Written by Zack Hohenstein, E23 Staffer

Edited by John Messer, E23 Digital Director

The wait is over guys. The eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” aired its first episode this last Sunday. While originally based on George R.R. Martin’s novels, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, the show has expanded past its source material into a pop culture phenomenon. In the nine years of its existence, it has grown from a medieval drama to a full-fledged fantasy epic.

The show owes its success to an impressive cast of characters, a high production value and the unpredictability of the world. The setting around the action is so deep and detailed in geography and history that it’s hard not to be impressed. Whereas other dramas generally lose popularity as it goes on, GoT (Game of Thrones)’s notoriety only seems to grow. Best of all, the writers behind it have a story to tell and they know when it’s over. It won’t overstay its welcome.

I, personally, am very attached to the show. I caught up on GoT before its third season in 2013, and have been re-watching with friends, reading Martin’s books and discussing the show with other fans ever since. Oftentimes, these discussions lead to one question: which episode is the best? It’s not a 67-way tie, after all. But what makes a GoT episode better than another? Well, for one, I think there are no bad GoT episodes. There are just less-perfect ones.

After careful consideration and contemplation, I have prepared what I believe are the top 30 episodes in the show’s history. Good writing, directing, memorable scenes and big moments are all things I considered when putting this list together. We may disagree along the way, but that’s part of the fun.

Before we start the top 30, here are five honorable mentions in no particular order.

Honorable Mentions

Two Swords (Season 4 Episode 1)

The North Remembers (Season 2 Episode 1)

Mockingbird (Season 4 Episode 7)

Book of the Stranger (Season 6 Episode 4)

The Climb (Season 3 Episode 6)

—Spoilers from this point on!—

#30: “A Man Without Honor”

Season 2, Episode 7 

“You are no knight. You have forsaken every vow you ever took.” -Catelyn

“So many vows. They make you swear and swear. Defend the King, obey the King, obey your father, protect the innocent, defend the weak. But what if your father despises the King? What if the King massacres the innocent? It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or another.” -Jaime

Highlights:

Tyrion and Cersei share a rare sentimental moment

Ygritte and Jon

Arya and Tywin

Jaime’s failed escape attempt

Theon’s desperation to find the Stark boys

As you will come to know in these rankings, I’m a big Jaime Lannister fan. Anytime he gets an opportunity to give a piece of his mind, I’m here for it. Elsewhere, Tywin and Arya’s unlikely companionship proves to be consistently interesting. Unfortunately, we’ll never get that spinoff show following just the two of them.

#29: “No One”

Season 6, Episode 8

“Order your man to step aside or there will be violence.” -Lancel

“I choose violence.” -Cersei

Highlights:

The Hound’s reunion with the Brotherhood without Banners

Jaime’s reunion with Brienne and conversation with Edmure Tully

The conclusion of Arya’s Faceless Men storyline

Parkour! The overlong and frequently boring Faceless Men story with Arya finally comes to an end after an exciting foot chase through Braavos. However, the true highlight of this episode is Jaime’s conversation with the captive Edmure Tully to end the siege of Riverrun. His calm but brutal threats are the most Tywin-like that Jaime has ever been in the show.

#28: “Winter is Coming”

Season 1, Episode 1

“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” -Ned Stark

Highlights:

The introduction of the white walkers

Jaime shoving Bran from the window

This is where it all began. While exposition is the name of the game (of thrones, hehe) in this episode, the information dump is done very well. The worlds of Westeros and Essos are established and most of the central characters are as well. Ned Stark is introduced as one of the most honorable and likable people in television history. There’s no way they could ever get rid of him, right…?

Right?

#27: “Stormborn”

Season 7, Episode 2

“The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.” -Lady Olenna

Highlights:

Daenerys and Tyrion plan out their war strategy

Arya’s brief reunion with Nymeria (and Hot Pie)

Euron kills the Sand Snakes and destroys Yara and Theon’s fleet

The first big action set piece of the highly anticipated seventh season did not disappoint. Watching Euron Greyjoy and his men dispatch some of the annoying Dornish characters was a satisfying experience to say the least. There are those who take issue with Euron as a character but I think he’s a necessary replacement for Ramsay as the show’s fun, sadistic villain.

