“Game of Thrones” dominated Sunday’s Emmys, taking home a record-breaking total of 12 awards. The focus of the series’ success was the finale episode, “Mother’s Mercy,” which won three Emmys for writing, directing, and non-prosthetic makeup.
“Mother’s Mercy” has been breaking records since its air date on June 14th. More than 8 million live viewers tuned in for the episode, making the season five finale the most-watched episode of the entire series.
It also broke the piracy record that week, with an estimated 1.5 million downloads in just eight hours.
So what made “Mother’s Mercy” so compelling for both viewers and critics?
The episode included everything “Game of Thrones” is known for — violence, major character deaths, nudity, and some of the biggest cliffhangers to date.
Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for “Game of Thrones.”
Right away, “Mother’s Mercy” established a bleak but emotional tone. The episode opened with Melisandre and Stannis in the North. Stannis learns that many of his troops have deserted him overnight, and his wife Selyse has hanged herself. Melisandre was convinced that burning Shireen, Stannis’ young daughter, alive would bring good fortune. It clearly had the opposite effect.
Stannis stubbornly goes out to fight with his remaining troops despite the tragic news. Melisandre abandons Stannis, riding up to The Wall. Stannis’ army is slaughtered easily by the Boltons — but everything happens off screen. The scene cuts to Stannis himself as he’s seemingly killed by Brienne of Tarth, who vowed back in season two to avenge Renly Baratheon by taking Stannis’ life.
This battle and the death of Stannis were brand new to all viewers — both scenes have not taken place in the written series yet. The fresh but brutal content was jaw-dropping to say the least, even if a majority of the action was skipped over.
Sansa Stark was subjected to horror in season five. She was married to Ramsay Bolton, who raped her on their wedding night. Then she discovered Theon, who had been transformed into the obedient “Reek,” a servant to her new husband. But Sansa was determined to break free from the walls of Winterfell, and “Mother’s Mercy” finally gave her an escape. In her final scene, Sansa takes Theon’s hand and leaps from the castle walls into a snowbank below.
For many viewers, this climactic moment was a huge relief. The episode in which Sansa is married to Ramsay and raped was the second lowest-rated episode of the season and has been rated the least favourite episode so far by fans. “Mother’s Mercy” finally changed the tune of Sansa’s story line from despair to optimism.
Arya’s scene in “Mother’s Mercy” was even more violent than the slaughter of Stannis’ troops. Not shying away from the blood, this scene showed young Arya stabbing an abusive pedophile named Meryn Trant before slowly cutting his throat. This segment brought Arya’s storyline into a new level of darkness. Her previous murders have been relatively spontaneous and in self-defence. Meryn Trant’s death was the result of calculated planning. Arya was punished for her actions by Jaqen H’ghar, who makes her go blind. Her scenes fades to black as she cries out in confusion.
Fans experienced a similar level of confusion, since it was unclear whether the blinding was permanent or not. But the moment was spooky and captivating nonetheless.
Dorne was by far the weakest plot line of season five. “Mother’s Mercy” was no exception, with the Dornish Sand Snakes delivering some extremely awkward dialogue. Some fans were surprised by the award for best writing given this strange scene.
After saying goodbye to Dorne, Jaime and Myrcella have a very candid conversation about their father/daughter relationship. It seems strange that Jaime would admit openly to Myrcella she’s a product of incest. Before you have time to let it sink it, the young princess begins bleeding before falling down dead. She was poisoned.
This scene fell flat compared to the wows delivered throughout the remaining of the episode.
Back in King’s Landing, the Lannister family’s troubles continue. Cersei is punished by the Faith in a “walk of shame.” The former queen is forced to strip naked and walk from the Sept to the castle, while commonfolk hurl both insults and bodily fluids at her naked form. This scene clinched the Emmy for the “Outstanding Makeup.” No CGI or prosthetics were used. Just a body double along with fantastic camera work and directing.
Actress Lena Heady delivered a stellar performance during this scene, invoking sympathy for her situation despite Cersei’s deserved punishment for plotting King Robert’s murder and committing adultery.
The real gut-wrenching and powerful moment came from the final ten minutes of “Mother’s Mercy.” Jon Snow, who spent most of season five growing into a leader and opposing the threat of the White Walkers, was tragically attacked by his Night’s Watch brothers. The scene was set up as a trap, to both the viewers and Jon, as he’s told that his missing Uncle Benjen has been found.
But Jon arrives outside to find a sign marked “traitor,” and he turns around as the first knife is stabbed into his stomach. Over and over, the men take turns running Jon through with knives, until he falls to his knees and onto the ground. The final scene of “Mother’s Mercy,” was masterfully executed from the book material. A haunting score, the “Stark theme,” plays as the camera slowly zooms into Jon’s unseeing eyes. Blood pools around him, and it seems as though our hero is really gone. (Many believe otherwise, but that’s a whole different story.)
It is clear why “Mother’s Mercy” was given awarded this year. It is the first time an episode of “Game of Thrones” won for writing and directing, which feels overdue. The series has been going strong for five years, with no signs of slowing down. “Mother’s Mercy” encapsulated the high levels of drama and character development fans have come to expect. We can only wait and see what showstopping episodes come in season six.
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