"Mother's Mercy" is the tenth and final episode of the fifth season of Game of Thrones. It is the fiftieth episode of the series overall. It premiered on June 14, 2015. It was written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by David Nutter.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Summary
- 3 Appearances
- 4 Production
- 5 Notes
- 6 In the books
- 7 Memorable Quotes
- 8 Gallery
- 9 See also
- 10 References
In the North
As the snow begins to melt, Melisandre is elated. Still grieving, Stannis prepares to march on Winterfell. However, one of his generals informs him that nearly half of his men have deserted - mainly the sellswords, who have also run away with all their horses. Another soldier comes with more bad news: Selyse has hanged herself out of grief for her daughter. As he views her body, his general reports that Melisandre has fled.
Marching across the fields with less than half the men he once had, Stannis has his men start preparing for the siege but is instead met in combat early by the Bolton army. The mounted Bolton army easily defeats Stannis's tired and mountless army. Wounded and exhausted, Stannis fights off two remaining soldiers in the aftermath of the carnage and collapses against a tree.
Brienne of Tarth was warned by Podrick Payne of Stannis's arrival and leaves her watch for Sansa's signal. After the battle, she waits and finds a wounded Stannis. She declares who she is and that her king was killed by his brother's shadow that bore his face, before drawing her sword to slay him. Stannis, having lost everything, simply accepts his fate to die: he tells Brienne to do her "duty". After a moment's hesitation, Brienne swings her sword at him. Elsewhere, Ramsay finishes off the few remaining Baratheon soldiers and heads back to Winterfell.
In Winterfell itself, Sansa uses a corkscrew she pocketed earlier to escape her room, and seeks out the tower to light her signal. After the candle is lit, she sees the Boltons clash with Stannis's army and sees this as a time to slip out of Winterfell. Desperately running across the ramparts, she is stopped by Myranda and Reek. Myranda threatens Sansa with a bow but Sansa, weary and realizing she can't escape a shot from a bow, tells her to kill her while there is still a part of the real her left. Myranda tells Sansa that Ramsay needs her to have an heir and for nothing more afterward - but says Ramsay does not need all of Sansa in one piece to accomplish that. Sansa braces herself for the worst as Myranda tenses her bow. However, Theon finally breaks the Boltons' hold on him and causes Myranda to misfire. He grabs and hurls Myranda over the ramparts and Myranda screams as she hurtles to her death, being killed instantly upon impact with the stone floor of the courtyard far below. Sansa and Theon run, but with Ramsay just returning from the battle, they find themselves with nowhere to go. Hoping to land in deep snow and survive the long fall, the two of them grasp their hands together and jump off the rampart.
Ser Meryn Trant is looking upon three young girls in the Braavosi brothel. Of the three girls, two begin to cry and scream when they are whipped by Meryn, however the last girl has no reaction when whipped. Meryn sends the two weak girls away, and punches the last in the stomach. However, the last girl is revealed to be Arya Stark, after removing her fake face. She pulls out a knife and stabs Meryn in both eyes and chest repeatedly, and puts a gag in his mouth to silence his cries. She then reveals her identity and reminds Meryn of how he killed her dance master, Syrio Forel, before calling him 'no one' and slitting his throat.
Arya then returns to the House of Black and White and returns the face that she used to hide her identity. However, Jaqen H'ghar and the Waif appear and say that Meryn's life was not hers to take, and that a debt must be paid. The Waif grabs Arya as Jaqen pulls out a vial, presumably containing some kind of poison. However, he drinks the poison himself and collapses, with Arya screaming for him to stay alive. Arya states that he was her friend, and hears Jaqen's voice behind her say 'he was no one'. She turns around to see that the Waif now has Jaqen's face. Arya asks who the person on the floor with Jaqen's face is. Jaqen, in the Waif's body, says that he is no one. Arya begins to remove multiple faces from the person on the floor, until she sees her own face. She then begins to lose her sight as her eyes turn white and screams for help.
With Daenerys gone, her council is unsure of how they should continue. Tyrion addresses both Jorah and Daario's feelings for her, understanding all too well how one could love the wrong woman. The three argue about Jorah's betrayal, but they will not make any judgments without Daenerys first. Drogon was seen taking her north and that is where they need to search for their queen. Grey Worm, still recovering from his injuries, offers to go with Jorah and Daario, as does Tyrion. Daario firmly nixes both ideas. Grey Worm is needed to command the Unsullied in keeping the city under control, while Tyrion is the only one of them to have any actual political experience. Daario expresses confidence that with Missandei's help, the pair of them should be able to keep Meereen under control until they return with Daenerys.
As Tyrion watches Daario and Jorah depart the city, Varys calmly walks up to Tyrion. Teasing Tyrion about abandoning him in Volantis, he is pleased to see Tyrion already settling into a role that suits him. He reminds Tyrion that he has experience running a city full of people trying to kill each other, and implies that he and his little birds are there to help.
In the Dothraki Sea
Meanwhile, Daenerys finds herself far away from Meereen, atop an impressive hill in a sea of green grass. Drogon is still recovering from the wounds he received from the arena in Meereen and is uninterested in flying back. Unfortunately, he's also not interested in finding them any food. Daenerys wanders away to find something for them, but is startled to see a trio of Dothraki bloodriders emerge. Within minutes, an entire khalasar has her surrounded. Understanding what might happen to her, she quickly removes a ring and drops it in the grass, determined to leave a trail.
Jaime, Bronn, Myrcella, and Trystane say their farewells to the Martells to return to King's Landing. Upon saying goodbye, Ellaria Sand kisses Myrcella on the lips, while Tyene Sand flirts with Bronn. Aboard the ship, Myrcella and Jaime talk about Cersei. Jaime begins to come clean to Myrcella, awkwardly telling her that we cannot choose who we love. Myrcella then reveals that she knows that Jaime is her real father, and that she is glad that he is, and the two embrace. However, Myrcella's expression changes, the smile fades on her face and her nose starts to bleed. She collapses in Jaime's arms. Back in Dorne, Ellaria wipes the blood from her nose and takes the antidote for the poison coated on her lips.
In King's Landing
Septa Unella enters Cersei's cell and orders her to confess. Finally giving in, Cersei is brought before the High Sparrow to confess her sins. She confesses her adultery with Ser Lancel, but denies her incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime. Cersei begs to be allowed to go to the Red Keep to see her son Tommen. The High Sparrow grants her request but says that there will still be a trial to ascertain the truth behind the other charges that she still denies: incest and regicide. Cersei is brought to a cell where she is stripped naked and roughly washed before her hair is quickly cut short. She is brought outside where she is forced to walk naked through the streets of King's Landing from the Great Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep as punishment. She is accompanied by Septa Unella, who repeats the word "shame" three times and rings a bell every few steps, and six members of the Faith Militant. Cersei performs her walk of atonement amidst the leering crowds who immediately begin pelting her with filth and vicious insults, such as "cunt" and "brother-fucker". With bloody feet, Cersei eventually makes it to the Red Keep and bursts into tears. Upon entering the gates, Cersei finds her uncle Kevan Lannister, Grand Maester Pycelle and Qyburn waiting for her. Qyburn attempts to comfort her by covering her body with a cloak. Heavy footsteps are heard, and Qyburn introduces Cersei to the newest member of the Kingsguard: an 8 foot tall man in golden armor, who he says has sworn a vow of silence until all their foes are defeated. Qyburn suggests Cersei go inside where he can attend to her feet, which are badly injured, and the huge knight lifts her up and carries her away, as her expression already begins to harden.
At the Wall
Jon Snow tells Sam what he witnessed at Hardhome. He hopes the White Walkers can't climb the Wall as there is not enough dragonglass or Valyrian steel in Westeros to combat them. Sam asks Jon if he can travel to Oldtown to study and replace Aemon as the new Maester of the Watch. He feels there is no other way he can help them as he cannot fight. He is also afraid for Gilly and her child's safety, and wishes to take them along. Jon reminds him that the Citadel will also not allow Sam to be with women, but is humored to hear that it is already too late for that. Sam promises he will return, they toast to that and Jon sees his only friend off.
Davos, having returned to Castle Black at Stannis's orders, urges Jon to convince the Wildlings for aid. Jon refuses him, saying that they wouldn't side with Stannis and this is not their fight. Both of them are shocked to see a speechless and despondent Melisandre return to the Wall. Ser Davos pressures Melisandre for news, specifically asking after Shireen, but Melisandre remains silent. After seeing the empty look in her eyes, Davos lets her leave.