The entire Greyjoy vs. Greyjoy sequence is beautifully shot and impressively choreographed. For all of season seven’s flaws, it sure knows how to flex some production value in ways that other high-profile dramas just can’t.

#26: “A Golden Crown”

Season 1, Episode 6

“There is only one god and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: Not today.” -Syrio Florel

Highlights:

Tyrion’s “confession” to the Lords of the Vale

Daenerys’ completion of the horse heart ritual

-Bronn fighting for Tyrion in a trial by combat

Ned’s public condemnation of the Mountain

Drogo kills Viserys with melted gold

A few particular moments aside, the first season of GoT is generally just a series of depressing developments for the good guys of the show. That’s why the death of the self-righteous and cruel Viserys stands out as one of the few moments where things go the way the viewers want them to. As for the rest of the season (and show), don’t hold your breath for a happy conclusion.

#25: “The Wolf and the Lion”

Season 1, Episode 5

“The Eyrie. They say it’s impregnable.” -Tyrion

“Give me ten good men and some climbing spikes. I’ll impregnate the bitch.” -Bronn

Highlights:

Tyrion saves Catelyn from a tribesman

Ned rebukes Robert for ordering the assassination of Daenerys and her unborn child

Robert’s conversation with Cersei

Jaime’s fight with Ned in the streets of King’s Landing

Believe it or not, there was a time in the show’s history before ice dragons and bastard battles. This was in 2011, back when “Avatar” was only two years old. This was when the show’s specialty was character power plays and spectacular world-building. This episode features plenty of both.

Robert’s conversation with Cersei is their only private scene together in the show. That fact alone is telling of how much the married couple resented each other. Their scene together is fascinating as they discuss the possible threat of a Dothraki horde in Westeros before Cersei finally asks him about Lyanna Stark for the first time.

And of course when Jaime confronts Ned outside of Littlefinger’s brothel, we got to see two of the most renowned fighters of Westeros cross swords.

#24: “Mother’s Mercy”

Season 5, Episode 10

“For the Watch.” -Olly

Headlights:

Stannis accepting his fate

Myrcella’s final conversation with Jaime and death

Arya killing Meryn Trant

Cersei’s walk of atonement

The Night Watch’s betrayal and murder of Jon

This is undoubtedly the most depressing end to a season in the show’s run. The final shot of Jon’s lifeless corpse in the snow was the last impression audiences had for the winter before season six aired the following spring.

In other parts of the world, Stannis accepted his fate at the hands of the Bolton army and then Brienne at Winterfell. After all of the things he’d done, he seemed to hate himself more than anyone and his death felt like a relief for both himself and Brienne.

After the walk of shame in King’s Landing, Cersei reached her lowest point. They’d all soon learn that they’d messed with the wrong monarch. What a shame, shame, shame.

#23: “Fire and Blood”

Season 1, Episode 10

“If your Gods are real, if they’re just, why is the world so full of injustice?” -Jaime

“Because of men like you.” -Catelyn

“There are no men like me. Only me.” -Jaime

Highlights:

Daenerys’ mercy kill of Drogo

Robb becomes the King in the North

Daenerys’ rise from the ashes, unburnt with three dragons

The first season finale in the series’ history has to handle a lot of fallout from the previous episode’s tragedy. Seeing Rob and Catelyn talk about how they’re going to kill all of the Lannisters is fun, even if we now know how it turns out in the end.

Nonetheless, there is plenty here to make it stand on its own, most notably the iconic moment when Daenerys emerges from the cinders of the burnt funeral pyre, unharmed with three baby dragons. Talk about a glow up.

#22: “Second Sons”

Season 3, Episode 8

“Drinking and lust. No man can match me in these things. I am the god of tits and wine… I shall build a shrine to myself at the next brothel I visit.” -Tyrion

Highlights:

Cersei’s threat to Margery

Tyrion’s behavior at his wedding to Sansa

Sam’s killing of a white walker

A drunken Tyrion threatening to castrate Joffrey in front of wedding guests is one of the more pleasing moments of the third season. At the time it was hard to imagine a wedding reception going worse than this one.

