That season five of Game Of Thrones suffered, particularly early on, from having too many storylines is undeniable.
Plots stagnated, promising characters never really got going, and – until the fantastic final three episodes – action frequently lagged.
But when it worked, boy did it work, and last night's finale 'Mother's Mercy' delivered to make sure the show ended on a high – which of course for viewers meant a crushing emotional low.
You know what we're talking about. Here, then, are the big talking points from episode ten, ending with the biggest one of all. Hey, at least Kit Harington can finally cut his hair now.
1 | Dany goes back to level one
In Meereen, Tyrion, Grey Worm, Missandei and Varys – popping up out of nowhere, as is his style – cobbled together a coalition designed to keep order in the city, while Jorah and Daario set off to figure out where the hell Drogon has taken Dany.
Which, as it turns out, is the middle of nowhere. Still knackered from being hit with a few spears in the fighting pit – suddenly the dragons don't seem so fearsome, do they? Perhaps they still have some growing up to do – Drogon lay down for a well-earned kip leaving Dany to be captured by a horde of Dothrakis.
In a sense, this puts Dany back to where she was when we first met her in season one – alone and at the mercy of everyone's favourite grunting barbarians. The difference is that then she was their new Queen, and now she is the woman they (possibly) still blame for the death of their Khal, albeit with two warriors and (hopefully) some dragons on the way to save her.
It's hard to see how this one is going to pan out, really. Could her brother's original plan to lead an army of Dothraki across the Narrow Sea to King's Landing be back on? And how will Tyrion fare now he finally has his chance to be a politician without his pesky family spoiling things?
2 | The Stark sisters are not in good shape
My guess for the finale was that Arya would be forced to make a choice between killing Meryn Trant or choosing the path of the Faceless Men. Instead, when we see her in the brothel she is disguised as another little girl with her mind already made up. The killing was brutal – no less than Trant deserved, of course – and it was a little startling to see how nifty Arya has become with a knife, not to mention how comfortable she now is with violence.
And yet, as predicted, Jaqen wasn't happy, and appears to have left Arya blind as punishment. My fear is that, when we join her again next year, she'll have undergone a Cousin Lancel-style transformation into a fully fledged Faceless Man – or gone boring, in other words.
Meanwhile, Reek finally got back in touch with his Theon side and rediscovered a bit of reckless courage, pushing Myranda to her death just as she was about to begin torturing Sansa with a bow and arrow. At that moment, Ramsay and his troops returned, meaning certain death or worse for the pair.
Hard to say whether their leap off the wall of Winterfell was a suicide attempt or, as is more likely, a gamble that a few hundred feet of snow would break their fall. Expect to see Sansa and Reek/Theon emerge gasping for breath in episode one of next season, but really, how long will they manage to avoid Ramsay's hounds?
3 | Good riddance, Stannis
In a rare example of a character getting the comeuppance they deserve, Stannis Baratheon's fate was sealed the moment he found his wife hanging from a tree, learned half his army had disbanded – presumably in protest at last week's attempt to rouse them by burning a child to death – and his Red Priestess had run off North in search of another King to corrupt.
Justice has always been a central preoccupation of Game Of Thrones, and here was a man paying the price for some truly pitiful life choices. It was a little disappointing not to see the battle of Winterfell actually play out – instead, in the manner of earlier, less well budgeted seasons, it skipped the action and focused on the aftermath instead – but then again it seemed fitting that Stannis' storyline ended with so little fanfare or glory. Instead, he was caught by Brienne who showed up at the last moment to avenge Renly (remember him?), a reminder that, long before little Shireen, Stannis was already killing members of his own family in his quest for power. A few good lines and a great beard almost had us fooled this season, but in truth, Stannis always was a wrong 'un.
4 | It was us there, shouting at Cersei
About half way through the agonisingly long scene in which Cersei Lannister – shorn and stripped naked – was paraded in shame through King's Landing. it occured to me that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss were at least in part making a point about us, their insatiable subjects. We sit, don't we, the audience of the internet age, demanding death, sex and shocks from this show, then run to our keyboards to complain when it goes too far and upsets us or not far enough and lets us down. Like the snarling, spitting crowd, we claim to be outraged but show up every week in our millions, hoping to see the Queen's tits.
The act itself is not without precedent – as well as occurring in the book, public walks of shame occurred regularly in British history – so while it didn't feel as gratuitous or out-of-nowhere as many of the show's more harrowing scenes, I did find my heart going out to the actress involved. It was a brave performance by Lena Headey – even though a body double was used for sections – and the way her regal poise slowly crumbled under the vitriol of the crowd was brilliantly done and perfect for the character and what we've come to know about her after all these seasons.
Powerful though it was, it couldn't paper over the cracks in this storyline completely. When she finally emerged into the sanctuary of the Red Keep and was presented by Qyburn with FrankenMountain (nice to get at least one prediction right, by the way), you realised again how absurd it was that the King's army hadn't been sent to wipe out the Sparrows with their puny sticks the moment they captured the Queen and the Queen's Mother. Tommen crying in his room doesn't explain it, I am afraid – the Crown has too much pride for this to have truly happened.
5 | Jon Snow really did know nothing
And so, the man we imagined saving the world from White Walkers, becoming Warden of the North and even one day teaming up with Daenerys (he'd have looked good on a dragon) to swoop into King's Landing ended up on his back in some piss-stained corner of Castle Black, stabbed to death by murderers, rapists and the scariest onscreen child since The Omen.
It was the big shock we'd all been waiting for, but none of us expected. And yet, as the camera lifted slowly from Kit Harington's beautiful, dead face, the blood lapping at the snow beneath him, all I could think was: why didn't we see it coming?
In this show, the most undignified end always awaits the most dignified, and Jon Snow was always too good to live. Like his Father before him, he had too much honour and too little understanding of how dishonourable people think. He saw the big picture – the need for the Wildlings and the Night's Watch to fight together against a greater evil – but not the pettiness right in front of him. His death was a reminder that, even now, five seasons on, we're still hopelessly programmed to believe the good guys will survive. That Game Of Thrones can still provide moments that rip us from the comfort of that narrative is a testament to why it remains the most powerful and – for the medium – important drama on television.
– I enjoyed how director David Nutter played with the tension of this being the final episode. The way the camera stayed tight on Brienne as she bore down on Stannis, for example – you half expect Ramsay to jump up behind her and cut her throat.
– A lot of 'Stannis / Jon might still be alive!' chatter going about, particularly in the latter's case as Melisandre and her hit-and-miss Red Magic has just shown up at the Wall. To this I simply cite the lesson of The Hound: there is no maester behind the rock.
– Hearing Jorah say the word 'bantering' felt a bit like hearing my Mum say something 'went viral'. When is that greyscale going to kick in, by the way?
– While Cersei admitting to incest brought her public humiliation and an awful new haircut, Jaime Lannister's confession to the same crime bought him a nice moment with his daughter, Princess Myrcella. Pity it only lasted long enough for Ellaria's poision to kick in, setting up a new Lannister / Martell dust up next season. And here I was thinking that lingering kiss was just an odd custom those crazy, sex-mad Dornish have.
Line of the week
"My Valerian is a bit nasal"
– Ours too Tyrion, ours too.