As a book reader, I knew what was coming, or at least some of it. In general, A Song of Ice and Fire book readers have been dealing with the devastating conclusion to A Dance with Dragons for far longer, and the fact that we’ve been able to keep our mouths shut is a testament to an unspoken code that exists. It didn’t make watching this season finale any easier, but I was prepared. Now, I want to say to all of you show watchers that there is a knowing among book readers: don’t believe a character is dead until you know for sure. Too often in the book I would absorb the traumatic event of a character’s alleged death only to have them reappear down the line. All I am saying is that I don’t think this was the end for Jon Snow.
This was definitely a busy season finale; the episode was all over the place, trying to tie up storylines that have been stretching or building all season. Was it successful? I think so. A level of tension was maintained throughout the whole episode, and for once I wasn’t bored with Dorne. Season six is going to be fantastic for book readers and show watchers (those who don’t abandon the show like many seemed to have threatened this past season). Season six will finally be the season that I can watch this show with fresh eyes and open wonder, but until then…we have the season five finale to discuss.
So long, Stannis!
Well, guess who’s a big fat phony? The Lord has shown me Bolton banners burning. Well, they aren’t set aflame by Stannis Baratheon. Melisandre’s vision has misled a man, his family, and his army. The question is: did she really see this vision and just assumed that Stannis was the victor, or did she make the whole thing up entirely having invested her faith in Stannis as the Lord of Light’s chosen one? In the fifth book in the series you actually get a couple of chapters from Melisandre’s perspective and a few things happen that make you realize that she sometimes misreads her visions in the flames.
Stannis has just burned his only heir, half his men have fled after bearing witness to this horrific sacrifice (because, like I posed last week: who wants to serve a King who had to burn is daughter alive to gain his crown?), and Queen Selyse has hung herself. Stannis is fucked. You see it sink in for Melisandre. You see the moment when she realizes she has been wrong about everything, and that bitch just up and leaves.
Stannis has to see this through. He is nothing if not a man of conviction. So he marches on Winterfell and we can see from the camera shot looking down at the armies, that the Bolton army vastly outnumbers Stannis’ army. The classic military formation wraps around Stannis’ men and appears to swallow them. I’ll give it to Stannis…he is the only King that has survived this long.
Pretty much every bad thing that Stannis has done to gain the Iron Throne backfires on him in this episode. Including, the blood magic birth of his shadow baby that murdered his brother Renly Baratheon back in season two. Brienne of Tarth is able to exact her revenge for Renly’s death after she picks through the straggling survivors of the battle and finds Stannis. He seemed rather resigned to his death. A man of such conviction, and yet in the course of one day has lost his daughter, wife, witch and army. He has nothing left; there is no rebounding after such a humiliating display of fanaticism and defeat. Brienne charges him with his crimes, and like a man who knows he deserves what’s coming, he tells her to do her duty. And she does. So long, Stannis Baratheon, you mostly sucked, but there were moments when I thought you might be a good King.
I’m frankly glad this story line is dead. Melisandre is back at The Wall. Davos Seaworth is still alive and is bound to make himself useful in some way. But now we don’t have to wonder if we’re horrible people for having once routed for Stannis and his rightful claim on the Iron Throne, given what he had to do to get as far as he did. Stannis is dead. The Baratheon blood lives only in the veins of a bastard boy we haven’t seen for seasons.
A Leap of Faith
Ramsay’s still alive, unfortunately, and even though I wished real hard that Brienne would come upon him and split him in half – she didn’t. Back at Winterfell, Sansa picks her bedroom door lock and goes to light her candle in the broken tower just as Brienne abandons her post to find Stannis Baratheon. I guess her oath to Renly technically came before her oath to Catelyn. Once Sansa sees that Stannis’ army is going to be defeated she makes moves throughout the castle to either find an escape or return to her chambers. It wasn’t entirely clear to me which intention she was pursuing, and maybe it was meant to be that way.
It doesn’t matter either way because she is caught by Myranda and Reek. Sansa knows that Ramsay is a monster who will punish her for trying to escape. Myranda elaborates a bit more on that punishment, with the painted detail of Sansa’s impending torture something in Reek comes alive. He is still Theon beneath it all, and Theon does not want Sansa to endure the kind of torture and disfigurement that he did. So, in a moment of bravery, he overtakes Myranda and pitches her off the wall and she splats dead in the courtyard of Winterfell. Now he and Sansa are in this together, and he grabs her hand and rushes her away from the opening gates where Ramsay will soon emerge. The two take hands and jump. Now, I don’t know how big of a snow drift is at the bottom of that wall, and I don’t know if they would rather just die than be tortured by Ramsay for what just went down, but I think they took a leap of faith. They hope to survive. They hope to get away. That was a really long fall though, and I don’t know how soft snow is when landed upon from such a distance.