That night, Jon is reading messages when his steward Olly tells him that a wildling knows of the whereabouts of his long-missing uncle. Jon Snow quickly rushes with Thorne to a gathered group of Watchmen, only to see a placard with the word "traitor" written on it. He turns around to find his Brothers staring him down. Thorne makes the first move and stabs the Lord Commander. "For the Watch" Thorne says, as well as the others as they close in and continue stabbing him. One after another, Jon Snow is betrayed, "For the Watch." Finally, a tearful Olly approaches last. After a moment of pause, Jon gasps, "Olly," before Olly delivers the final blow, repeating the pledge. The brothers leave Jon to die alone in the snow.
- Selyse Baratheon
- Baratheon General
- Baratheon soldier
- Stannis Baratheon
- Meryn Trant
- Myrcella Baratheon
- Jon Snow
- Many unnamed Baratheon soldiers
- Many unnamed Bolton soldiers
- 1 unnamed Faceless man
- 22 of 27 starring cast members appear in this episode.
- Starring cast members Aidan Gillen (Petyr Baelish), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane), Dean-Charles Chapman (Tommen Baratheon), and Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton) are not credited and do not appear in this episode.
- This episode is the final appearance of starring cast member Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon) due to the death of his character.
- Trevor Addie, Richard Bradshaw, Grace Bruce, Jonathan Cohen, Dave Cronnelly, Clint Elvy, Bradley Farmer, Richard Hansen, Bobby Holland Hanton, Paul Howell, Borislav Iliev, Rowley Irlam, Danko Yordanov, Jonathan McBride, Leona McCarron, Sian Milne, Camilla Naprous, Jason Oettle, Dominic Preece, Paul Shapcott, Roy Taylor, Andy Wareham, Annabel E. Wood, Lewis Young, and Shauna Duggins were stunt performers in this episode.
- The episode takes its title from the Mother, the aspect of the god in the Faith of the Seven symbolizing mercy. Those accused by the Faith Militant may seek the Mother's Mercy prior to their trials if they confess, as explained by the High Sparrow to Cersei. A well-known hymn to the Mother is titled "Gentle Mother, Font of Mercy", reinforcing the association between the Mother and mercy. Within the episode, Cersei asks the High Sparrow in dialogue to receive "the Mother's mercy". This is also the second time a title includes the term "mother", as the Season 3 finale title, "Mhysa", means mother in the tongue of the Ghiscari Empire.
- House Greyjoy, House Tully, and House Frey do not appear in this episode, and have not even been mentioned throughout all of Season 5. House Tyrell does not appear in this episode. Littlefinger does not appear in this episode. House Bolton appears led by Ramsay, but Roose Bolton does not appear, without explanation.
- The Season 5 finale broke the TV series's all-time live viewership record, with 8.11 million people watching the initial airing. Game of Thrones Wiki also broke its day-after viewership record, with 3.4 million site views within the 24 hour period after the episode initially aired.
- In the novels, Qyburn introduces the new giant and silent member of the Kingsguard as "Ser Robert Strong", a man no one has ever heard of. The HBO Viewer's Guide simply identifies him as Gregor Clegane, the Mountain That Rides, after Qyburn's experimentation on him (healing him from his poisoning by manticore venom). In the novels, Gregor is reported to have died and Qyburn sent a huge skull to Dorne which could only have belonged to Gregor - or at least, this is what is believed. Several characters within the narrative (such as Kevan) strongly suspect that it actually is Gregor - not just healed, but risen from the dead through Qyburn's use of necromancy. It isn't even clear if "Robert Strong" has a head, because he wears a visored helmet (the TV version still left prominent eye-holes, probably because it would be too difficult for the stunt man to use a more restrictive helmet).
- The TV series shifted around the identities and deaths of several people on Arya's kill list, particularly several soldiers under Gregor Clegane's command at Harrenhal, some of which were adapted out. These include Polliver, The Tickler, and another soldier called Raff the Sweetling (his nickname is sarcastic due to his cruelty). It was Raff and not Polliver who killed Lommy. Meryn Trant is still on her list, but he doesn't go to Braavos and is still alive in the novels. Arya and the Hound ran into Polliver and the Tickler at an inn, where Sandor killed Polliver, and Arya killed the Tickler in a frenzy, repeatedly stabbing him after he fell and becoming smeared with his blood. Raff went to Braavos as a guard for the Master of Coin sent to treat with the Iron Bank. Raff in the novels is interested in perversely young girls, and Arya does attempt to seduce him - but them stabs him and sadistically repeats the words Raff taunted Lommy with, making him beg her to carry him before killing him. She doesn't need to steal a Faceless Man mask because Raff doesn't recognize her (she is much older and dressed differently than when they last met and she was disguised as a boy - though Meryn knew Arya much better than Raff, from her time in the Red Keep, so it makes sense that she would need a disguise for him in the TV series).
- Actor Ian Beattie (Meryn) said that he started to suspect that Arya was going to kill off his character as soon as he got the script for the fourth episode of Season 5, and learned that Meryn was heading to Braavos, because Beattie knew that Arya was already there.
- While Raff in the novels was interested in underaged girls, he never beats brothel girls with a stick, apparently to test them out, the way that Meryn does in this episode. Retroactively this might give more sadistic implications to Meryn beating up Sansa at Joffrey's command back in Seasons 2 and 3, Beattie acknowledged, but he also said he wasn't aware they were going to condense these elements of Raff's character into his back then - apparently the condensation was only decided on in Season 5 or maybe in Season 4 - so he didn't play his scenes with Sansa like that (just that Meryn blindly follows orders, no matter how ridiculous).
- In the TV version, Jaqen killed the Tickler while still at Harrenhal. Polliver was killed in a fight with Sandor and Arya at an inn, but Arya taunted him the way she did Raff when she killed him in the novels. Killing Meryn Trant in this episode takes the place of how she killed Raff when she stumbled upon him in Braavos, while trying to seduce him despite her young age, though the manner in which she kills him is reminiscent of how she brutally killed the Tickler in the novels by repeatedly stabbing him. Meryn Trant is still alive in the novels and remains on Arya's kill list.
- In the novels, the masks of the Faceless Men, made from the preserved faces of corpses, can't simply be slipped on by someone who doesn't have the training to use them. The process involves a blood magic ritual to help the face bond to the wearer as if alive. Then again the TV series moves this around slightly to still say that Arya goes blind from wearing the face, because it is dangerous for untrained people to try to use it. In the book, Arya is given a poisoned drink as punishment, and wakes up blind.
- Apparently, when Arya returns to the House of Black and White, "Jaqen" was one Faceless Man, and another one was impersonating the Waif. The Waif is an acolyte, she can't shapeshift - so it isn't clear if in this specific episode, what we see is a Faceless Man imitating the Waif for this one scene (and she's somewhere else in the temple), or if the TV series outright changed this and "the Waif" actually was a Faceless Man throughout the entire season.
- Given that the Waif returns in Season 6, this was apparently another Faceless Man pretending to be the Waif (at least, she hasn't been shown to also be a shapeshifter like a full-fledged Faceless Man but seems to be a mid-level acolyte).
- It also isn't clear if the Faceless Man who dies in this episode was even the same man Arya was talking to throughout the season, or a different one imitating him. For that matter, it is possible that Arya could have encountered multiple different Faceless Men throughout the season, each of them using the "Jaqen" persona, and she just assumed they were all the same individual shapeshifter. Alternatively, the "Jaqen" who dies in this episode actually was the man she was talking to throughout the season - but the Faceless Men consider themselves to be "no one" to such an extent that they view themselves as interchangeable. After all, the entire "Jaqen H'ghar from Lorath" identity was just a false persona that the shapeshifter had adopted. It remains unclear if Arya ever even met that same shapeshifter from Season 2 again after she arrived in Braavos, or if this was just another Faceless Man the entire time. In the novels, it actually was a different Faceless Man, whom she nicknames "The Kindly Man". The writers intentionally left the situation cryptic (as it is supposed to be in the story); when directly asked, Bryan Cogman simply chuckled and pointed out "There is no 'Jaqen H'ghar', there is no 'Kindly Man', he is no one."
- In the books, it is strongly implied that another assassination in Westeros (which has not occurred in the TV show) was carried out by the "Jaqen H'ghar" that Arya met at Harrenhal, explaining why he was in Westeros in the first place. This other assassination and Arya's arrival in Braavos happen reasonably close to each other in time, and the distance between Westeros and Braavos is great enough, to imply that "the Kindly Man" and "Jaqen from Harrenhal" can't be the same individual. Thus there was some confusion with the TV writers that they were omitting this other subplot and instead stating that the same individual Faceless Man that Arya met at Harrenhal simply returned to Braavos - though again, Cogman remained coy that there is no one "Jaqen". Instead, it is entirely possible that the "Jaqen from Harrenhal" remained in Westeros and may yet be encountered next season.
- In the Season 5 Blu-ray commentary for this episode, Benioff and Weiss admit that the manner in which Arya kills Ser Meryn in a brutal frenzy of violence was loosely influenced by the films of Quentin Tarentino (though they didn't cite a specific film, or if they just meant the same general tonal style).
- Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) explained how difficult it was to shoot the scene of her pulling face after face off of the dead Faceless Man: "It was very, very complicated. It was madness, actually, when I think about what we did. I had a body double on set that day [for the last shot, when the final face is her own]. You know the cloak that Jaqen was wearing? They made the hood of the cloak out of wire. It was rigid, so the fabric wouldn't move and fall about. Then each different person would lie into the rigid cloak, and they'd shoot my hand doing the motion of taking off the face. Then I got in, and my double did the hand motion over me. So I met, like, seven different people all for three seconds each. They cut it all together in post-production to made it look like they were taking off faces."
- When Arya goes blind at the end, the clouded look in her eyes is not a CGI effect at all: Maisie Williams actually wore large, 16 millimeter-wide contact lenses. They did not simply give her eyes the appearance of being blind, but cannot be seen through. Thus when Arya is wildly turning around unable to see her surroundings, Williams genuinely couldn't see anything. Incidentally this fits with Williams's previous efforts to play Arya's physicality as described in the novels: Arya is described as left-handed in the books, so Williams has pervasively played her as left-handed, even though in real life she is right handed (to the point that she performs all of her swordfighting or archery moves left-handed). Book-Arya is now blind, and correspondingly, Williams's special contact lenses make her functionally blind, just like Arya.
- In the March 20, 2015 issue of Entertainment Weekly, reporters on a set visit noticed a debate happening among the production team on set regarding a nude male extra (apparently the man who flashes Cersei). The extra was clearly circumcised, but no major religion in Westeros practices circumcision (or apparently even in Essos), so they weren't sure if they should retain the actor - however they ultimately decided the shot was so brief that no one would notice.
- When Daenerys Targaryen encounters a Dothraki khalasar at the end, the novels specify (as Daenerys recalls, which would be difficult to fit into dialogue) that it belongs to Khal Jhaqo - one of Drogo's former lieutenants who betrayed her after Drogo died, when his large khalasar broke up and two of his kos (lieutenants) - Jhaqo and Pono - led away different fractions of it. It was Jhaqo who, in early Season 2, sent back a scouting horse with Rakharo's severed head. In the novels Jhaqo takes part in the rape of a Lhazareen girl Daenerys had taken under her protection, for which Daenerys swears revenge.
- Daenerys is wearing the same dress that she wore at the gladiator pit, it is just very dirty and tarnished after her ride and time in the wilderness. She also tore some pieces off which were restricting her movement, i.e. pieces from the front which she wrapped around her hands so she could grip onto the dragon better. Her riding leggings did not just randomly appear as a continuity error - the costumers have actually stated that Daenerys always wears Dothraki riding leggings, even after she switched to longer gowns in Season 5, because in the back of her mind, throughout her life she has always had to be prepared to run for her life at a moment's notice. Her leggings can actually seen clearly in "Kill the Boy", when Dany visits Hizdahr in his cell.
- Emilia Clarke has pointed out that there is one thing that remains constant despite all of Daenerys's costume changes over the course of the TV series: she always wears one ring, which she explained is supposed to have belonged to her mother (who died in childbirth). Closer inspection reveals that the ring she drops in this episode is not her mother's ring, it didn't have large white pearls in it - though she has been seen wearing multiple rings at the same time before. Her mother's ring may still be on one of her other fingers, hidden by the straps of cloth she wrapped around her hands. The Inside-the-Episode guide said that with a split-second to think, she dropped it in the vain hope that anyone searching the tracks of the Dothraki riders would find it and know she was there.
- Tyrion Lannister speaks High Valyrian for the first time in this episode. Back in episode 3 of Season 5, "High Sparrow", it was subtly revealed that he knows High Valyrian: when a Red Priestess is preaching to a crowd in Volantis, he clearly understands what she is saying and even makes sarcastic commentary about specific things she says. High Valyrian in their world is loosely similar to how Latin was used in the real-life Middle Ages: the language of a once great and vast but now fallen empire (the Valyrian Freehold, loosely inspired by the Roman Republic), which is still used as the prestige language of educated men across much of the world. Even in Westeros, where the Valyrians never spread before the Doom destroyed them, High Valyrian is an esteemed lore-language taught to well-educated lords by the maesters. Samwell Tarly knows it reasonably well (he humbly says he's not great at it), while Arya had a few lessons in it but not remotely enough to know more than a few words. Tyrion is a very well-educated son of a major lord, so he knows High Valyrian quite well (though the odd mistake is bound to happen). Logically, he'd probably have looked up what the word for "dwarf" was at some point given that he is one.
- Linguist David J. Peterson explained some background context of the scene in his blog: Missandei is a master-linguist and she actually knows full well that the High Valyrian word for "dwarf" is "krubo", but she is hesitant to offend Tyrion - because if you think about it, some terms such as "imp" could technically be translated as "dwarf" in another language but can still be offensive, and vice versa - and some people in real life argue that "dwarf" is itself an offensive term, etc. Missandei doesn't want to sound ableist, and fears that calling Tyrion "krubo" might be the High Valyrian equivalent of calling him "imp" (though she was not yet aware that he understands High Valyrian, she still thought it rude to call him that in his presence). Therefore she tries to be polite by just descriptively calling him "byka vala", literally "little man" - but Tyrion then just bluntly says he's called a "krubo", "dwarf".
- In fact, the Brothel guard in Volantis called Tyrion a "krubo" to his face back in the third episode of this season, "High Sparrow", and the on-screen subtitles translated it as "dwarf". At the time Tyrion reacted as if he fully understood what the brothel guard said.
- The full line that Tyrion says is "Krubo. Nyke pāsan kesor udir drējor issa? Munna, nya Valyrio mirrī pungilla issa." The on-screen subtitles translate this as "Dwarf. I believe that's the word? Apologies, my Valyrian is a bit nostril." Peterson explained that while what he said is intelligible for a non-native speaker of the language, it is somewhat ungrammatical, like trying to speak Latin, and literally what Tyrion says is closer to: "Dwarf. I do believe that is the correct word? Sorrows, my Valyrian is a little nostril." The word for "nostril" is "pungilla", but Missandei corrects him that the word for "rusty" (at a language/skill) is "puñila" - Tyrion mistakenly used the "ng" diphthong, instead of the very similar tilded "ñ".
- Myrcella Baratheon hasn't died yet in the novels. When last seen she is heading back to King's Landing with Nymeria Sand, by land - and Jaime isn't even there. On the other hand, at the end of the most recent novel some of the Sand Snakes are sent to King's Landing in various roles - among them the master-poisoner Tyene Sand, told to infiltrate the Great Sept of Baelor pretending to be a septa - her mother was a septa in the novels, not Ellaria, and she cultivates a pious persona to appear pure and non-threatening. There is also the prophecy given by Maggy the woods witch - seen at the beginning of Season 5 - stating that all three of Cersei's children would predecease her - or specifically, that all three would have "golden crowns" but also "golden (burial) shrouds". Joffrey and Tommen both literally wore crowns, and in the novels there is a rival plot in Dorne to "crown" Myrcella as the new queen to overthrow Tommen, which comes to nothing, but it wasn't clear if "golden crowns" just figuratively meant their hair color.
- That being said, Ellaria Sand never tried to kill Myrcella in the novels - nor did her counterpart succeed in doing it. Ellaria in the novels is one of the characters calling for peace, tired of the cycle of revenge - due to limited screentime and drastic condensations of the Dorne storyline, Ellaria's actions are replaced with those of other characters.
- The poison used on Myrcella would seem to be "the long farewell", the same poison Tyene used earlier on Bronn but gave him the antidote which she keeps in her necklace. Ellaria has actually been wearing the same kind of necklace the whole season, a hint that she always had an antidote too.
- The poison-covered handkerchief that Ellaria throws away after the ship leaves is actually CGI, because the real one just kept dropping straight into the water instead of fluttering away attractively.
- The manner in which Myrcella dies rises a few questions for the future: why did Ellaria poison Myrcella after sending her betrothed Trystane Martell along with her on a ship with Jaime and Bronn, who could take the prince hostage or kill him after Myrcella's assassination? It remains to be seen if Jaime and Bronn will head back to Dorne to demand retribution from Prince Doran, as the ship is fairly close to the harbor, or if they will keep going to King's Landing.