This is also the episode when Cersei explains the history behind the famous Lannister song, “The Rains of Castamere”. It details the story of the second richest house in Westeros who wished to overtake the Lannisters for number one. Apparently, Tywin slaughtered the entire family and left their bodies on the walls of Casterly Rock as a reminder. History lessons like this score bonus points with me. And it only makes it all the more effective an episode later when the song was played at the Tully-Frey wedding.

Oh, and who would’ve picked Samwell Tarly as the first character to kill a white walker?

#21: “The Door”

Season 6, Episode 5

“Hold the door!” -Hodor

Highlights:

Jorah and Daenerys’ brief reunion

Euron’s win at the kingsmoot

The Night King’s origin

Hodor’s sacrifice

A man of few words, Hodor never seemed like the hero type. His type could be more accurately described as a big and harmless companion, like the Iron Giant or even Kronk from “Emperor’s New Groove”. This makes his sacrifice for Bran and Meera all the more painful. Heartbreak is an emotion that GoT knows how to invoke all too well.

We also learn that the Children of the Forest are responsible for the white walkers in a Bran vision. The Children created them from a single original human (he would seemingly become the Night King) thousands of years in the past to help them in their fight to rid Westeros of the violent nature of mankind. I’ve always loved history lessons, but only when they’re fictionalized ones from GoT about Westeros.

#20: “You Win or You Die”

Season 1, Episode 7

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” -Cersei

Highlights:

Tywin’s series introduction and conversation with Jaime

Jorah saves Daenerys from being poisoned

Ned’s confrontation of Cersei on the true parentage of her children

Robert’s final conversation with Ned before his death

Khal Drogo pledges to take the Dothraki to Westeros

Littlefinger’s betrayal of Ned in the throne room

As cool as Drogo’s promise to take the Seven Kingdoms is, the heart of this episode is in King’s Landing where King Robert Baratheon breathes his last. Seeing him get emotional with Ned about how he’s failed as a king and as a father is pretty sad.

In the hours that follow, Ned must decide between the honorable plan or the safer plan. Take a guess which one he chose. He made the fatal error of trusting Littlefinger. To be fair, he did warn Ned not to.

#19: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”

Season 3, Episode 4

“Dracarys.” -Daenerys

Highlights:

Theon’s sad admission that Ned was his true father

The Night Watch’s mutiny at Craster’s Keep

Daenerys’ fiery acquisition of the Unsullied in Astapor

Daenerys was always cool, but this was the episode where she became an icon. Proving the masters of Astapor wrong, as well as her own advisors, she managed to acquire an army and keep all three of her dragons. She jumped pretty far up the GoT character power rankings with this one.

Beyond the wall, seeing that nasty old guy Craster die was very cool. Seeing that cool old guy Jeor Mormont die was very uncool. He honestly deserves more credit for helping make Jon Snow the leader he is going into the eighth season.

#18: “The Mountain and the Viper”

Season 4, Episode 8

“Say it. You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.” -Oberyn

Highlights:

Roose’s reward for Ramsay

Jorah’s banishment from Mereen

Sansa’s defense of Littlefinger in the Eyrie

Arya’s laughter after learning of her aunt’s death

The trial by combat between Oberyn and the Mountain

Ah, GoT, you got us again! Just when we thought the good guy was finally going get a win, you crush our hopes. Literally. The entire fight scene is exciting and they execute well enough for viewers to actually think Oberyn is about to win.

Elsewhere, Daenerys heartbreakingly sends Jorah out of the city after proof of his spying comes to light. Their final scene together of the season is written and acted exceptionally well. You just hope the end of the series gives them the attention their story actually deserves.

