Every episode of Game of Thrones, ranked from worst to best

So, it’s come to this. After my sixth full re-watch of Game of Thrones, which started in October 2017 and took more than a year of my life to complete, I’ve finally compiled the ultimate list. That’s right, every episode of Game of Thrones there has ever been is ranked below from my least favourite to my absolute favourite (at least until season eight greets us in April 2019). That’s sixty-seven episodes, which is equivalent to three days’ worth of back-to-back television viewing. Murder, dragons, betrayal, sex, swords, magic, fire, yet more murder, horses, battles, monologues, treachery, incest, ice demons and more. It’s event television in the 21st century, and I’ve experienced it all more than anyone else I know. So sit back, make a sandwich for yourself, and scroll through all this content.

OF COURSE, SPOILERS FOLLOW.

WEAKEST (OR JUST WEAKER?) OUTINGS FIRST. YOU MIGHT FORGET HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS SHOW WHILE YOU’RE READING WHAT I HAVE TO SAY FOR NOW.

67. ‘No One’ (season 6, episode 8)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Mark Mylod
“I choose violence.”

Cersei Lannister walks into the throne room (King’s Landing).

It’s the unfortunate nature of a countdown such as this that there has to be a “worst” episode. Thankfully, ‘No One’ makes my job easier, because it’s the weakest hour the show has ever produced. First, the positives: The Hound’s reunion with the Brotherhood starts clumsily but gathers speed once he’s opposite Beric and Thoros again; Tommen’s decision to outlaw trial-by-combat is a neat twist that forces Cersei into decisive (ahem, explosive) action; Jaime and Edmure share a superb scene as Jaime convinces his prisoner to allow the Lannisters to seize Riverrun. But everything else… well. The Blackfish’s death is clumsily set up, delivered off-camera, and completely tone deaf; how the Lannisters actually seize Riverrun feels like something Monty Python left on the cutting room floor; Tyrion, Grey Worm and Missandei trade “jokes” in a scene that exposes how dull their character pairing really was; Daenerys’ clumsy return to Meereen is delivered in the manner of a dress rehearsal. And then we reach the conclusion of Arya’s time in Braavos. It’s a conclusion that doesn’t make sense, is never explained, and is delivered without any attention to detail or care for the audience’s comprehension. The unusual cliffhanger from ‘The Broken Man’ (as Arya is stabbed by the Waif) is wrapped up in a contrived instant, the logic and decision making of every character involved with this storyline is called into question, and the entire thing ends up stinking of a show willing to forego quality to conveniently wrap up its slowest story. A disappointing outing.

66. ‘Eastwatch’ (season 7, episode 5)

Written by: Dave Hill
Directed by: Matt Shakman
“Nothing fucks you harder than time.”

Cersei Lannister takes a seat in the Red Keep (King’s Landing).

Davos Seaworth has it right in ‘Easwatch’: “Nothing fucks you harder than time.” He speaks this line as he’s retrieving Gendry, who makes his first appearance since the season three finale, as the show prepares its seven-strong dream team to head out beyond the Wall and capture a wight. A bizarre plan which casts doubt on the decision-making qualities of every character involved. You can see the show bending over backwards to accommodate its increased urgency. And in an episode full of moments which, on paper, should have provided an emotional barrage of reunions, stunning revelations, and key character decisions, nothing is given its due as time and space are tossed out of the window in order to accelerate towards the show’s end. ‘Eastwatch’ is three episodes crammed into one, and feels hugely rushed. Sam leaves the Citadel in frustration, upset that his lifelong dream has withered out; Jorah properly, officially reunites with Daenerys after nearly three seasons in her bad books; Tyrion and Jaime reunite after two seasons apart; Jon Snow pets Drogon, who takes a serious liking to him; and the reason for Drogon’s affection towards Jon is revealed by Gilly, who quietly drops the bomb that Jon Snow is the Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne. It’s a shame that each of these moments are all so rushed, because I would have very much enjoyed experiencing their full emotional weight.

