Game of Thrones: Season 5, "Mother's Mercy"

By Sarah MesleJune 18, 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 5, "Mother's Mercy"
This week on Dear Television:

  • "What Happened and What Should Have Happened," from Sarah Mesle


Previous episode: season 5, episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons.

Following episode: season 6, episode 1, “The Red Woman.”

LARB’s Collected “Game of Thrones” Coverage


What Happened and What Should Have Happened
By Sarah Mesle
June 17, 2015DEARTVLOGO

What Happened: Stannis and Melisandre, despite the auspicious if perplexing signs of melting snow (if it’s melting by Stannis, why is it not melting at Winterfell?), learn that everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong.

What Should Have Happened: I actually think it would have been more disturbing and interesting if Stannis had triumphed and had to deal with what he did to Shireen, rather than just getting mercy killed out of it.

What Happened: Melisandre, in response to this bad news, was for the first time in five seasons required to display an emotion other than orgasmic birth or smug remove.

What should have happened: I hate Melisandre. I hate that she is a flat and uninteresting character; I hate that, despite the fact that she is a sex-witch cliché, she is the woman on this show most consistently granted power, granted narrative safety. I was not sorry to see her get bad news. I would have been happier if Dany had showed up on Drogon and shown her what a night full of terrors might really look like.

What Happened: Queen Seryse hung herself from a very high tree branch.

What Should Have Happened: Look, no one’s going to complain about the loss of Seryse, who is merely one of this show’s many flat manifestations of monstrous motherhood. That said, I have some questions: where did she get the rope? How did she learn to tie a noose? How did she climb onto that very high branch wearing that very long dress? What should have happened is that she should have died in a way that said something about her character rather than saying something about the emotional experience of the men looking at her spectacularly displayed body.

What Happened: Jon and Sam talk about the white walkers and HAVING SEX, WHOOOOOOO!

What Should Have Happened: Exactly that.

What Happened: Sansa picks her lock with her drill but then drops the drill.

What Should Have Happened: SANSA DO NOT DROP YOUR WEAPON!

What Happened: There’s this whole cheap thrill rigamarole about Brienne just missing Sansa’s light in the tower.

What Should Have Happened: All season I was looking forward to Brienne’s impending moral delima of choosing between fighting Stannis, who she hates, or joining with him in his effort to defeat the Boltons and rescue Sansa. Instead, Brienne’s interaction with Stannis was…fundamentally about Stannis. Who is more interesting, Game of Thrones, Brienne or Stannis? Hmm: NOT THE DUDE.

What Happened: Stannis gets completely outwitted; his army is flanked by the Boltons, in a perfect reversal (shot almost identically) of Stannis’s triumphant take-down of the Wildings in last season’s finale.

What Should Have Happened: Well, as I said, I don’t think Stannis should have lost, but I guess that was a pretty elegant way for it to happen.

What Happened: Stannis grumpy-cats his way through the strewn bodies of his men, duels some dudes (you think it’s going to be Ramsay, here to flay, but it’s not), and then is sort of meh about getting beheaded by Brienne.

What Should Have Happened: No way in the seven kingdoms that Ramsay didn’t make flaying Stannis his number one battle priority. 

What Happened: Ramsey stabs some people, says “Let’s head back. My wife must be lonely.”

What Should Have Happened: Gross, whatever.

What Happened: Sansa does some vigorous Walking With Purpose through Winterfell before being stopped by Myranda and Reek. Oh, but it’s actually Theon! Sansa refuses to back down; Theon refuses to let her be tortured; Sansa and Theon hold hands and bravely jump into a snow bank, Thelma and Louise style.

What Should Have Happened: Sansa should have KEPT HER WEAPON and gauged out Myranda’s eyes! Many clever things could have happened here; I remain perplexed by their post-snow bank plan. But okay: I liked watching this. Myranda! Good riddance.

What Happened: It wasn’t Arya being beaten by Meryn Trant, but then it was! Holy moly, with the hair and the oyster knife and the climbing bodily on him! I felt that the eye stabbing was really effectively done, the mix of blinding and recognizing that takes place, and I also admired how Arya held Meryn’s head sort of over her pelvis while she slit (so gruesomely) his throat. Her death list is her most primal desire.

What Should Have Happened: Couldn’t have been better. She is a psycho.

What Happened: The unnamed other apprentice holds Arya’s head while the nameless man takes Arya’s poison. The scene is super spooky, and then Arya — as punishment, and like Meryn — is blinded.

What Should Have Happened: It’s everything wrong with Game of Thrones that it couldn’t even imagine that Arya and the other apprentice could become friends. 

What Happened: Poison lipstick; Paternity.

What Should Have Happened: Anything else.

What Happened: Ellaria’s nose drips blood on her weirdly bad-ass boots; she and the Sand Snakes walk, in lovely yet weirdly bad-ass garb, off the pier.

What Should Have Happened: The shot of these four women walking off the pier was the most interesting thing that’s happened to any of them all season, which is a fucking travesty. What a complete waste. I understand that Myrcella’s death will have an effect on this story, but it’s really hard not to feel that the whole point of this plotline was the egregious display of Tyene Sand's fulsome bosom. “You need a bad pussy,” says the famed assassin. Puke.

What Happened: Tyrion, Daario, Jorah, and Grey Worm have a conversation that is nominally about who should go “out there in the wilderness” to find Dany but is actually about the comparative size of their own egos. 