- In a subsequent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Benioff and Weiss revealed that when she finds out, Cersei is going to blame Tyrion most of all, because it was his idea to send Myrcella to Dorne in the first place - even though her father Tywin later confirmed the marriage-alliance because he thought it was a good idea, too. This does match a point from Cersei in the most recent novels, in which she starts becoming irrationally paranoid after the deaths of Joffrey and Tywin - both of which she blames on Tyrion, only the latter accurately - and becomes convinced that everything that doesn't go her way must be a plot of either Tyrion or the Tyrells, or even probably Tyrion working with the Tyrells. Tyrion does intend to kill Cersei after fleeing to the Free Cities, but he has no current means of undermining her rule. The Tyrells are actively trying to undermine Cersei and consolidate their own power, but she also blames them for things that they logically could not have done. So it is in keeping with the novels that she would focus her blame for this on Tyrion moreso than on the Martells themselves. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime) was also spoken with in the same interview, and he implied that he thought Trystane would indeed end up as a hostage in King's Landing - though offering no explanation as to why Ellaria would endanger Doran's son this way.
- Myrcella hasn't been shown to know that Jaime is really her father in the novels. On the other hand, she is described as being by far the smartest of Cersei's children - just as out of Tywin's three children, it was Tyrion who inherited the famous Lannister intellect, so too among Cersei's children, it was Myrcella who inherited the family intellect. Tyrion has also complained to Cersei in the novels that it was obvious to anyone who spent a long time living in the Red Keep, and was willing to consider the shocking possibility, that none of Cersei's children were Robert's. Tyrion bluntly asks her if she thinks he is as blind as their father is - Tywin was smart enough to see the clues if he wanted to, but the possibility that his legacy was ruined in such a way was so shocking that he was in denial. Thus it is entirely possible that Myrcella simply put the pieces together over the years - particularly after Stannis started publicly circulating the accusation that Robert wasn't her father, citing that none of Cersei's children even looked like him.
- According to actress Nell Tiger Free in a later interview at MYM Buzz in June 2017, Myrcella's death was originally supposed to be more graphic. The exact details are unclear, but apparently the reaction to the poison was going to be so violent that she would cough up pieces of what Nell thought was her brain: "...originally what happened is they gave me those mashed up bananas with like blood fake blood, and my brains were supposed to be all over the ship and stuff." Nell believed that the producers ultimately cut this out and had her death relatively quick "because they wanted Myrcella’s death to reflect her life, and wanted it to be sweet — which is rare for [Game of] Thrones.” Io9's Beth Elderkin was incredulous at this, pointing out: "that still doesn’t explain why Shireen Baratheon, a far sweeter character who had survived one of Westeros’s worst diseases, wasn’t given the same treatment... but oh well." - referring to Shireen's horrific death in the immediately preceding episode.
- Of the six characters with speaking roles who died in this episode, only one - Jon Snow - has actually occurred in the books yet. Stannis and Selyse - and Shireen - have not died in the novels but this subplot was moved up and heavily condensed. Meryn Trant hasn't died, though Arya does kill a different Lannister lackey on her death list, Raff. Myrcella has not died yet in the novels, though this might be moved up from the next novel. Myranda doesn't appear in the novels at all - though she is loosely a gender-swapped condensation of "the Bastard's Boys", a group of Ramsay's lackeys from House Bolton, and some of them do get killed at Winterfell, just not by Theon.
- Stannis's death renders all branches of House Baratheon extinct de facto - though de jure, the Lannisters still claim that Tommen is Robert's son. Myrcella's death makes Tommen the last living member of "House Baratheon of King's Landing". Stannis's death completely renders his cadet branch of the family extinct, House Baratheon of Dragonstone. Gendry, and any other bastards of Robert's that might have survived, are the only direct-line descendants of the House, and no significant cadet branches or cousins of the House have been mentioned. The novels only confirmed that Robert had three surviving bastard children after the purge following Robert's death - but in the TV series, Gendry might be Robert's only surviving child.
- One of Stannis's officers says that half the men deserted in the night, all the sellswords, and they took all the horses. Previously, Stannis told the Iron Bank in Season 4 that he had about 4,000 men left, perhaps including the baggage train, as when he attacks at Castle Black a visual count shows that he had around 3,000 men. Previously in Season 5, Roose Bolton said that his scouts reported Stannis's army, swelled by foreign sellswords, numbered about 6,000 men - meaning that half of his army were sellswords. During the ensuing Battle of Winterfell, visual analysis actually reveals that Stannis has around 1,300 men left. The Bolton army actually numbers a little over 2,000 - it seems larger because they are mounted and Stannis's men are on foot, though cavalry are worth more than infantry. Stannis's men were also exhausted from their grueling march through the snow, while the Bolton forces were fresh - you can even see that many men in the rear of Stannis's army break and flee, though Stannis in the front holds firm. Going by these figures, it would seem that what Stannis's officer meant that "Many men deserted before dawn, nearly half", as well as "all the sellswords, with all the horses" — it wasn't just the "sellsword half" of Stannis's army that fled, 3,000 men, but also half of his Baratheon army, around 1,500 men.
- Curiously, during the scene where Theon kills Myranda and he and Sansa escape Winterfell, Sansa's gloves disappear in several shots only for them to appear again seconds later, despite it being a fast paced scene with no intervals whatsoever.
- The scene in which Jon Snow is repeatedly stabbed by his black brothers, with Olly delivering the final blow, resembles the Assassination of Julius Caesar, in which he was repeatedly stabbed by senators, including his former friend Brutus. In many fictionalized accounts — including HBO's own Rome series, in which Ciarán Hinds and Tobias Menzies portrayed Caesar and Brutus respectively — Brutus tearfully dealt the final blow, to Caesar's surprise, not unlike Olly stabbing Jon.
- The blood leaking out from under Jon in the final shot isn't produced with CGI, but from a practical effect blood bag underneath the actor. CGI was used, however, to make Jon's eyes dilate at the exact moment he loses consciousness.
- The "deaths" of Jon Snow, Stannis Baratheon, and Myrcella Baratheon were filmed somewhat ambiguously, compared to actually seeing their corpses - Jon is badly injured and dying, Myrcella falls poisoned, and Brienne swings her sword but we don't see it actually connect with Stannis. The attack on Jon plays out much the same way in the novels: he is stabbed multiple times, falls to the ground and at least loses consciousness, but then the chapter ends on a cliffhanger. The HBO Viewer's Guide lists all three as "deceased". To avoid endless revert wars on the wiki, these three characters will be treated as dead unless proven otherwise by a subsequent episode. In Stannis's case, Nutter stated that he believed the reason Benioff and Weiss deliberately avoided showing it to prevent making his death scene gratuitous or longer than it needed to be.
- Samwell Tarly is heading to Oldtown in the Reach to become a maester. In the novels, this occurred soon after Stannis arrived at Castle Black, in part because Jon feared Melisandre would want to burn Aemon due to his royal Targaryen blood (Aemon is the son of a king who actually sat on the Iron Throne). Therefore it was widely believed that this storyline would be omitted from the TV series, but it was only delayed. Coupled with several other casting announcements, it appears that Season 6 actually will cover several subplots that were skipped from the most recent novel (see below). However, most of Season 6 will still be based on a single book, which probably means it won't be as heavily condensed as Season 5 was.
- "Mother's Mercy" won several Emmy Awards for 2015:
- Director David Nutter won the award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Dramatic Series for his work on "Mother's Mercy" at the 2016 Director's Guild of America Awards.
Cersei's naked walk of atonement
- George R.R. Martin has stated that Cersei Lannister's naked walk of atonement is loosely based on what happened to Jane Shore, the mistress of King Edward IV of England (who, like Robert Baratheon, was a great warrior who won the crown on the battlefield in his youth, but became fat and ill-suited to rule in later life). After Edward IV died his brother Richard III usurped the throne ahead of his nephews. He deeply resented Jane, so he had her arrested and made her perform a penance walk, a common punishment for harlotry. Jane Shore did not perform the penance walk naked, however, but had to walk barefoot through the streets of London wearing only her kirtle (petticoat), which given the times was still said to have gained significant male attention (the main source of the humiliation was that this was a punishment normally meted out to harlots). Martin has said that the Wars of the Roses were one of the major inspirations for his novels: the conflict was between the Yorks and Lancasters, while in Westeros the conflict is between the Starks and Lannisters (clearly named after the real families).
- The production team carefully made sure never to have any nude scenes with Cersei since the beginning of the TV series, specifically to prepare for this scene. Cersei always wears heavy layers of clothing like armor, and even in her sex scenes, it was a conscious choice never to show her with her clothes off. For example, when Bran Stark encounters Cersei and Jaime having sex at Winterfell, they are both actually naked in the novels, but not in the TV version - though of course, Headey was also pregnant in Season 1 so they had to use body doubles or different camera angles (still wearing heavy clothes while in a doggy-style position) to hide her pregnancy. Even later when she has sex with Lancel, or when she has sex with Jaime in the Season 4 finale (in the privacy of the White Sword Tower), she never takes her clothes off during sex scenes. All of this was decided years in advance, to increase the dramatic impact of Cersei's shocking disempowerment, stripped naked and marched through the streets. As Headey said:
- "We talk about it a lot because I love he...I think, you know, it’s interesting, that part for me. I’ve been very adamant about keeping her kind of clothed because I think that’s part of her power. And she can still be sort of sexual and weird and female, but she doesn’t have to be naked. And I think it makes for a more shocking disempowering moment when this happens. So, we’ll see. I’m a little scared.”
