The fifth season of House of Cards is now available for streaming on Netflix. It’s only been up for about two days, but a lot of fans have already binged all 13 episodes, making their way through an uneven but consistently surprising season of television.
But when binging so many episodes in a row like this, it’s easy to forget many of the details by the end.
With that in mind, here’s a recap of all of the major events that took place in the fifth season of House of Cards.
Frank Urged Congress to Declare War on ICO as the Underwoods Stoke Americans’ Fears
Season 4 of House of Cards ended with Frank Underwood declaring his intention to go to war with ICO, the show’s analogue to ISIS. He was doing this in part because he wanted to distract Americans from information damaging to him in the Washington Herald: that he conspired to impeach President Garrett Walker. But the president obviously doesn’t have the authority to do this on his own: Congress must declare a formal declaration of war, and they won’t do so, which leads to the phenomenal opening scene of the season in which Frank goes to Congress and delivers a fiery speech urging them to declare war. Part of the reason this hasn’t happened is because Will Conway has a friend in Congressman Romero, a Democrat who is against President Frank Underwood and has been helping to block his war proposals.
The Underwood Administration might not be able to get their formal declaration of war, but they still do everything they can to ensure that Americans are fearful. For instance, when there is news of an explosion of North Carolina, the Underwoods play this up as an ICO threat, even though we learn that this was simply a gas explosion. Frank proposes the U.S. dramatically expand the no-fly list, issue major restrictions on visas, and, as Frank’s own secretary of state says, take actions that have the effect of “virtually closing down our borders.” Frank speaks to the American people at the end of Chapter 53 and tells them they have nothing to be afraid of, but, of course, Frank wants them to be afraid. After all, Americans fearful over the threat of terrorism will be more inclined to re-elect the incumbent president.
Later, in Chapter 54, Aidan Macallan does some hacking which brings down communications in Washington, D.C., and although Frank knows that ICO had nothing to do with this, he still blames it on terrorism in order to continue stoking fears.
Frank Concocts a Plan to Suppress the Vote on Election Day
Amid all of this ICO chaos, Frank Underwood urges state governors to create “secure voting centers” on Election Day, consolidating polling places. He also informs the governors of five key states (New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania) that there are ICO threats against polling places, and conveniently, all of these threats happen to be targeting Republican strongholds. Of course, there is no real ICO threat. The Underwood Administration is simply trying to suppress the vote and ensure Republicans do not turn out in swing states.
Underwood also wants to place troops in these key states, saying that it’s because of the ICO threat, but again this is just related to trying to suppress the vote. Underwood initially has a hard time getting the governors’ support, but when they see the cyberattack take place in Washington, D.C. (which did not come from ICO as Underwood claims), the governor of Ohio immediately changes his mind. Will Conway, the Republican candidate for president, positions himself as being the candidate who is against the declaration of war and the buildup of troops around the country.
However, on Election Day, the Underwood campaign learns that voting has been suppressed even in Democratic strongholds, meaning they might be in trouble. That’s why the Underwood campaign decides to take much more drastic actions…
Frank Gets the Governors of Ohio & Tennessee to Shut Down Voting Entirely
On Election Day, the Underwoods make it known that a suspected terrorist is in the United States and plans to attack a voting precinct. Only the first part of that is really true, but that doesn’t prevent the Underwoods from lying to the American people. They also manipulate the governor of Tennessee, the state where the terrorist really was operating out of, to shut down voting entirely, enforcing a statewide curfew.
Doug Stamper subsequently gets Aidan Macallan, who now works for the NSA, to manufacture fake intelligence suggesting that there will be an attack on polling places in Ohio. This causes the governor of Ohio to shut down voting, too. A number of states then refuse to certify the vote due to all of these shenanigans, meaning neither Frank Underwood nor Will Conway has reached 270 Electoral College votes, and the election goes to the House of Representatives.
From there, the Underwoods set their sights on ensuring they win in the House. Claire concocts a plan of her own whereby even if Conway is voted president, Claire can still be voted in as vice president, and so she would serve under President Will Conway in the White House. This does not end up happening, though, as when the House does vote, it is inconclusive. While this is all being sorted out, Claire Underwood is sworn in as acting president.
Two Damaging Audio Tapes Tank Will Conway’s Campaign
After all of the work manipulating politicians and trying to secure the House of Representatives votes, it’s two last-minute surprises that really swing the election to Frank Underwood.
The first is an audio recording of Will Conway’s running mate, General Brockhart, saying on a hot mic that President Underwood should be killed if he goes through with some of his more extreme anti-terrorism plans. The second is an audio recording of Will Conway freaking out on board a private airplane, screaming at the pilots to let him fly the plane. Both of these tapes are leaked to the Underwoods, and Mark Usher, Will Conway’s campaign manager, immediately jumps ship, starting to work for the Underwoods and pressuring Conway to withdraw from the race.
Underwood winds up securing Ohio in the House of Representatives, largely because of the leaked tapes, and Conway concedes the race. Frank Underwood is officially sworn in as president, having won the election, and we don’t see Will Conway again.
