Following the terrific 4th episode of Game of Thrones’ Season 7, I thought I’d have a look back over the show’s first six seasons and see if I can throw together a top ten list. Forewarning- I am hugely biased to the books so anything honouring them will strike a cord with me and any massive changes will not.
*Seasons 1-6 Spoilers*
- Season 4 Episode 10 – The Children
Season Four saw the death of Joffrey, the debut of the Night King, Tyrion’s trial and The Mountain vs the Viper, surely leaving little to happen in the season finale. But instead of neatly tying things up ready for season 5, it just kicked into 5th gear. Stannis heads North and captures the King Beyond the Wall Mance Rayder. Bran reaches the Heart Tree and meets the Three Eyed Raven. Cersei has Qyburn “save” Gregor Clegane at any cost. Brienne and an injured Hound have maybe the best one-on-one duel of the series, with Brienne getting the upper hand and Arya leaving Sandor to die slowly as she heads for Braavos. To top it all off, Jaime sets Tyrion free. But before doing so, Tyrion visits his father’s chambers, finding and killing Shae before putting a crossbow into Tywin as he sits on the toilet. With the help of Varys, he then flees to Essos.
It’s an action and plot packed finale that left viewers with a plethora of questions and theories as to where the story would be going in season 5.
Highlight: Tywin shits gold
- Season 6 Episode 5 – The Door
Hodor, the giant man-child, ever faithful to Bran and one of the show and novel’s longest running mysteries. Why is Hodor the only thing he can say? Here, we finally find out, and the impact of the moment completely blew most people away. Involving the most complicated time-travel plotting so far, finding out the reason for poor young Wylis’ deficiencies is not half as upsetting as realising current Hodor is sacrificing his life to ensure Bran’s safety.
The events leading up to Hodor’s holding the door are excellent as well, with the Children of the Forrest and even his direwolf Summer meeting their demise, all to ensure Bran’s survival. Also of note in this episode is Euron Greyjoy taking control of the Iron Islands, something which will certainly have ramifications down the track.
Highlight: Hold the door
- Season 4 Episode 2 – The Lion and the Rose
After just over 3 seasons of rapidly escalating villainy, King Joffrey was almost certainly the most hated fictional character in the world. His death, all purple-faced and bloody-eyed, was the satisfaction audiences desperately needed following the Red Wedding of Season 3. An A-grade prick right to the end, Joffrey’s death was perfectly done and set into motion a season full of strong plot-lines in Kings Landing.
We also get some strong Oberyn and Olenna Tyrell moments in the lead up to Joffrey’s end, two characters who would come to be firm fan favourites. The episode also features the development of Ramsey Snow/Bolton as the monster-in-waiting and the decline of Theon Greyjoy into the pathetic Reek.
Highlight: The final look on Joffrey’s face
- Season 6 Episode 10 – The Winds of Winter
I’m not even sure where to begin with this one. Before we are a quarter of the way in, Cersei has used her vast supply of wildfire to blow up the Sept of Baelor and everyone in it, The High Sparrow, Margaery Tyrell, Loras Tyrell, Mace Tyrell and her uncle Kevan included. Grandmaester Pycelle also finally meets his end amidst the carnage. King Tommen, wholly unsuited to this ugly business, throws himself out of the Red Keep. Cersei is then crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, finally achieving what she was willing to do anything for.
In the North, Littlefinger reveals his end game to Sansa but is ceremonially rejected and Jon is reluctantly crowned King of the North. Arya uses her faceless tricks to exterminate the entire Frey family. Daenerys makes Tyrion her hand and they finally sail for Westeros. Bran just about makes it back south of the Wall but first has a vision of the events of the Tower of Joy which all but definitively reveal Jon Snow’s parentage. Probably the busiest episode of the series and jam-packed with gold.
Highlight: Seeing the Tower of Joy scene on screen
- Season 3 Episode 9 – The Rains of Castemere
The infamous Red Wedding; the episode all books readers were itching to get to as soon as the show started. And it is yet another example of audience favourites getting taken out in shocking circumstances. Robb and Catelyn Stark had their detractors, but they were quite clearly good people in a sea of evil. Robb’s wife Talisa, as an added/changed character, took a while for me to warm to, but I was sucked in eventually, even knowing what I knew was to come. The wedding itself is not quite the event as it is in the books, it is a smaller, more intimate affair. But this perhaps works to the show’s advantage, as as soon as things turn bad, the claustrophobic atmosphere makes it clear there is no escape.
Orchestrated by the despicable Walder Frey and the treacherous Roose Bolton, with the help of Tywin Lannister of course, the Red Wedding is no easy watch. Robb is forced to watch as his pregnant wife is killed and in turn, Catelyn must watch her eldest son as Roose finishes him off. With some of the best acting of the whole series, Michelle Fairly’s Catelyn figuratively dies before she is actually finished off. There is some pretty good stuff in Yunkai and North of the Wall in this episode but really, nothing else matters following the slaughter of the starks.