65. ‘Beyond the Wall’ (season 7, episode 6)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
“Death is the enemy, the first enemy and the last. The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him.”

Daenerys Targaryen arrives with her dragons to rescue Jon Snow’s company from the Army of the Dead (beyond the Wall).

Despite its impressive spectacle, ‘Beyond the Wall’ remains a head-scratcher to this day, with the seams of show laid bare over an extended run time. On the one hand, you have the logic-defying but still dramatically satisfying adventures beyond the Wall, with neat character beats and reunions between fan favourites eventually giving way to dragon-smashing, ice-zombie chaos. On the other hand, you have the Winterfell scenes, where the tension between Arya and Sansa rapidly goes from 0 to 60 with very little invitation, justification or explanation. The performances from Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner aren’t up to snuff and neither is the material they’re working with. And while events beyond the Wall might rise to a dramatic crescendo, as Daenerys rescues Jon’s troupe before Viserion tragically dies at the hands of the Night King, you’re ultimately left with more questions than answers. How long were they out there on that frozen lake? How fast did Gendry, the raven, and Daenerys all have to travel in order for the Magnificent Seven to be rescued? Where did Benjen come from all of a sudden? Have wights always died when their parent White Walker perishes? And, ultimately, why on earth did Tyrion and Jon think it would be a good idea to take a group of seven men out to face a dead army of 100,000? These questions are sort of answered by the final shot: the show needed to give the Night King a dragon for season eight, regardless of how far backwards it needed to bend to do so. The deliberate obfuscation that takes place in this episode dampens the impact of any exciting future consequences, and makes it the show’s weakest spectacle episode.

64. ‘The Red Woman’ (season 6, episode 1)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
“Everything they’ve taken from us, we’re going to take back — and more.”

Sansa Stark (left) and Theon Greyjoy (right) shelter from hunters sent to capture them (The North).

Season six begins with a patient but slightly clumsy step, as Game of Thrones moves beyond its source material for the first time. Perhaps overshadowed by the questions surrounding the fate of Jon Snow after his murder in the season five finale, it skirts around the issue slightly and instead diverts its priorities around every inch of the Known World, attempting a couple of stylistic changes in the process. The tone is significantly lighter than previous seasons, and the attempts to quickly converge separate plot strands are clear, with a range of crowd-pleasing moments and comedy beats producing mixed results. Regardless of how successful each storyline is, though, this episode makes clear that those who were dealt heavy blows in season five are out to reclaim what’s theirs. A storm is brewing, even if it feels like different showrunners are in charge now.

SOLID-BUT-UNSPECTACULAR EPISODES FOR NOW. THE WEAKER EPISODES ARE OUT OF THE WAY.

63. ‘Kill the Boy’ (season 5, episode 5)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by:
Jeremy Podeswa
“You will find little joy in your command. But with luck, you will find the strength to do what needs to be done.”

Maester Aemon (background) and Samwell Tarly (foreground) in the library (Castle Black).

Despite the controversy surrounding ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’, I’ve always considered ‘Kill the Boy’ to be the weakest episode of the fifth season. It’s not that nothing happens, because some seriously important plans are put in place, it’s that the character-driven scenes just aren’t always that captivating. It’s somewhat necessary at this point in the season to slow down, as it catches us up with some people we’ve not had a full update from in a while, and it’s not that these scenes are boring either— they’re all perfectly serviceable. But there’s perhaps not enough emotional investment in Roose and Ramsay Bolton, in Grey Worm and in Hizdahr zo Loraq to justify the amount of screen time they each get in this episode. Elsewhere, though, Maester Aemon and Jon Snow do share a memorable, tender moment as the show makes its first concrete suggestions that Jon has what it takes to become one of its undisputed main characters (“Kill the boy, Jon Snow, and let the man be born”). In Essos, Tyrion Lannister and Jorah Mormont finally bond in the ruins of Valyria over the sobering realisation that empires of any kind can fall in an instant — the pair are then suddenly attacked by stone men, with Jorah falling victim to the apparently fatal disease as we cut to black on a tense sequence.

