Season Finale Recap: Nobody Ever Really Dies On ‘Game Of Thrones’

Wanton killings are this show’s leitmotif, and a fitting end to the season.

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This is a recap of the season five finale of Game of Thrones. It contains a pretty big spoiler. 

These days it seems we can’t get through an episode of Game of Thrones without piteous grieving when bad things happen to people’s favourite characters. Come on, guys! You know the deal. This is the series that killed off its ostensible protagonist in season one. Makes me nostalgic about how innocent people were back then.

Yes, Ned’s dead, baby. But – just go with me on this – is he really dead when he remains so intensely influential? After all, his actions and values still loom large for other characters, who regularly speak of him. It’s not just the north that remembers.

That’s not the only reason why I don’t rage at the deaths of beloved characters, or swear that I’m never going to watch this stupid show again. In the world of Game of Thrones, there are many ways for people to be not-dead.

Existence is quantum to greenseers like Bran Stark – who presumably has spent this season hanging out with the three-eyed raven. When you can see the past, the future and faraway events in dreams, and through the faces carved in weirwood trees, you become like a magical Schrödinger, to whom everyone is both dead and alive.

Then there are ways to physically resurrect dead people. Quite apart from all those blue-eyed joiners in the White Walkers’ army, mad necro-maester Qyburn can bring Gregor Clegane back as a silent, helmeted “newest member of the Kingsguard”, just in time for a naked, shorn, humiliated and refuse-smeared Cersei to return from her Derryn Hinch walk and nominate “trial by combat.” (But hers wasn’t the only full-frontal nudity in King’s Landing – the Sparrows’ disapproval of the flesh apparently exempts satirical “I’m a Lannister – blow me!” junk-flashing.)

And if you’re a priest or priestess of R’hllor, you can resurrect the dead with magic. Remember, Thoros of Myr brought Lord Beric Dondarrion back to life in season three when the Hound slew the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners. Was there another reason Melisandre rode for the Wall so abruptly? Was there something she foresaw having to do?

Or, y’know, she could have been a charlatan doing a bunk once her fraud was unmasked. Anyone who was harsh on Stannis Baratheon for last week’s barbecue would surely be satisfied by his Worst Day Ever. But I felt sorry for Stannis, whose downfall has the heft of classical tragedy. Even though he sacrifices his beloved daughter, his army deserts him, his wife commits suicide, his oracular counsellor flees, and the Boltons slaughter his remaining troops in the most perfunctory way.

Yet Stannis cannot flee. There’s something honourable about the way he stoically faces his fate, even when confronted by a Fury.


No Mother’s Mercy from Brienne and her pal Oathkeeper.

Although Brienne of Tarth abandoned her vigil mere frustrating seconds before Sansa finally lit that candle in the tower, at least she gets to make good on her dark vow of vengeance. To Brienne, Ned Stark’s not dead, and Renly’s not dead, and Catelyn’s not dead – their honour survives in her own, and their power in her sword Oathkeeper.

It’s refreshing that, after Brienne was so roundly disbelieved for her tale of Renly’s death via shadow magic, Stannis just straight-up cops to it. “Do your duty,” he says wearily. Brienne obligingly swings Oathkeeper – but we don’t see the blow land. Is Stannis really dead?

Theon Greyjoy died in season three, under Ramsay’s torture. But his ghost has been haunting Winterfell. It took far longer for Theon to revive than those who saw Sansa’s rape as his motivation had suggested. Turns out the catalyst was smug Myranda – Theon can’t forget the role she played in his castration. I cheered savagely as she kissed cobbles.


“You jump, I jump, remember?”

While the walls of Winterfell are way too high for jumping, let’s not forget that in this weather, Sansa and Theon are going to land in a mad snowdrift. And maybe Theon can cushion Sansa’s fall? Anyway, as they leapt, I was like Dorothy sobbing in relief at Toto’s escape: “They got away! They got away!”

Which is more than Arya will. In one of the episode’s most thrilling moments, she borrows the Faceless Men’s power to exact gory vengeance on Ser Meryn Trant. (Is the face she uses that of the girl whose death she eased in the Temple of the Many-Faced God?)

