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Game of Thrones’ best episodes

Game of Thrones is over, and we miss it already.

Plowing through every one of its 73 episodes again would be a massive undertaking, so we put together a list of our favorites. Think of this like a Game of Thrones playlist. It’s a guide to the best episodes from every season, each of which is worth rewatching — and many of which look different after the finale.

Winter Is Coming

SEASON 1, EPISODE 1

“The things I do for love.”
HBO

The episode that started it all, “Winter Is Coming,” is a neat encapsulation of everything we love about Game of Thrones. With Eddard Stark at the pilot’s center, the series’ focus on the way characters’ family codes affect their personal morals (and vice versa) is clearly laid out, as Ned takes his children to watch an execution for desertion — which he carries out — and the Lannisters demonstrate just how much power their wealth buys them.

Wheels are also set in motion as Ned is appointed Hand of the King, and his wife Catelyn discovers that her sister believes her husband to have been murdered by the Lannisters. The dead direwolf and dead stag (sigils of House Stark and House Baratheon, respectively) found on a hunt don’t bode well for the future, either.

Meanwhile, across the sea, exiled prince Viserys Targaryen arranges a marriage between his sister Daenerys and the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo (notably, among the gifts Daenerys receives are three petrified dragon eggs), and across the Wall, White Walkers stir for the first time in centuries.

The episode ends with one of the most iconic scenes in the series: When little Bran Stark discovers Jaime and Cersei Lannister in flagrante, it seems the jig between the two siblings is up. That is, until Jaime pushes Bran from the tower window. —Karen Han

Baelor

SEASON 1, EPISODE 9

Game of Thrones Baelor

You don’t even need to see Joffrey’s whole face to know that he’s a monster.
HBO

A lot happens in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ first season. Robb makes a deal with the infinitely creepy Lord Walder Frey to cross the river and fight the Lannister army. Jaime finds himself in a position where he’ll stay for a long while. And then there’s poor Ned Stark.

I can still remember my utter certainty about what wasn’t going to happen — what couldn’t happen. I can see myself sitting on the couch at my friend’s house, scoffing at my own nerves. I watched, calm as a glassy lake, secure in the knowledge that no piece of media I’d ever consumed had ever cut down the main character in the second-to-last episode of the first season. I mean, sure, it looked bad, but c’mon.

The execrable Joffrey salivated like a dog gnawing on a rawhide, Sansa writhed, the sword fell, and Game of Thrones stopped being good and became great.

But there’s another reason to watch this one again, especially now that we’ve seen the series finale.

Jon is at Castle Black, pledged to the Night’s Watch, and his duty prevents him from helping his brother Robb with the Lannisters. He’s pissed off and frustrated. Sam knows what’s up, and he tells Maester Aemon, who summons Jon.

“Tell me,” Maester Aemon says, “Did you ever wonder why the men of the Night’s Watch take no wives and father no children?”

“No,” Jon says.

“So they will not love. Love is the death of duty. If the day should ever come that your lord father was forced to choose between honor on the one hand and those he loves on the other, what would he do?”

For years, I thought the most important part of this scene was what happens next: Maester Aemon reveals himself to be a Targaryen. Turns out this part of their conversation (and its Tyrion-inspired inverse) will later determine the fate of a kingdom.

On the bright side, Jon gets a new weapon. —Dave Tach

Fire and Blood

SEASON 1, EPISODE 10

Game of Thrones Fire and Blood

Daenerys Targaryen becomes the Mother of Dragons.
HBO

As season 1 closes, Game of Thrones reminds us exactly what kind of show it is. Our hero, Eddard Stark, is dead, and the game of thrones has only just begun. This episode sets up repercussions that will echo for seven more seasons.

We see Arya’s desire for vengeance. We see King Joffrey’s sadistic side. We see the Hound’s tender(ish) side. We see the scheming and machinations of Cersei, Grand Maester Pycelle, and Tywin. Tyrion is appointed Hand of the King for the first time (of several times he’s named the Hand).