62. ‘Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things’ (season 1, episode 4)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Brian Kirk
 “You’re almost a man now, but you are not worthy of my land and title.”

Tyrion Lannister (foreground) is arrested by Catelyn Stark and a group of Stark bannermen (The Inn at the Crossroads).

By episode four, the nature, tone, and conventions of any television show are usually firmly established. Fun cartoons won’t suddenly switch to intense live action drama; crime thrillers are unlikely to suddenly opt for musical sing-a-longs; and the chances of a medieval political fantasy slipping into detective drama territory are incredibly low. Or so you’d think. But with Ned Stark busy investigating the death of Jon Arryn, scurrying here and there throughout the corridors and alleyways of King’s Landing and essentially questioning his leads, and with Catelyn Stark listing the Stark bannermen before arresting Tyrion Lannister (following her own investigation into Bran’s fall), ‘Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things’ is a still engaging but slightly unbalanced outing for Game of Thrones.

61. ‘The Climb’ (season 3, episode 6)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alik Sakharov
“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.”

Lord Varys (left) and Petyr Baelish (right) talk in the throne room (King’s Landing).

The majority of ‘The Climb’, the first step into the latter stages of Game of Thrones’ third season, is simply spent with the characters sat around campfires, talking quietly. The conversations that take place around them are a sign that we’re stuck in the halfway between the action, waiting for the pieces to slot in place and bring us towards the latter episodes. Adaptation-era Thrones is one of the finest examples that modern television has to offer when it comes to crafting expert drama from very minimal scenes. Early seasons didn’t always need ginormous spectacles to carry the weight of the source material because the dialogue was frequently memorable and provided a momentum all its own. But ‘The Climb’ only contains a handful of said scenes, and any narrative consequence is buried too deep to unearth for first-time viewers. As for the highlights, Jon and Ygritte climb the Wall with the rest the wildlings and risks their lives in the process in a tense sequence that sees them almost fall to their deaths, and Littlefinger delivers to Lord Varys his brilliant ‘Climb’ monologue that’s been used ever since to describe the “game of thrones” the show focuses on.

60. ‘Sons of the Harpy’ (season 5, episode 4)

Written by: Dave Hill
Directed by: Mark Mylod
“Wars teach people to obey the sword, not the gods.”

Daenerys Targaryen and her royal council meet with a common man (Meereen).

As it approaches the middle third of season five, Game of Thrones takes the chance to pause and analyse what it’s spent its previous three episodes setting up. Cersei finally follows through on her plan to arm the Faith Militant and have Loras Tyrell arrested; the Sons of the Harpy finally claim their first major character death in the shape of the unfortunate Ser Barristan Selmy; Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne and embed themselves in the surroundings by murdering several Dornish soldiers who uncover their true identities; Jon Snow resists the advances of Melisandre, who sees something special in him. But that’s all this episode did: it performed its function as a mid-season pause point, nudging the plot on ever so slightly before cutting to black on the aftermath of Ser Barristan’s fateful fight scene. Daenerys’ last words to him (“Go, Ser Barristan, sing a song for me”) are quite heart-wrenching with hindsight, and Shireen’s emotional conversation with Stannis regarding her relationship with him and her affliction with greyscale is touching, but ‘Sons of the Harpy’ is perhaps the episode that typifies the key complaint several fans have with the beginning of season five: it’s just a little slow.

59. ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ (season 3, episode 7)

Written by: George R. R. Martin
Directed by: Michelle MacLaren
“You waste time trying to get people to love you, you’ll end up the most popular dead man in town.”

Jaime Lannister (left) and Qyburn (right) prepare to leave for King’s Landing (Harrenhal).

