Helen Sloan/HBO
James Hibberd
June 15, 2015 AT 07:39 PM EDT

Cersei eventually makes it to the Red Keep, but not before she breaks into tears. She’s home. She crosses the threshold and collapses—and is grabbed by a mountain of a man. The Mountain, resurrected by creepy Qyburn. Who knows what’s under that helmet now, but his face looks gray. He’s sworn a vow of silence until he defeats Cersei’s enemies, Qyburn explains. That’s handy, and should keep him quite busy for awhile. Cersei is back in protective arms, safe, for the moment.

I sure wouldn’t want to be the High Sparrow next season. And I definitely wouldn’t want to be that ladle-smacking septa.

Meereen: Dany’s small council has made it safely back to the pyramid. Now what? Rule, I suppose. Keep the city running while the boss is on a flight out of town.

Grey Worm is alive and his usual charming self.

Ser Jorah declares he’s going to search for Dany, because that’s what he does. Daario is going to join him, but Tyrion will stay behind and run the city with Grey Worm. “Meereen is ancient and glorious, try not to ruin her,” Daario says.

For all those who have been asking “Where’s Varys?” we get an answer—he made it to the Meereen. Excellent. “I did miss you,” Tyrion says.

Once again I’m struck by how uniformly likable this whole group is, and how rare of a think that is on this show. It’s our first real Heroes Group. Essos Avengers assemble!

Castle Black: Melisandre returns. The typically brash sorceress is unlike how we’ve ever seen her before. She’s uncertain. Davos asks if Shireen is okay and she can’t even answer. Davos, buddy, you really don’t want to know.

We know what time it is—it’s near the end of the season 5 finale. We know something big is going to happen (because, TV). Jon is told to come quick, that his uncle Benjen is still alive. This is not only pranking Jon, but us as well, since one online rumor leading up to the finale was that Benjen would return. Thrones helped push this theory by reminding us who Benjen was in the “previously on” teaser before the finale began. We saw that and thought, “Ah-ha! Benjen is coming back, we’re smart.” But Thrones was setting us up. 

Jon finds himself surrounded by his angry Night’s Watch brothers. Ghost is nowhere to be seen. This is very bad. The knives come out. “For the Watch.” Jon’s steward Olly, his family murdered by the Wildlings, is the last to plunge his blade into the Lord Commander. They betrayed him, just like they betrayed and murdered the previous leader, Mormont, at Craster’s Keep. They are mostly a bunch of criminals, after all. 

There is a long shot of Jon’s face. Book-readers are waiting to see if they turn white, see if he wargs into Ghost (as one doctored photo that leaked online depicted). But no.  

Jon’s death (if he is truly dead; more on that in a moment) is one where you can’t say it was a cheat. Jon has never fit in with the Night’s Watch, and he’s increasingly been looking at the big picture— the threat of the White Walkers— and behaving like a visionary leader and making noble decisions. But one constant theme in Game of Thrones is that gaining power can be relatively simple, but that ruling is very hard. Cersei, Stannis, Jon, Dany … all have struggled with leadership this season. Jon could have made an excellent king, but he lost sight of the feelings of the very lethal men surrounding him.

And yet, while there is all the story-based justification in the world to kill off Jon Snow (as in, it’s perfectly believable his brothers in black would shank him), his death feels like the series’ biggest loss. The only death that’s comparable is probably Ned Stark’s execution, but we only got to know him over nine episodes. Robb Stark was also a major blow, but it’s his half-brother Jon who always felt like a more central character—the overlooked bastard of mysterious parentage, secretly destined for greater things.

Maybe that’s why Jon’s death feels wrong even though it’s also logical. At no point has Thrones ever felt like Jon’s tale would end this soon, and here at The Wall, without ever knowing the truth about who his parents really are, and without ever meeting up with, say, Dany. And it also stings because Jon has grown so much since we first saw him—he has learned how to be a great leader … he just didn’t apparently learn enough, fast enough.

It also feels like—also for the first time since Ned’s death—a major leg from the Thrones table of storytelling has been knocked away. I once asked the showrunners if there’s any character death that would really zap a lot of life from their series. Dan Weiss replied: “There are several characters whose loss will do that. But it doesn’t mean they won’t die.” Thankfully, Game of Thrones still has enough characters to populate several TV dramas, so there is that.

As for whether he’s really dead, or just Princess Bride-ian “mostly dead,” I don’t know. In the books, probably not. In the show … maybe? Like Jon Snow, I know nothing about season 6. I pressed Kit Harington and showrunner Dan Weiss as strongly on this point as I could and both said the same thing—that he’s gone. But Melisandre is back at Castle Black, and there were no wounds above the neck, and it seems suspicious that Kit says nobody got him a goodbye present, since that’s a tradition on the set (unless he’s, like, a jerk or something, and I haven’t gotten that impression…). Certainly book-reading fans overwhelmingly believe he’s coming back. Everything I know about this subject, including the fan theories, are in the links below:

MORE COVERAGE:

— Game of Thrones star on that shocking death: “I’m not coming back next season”

— Game of Thrones author, producer on whether Jon Snow is really dead 

— Game of Thrones actress on her brutal Walk of Shame: “I don’t think anyone deserves that treatment”

— Gwendoline Christie on her fatal finale encounter

— Game of Thrones producers, author on the Walk of Shame scene

— Game of Thrones actor on that fatal Jaime twist: Does this mean war in season 6?

Oh, and one more thing. Below is EW’s cover photo from two years ago. At the time, the image concept was actually suggested by showrunners Weiss and David Benioff (“It’s ice and fire,” they said). I now wonder if this is the only time the two ever appeared—and now will ever appear—in costume together…

EW

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