#17: “Beyond the Wall”

Season 7, Episode 6

“Death is the enemy. The first enemy and the last.” -Beric Dondarrion

“But we all die.” -Jon

“The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him.” -Beric Dondarrion

Highlights:

Zombie bear attack

Arya being creepy

The fight against the wights at the rock

Dragons blowing up zombies and walkers harpooning dragons

Jon’s pledge to Daenerys

To say this episode received a polarizing response might be understating it but I argue the pros outweigh the cons here. The lows, which include confusing travel time and Benjen’s arrival and immediate death, are frustrating. The highs make it all worth it, though.

There is plenty of eye candy here (dragons set zombies on fire). In the meantime, just enjoy and ignore that voice in your head that tells you how illogical it all seems.

#16: “The Lion and the Rose”

Season 4, Episode 2

“A toast. To the proud Lannister children: the dwarf, the cripple and the mother of madness.” -Tyrion

Highlights:

Joffrey dies

No other highlight necessary here. Score one for the good guys. Joffrey Baratheon, one of the most universally despised television characters, meets his end in this one. The buildup to the moment and the actual death itself are perfect.

You also have to give credit to Jack Gleeson for portraying the most hateable character in the show in the most hateable way. Without that, this episode might not have been so satisfying. Kudos to GoT for dropping a big moment like this early in the season.

#15: “The Old Gods and the New”

Season 2, Episode 6

“Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.” -Sir Rodrick

Highlights

Theon’s capture of Winterfell and execution of Sir Rodrick

Jon and Ygritte meet

Tywin and Arya’s conversations in Harrenhal

Tyrion’s rebuke of Joffrey after the King’s Landing riot

Say what you will of the Theon Greyjoy character arc in the more recent seasons, his season two story is perfectly written and executed. He is a man who doesn’t truly belong with his own family but can never truly be a part of his adopted family. As a result, no matter what he does, he is alone.

In King’s Landing, it was the aftermath of the riot when Tyrion famously remarked that there have been vicious kings and idiot kings, but never till Joffrey had there been a vicious idiot king. Then he slapped his evil nephew. That is the definition of satisfaction.

#14: “The Dragon and the Wolf”

Season 7, Episode 7

“Sometimes when I try to understand a person’s motives, I play a little game. I assume the worst. What’s the worst reason they could possibly have for saying what they say and doing what they do?” -Littlefinger

Highlights:

A lot of big characters together in King’s Landing

Tyrion’s conversation with Cersei

Jon’s forgiveness and advice for Theon

Sam’s revelation that Jon is a trueborn Targaryen

Jon and Daenerys’ relationship

The ice dragon’s assault on the Wall

GoT’s longest episode is jammed with plenty of setup for the final season. Beginning with a summit in the old dragon pit of King’s Landing, several prominent characters meet for the first time or are reunited to discuss the future of Westeros. These little interactions were fun to see, the best being the conversation between Tyrion and Cersei, their first since before Joffrey’s murder. In Winterfell, it was good to see Arya and Sansa finally come to their respective senses, even if Littlefinger’s end feels anticlimactic in comparison to his overall story. Also, Jon and Daenerys seem to like each other.

#13: “The Queen’s Justice”

Season 7, Episode 3

“Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.” -Lady Olenna

Highlights:

Jon’s reunion with Tyrion and first meeting with Daenerys

Euron’s extravagant return to King’s Landing

Daenerys’ punishment for Ellaria and Tyene Sand

Olenna and Jaime’s final conversation

The title of this episode seems to refer to the justice of not only Cersei, but Lady Olenna as well. Cersei’s brutal scene with Ellaria and Tyene Sand in the King’s Landing’s dungeons is a perfect example of actress Lena Headey’s talents as an intimidating antagonist.

This episode also marks the final appearance of Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell. Even though she swallows the Lannister poison, she manages to get the last word after revealing to Jaime that she was the one who killed Joffrey. It serves as a fitting end to a fan favorite.

However, the biggest moment in this episode is the meeting between arguably the two main characters of the series: Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. The scene is executed perfectly as neither character backs down from their respective positions. As a viewer, it’s hard to shake the feeling of worlds colliding in this moment.

