As I watched last night's penultimate episode of Game of Thrones I couldn't help thinking of this snippet from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice:
Portia:There were so many opportunities last night for characters to show (or not show) mercy to their fellow man. Arya, who was still on the road with The Hound, asked him to show mercy to a hog vendor after they hijacked his cart. The Hound's first instinct was to kill the man, but he let Arya talk him out of it. She may have saved the man's life, but she is also capable of being ruthless, reminding her captor/delivery man later that she still planned, on her first opportunity, to kill him. She will never forgive him for killing her young friend Mycah at Joffrey's behest. The Hound later showed mercy to Arya by getting her safely away from dangerous and deadly situation.
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
In a similar scene, Jon Snow tried to convince the wildlings he has been traveling with to show mercy to a horse tender for the Night's Watch. Like the Hound, they don't believe in leaving witnesses to their crimes. Ygritte and her traveling companions thought he was being weak, or "being a crow," but it was also because he is a good man. Ygritte killed the man with an arrow and Jon killed Orell, who is a Warg, a person with the ability to enter the mind of an animal and control its actions. Orell was able to transform into an eagle as he died, and attacked Jon before he took flight.
Bran is showing mercy to his younger brother Rickon, and to the wildling Osha as well, as he sends them to a safer place while he continues his journey with the Reeds beyond the Wall. Bran is also a Warg, and was able, through his direwolf, to see that Jon was alive and headed back towards Castle Black.
In Yunkai Daenerys's crew attacked the city. Although Ser Jorah, Daario Naharis, and Grey Worm showed no mercy to the city's protectors, they do to the rest of the inhabitants — slaves who knew that she would show mercy to them and free them from slavery.
It's a nice day for a red wedding ...
Unfortunately for Robb Stark and his followers there was no mercy to be had at The Twins. Lord Walder Frey neither forgives nor forgets, and he teamed up with Roose Bolton and (in the book) Tywin Lannister. The Freys were out for revenge, and the King of the North was caught neatly in a trap. The Freys and Co. killed every last one of them, including Robb's direwolf. It was incredibly brutal to watch, and all the more poignant as we watched Catelyn try to bargain in vain for her son's life and then watch him die.
Although I never particularly liked the character of Cat — in either the books or the television series — I shed a tear for her both times at the red wedding. Michelle Fairley brilliantly captured her stubborn, sometimes bone-headed decision making, as well as her fierce protective mothering instincts. Cat is such a frustrating character, as she is truly a loving mother, who nonetheless left her two youngest children in the care of servants to go on a political/revenge mission.
With only one episode left to go, Game of Thrones is certainly upping the ante. I'm not sure who had it harder last night watching the red wedding. Readers of the books who knew what was coming, or watchers of the show who were blindsided by the slaughter. Book purists may quibble that some events and characters have been changed, but there's no denying the fact that the show's creators have taken George R. R. Martin's saga and created a hold-your-breath kind of show to watch. Can't wait until next week.