At the Wall, Jon weighs love of his family against his duty to the Night’s Watch. When he tries to leave, Samwell, Pyp, and Grenn (the future giantslayer) bring him back, saying they’re taking him back where he belongs — with his new brothers.

Across the Narrow Sea, Dany mourns the deaths of her husband and son. We see her first act of fire-based vengeance. She walks into a fire, and walks out, unharmed, with three baby dragons. —Jeff Parkin

The Ghost of Harrenhal

SEASON 2, EPISODE 5

Game of Thrones The Ghost of Harrenhal

Tyrion discovers a stash of green-burning wildfire littered around King’s Landing.
HBO

Midway through season 2, Game of Thrones still isn’t screwing around.

Renly Baratheon, preparing for war against his brother, is murdered by the Shadow that Melisandre created for Stannis. Brienne and Catelyn Stark flee together — and Brienne vows an oath to Catelyn that she fulfills for the rest of the show.

In King’s Landing, Tyrion learns of the wildfire stashed throughout the city. He’ll go on to use it to defend King’s Landing in the Battle of the Blackwater, Cersei will use it in a few seasons to exact her revenge on the Faith Militant, and Dany will ignite the rest of it in her attack on King’s Landing.

Meanwhile, Arya has befriended Jaqen H’ghar, the face-dancing assassin, and starts working on her list.

In Essos, Dany has taught her dragons to breathe fire when she says “dracarys.” She’s surrounded by enemies in Qarth. While planning the coming war, Jorah confesses his (forever unrequited) love for her. —Jeff Parkin

Blackwater

SEASON 2, EPISODE 9

Game of Thrones Blackwater

The wildfire comes in handy during the Battle of the Blackwater.
HBO

Before this episode, there was an assumption that you couldn’t do a battle on TV. At least, not really. You couldn’t have boats and castles. You couldn’t have hundreds of extras with swords and shields, or masses hiding in terror from the chaos and screaming while they jump off of burning ships. That was all the realm of movies.

Then Blackwater happened.

It’s an episode fully devoted to the siege of King’s Landing and the battle that broke out around it. There are explosions, inspirational speeches, tense moments, characters facing down certain death, and there is lots of fighting. It was everything that TV wasn’t supposed to be able to do. It put front and center all the action scenes that television budgets — even ones on HBO — weren’t supposed to have room for, and every bit of it was a gripping, exciting, and glorious spectacle.

But it’s more than just the thrill of actually seeing a battle: It’s also the culmination of so many character arcs woven in around the fighting. For Tyrion, it’s the culmination of a season’s worth of effort trying to protect the people of King’s Landing, and it mostly works. Joffrey cowers, the Hound finally breaks out from under the young king’s control and starts down the path of becoming a (somewhat) new man, and we see the first hints of what Cersei can be driven to do.

More than any before it, this episode proved to us just how far Game of Thrones could go, and that at its most ambitious it could reach heights no other TV show had ever reached for. —Austen Goslin

Valar Morghulis

SEASON 2, EPISODE 10

Game of Thrones Valar Morghulis

Dany’s vision takes her to the Iron Throne.
HBO

File this one under things That Seem More Important In Hindsight.

The final episode of season 2 (whose title means “all men must die” in High Valyrian) shuffles the deck. Lord Tywin Lannister gets a reward for defeating Stannis Baratheon at the Battle of the Blackwater. Melisandre shows Stannis a fiery vision. Brienne escorts the captive Jaime Lannister and displays her honor, and their mutual respect deepens. Sam confronts the dead north of the Wall.

But the most interesting part of “Valar Morghulis” happens across the Narrow Sea. Ser Jorah, Kovarro the Dothraki, and Daenerys enter the House of the Undying, where the warlocks of Qarth hold her dragons.

