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73. No One (season 6, episode 8)
Well, we had to start somewhere. Arya Stark miraculously recovers from deep stab wounds before being allowed to leave the Faceless Men because her assassin tutor decides he likes her best after all, even after telling Arya to forget her personal desires for two seasons. Hmm. Daenerys returns to Meereen in a rather chaotic scene that feels like a dress rehearsal, while Tyrion tells Missandei and Grey Worm some bad jokes. Oh, and the Blackfish dies off camera after the show stages a strange Monty Python routine to end the siege of Riverrun. Sometimes, certain episodes of TV shows just feel indescribably off. Every show has one, and this is Game of Thrones’ entry. Jaime Lannister’s conversation with Edmure Tully is worth the entry fee but it’s not enough to lift this tonal mess off the bottom.
72. Eastwatch (season 7, episode 5)
In this episode, Davos Seaworth remarks that “Nothing fucks you harder than time”, and he couldn’t be more correct. In a hasty dash towards the finish line, the pacing of ‘Eastwatch’ loses control as otherwise decisive moments are given little more than cursory glances. Crucial plot points and decisive character moments feel like they’re being skimmed over as a ragtag dream team is assembled to embark on the most ridiculous mission in the show’s history (see below). There are also some awkward scenes at Winterfell as Arya decides she might want to kill Sansa because of Littlefinger’s scheming. Yeah. Not a classic.
71. Beyond the Wall (season 7, episode 6)
Said ridiculous mission is carried out in this episode. In isolation, this is a fun romp into dangerous territory with some of our favourite characters, which is why it sits a little higher on the countdown. They exchange some light-hearted banter, they fend off an undead polar bear, they fight a few zombies and get rescued by a dragon. It’s just guys being dudes. But then you remember that things like internal logic and pacing are important, and the whole thing nearly comes apart. The obfuscation of time and space in this episode feels frustratingly deliberate and undercuts one of the more tragic incidents in the show, as Viserion the dragon meets his untimely end.
70. The Red Woman (season 6, episode 1)
The Game of Thrones season six premiere or, as I like to refer to it, the episode where the writers avoid resolving their season five cliffhanger for as long as they possibly can. Skirting around the fate of Jon Snow in the aftermath of ‘Mother’s Mercy’ means we spend rather a lot of time in this episode catching up with various characters around the map and doing very little else. The increase in comedy beats feels uneven at this stage as well, and the general storytelling is glaringly efficient. Still, we have Sansa’s lovely reunion with Brienne and we have that eerie reveal of Melisandre’s ancient true form, so not all is lost. A bumpy start to season six nonetheless.
69. The Last of the Starks (season 8, episode 4)
Not nice, I’m afraid. The episode that refused to reflect on the end of the White Walkers and instead crammed half a season’s worth of plot into a single episode. When this does settle down and allows the characters time to talk to each other, some brilliant themes of power, greed, and loneliness are reintroduced to the show, but they’re sandwiched between far too many decisive plot points. Oh, and another dragon is felled in this episode in what might be the worst scene in the entire show — a fleet of ships appear from nowhere! ‘The Last of the Starks’ starts anew when it might have been better served basking in the achievements of the previous week. Never mind.
68. Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things (season 1, episode 4)
I actually quite like ‘Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things’, but it always struck me as a slightly uneven outing for Game of Thrones. It unusually feels like a syndicated detective drama rather than a medieval fantasy show, as both Ned and Catelyn Stark scurry about the place investigating crimes. Ned is hot on the tail of Jon Arryn’s murderer, while Catelyn is after the person who sent the cutthroat to kill Bran. It’s a perfectly solid hour of television by all means, but by the time Tyrion is wrongly arrested at the Inn at the Crossroads the episode has long begun to feel like it’s from a completely different show.
67. Winterfell (season 8, episode 1)
Man, remember the eighteen month wait for this one? It was a simpler time. ‘Winterfell’ is an appropriately patient and subdued premiere for season eight, with many warm reunions and quiet character scenes defining it. The problem is that, quite often, the dialogue is stilted and bogged down by exposition as various characters find quiet spaces in the eponymous castle to recall their shared histories. It makes for pleasant viewing but not for an episode that’s immediately irresistible or captivating. Still, we get a nice dragon ride, and we Jaime’s reunion with Bran as the cliffhanger.
66. Kill the Boy (season 5, episode 5)
We have one of season five’s best character scenes in this episode as Maester Aemon advises Jon Snow to “kill the boy” inside him and “let the man be born”, and we also have Tyrion and Jorah’s beautiful recital of a poem detailing the Doom of Valyria. It’s just that the rest of the hour is spent with character pairings that don’t exactly radiate charisma. Grey Worm heals after the Sons of the Harpy attack and talks to Missandei while he’s at it; Roose and Ramsay Bolton plan the defence of Winterfell and make fat jokes. Oh, and Brienne and Podrick arrive near Winterfell. It’s a mid-season nudge.
