Game of Thrones has just finished its darkest season to date. The show is known for its unrelenting depictions of murder, torture, and sadism, and this year added a brutal rape scene and the burning of a child, stirring up controversy and debate about the necessity of including such content. One cannot deny that Game of Thrones possesses a knack for delivering genuinely surprising twists and subverting fantasy tropes, and this season’s finale “Mother’s Mercy” was no exception. Obviously if you haven’t seen it yet, this will contain spoilers so if you’ve got high speed internet, stream the finale via HBOGo and work at the same time (just don’t let your boss see).
Tyrion’s meeting with Daenerys turned out to be a brief one. The Imp wasn’t in Meereen long before a Sons of the Harpy revolt broke out at the fighting pits, and the queen was saved in the nick of time by Drogon, the winged shadow, swooping in and burning rebels by the dozens before flying off into the desert sky with Daenerys on his back. Trouble is, now she can’t get the dragon to go back, and a huge Dothraki khalasar has closed in around her.
Then there was Reek and Sansa’s daring escape from Winterfell. Up until this point, Reek – formerly Theon Greyjoy – had been the dutiful servant of the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, but it seemed the prospect of Myranda firing an arrow into Sansa was too much for Reek to take, and he chucked her off the balcony. Knowing Ramsay would likely flay them both when he returned, the pair leaped from the high walls of Winterfell, hoping that snow drifts would break their fall.
After Stannis’ defeat outside Winterfell against superior Bolton numbers, the one true king limped wounded through the woods, only to be found by the formidable revenge seeker Brienne of Tarth. Brienne’s sword slash was interrupted by a smash cut at the last second. It’s possible she felt that sparing him would help her save Sansa in some way, fulfilling her oath to the late Catelyn Stark.
Arya Stark’s killing of Ser Meryn Trant was designed to ensure that the degenerate pedophile and woman beater would endure protracted suffering, and as usual Game of Thrones toys with its audience, torn as we are between our desire to see Meryn die and the horror of watching a child commit such a cold blooded murder. Arya’s decision wasn’t entirely without consequence, as the use of an alternate face without proper training seems to have left her blind.
The centerpiece of the episode was Cersei’s walk of shame through the streets of King’s Landing. With her hair cut short and her body stripped bare, the Queen Mother suffered a grueling ordeal as taunts and projectiles from throngs of observers gradually broke her down. Once again, the show creates a clash in our minds as we weigh our loathing of the character against pity for the horrible experience we’re witnessing.
No season of Thrones is complete without a final scene shocker, and this year we saw Lord Commander Jon Snow stabbed to death in a vicious mutiny. The recent arrival of the red priest Melisandre provides some hope that Jon can be revived – recall the actions of Thoros of Myr in season three, as he brought Beric Dondarrion back to life.
This season ends on more uncertain notes than any previous seasons. The showrunners have moved past the books, which makes the show more unpredictable than ever, but it’s likely that every major character not killed on screen will still be alive next season. Whatever happens, it seems sure that viewers will eagerly anticipate the next season, and the already massive audience will continue to grow.