"Mother's Mercy" is the fifth season finale episode of HBO's fantasy television series Game of Thrones, and the 50th overall. The tenth and final episode of the fifth season, the episode was written by the series creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and directed by David Nutter.
|Game of Thrones episode|
|Episode no.||Season 5|
|Directed by||David Nutter|
|Written by||David Benioff|
D. B. Weiss
|Featured music||Ramin Djawadi|
|Cinematography by||Robert McLachlan|
|Editing by||Tim Porter|
|Original air date||June 14, 2015|
|Running time||61 minutes|
"Mother's Mercy" garnered critical acclaim, with critics lauding Lena Headey's performance, David Nutter's direction and the writing of Benioff and Weiss. Particular praise was directed to Cersei Lannister's walk of atonement, which involved a body double and the use of CGI. In the United States, the episode premiere achieved a viewership of 8.11 million, making it the show's most watched episode, until it was surpassed by the season six finale, "The Winds of Winter". The episode won Emmy Awards for Writing in a Drama Series and Directing in a Drama Series for Benioff, Weiss, and Nutter.
In the North
The weather conditions at Stannis' camp drastically improve, clearing the route towards Winterfell. Melisandre takes credit, claiming that the Lord of Light is rewarding Stannis for sacrificing Shireen. However, Stannis' officers inform him that Shireen's sacrifice has also prompted a mass desertion of his troops, leaving him with only half his army and no cavalry, and driven Selyse to hang herself. Melisandre immediately flees to Castle Black. Despite all of these setbacks, Stannis orders his remaining troops to march forward towards Winterfell. As Stannis' army marches through the Wolfswood, Podrick sees them and warns Brienne, who leaves to take revenge on Stannis.
As Stannis prepares to besiege the castle, the Bolton cavalry, led by Ramsay, suddenly emerges. It becomes clear they greatly outnumber Stannis's army; nonetheless, Stannis leads his men into battle. After a quick yet fierce battle, the Boltons emerge as the victors. Stannis survives the destruction of his army, but is severely wounded after fighting several Bolton soldiers. Brienne then arrives and announces her intentions to execute Stannis for the murder of Renly ("The Ghost of Harrenhal"). Stannis accepts his fate, and Brienne executes him.
Meanwhile, in Winterfell, Sansa escapes her room using the corkscrew she stole and lights a candle in the ruined tower to signal for help, but Brienne has already left. After witnessing the defeat of the Baratheon army, she tries to return to her room but is confronted by Myranda, who threatens to mutilate Sansa. Theon finally finds his inner strength and throws Myranda from the castle ramparts to her death, just as the victorious Bolton army returns to Winterfell. Theon and Sansa realize they have to escape at once, and jump from the castle walls into the deep snow below.
Jaime, Myrcella, Bronn and Trystane leave for King's Landing. On the ship, Myrcella reveals that she knows Jaime is her real father and that she is glad that he is her father. However, Myrcella suddenly collapses, and it is revealed that Ellaria had secretly poisoned Myrcella by kissing her with poisoned lipstick.
Arya infiltrates the brothel patronized by Trant by taking one of the faces from the House of Black and White. She stabs Trant multiple times, revealing her true identity and confronting him for the murder of Syrio Forel before cutting his throat. When she returns to the House of Black and White, she is confronted by Jaqen and the Waif. Jaqen berates Arya for taking a life not meant for her to take, and that another life must be taken in order to appease the Many Faced God. Jaqen then proceeds to drink from a vial and collapses, much to Arya's shock. However, the Waif changes her face to that of Jaqen and points out to Arya that "Jaqen" never existed, and that she had been talking to "No One" the entire time. The Waif also warns Arya that putting on a new face if one is not "No One" is like poison. Because of this, Arya is struck blind as punishment.
Daario and Jorah decide to leave Meereen to search for Daenerys. Tyrion wishes to join them, but Daario points out that he is better suited to govern Meereen in Daenerys' absence, assisted by Missandei and the still-recovering Grey Worm. As Tyrion watches Jorah and Daario leave and ponders his next move, Varys suddenly appears. Varys compares Meereen's current state to that of King's Landing when it was threatened by Stannis, and offers use of his spy network to aid Tyrion.
In the Dothraki Sea
Drogon brings Daenerys back to his lair. Daenerys orders Drogon to take her back to Meereen, but Drogon, still exhausted and wounded, ignores her and goes to sleep. Daenerys wanders off on her own in search of food, eventually spotting a Dothraki horde advancing in the distance. Daenerys drops a ring to the ground before being surrounded.