Daenerys and the boys get separated, and she has a series of visions as she walks through the stronghold. They’re strange and disjointed, as visions tend to be. They’re easy to forget, as abstract visions also tend to be. They’re also a prologue to the Game of Thrones finale. —Dave Tach

And Now His Watch Is Ended

SEASON 3, EPISODE 4

Game of Thrones And Now His Watch Is Ended Craster

Craster, who is a bastard, doesn’t like being called a bastard.
HBO

Ramsay, Joffrey, Tywin, Walder Frey — we can argue about who had the most satisfying death. But let’s save some bile for bad old Craster, who had the first satisfying death when he got drunk, ran his mouth, and slept it off with a good old-fashioned dirt nap. It’s also beautifully complicated by the fact the righteous comeuppance is given not by Jon Snow, some virtuous hero, or one of Craster’s brutalized daughters, but the despicable Karl Tanner. This shows how horrible Craster is, that his depravity is a bridge too far even for an amoral shit like Karl.

It also illustrates how Jeor Mormont is no monolith of admiration himself. His men endure starvation, privation, and Craster’s arrogance, and Mormont countenances that treatment all out of a larger operational convenience. That costs the Lord Commander the respect of his men, and his life, in the mutiny that breaks out with this slaying. Still, the scene is, like Ramsay, Joffrey, and Walder Frey later, one of a handful where an unconditionally monstrous character meets an unconditionally bad end. It begins with Craster threatening the next man to call him a bastard, and Karl accepting that offer. “You are a bastard,” says the legend of Gin Alley. “A daughter-fucking wildling bastard.”

And I agree that this and the mutiny isn’t even the most noteworthy development of the episode. It’s just my favorite. A close second was Kraznys, insulting Daenerys in Valyrian (bad idea!) and getting char-grilled by Drogon. The sack of Astapor and the liberation of Slaver’s Bay follows. And the crated-up wizard who cut off Varys’ balls — an outcome the showrunners invented — is a nice bronze medal. —Owen S. Good

The Bear and the Maiden Fair

SEASON 3, EPISODE 7

Game of Thrones The Bear and the Maiden Fair Jamie Brienne

Jaime’s redemption begins in the bear pit.
HBO

“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is not an especially plot-heavy episode (for Game of Thrones), so if you’re only looking for the major story beats, you can skip it. But what it lacks in big battles and bold political maneuvers, it makes up for in juicy character moments.

On the way to his uncle’s wedding to one of Walder Frey’s daughters, Robb Stark learns that his new wife, Talisa, is pregnant. Even knowing how tragically their story will end (see “The Rains of Castamere”), we understand why Robb was willing to jeopardize his alliance with the Freys for her. They’re truly in love.

Also in love: Jon Snow and Ygritte. The wildlings are marching on Castle Black, another doomed mission, but the banter between these two is adorable and touching. Ygritte tells Jon, “You’re mine and I’m yours. And if we die, we die. But first we’ll live.”

Finally, the moment that launched a thousand ’ships, gave the episode its title, and arguably kicked off the Kingslayer’s redemption arc. On his way back to King’s Landing, Jaime Lannister learns that his former captors have no intention of ransoming Brienne of Tarth; instead, they plan to watch her try to fight off a bear while wearing a dress and armed with only a wooden sword. The newly one-handed Jaime jumps into the pit to rescue Brienne, the first truly selfless act we’ve seen from him. —Emily Heller

The Rains of Castamere

SEASON 3, EPISODE 9

Game of Thrones The Rains of Castamere Walder Frey

Walder Frey: wedding planner, piece of human garbage
HBO

I arrived at Game of Thrones in a very circuitous way, which should have spoiled the Red Wedding. Somehow, despite starting my exposure with a Telltale Games adaptation that begins outside that baleful day at the Twins, I managed to walk right into Walder Frey’s home completely unaware of what was about to go down. So think back to what it was like the day “The Rains of Castamere” originally aired (June 2, 2013). Blindsided doesn’t begin to describe it. I said “oh shit” out loud when Catelyn discovered Roose Bolton wearing mail underneath his shirt, for a similar thing happens to kick off Telltale’s Game of Thrones.

I remember my fan-serviced delight when Edmure’s bride turned out to look nothing like Walder Frey, as we were to assume. God, they all looked so happy. That’s what made this one sting. Then I realized why this show has such a hold on its viewers. It’s not just because no one is sacred, and major characters may be cut down at a moment’s notice. It’s that the storytellers will do it in their happiest moments.