- In the novels, when Cersei is shorn, the septas remove all of her body hair - her eyebrows, pubic hair, even scraping the rest of her body. They shave her head completely bald. In the TV episode, the septas prominently produce a razor blade as if they are going to shave her, but then curiously do not use it at all. One septa separately picks up a pair of shears, and cuts her luxurious long golden hair off - but crops it close to her head, instead of shaving her bald entirely. In her subsequent nude scenes, the rest of her body hair isn't shaved.
- The TV episode didn't quite explain this, but Cersei does bring up Stannis Baratheon to the High Sparrow. The Sparrows do realize that if they outright depose Cersei and the Lannisters, it would clear the way for Stannis to take the throne - whom they view as a heretic for embracing the Lord of Light religion. Therefore they don't want to get rid of the Lannisters entirely, but they want to strip them of power and control them. Had he wanted to simply depose Cersei he would have left her in her prison cell: he let her go in a humiliating walk of atonement so the mobs of the city's commoners wouldn't fear her anymore.
- As the TV producers point out in the Inside the Episode featurette, Cersei has badly mistreated the smallfolk of King's Landing, either directly through starting the war or indirectly through not controlling Joffrey's madness as he mistreated them. She is a woman who could have someone's tongue cut out for insulting her. The novels include more scenes around the Riot of King's Landing in which peasant women hold up their dead babies and point at Cersei, accusing that their children are dying of starvation from a war she started - Cersei doesn't really care. Recall that back at the beginning of Season 2, before the riot, the Small Council tried to warn her that refugees are pouring into the city from the countryside and it is overburdening the food supply - Cersei bluntly doesn't care, and agrees with Littlefinger that when winter comes and the poorest starve, they'll simply have fewer commoners to deal with.
- The TV series also doesn't bring up the history that a walk of atonement has in House Lannister. Tywin's father Tytos Lannister was a weak-willed man whose inept leadership nearly destroyed their rule. After Tywin's mother died, Tytos took up with a new mistress, a commoner a step above a whore herself, who in time came to control Tytos to such an extent that she was said to be the real master of Casterly Rock. The teenaged Tywin later violently reasserted Lannister dominance in the Reyne Rebellion, the first major step in almost single-handedly rebuilding the Lannisters into a strong House again after Tytos nearly ended it - Tytos didn't even respond to the rebellion at all, simply staying in Casterly Rock with his mistress, and Tywin reacted without his permission. After Cersei's grandfather finally died of old age and Tywin succeeded him as lord, he forced Tytos's mistress to make a naked walk of atonement through the streets - humiliating her and symbolically stripping her of any of the power she was once perceived to have. Cersei's uncle Kevan aided Tywin at the time and thinks back on this in his inner POV monologue (in a way not easily translatable on-screen). Tywin's bad treatment of his own children came back around to destroy his family - apart from Tyrion personally killing him, the Lannisters have come full circle. Just as Tywin's power began with forcing Tytos's mistress to make a naked walk of atonement, that power has now fallen with Cersei making a walk of atonement.
- Actress Lena Headey (Cersei) wears a wig to portray Cersei, instead of her own (dyed) hair. The wigs in the TV series are made of real human hair, and can cost as much as $7,000. Cersei's wig does not undergo any chemical processing at all (which is used on some of the other wigs to make them the exact color they need to be). Rather, the wig maker sourced individual colors and strands of hair, which were then individually knotted onto a lace cap one strand at a time to achieve the perfect golden blonde blend. While it is unconfirmed if the Cersei wig cost $7,000 dollars, it is certainly one of the more expensive and elaborate wigs used in the TV series, easily costing several thousand dollars. It isn't clear if the actual Cersei wig was destroyed in the scene where Cersei is shorn, or if it was a stand-in wig.
- In interviews following this episode, Lena Headey herself expressed just how much putting on the Cersei wig helped her easily step into character: "If I put the wig on, that's massive. That's an immediate feeling. It's really important. What was slightly daunting was what was going to be taken away. It can change how you feel, but it can't change how she is." Headey also said that she still wears a different wig after Cersei's hair is shorn, instead of dying her own hair, "a really heavily, heavily cropped cut-up wig." In a separate interview, Headey remarked about Cersei's punishment that they "shave her hair off like Aslan" - comparing Cersei to Aslan the lion from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Narnia's fantasy analogue of Jesus Christ who, in an analogue of the Crucifixion, is ceremonially shorn of his mane of hair and then executed by the evil White Witch. House Lannister's symbol is, of course, a golden lion.
- Lena Headey (Cersei) isn't actually naked in the walk of atonement scene: actress Rebecca Van Cleave served as a nude body double, and Headey's head was then digitally added onto van Cleave's body (her neck doesn't quite match in some shots if you look carefully, and the body isn't exactly her height and shoulder width). The producers did try very hard to find a double whose body frame matched Headey's: 1,000 actresses applied to be the double, and of these seven finalists were flown to Belfast so the producers could choose the one that most closely matched. Headey was asked if she wanted to help pick out the body double but she declined, saying, "I was like, 'Listen guys, she happens to have a beautiful body, but I don't do casting. If somebody is brave enough to do this, I applaud it." Headey was present with Van Cleave during actual shooting: she would walk her double through each shot, giving step-by-step insight into Cersei's mindset. Van Cleave was fully nude, Headey wore a simple beige shift. They would then alternate between shots, with Headey stepping in for those close-ups that didn't involve full nudity (thus Headey actually did "perform" the barefoot walk through the streets, though the camera wasn't always on her). Because Headey was present during all of the jeering by the crowd of extras, she said it helped give a genuine emotional reaction when she appeared on-screen for closeup shots. Van Cleave said: "Lena was so good about walking beside me and guiding me into what Cersei was thinking and the movements. We were playing tag team — 'You’re it!' — and trying to make light of the fact we’re all covered in everything and going through this together." The large crowds used in the scene contained 500 extras. The entire sequence took three consecutive days to film. There were initially some objections about doing the nude walk in Dubrovnik's streets, made by the Church of St. Nicholas which is located about 60 meters north of where the walk ends. They later withdrew their objections on the condition that it not actually cross into holy ground.
- Why a body double was used was unclear at the time - given that Headey has done nude scenes before (such as in the film 300), and back in March 2014, she even spoke about the upcoming scene in such a way that it seemed she was interested in performing it herself. Headey only said that she chose not to perform the nude scene "for several reasons". One possible but unconfirmed explanation was that in February 2015 (after filming had ended), Headey revealed that she was pregnant with her second child - but she was so upset about how the media had been invasive about the divorce of her first marriage that she would not reveal who the father was, or any other details about her personal life. Months later, Lena Headey announced via Twitter that she gave birth to her daughter on July 10, 2015. The scene, however, was filmed in the first week of October, 2014. Subtracting nine months of pregnancy from July 10, 2015, Headey probably only conceived her second child around mid-October, maybe early October at the earliest - so Headey probably was not pregnant when this scene was filmed, but conceived the week after it (assuming this wasn't an overly long pregnancy). Moreover, filming of the scene was also delayed for some time due to complaints about filming it in public, and it took time to hire a body double: it is implausible that Heady discovered she had just become pregnant on October 2nd and then quickly hired a body double, the selection process that Rebecca Van Cleave went through took longer than that. Headey's ultimate reason for wanting to use a body double remains private.
- Headey mentioned in the March 20, 2015 issue of Entertainment Weekly that her body double is actually wearing a pubic wig to cover her genitals - the TV show has done this several times before, i.e. with Melisandre. In the same issue Headey was again vague and only said "I obviously chose not to be naked for several reasons."
- In the Blu-ray commentary for this episode, it was vaguely mentioned that Headey was worried that she would be too focused on her own nudity, to the point that she wouldn't really be "acting" with Cersei's mindset anymore, and this would affect her emotional responses in the performance.
