First, there was before. But this ... this is after.
This is undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveller returns. We cannot go back. We look upon ourselves of a year, two years, three years ago, and we wonder at our youth, our naivety. We shake our heads and let a grin wry amusement play upon our lips as we remember how blithe we were about those so-called shocks of yesterday. Ned Stark's decapitation? Pfft, child's play. The Red Wedding? Puppets on a string.
All of which is an attempt to sound reasonable and halfway literate, when all I really want to say is:
NO NO NO THEY CAN'T THEY CAN'T NOT HIM IT'S NOT FAIR HE'S TOO GOOD HE'S TOO BEAUTIFUL GOD DAMNIT I NEED SUSHI AND ICE CREAM AND A WHOLE MESS OF ABS TO RECOVER PLEASE SOMEBODY TAKE THEIR SHIRT OFF.
I feel like a shell of a woman. Like I never loved, like I never experienced joy. I mean, clearly I have experienced those things, because Arya stabbed the f--- out of Meryn Trant's eyes and you could've slapped me with a rotting haddock and I'd still kiss you because wow that was almost erotically good.
But overall… the desolation at losing such a fan favourite (all right, my personal favourite) has left me with a hand permanently clutched at my bosom. Maybe I'm having a heart attack, maybe I just like touching myself up, who knows.
All that's for certain is that we are all naked. We are all exposed - to danger, to death, to chance and sometimes, if we're lucky, to shards of hope.
Join me, beloved Throners, one last time as we dance around this grim maypole, spin around this carousel of woe and ride the dodgem cars of certain doom.
Let's get started on the final Raven On Game of Thrones recap for this year.
It sure didn't take long for Stannis to meet his end, did it?
We racked up the first body of a very body-heavy episode about 30 seconds in, when Stannis is taken to see his wife, Selyse, hanging by the neck from a tree near their camp, unable to bear her role in the sacrifice of their daughter.
With half his army deserted, Kate Bush had tried to soothe Stannis' worried brow with a rendition of Don't Give Up, saying the Lord of Light was still his friend and had cleared his path ahead. Of course, she then promptly gave up and rode out of the camp.
Determined to see things through, Stannis marches his army towards Winterfell, their banners attracting the attention of Pod and Brienne, who chooses to end her watch for Sansa's candle signal just moments before the Stark heir, having bravely escaped her room, manages to place it there.
It was one a moment to shout "No!" at the screen, rueing the poor timing. Still, we don't begrudge Brienne too much for leaving her post, considering her unfinished business with Stannis.
The middle Baratheon brother planned to lay siege to Winterfell, but was undermined by the full forces of the Bolton army. The spectacular aerial shot showing Stannis' paltry army being roundly outflanked said it all. Stannis was done. Still, ever the commander, he drew his sword and ploughed in.
By the time the battle was over however, he had no one left to command. It wasn't a spoken line, but there was a clear "My kingdom for a horse!" vibe about Stannis as he stumbled about a forest, the last of his mostly mercenary army left. He managed to fend off two Bolton foot soldiers, but then found himself injured, alone, at the mercy of the next person to wander by.
That was Brienne, not a girl fighting for the Boltons, but an angel of vengeance ready to dish out justice for Stannis' long dead brother Renly.
Any last words? Brienne offers Stannis the opportunity to say something, to explain himself, to offer apologies.But as we know after last week's terrible events, Stannis is not a sentimental man. His journey is over and he knows it, so best not faff about. "Go on, do your duty," he replies.
With Stannis and Shireen now gone, the Baratheon line is dead - save for all of King Robert's bastards, of course. And technically Tommen. But in true, legitimate terms, they're done. There will be no expecto patronum spells conjuring up a stag anytime soon.
In an unusual piece of editing, Stannis' steely end was lost in a jump cut to Ramsay Bolton - Boo! Hiss! - dispatching soldiers in similar fashion in another part of the battlefield.
He's even more happy with himself than usual, taking time out from cleaning his sword to stab a surrendering soldier in the back, with a twist. But he's keen to get home because "my wife must be missing me". UGH.
Remember Littlefinger? Remember that guy? We haven't seen him for a few episodes now. Seriously, bring him back. All is forgiven, Petyr Baelish. I'd rather Sansa spend eternity in your slimy company than another second in Ramsay Bolton's.