65. The Climb (season 3, episode 6)
Remembered for Littlefinger’s monologue that explained in gruesome poetry the “game of thrones” we’d laid witness to up this point, and also for Jon and Ygritte’s passion kiss atop the Wall after nearly dying while climbing it. You’d be hard pushed to remember much else from this place-setting episode, though, that opens up the back half of season three with a dozen or so characters simply sat talking around campfires in various locations around the map because there’s little else to do at this point. Still, it’s got that monologue.
64. Breaker of Chains (season 4, episode 3)
The calm after the storm of Joffrey’s death, I suppose. Daenerys takes control of Meereen in the episode’s climax and we’re introduced to Olly for the first time as the wildlings start to invade farming villages in the North. But beyond that it’s a pretty patient early-season teaser and little more. ‘Breaker of Chains’ is particularly infamous, however, for the scene in which Jaime rapes Cersei (or apparently doesn’t rape her according to the showrunners, it’s hard to tell) in front of their son’s dead body in the Sept of Baelor. Clumsily handled in the moment and then never mentioned again. Yikes.
63. The Bear and the Maiden Fair (season 3, episode 7)
Sure, we have the scene where Jaime rescues Brienne from Harrenhal’s bear pit in this one, and Tywin gives Joffrey a wonderfully stern lecture in true leadership, but that’s basically the whole deal. Elsewhere, this George R. R. Martin-penned episode deals with sex and jealousy as Theon loses “his favourite toy”, the wildling Orrell declares his love for Ygritte for some reason, and Robb Stark struggles to plan the next stage of his army’s journey south because his new wife is just too damn attractive. It is what it is.
62. Sons of the Harpy (season 5, episode 4)
Ah, a controversial one! Ser Barristan Selmy is killed (and Grey Worm is injured) as the Sons of the Harpy launch their first attack in opposition to Daenerys’ rule in Meereen. We also have a great sequence in King’s Landing as the Faith Militant arrest Loras Tyrell — Lancel Lannister’s declaration that he is “justice” is a crowning moment. But this episode also marks the first appearance of the Sand Snakes, whose introductory scene is hideously cartoonish and really doesn’t blend with the rest of the action. Now that the show is over, I didn’t think Tyene, Obara, and Nymera were too bad really, but this isn’t a great opening for them. They were on a hiding to nothing really.
61. Unbowed Unbent Unbroken (season 5, episode 6)
Another controversial episode! We’re really racking them up. Although, to be honest, aside from Jaime and Bronn’s badly mishandled invasion of Dorne (in broad daylight!), this is just a standard mid-season Game of Thrones episode. We get some great exchanges between Lady Olenna and Cersei as the former returns to the capital in the wake of Loras’ arrest, and the mysteries of the Faceless Men get a little deeper in Braavos. The infamous scene of Sansa and Ramsay’s wedding night has been talked about too much but rest assured I understand everyone’s perspectives even if I don’t know how I personally feel.
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60. The House of Black and White (season 5, episode 2)
Jon Snow is elected as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch all of a sudden, and Arya arrives at the House of Black and White. Brienne and Podrick try to take Sansa on the road with them only to be chased off by Littlefinger’s men as they head to the Eyrie. Oh, and Cersei sends Jaime to Dorne after receiving a threat in the mail, so that’s the start of that whole thing. It’s early-season Game of Thrones, everybody. Slow and steady as she goes.
59. First of His Name (season 4, episode 5)
In this episode, helmed by Michelle MacLaren, Tommen is crowned as king, Jon Snow leads a dream team back to Craster’s Keep to overthrow the mutineers and get revenge for the death of Lord Commander Mormont, and we get the reveal that Littlefinger and Lysa Arryn were behind the poisoning of Jon Arryn way back in the first season, which triggered the events that lead to the War of the Five Kings. Not much happens anywhere else.
58. The Queen’s Justice (season 7, episode 3)
This episode is bookended by two wonderful scenes. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen meet for the first time at Dragonstone, and Jaime Lannister sees Lady Olenna off into the sunset at Highgarden via poison. The Queen of Thorns’ final scene sees Diana Rigg produce her very best performance. I mean, sure, the plot that passes between these two scenes would have ordinarily been enough to fill up half a season, but you can’t say those two scenes aren’t excellent. Lena Headey’s performance as Cersei also hits new levels as she poisons Ellaria and Tyene Sand, wiping the Sand Snakes out of the show for good.