- The matter was finally put to rest in an interview Lena Headey gave with Entertainment Weekly in April 2016, just prior to the Season 6 premiere. Headey confirmed that she chose to use a body double simply because when production came up to this point, she felt she would be so distracted by being naked that she would not be able to give the same emotional response that Cersei-the-character is supposed to have in the scene. She also cited that she has done nude scenes before and the simple fact that it was a nude scene had nothing to do with her choice. As she explained, the script calls for Cersei to be absolutely stoic and unemotional during the whole ordeal, only starting to cry just as it ends and she enters the castle. Headey didn't think she could keep her face this unemotional if she was actually naked in front of a large crowd - not that she would break down crying, but rather, Headey felt she couldn't restrain her anger, that she would end up scowling or glaring, when the script specifically says that Cersei is absolutely expressionless. In Headey's own words:
- "Some people thought I was less of an actress because I didn’t get my tits out. It was really a bit shocking. I've done nudity. I'm not averse to it. But I know I'm a very emotional actor and I get really driven by that. In order to do my job, I allow myself to be really vulnerable. I don't know any other way to do my job. Things really affect me. And the thought of being naked for three days and trying to contain her in the way she would be I think I would feel very angry. I didn't want to be angry. I don't think Cersei would be angry. I did what I thought she would do, emotionally. And wonderful Rebecca [Van Cleave, Headey’s stand-in] was able to contain herself and be naked. She found it very difficult, obviously. It's not a natural thing to do. I film every year and I have kids and they know me now and [being naked in the scene] was just too much on top of that. So yeah, people that get it thought it was great. I didn't phone it in; I was actually there for three days with Rebecca."
- Several professional reviews criticized the logistics of the scene - not Headey's choice to use a body double in the first place (which Benioff and Weiss had no control over), but that the CGI used to match Headey's head to the double's naked body was too noticeable (though given that it was Headey's choice, there was only so much the production team could do to work around it). Also, Express criticized that a major point from the novels was lost by casting a 27 year old body double, given that both Cersei the character and Lena Headey are over 40 years old. In the novels, the naked walk is even more humiliating, because while Cersei was famously beautiful as a teenager, two decades of time and three pregnancies have taken their toll, and her naked body is viewed negatively and as less attractive. Cersei used to wield her beauty like a weapon to intimidate others, but when the crowd sees the effect multiple pregnancies and time have had on her body, she loses a large part of her mystique. As a result, they no longer fear her and then openly mock her. It is possible that there weren't many actresses willing to be a nude body double who both had a body that fit the book's description of Cersei's during the naked walk and who also closely matched Headey's general body proportions. In which case, the production team picked from actresses willing to be a nude body double for this scene.
The Stannis storyline in the North
Previous seasons of the TV series adapted roughly one novel into one TV season (and the third novel is so long that it was split into two halves, as Season 3 and Season 4). For unclear reasons, the TV producers tried to adapt most major storylines from both the fourth and fifth novels into a single TV season, resulting in many subplots being significantly condensed. Subplots revolving around the North in particular were drastically condensed. Sansa Stark remained in the Vale of Arryn in the novels, and never even met the Boltons. Brienne of Tarth remained fruitlessly searching for the Stark girls in the Riverlands, witnessing firsthand the massive devastation the war has inflicted.
Stannis leaves the Wall about a third of the way into the fifth novel, what would be about two thirds in a normally structured novel (as the fifth one follows only half the characters, it contains what would be two novels' worth of storyline for each subplot). In the TV series, Stannis left the Wall at the halfway point of the season (the end of episode 5), and most of the major story points from his time at the Wall in the book were covered.
However, most of Stannis's narrative in the fifth novel follows that point when he is on his campaign advancing south — though at first, we only read about his journey from witnesses who are not close to Stannis (POV characters Jon Snow and Asha Greyjoy), as Stannis himself is not a point of view character and Davos is not present. At any rate, this is where Stannis's storyline was heavily condensed — sending Davos Seaworth to White Harbor to treat with the wealthy House Manderly; slowly rallying several Northern mountain clans to his side based on advice given to him by Jon Snow; defeating the ironborn at Deepwood Motte; winning House Mormont and House Glover to his side and more than tripling the size of his original forces; Arnolf Karstark's treason; and preparing for the incoming battle in the snow against the Freys and Manderlys in a crofters' village. On top of this, much of the last two episodes of Stannis's storyline isn't even from the fifth novel - the TV producers jumped ahead, to condense in additional material from the unpublished sixth novel, such as the burning of Shireen and Stannis's fight against the Boltons and eventual defeat.
In the novels, therefore, Stannis's march against Winterfell is quite different. Rather than losing men, he has gained thousands of new Northern allies, and their advance is a serious threat to the Boltons. The odds are still against them, but even Roose Bolton is deeply concerned that Stannis's assault might so badly weaken his armies that the rest of the North will rise up in revolt to overthrow the Boltons. The fifth novel ends on a cliffhanger, as the battle occurred off-screen and the outcome is unknown. The Boltons seem to have at least taken significant losses, but Jon Snow receives a letter from Ramsay Bolton claiming that he has killed Stannis and demanding that he hand over Melisandre, Stannis's wife and daughter (who remained at Castle Black); there are, however, reasons to believe the contents of the letter are false, among them that no piece of skin is enclosed - in contrast to Ramsay's former letters.
In sharp contrast to the show, according to "Theon I" sample chapter of the sixth novel, Stannis's odds have greatly improved: thanks to Alys Karstark, the traitor in his host has been exposed and neutralized in time; he finally meets Tycho Nestoris, and receives the fund he needs for hiring sellswords; he implies that he has a plan to defeat his enemies, which is speculated to be based on Alexander Nevsky's tactics at the Battle on the Ice. On the other hand, the Boltons are in a very inconvenient position: although they have a better shelter and more food supplies that Stannis, Roose has been forced to send the Freys - his only reliable allies - from Winterfell, leaving the Boltons with many Northern guests who deeply loathe them and may rise against them at any moment; Roose has also sent the White Harbor troops, unaware that he has given Lord Manderly an opportunity to join forces with Stannis.
In contrast, in the TV version's heavily condensed version of events, which used up not only all of the fifth novel's material but also some of the sixth novel's (all in a single TV season), Stannis's march against Winterfell comes to an abrupt end after many of his men flee before and during the battle, in which his remaining forces are promptly defeated off-screen.
In the novels, the Battle of Winterfell was the major battle serving as the climax of the fifth book. In the TV series, the Massacre at Hardhome (from episode 8 "Hardhome") was instead treated as the major battle sequence climax of Season 5. In the novels, it only appeared off-screen because Jon Snow did not personally go there and his preparations to go on a rescue mission to Hardhome alongside Tormund are interrupted by the arrival of the pink letter. Line producer Snorri Þórisson confirmed in July 2014 that the Hardhome sequence was significantly expanded in rewrites which occurred late in the production schedule of Season 5. The original plan was to film at least something of events at Hardhome in Iceland in November 2014 (because Iceland was used for scenes beyond the Wall before). However, the window for filming in Iceland's winter months is very narrow - when the Hardhome battle sequence was expanded to the point that it took a full 15 days to film, production had to be moved back to Northern Ireland. Thus it is unclear if the original plan for Season 5 was to treat the Battle of Winterfell as a major on-screen battle sequence, but later rewrites shifted focus and resources to the battle at Hardhome.
For further discussion of the reasoning behind adapting two novels into Season 5, instead of the one book (or less) per season format used for all previous TV seasons, see the pertinent "Season 5 - Adaptation" section.
Jon Snow's fate
The Stannis/Bolton storyline also intersects with the Night's Watch storyline, and these condensations affect it in the finale as well. At the end of the fifth novel, Jon receives a threatening letter from Ramsay Bolton. He reads the letter aloud to the Night's Watch and assembled wildlings and announces he will march south and confront Ramsay, effectively compromising the political neutrality of the Night's Watch. It is after this point when several of his officers, including Lord Stewart Bowen Marsh, stab Jon repeatedly in the courtyard, while two of them (Marsh and Wick Whittlestick) saying "For the Watch", and Marsh has tears in his eyes. They turn on Jon when he breaks the Watch's neutrality by announcing his intention to confront Ramsay Bolton, as Jon is taking part in the wars of the realm. Neither side is presented as entirely correct: if Jon strictly adheres to the Watch's political neutrality, the Boltons will destroy the North and the Watch. However, attacking the Boltons breaks the Watch's political neutrality to stay out of the realm's wars and if they fail, it might invoke the wrath of the Lannisters against the Watch. The TV version, in contrast, presents Jon's attackers as only motivated by an unwillingness to let go of their old grudge against the wildlings. In the novels, the mutiny against Jon results from the build-up of tensions with a faction of the Watch due to Jon's efforts to ally with and save the wildlings, lack of resources to feed everyone being sheltered at the Wall, and fears that Jon is politically aligning himself with Stannis. In particular, Bowen Marsh is afraid they will face the wrath of the Iron Throne in response.
In the TV series, the reason Thorne and the other mutineers stab Jon for saving the wildlings, after Thorne let Jon and the wildling refugees through the Wall, is unclear. If Thorne and the others wanted to betray Jon because he was saving the wildlings, they could have just refused to let them back through the Wall in the immediately preceding episode. It is possible that Melisandre's news about Stannis's death and the Bolton's victory influenced their decision, but if so, it was not mentioned, in order to increase the shock of their betrayal. Further, Melisandre never abandons Stannis to flee back to Castle Black, but remains at the Wall with Stannis's family and some of his soldiers, explaining that it is one of the "hinges of the world" and her magical abilities are much more powerful there.