Thankfully, Theon/Reek seems to have similar thoughts. He's with Ramsay's psycho mistress as she catches Sansa on the castle battlements. She taunts Sansa about only being a baby machine for Ramsay and threatens to shoot an arrow in one of her non-essential parts. Then, Theon snaps, and forgoes reading out her Myranda rights in favour of shoving her off the ledge and sending her plummeting to a satisfyingly splatty death.
With the gates of Winterfell reopening to let Ramsay and his Boo! Hiss! band of rascals back in, there's only one escape for Theon and Sansa. They grab each other's hands, take a deep breath, and Thelma and Louise it right off the top of the castle wall. Let's hope that snow drift is deep enough to break their fall - I'd love to see Sansa pull a Queen Matilda and escape unseen in the snow.
It's not like the pair will have an easy getaway - Ramsay has those ravenous dogs, remember, and they've got no supplies or natural place to head for help. They may try The Wall of course, as Sansa knows that Jon Snow is now Lord Commander…. oh dear. Oh dearie dear.
Over in Braavos, Ser Meryn Trant, that vile ingrown toenail of a man, is getting ready to torture his latest batch of underage victims. But one of the girls doesn't cry when he whips her, and he singles her out for special treatment. The reveal of her face is a nice bait and switch - I was just waiting for it to be Arya in a wig, but then it wasn't, but then - of course - she'd taken a face from the Many Faced God and was wearing it.
What followed was perhaps one of the most satisfying deaths in Game of Thrones history. Arya has been reciting her Big List of People to Kill since the start of Season Two, but most of the names that have been crossed off have died by means other than her hand: Joffrey by poison, The Hound by Brienne. She managed to stick that guy in the throat when she recovered Needle; this kill takes the satisfaction of that one and ramps it up to near-orgasmic levels of dark pleasure.
Seriously, I think there's something wrong with me, because I enjoyed the sight of a pre-teen jabbing a dagger into an old perve's eyes a little too much. And the way she asked if he knew her name - gosh, I needed my smelling salts. Arya's storyline has been slightly hit and miss this season, but the sight of her almost revelling in Trant's blood and his utter debasement before her made it all worthwhile.
It was necessary too, because it showed Arya had not given up her name and identity, despite all her protestations to Jaqen H'ghar and the other girl at the House of Black and White. They were not impressed, telling her she had taken a life that was not hers to take, even though all of us watching were like "gurgle gurgle gurgle all the blood so good do it again Arya kill 'em all".
H'ghar then did something very strange - he took poison and sacrificed himself. Only death can pay for life. Except he wasn't dead, it was someone else the whole time. A whole bunch of someone elses. Arya was left tearing face after face from the body on the floor, before her eyes went fuzzy and she screaming in confusion. She wasn't the only one - what the hell was going on with that? Was she transforming, becoming a proper Faceless Man? Or was she dying, becoming just a Faceless Body?
We must assume (perhaps foolishly) that she'll still be around next season. However she might find her list a little harder to whittle down from her on in. She could be flying blind (grooooaaaan).
Down in Dorne, Ellaria was also grappling with poison. As much as we all love a bit of girl on girl smooching, her loving embrace of Myrcella Water was far too suspicious to be saucy. It wasn't surprising then to see the blood run from Myrcella Water's face as she hugged her Unky-Dad after an Oprah moment about their true relationship. "I like that you're my father," she said, only to keel over from lipstick poisoning.
For a scene explaining how a brother and a sister boned, it really was very sweet. Jaime repeated what Ellaria had told him: that you can't choose who you love. He remarks that it's amazing that Myrcella Water should actually fall in love with the person she was contracted to marry. Dude, they're two good-looking teenagers forced into each other's company. Of course they're in love. Nevertheless, he seems to actually have some hope that the match could prove a boost to the flagging fortunes of the Lannisters.
Which it may do, if Jaime has access to the same antidote that Ellaria took after wiping off her toxic gloss back on the jetty. She may have fabulous hair and a nice line in triumphant stares out to sea, but she's being very mean to an innocent party. I want to see Myrcella Water live on; mostly I don't want to give Cersei another reason to launch into full-speed vengeance demon mode.