I watch the show with friends, and there was some mutterings about how even after all that has happened with Sansa she still needed to be saved. Well, yeah, because she’s not a fighter. She left her tool of escape, wandered past barrels of arrows, and still faced Myranda unarmed and unprepared except with the notion that she would rather die while there is still something inside of her that hasn’t been touched by Ramsay. That’s a bold stand, and quite frankly, it was good enough for me because at least I knew there was still some fight left in Sansa. She isn’t broken. She might be after that fall, but I guess we have to wait and see until next season.
Arya’s death list just got a little bit shorter. After last week’s episode, I called this. I knew that observing and identifying Ser Meryn’s weakness would be Arya’s way in to kill him. She steals a face from the hall of faces inside the House of Black and White. She dons it and poses as a girl other than herself to get close to Ser Meryn, given his appetite for young girls. She wastes no time in revealing her true identity. She gouges out his eyes, and in a bloody display of unrelenting savagery, she stabs him and then finally slits his throat. She makes sure he knows who she is and why he is dying. To Arya, this is a service to the Many Faced God as well as an act of revenge, but as she finds out upon her return – this isn’t the case.
She was supposed to kill the thin man, and instead she took a life that wasn’t hers to take. She has created an imbalance; a life is now due to the Many Faced God because of what she has done. In a moment that almost gave me a heart attack, I thought that Jaqen was going to pour that poison in Arya’s mouth. I would have lost my mind. However, what followed was baffling. Jaqen takes the poison himself. Only it’s not really Jaqen, it’s no one. Arya pulls away face after face until she sees her own. The waif girl has assumed the face of Jaqen once more and Arya is told that wearing one of the Many Faced God’s faces while she is still someone is as good as poison.
I don’t really know what this means. I realize that her savage killing of Meryn Trant was all rooted in her identity as Arya, and she knowingly disobeyed some vague code among the Faceless Men. Once Arya sees her own face, she looks back up at Jaqen and realizes that she is losing her sight. I don’t really feel like this is spoilerish, but something similar to this does happen in the books. Arya is made blind and must rely on her senses and learn a whole new set of skills to add to the skill of observation and lying that she has already seemingly mastered. So, my guess is that Arya is now entering a more intensive phase of her training with having her sight taken away from her.
The rules of the Faceless Men and the Many Faced God are still pretty vague to me, but damn I enjoyed seeing Maisie Williams completely go berserker on Ser Meryn Trant. It was hardcore, bloody, and amazing well executed.
The Kiss of Death
Poisoned lipstick is the oldest trick in the book. I knew it from the moment Ellaria kissed Myrcella goodbye; she was doomed. I’m surprised they let her anywhere near the child considering the events that just went down. I don’t think Doran or Jaime would realistically have allowed the four women who just conspired to kill Myrcella to see her off on her journey back to King’s Landing. Anyway, with that being said, I found the scene between Jaime and Myrcella incredibly touching. Being a child of incest can’t be easy, but she’s made peace with it. And for an instant, I felt happy for Jaime. I felt that he found the redemption he was looking for and it didn’t need to come from Cersei (who’s going to be pissed, by the way, when Jaime shows up with their dead child).
All of those nice warm feels were pierced by the cold heart of revenge. Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes have started a war, and they don’t even give a fuck. Ellaria wanted revenge for Oberyn’s death and she risked everything to get it. The theme of revenge was strong in this episode. It saddens me that Myrcella had to die because of her name. She was innocent. Oberyn Martell was not innocent, and he also knew the risk of entering the trial by combat on the behalf of Tyrion. Oberyn’s obsession with revenge for his sister’s rape and murder was his undoing. There seems to be this stagnant cycle of revenge that just keeps passing back and forth between the Lannisters and the Martells.
I think this will have a huge impact on Jaime. He was just outed by his incest baby and told that she was glad he was her father. That is probably the most acceptance for being his true self that Jaime has ever received. I wonder what this will lead to in the sixth season. The closing image of Ellaria showing the same signs of the poison as Myrcella, but then wiping off the poison and ingesting the antidote – was pretty awesome. It’s probably my favorite moment yet in this entire storyline. It’s unfortunate in many ways, but it seems to be consistent with the darkness of the world of Game of Thrones. The innocent don’t get a pass, if anything, they are used to demonstrate a point to those who have sinned.