Seasons one through five of Game of Thrones were almost something to endure, for the torment its characters were put through, and overcame. Even in an existential fight against the undead, or the loss of a dragon, the last two seasons missed that unrelenting tension, which broke in a bloody crescendo at the Red Wedding.—Owen S. Good

Mhysa

SEASON 3, EPISODE 10

Game of Thrones Mhysa

Yunkai’s freed slaves hoist up their liberator and mother.

Another season finale enters the list, and this one is notable for showing us the best version of Daenerys Targaryen, who caps off season 3 with liberation.

The episode’s title derives from the name that Yunkai’s freed slaves bestow upon their liberator. It means “mother” in Ghiscari, their native tongue. And it’s apt, really. This is perhaps peak good Dany — a ruler who earns a name that encapsulates the kind of monarch that she wants to be.

She’s the kind of ruler who, in her estimation, straight-up can’t free slaves. Only they can free themselves. Mhysa says so, and her adoring subjects lift her aloft in the streets. It’s a reminder of who Daenerys Targaryen thought she was, who she could have been, who she chose not to be over King’s Landing, grumble grumble grumble. —Dave Tach

The Lion and the Rose

SEASON 4, EPISODE 2

Game of Thrones The Lion and the Rose Joffrey chokes

Good riddance to bad rubbish.
HBO

Despite Game of Thrones priming its audience to expect violence at weddings just a few episodes earlier, the nuptials between Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell are still shockingly gruesome. After publicly taunting his uncle Tyrion and otherwise acting like a spoiled little punk, Joffrey drinks wine laced with the Strangler poison and violently chokes to death.

Killing off the series’ main villain in the so-called “Purple Wedding” was a cathartic moment of victory for fans who had been watching the teenage king’s sadistic antics for four seasons, but that moment would be short-lived. Two of the show’s beloved characters, Sansa and Tyrion, are accused of the crime. Sansa escapes with the aid of Ser Dontos (via Littlefinger), but Cersei commands the Kingsguard to seize Tyrion.

“The Lion and the Rose” is also notable as the last episode written by George R. R. Martin, who previously wrote “The Pointy End,” “Blackwater,” and “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” —Emily Heller

Hardhome

SEASON 5, EPISODE 8

Game of Thrones Hardhome

“I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”
HBO

The reason most people will always remember this episode is because of how it ends. A phenomenal fight, the living against the dead, Jon Snow facing down the Night King — who raises his army back from the dead and adds hundreds of wildlings to its ranks. But that isn’t the most important thing in the episode, as it turns out.

Instead, the most important moment — as it so often does on Game of Thrones — comes when two people are sitting in a room talking to one another. And in that scene, Dany makes Tyrion a promise.

“I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel,” says Daenerys Targaryen, sealing her fate forever.

With all the fighting and the armies of the dead, it’s easy to forget that this is the episode where Dany makes this fateful proclamation. It’s even easier to forget the conviction that she says it with. But looking back now from the end of the series, with season 8’s fifth episode and the burning of King’s Landing fresh in our memory, it’s easy to see that nothing at all was going to stop her from trying to break the wheel.

And for what it’s worth, in her own way, she did break the wheel. The Westeros ruled by unchosen kings and their children is gone, and the mission she outlined in this episode is completed. —Austen Goslin

Mother’s Mercy

SEASON 5, EPISODE 10

Game of Thrones Mother’s Mercy Cersei walk of shame

Cersei’s walk of shame
HBO

Season finales of Game of Thrones tend to have a higher body count than the rest of the episodes, and “Mother’s Mercy” is no exception. But this isn’t an epic battle episode like next season’s “Battle of the Bastards.” Instead, it’s an episode of failures and painful consequences.