And there's good reason for her to do so. Yes, after lots of gossip during filming and anticipation throughout the season, we finally saw Cersei's walk of atonement through the streets of King's Landing.
It followed Cersei's confession to the High Sparrow about fornicating with Lancel Lannister and lying about it. For the first time ever we see Cersei prostrate, begging for mercy. I thought that would be about as likely as my foster kittens ignoring a dangled piece of string, but there you have it.
Of course, Cersei doesn't 'fess up to the bigger of her moral crimes - her twincest and the illegitimacy of the two most recent kings of Westeros. She insists they're lies, and Big Bird resolves to let a trial decide that one.
He also grants her the Mother's mercy, allowing her to leave the Black Cells and return to the Red Keep to see Tommen. But she can't do it without a fuss - she needs to make a full public admission of guilt.
Stripped, scrubbed and shorn of her golden hair, Cersei is nearly unrecognisable as she is brought in front of Baelor's Sept to be admonished.
All of Fleabottom seems to have turned out to watch Cersei be derobed and marched through the streets followed by Derryn Hinch in his best Septa fancy dress ringing a bell and crying "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
There was something about the absurdity of it all, coupled with Lena Headey's first-time nudity that made me laugh nervously. But it quickly turned into a grim, breath-taking sequence that laid not just Cersei but the whole world she's used to trampling on bare.
The common people have no sympathy for the fallen Queen. Under her watch, they've known nothing but poverty and violence; only the goodwill of the Tyrells has kept them from starving. So with little restraint, and even active encouragement from the Sparrows, Cersei becomes a focal point for all of their frustrations.
They pelt her with rotten food, spit, mud, shit and goodness knows what else. The cobblestones tear up her delicate queenly feet; she is confronted by half-naked whores and men exposing themselves to her.
Quick aside here… can we all agree that a society that names and shames like this is not one we'd like to go back to? That'd be great, thanks.
Throughout all of this, Cersei keeps her sights on the Red Keep, the thought of reaching Tommen keeping her mind distant from the punishment her body is being given. It is only near the end, as she comes to the doors of her home, do we see Cersei fragile, broken, and in tears.
It doesn't last long. Swept up in a cloak by a very caring Qyburn, she is introduced to the new member of the Kings Guard - a giant who has taken a vow of silence. The Mountain. He lifts her into his arms to take her somewhere safe. And Cersei's face takes on a different tone - a resilience, a resolve. Yes, Cersei Lannister may be down, but she is never out. Aslan may not be the only lion to come back like a metaphor and kick ass.
A knight, a mercenary and a dwarf walk into a throneroom. Who'll take control?
Well to begin with, no one, as they're all rather wrapped up in digesting Daenerys' dragon-assisted departure from the Meereen Colosseum.
"You love her, don't you?" Tyrion says to both Jorah and Maario, not needing an answer. Both the Old and Busted and the New Hotness know he's right - they're as giddy about Dany as a recappespondent is about abs.
Grey Worm and Missandei arrive, and the warrior is all upset that he was too crook from fighting to save his Queen the time before that he couldn't fight and die for her this time. Crazy loyal bastard.
Maario says Grey Worm needs to stay and mind the Unsullied, to make sure Meereen doesn't cannibalise itself. Missandei should stay too, because Dany trusted her advice more than anyone.
And while Tyrion has fought, everyone agrees that he mostly just talks. "And drinks," he points out. "I've survived this far."
So with a flourish, Maario and Jorah are off on their very own buddy cop adventure. One is just a few days off retirement, while the other should get around everywhere with no clothes on. Together, they fight crime! And find Dany, I suppose.
As for Dany herself? She's somewhere north of Meereen, with a sick Drogon on her hands. He's not interested in flying her back, and moves in the same kind of grumpy shuffling way my foster kittens do when I refuse to open another tin of meaty chunks in goo for them.
The rolling green hills seem fairly empty, but as usual wherever Dany goes, trouble is rarely far behind. It isn't long before she is surrounded by a horde of Dothraki warriors, arakhs at the ready.
She's landed in the middle of the Dothraki Sea, with only her own wits to help her through. Gives her a good chance to brush up those rusty Dothraki skills, hey shekh ma shieraki anni?
And now here we are. As a beloved character once called it, "the pointy end".
