“Mother’s Mercy” was by no means this season’s worst episode, and I even found myself partially invested in it. Hell, there were a few things about it that I actually liked. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones really went to shit this season, and a twenty-minute epic battle at Hardhome doesn’t change that. Not as bad is still a far cry from good. At the very least, I can say that Sansa and Theon get a semi-happy ending, but I’m not sure I can forgive the show for all it’s done, especially since Ramsay is still alive.
Trigger warning for sexual harassment and violence up ahead, as well as spoilers.
Early on in the episode, Stannis discovers that half his men have deserted him in the middle of the night—surprising no one. Hey, when a person is willing to burn his own daughter alive, why the hell would anyone fight for him? Queen Selyse has also hung herself, and sensing imminent fuckery, Melisandre has abandoned Stannis as well to head for Castle Black. Stannis marches on Winterfell regardless, and his troops are slaughtered. Brienne shows up just in time to get some much needed revenge on Stannis for Renly’s murder and executes him. It was nice to see her do something this season.
Unfortunately, by abandoning her post, Brienne didn’t see the candle Sansa was finally able to light after escaping from her room. And before Sansa can make it back safely and pretend like nothing’s wrong, she’s confronted by Myranda and Theon. Myranda threatens to mutilate Sansa, since Ramsay only needs the parts of her that can produce children, but before Myranda can follow through on that threat, Theon kills her. Then together, he and Sansa escape Winterfell by jumping from the battlements and into a pile of snow. Because we can have nice things apparently. Stannis is dead and Sansa and Theon might finally be safe. Things have started to look up.
At least they have until the episode takes us down to Dorne, where Jaime, Myrcella, and company finally set sail for King’s Landing. Jaime and Myrcella have a rather touching chat about their relationship—she knows he’s her father and she’s glad—but it was rather obvious that Ellaria had poisoned her right beforehand, and Myrcella’s imminent death is completely unsurprising. To be fair, while it’s unconfirmed, Myrcella is probably already dead in the books, but at least in the books she doesn’t die because Martin needlessly turned another female character evil like in the show.
Furthering the badness, now that Daenerys is out in the wilderness again, while her dragon is taking a fucking nap, she gets captured by a Dothraki horde. Many of us will remember the Dothraki as being rapist assholes. I guess we can look forward to that early on next season. On a positive note, we can be glad that Arya got her revenge on Meryn Trant—she stabs his eyes out and then slits his throat. But this doesn’t happen until after he abuses her for a bit. At the very least, it was less sexual than many of us were expecting, but at this point I still question why it had to be sexual at all.
Two other really big things happen this episode. The first is that the Night’s Watch betray Jon Snow and stab him to death. Even if I hadn’t read the books, I would have seen this coming from miles away, because the writers weren’t exactly subtle in their foreshadowing during the previous episodes. It also made no fucking sense. If they planned to kill him, why would they have let the wildlings through the gate in the first place? Why didn’t they leave them and Jon to starve to death outside the gates? It’s either that, or the Others would kill them. In the books, though the Night’s Watch is certainly upset by Jon letting the wildlings through, they don’t murder him for it. Instead, Jon receives a threatening letter supposedly from Ramsay and decides that the Night’s Watch needs to go take over Winterfell to deal with this threat. And that is something the Night’s Watch is sworn to never do. That’s when they stab him. I know that there’s no reason to have added that subplot into the show, and I’m kind of glad they didn’t—the events surrounding it are a little convoluted and ultimately unnecessary—but I do expect the show writers to make their changes make sense.