Stannis Baratheon, having just sacrificed his daughter and lost his wife, survives his failed attack on the Bolton forces occupying Winterfell, only to be killed by Brienne of Tarth — retribution for Renly’s death way back in season 2. Arya’s faceless assassin training allows her to kill Meryn Trant, the man who killed her dancing instructor back in season 1, but she loses her sight as punishment. Dany has conquered cities, freed peoples, and survived an assassination attempt, but now she’s lost in the Dothraki Sea, captured by a khalasar with no interest in serving her — although it doesn’t work out well for them.

In King’s Landing, we see Cersei broken by the Faith Militant, and we get her surprisingly literal walk of shame. At the end, while her dirty laundry is known to the entire town, she is lifted up by the conniving people who adore her — and by the newly Frankensteined Mountain.

We see Lord Commander Jon Snow, having betrayed the Night’s Watch by allying with the Wildlings, branded a traitor by his brothers. As punishment, he gets stabbed to death “for the Watch” and left to die in the snow.

It’s an episode-long reminder that actions have consequences, even in a larger-than-life show like Game of Thrones. Someone will always remember what our heroes did to come out on top, and they’ll make sure they pay. —Jeff Parkin

The Door

SEASON 6, EPISODE 5

Game of Thrones The Door Hodor

“Hold the door!”
HBO

Again, I started watching Game of Thrones in 2017, and in my copy-editing duties, I had “The Door” and the origin of Hodor’s name spoiled for me well before I saw it for myself. It’s one thing to be told of Hodor’s origins, but one has to behold him as Wylis — large, goofy, but fully in control of his mental faculties — to really understand the tragedy of his life. And that emotion is still real, and spoiler-proof. Understanding the time-travel pretzel that both killed him and destroyed his mind was another example of how I, and I suspect many others, had to follow major scenes only contextually aware that something grave had happened. Later I’d piece together the how and why from things like recaps, the Game of Thrones wiki, social media, and Reddit. There’s watching the show, but discussing, understanding, and even researching them is what indoctrinates you into Thrones fandom. —Owen S. Good

Battle of the Bastards

SEASON 6, EPISODE 9

Game of Thrones Battle of the Bastards Jon buried in bodies

Jon, buried alive in bodies.
HBO

Game of Thrones used battles the way most shows use bottle episodes. Rather than a minimalist episode full of dialog to break up the regular action, Game of Thrones prefered to break up its hours of dialog with an hour of horrific warfare. And of all these sort of anti-bottle episodes, “Battle of the Bastards” was the show’s masterpiece.

Director Miquel Sapochnik’s 60-minute action epic is as effective a sword-and-shield battle as there’s ever been in a movie or show. In “Battle of the Bastards,” medieval warfare isn’t a heroic and grand fight — it’s a nightmare. It’s the feeling of claustrophobia in an open field or the moment when Jon’s concerns shift from being stabbed by the swords around him to suffocating under a pile of bodies.

Another show with reasonable ambition and budget might have had the Stark’s retaking of Winterfell happen via a letter read by a minor character. Instead, Game of Thrones blew the moment out into a massive battle that may not have taught us much about the characters, but it certainly showed us the most terrible parts of war in Westeros. —Austen Goslin

The Winds of Winter

SEASON 6, EPISODE 10

Game of Thrones The Winds of Winter Tommen suicide

Tommen opts out of the game of thrones.
HBO

For my money, “The Winds of Winter” is clearly Game of Thrones’ greatest season finale, and one of its best episodes ever. Ned Stark’s death and the Red Wedding are typically cited as the series’ most shocking moments, but the destruction of the Sept of Baelor — along with all of Cersei’s immediate enemies in King’s Landing — is right up there, too. It’s perhaps the most arresting sequence in the entire show, cutting between characters à la The Godfather to ratchet up the tension while a mournful piano motif from composer Ramin Djawadi builds to an operatic climax. The score abruptly cuts out just before the barrels of wildfire below the Sept ignite and blow everything to smithereens.

Cersei, watching from the Red Keep, takes a sip of wine as a breeze from the blast brushes her hair. But her joy soon turns to ashes in her mouth when her only remaining child, Tommen, takes his own life — in another stunning image from director Miguel Sapochnik — after learning that his wife, Margaery Tyrell, died at the Sept.