#12: “The Dance of Dragons”

Season 5, Episode 9

“Sometimes a person must choose. Sometimes… the world forces his hand. If a man knows what he is and remains true to himself, the choice is no choice at all. He must fulfill his destiny and become who he is meant to be. However much he may hate it.” -Stannis

Highlights:

Stannis’ fatal decision to burn his daughter Shireen alive

The entire fighting pit sequence

Stannis Baratheon was never a fan favorite. He was always a little short on the charisma and little heavier on the… well, not charisma. Burning his daughter alive didn’t win him any new fans. As brutal as the moment is, it perfectly captures just how far Stannis is willing to go to accomplish is only goal, even if he hates himself for it.

The best part of the episode is definitely the Mereen fighting pit sequence. Jorah’s desperate attempts to win back his queen’s good graces through deadly combat is powerful enough but then he saves her from assassination with an epic spear throw. The entire sequence is the show at its cinematic best as the Sons of the Harpy close in before Drogon arrives in the nick of time to save the day. Human sacrifices, dragon fire and gladiator games all in one episode. Are you not entertained?

#11: “The Laws of Gods and Men”

Season 4, Episode 6

“I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish that I had! Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores! I wish I was the monster you think I am! I wish I had enough poison for the whole pack of you. I would gladly give my life to watch you all swallow it!” -Tyrion

Highlights:

Davos’ argument for Stannis at the Iron Bank

Ramsay fights off Yara and others from taking Theon/Reek

Shae’s betrayal at Tyrion’s trial

Tyrion’s closing statement

We have arrived at the trial episode. What a roller coaster of emotions. First, you’re angry at all of the lies that the various witnesses spewed out against Tyrion. Next, you’re heartbroken at Shae’s betrayal. Finally came the exhilarating conclusion when Tyrion really lets everyone know what we’re all thinking. Standing up to his father for the first time, Tyrion demands a trial by combat. Cue the dramatic “Law and Order” music.

#10: “The Spoils of War”

Season 7, Episode 4

“My enemies are in the Red Keep. What kind of a queen am I if I’m not willing to risk my life to fight them?” -Daenerys

“A smart one.” -Tyrion

Highlights:

Arya’s return to Winterfell

Jon shows Daenerys the mine of dragonglass

Arya trains with Brienne

Jon confronts Theon

Jaime, Bronn and the Lannister forces are ambushed by Daenerys, Drogon and the Dothraki

King Robert tried to warn Ned all the way back in season one. A Dothraki horde in an open field could pose a bit of an issue. The “Loot Train” sequence is one of the best battles in the entire series. From the moment Daenerys appears over the horizon on her dragon to the fiery finale of Jaime’s desperate attempt to end the war, the action is awesome.

What makes GoT so great is that there are people who you pull for on both sides of every conflict. No one wants to see Daenerys get hurt but Jaime and fan favorite Bronn are hard to root against as well. Maybe they can all just get along in the end? No? It’s worth a try.

#9: “Kissed by Fire”

Season 3, Episode 5

“Rickard Karstark, Lord of Karhold, here in sight of gods and men, I sentence you to die. Would you speak a final word?” -Robb

“Kill me, and be cursed. You are no king of mine.” -Karstark

Highlights:

The Hound’s trial by combat against Beric

Robb’ execution of Rickard Karstark for his murder of two young Lannister prisoners

Jaime’s speech to Brienne about the night he killed the Mad King

Jon and Ygritte’s cave visit

Tywin’s revelation to Cersei and Tyrion that they are to marry Loras and Sansa, respectively.

Nothing very exciting to see here. However, if you like some good old-fashioned character development, this one’s for you. Jaime’s scene with Brienne in the bath is arguably the turning point for him as a character from the arrogant yet impressive swordsman to the remorseful and reflective man he is currently.

Robb’s dramatic execution of Lord Karstark in the pouring rain and Jon’s hook up with Ygritte also move the story forward for two prominent characters. Jon forsakes his sacred Night’s Watch vows to have sex with a wildling. I’d say he broke the bro code, but they’d probably understand.