57. Blood of My Blood (season 6, episode 6)
Written by Bryan Cogman, this is a necessary comedown after the events of ‘The Door’. The High Sparrow wins the episode after he thwarts the potential of the Tyrell army invading his domain by joining the crown and the faith and turning the common people against those who wish to stop him. Arya decides the assassin’s life is not for her (much to the Waif’s delight because now she gets to kill her), and Daenerys gives a rousing speech to the Dothraki after reuniting with Drogon. It’s another mid-season nudge in Game of Thrones.
56. Valar Dohaeris (season 3, episode 1)
It’s the start of season three and, where matters relating to adaptation are concerned, the start of a new book: A Storm of Swords. So, it’s an hour of checking in, seeing where everyone’s up to, and doing very little to drive the momentum of the season forward too much. Still, Jon sees a giant for the first time and pledges himself to the wildlings, which means we meet Tormund and Mance Rayder for the first time, the Tyrells are given a formal introduction, and Robb Stark imprisons his own mother for giving up their only hostage in Jaime Lannister.
55. The Prince of Winterfell (season 2, episode 8)
Season 2 is perhaps the slowest of the early seasons, and as a consequence this late-season episode feels more like a mid-season one. Incident is relatively low, but we do at least discover that Bran and Rickon Stark weren’t incinerated by Theon in the previous episode. Jon meets the Lord of Bones beyond the Wall, and Robb Stark makes the fateful decision to renege on his vow to Walder Frey that he’d marry one of his daughters. See, it’s a lot of set-up. Good set-up, but set-up all the same.
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54. Oathkeeper (season 4, episode 4)
This episode is perhaps best remembered for its introduction of the Night King and the Land of Always Winter. Daenerys’ decision to indiscriminately crucify 163 Meereenese masters gets a fair look-in as well, despite the objections of her advisers and the eventual realisation that not all of them were guilty of any crimes. It’s also the episode in which Lady Olenna reveals to Margaery that she had the biggest hand of all in Joffrey’s death, and that Tyrion is innocent, despite his imminent trial. A good mid-season episode.
53. Mhysa (season 3, episode 10)
Despite its infamous final scene that’s dominated by “white saviour” imagery, as Daenerys liberates the city of Yunkai, ‘Mhysa’ is a typically orderly Game of Thrones finale. The impact of the Red Wedding is also felt across the continent. Its defining moment, however, is the small council meeting that descends into farce as Joffrey throws a vicious tantrum and is expertly patronized and “sent to bed without his supper” by new Hand of the King, Tywin Lannister.
52. Dark Wings, Dark Words (season 3, episode 2)
With the Tyrells on the scene in King’s Landing, it’s time we got to know them. Margaery proves that she’s capable of wrapping Joffrey round her little finger as she brilliantly bends his sadistic desires to her will (you know, that crossbow scene), and we’re introduced to Lady Olenna for the very first time. Elsewhere in Westeros, a tense (but ultimately one-sided) sword fight between Brienne and Jaime ends with the pair being captured by Locke’s men, who now serve House Bolton.
51. The Broken Man (season 6, episode 7)
Otherwise known as the episode in which The Hound comes back, ‘The Broken Man’ features a brilliant one-time appearance from Ian McShane as Brother Ray. It’s an episode concerned almost exclusively with rebirth and regrowth as Theon Greyjoy finds himself once more after years of believing himself to be Reek. It also has a great stand-off between Jaime and the Blackfish at Riverrun as the Lannisters arrive to oversee a siege. But then there’s also the strange turn in Braavos as Arya walks around, loudly declaring her intentions to leave the city while on the run from faceless assassins — one of which, the Waif, tracks her down and stabs her. Hm.
50. The Iron Throne (season 8, episode 6)
The series finale. Aside from the jarring change of tone after Daenerys’ tragic death, which suddenly lurches into optimism as the lords of Westeros declare Bran as the new king, this episode brings Game of Thrones to a satisfying and considered conclusion. Some characters are too broken by the events of the season to stick around, while others are left to clear up the mess. It’s a compromise that comes with the slight hope that things might improve if humans learn to work together.
49. Dragonstone (season 7, episode 1)
Arya wipes out the Freys and uses her face-swapping skills for the final time. Bran comes south of the Wall as the Army of the Dead head to Eastwatch. Jon finds it a little difficult to rule at Winterfell as the newly named King in the North. The episode closes on a brilliant wordless sequence as Daenerys arrives back at her ancestral home of Dragonstone, with Ramin Djawadi providing a powerful soundtrack to the moment we’d been waiting for since the very beginning: Dany has entered the game of thrones. Oh, and there’s also a cameo appearance from Ed Sheeran.
48. Garden of Bones (season 2, episode 4)
Perhaps best remembered for being the first episode in the show to diverge from the books in a considerable way by inventing entirely original scenes and storylines — with the most notable example being Tywin Lannister’s sudden arrival at Harrenhal and his naming of Arya as his new cupbearer. Elsewhere, Robb Stark meets Talisa for the first time in the aftermath of battle, and Daenerys meets with the Thirteen of Qarth. Also, Melisandre’s ghost child is born in this one. It’s mid-season Game of Thrones once again, baby!
