A selection of wonderful moments from the first season of Game of Thrones.
1.1 ‘Winter is Coming’
Best moment: Jaime Lannister pushes Brandon Stark from the high tower in Winterfell.
Why? By the halfway point of the pilot, it’s already clear that Game of Thrones will be a fantasy show unlike any other. For example, the first sentence spoken by the actual king (Robert Baratheon) to his loyal Warden of the North (Ned Stark) is: “You’ve got fat.” But it’s the episode’s final moment that endures as its defining image. Brandon Stark, Ned’s adventurous and curious son, climbs to the highest point of Winterfell and finds the queen, Cersei Lannister, having sex with her twin brother Jaime, who also happens to be head of the Kingsguard. By doing so, Bran stumbles across a secret that, if exposed, would see the Lannister siblings and their bastard children sentenced to death. After weighing up those options, Jaime pushes Bran to his (presumed) death. Putting children in the firing line didn’t make Game of Thrones unique, but for a child to be pushed so casually from a great height displayed a ruthlessness that would come to define the show. As the pilot cuts to black on the image of Bran falling towards the camera, it’s the first clear warning that the audience will have no control whatsoever over this story. In hindsight, Bran’s fall influences the show from beginning to end — it triggers the events that lead to the War of the Five Kings, it sends Bran beyond the Wall in search of greater meaning, and it sees him eventually return south to take the crown.
Honourable mention: “All dwarves are bastards in their fathers’ eyes.”
1.2 ‘The Kingsroad’
Best moment: Catelyn Stark defends Bran from the catspaw assassin.
Why? In the series’ first memorable flashpoint of unflinching, brutal violence — something else the show would come to be known for — the weight of the secret that Bran Stark holds about Cersei and Jaime is shown to hold enough value for someone to send an assassin after him. Little does the hired assassin know that Catelyn Stark is waiting by Bran’s bedside, and she has other ideas. Holding the cutthroat’s Valyrian steel dagger with her bare hands in order to protect her son, she holds him off long enough for Bran’s direwolf Summer to maul the intruder to death. It’s an incident that’s drowned in blood and it’s over as quickly as it begins, inspiring Catelyn to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding her son’s fall — an investigation that causes the War of the Five Kings to flicker into life. Years later, Bran presents the assassin’s dagger to Arya Stark, who then uses it kill the Night King and to end the Long Night.
Honourable mention: Nymeria attacks Joffrey at the Trident.
1.3 ‘Lord Snow’
Best moment: Robert Baratheon, Jaime Lannister, and Barristan Selmy share their war stories.
Why? “War stories” isn’t just here because it’s one of the first show-only scenes ever to be written by series creators David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, but that does contribute quite a lot to its place in this ranking. Simply put, ‘Lord Snow’ is an episode that sits us down, pulls back the curtain, and informs us that history is nothing but a victor’s lie. King Robert, Jaime, and Barristan Selmy recall their triumphant first kills in combat, but as their conversation continues the glamour of war and the legends of battle are peeled away, revealing the miserable truth underneath. As King Robert says while describing his first kill, “They never tell you how they all shit themselves — they don’t put that part in the songs.” In an episode full of conversations, this is the best one.
Honourable mention: Ned Stark pins Littlefinger against the wall outside the brothel in King’s Landing.
1.4 ‘Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things’
Best moment: The introduction of Samwell Tarly.
Why? After heading off to join the ancient order of the Night’s Watch in the second episode of the first season, Jon Snow has learned quickly that the noble organisation is little more than a freezing prison. Promoted as a noble band of warriors, what Jon finds is almost the complete opposite. Lonely at Castle Black and with very few friends, it’s welcome relief for him when Samwell Tarly arrives from Horn Hill, having been banished by his father for being too “soft” and burying his head in books. Sam isn’t much of a fighter, as displayed by his inability to hold his sword up properly during sparring matches with his brothers, but he provides Jon with focus and a friend to protect. By the end of this episode he has revealed himself to be a sweet and loyal person whose lot in life has been predetermined by an abusive father who sees no use for him. Jon and Sam’s relationship begins in this episode and extends almost to the end of the show, with their paths only separating for good once Jon is banished to the Wall and Sam assumes the position of grandmaester in Bran the Broken’s council. Burying his head in books turned out alright in the end.
Honourable mention: Daenerys fights back against Viserys.
1.5 ‘The Wolf and the Lion’
Best moment: Jaime Lannister and Ned Stark duel in a King’s Landing street.
Why? This is the first flashpoint of the War of the Five Kings, even before it’s officially been declared. Several Stark men are murdered by several Lannister soldiers during this fracas in King’s Landing. With his younger brother Tyrion currently being held captive by the Starks in the Vale, Jaime Lannister responds by attacking Ned Stark in the street. It’s a bloody duel that sees the death of Jory Cassell, Ned’s right hand man for most of these early episodes, and results in Ned himself suffering a severe wound to the leg after being impaled by a spear. It’s over very quickly, but it contains the only duel between Jaime and Ned, and it’s also one of the very first choreographed sequences of fighting between a large group of people in this show.
