Return to Westeros: “Mother’s Mercy” Review

Game of Thrones Mothers Mercy“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.

Sansa Mothers MercyUnfortunately, 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.

Jon Snow Nights WatchTwo 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.

Cersei High SparrowUnfortunately, 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?

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6 thoughts on “Return to Westeros: “Mother’s Mercy” Review

  1. Thank you for the great article, shining a light on some aspects i would maybe have overlooked. First though i want to elaborate why Myrcella Lann… ahem Baratheon might not be dead yet. After the kiss of death by very klichee furie Ellaria (sadly protrayed as unredeemably stupid and irrational especcially in a stark contrast to a brilliant and considerate Doran Martell) Tyene grabs Bronn and pulls him close to her to finally exchange meaningful glances and leaves behind an uncharacteristically puzzled Bronn (great acting if my theory is true). Dramaturgically it has been established that there is an antidote (chekovs gun) and that Bronn surely knows about this. We also have been shown that Tyrene is well versed in poisons, knows what Doran will do to Ellaria in case of her ruining his long term political stratagem (i really hope they pick up the intrigue from the books), knew of Ellarias plan beforehand (shown by her having the handkerchief ready) and had the means (being able to play Bronn) to pull off the secret handover. So the good news is: when Jaime will burst out of the cabin helpless and desperate a once again over the top cock-sure Bronn will be standing there dangling a small blue vial playfully between his fingers and an intersting female character that shows at least some agency in her own life she does stand up to will be saved and will be able to bring a bit of sadly left out Arianne Martell to the sixth season. Bad news is that while Tyene is shown to have agency and cunning, even thogh being the youngest of the sand snakes and her being over the top slutty (which i personally don’t mind as long as it is not her defining trait) while having a heart of gold (another klichee i guess), her plot to save Myrcella is not shown as from political forethought, cunning and loyalty, but instead from her loving compassion for her mother (only in the show) Ellaria.

    Come to think of it this is only the latest example of a female character in GOT that has been carefully set up for potential grateness, but horribly disapointing in the end (admittedly staying true to the medieval setting):

    Ygritte: fighting on the wrong side after stating for a whole season that worldly allegiances are nothing to her love. She gets immediatly punished for this with her death. Jon did basically the same and he too gets punished for this, exactly with her death. So he can grow as a character. Also he was basically James Bond.

    Cersei: ok, she is at least consistent in her constant delusion, but falls so far short to what she could be even as a villain if she were not completely inept to long term strategy due to petty fears and emotionality (mostly envy and pride). Even after her public shaming (where were the tatoos?) she only looks forward to revenge. At least the shaming is shown to be completely ineffectual as a disciplining instrument as well as a political move as it will come back and probably bite the high sparrow (who according to theories is said to be a Stark supporter out for revenge) in the ass. I don’t agree with the view you stated in the article that it was meant as karmic punishment for a hated character by the shows writers, even if some viewers might wrongly understand it that way. a POV character can have internal dialog, a TV character is there somewhat restricted. But still Cersei as character: hampered by one-dimensionness due to script.

    Sansa: at the end of season 4 she plays Littlefinger but at the end of 5 even in her potential seat of power, Winterfell, she is more of a damsel in distress than she ever was, being saved by Reek of all people seeming a mere plot device in his own redemtion. Its hard to fathom that we never see another oof her potentially many loyal supporters in the North aside from the old woman and the outsider Brianne. Would people not put some hope in her to be a possible return to the just Starks. A feudal name never was just the name, but also the hope for political change if a claim could be made. At least show her sabotaging her own fertility to assert control over her own life and body, as we know women in medieval times did know how to do, or give her some agency aside from trying to call for help and failing at it twice and then having to jump off a ledge holding a mans hand for her comfort.

    Brianne: going from powerful warrior beating the Hound soundily to crone staring out a window and waiting for a sign, in the end even failing at that over well deserved but ultimately petty and inconsequential revenge, granting the broken male power figure an antihero’s poetic death in justice, instead of a miserable death in the freezing mud stabbed by battlefield looters, again elevating him from all the men (and women) he killed or lead to their death in his righteous quest of delusional greatness.

    Margaery: from master manipulator of princes, kings and the masses while “hooker with a golden heart” (again? *sigh*) to rotting in jail cell over brave false testimony on her brothers LGBT rights with no plan whatsoever aside from hoping her husband would rescue first her brother and then her. In my headcanon though she was just Cersei-bait and got released right after the queen-mothers imprisonment, returned to the Red Keep and without opposition consolidated her power base, toroughly reforming the small council and the court (and not just seducing Tommen). Don’t disappoint me HBO! Even her sweet Granny would have been there to help her with it, so how could she not have?

