Ah, Season 5. It seems as though it only started yesterday and that we’d plenty of watching ahead, but now our watch is almost ended.

Now, admittedly, this article is written from the point of view of someone who is relying solely upon the TV show and not the books, but you don’t need to read the fire to see this season is going to culminate in a jaw-slackening conclusion.

In the latest and penultimate episode, “The Dance of Dragons,” we had some excellent stand-out moments – Shireen’s burning at the stake and Drogon ex machina at the fighting pit, I’m looking at you – but it lacked that ninth episode surprise that we’ve come to expect, traditionally the episode we’d see our Ned Stark beheadings and Red Weddings, you know, the truly world-rocking shit. Stannis’s sacrifice of Shireen wasn’t quite so out of the blue – what with the Red Lady reasserting several times that they’ll need king’s blood and Stannis’s insistence on keeping his daughter by his side – but with Martin’s hydra-headed saga weaving so many storylines, it’s hard to anticipate the outcomes of seemingly less important sub-plots.

The show’s writers usually hit audiences with the big shocker in the penultimate episodes so that all the disparate narrative threads can be neatly wrapped up in the finale. However, we should have also come to expect that Game of Thrones aims to askew those expectations, so the show runners lulled audiences into a false sense of security by putting their big surprises on the long finger (paradoxically making them craftier than Littlefinger).

There has been several criticisms levelled at this season – the sexual violence towards Sansa is gratuitous, the story is unfolding at a snail’s pace, and how come Samwell freakin’ Tarly can get laid but the average GoT fan cannot? While the whole Dorne sub-plot and the introduction of the Sand Snakes seems an utter damp squib. All valid complaints, but there was so much redeeming the season. With the white walkers and wights finally making a move at the attack on Hardhome and the merging of Dany and Tyrion’s storylines, we see the show is picking up real momentum. And you could almost hear the simultaneous nerdgasms of fanboys and girls around the world as some long-awaited wish fulfilment got realised in the form of Dany riding a dragon. Just look at the episode’s final shot of Tyrion, as he watches the dragon taking Dany away into the sky, a look that seems to say, “Shit just got real.”

Yet even apart from that, viewers can’t expect every episode to be a mind-bending satisfaction extravaganza; GoT is all about the build-up. There is only one god of narrative pay-offs, and his name is George RR Martin.

There remain a bevy of questions which will hopefully be answered in next week’s episode: Will Cersei and Queen Margaery be executed by the High Sparrow? Will Stannis’s voodoo do him any good in the taking of Winterfell? Will Sansa take her revenge on Ramsay? Are the white walkers just gonna chill for the reminder of this season? Will the Khaleesi finally get her shit together and make a move on Westeros? Will Davos be angry at Stannis for sacrificing Shireen, or just disappointed? Will Benjen Stark ever return from beyond the Wall… and does anyone even remember who the fuck he is?

There’s only one thing we’re willing to lay money on – the season finale is gonna be a fuckin’ doozy.