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Season 5 ends with two devastating sequences

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June 15, 2015 at 07:39 PM EDT

Six. Six Game of Thrones characters died in the season 5 finale, “Mother’s Mercy.” And one of those deaths (maybe) marks the show’s greatest character loss yet (we felt every gut stab). Oh, and Arya’s blind. Shrieen is still dead. Cersei just totally redefined a term for walking home after a hookup. And—

There is so much more. The finale followed two extreme, full-throttle episodes, and some may have expected tonight’s to take a breather and hit the brakes. Instead, Thrones continued the same relentless pace and emotional magnitude for its finale. Taken together, the last three hours of the season are incredible in their scope, ambition, and narrative significance. While Thrones has been playing at a higher level in terms of its production values than the rest of television for years, I have a difficult time thinking of any series that—purely on a storytelling level—has had a triple-episode arc as intense as the past few weeks.

There is much to discuss. And we have a six posts in addition to this recap—revealing interviews with the showrunners, Kit Harington, George R.R. Martin, Lena Headey, and more about tonight’s twists (the first of those links are at the end). So let’s strip down and walk through our final Thrones recap of 2015 with our heads held high…  

Stannis’ Camp: Snow is melting, it initially appears that last week’s sacrifice has worked. Melisandre looks all smug, like, See, I told you burning your adorable loving innocent daughter to death was a good idea. But then, Stannis finds out half his men have deserted him. Who can blame them? Who among that group isn’t fleeing after last week’s dad’n’daughter BBQ?   

Stannis then finds his wife Selyse hanged from a tree. Well, good. It’s the first sensible thing she’s done. Selyse’s last-minute half-assed run to her daughter’s bonfire end zone last week doesn’t change a thing.

How will Melisandre explain this to Stannis? She explains it by showing her backside high-tailing it to Castle Black. It’s like bizarro Scarface: First you lose the power, then you lose the women. I’m disappointed we didn’t hear that conversation where Melisandre sputters to defend her magic to Stannis.

And why didn’t it work, anyway? Perhaps Stannis’ “king’s blood” wasn’t effective because The Lord of Light is on Team Daenerys? But what about those leeches that “caused” the death of Joffrey and Robb? Well, did they really cause their deaths, in some intricate metaphysical way, like Final Destination: Westeros? Because the third usurper Melisandre cursed, Balon Greyjoy, is still very much alive. So who knows? It’s f–king magic, which in Westeros is apparently no more reliable than anything else. And I love that. This isn’t Harry Potter. And now Melisandre is gone, and Stannis can’t “Accio mistress!” her back.

So, with Stannis’ child dead, his wife dead, his lover having dumped him, and his Tinder app not showing any potential new matches in the area (Osha? Maggie the Frog? Ros’ sister? Swipe left!) … Stannis decides to attack Winterfell anyway. What else, after all, does he have left?

NEXT: Brienne should rename her sword Major Character Killer 

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin’s novels.
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