    Daenerys: we know she can kick ass and outsmart enemies and allies alike, improvising with nothing even when she doesn’t have almost no informations nor assets at hand. Nevertheless we see her completely outsmarted and outwitted by scheming masters buying! loyalty (because that ever worked well) and having to be ultimately rescued by the dragon that was too powerful (read: manly) for her to tame, left stumbling around to be found by probably rapist barbarians while letting the mess in her kingdom she was not able to handle to be probably sorted out in jiffy by the drunk deadbeat former zistern administrator (who incidentally really needs a confidence boost for his character development) and the sweet couple to be that the aforementioned drunk deadbeat erily complements (in bed). Or is there a real dramaturgical reason Tyrion “which was the pointy end again?” Lannister had to save Missandei during the uprising? In the meantime the longtime stalker that can’t take no for an answer and makes her creepy gifts (like drunken dwarfs) and her boyfriend that questions and criticises her every action through the whole season (and did not much else of importance, basically making him the boytoy) bravely depart to rescue her from the dra… ahem Drogon.

    Ok, i got carried away a bit here (and some points are made consciously trespassing into hyperbole territory), but i have one last axe to grind: too many cliffhanger deaths. There were not that many cliffhanger deaths in the show to date. Characters either were dead and even possibly burned to warrant against a possible zombie comeback (some book zombie comeback wasn’t even in the show) or they were alive and shown as having survived (sometimes just kinda) shortly after (with the exception of characters the book itself was not too clear about, like the Hound). The book leaves a few cliffhangers and thats ok, like Jon Snow stabbed who will totally not be saved by Melisandre conveniently just hanging around Castle Black (though Kit Harrington claiming not to be in Season 6), but the series just clusters them in the last episode of the season too much in the likes of an 80’s Batmans show, where you know it will be retconned probably at the beginning of the next one. Letting so many characters hanging on deaths door or in uncertain fate at the very end of the season while the pieces for their possible rescue have already been moved into position like intelligent storytelling demands, just feels like a very very cheap shot at shocker value and artificial suspense and a dated dramaturgical tecnique at best. Obviously completey needless since we would all watch season 6 regardless.

    • Hey, thank you for the comment and all your insight. When it comes to Myrcella, I didn’t think about Bronn potentially having the cure. I hope you’re right and she lives. Ellaria’s plan was stupid, and she easily could have poisoned Dorne’s heir as well by accident, had Myrcella kissed him next. I also really would like Myrcella to live, since the whole plot to kill her was just so stupid and cliche-ly evil. And it also didn’t happen like that in the books at all. The Sand Snakes and the Dornish princess actively tried to put Myrcella on the Iron Throne, since by their law, she should inherent before Tommen. So the whole Dorne plotline in the show was just a cluster of bad ideas that didn’t make any sense to me. And while I would love for them to expand more on Tyene’s character, the whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth.

      For Season 6, I hope the show does a lot better with some of the other points you mentioned and stops doing things for the sake of shock value. It really is a cheap shot that the show should be better than.

      Anyway, thanks again for commenting.

      • It has never been set up in the show that female descendents could inherit land titles in Dorne, so i don’t really think that they will bring it forth in season 6, sadly. But a power grab after Myrcellas wedding would still be feasible, even without referencing Dornes traditions, provided Tommen would die (not hugely improbable, seeing how weak and withdrawn a ruler he is).

        I understand that the cliffhangers come from the opportunity the show and the books now being roughly in the same spot so none can provide spoilers to the other. They just jumped a bit to greedily at the occasion and hopelesly overdid it.

        I just hope in Season 6 they don’t just see the limitations a medieval society puts women in, but also see the possibilities for agency that would be there too. I want to see Sansa killing Roose and then Ramsay with poison, or being at least figurehead to a popular revolt, Cersei wising up a bit and become at least half as smart as Tyrion, like she claims to be ;-), Daenerys becoming more a shrewd politician than a pawn of history, Myrcella manipulating Cersei in a game of intrigue against Margaery. They don’t have to be all powerful heroes, defying their societal restrictions, it would be enough if they would be shown to use their means inside them instead of being complete pushovers. Right now the only ones expanding her potential seem to be Arya and to a degree Myrcella and Brianne. Brianne defies societal convention, Myrcella has grown used to a society that gave her more freedom and agency and Arya completely forfeites her position in society to become no one. I think therefore the weak agency of female characters in this seasons GOT could very well be because the showrunners want to show how medieval society confines them (most apparent in Sansas pleight in authoritan patriarchy and in the sanction of female sexual agency by the church of the seven, being perhaps more the incarnation of popular “moral” consensus than of the faith itself).

        Therefore making their female protagonists constrained and to a degree helpless does not have to be sexist due to the medieval setting, but robbing them of potential and plausible agency within those constrains surely is.

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