47. The Pointy End (season 1, episode 8)
George R. R. Martin makes his first appearance as writer in this episode that displays the sudden power vacuum that’s opened up in the wake of Ned Stark’s arrest. He’s in a dungeon deep under King’s Landing while his children are exposed to the bare face of war. Arya inadvertently claims her first kill, Sansa is now a captive of the Lannisters, and Robb is preparing to head south and rescue his father. Lots of children are about to grow up, and they’re going to have to grow up quickly.
46. A Man Without Honor (season 2, episode 7)
Sansa gets her first period and the Thirteen of Qarth are slaughtered by Pyat Pree. Until the cliffhanger, that’s all we have in terms of decisive plot points. Said cliffhanger comes when Theon reveals two charred bodies (believed to be Bran and Rickon) and hangs them high in the Winterfell courtyard. The look on his face is one of instant regret, even if he knows that the bodies are of two farm boys rather than Ned Stark’s children.
45. Walk of Punishment (season 3, episode 3)
Opening with one of the most memorable wordless sequences in Game of Thrones’ history, as Edmure Tully fails to set Hoster Tully’s ship burial alight, only for Brynden the Blackfish to introduce himself to the audience by successfully doing so. This episode is most memorable, however, for the closing moment, as Jaime Lannister has his sword hand severed by Locke after saving Brienne from sexual assault. He’ll never be the same again.
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44. Oathbreaker (season 6, episode 3)
Jon Snow wakes up after his resurrection and resigns as Lord Commander, hanging the mutineers and leaving the Night’s Watch in the process. While visiting the past through visions with Max von Sydow’s Three-Eyed-Raven, Bran Stark sees Arthur Dayne defeat his father in single combat underneath the Tower of Joy, only for him to be stabbed in the back by Howland Reed. What awaits Ned in the tower? We’ll have to wait until the season finale to find that out.
43. The Gift (season 5, episode 7)
Game of Thrones takes its first large step beyond the source material in this episode, which Miguel Sapochnik helms for the very first time. Tyrion Lannister meets Daenerys for the very first time, Maester Aemon becomes one of the few characters in the show to die of natural causes, and Cersei Lannister ends the episode in a prison cell having been arrested by the High Sparrow for the number of crimes she committed before empowering the Faith Militant to take over King’s Landing. Hoisted by her own petard!
42. The North Remembers (season 2, episode 1)
In the wake of the devastating events in ‘Baelor’, the children of the Stark family spend this episode learning how to fill their father’s shoes. Jon gets some lessons in leadership and compromise north of the Wall as the Night’s Watch reach Craster’s Keep for the very first time, Robb begins to lead his campaign south, while Sansa begins to understand that she’s a prisoner in King’s Landing. Like most Game of Thrones season premieres, this is an hour of sensible table-setting in an immersive and captivating world.
41. The Ghost of Harrenhal (season 2, episode 5)
The death of Renly Baratheon starts this episode off, and Arya’s first kill for hire closes it. Renly’s death is a little silly but it’s worth it just to see the start of Brienne’s journey that only really concludes in season 7. Speaking of Arya, the show’s expert decision to pair Arya with Tywin Lannister bears fruit for the first time in this episode as he deduces that she’s a Northerner. Nothing particularly earth-shattering happens in this episode but the scenes at Harrenhal alone are worth the entry fee for sure.
40. Valar Morghulis (season 2, episode 10)
In the aftermath of ‘Blackwater’, it’s all change in King’s Landing. The Tyrells are on the scene and Sansa is cast aside by Joffrey for Margaery, while Tyrion is demoted from his position as Hand of the King. Beyond the Wall, Qhorin Halfhand makes the ultimate sacrifice as he goads Jon into killing him in order to convince the wildlings that Jon has defected to their side. In the closing scene, the White Walkers attack the Fist of the First Men, leaving Sam trembling and alone.
39. The Wars to Come (season 5, episode 1)
The ramifications of Game of Thrones’ decision to go beyond the source material don’t become clear until the very end of season 5, but, looking back, it’s hard to ignore the show confidently setting its stall out here. Varys convinces Tyrion to meet with Daenerys Targaryen in Meereen, Sansa and Littlefinger head for Winterfell instead of sticking around the Vale, and Mance Rayder is burned alive by Melisandre on Stannis’ orders. The brief character pairing of Stannis and Jon Snow remains one of my favourites from the whole series.
38. Mockingbird (season 4, episode 7)
To understand why this episode is ranked where it is, you need only to remember two of its defining quotes. The first is, “I will begin with Ser Gregor Clegane, who killed my sister’s children and then raped her with their blood still on his hands before killing her, too. I will be your champion.” The second is, “I have only loved one woman. Only one, my entire life. Your sister.”
