A queen is cruelly debased and a hero falls dead in the snow on “Mother’s Mercy” (Episode 50), the Season 5 finale of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Queen Mother Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) bitterly laments her fate after being imprisoned by the Sparrows, religious zealots holding sway at King’s Landing.
“I want to be clean again,” Cersei humbly maintains while kneeling before the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce).
Cersei confesses to acts of adultery but vehemently denies having borne children through an incestuous relationship with her twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
“Your trial will separate the truths from the falsehoods,” the High Sparrow says before granting Cersei’s request for “just one drop of Mother’s mercy.” She’s allowed to rejoin her son Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), the boy king “reigning” over the Seven Kingdoms.
But that bit of mercy comes with one horrifying condition for Cersei. She’s stripped naked and paraded through a jeering crowd of commoners during a long “walk of atonement.”
Unbeknownst to Cersei, her beloved daughter Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) has just died of poisoning while sailing from Dorne to King’s Landing with her fiance Trystane Martell (Toby Sebastian) and father Jaime.
The assassin was Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), who put poison on her lips before kissing Myrcella goodbye in an act of vengeance against hated House Lannister.
In northern Westeros, wannabe king Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) stubbornly continues to march on House Bolton at Winterfell, even though his wife Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald) has just committed suicide.
With half his army deserted and all the horses gone, Stannis still believes he will achieve victory because he sacrificed his only daughter, gentle Shireen (Kerry Ingram), in a barbaric ritual honoring the Lord of Light.
Stannis and his depleted army are quickly surrounded and slaughtered by soldiers on horseback led by Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). But the “privilege” of killing Stannis goes to Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).
It’s an act of justice because Stannis murdered his younger brother Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) using the “blood magic” of priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Brienne had sought to avenge Renly's death.
Inside the gates of Winterfell, meanwhile, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) makes a desperate escape from her sadistic husband Ramsay. Sansa holds hands with tormented Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) as they jump off a castle wall into a snowbank far below.
As for Sansa’s younger sister Arya (Maisie Williams), she fails to obey Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), her mentor with the Faceless Men assassins’ guild. Rather than kill her assigned target, Arya seeks vengeance for the slaying of her swordfighting tutor, Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou).
Arya blinds Syrio’s killer, Ser Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie), before slitting his throat. Jaqen, in turn, blinds Arya for her disobedience.
Outside the city of Meereen, Queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has narrowly fled a rebellion by the Sons of the Harpy. Dany flew away on the back of her largest dragon, Drogon, but he’s wounded and unable to return home.
Coming to her rescue, perhaps, are a swarm of Dothraki warriors. Dany was once married to a Dothraki chieftain, of course. She doesn’t know, however, if this Dothraki tribe is friend or foe.
Finally, at Castle Black, Night’s Watch Lord Commander Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is murdered by his own men. Jon allowed the feared wildlings to cross through the Wall as they fled advancing White Walkers and their supernatural army of reanimated corpses. But Jon was branded a traitor for this heroic deed.
“For the Watch,” second-in-command Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) exclaims as he stabs Jon in the stomach. “For the Watch,” other men echo, as Jon bleeds to death.