When I brace myself for any finale, but especially for Supernatural, I wonder these things: Who will live, and who will die? Who will be fundamentally changed? Who will be separated? And whose motivations will be revealed? But especially when it's Supernatural, I wonder how they'll make me cry. Good job Jeremy Carver! Join me below for spoilers.

So what does the game board look like at the start of Jeremy Carver's Sacrifice, at the end of season 8? Well, we have a lot of players (I sat down to sketch them before the finale yesterday, and EIGHT motherfuckers—killed my hand and my work ethic, that did): two brothers, a prophet, a king and a knight of hell, one angel we know very well, and one who's an antagonist, and one who's been very forthcoming with suggestions.

So what do we get (after the sobbing at the cruel lies of Carry On Wayward Son (peace? Ever?))? A ninth familiar face—Sheriff Jody Mills. One of the players at the fringe of the Winchester/Singer weirdness, someone who's fought on their side since she was brutally indoctrinated into killing the supernatural—you level up faster when you have to kill your undead family.

She's the next saved one to be threatened by Crowley, and the boys agree to meet him and exchange tablets (Crowley's reasonably willing to give up the angel tablet, but he is a crossroads demon—they deal in trades) in order to save hers and future lives.

In the most nominal of ways, we're conditioned to think that the boys had a decision to make last weekend—give in to Crowley and stop trying to close off Hell. But that's why the Winchesters are the Winchesters—by the time Kevin digs up the other half of the demon tablet, amusingly hidden near hellish imagery, and tells them he thinks they're doing the right thing—we know they're the heroes, and they are not accepting other people's terms.

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Before you can say Bobby's your uncle, Crowley is tricked, magically cuffed, and shipped off to consecrated ground to wait his cure. He's arrogant, defiant, and derisive—we got to watch him fight his way up from middle management, and two emotional punks like the Winchesters can't take him out (Crowley—when did you forget your own advice about not underestimating these denim-wrapped nightmares?)—and he does his best to deflect the plan with all he has at hand—his silver tongue.

Dean and Sam don't seem to have had time to formalise the purification requirement—you're circumventing a big business if sitting down in an abandoned church and pouring your heart out to a God you know isn't home is “all” it takes. But despite some douchey jabs from Dean, Sam is ready to start his third trial when Castiel shows up and demand's Dean's help.

Castiel had been with Metatron trying to catch a cupid's bow (Castiel is still charmingly trying to apply all he's learnt from the Winchesters, but when he offers nurse roleplay and light domination, how could Cupid's putative target have turned that cute face down???) when Naomi's freelance crew reports up that the scribe and the rebel have been found—she bops down to the bar where they were waiting and grabs Marv at sword-point, despite brave defence by the soon-to-love barkeep.

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So Castiel needs help to finish the task, to close the doors on heaven, so everyone can work out their differences together, even if it kills him. CASTIEL ASKS DEAN FOR HELP. He's a damned old dog, but net it never be said he can't learn new tricks.

Sam has to give Dean a push, promising to run through the purification process without hesitation, and then Dean and Cas are back together, much like old times, fighting way out of their weight class and trying to complete the remaining Heaven-related trials. They even almost talk about the fact that Castiel is taking a big risk with these trials, and that he will be gone. Dean handles it as he handles most things—making a pop culture reference that is opaque to Cas. All I can hope is that Cas learns to read his intent but...not all that likely yet.

Back at the bar, waiting for a cupid, Supernatural hands us more gay—did anyone but Dean really think the woman who walked in was going to be the other half of the new couple? No, she hooks the barkeep up with one of his regulars, and soon they're realising all they have in common. Castiel goes for violence to get what he wants, but Dean opts to talk first, stab later, and the cupid hands her bow over—she wants Heaven fixed too.

In the meanwhile, Kevin has the angel tablet (finally they ensconce him in the Batcave!) and has been cowed by Castiel into staying on the case, so he's working away on that end. Sam is listening to some brash talk from Crowley and getting weaker and weaker as he gets further into the trial (Jared, wow!), but gets tricked into coming too close.

Fergus gets a mouthful of blood—just enough to cast a mini-demon-communication spell and yell for help on all frequencies.

Who gets there first? Abaddon, you've got to be my favourite new character this season.

She disabuses Crowley of a lot of arrogant notions and also starts beating the crap out of him (Sam gets tossed out a window for his troubles). Last week they turned their back on her, and she got away.

This time she disregards Sam for too long, and he flambes her meatsuit (farewell Alaina—you were lovely and fierce in this role) and she has no option other than to smoke out after some disturbing flapping around burning imagery.

In Heaven things seem to be shifting around to validate my suspicions—Naomi's clearly a nasty piece of work—she's been on “debrief” duty since at least God's departure, and Metatron had fled largely to avoid having his angelic wavelength picked through for deets on the Big Man's plan. But she does seem to be working to protect the viability of Heaven, and for all Metatron told Castiel about how things looked up there, we don't have much in the way of corroboration.