37. Winter is Coming (season 1, episode 1)
The fact that this episode is partly made up of previous versions of itself which have never seen the light of day should make it obvious that starting Game of Thrones was a logistical nightmare. Thankfully, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss believed in themselves enough to produce this loaded and occasionally overwhelming but engaging and patient pilot, providing us with the show we came to know and love. It’s a fully realised product that opens up a rich world and contains deep, rounded characters from the off.
36. Stormborn (season 7, episode 2)
Thanks to Euron Greyjoy’s Iron Fleet, Cersei levels the playing field in ‘Stormborn’ as she fights with Daenerys for control of Westeros. An erratic and intense sea battle closes the episode, as Theon’s recovery takes a downward turn. Elsewhere, this is an episode of heartwarming, tingly Stark moments: Arya briefly reunites with Hot Pie and Nymeria, Jon accepts an invitation from Daenerys and rides for Dragonstone, leaving Sansa in charge of the North.
35. Lord Snow (season 1, episode 3)
‘Lord Snow’ feels like something of a true beginning for Game of Thrones. With the pieces now on the move around the board, and with introductions no longer a central concern, ‘Lord Snow’ sits us down, pulls back the curtain, and — through wonderful character scenes involving Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark — expertly informs us that the grand history of this world was nothing but a victor’s lie.
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34. The Wolf and the Lion (season 1, episode 5)
‘The Wolf and the Lion’ takes the opportunity to properly expand the Game of Thrones world, with many unfamiliar faces, names and houses appearing for the very first time. Ned and Jaime’s bloody duel in the streets of King’s Landing, that sees Jory Cassell stabbed through the eye and Ned impaled on a spear, is the memorable high point of a strong outing for the show. It shows us that true power comes with the ability to deceive your enemies, to misdirect their intentions, and to patiently lead them to their own fates.
33. What is Dead May Never Die (season 2, episode 3)
After returning home to the Iron Islands, Theon Greyjoy is convinced to betray Robb and lead a conquest of the North. In the south of Westeros and on the run from the City Watch of King’s Landing, Yoren teaches Arya the value of revenge, list making, and murder that sets her down the path she follows until the very end of the show. A really brilliant set-up episode that Game of Thrones had mastered already, even in its second season.
32. Second Sons (season 3, episode 8)
This episode expertly uses nearly thirty episodes worth of context and deep character history to increase the tension. Tyrion and Sansa are married to each other as their wedding party descends into farce. Beyond the Wall, the secret to defeating the White Walkers is revealed, as Samwell Tarly kills a White Walker that had come to claim Gilly’s baby. After a bit of mid-season set-up, this episode is incredibly intense.
31. The Dragon and the Wolf (season 7, episode 7)
Post-adaptation Game of Thrones is at its brilliant best when it embraces its true nature as a fanfiction of both itself and of the source material responsible for its creation. This is exactly what ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’ does. The longest episode in the show’s history (until season 8) manages to confirm a handful of fan theories, deliver climactic events which have been long in the pipeline, and leave us salivating for the show’s eighth and final season.
30. Book of the Stranger (season 6, episode 4)
Producing one of the show’s finest post-adaptation scripts, ‘Book of the Stranger’ finally presents realistic, workable alternatives to the ceaseless misery that shrouded so many key moments in season five. All over the map we’re being presented with alternatives to the losses season five dealt, with, the promise of freedom pushing us there. The defining moment? Daenerys Targaryen’s fiery murder of the Dothraki khals and bloodriders.
29. You Win or You Die (season 1, episode 7)
When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die. The coldest, clearest warning that we receive about the dangers of this world: in a stunning power play by Cersei, her husband and king Robert Baratheon is killed on his hunt while Ned has a knife held to his throat by Littlefinger, the man he made the mistake of trusting, as we cut to black on an intense bloodbath in the throne room in King’s Landing. Things are about to get very real.
28. The Bells (season 8, episode 5)
After a slightly uneven first act, the battle depicted in ‘The Bells’ might well be one of Game of Thrones’ most stunning and fully realised achievements. This is ginormous and climactic, a set-piece prioritising terrifying fury and devastating chaos. It might well be a controversial episode but it is so for a reason: there is no way for a mass audience to comfortably digest this. Daenerys’ decision to raise King’s Landing to the ground is unlike any tragedy we’re used to seeing, even in this age of television.
27. The Dance of Dragons (season 5, episode 9)
During ‘The Dance of Dragons’, Game of Thrones produces what is arguably its darkest moment, as Shireen Baratheon is burned alive on the orders of her own father. In Meereen, Drogon swoops in to save Daenerys from an attack by the Sons of the Harpy during the Great Games. It’s the first time we get to see the Dragon Queen board one of her children. It’s a spectacle built on emotional character beats and years of waiting, and it’s backed by some of Ramin Djawadi’s finest work.
