Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 10: Mother’s Mercy

In war, death is arbitrary and knows no bounds; the likable die as easily as the unlikable. Though a fantasy, Game of Thrones often draws better historical parallels than true historical fiction; it is raw, real, and complex, just like true times of war. Too often in fiction, protagonists are protected from any real harm even in times of chaos and danger. The risk to them is minimal, the stakes relatively low. One of the greatest conceits of Game of Thrones was established in the first season with Ned Stark’s surprising death: Valar Morghulis, “all men must die,” even your favorites.

In “Mother’s Mercy,” the Season 5 finale, the death toll soars, with many major characters offered up to the God of Death. Ironically, there is no peace or mercy of the Mother in this episode—not for anyone. Viewers were left reeling when the credits rolled on this season as one beloved character’s blood stained the snow, but there may be more to some of these deaths than meets the eye.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 9: The Dance of Dragons

War is awful, all-consuming turmoil where death can come on a massive, indiscriminate, and impersonal scale, where friend and foe alike are consumed by the machine of war—in this case, by a dragon’s flames. War is also specific and personal; of the warring factions in the War of the Five Kings, four must die or be destroyed. No one is safe, not even the children.

This episode is named after a Targaryen civil war that took place almost two-hundred years before the events in the show. This war between two factions of the same family pitted a king against a queen for the right to sit on the throne, both of them armed with dragons (hence the “Dance of the Dragons”). The queen, Rhaenyra, was eventually captured and fed to King Aegon II’s dragon in front of her son. However, Aegon II also died from the wounds he sustained during the war, so after all that, neither of them got to rule for long.

As a result of the ambitions of two would-be rulers, cities were sacked and burned to the ground, never to be rebuilt again. King’s Landing was in ruins. Other rival kings across the realm declared their right to rule, resulting in anarchy throughout the land. The Seven Kingdoms took a generation to recover. In just a few years, the dragons were extinct.

“The Dance of Dragons” draws an easy parallel between the Targaryen civil war and the current War of the Five Kings. “Both of them thought they belonged on the Iron Throne,” Shireen retells of the civil war to her father. “When people started declaring for one of them or the other, their fight divided the kingdoms in two. Brothers fought brothers, dragons fought dragons. By the time it was over, thousands were dead, and it was a disaster for the Targaryens as well. They never truly recovered.” War is ruin for cities, species, families, hearts, and minds.

In many ways, Game of Thrones is intensely antiwar. George R.R. Martin was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War (he worked with the domestic Peace Corps instead), which may seem odd given the abject violence of his novels and the adaptation. However, it’s in this violence where his views are made clear, and this episode was certainly no exception.

“Many in Dorne want war, but I’ve seen war. I’ve seen the bodies piled on the battlefields. I’ve seen the orphans starving in the streets. I don’t want to lead my people into that hell.” – Doran Martell

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome

The title Game of Thrones is clever trick: while providing the bulk of the story, the wars for the Iron Throne are merely sideshows to the real war about to be waged between the living and the dead. In “Hardhome,” the war has finally begun, and boy was it a spectacular hour of television.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 7: The Gift

Power and control are the prizes awarded in this game of thrones. However, in the wake of Robert Baratheon’s death, no one has held onto the actual authority to wield that power unchallenged. In “The Gift,” the authority of many characters comes into question as they lose some of the control they worked so hard to acquire.

There are mutterings of dissent at the Wall as Jon Snow readies to bring all of the wildlings south to settle in the land known as The Gift. Sansa is once again stripped of much of her control, locked away and abused by her new husband, Ramsay Bolton. Stannis is losing men and beasts to the advancing winter and is unwilling to sacrifice for a greater assurance of victory. Daenerys struggles to control an insurrection against her authority by marrying into the local ruling elite and agreeing to reopen the fighting pits. Jaime cannot convince his daughter, Myrcella, to return to King’s Landing, and Lady Olenna is surprised how little authority she has over the High Sparrow. Worst of all, Cersei has given up all of her authority to the Faith Militant, assuming that she could control them. In the end, only Littlefinger may be left smiling in the chaos.

“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” – Littlefinger – Season 3, Episode 6

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 6: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

With the season already more than half over, it’s interesting to see how far the characters have come since we started. Arya and Tyrion are both a whole continent away; Arya, an initiate of the band of assassins known as the Faceless Men, and Tyrion, a captive again, yet still on the road to Meereen. Jaime is in enemy territory, hoping to rescue his niece/daughter Myrcella from Dorne. Thanks to Cersei, Queen Margaery and her brother are in jail. And thanks to Littlefinger, Sansa has married her second so-called “monster”– this time, a real one.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 5: Kill the Boy

Growing up can be tough. Young adults crave independence and control, but rarely have the skills they need to claim it. Game of Thrones is, among many things, a tale of coming of age. Many of the characters start as children or adolescents, but there is little room in this world for the innocence of youth.

For most, childhood is wrested from them suddenly. Sansa and Arya witness the beheading of their father and then live through the eventual murder of their entire family. Daenerys’s late brother, Viserys, sells her in marriage to Khal Drogo in exchange for an army. Jon Snow, feeling like an outsider, impulsively joins up with one of the biggest bands of outcasts in Westeros, the Night’s Watch, pledging himself for life to an ascetic military order.

All of these young people have struggled, to varying degrees of success, to learn the tools that they need to survive in the adult world they were thrust into.

This season has proven to be a reckoning for the children who remain: as Maester Aemon tells Jon Snow, it is time to “kill the boy and let the man be born.” A few episodes ago, Arya had to cast off the symbols of her childhood in order to enter the House of Black and White. This week, “Kill the Boy” furthers the coming of age theme when Jon Snow takes a controversial, but critical stand as Lord Commander. Sansa, embedded deep in enemy territory, works in more subtle ways to stop being a “bystander to tragedy” and avenge her family. And across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys sheds some youthful naivety and shows her strength as queen.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 4: The Sons of the Harpy

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In both continents, the seeds of rebellion have been properly sowed, with two parallel uprisings occurring in both Westeros and Essos. Perhaps now more than ever, the instability that so many have tried to tame to their will is too wild to control. “The Sons of the Harpy” sets the stage for the remainder of the season with a lot of explanation and backstory, and a hearty helping of bloodshed to spice things up.

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