In case that’s not enough action for you, the episode opens with Arya Stark’s most satisfying Faceless Men assassination: She cuts Walder Frey’s throat after watching him eat the meat pie into which she has baked two of his sons, finally exacting revenge on behalf of her family for the Red Wedding.

Oh, and this also happens to be the episode where we learn that Jon Snow is not Ned Stark’s bastard, but instead, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark! (Sure, that revelation of ice and fire didn’t turn out to mean all that much, but at the time, it was the show’s biggest development.) And last but not least, Daenerys and her allies — including three fully grown dragons — set sail from Essos after six seasons to invade Westeros. Whew!

It’s not just that a lot of stuff happens in “The Winds of Winter.” It’s that each segment is a thrilling culmination to a long-simmering storyline, and also sets pieces into motion toward the conclusion of the series. (Well, except Dany’s decision to leave Daario Naharis behind in Meereen, never to be seen again. Whoops.) —Samit Sarkar

Eastwatch

SEASON 7, EPISODE 5

Game of Thrones Eastwatch Tarlys

“Dracarys” is the last word that the Tarlys hear.
HBO

We’ve spilled a lot of e-ink tracing Daenerys Targaryen’s path from liberator to conqueror, but Game of Thrones’ six-episode final season uses one incident among many as a stand-in for the dark path she could take. That incident takes place during “Eastwatch.”

In the preceding episode, Dany and her Dothraki army defeated the Lannisters at the Battle of the Goldroad. In this episode, she demands fealty from the losers. Most of them relent (albeit after a bit of prompting from a dragon), but Randyll and Dickon Tarly — Sam’s father and brother, respectively — are notable exceptions.

Dany has a choice. Despite Tyrion’s pleas to spare them (foreshadowing, table for one), Dany chooses a fiery public execution. —Dave Tach

The Dragon and the Wolf

SEASON 7, EPISODE 7

Game of Thrones The Dragon and the Wolf wight in a box

A wight from a box.
HBO

There’s so much in this episode.

When Cersei, Daenerys, and their respective devotees meet, the wight in a box leaves no doubt about the truth of White Walkers, even to the horrible queen. Tyrion even convinces her to send her armies to confront the army of the dead in the North — well, at least he thinks he does. She is the horrible queen, after all. Jaime learns of his sister’s treachery and distances himself from her. Theon (finally) regains his own agency. Sam tells Jon about his past. And up at Winterfell, Littlefinger’s protege Sansa outwits him.

It’s kind of staggering how much came out of this season-ender. On the other hand, it dispensed with so much that the eighth and final season only needed to tackle a handful of things. —Dave Tach

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

EASON 8, EPISODE 2

Game of Thrones S08E02 Ser Brienne of Tarth

Ser Brienne of Tarth
HBO

Season 8 will be remembered for large-scale battles, unfettered decimation, a metric ton of Daenerys-inspired discourse, and the final moments of the show’s notable characters. But the joy of Game of Thrones coming to an end was “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” aka “the one with all of the talking.”

Our characters spent years, mostly apart, roaming (and barely surviving) Westeros. Now, as they prepare to fight the Night King and his army of White Walkers, creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff grant them a second to sit back, look each other in the eyes, confess, tell their tales, and drink gallons of wine.

The experience is like a warm hug. Sansa and Theon share a literal one. The Hound and Arya make sense of their lives (then the Stark girl lets her carnal desires loose on Gendry). Sam hands off Heartsbane to Jorah. Dany hands off a compliment to Sansa. Pod sings a song of prophecy to Tyrion, Jaime, Davos, Tormund, and Brienne, who gets her knighthood. Grey Worm promises to take Missandei to the beaches of Naath (which he’ll never do, and at that moment, we only think we know why). By whittling details into each scene, and staying true to the characters in the face of fan demands, “A Knight of Seven Kingdoms” reminds us that Thrones is and has always been a grandiose series built on tiny moments. —Matt Patches


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