But in asserting the desires of Arya Stark, she’s still seeing this “no one” thing the wrong way around. Of course she’s busted trying to return the face. That cuntish Faceless Girl can’t help crowing, “I knew she wasn’t ready!”


Why couldn’t Jaqen H’ghar have fed that other chick the potion instead, if she’s sooo smart?

But when you truly are no one, you’re also everyone… and you never really die. This is what Arya still can’t understand, as she frantically peels away a dozen faces from Jaqen’s corpse to reveal her own. The debt she must pay is the last thing she sees.

Meanwhile, there was movement at the throne room, for the word had passed around

That the Queen from Old Meereen had got away

And had found the wild Dothraki – this must be their stomping ground

And both her beaux had gathered to the fray.

— Sorry. I got carried away with all those horses.

Game of Thrones loves to end its seasons with visions of Daenerys Targaryen dwarfed by implacable forces. In season one she’s engulfed in flames, emerging as the Unburnt and Mother of Dragons. In season two she’s trapped in the House of the Undying in Qarth, but roasts its warlocks with dragonfire and entombs the traitorous Xaro in his own treasure vault. In season three’s notorious final image, she’s swarmed by unchained slaves who call her “mother”. Season four’s ironic callback to previous seasons shows her reluctantly enchaining her dragons in the Meereen catacombs.


“God, Mum, it’s Saturday, can I not sleep in?”

And now she’s back where she was in season one. (Or, y’know, Ireland.) Are the Dothraki her enemies or her allies?

Meanwhile, Meereen’s in the best possible hands, really. The freed slaves trust Missandei and Grey Worm, leaving those old sparring partners Tyrion and Varys to get on with the pragmatic business of governance. Isn’t it interesting how Tyrion pointed out to Daario and Ser Jorah that neither of them was in a position to wed Daenerys. I wonder who is, huh?


More deadly than your average cringey Dornish PDA.

Jaime and Bronn are leaving Dorne at last. Jeez, Tyene, play it cool with the flirting – what’s with this “You want a good girl, but you need a bad pussy” nonsense? But the cordial farewell is an illusion: Ellaria has her special Poison Ivy lipstick on, and Myrcella did not apply a lip condom. She succumbs in her dad’s arms, moments after revealing that she’s not nearly as dumb as her brothers – she figured out her parentage and is cool with it.

I will admit to being impressed by Ellaria’s vengeance. But of course, she’s now fucked up Prince Doran’s plan to install Trystane on the Small Council – surely the Lannisters’ first act will be to have the Martell heir murdered. Another classic Sand Snake blunder…


Jon seems pretty conclusively dead after an orgy of ritual stabbing at the ol’ TRAITOR sign.

Up north, Jon Snow ought to have known the game was up as soon as Olly lured him downstairs with news of his uncle Benjen, who literally has not been mentioned since season one. You really shouldn’t be as shocked by the Watch’s betrayal as Jon was – the show has been foreshadowing it all season (and so have my recaps)! At least Sam and Gilly have escaped to warmer climes with little Sam.

I really don’t think Jon is dead. He’s just mostly dead. Remember the prophecy of Azor Ahai? It claims the Prince that was Promised will be “reborn amidst salt and smoke” – and some fans believe these are Olly’s salt tears, and the steam of Jon’s blood in the snow. What if Melisandre is discombobulated because she got her Azor Ahai wrong, believing it to be Stannis when it was really Jon? And what if someone who was dead, but has been resurrected, is somehow invulnerable to the White Walkers? Now, that would be cool.

Like it or not, wanton killings are this show’s leitmotif. And one of the most fascinating things about Game of Thrones is the way it teeters between ‘realist’ medieval historicity and the richly symbolic magic of its fantasy elements. Bring on another murderous season!

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk

Read her recaps of Game of Thrones here — and if you liked them, she’ll be at ACMI’s panel event ‘Game Of Thrones — Back To Westeros’. Find out more here.