In the novels, Jon is stabbed by a faction of his officers, but the book's mutineers do not include Olly or Alliser Thorne. Olly is a character invented for the TV show (loosely Olly is a condensation of aspects of several other characters). Alliser Thorne is not at Castle Black when the mutiny occurs, because he is sent earlier by Jon on a scouting mission beyond the Wall. Thorne, who dislikes Jon much more in the novels, outright accuses Jon of wanting him to refuse his assignment as Janos Slynt did to provide an excuse for Jon to execute him. He obeys Jon's command, but does not leave quietly: he warns Jon that he'll return to settle the score, alive or as a wight. In the novels, the remaining older and high ranking officers at Castle Black grow increasingly frustrated with Jon's resettling of the wildlings south of the Wall, and even repairing several abandoned forts along the Wall and restaffing them with wildling garrisons. The first to stab Jon is Wick Whittlestick, next is the First Steward Bowen Marsh, followed by at least two others, but the chapter is told from Jon’s perspective, and as he is losing consciousness he doesn't take note of who they are. The TV series had all of the high ranking officers stab him: Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, and Ser Alliser Thorne, who is not made First Ranger in the novels.
Oddly, during the first season, it was believed that actor Brian Fortune was playing Bowen Marsh, and Dennis McKeever was playing Othell Yarwyck, based on comments made by Fortune, and McKeever's character delivering one of Yarwyck's lines from the books. However, when Fortune reappeared in Season 4, he was expressly identified by name in on-screen dialogue as playing Othell Yarwyck, apparently to confirm that a minor retcon about had taken place about what character he was playing. Michael Condron then joined the TV series in Season 5, and was announced to be playing Bowen Marsh - as well as identified as Marsh by name early in the season. Given that Bowen Marsh is the man who betrays Jon Snow, it was suspected that the role was recast because the producers were expanding the role and wanted to focus on him more prominently in Season 5. As it turned out, neither Yarwyck nor Marsh were given significantly more scenes in Season 5, and instead, all of the high ranking officers stab Jon, apparently led by Alliser Thorne.
Elio Garcia, owner of Westeros.org and co-author with George R.R. Martin of the World of Ice and Fire sourcebook (2014) also expressed his bafflement at this change in his official video review of the Season 5, finale: "Why in the world did Alliser Thorne let them [Jon and the wildlings] through the Wall - if he was planning to kill him? -- The only thing I can think of is that Stannis was still alive at that point, or still fighting, and so he was concerned that if he did anything against Jon, that Stannis would deal with him later, but now they heard Stannis is dead..."
It remains to be seen how the TV show will explain the apparent logical discrepancy: why would Thorne let Jon and the wildlings through the Wall, only to then stab Jon for commanding him to do so - when Thorne could have just refused to let Jon and the wildlings through the Wall in the first place, as the wildlings already through the Wall outnumber the Castle Black garrison a hundred to one. Muddying the question is that it is unclear in the TV version at what point Thorne decided to betray Jon and what the actual tipping point was that made the mutiny happen specifically when it did - whether Thorne even intended to betray Jon when he let the wildlings through the Wall, or if Thorne did want to betray Jon then but feared being seen as a traitor by the other Watch members atop the Wall if he kept the gate closed, etc. But while these choices appear unclear at this point, if it is clarified in Season 6 that, for example, Thorne decided to turn on Jon only after the wildlings came through the Wall because of Melisandre’s news of the Bolton victory, they won't represent an actual plot hole within the TV continuity's own internal logic.
Game of Thrones Wiki keeps getting a lot of questions about "is Jon Snow really dead?" - and the cast and crew are often asked this at convention panels (as if they would randomly reveal this during a public Q&A).
The short answer is simply that:
- 1 - "Is Jon Snow dead"? Indubitably. Yes, Jon Snow is dead.
- 2 - Death is not necessarily a permanent condition.
- 3 - Nonetheless, death is not without consequence.
One of Martin's major criticisms of other fantasy literature is that the protagonists tend not to die, and if they do die, they can be resurrected none the worse for wear. For example, Gandalf the wizard returns from death in The Lord of the Rings but overall, he is not too negatively affected. In contrast, when Beric Dondarrion is repeatedly raised from the dead soon after fatal injuries, as seen in Season 3, it is presented as a deeply traumatic experience which changes him more and more as he is repeatedly resurrected.
The question, therefore, is not so much "will Jon Snow come back from the dead?", so much as "if he does come back from the dead, who will he be?"
Catching up with the books
Because much of the fourth and fifth novels were adapted into Season 5, and the fifth novel is the last published one, most characters have caught up with their material from the books as of this episode.
Several characters have completely caught up with the books, while others are basically caught up, though they are a chapter or two away from the end of their published material. Bran Stark had one more chapter talking with the Last Greenseer in his cave but his arrival was a more convenient stopping point. Cersei has no other POV chapters, but there is one more chapter set at the Small Council in which characters from the Lannisters and Tyrell assess the current situation. Meanwhile, there are other subplots which from the fourth and fifth novels, particularly the Greyjoy, Reach, and Riverlands storylines (as well as drastic condensations to the Dorne storyline), that have been delayed in comparison to the chronology of the books but will appear in Season 6, and certain other storylines which were heavily condensed with others (Sansa's Vale storyline) to the point that they may no longer appear at all.
Characters and subplots that have caught up with their current material from the novels:
- Jon Snow and the Night's Watch
- Daenerys Targaryen and Meereen, including Tyrion Lannister
- King's Landing, including Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell (except for one additional Small Council chapter)
- Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish
- Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre
- Davos Seaworth was involved in other subplots in the North which were cut, but with Stannis's defeat now it is unknown if these will be drawn on later.
- Roose Bolton and Ramsay Bolton
- Bran Stark, Hodor, and Meera Reed - already caught up at the end of Season 4, except for one chapter.
- Theon Greyjoy, except for his experiences after escaping Winterfell.
Characters and subplots that have not yet caught up with the books:
- Arya Stark - Arya goes blind at the end of the fourth novel, but is still alive. Arya's storyline was one of the ones focused on in the fourth novel, which then took time off to deal with the other storylines in the fifth novel - but the end of the fifth novel then devotes a few chapters at the end to check back in on how the storylines from the end of the fifth novel were doing. Arya has two more chapters in the fifth novel which have not yet been adapted. Arya also doesn't kill Raff (Meryn Trant in the TV series) in the fifth novel, but in a chapter from the sixth novel which Martin officially released on his website (it had been completed long ago, and he apparently wanted viewers to know what Arya's climactic scene this season was based on).
- Samwell Tarly and Gilly are now heading to Oldtown - which is on the southern end of Westeros, opposite from the Wall. Sam and Gilly actually leave the Wall near the beginning of the fourth novel. The fifth season adapted some of the material of their voyage, such as their growing relationship, learning of Daenerys Targaryen, and Aemon's death, all without leaving Castle Black. Still, the bulk of their journey has not yet been adapted into the TV series. In the novels, they later book passage with the friendly crew of a ship from the Summer Islands, the Cinnamon Wind (whom Daenerys had previously met at Qarth in the second novel).
- The entire House Greyjoy subplot - Yara Greyjoy actually becomes a POV narrator in the fifth novel and is a very major character. She did not appear at all in Season 5, nor did the major Iron Islands subplot which begins in the fourth novel and continues into the fifth novel. However, this subplot will appear in Season 6.
- The subplots in the Riverlands, centering around the Frey siege of the Tullys at Riverrun - which involved Jaime Lannister in the novels, and also Brienne of Tarth's wandering in the Riverlands (several characters of which do appear in the casting calls for Season 6, but they may have been moved to subplots of other characters). Given how much Jaime and Brienne's subplots were changed in Season 5, it is unclear how these will play out in Season 6. The Tully garrison at Riverrun is commanded by Catelyn's uncle Brynden "The Blackfish" Tully. In the novels, Robb left Brynden in charge of defending Riverrun so Brynden was not present for the massacre at the Red Wedding. Instead, he continues to command the besieged Tully garrison at Riverrun, still fighting in the name of King Robb even though, at this point, the garrison has no realistic hope for long-term survival, much less victory. The TV show had him come to the wedding (apparently as a condensation or to lull suspicions of the impending massacre), but it still has Brynden escape. In the TV series, Brynden happened to step out of the castle to relieve himself just as the massacre started, avoiding the slaughter in the main hall, and thus managed to simply fight his way out of the assault on the camps outside. It is implied that Brynden may have fled back to Riverrun, but ultimately the TV version did not reveal what happened to him.