Honourable mention: Tyrion defends Catelyn from a hilltribe ambush.
1.6 ‘A Golden Crown’
Best moment: Khal Drogo gives Viserys “the golden crown” he demanded.
Why? Across the first six episodes, Viserys Targaryen pushes his luck more than once. After selling his sister Daenerys to Dothraki horse lord Khal Drogo, to his surprise the married couple take to each other — and he doesn’t like that. He raises his hands to Dany, he disrespects her, he shows a complete disregard for sacred Dothraki traditions, and this is what he gets. Molten gold poured onto his head and through his skull, until he clunks to the ground with a thump. Dead. This is confirmation, as if we needed it, that it was Dany who was “the dragon” after all, despite her brother’s boasting. It brings one of the series’ finest episodes to an abrupt finish and further reminds viewers that its depiction of death will be cruel and unflinching.
Honourable mention: Bronn names himself as Tyrion’s champion.
1.7 ‘You Win or You Die’
Best moment: Littlefinger betrays Ned Stark in the throne room.
Why? We loved Ned Stark, but he was such an idiot. After ignoring Littlefinger’s repeated warnings to not trust anybody in King’s Landing, Ned does the exact opposite and finds himself betrayed and imprisoned within seconds in this episode. With King Robert Baratheon dead, his son (not really his son) Joffrey has ignored royal decree and taken the throne for himself, with Cersei truly in command behind him. Robert’s deathbed wish was for Ned to assume power until Joffrey “came of age”, but with Cersei aware that Ned has gained knowledge that all of her children were born of incest, she seeks to banish him from the equation. In this stunning turn of events, the City Watch turn on the Stark soldiers and another bloodbath ensues.
Honourable mention: The introduction of Tywin Lannister.
1.8 ‘The Pointy End’
Best moment: Jon Snow defends Lord Commander Mormont from a wight.
Why? In this George R. R. Martin-penned episode, Jon’s direwolf Ghost returns from the woods north of the Wall with a rotting hand. Soon after, two corpses are brought into Castle Black. Soon after, those corpses rise from the dead and wreak havoc in the Lord Commander’s chambers. Thinking quickly, Jon eventually manages to burn alive the wight that attempts to kill him and Lord Commander Mormont. It’s the first horror sequence the show relied on to show the dangers of the Army of the Dead, and an example of the threat coming for Westeros if the realm doesn’t band together.
Honourable mention: Drogo rips out Mago’s tongue.
Best moment: Ned Stark is beheaded.
Why? Well, this is it. This is the moment that changed Game of Thrones forever, put Game of Thrones on the map of Western popular culture forever, and changed television in the 21st century television forever. Ned Stark, the undisputed protagonist of HBO’s new big-budget fantasy television event, killed inside nine episodes. Cersei’s original plan — to silence Ned before he can reveal the truth about her offspring and send him to the Wall as punishment for treason — is harsh but fair by her standards, but Joffrey goes one giant leap further and orders Ser Ilyn to execute him instead. Surely someone will save him? Surely Arya will jump through the crowd with her sword Needle and rescue her father? Nope. Not in this show. And once your main character is dead, where do all your other characters stand? For a long time after this, Game of Thrones felt dangerous to watch and was often accused of torturing its viewers, with audiences tuning in hoping against hope that their favourite character wouldn’t be chopped down in their prime that week — often with miserable results. But even beyond that, Ned Stark’s death didn’t just plunge characters in his show into danger, it threatened the life of any protagonist in any show from there on out.
1.10 ‘Fire and Blood’
Best moment: Daenerys Targaryen steps into Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre.
Why? It isn’t so much the moment that Daenerys steps into her late husband’s funeral pyre that belongs in this list, but the speech before it and the dramatic revelation after it. After being forced to mercy-kill her husband, and after losing her child, and after the Dothraki desert her in barren wastelands, Dany sees no other option than to test the theory that her dragon eggs are not mere ornaments. Before stepping into the flames meant for her husband’s body, Emilia Clarke delivers one of her best performances as the Dragon Queen, assuring her remaining followers that those who would harm them will “die screaming”. After the flames die out, Jorah Mormont waits for the smoke to clear and see Daenerys sitting there — unburnt, with three dragons crawling all over her, singing in the morning air. Drogon screeching over the cut to black is one of the most spine-chilling moments in the series. If Ned Stark’s death showed the true consequences of the political side of Game of Thrones, this was the confirmation to viewers that it was very much intending to be a fantasy show. It’s a point from which the show never looks back, and heads on to become a cultural phenomenon.
Honourable mention: Sansa finally stands up to Joffrey following Ned’s death.