Crowley is really coming apart now—this cure seems to be a gradual process with a big climax—he's couching their camaraderie in Tet Offensives to start off with, but by the time his monologue is done, I think he's outing himself as a Lena Dunham fan, at which point I say it's too late, he's clearly beyond saving...and Mark Sheppard does a really great job with dialogue that could be just so much nonsense, but his desperation is a clear weight to every word. As is his confusion at the end of it.

Sam, however, doesn't have my narrow-minded opinions on the show (does Dean watch? That is the question...) and finally sees that the process is actually underway. Something is happening, just like it did on Father Thompson's tapes they listened to last week. They're almost just an exorcism or so away from closing the doors to Hell.

It took me this long to remember All Hell Breaks Loose in conjunction with this—I know Dean considers himself responsible for every bad smell anywhere on the planet, but they were duped/roped into being part of not just raising Lucifer, but also opening the Devil's Gate and causing a large spike in Earthly demonic activity.

Hold on to that thought...

I can't lie—as much as I liked this episode, it was hard to rewatch to write the recap. At about half an hour through it just starts to hammer home the emotion, and I've been primed since the opening bar.

Crowley talks about obtaining forgiveness, and Sam offers this injection of blood less like an attack on an opponent, and more like a benediction. Crowley turns his head to give him better access. The music, the acting, the lighting...I've been complaining about Crowley (and the general genre indulgence of Mark Sheppard) for a season now, but this—this reminds me he's not getting cast on a whim. He can deliver, and I'd really like to see more of this acting than the casual and evil self-interest he's normally working with. Mark, I apologise.

Kevin's having a hard time with the tablet—he can't find the trials the way Metatron put them. The phone conversation is interrupted by Naomi appearing, and Amanda Tapping puts it all out there, revealing Metatron's revenge-driven motives to cast all the angels down to Earth, and that Sam will die as a result of the trials, that God intended it to be a sacrifice.

“I would raze the earth for you” is how I characterise Dean's feelings for Sam. Dean's a good person. Dean's a hero. Dean killed one of his two friends to get Sam back. Dean was complicit in orphaning his father in order to get Sam back. If his life is on the line now...of course he's yelling at Cas to take him back to his brother's side.

It's Latin time, Crowley is dejected, Sam is glowing. He cuts his palm to finish the cleansing, and...thank dog, the brothers are back together. They've spent a fair amount of the finale apart, and with the show's casual delight in splitting them up for Hellatus, well...they need to make the best of what time they have now, right?

Castiel goes back up to Heaven, still set firmly on fixing his home, and finds Naomi dead at her desk in the white room. Metatron sashays in, admits to his vengeance, and steals Castiel's grace as the final component of the expulsion spell. Quite creepily, he encourages Cas to live a normal human life, die, come back to Heaven, and then tell him all about it. Is that his goal now? To just wander from personal heaven to personal heaven and tap into near infinite stories, smug in being the only angel in town? Goddamnit, Viola, how could you do this?

Sam needs to finish the trials, he says. To save people. But Dean insists they've learnt so much this season they can make a real difference, but Sam wants to save big and get out of Dean's way. He's still fixated on disappointing Dean, and scared of Dean turning to someone instead of him (it was never like that!). Jared knocks it out of the park and Jensen returns it with full force—insisting, heartfelt, that no one past or present (very real terms to a Winchester) could come before Sam.

He reaches for Sam's hand, and reminiscent of stitching his palm up when he was hallucinating Lucifer, when he explained that he was Sam's touchstone, he binds Sam's hand, pulls him into a hug, and calls him brother.

And trusts him.

The glowing starts to abate, and we can see Dean's heart lifting, but Sam collapses and Dean drags him out of the church. “I've got you, little brother. You're gonna be just fine.” Now I'm in Cold Oak, with Dean holding Sam's dead body in the penultimate episode of season 2. But this is more hopeful, right?

They collapse against the Impala, and Dean calls out desperately for Castiel. But Cas is lying, powerless and human, transported down from Heaven into some unspecified copse, and there's no help to be had from that quarter.

Kevin is about to leave the Batcave when everything comes alive—lights, machines, spools of tape, alarms, and dots flare up all over the map table.

And this is where the episode finds another notch to kick it up—Cas stumbling through the forest, Kevin panicked and alone, Dean holding onto Sam and looking up at the sky...which is suddenly full of shooting stars.

Dean puts it together immediately, uttering “No, Cas” as he watches the sky light up full of angels falling from Heaven with burning wings being ripped off their back.

Castiel is already on Earth, staring up as his brothers are cast out around him, wind whipping his coat and hair into a frenzy.

“What's happening?” asks Sam.

“Angels.” Dean is still looking up. “They're falling.”

The whole sequence is one of the most beautiful things that Supernatural has done, I feel, and it's poignantly appropriate for such a large scale event. The word game-changer gets thrown around a lot (and it's not even in my spellchecker), but...we don't know where Cas is. We don't know how Sam is. And we don't even know how many angels just plummeted to earth. What condition is Crowley in—uncured, but a repentant demon? Where is Abaddon? What is Metatron planning to do with Heaven? It's not locked up, after all. But he's the only angel left, if we don't count Michael and Lucifer in the cage.

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One thing we do know—it's about to be 2014, where the show catches up with the season 5 episode The End, and at least one thing is true—all the angels have fallen.