In King's Landing
Cersei confesses to committing adultery with Lancel to the High Sparrow, but denies having slept with Jaime or conspiring to have Robert Baratheon killed. The High Sparrow decides to grant the "Mother's Mercy" and let Cersei return to the Red Keep, but says she must return to face trial for the other sins she has not confessed to, and must undergo an "atonement". Cersei is stripped, washed and her long blonde hair is cut short. She is then forced to walk completely naked the entire way from the Great Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep. As Cersei walks, the septa repeatedly chants “shame” while Cersei is relentlessly harassed, jeered and pelted with garbage by the angry crowd, ultimately breaking down in tears when she finally returns to the Red Keep. She is covered up by Qyburn, who reveals to her the newest member of the Kingsguard, a re-animated Gregor "the Mountain" Clegane.
At the Wall
Jon sends Samwell with Gilly and her baby to Oldtown to become a maester, acknowledging (and even somewhat endorsing) the romantic relationship blossoming between Samwell and Gilly. Davos arrives shortly after to ask for supplies and Wildling reinforcements, but Jon refuses, reminding Davos that the Wildlings will never fight for Stannis. Melisandre arrives soon after; her demeanour leads Jon and Davos to realize that Stannis has been defeated and that Shireen and Selyse are dead.
At night, Olly tells Jon that a wildling had recently seen his uncle Benjen Stark, and takes him to speak to him. Led outside to the courtyard, he only finds Thorne, Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck and several other men, along with a grave-marker that reads "Traitor". As Jon realizes that he has been betrayed, Thorne, Marsh, Yarwyck, Olly, and the others take turns stabbing Jon, each uttering "For the Watch". The men leave Jon as he dies alone in the snow.
"Mother's Mercy" was written by the series' creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. It primarily covers elements from George Martin's novels A Feast for Crows, chapters "Samwell I" and "Cat of the Canals" and A Dance with Dragons, chapters "Jon II", "Theon I", "Daenerys X", "Cersei I", "Cersei II" and "Jon XIII". It also contains material from Martin's upcoming sixth novel in the series, The Winds of Winter, chapter "Mercy".
"Mother's Mercy" was directed by David Nutter, He also directed the previous episode, "The Dance of Dragons". It was photographed by Robert McLachlan and was edited by Tim Porter, one of the show's main editors, under the supervision of Nutter.
Cersei's walk of atonement
For Cersei Lannister's nude "walk of atonement" through King's Landing, HBO employed actress Rebecca Van Cleave as a body double for Lena Headey. While filming the scene in Dubrovnik, Croatia in October 2014, Van Cleave performed fully nude while Headey wore a simple beige shift. Both performances were then merged by the show's editing team, combining close-ups of Headey's facial expressions and long shots of Van Cleave's nude walk through the city. In some instances CGI was used to put Headey's face on Van Cleave's body.
Headey says that the showrunners decided to cast a body double for "several reasons." Headey says she was glad to use a body double for the scene because she wanted to focus on the character's emotions. Another actor noted that Headey's "extensive tattoos" may have been another reason. Months later, Headey announced that she was pregnant with her second child, though it is unclear if she was pregnant when this scene had to be filmed. Sarah Buchanan of Express notes the strangeness of casting a much younger actress to play the middle-aged Cersei when the key outcome of the walk of atonement in A Dance with Dragons is that when the people see that Cersei's body is not beautiful, she loses a large part of her mystique. The 27-year-old Van Cleave did not show any of the specific signs of aging or past pregnancy for which the Cersei of the books was mocked by the crowd.
When casting for the role, HBO received applications from more than 1,000 actresses to act as Headey's body double for the scene. A selection of seven finalists, including Van Cleave, was then flown to Belfast, Northern Ireland to audition before the show's producers. Headey also opted out of the casting process, but director David Nutter said finding the right double was one of the most important parts of making the finale. "We needed somebody who could do The Walk of Shame physically, somebody who could match Lena's integrity, intensity, and sensibility. We found a tremendous actress in Rebecca; she was a godsend. The courage of this girl, who's never done anything like this in her life, who understood what was important about this...once I had her I felt like I could accomplish anything."
Van Cleave herself described the scene as "one of the scariest, most wonderful, most gratifying experiences I could have imagined ... I never in a million years would have thought I would be in Dubrovnik surrounded by hundreds of extras and crew members throwing food at me, but it was amazing" and "I hope the next thing I do will have my head in it." She also praised Headey's willingness to help her, describing the two of them as a "tag-team"; Headey would walk behind Van Cleave during the shoot, coaching her on the character's responses.
When the showrunners first announced the plans of shooting a nude scene in Dubrovnik, the city's Catholic Church of St. Nicholas strongly opposed the idea, due to it being immoral to walk their sacred grounds in the nude. Eventually, both parties came to the agreement that the shooting could commence, provided no nude scenes would be filmed in a place of worship. During the three-day shoot, Headey walked Van Cleave through each shot, giving insight into all the emotions Cersei was feeling. The six-minute scene was filmed using 500 extras.