Cersei’s Walk of Shame
Speaking of sin … Cersei Lannister was just made to walk the most horrific walk of shame. Cersei has decided to confess her sins of incest with Lancel Lannister. There will be a trial, but upon begging the Mother’s Mercy, she is provided the opportunity to atone for her sins and return to the Red Keep. I thought this was an incredibly well adapted version of the source text. Of course, when reading the book you are inside Cersei’s thoughts as all of this is happening, but I felt that this was so well acted and shot that we knew that Cersei had reached a breaking point.
Having her hair sheared off and being made to walk naked from the Sept to the Red Keep seems like a suitable punishment for someone so reliant on their name, money, and power. She is stripped of everything; her beauty, her clothes, her dignity, and she is made to walk through the crowd of commoners she once referred to as weeds. They throw things at her, insult her, and all the while the Septa is ringing out the word Shame, over and over again. You can see it start to sink in toward the end of the walk, just as it did in the book. Some of that shame breaks through Cersei’s façade of strength and nobility.
How does someone like Cersei recover from something like this? She will never be looked at the same way by the people. It makes you wonder why she did it. Why did she do it? To get out of prison, yes, of course, but also to get back to Tommen. Tyrion once told her that the only redeeming quality she had was the love for her children. And in her twisted mind, imprisoning Margaery was Cersei’s way of protecting Tommen from being corrupted by a civil-minded woman who has the love of the people. It’s crazy, but this is Cersei.
Yet, as soon as she makes those final bloody steps to the doors of the Red Keep and collapses into Qyburn’s arms – our old Cersei is returned. Qyburn reveals the product of his Dr. Frankenstein experiment; a resurrected Gregor Clegane. The Mountain, bearing a rather unnatural hue, scoops Cersei into his arms and that sense of power goes rushing back into her again. Cersei did what she had to do to escape, she survived the walk of shame, she didn’t break, and now she is back in a place where she can do damage. But the question going into season six is: how much power does the Queen Mother still have?
Where did she go?
At the end of last week’s episode was the epic scene of Dany riding Drogon out of the fighting pits of Meereen. How did everyone else escape? Not sure, but again, I have to suspend some disbelief to allow for her entourage’s seamless escape after she just left them there while the Sons of the Harpy were still attacking.
I liked the staging of this scene in the Meereen throne room. Once again, the position of everyone on the steps speaks to their position in relation to Daenerys and the throne. Tyrion is at the top of the stairs staring at the empty seat. Daario is further down, cracking his knuckles, and Jorah is at the bottom, undoubtedly moping and pining for their lost Queen. It’s quickly clear why Tyrion is at the top – he has both men figured out. They are in love with Daenerys, but it’s hopeless for both of them: a sellsword and a disgraced knight. Tyrion has managed to piece this together by himself through close observation, and as Dany’s new advisor … he proceeds to heed the advice of the sellsword?
He wants to be part of the search of Daenerys, but Daario points out that his talents would best serve the Queen if he were to stay in Meereen with Missandei and Grey Worm and rule in her name. Daario and Jorah will head in the direction Drogon flew and try to find Daenerys.
Tyrion has barely just arrived in Meereen, a city on the brink of civil war, and he is left to rule in the Queen’s absence. A foreigner and a dwarf, Tyrion suddenly finds himself in the powerful position of ruling a city that not even the Mother of Dragons has been able to rule – he’s going to need some help. Varys! I was hoping he would show back up. He advises Tyrion that to hold Meereen, information is key. He must learn his enemies’ secrets and he must learn who he can and cannot trust. I’m glad these two are working with one another again. They make a good team, and when Dany returns, assuming that she does, hopefully things will be more settled in Meereen. I have to ask this question though: how long are they going to stay in this place that doesn’t want them while the Seven Kingdoms are about to be swallowed by The Long Night?
Meanwhile, out in the grasslands, Drogon is sleepy. He’s injured and needs time to heal and to rest. Dany is just trying to figure out where she is when she soon finds herself surrounded by a Dothraki Khalasar. It’s hard to tell what their intentions are as they circle around her with their horses. Do they know her; do they remember Khal Drogo and his Khaleesi? Have they heard about her dragons? We’ll have to wait until season six to find out, but I can see this going two ways. She will either gain the Dothraki as followers by promising them the great sack of Meereen as a reward if they take her back there, or she will conquer them with Drogon and she will have an even larger army.
For those who have read the books, I must admit I was hoping for a bit more out of this scene. Daenerys has always employed an internal philosophy of: If I look back, I am lost. It’s this philosophy that has kept her moving, but in the books this time away from civilization, alone with Drogon, she is forced to reflect. Within her reflection she seems to unlock some inner knowing that reminds her of who she is and what she is destined to do. She has a series of hallucinations that all accumulate to this transcendence of ego, and she seems to have a better handle on what she has to do, but none of that was translated on screen. So perhaps this will occur through some other means. I guess we will all find out together.
