Game of Thrones‘ season five finale was made up entirely of cliffhangers. As an episode of television, “Mother’s Mercy” was disjointed and largely unsatisfying, part of a season that has been exhilarating at some turns and a complete downer at others.
But as an hour intended to keep people talking about the show until season six debuts in 2016, it was a raging success. So much happened that we’re expanding on our usual five-moments format with a special lightning round of cliffhangers.
But first, here are the finale’s most important developments:
1) Jon Snow is murdered by the Night’s Watch
Game of Thrones has been suggesting all season long that Jon’s efforts to bring the wildlings south of the Wall were being met with resistance from his fellow members of the Night’s Watch. But those tensions boiled over in the episode’s final sequence, in which Jon was set upon by several Watch members, led by Ser Alliser, with young Olly delivering the killing blow. Without Sam around (he departed for Oldtown early in the hour), Jon had no friends left at the Wall, though it’s hard to imagine Sam could have stopped this from happening.
Now, as the scene immediately prior to this one showed, the dead can be resurrected in the Game of Thrones universe, and Melisandre is now back at the Wall, ready to do some resurrecting. (For more on popular fan theories as to how Jon could be resurrected — as this is also an open cliffhanger in the books — check out Andrew Prokop’s post here. For more evidence supporting the idea that Jon is dead, read this interview in Entertainment Weekly.) But the final shot of the season depicting the would-be hero’s blood seeping from his body is impressively dark.
It also highlights a season that’s done wonders for Jon Snow as a character. Where he was once perhaps Game of Thrones‘ most boring major protagonist, season five has given him more and more to do, and Kit Harington’s performance has grown to match the increased responsibility. In particular, the series has done a fantastic job of illustrating how his sense of honor doomed him to this very moment. Winter is coming, and Jon Snow knows it. But he can’t get anybody to believe him. And that proves to be his undoing.
2) Cersei embarks on the ultimate walk of shame
Game of Thrones — being set in a faux-medieval fantasy world — isn’t exactly a topical show, but it’s not hard to identify echoes of the way our culture (especially on the internet) tears apart prominent women in the scene where Cersei, having confessed to some of her sins, is forced to walk through a crowd of King’s Landing residents, naked and degraded, while they shout epithets at her and a woman chants, “Shame, shame, shame!”
Cersei’s very public “atonement” is aimed at knocking her off the pedestal she was on as a royal, and the High Sparrow seems pleased with the result. Cersei keeps her eyes focused on the Red Keep that holds the seat of power, but it’s also immediately obvious that this experience has completely and utterly demolished her. By the time she’s back home “safe,” her feet are shredded, she’s covered in filth, and her spirit seems completely broken.
It’s perhaps the most horrifying sequence Game of Thrones has ever mounted, forcing viewers to watch as a woman is publicly destroyed. David Nutter’s direction does not, in any way, seek to make this titillating, and David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’s script underlines the gravity of the moment. It all ends when Qyburn reveals to Cersei that he’s resurrected the Mountain into a horrifying zombie warrior. But not even a horrifying zombie warrior bent on carrying out her revenge seems like it will be enough.
Meanwhile, Margaery (who’s still in prison) and Tommen (who’s still the king, if in name only) sit out this episode completely. It will be interesting to see how they fit into the overall scheme of the show come season six.