempting to readily ignore. (Plus, no body.) Myrcella is probably dead. John Snow is dead but is definitely coming back in some form or fashion.

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encyclops 2 years, 2 months ago

Agreed with all of those. I think Theon's going to live at least long enough to be like "sorry I was such a piece of shit," but I'm betting he won't walk away from that fall. Meryn, Miranda, and Selyse are obviously toast.

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phuzz 2 years, 2 months ago

At least ending it on the same cliff-hangers as the books meant I could turn around to some of my friends and say "now you're in the same situation I've been in for four years".
I'm also wondering how people think that Dany dropping her ring is going to help her be found. It's one tiny ring that's probably about to get trampled into the grass, several hundred miles from where they last saw her.
On the other hand, she is right next to a 20m wide burnt area covered in chewed bones, so hopefully at least one of the pair will think to track the bloody great dragon, rather than the girl.

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Re-animator 2 years, 2 months ago

This was a very hard episode to watch. I appreciate how Game of Thrones has consistently deconstructed the concept of comeuppance that is the core of most TV dramas - the "bad guy" getting his just deserts never happens here. Meryn Trant's horrific slaughter brought that point home spectacularly for me. The actions that caused Arya to devote her life to vengeance are a distant memory, years have passed (in Westeros and IRL) and other horrific acts have been added to the pile so watching Trant "finally get what's coming to him" doesn't feel like a justified act of revenge at all. Instead it's just another senseless act of murder.

Aaron Bady wrote this thing about GoT that sort of relates to what I feel about it:

The Red Wedding should have been the end of the show, I think; it’s the cathartic end-point, and the culmination of the Stark tragedy. We watch, we pity, and we feel fear: we have seen that being good, struggling for justice, for family, and for love, are not compatible with playing the game of thrones. To play the game of thrones, you have to play to win; you have to kill your darlings. If you don’t, you’ll die. The Starks don’t; they die.

But what happens to this story once the Starks are all dead or scattered? Why does the story go on? Tragedies don’t usually continue after the tragic hero is dead, because they cannot, by definition, be tragedies any more. At a certain point, there’s no one left to kill. And Game of Thrones is, after the third book stopped providing source material, no longer a tragedy. The bad guys won, and if life goes on, the good guys don’t come back to life (or, if they do, it’s pretty awful). Ideed, so many of the good guys are dead that the show has no choice but to make bad guys into protagonists (how have Jaime and Cercei Lanister become protagonists, again?)


I don't think this move makes the show unnecessary, and appreciate how Game of Thrones has forced the audience to identify with and invest empathy into progressively more and more broken, violent and unsympathetic characters. It systematically shows how myths and stories that are constructed around power concern themselves with the legitimation of power: the myth of the Good King that doesn't oppress the people, the Good Patriarch that treats his wife and children fairly, all these stories people tell themselves in order to convince themselves that power is right, power is good, power won't be abused. There's no such comfort in GoT and I think that's a genuinely progressive idea.

I can't remember the quote, but I think George RR Martin once said that he imagines the ending of Game of Thrones to be "the wind sweeping over a plain full of bones" and I'm starting to appreciate the idea. As it stands, an ending where the entire human race in Westeros is wiped out is a happy ending. Finally, it would all be over.

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Matt Marshall 2 years, 2 months ago

Part of me thinks a really interesting analysis could be made between Arya's scenes this season and this Monday's episode of Steven Universe. That was a hell of a thing.

Of course such a piece would have an audience of zero ;)

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encyclops 2 years, 2 months ago

Bady's is a very strange piece. Since when were Jaime and Cersei protagonists? There are still four living Starks, more than have died, in fact, and of the pair that everyone thinks of as the protagonists, one is alive and cliffhangered and the other is dead but obviously cliffhangered. I guess if someone seriously expected that Robb would win the game, the Red Wedding would have been the end of the show, but really it's just a particularly steep precipice into the canyon of despair. I think your take on it makes a lot more sense.

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SpaceSquid 2 years, 2 months ago

That large circle of burnt earth provided me with my favourite moment in the whole episode, as Drogon, tired from his dance, found himself too exhausted to chase off carrion feeders, turning the circle into a feast for crows.

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JohnB 2 years, 1 month ago

I thought she'd dropped the ring to get rid of it, assuming it was her wedding ring.

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