Highlight: Watching my family’s reactions as it all begins
- Season 2 Episode 9 –Blackwater
In my view, Season 2 is neck and neck with season 5 as the worst. But it still features plenty of great moments, and many of these are in the Battle of the Blackwater. We begin with wildfire, which makes for a spectacular spectacle and quickly lets the audience know we’re in for something pretty full on. Set amongst a backdrop of the unextinguishable wildfire, the battle is dirty and bloody. The Hound literally chops people in half before the sight of fire overcomes him and he leaves the battle and his King. He attempts to convince Sansa to leave with him, in a terrific scene, but she is too naive.
Written by GRRM himself, the episode features some of the more true-to-character dialogue of the series, notably from Cersei. But it is Tyrion’s episode to shine, as he (and in turn Peter Dinklage) takes control of proceedings. Finishing with Tyrion’s face being slashed by Ser Mandon Moore and Tywin bursting into the Great Hall to inform Cersei that they have won, it is start to finish excellence that set the tone for all big battles to come.
Highlight: Hard to go past Tyrion’s speech but The Hound throwing in the towel is a personal favourite moment
- Season 6 Episode 9 – Battle of the Bastards
Before we even get to the battle, this episode features Daenerys and her dragons torching the Masters’ fleet of ships and eliminating the Sons of the Harpy. Not enough on its own to make the list, but as a Dany agnostic, seeing her actually getting stuff done, particularly with the use of the dragons, is always satisfying.
But this is all about the titular battle of the bastards. The very good Jon Snow against the very bad Ramsey Bolton. Jon is undermanned and underprepared. He is forced to watch as he brother Rickon runs in a straight line and is killed by Ramsey’s arrow. The battle begins and Jon’s army is overwhelmed; all hope looks lost. But then Sansa and Littlefinger lead the Knights of the Vale to the rescue. Wun Wun sacrifices himself to break through the Winterfell gates and Sansa gets the sweetest of revenge on Ramsey, via his own dogs. It is brutal, brilliant stuff.
Highlight: Wun Wun going out like a champ
- Season 4 Episode 8 – The Mountain and the Viper
In the lead up to Season 4, I told all who would listen that the novels’ best character was about to enter the gray. When Oberyn arrived and the show runners decided to throw his sexuality in our faces at every opportunity, I was at a loss to defend myself. By the time Oberyn declares himself as Tyrion’s champion, perhaps even before, everyone is completely on board with me. But as has become one of the series’ trademarks, the favourites often don’t last very long. Despite showing off his elite fighting abilities, Oberyn is too distracted with getting Tywin Lannister to admit he killed Oberyn’s sister, niece and nephew, and the monstrous Mountain quite literally smashes his face in.
One of the single most exciting parts of the books, the show more than does justice to the trial by combat and absolutely nails the shock ending. A relatively quiet episode otherwise, with Sansa adopting a new style and Jorah being exiled the only other real key points, but with one of the all-time great moments, the episode is right up there.
Highlight: In terms of impact, obviously squashed face
- Season 1 Episode 9 – Baelor
Often pin-pointed as the moment where Game of Thrones transcended traditional television, Baelor was as important to the story-line as it was to the show’s success. Ned Stark was the obvious hero, Sean Bean the show’s only well-known star. And they chopped his head off. King Joffrey Lannister embedded himself in the Villain Hall of Fame as he defied all those around him and beheaded Ned Stark. The show and popular culture would never be the same again.
Elsewhere, Tyrion sleeps through a war, Jon Snow gets Longclaw and Khal Drogo’s injury worsens. We also get to see some shrewd military strategy from Robb Stark, as he tricks the Lannisters and ends up taking Jaime captive. A big episode with a very big moment and so masterfully done.
Highlight: Arya sees the pigeons flee as her father loses his head
- Season 5 Episode 8 – Hardhome
The notable deviation to my above rule is for me, Hardhome is the major game-changer for the series so far. This is where we see just how massive a threat the army of the dead pose, that Valyrian steel can kill White Walkers and the Night King literally raising the dead to join his already immense forces. Only talked about in the novels, and not involving Jon at all, seeing this event happen, and having known characters such as Jon, Tormund, Edd and Wun Wun involved, forces the audience to really stand up and pay attention.
The first two thirds of the episode are not particularly amazing, with Tyrion becoming Daenerys’ advisor the only notable plot advancement, but once we get to Hardhome it reaches, in my view, the peak of the entire series. The frenetic pace of the wight onslaught, the godlike ability of the White Walker and Jon stopping him with Longclaw. The Night King raising the dead and the foreboding staredown of Jon as he and the Wildlings escape. Even one-episode character Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is able to make an impact, with the scores of wights highlighting the fact that there is a real enemy coming, and humanity must stick together.
Highlight: Jon vs White Walker
Still to come- my favourite GoT moments and characters.