#8: “The Watchers on the Wall”

Season 4, Episode 9

“Do you remember that cave? We should have stayed in that cave.” -Ygritte

“We’ll go back there.” -Jon

“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” -Ygritte

Highlights:

Ser Alliser’s pre-battle speech to the Night’s Watch

Jon’s fight with Styr (the cannibal Thenn)

Ygritte’s final moments with Jon

The Night’s Watch vs. Mance Rayder’s wildling army was awesome. The direction, performances and fight choreography were all spot on in this late season four episode. The best moment of the episode has to be Jon and Ygritte’s brief reunion in the courtyard of Castle Black. Fresh off receiving an arrow in the heart, she dies in his arms.

GoT seems to be the only television program capable of pulling off Shakespearean tragedy amidst Michael Bay action set pieces. Except the action set pieces actually make sense here.

#7: “Hardhome”

Season 5, Episode 8

“Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell, they’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top, then that one’s on top and on and on it spins crushing those on the ground.” -Daenerys

“It’s a beautiful dream, stopping the wheel. You’re not the first person who’s ever dreamt it.” -Tyrion

“I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.” -Daenerys

Highlights:

Daenerys and Tyrion’s conversation on their futures

The white walkers’ arrival at Hardhome

Jon’s one-on-one fight with a walker

The Night King raising the dead

This episode seems like two different episodes in one. The first half is largely just setup for future events. A dollar to anyone who can remember anything from this part. No takers? That’s because the entire second half of the episode blew everyone’s mind.

The white walkers surprise assault on the wildlings was one of the first big shocks of the series that wasn’t adapted from the source material. From the ominous fog that signaled their arrival to the final stare down between the Night King and Jon, the sequence is the show at it’s cinematic best. It doesn’t get much better than this. Except for the next six episodes. Those are better.

#6: “Baelor”

Season 1, Episode 9

“You think my life is some precious thing to me? That I would trade my honor for a few more years… I grew up with soldiers. I learned how to die a long time ago.” -Ned

Highlights:

Tyrion, Shae and Bronn’s drinking game

Robb’s outsmarting of Tywin and capture of Jaime

Maester Aemon’s revelation to Jon that he is a Targaryen.

Jorah kills Qotho to protect Daenerys and Drogo

Ned’s shock execution

Whoa, did they just do that? Did they just remove the head of the main character? Yes, they did, and the show is better off for it. The surprise removal of poor dead Ned’s head established the rules on which GoT would operate. No one is safe. Anyone can die.

But this episode is more than just the ending it’s known for. Tyrion’s confession that he was married to a whore once is an emotional revelation. A viewer could only hope that his next relationship with a woman of that particular occupation would end up better.

#5: “The Children”

Season 4, Episode 10

“You are no son of mine.” -Tywin

“I am your son. I have always been your son.” -Tyrion

Highlights:

Jon’s reunion with Mance Rayder and subsequent encounter with Stannis

Bran and company’s fight against the dead at the tree of the Three-Eyed Raven

Cersei’s defiant revelation to Tywin that the rumors of her and Jaime are true

The Hound’s brutal fight with Brienne and apparent final moments with Arya

Tyrion’s murder of Shae and Tywin

Well, Tyrion killed Shae, making him 0-2 in the whore relationship department. Oh, he killed his father afterwards as well. These scenes rank among the more powerful moments in the entire series. This finale capped off what is probably the best season in the show’s run with plenty of material to sink one’s teeth into.

Speaking of sinking teeth, Brienne bit part of the Hound’s ear off, Mike Tyson style. To put it simply, the entire fight was awesome. Overall, this episode was the first truly outstanding finale in the show’s history. It wouldn’t prove to be the best finale overall, though. That would come a couple years later.