Fate of Jon Snow
D.B. Weiss discussed the decision to kill Jon Snow by saying that he felt the visual medium did not give him the freedom to leave Jon's fate open: "In a book, you can present that kind of ambiguity. In a show, everybody sees it for what it is. It’s that rule: 'If we don't see the body then they’re not really dead.' Like when we cut Ned’s head off, we didn’t want a gory Monty Python geyser of blood, but we needed to see the blade enter his neck and cut out on the frame where the blade was mid-neck. [...] we needed Ned's death to be totally unambiguous." Actor Kit Harington said of the scene, "I loved it. I loved how they brought Olly in to be the person who kills me. I love how the storyline with Thorne was wrapped up."
Although Weiss meant the scene to be unambiguous, the episode left many viewers uncertain as to whether Jon Snow had been killed or merely injured (his fate in the novels is left unconfirmed as of A Dance with Dragons, with much debate about Martin's future intentions). Some of the confusion may be because, as reviewers have noted, Jon was killed in what can be seen as the middle of his story arc and his death does not have an obvious narrative purpose. For example, Nate Jones of Vulture notes, "[I]t's easy to see what [other characters'] deaths meant for the series' sprawling narrative: Ned's execution sent the Stark kids adrift in a universe where there was nobody looking out for them, while Robb's murder was the final death knell for the hopes that the saga would ever have a traditional 'happy' ending. What would be accomplished, narratively, by getting rid of Jon permanently right now?" Both before and after these announcements, viewers have speculated that Jon Snow might have survived his stabbing and there are many fan theories on how he might have accomplished this, including spiritually possessing his direwolf's body or being brought back to life by Melisandre. When jokingly asked during a panel if Kit Harington would ever get to play a warg (human who has possessed the body of an animal), Weiss replied with, "Two words for you: Season 6." In July 2015, photos of Kit Harington arriving in Belfast—where the series is primarily filmed and where other actors are arriving for the Season 6 script read-throughs—surfaced, fueling speculation of his survival. However, Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair pointed out that Charles Dance was seen at Belfast the previous year, and his character Tywin Lannister only appeared in the first episode of the subsequent season and only as a corpse, although Dance himself confirmed the nature of his role shortly after the announcement. Another photo that showed Harington on set in Belfast in a costume that varied from the Night's Watch outfit was published on September 25, 2015.
"Mother's Mercy" was seen by an estimated 8.1 million viewers on its first airing. This is higher than any previous episode, exceeding the 8 million for "The Wars to Come." With Live+7 DVR viewing factored in, the episode had an overall rating of 10.43 million viewers, and a 5.4 in the 18-49 demographic, which was a series high in both viewership and 18-49 rating. In the United Kingdom, the episode was viewed by 2.437 million viewers, making it the highest-rated broadcast that week. It also received 0.121 million timeshift viewers.
"Mother's Mercy" received critical acclaim. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes assembled 31 reviews and gave "Mother's Mercy" a 97% score and an average rating of 9.1 out of 10. The site's consensus reads that the episode "wraps up a particularly dark Game of Thrones season with a finale that delivers strong character work and a handful of appropriately bleak cliffhangers." In his 9.0/10 review, Matt Fowler of IGN praised Jon Snow's death and Cersei's atonement, as well as Arya's and Dorne's storylines, but felt Sansa's storyline was too hurried. Sean T. Collins of Rolling Stone was positive too, writing, "Slaughter and shame made this the show’s most upsetting season-ender yet."
|2015||Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series||Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister||Nominated|
|Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series||David Nutter||Won|
|Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series||David Benioff and D. B. Weiss||Won|
|Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards||Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera Series||Kevin Alexander, Candice Banks, Rosalia Culora,
Gary Machin, Laura Pollock, Nicola Mount
|Outstanding Make-up for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic)||Jane Walker and Nicola Matthews||Won|
|Gold Derby TV Awards 2015||Best Drama Episode||Won|
|2016||Directors Guild of America Award||Dramatic Series||David Nutter||Won|
|Visual Effects Society Awards||Outstanding Animated Performance in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project||Florian Friedmann, Jonathan Symmonds, Sven Skoczylas, Sebastian Lauer' for "Mother's Mercy" - Wounded Drogon||Nominated|
|Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode||Travis Nobles, Mark Spindler, Max Riess, Nadja Ding for "Drogon Lair"||Nominated|
|Writers Guild of America Awards||Episodic Drama||David Benioff and D.B. Weiss||Nominated|
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