26. Kissed by Fire (season 3, episode 5)
“Once again, I came to the king, begging him to surrender. He told me to bring him my father’s head. Then he turned to his pyromancer. ‘Burn them all,’ he said. ‘Burn them in their homes. Burn them in their beds.’ Tell me, if your precious Renly commanded you to kill your own father and stand by while thousands of men, women, and children burned alive, would you have done it? Would you have kept your oath then?” A truly classic scene and one of the finest monologues in 21st century television. Oh, and Jon Snow goes down on Ygritte.
25. The Night Lands (season 2, episode 2)
One of the early episodes of Game of Thrones that clearly helped towards developing its reputation for building drama, character depth, and organic narrative progression out of intimate conversations and private scheming. Put simply, it’s an episode that prioritises the power of the voice and mind over that of swords and magic, and it does so wonderfully. The highlight? “I’m not questioning your honour, Lord Janos, I’m denying its existence.”
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24. The Old Gods and the New (season 2, episode 6)
Remembered best for Jon’s first encounter with Ygritte and the intense and frightening riot in King’s Landing, ‘The Old Gods and the New’ also contains some of the finest scenes Winterfell ever played host to. As Theon Greyjoy’s invasion of the North spirals out of control, he beheads Ser Rodrik Cassell, whose final words ring in Theon’s ears until the moment of his death: “Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.” Spine-chilling, emotionally rewarding, and wonderfully intense from start to finish.
23. Home (season 6, episode 2)
With ‘Home’, Game of Thrones’ sixth season really clicks into gear. It’s a propulsive, decisive episode with a really strong script. In two stunning turn of events, the cast wage bill is cleared significantly as both Roose Bolton and Balon Greyjoy are murdered by family members. Beyond the Wall, Brandon Stark goes back in time with the Three-Eyed-Raven to visit Winterfell in the days before his birth. And to round off, the moment we waited a whole year for finally arrives: Jon Snow comes back from the dead.
22. The Mountain and the Viper (season 4, episode 8)
“You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children!” [Yay! You go, Oberyn!] “Wait. Are you dying? No, no, no. You can’t die yet. You haven’t confessed.” [Erm, buddy, what’cha doin’?] “Say it. Say her name. Elia Martell. You raped her. You killed her children. Elia Martell.” [Look, you’ve got the win, just take it!] “Who gave you the order? Who gave you the order?! Say her name! You raped her! You murdered her! You killed her children. Say it. Say her name. Say it!” [Seriously, Oberyn, just — oh god, what’s happening? No! No!] “Elia Martell. I killed her children. Then I raped her. Then I smashed her head in like this!” [ENDLESS SCREAMING]
21. High Sparrow (season 5, episode 3)
Oh yeah, now we’re cooking. We’re introduced to the High Sparrow; Arya decides to hide Needle rather than throw it away; Brienne delivers her best monologue as she recounts to Podrick the occasion that she became devoted to Renly (“Nothing’s more hateful than failing to protect the one you love”); Sansa and Littlefinger head to Winterfell (“There’s no justice in the world, not unless we make it”); Jon Snow finally decides he’s had enough of Lord Janos, beheading him in front of everybody. Heaps of memorable dialogue-driven scenes and some intriguing developments make this one of the strongest episodes of the entire series.
20. Two Swords (season 4, episode 1)
The best season premiere by quite a way. Tywin Lannister melts down Ned Stark’s greatsword Ice in a terrific cold open, while Prince Oberyn arrives at King’s Landing and effortlessly steals the entire show. The episode then closes on a bloodbath as Arya Stark and The Hound slaughter Polliver’s men in a terrific revenge attack before stealing their horses. “If any more words come pouring out your cunt mouth, I’m going to have to eat every fucking chicken in this room.”
19. The Long Night (season 8, episode 3)
Some say awful, some say controversial, I say truly brilliant. This is the moment blockbuster cinema arrived on the small screen. An almighty slog that drags the audience down into the exhausting mire of battle, raises the tension so painfully and patiently, and then finds intimacy, hope, and true beauty underneath the all the mud and misery to wrap itself up tremendously. Arya Stark, the hero of Winterfell and the light in the darkness, is the one to kill the Night King after all. A fist-pumping, game-changing twist, and evidence that this show could still catch us off-guard eight seasons in.
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18. Fire and Blood (season 1, episode 10)
The first season’s fantastic finale is a key turning point for several characters as they begin to regain some leverage. Sansa considers pushing Joffrey off a bridge, while Tyrion is named Hand of the King. But it’s the birth of Daenerys’ three dragons that changes Game of Thrones, and television, forever. Where Ned Stark’s death in ‘Baelor’ was the ultimate consequence of the show’s violent politics, the birth of her mythical beasts pulls the show into fantasy territory. It’s a point from which both Dany and the show will never look back.