NO, NOT JON SNOW!
Jon Snow is a fan favorite. That doesn’t mean much in George R.R. Martin’s world as everyone also loved Ned Stark, and well, we saw how that ended. I believe that Jon Snow serves a greater purpose. I believe that the well-timed arrival of Melisandre back at The Wall will be a part of how he survives. I encourage everyone to read the books and then take to the internet and read all of the theories on how Jon Snow survives this horrible attack.
In the show, he is beckoned by Olly to come see about someone who has word on Benjen Stark who disappeared back in season one. Jon’s already sent Sam to the Citadel to become a Maester, so his friend pack is running pretty thin. It’s no shock that the Night’s Watch betrays Jon, but that they would murder him in the name of the Night’s Watch is something else entirely. It’s like no one else can see the bigger picture of an army of thousands of zombies headed their way led by some pretty ancient evil White Walkers. Anyone looking at the bigger picture understands that Jon Snow made a hard decision, but a good one.
Then again, the Night’s Watch is made up of murderers, rapists and thieves, so we shouldn’t be that surprised at their short sightedness. But now what? In the books, Jon is a Warg, like Bran, and as he is being stabbed he calls for Ghost. A popular fan theory is that he Wargs into Ghost and doesn’t die. Another popular theory is that Melisandre brings him back to life, that Jon Snow is actually the great leader that she has been looking for, and if you want to look that up, just Google: Azor Ahai.
I know this seems like a downer, but I strongly encourage everyone to believe that Jon Snow is not dead. You think it’s a coincidence that Melisandre fled Stannis’ side and rode straight for The Wall when she realized she was wrong about her vision? Previously, it was established that Thoros of Myr had the ability to resurrect the dead, as he did with Beric Dondarrion, but Melisandre admitted that the Red God had not granted her this gift. However, because of her, the Red God just got a bunch of King’s Blood. Shireen, Stannis, and Jon Snow himself if he really is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.
All I’m saying is, Kit Harrington is still under contract, and there are some very magical possibilities at play. I mean, Qyburn brought The Mountain back to life, right? So, Jon Snow may be resurrected by Melisandre, and I wonder that if he is: will he come back different? Will he be free of the Night’s Watch vow since he technically died? Loophole! I don’t know. I could be wrong and he could actually be dead, however, that would be so incredibly messed up. So, I refuse to accept that as a possibility.
Overall Thoughts on the Season:
This was a very dark season, even for Game of Thrones. Fans of the show were put off by Sansa’s story line and by the death of Shireen. Book readers were finally exposed to material outside of what Martin has published, and we’re finally able to talk about Jon Snow’s alleged death which has been gnawing at us for years. This season did a couple of things successfully, and I think they should be considered as we move into the final two seasons of the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series.
- Stannis is no longer a contender for the Iron Throne
- We’ve seen the massive army of the undead; Winter is surely coming
- Daenerys and Tyrion have been united as a powerful team
- Daenerys is now a dragon rider
- Arya is still struggling with her identity and becoming a Faceless Man
- Melisandre’s visions can’t be trusted
- Littlefinger can’t be trusted, and his bet on Stannis winning just failed
- Cersei was humiliated by the Faith Militant that she erected
- The Mountain is still alive by some weird science
- Jaime finally found acceptance in admitting his parentage to Myrcella only to have her die in his arms
- War is about to erupt between the Lannisters and the Martells
- The Lannisters and the Tyrells are both caught up in the mess that Cersei made
- The Night’s Watch is full of stupid men that betray their leaders
And we are left to consider some things for the coming season:
- Do Sansa and Theon survive that jump? What happens then – perhaps they will find Brienne?
- Where the hell is Littlefinger and what is he going to do now that Stannis lost? I doubt Sansa will ever trust him again.
- What will happen with Dany and the Dothraki?
- What will become of Tyrion and Varys in Meereen, and how much longer is Daenerys going to stay there?
- What will happen in King’s Landing now that Cersei is back? Will she still be powerful, or will she be a bit more broken, especially when she hears of Myrcella’s death?
- How will the Lannisters ever recoup?
- What’s going to happen to the Wildlings now that Jon Snow is “dead”?
- What’s going to happen to Jon Snow?
- Where the hell is Bran? What is his role in all this?
- Will Arya get her sight back?
If you have thoughts, ideas, comments or disagreements, please leave your message below. I’m interested in the dialogue and fan theories.
Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.