#4: “Blackwater”

Season 2, Episode 9

“Don’t fight for a king. Don’t fight for his kingdoms. Don’t fight for honor, don’t fight for glory, don’t fight for riches, because you won’t get any. This is your city Stannis means to sack. That’s your gate he’s ramming. If he gets in it will be your houses he burns. Your gold he steals, your women he will rape. Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!” -Tyrion

Highlights:

The Hound and Bronn’s brief confrontation

Davos’ call for drums

The wildfire destruction of Stannis’ fleet

Cersei’s lessons for Sansa

Tyrion’s dialogue the entire episode

Tywin’s late entrance

While GoT has found ways to improve its action to incredible heights in more recent seasons, this episode remains a dramatic achievement for its direction and writing. As opposed to other battle heavy episodes in the series, it’s the individual character moments that rank this episode so high. Whether it be Bronn’s sharp humor with the Lannister soldiers or Tyrion’s jabs at Joffrey on the battlements, the dialogue is what makes this all work. The big green fire spectacle doesn’t exactly hurt either.

#3: “The Rains of Castamere”

Season 3, Episode 9

“The Lannisters send their regards.” -Roose Bolton

Highlights:

Jon’s fight and escape from Ygritte, Tormund and the other wildlings

Grey Worm, Jorah and Daario take Yunkai for Daenerys

The entire Red Wedding

I read a theory once. It said that GoT always ends on an empty black screen so that viewers can see their horrified reflections. No episode could have possibly embodied this theory more perfectly than the ninth episode of the third season.

In what is arguably the most heartbreaking moment in television history, Robb Stark, his mother, his army and direwolf are slaughtered at a wedding feast in a heartbreaking and incredibly put together sequence. To put it simply, the bad guys won.

The event became known as “The Red Wedding” and the rest is history.  You feel sad. I feel sad. Robb feels nothing anymore because he’s dead. Let’s just all move on to happier things.

#2: “Battle of the Bastards”

Season 6, Episode 9

“You’re going to die tomorrow, Lord Bolton. Sleep well.” -Sansa

Highlights:

Daenerys’ dragon aided defeat of the slavers

Jon and company’s meeting with Ramsay the day before the battle

Theon and Yara’s discussion with Daenerys

Ramsay’s use of Rickon to trap Jon

The entire battle sequence

The final one-on-one between Jon and Ramsay

Sansa’s last conversation with Ramsay at the kennels

Alas, we have arrived at happier things! This episode is GoT at its most cinematic. The hero triumphs over the villains and order is restored to the world. After five plus years of despair, the audience was finally gifted a satisfactory win.

Jon Snow vs. Ramsay Bolton, the best bad guy the series has had to offer, was a matchup many fans were waiting on. Filled with action on a scale that was unprecedented for television, “Battle of the Bastards” delivered on the anticipation.

It also had what is probably the most epic single shot in the history of the show (or anything else for that matter), pictured above. It’s hard to believe the show would find a way to top it just one week later.

#1: “The Winds of Winter”

Season 6, Episode 10

“My name is Arya Stark. I want you to know that. The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.” -Arya

Highlights:

The entire trial and Great Sept explosion sequence

Jaime’s rebuke of Walder Frey

Cersei’s punishment for Septa Unella

Arya’s murder of the Freys

Davos’ confrontation against Melisandre for Shireen’s murder

Bran’s vision of Ned and Lyanna

The revelation of Jon’s true parentage

Daenerys’ final goodbye to Daario

Lyanna Mormont’s declaration of Jon as the King in the North

Daenerys long awaited voyage to Westeros

Oh my, just look at that list of highlights. Where to begin? Accompanied by a chilling new piano theme, the final pieces are put in place for Cersei to get rid of all of her King’s Landing enemies. Exquisitely directed and scored, the sequence ends with Margaery and the High Sparrow accepting their fates as the entire Sept explodes from the ground up with everyone inside. And that’s just in the first fifteen minutes.

Seeing the beloved character of Ned Stark again, the declaration of Jon as the King in the North and the final arrival of winter all give the episode some first season nostalgia while also moving the story forward in very exciting ways.

“The Winds of Winter” has everything that GoT does well. A big spectacle set piece, satisfying ends to bad guys, shocking character revelations, hard goodbyes and some good old-fashioned conquest for the Iron Throne are all fit into the sixty-eight-minute runtime. Television doesn’t get much more perfect than this.

Check out more Game Thrones on HBO as Season 8 continues to air. And check out E23 for more commentary and news!

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