17. The Kingsroad (season 1, episode 2)
In an action-packed and intense second episode, Game of Thrones immediately ignites conflict between the Lannisters and the Starks with some of the series’ earliest defining scenes. Bran Stark is rescued by his mother as a cutthroat comes to kill him in his sleep, Arya and Nymeria attack Joffrey, and we also have the infamous conversation between Jon Snow and Ned Stark, where Ned promises to one day tell his bastard son the truth about his birth mother. The touch paper is indeed lit.
16. The Door (season 6, episode 5)
Even without its emotionally devastating, time-travelling chaos, ‘The Door’ would still be one of the show’s best episodes. We learn the origin of the White Walkers, Arya’s in the audience for a terrific comic retelling of the story so far, and we also get a heartfelt (albeit brief) reunion between Jorah and Daenerys. Then we get to the devastating, time-travelling chaos, as the Night King attacks the Three-Eyed-Raven’s cave and Bran accidentally warps a young Hodor’s mind. He creates a time loop that closes at the point of his guardian’s death. It’s the sort of TV wizardry that must be seen to be understood.
15. Mother’s Mercy (Season 5, episode 10)
A controversially miserable fifth season ends with one of the most decisive episodes in the show’s history, as a list of climactic events converge for one incredible hour of TV. Cersei does her walk of atonement, Stannis’ army falls at Winterfell, Theon and Sansa escape from Ramsay, Davos learns of his king’s defeat in the North, Daenerys is taken prisoner by the Dothraki, Arya kills Meryn Trant and is blinded by Jaqen H’ghar for doing so, Myrcella Baratheon dies in her father Jaime’s arms, and Jon Snow is killed by his Night’s Watch brothers. Man, everybody lost in season five.
14. The Laws of Gods and Men (season 4, episode 6)
This is seriously intense and satisfying television that launches Game of Thrones into its strongest run of consecutive episodes. The episode’s (and, arguably, the season’s) centrepiece explodes as Tyrion is called for trial. Against a list of false witness statements and with nothing to lose, Tyrion lays into anyone else who’s tortured him, taunted him, or completely disregarded him up to that point — Peter Dinklage delivers one the show’s finest monologues.
13. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (season 8, episode 2)
Never in its run had Game of Thrones ever been as beautiful as ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’. With beloved characters bracing themselves to face the Army of the Dead (and, in the process, their own mortality), they sit within the walls of Winterfell, ready to embrace the end for the greater good. Pure humanity is the silver lining of unavoidable tragedy, and Bryan Cogman’s script relies on memory to unearth it. This is the series’ true goodbye, and it’s just as well that it’s an all-time classic.
12. The Watchers on the Wall (season 4, episode 9)
The characters who defend the Wall from those who live beyond it clash to end a story arc which had been building ever since the first scene of the first episode, and it really excels at delivering incredible emotional resolutions. Love and duty dominate the pre-action discussions, Sam doesn’t shy away from his oath and fights as heroically as he can, and Jon and Ygritte share their last moments together on opposing sides before she is killed by Olly. It’s a tearjerker.
11. Baelor (season 1, episode 9)
By the time ‘Baelor’ concludes, Game of Thrones is fully underway, and there’s no stopping it on its path to becoming a cultural juggernaut. Along with ‘The Rains of Castamere’, this is a defining episode not just of this show, but of 21st century television as a whole. Ned Stark’s death was immediately predicted to be one of the most influential moments in TV history, and the landscape of the medium has only proved those predictions to be true. This is the show’s ace up its sleeve, and it plays its perfectly.
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10. The Spoils of War (season 7, episode 4)
Later seasons of Game of Thrones are at their best when you forget you’re watching the small screen. After some terrific scenes between Arya and Brienne, Littlefinger and Bran, and an emotional farewell for Meera Reed, Daenerys takes matters into her own hands and lands a destructive blow to the Lannisters in a battle sequence that will live long in the memory. It’s chocked full of instantly iconic visual beats and is masterfully suspended by the fear that characters we sympathise with might well kill each other. The above all adds up to the highest point of season seven, a fantastic outing.
9. A Golden Crown (season 1, episode 6)
This episode feeds us the rules of the game with one hand and displays the consequences for those blind to them with the other. It’s a defining episode of the first season that goes some way to building the show’s reputation for building evocative and immersive worlds, razor sharp dialogue, and grisly deaths. After we’re introduced to Bronn, Khal Drogo decides he’s had enough of Viserys Targaryen, and pours molten gold onto Dany’s brother’s head. It’s an unforgettable sight and a lesson that this show takes no prisoners.