In hindsight, Jon Snow's life was in always in danger. Not just the regular sort of danger, that posed by the White Walkers and the wildlings and cave-based love, but the seeping, creeping danger that comes from those closest to you wishing you the most harm.
Sam's departure for Old Town in order to become a Maester broke the last line of defence. It was the right thing to do: Sam's brains need developing and Gilly and baby Sam needed to get away from The Wall to survive. Still, it left Jon exposed, and he knew it, even as he gave Sam his blessing and an unspoken high five for totally popping his cherry.
And yes, it was Ollie, that little bastard, who lured Jon out to his doom with reports of a wildling knowing something about his Uncle Benjen Stark, a former first ranger, still missing in action.
But there was no Benjen, only a marker with "traitor" scratched into it. It took me a while for the penny to drop. Several stabs in fact. It wasn't until Ollie pushed through the crowd for the final "For the Watch" and coup de grace that I started to realise what I was witnessing was actually happening.
ET TU OLLIE? Then fall, Jon Snow. Fall onto the white ground, your beautiful hair and beautiful blood both spilling onto its pure surface.
After last week's tragic events, I was pretty down on child murder. Now, though? I'm dramatically reconsidering my position.
When I was a school prefect (I know, nerd alert) I only ever gave one detention, despite the fact everyone thought I'd be slip-happy (oo-er). The recipient was this little shit of a kid who bit me on the hand while I was trying to break up a fight he was having with another brat. I'm mostly nice, you see. When it comes down to it, I don't have the chops to unnecessarily punish people. You have to do something pretty nasty to turn me into an avenging valkyrie.
You Ollie, are like that little shit of a kid. You have metaphorically bitten my hand. And metaphorically bitten the hand of the one who feeds you, Jon Snow. And now there are too many metaphors and I'm getting confused but I'm grief-stricken and all I can say is DETENTION FOR YOU OLLIE.
There are some reasons to be hopeful. Ser Davos was at Castle Black demanding help for an already-dead Stannis when Kate Bush came running up that hill/entered the castle gates on horseback.
Melisandre didn't need to say anything to communicate that everyone was gone, including the Onion Knight's favourite, Shireen. So now Davos has nowhere to go, and he liked Jon Snow from the beginning. Hopefully he can punish Ser Alliser Thorne in My Side and the betrayers of the Night's Watch.
And Melisandre's crazy powers, courtesy of the Lord of Light, do tend towards the outrageous. She knew Beric Dondarrion, remember, he who could not be killed? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps - she could do some kickass resurrection work on our beloved?
Book readers have been coming out of the weirwood to say this is the cliffhanger they've been living with for years while George R.R. Martin works on the next book. So all these things are possible.
But there is something we need to consider. Jon Snow may actually be…. gulp, say it ain't so dead.
Game of Thrones has never been about giving us happy endings. It's about giving us these wonderful, awful, complex, devious, clever, kind, honourable, conflicted characters and letting us watch them for a while.
It may be that the watch really has ended for Jon Snow. And so let us all mourn his perfect face, and luscious hair, and superlative broodiness. And sure, the honour, and strength and that stuff too. May he forever be in our hearts, forever and ever, ab-men.
Yay! Best Moments
Varys is back, baby! Tyrion wasn't alone when he said "I've missed you" - I missed his funny face and soporific tones and clasped hands. To turn up just as Tyrion was contemplating his new position as de facto ruler of Meereen was delicious. Can't wait for more of their adventures in Season Six.
Zing! Best Lines
"I'm sorry, my Valyrian is a little nostril."
Tyrion attempts to speak the language in Meereen.
"He's the toughest guy with no balls I know."
Maario on Grey Worm's endearing qualities.
Cersei's treatment was clearly horrible, but there was something about the ritualistic Vidal Sassooning she underwent that made my skin crawl. It's not that I have long hair or feel long hair is the best symbol of femininity (to be honest, I'm a big advocate of short 'dos), but with Cersei it was more like removing her Lannister lion's mane, her Samson-esque strength.
It's the end… for another ten months, anyway. As always, beloved Throners, I am grateful for your kind words, clever thoughts and enthusiastic swearing throughout the recap season. The night is dark and full of terrors, and what shall I do without you all to make me laugh, and send me creative Game of Thrones memes?