- Set reports in Fall 2015 revealed that an entire exterior Riverrun castle set has been constructed, and reports in October 2015 confirmed that Brynden Tully will return, and have a verbal confrontation with Jaime Lannister during the siege of Riverrun as he did in the fourth novel. Bronn will also accompany Jaime as his assistant - again taking the place of Ilyn Payne as he did in Season 4 (due to the actor's recovery from near-terminal pancreatic cancer).
- Much of the Dorne subplot was extremely condensed, to the point that Doran Martell only briefly appeared in Season 5, and many other members of House Martell didn't appear and were thought to have been adapted out (the TV series did state that there are eight Sand Snakes - there are four adult ones, and the fourth gets involved in other storylines). Nor did it include Doran's daughter and heir Arianne Martell, who has apparently been omitted from the TV continuity entirely.
- Tyrion's storyline as he was heading east to Meereen introduced a major new subplot involving a major political shakeup in the Free Cities. This was cut completely from Tyrion's storyline in Season 5, but after he leaves for Meereen it subsequently intersects with several other subplots (not Arya's). This will probably be cut entirely from the TV series.
In the books
- The episode is adapted from the following chapters of A Feast for Crows:
- Chapter 5, Samwell I: Sam is sent by Jon to the Citadel at Oldtown, so that he can become a maester and succeed 102-year old Maester Aemon. Gilly and the baby are sent with him in order to ensure their safety.
- Chapter 21, The Queenmaker: A Dornish seeks to murder Myrcella, in the presence of Doran's heir and a Kingsguard.
- Chapter 34, Cat of the Canals: While disguised as the clam-selling orphan who wanders the canals, Arya kills a man she despises. When she goes back to the House of Black and White, the Faceless Man finds out that "Arya Stark" killed this man, and gives Arya a poison which leaves her blind.
- The episode is adapted from the following chapters of A Dance with Dragons:
- Chapter 7, Jon II: Jon sends Sam, Gilly and the baby to the Citadel at Oldtown so that Sam can become a maester and succeed 102-year old Maester Aemon and to ensure the safety of Gilly and the baby.
- Chapter 38, The Watcher: Princess Myrcella leaves Sunspear.
- Chapter 45, The Blind Girl: Regarding Arya’s unsanctioned assassination, the Faceless Man tells her they are not gods to decide who lives or dies — only the Many-Faced God can give the gift of death, and they are merely his servants, so when she killed this man she took God's powers on herself.
- Chapter 48, Jaime I: Jaime considers telling Myrcella that he is her father.
- Chapter 51, Theon I: Theon agrees to help Ramsay’s wife escape Winterfell. In a hurry, with Bolton soldiers approaching, they are forced to throw themselves over the castle's battlements.
- Chapter 54, Cersei I: Cersei decides to confess, asking Septa Unella to take her to the High Sparrow. She drops to her knees in front of him, pleads the Mother’s mercy, and admits to fornicating with Lancel. However, she defends herself by claiming she felt lonely and afraid, and she does not admit to the charges of murdering Robert or the incest and adultery with her brother Jaime, arguing it is a lie propagated by Stannis Baratheon to make himself appear the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. The High Sparrow says a trial by the Gods will decide the truth of the charges she still denies.
- Chapter 55, The Queensguard: In Queen Daenerys's absence, her council agrees to take charge of Meereen, to send out a party in search of Daenerys, and to prepare the city against its enemies.
- Chapter 57, Tyrion XI: Tyrion witnesses the aftermath of Daenerys’s disappearance on Drogon.
- Chapter 65, Cersei II: The only way for Cersei to be freed until the trial is to atone for her confessed sins —she must perform a walk of atonement from the Great Sept to the Red Keep. She is stripped naked, her head shaven, escorted out and announced to the crowds as a sinner who has confessed and begged for forgiveness and who must demonstrate her repentance by "putting aside all pride and artifice and presenting herself as the gods made her before the good people of the city." During the walk, the Septas ring a bell and shout “Shame!”, while the people insult her and throw things at her. Cersei resolves herself to endure the humiliation, yet at the gates of the Red Keep she breaks down and collapses to the ground. She is greeted warmly by Qyburn, and a large man escorts her inside. Qyburn introduces him as a new Kingsguard member who has taken a holy vow of silence and sworn not to speak until all of Cersei’s enemies are dead and evil has been driven from the realm.
- Chapter 66, Tyrion XII: Tyrion and Jorah decide to side with and help Daenerys's reign in Meereen, which is crumbling after she flew away on Drogon’s back.
- Chapter 69, Jon XIII: Jon receives news that King Stannis has been defeated and killed in battle. Later, a Night's Watch man attacks him with a dagger all of a sudden. The attacker is then joined by other black brothers, including Bowen Marsh, who stab Jon repeatedly while saying, “For the watch.” Jon falls to the ground and loses consciousness.
- Chapter 71, Daenerys X: In the Dothraki Sea, Drogon finally lands in order to nourish himself. Since the dragon is uncooperative, Daenerys decides to walk back to Meereen by herself. Suddenly, a Dothraki scout appears and is soon joined by a whole khalasar from one of Khal Drogo's former lieutenants.
- The sixth novel, The Winds of Winter, remains unpublished, so there are some events brought forward from it that will occur in the story, yet the specific chapters are unknown. This includes the battle for Winterfell between Stannis and the Boltons, and may include Stannis', Selyse's and Myrcella's deaths. The episode is adapted from the following chapters of The Winds of Winter:
- Chapter unknown, Mercy: Arya fools a Lannister lackey in her kill list into believing she is a child prostitute, reminds him of his crimes (killing her friend) and kills him. She reminds herself of who she truly is: Arya Stark.
- Chapter unknown, Arianne II: Myrcella is on her way to King's Landing, accompanied by a Dornish.
Sansa Stark: "I know what Ramsay is. I know what he'll do to me. If I'm going to die, let it happen while there's still some of me left."
Myranda: "Dying? Who said anything about dying? You can't die. Your father was Warden of the North, and Ramsay needs you. But I suppose he doesn't need all of you. Just the parts he needs to make his heir, until you've given him a boy or two and he's finished using them. Then, he's got incredible plans for those parts. So, shall we wait for him to come back, or should we begin now? You're leaving it to me? Good. Let's begin."
[Myranda prepares to release her arrow but suddenly Reek grabs her by the waist, making her miss Sansa.]
Mryanda: "Reek! Please...STOP!"
[He throws her off the rampart to her death.]
High Sparrow: "A sinner comes before you, Cersei of House Lannister. Mother to His Grace, King Tommen, widow of His Grace, King Robert. She has committed the acts of falsehood and fornication. She has confessed her sins, and begged for forgiveness. To demonstrate her repentance, she will cast aside all pride, all artifice, and present herself as the gods made her... to you, the good people of this city. She comes before you with a solemn heart, shorn of secrets, naked before the eyes of gods and men, to make her walk of atonement."
Unella: "Shame, shame, shame."
[Septa Unella keeps repeating "shame" three times and ringing a bell as she escorts Cersei back to the Red Keep with six members of the Faith Militant to protect her from the massive crowds who immediately begin pelting the once prideful Queen with vicious insults, such as "brotherfucker", and filth.]
[A naked and dirty Cersei finally enters the Red Keep with bloody feet, sobbing over what she just had to endure. Her uncle Kevan Lannister and Grand Maester Pycelle glare at her sternly as she passes, but Qyburn quickly comes to her side and wraps a Lannister cloak around her body.]
Qyburn: "Your Grace. It's good to have you back. Come, we'll take you inside. I need to have a look at those feet."
[Cersei and Qyburn look up to see a huge man in Kingsguard armor, with a helmet that covers his entire face except for the eyes, surrounded by dead-looking grey flesh, are visible.]
Qyburn: "May I have the honor of presenting the newest member of the Kingsguard?" [The silent behemoth picks up Cersei and follows Qyburn.] "If it please Your Grace, he has taken a Holy vow of silence. He has sworn that he will not speak, until all His Grace's enemies are dead, and evil has been driven from the Realm."
Alliser Thorne: "For the Watch."
Othell Yarwyck: "For the Watch."
Bowen Marsh: "For the Watch."
Fourth mutineer: "For the Watch."
Fifth mutineer: "For the Watch."
[Jon Snow falls to his knees after being stabbed five times, and lastly Olly approaches with tears in his eyes.]
Jon Snow: "Olly."
[After a moment of pause, Olly delivers the final blow.]
Olly: "For the Watch."
- "The Old Gods and the New"
- "The Gift"
- Watchers on the Wall
- Season 5 Blu-ray commentary
- Michele Clapton Fashionista interview, June 2015.
- Season 5 Blu-ray commentary
- Season 5 Blu-ray commentary
- Game of Thrones: Lena Headey hits back at critics who shamed her
- Brynden Tully Season 6 return confirmed.