The other big thing that happens this episode is Cersei’s walk of shame. In penance for her sins, the High Sparrow has her head shaved, and then makes her walk back to the Red Keep naked, while Septas shout the word “shame” over and over again. To be fair to the show writers, this is one of the larger acts of misogyny that does happen in the books—but it’s not written in a way that is misogynistic. We are not supposed to agree with what happens to Cersei, despite her sins. This isn’t a punishment for murdering Robert or for lying and hurting people; this is a punishment for being a sexual woman. And on top of that, the High Sparrow still plans to put her on trial, because everything she goes through this episode—not including the torture they subjected her to in the previous episodes—isn’t enough for him. This is why I find it so disgusting when I see people online talk about how glad they are that Cersei is “getting hers”, as if this is a good thing. That type of mindset not only misses the point of this moment, but it also encourages the idea that it’s okay to sexually harass women for being sexual themselves if those women are also deemed horrible people.
That passage was literally the hardest thing I have ever read, and to Game of Thrones’s credit, the show actually does this moment some justice. I was not expecting this scene to be handled as well and respectfully as it was. It also helps that it had some really good acting, and everything about it was just heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, this moment works in the books in a way that it just doesn’t in the show. While I can say Cersei’s walk of shame was handled well individually, I have to take it in the context of the show as a whole. There’s a part of me that’s even convinced that how well it was handled was done on accident. To start off, in the books, we only hear of this punishment happening to women—it shows us how religion can be used to oppress and harm women and it shows us just how backward Westerosi (and to an extent, our own) society is in a way that no other passage manages to do. Also, being written explicitly from Cersei’s point of view, knowing her thoughts during the walk, lends weight to how wrong the whole thing is. Game of Thrones is not the books, however, and cannot do everything the same way. As such, we don’t get to hear Cersei’s thoughts, which does take away from the moment. Game of Thrones also went out of its way for some reason to show the former High Septon suffer a similar fate, which means that the show took something from the books that talked specifically about the oppression of women and made it more gender-neutral. I doubt that’s what the show intended, but that’s what it did.
Though the scene with the former High Septon happened episodes ago and I’m sure it wasn’t on the minds of most of the other fans, this is still a problem. Cersei’s walk also doesn’t work that well in the show because it was meant to show us how damaging misogyny and rape culture are. Game of Thrones has proven over and over again that it can’t show misogyny or talk about rape culture without being misogynistic and glorifying rape culture. When we combine Cersei’s walk with all the unnecessary rapes, villainized women, the burning of Shireen, and the numerous other blatant examples of sexism, it can come across as an example of sexism itself and not something that talks about and explores sexism.
I really hated this season. I hated it a lot more than I thought I would hate it, and I’m glad we’re not going to review any more episodes. I also can’t be sure I’m even going to continue watching the show, because I know Season 6 will probably be worse. Since this season featured our Dorne plot, next season will let us see more of the Greyjoys. Though this means Asha (Yara to show-only people) will probably be coming back, the Greyjoys are… well… how can I put this? For those of you who disliked this season, were put off by the misogyny, and are not sure whether or not you want to continue, let me tell you a few things about the Greyjoys that might help you decide.
We meet two of Asha’s uncles, Victarion and Euron. Victarion is a dumbass ruled by his manpain—Euron raped his wife and Victarion, feeling bad about it, strangled her and not Euron in response. Now he’s on a mission to find Daenerys and force her to be either his or Euron’s wife, and on the way there, he allows his crewmembers to rape a maester, before having said maester murdered. Also, he’s sexually attracted to Asha, his niece, and wouldn’t mind having sex with her if given the opportunity. Then there’s Euron, another embodiment of pure evil. After he takes over the Iron Isles, he starts conquering castles along the cost. At one castle, he forces a lord’s wife and his four daughters, most of whom are underage, to serve his men food while naked. They are raped. The lord is forced to watch.
Given Game of Thrones’s track record, the show will probably jump for joy at showing these scenes. In fact, it’ll probably add in a few more that aren’t there in the books, because why not? Furthermore, as Asha is one of the few female characters to have not been sexually exploited yet, we can probably look forward to that as well.
At this point, I just want Lady Stoneheart to show up and kill everyone. Is that too much to ask?