8. Battle of the Bastards (season 6, episode 9)
After Daenerys defeats the slave masters for good, the horrifying chaos that ensues on the fields outside Winterfell might be this show’s best battle set-piece. It pushes back the boundaries of what television is capable of and produces intensely exciting results. This is an ambitious spectacle that really delivers. And to top it all off, Sansa, a survivor of everything Ramsay put her through, finally notches her first major win by defeating her abuser. Just like that, the Stark banners were back in Winterfell. Phwoar.
7. The Lion and the Rose (season 4, episode 2)
In this landmark early season show-stopper, George R. R. Martin expertly crafts one of the show’s only whodunnit storylines, as King Joffrey is poisoned in front of hundreds at his own wedding. It’s the awful boy king’s final lap, and so he uses it to taunt Tyrion and Sansa and hurl abuse at the entertainment. It’s a lasting reminder of how truly, delightfully abhorrent he was before Lady Olenna’s poison takes him from us forever.
6. And Now His Watch is Ended (season 3, episode 4)
This isn’t necessarily an episode concerned with revenge, but it does preach the value of patience when planning bolts from the blue. Lord Commander Mormont is brutally murdered in the chaotic, tense and bloody mutiny at Craster’s Keep, while Daenerys steals the Unsullied from Astapor in a show-stopping climax that produces Emilia Clarke’s best performance as the dragon queen. It’s full to the brim with fantastic character moments, devilishly smooth dialogue, and two of the show’s most memorable incidents.
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5. The Rains of Castamere (season 3, episode 9)
This is Game of Thrones’ defining episode. The moment when those who were either ignorant of the show or unconvinced by recommendations finally decided to see what the fuss was about. Even if you weren’t already a convert, you still know where you were when your friends watched this episode live and came crying to you in the immediate aftermath. After a tense near-encounter between Jon and Bran in the North, the stage is set for the infamous “Red Wedding” — the incident that killed all hope of this show producing a happy ending. The closing shot of Catelyn Stark having her throat slit open as a harrowing full stop to the chaos is one that will outlast many images from this era of television. It’s a classic.
4. Hardhome (season 5, episode 8)
After a brilliant first council meeting between Tyrion and Daenerys (in which she states her wish to “break the wheel”), ‘Hardhome’ produces the strongest warning yet of the White Walker threat. In Miguel Sapochnik’s first battle (read: massacre) as director, his vision is fully realised in an intoxicating, breathless, shockingly violent fifteen-minutes that completely switches the show’s primary focus. The moment that Jon Snow kills a Walker with Longclaw, his Valyrian steel sword, is a fist-pumper for the ages. Make no mistake, this is post-adaptation Game of Thrones at its absolute peak.
3. The Children (season 4, episode 10)
Do you hear that? That’s the sound of several story arcs closing shut. Tyrion Lannister finally exacts revenge on his father, Tywin, murdering him via crossbow — not before murdering Shae in self-defence. Stannis arrives at Castle Black to bring the war between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings to an end. Bran Stark finally reaches the Three-Eyed-Raven’s cave. And in a brutal fight scene, Brienne defeats the Hound, apparently pushing him from a cliff to his death, before Arya departs for Braavos to join the Faceless Men. Decisive.
2. Blackwater (season 2, episode 9)
‘Blackwater’, without a shadow of a doubt, is Game of Thrones’ first ten-out-of-ten episode. The wildfire explosion alone is enough to put this episode in the top ten, producing one of the most memorable sequences in the show’s entire run. But it’s what happens away from the battle that elevates it to legendary status. Tyrion, Cersei, and the Hound all go through several revelations in this episode while the drama is driven by Stannis’ invasion of the capital outside. By the time Tywin arrives with the Tyrells, you’ve been pulled to the edge of your seat more times than you can count.
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1. The Winds of Winter (season 6, episode 10)
I’ve watched this episode more times than I can clearly remember, yet the emotional reaction it draws out of me seems to grow more intense on each occasion. This is emphatic television delivered with elegance and power in equal measure, as the show draws the curtain on its second act and outshines all its previous achievements with a super-sized episode that’s as climactic as it is gigantic. It shoots for epic spectacle that’s rooted in seasons-worth of character depth and audience investment and it goes miles beyond achieving what we expected to be possible. Cersei destroys the Sept of Baelor, wiping out the Tyrells and the Faith Militant in one go; King Tommen commits suicide; Jon Snow is revealed to be the son of Lyanna Stark and then declared King in the North; Sansa declares that winter has come; Arya gets revenge for the Red Wedding by slaughtering Walder Frey; Sam lives out his lifelong dream of experiencing the Citadel library; the Sand Snakes ally with Varys and Lady Olenna; Cersei then crowns herself as queen in the aftermath of the Sept’s destruction; and Daenerys finally heads to Westeros after six seasons. After all that, I need a lie down. The very best episode of an amazing show.