Jane Davis Becomes a Confidant of Claire Underwood & An Advocate of War
In Chapter 59, Jane Davis, the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, is introduced to Claire Underwood. She happens to be speaking with Claire when there is a crisis that forces everyone to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. While there, Davis establishes herself as someone who has foreign contacts and who can help out the Underwood administration in its battle against ICO. This crisis turns out to be a false alarm, but it works out perfectly for Jane Davis, who has now inserted herself into Claire Underwood’s world and who soon becomes a close confidant.
All throughout the season, Jane Davis pushes for the Underwoods to take more drastic actions to deal with the threat of ICO, wanting them to send ground troops overseas. Towards the end of Season 5, Davis informs President Frank Underwood that there is going to be a gas attack in Syria. She says that if Frank were to draw a line in the sand, when this attack occurs, it would give him the perfect excuse to send troops to Syria to take out ICO.
Frank does indeed draw this red line, and by the end of the season, the chemical attack has happened. President Claire Underwood decides to send troops to Syria.
A Congressional Committee Starts Looking Into Frank Underwood’s Crimes
Congressman Romero, member of the Declaration of War Committee, begins looking into Frank Underwood’s misdeeds, in part because Underwood would not add a line to his inauguration speech about Medicare. Romero says that he sincerely wants Frank Underwood to go to jail, but clearly he also sees this as an opportunity to make a name for himself politically so that he can run for president in the next election.
Frank Underwood tries to get Mark Usher to shut down this committee investigation any way he can, but he is not able to. However, he’s able to get in contact with Garrett Walker, the former president, and convince him to plead the fifth.
But Frank Underwood ends up having a conversation with Garrett Walker in which Underwood is being incredibly cocky, and Walker reverses his decision, deciding he will testify before the committee after all. Walker tells the committee that Frank Underwood was one of the chief architects of Raymond Tusk’s money laundering scheme. This, of course, is a massive deal, and instantly the word impeachment starts getting thrown around. Even Mark Usher says that “impeachment is inevitable,” though there’s some doubt as to whether the Senate will convict Frank since it’s majority Democrat.
Catherine Durant makes a deal with Congressman Romero, agreeing to testify before the committee and confirm Walker’s statements. However, before she has a chance to do so, Frank Underwood pushes her down the stairs. He doesn’t kill her, but she’s taken out of action and is no longer able to testify.
Claire Kills Tom Yates
All throughout the season, Claire continues her relationship with Tom Yates, the writer who had been working on a book about Claire and Frank.
We find out that Tom Yates is actually cheating on Claire with a White House tour guide, something Frank discovers as well. Claire at one point in the season confesses to her crimes in a conversation with Tom. She later finds out that he has continued writing his book about Claire and Frank, and it contains several redacted sections that readers will clearly be able to deduce the meaning of.
Tom knows too much, and so Claire kills him by poisoning his drink. She pours a bottle of Gelsemium into his alcohol, with this bottle having been given to her by Jane Davis earlier in the episode. Mark Usher subsequently deals with the disposal of his body.
Damaging Leaks Start Coming Out of the Underwood Administration
Soon, some seriously damaging leaks start coming out of the White House, with the first being information that a terror threat on Election Day was staged. This information is leaked to Tom Hammerschmidt of the Washington Herald, and although the Herald doesn’t want to run it, Hammerschmidt gives it to Slugline because he wants the information out there. Very conveniently, Frank Underwood then uses this leak as an excuse to monitor everything that happens in the White House, as well as to spy on his employees who he thinks could be responsible for the leak.
Later, it’s leaked that President Underwood used questionable intelligence to justify the closure of voting centers on Election Day. Publicly, Frank says that he believes the leak was Catherine Durant, the secretary of state, and so he asks for her resignation. He doesn’t really think it’s her, but that’s a good excuse to get Catherine out of his way, as she had been causing trouble for him all season and generally doesn’t see eye to eye with Frank.
It’s also leaked to Tom Hammerschmidt that Doug Stamper killed Zoe Barnes. Of course, in reality Frank was the one who killed her, and by the end of the season, Hammerschmidt hardly seems convinced that Stamper was responsible.
In the season finale, it’s revealed that it was Frank Underwood who has been leaking all of this information.
Frank Underwood Resigns From Office & Claire Becomes President
Amid all of the leaks from within the Underwood Administration, House Republicans begin drafting articles of impeachment. Democrats ask Frank Underwood to consider resigning from office voluntarily. He says that they’re out of their minds.
However, in Chapter 64, Frank Underwood announces his resignation. He subsequently tells Claire that he has been planning this entire thing, leaking information that would damage his administration. It seems he also may have been a part of a plan to manipulate Congressman Romero to restart the committee.
Why did Frank do this? Well, he says he realized the real power in America comes from the private sector, and with Claire in the White House, the two of them can be even more powerful, as he’ll be pulling the strings from the outside while she leads from the inside.
However, Claire doesn’t seem to be into this idea, and it’s an open question as to whether she will pardon Frank as she originally agreed to do. As the season comes to a close, Frank declares that he’ll kill Claire if she doesn’t pardon him, while Claire declares that now, it’s her turn.