What Should Have Happened: Tyrion is on screen so there’s a thread of soulful wit weaving through this otherwise perplexing conversation, during which it occurs to apparently no one, not even Tyrion, that perhaps Dany on her dragon does not need a rescue party; that, in fact, she might come back on her own or be safer elsewhere. Why is running the city somehow a less compelling task than heading “North” after a woman on a dragon, who can fly? What should have happened is a more urgent conversation about how these people are not going to manage to not die in Meereen when the whole city is beset by crazy Harpies.

What Happened: Tyrion and Varys banter on a parapet.

What Should Have Happened: This, but for much longer.

What Happened: Dany has a conversation with Drogon. It is unclear if Drogan is deathly injured or merely adolescent and put out; it is clear, however, that Drogan has marvelously articulate and expressive dragon shoulders, poor puppy.

What Should Have Happened: Did you notice that Dany’s impractically white gown is now looking, in its grimyness, kind of blue? Also, her post-party hair looks fantastic. I am not sorry about the return to scrappy Dany form. Maybe she will get new blue boots!

What Happened: Dany walks vaguely over the hills; neither she nor we knows where she is. Then, a lone rider: a Dothroki! More Dothraki! MANY DOTHROKI! They ride and spiral like a grand armada. And, now, we realize that the bad logic spurring Tyrion, Daario, and Jorah was the show’s logic: there’s no reason why Dany would necessarily need to be rescued…but, of course, she does.

What Should Have Happened: When Dany first hears a rider, my heart jumped into my throat. Who would it be? Was she in Westeros? Maybe it would be Ramsey, or Petyr Baelish! MAYBE IT WOULD BE BRIENNE! Dear Television: why wasn’t it Brienne? I like the Dothraki fine. But perhaps we could move toward the endgame, here?

What Happened: Cersei clutches the wall, flexes her hand, kneels. Confesses. “How could I have been so blind for so long?”  Blindness, again.

What Should Have Happened: This was a fascinating power play. Cersei is not sorry; the High Sparrow knows she is not sorry; what’s at play between them is not the truth but rather a negotiation about how convincingly she “will bow to the wishes of his holiness.” The one truthful claim she makes is about her desire to see her son; his knowledge that this is what she wants is what he will use against her.

What Happened: Cersei is washed roughly by the Silent Sisters.

What Should Have Happened: I would give a lot if Game of Thrones would suddenly become more interested in non-hostile ways that women might relate to each other. That said, I thought this was brilliantly done. The intersection of cruelty and care is exactly where women often try to hurt each other.

What Happened: Cersei makes her long walk to the Red Keep, naked and shorn, sprayed with shit, assaulted.

What Should Have Happened: Did you know this was coming? I knew this was coming. All season, I’ve been wondering how it would happen and how the show would try to shape our experience of Cersei’s shame.

Here’s what I think: I think this scene, by itself, was kind of amazing. I think that Lena Headey is brilliant, navigating a perfect path of strength and vulnerability, and that the intelligence she brought to the performance made Cersei’s damage visible without reducing her character to that damage. Cersei remains Cersei.

But I also think that the force of this powerful portrait of how cruel the world is to women was reduced, enormously, by the decisions made the rest of the season. Sansa’s rape; Shireen’s death; Selyse’s suicide; the woman’s flaying; all the whores with all the bad things that happen to them. Everyone suffers in Westeros, but women suffer worst; it is the show, most often, that sacrifices them. Stop telling this story, Game of Thrones, if you have nothing new to add to it.

What Happened: Davos and Jon argue: Melisandre brings no good news.

What Should Have Happened: This is not how I would have chosen for Melisandre to be taken down.

What Happened: Olly and Thorne trick Jon into leaving his office by claiming he needs to talk to a wilding.

What Should Have Happened: Why wouldn’t they bring the wilding to his office? I hate having minor questions like this: you are the richest show on television, Game of Thrones, work on your writing!

What Happened: Jon gets shivved!

What Should Have Happened: WHOA, REALLY WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? This was spoiled for me a few days early and I still couldn’t quite believe it.

What Happened: Long slow shot of Jon bleeding out.

What Should Have Happened: The shot could have been shorter. We could have seen Melisandre (UGH) in the foreground. We could have seen Ghost in a cage. Any range of things could have happened that would make bringing Jon back from death visually believable rather than just narratively required. But is it narratively required? If Games of Thrones wants to be a coherent story rather than just a fascinating immersive world, I’m not sure it can manage without Jon: there just aren’t enough characters left who we care about. But maybe what Game of Thrones wants is just to make HBO money for ten years? I cannot think of anything sadder. But if it doesn’t care about coherence, Jon can go, I suppose.

In Toto:

What Should Have Happened: Game of Thrones should have continued to be the most richly layered show on television, deploying a pastiche of complex characters making complex decisions and experiencing a range of the what the world offers: joy, humor, challenge, grief.

What Happened: Game of Thrones didn’t stop being compelling. I don’t think it’s useful to say it stopped being ethical. But somewhere between its relentless gloom and its narrative unspooling, it stopped, for now, being fun.


Previous episode: season 5, episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons.

Following episode: season 6, episode 1, “The Red Woman.”

LARB’s Collected “Game of Thrones” Coverage

LARB Contributor

Sarah Mesle (PhD, Northwestern) is faculty at USC and Senior Humanities Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Prior to arriving at USC, she held postdoctoral fellowships in English at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a 19th-century Americanist by training and is interested, generally speaking, in the long history of the American popular novel and in the many ways pop culture can excite, estrange, and surprise.


With Sarah Blackwood, she is co-editor of You can follow her on Twitter.


LARB Staff Recommendations

Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?

LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!