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The 10 most important moments of Game of Thrones' season 5 finale

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Welcome to Daenerys and Drogon's excellent adventure.
Welcome to Daenerys and Drogon's excellent adventure.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

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

Noooooo! (HBO)

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 Thronesmost 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

So close, yet so, so far. (HBO)

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.

3.) Sansa escapes Winterfell, thanks to the timely intervention of Theon

Game of Thrones

Look out below! (HBO)

Perhaps the earliest indication we get that "Mother's Mercy" will be a long string of cliffhangers comes when Theon and Sansa leap from a high wall in Winterfell, plunging toward the ground below in an escape attempt presumably predicated on the idea that even death is better than having to spend more time around Ramsay.

Before that, though, the two have shown great resourcefulness, with Sansa using her sharp, pointy object to escape her room and light a candle in the window of the broken tower (just in time for Brienne to not see it) and Theon pushing Ramsay's cruel mistress, who is bent on maiming Sansa, to her death.

And then the scene ends, as so many stories do in this episode, with an almost literal cliffhanger, straight out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

4) Arya kills Meryn Trant, then goes blind

Game of Thrones

Not exactly the best way to start your career as an assassin. (HBO)

Lots of the events of this finale had something like a full season of buildup. Such is the case with the death of Meryn Trant, who told us he was going to Braavos way, way back in the first few episodes of the season, then only arrived in episode nine. (Travel on Game of Thrones seems to take exactly as long as the showrunners need it to, regardless of the distance traveled.)

Arya, having learned how to change her face, but not when it's appropriate to do so, disguises herself as one of the underage prostitutes Meryn visited last week, then immediately sets about killing him in as gory a fashion as possible — a process which involves stabbing out both of his eyes. In the end, she tells him her name and enjoys her moment of triumph.

But that's before Jaqen and his assistant subject her to Game of Thrones' version of that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke confronts what he believes to be Darth Vader and ends up cutting down a hallucination of himself. Having seen her own dead body lying on the floor, Arya ends up going blind, and we'll likely deal with that next season.

5) Stannis also seems to be dead, by the sword of Brienne

Game of Thrones

So long, Stannis. At least for now. (HBO)

Brienne's new role on the show seems to be ambiguously killing characters in season finales. She left the Hound for dead last season (and we haven't seen him since), and in "Mother's Mercy" she vows to kill Stannis and slices her sword down toward his head — but the episode immediately cuts away to Ramsay being the worst.

So we don't know if Stannis is dead, but even if he's alive, he doesn't have a family, he doesn't have an army, and he really only has Davos and Melisandre on his side (and they're both back at the Wall). Thus, it's hard to imagine him being much of a force in the story anymore, so he might as well be dead, and it's difficult to see a reason for him to continue to live, but the show has done stranger things.

Mostly, though, this scene is a wonderful collision of Stannis's fate, which seemed sealed after he sacrificed his own daughter, and Brienne's fate, which has been building toward this moment since season two. Brienne has been waiting and waiting for her revenge, and she's finally gotten it. But if the Arya storyline gives us any indication, it's that getting your revenge can be a terrible thing.

All right! Time for a lightning round!

6) Tyrion is in charge of Meereen

With Jorah and Daario setting out to search for Daenerys, Tyrion is left in charge of Meereen, since he has the most experience of anybody in Dany's coterie at actually running a city. He'll be joined by Grey Worm and Missandei, both of whom the Meereenese will understand to speak for the queen, as well as Varys, who took his sweet time just getting to Meereen, all things considered.

7) Daenerys encounters a whole bunch of Dothraki

With Drogon wanting only to sleep off his injuries, Dany picks her way down from a tall cliff to make her way through the mysterious place the dragon has landed in, before immediately running into a giant contingent of Dothraki. Will they, perhaps, remember her as the Khaleesi? Or are they simply going to take her captive? The way she drops her ring suggests she fears the latter.

8) Myrcella dies at the hands of the Sand Snakes' poison

Game of Thrones' entire excursion to Dorne turns out to be seemingly pointless (though it's possible the show will revive this plot line next season), as Jaime finally reveals to Myrcella that he's her father, only for her to drop dead of the poison teased a few episodes ago. It's a moment that goes from heartwarming — in that Myrcella seems oddly pumped to be her uncle's daughter — to saddening. Then again, as with everybody else in this finale, maybe she's still alive. We'll have to see.

9) Bran doesn't make an appearance, but I wanted to remind you he exists

Remember Bran? He wasn't in this episode — or any other episode of this season — but he exists, and he'll probably be back in season six, doing some really cool stuff. If I had to put money on it, I'd bet on season six being the one where viewers finally embrace Bran in the way that so many of us finally climbed on board the Jon Snow train in season five. Bran!

10) Ramsay, somehow, is still alive


All in all, "Mother's Mercy" sure seemed like an "end of act two" sort of deal, with all of Game of Thrones' characters hitting the lowest point in their respective journeys. If that's true, then maybe season six will start to bring everyone back toward the light.

Or maybe it will be mired in even more darkness and misery. We can only hope!

Comments are open. Join me at noon Eastern for a live chat

Game of Thrones HBO

After writing all that, I feel like Drogon. (HBO)

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