George R. R. Martin returns to write an episode that uses the quiet spaces between the action to analyse the relationships between the men and women of the show — the bears and the fair maidens, if we’re going to be that way about it. In the episode’s closing scene, Jaime races back to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne from a bear pit, as she’s used by Locke’s men for entertainment by way of cruel punishment. It’s a scene that’s a little on the nose and appears from almost nowhere, as we spend the rest of the episode with the wildling warg Orrel, who reveals the jealousy he holds for Jon and Ygritte, and Robb, who learns of Talisa’s pregnancy while planning the next stage of the War of the Five Kings. The atmosphere and focus of this episode feels as though it could have come earlier in the season, but there are some strong enough character moments to justify its place in the latter half.

58. ‘The House of Black and White’ (season 5, episode 2)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Michael Slovis
 “He may be young, but he’s the commander we turned to when the night was darkest.”

Arya Stark sits on the steps at the front of the House of Black and White (Braavos).

Season five continues its patient start with another place-setting episode, as the Seven Kingdoms and Essos wait quietly for the next developments. In an episode that feels a little lengthy as we return to almost every major location in the show to make the next step in the story, some memorable character exchanges and understated but crucial events keep things ticking along nicely. Jon Snow is elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch after rejecting Stannis’ proposal to legitimise him; Daenerys beheads one of her advisers after he murders a Son of the Harpy before trial, and briefly reunites with Drogon; Brienne and Podrick encounter Sansa and Lord Baelish in the North before being forced to flee on horseback; and Jaime and Bronn begin their journey to Dorne to retrieve Myrcella. Elsewhere, Arya arrives in Braavos and finds Jaqen H’ghar (or a man with Jaqen’s face, it’s hard to be sure), beginning her Faceless Man training. The beginning of the show’s second act has such a patient start that it’s hard to be excited by much of what occurs in this episode, but the strength of the characters in this world, and the promise of what’s to come, keeps interest levels high.

57. ‘First of His Name’ (season 4, episode 5)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Michelle MacLaren
“What good is power if you cannot protect the ones you love?”

Arya Stark trains with her sword, Needle, in the countryside (The Vale).

Game of Thrones uses season four’s midway point to tread over old thematic ground: there are children in this world, and they must be protected from violence. Cersei asks Oberyn Martell to protect her daughter Myrcella when he returns to Dorne. Her other living child, Tommen, has been crowned king ahead of his time and she’s worried for his safety too. Sansa might have finally escaped King’s Landing with Lord Baelish, but she’s now with her “quirky” relatives, Lysa and Robin of the Vale — we learn that Baelish and Lysa poisoned Jon Arryn and started the War of the Five Kings. The Hound and Arya’s wonderful character dynamic gets a decent run-out as she reveals his name is on her list of people to kill. And in a suitably tense final sequence, Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch invade Craster’s Keep and murder the mutineers. Karl Tanner and Locke are both killed in horrific fashion by Jon and Hodor respectively, while Bran comes inches from reuniting with his brother before continuing on his mission beyond the Wall.

ONLY GREAT EPISODES FOLLOW. I PROMISE. I ONLY HAVE POSITIVE THINGS TO SAY FOR THE REST OF THIS COUNTDOWN.

56. ‘Blood of My Blood’ (season 6, episode 6)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Jack Bender
“I do what I can with what I’m given.”

King Tommen Baratheon stands in front of the Sept of Baelor (King’s Landing).

After the momentous and dramatic events that defined previous episode ‘The Door’, Game of Thrones uses ‘Blood of My Blood’ to set the table for the remainder of the sixth season. It’s an episode of uncomfortable compromises, narrow victories, and characters using anything they have available to them to give themselves an inch. It’s Lady Crane, Arya’s target to assassinate, who delivers the episode’s defining line (above). Her scenes with Arya in this episode encourage Arya to reshape her destiny — she’s gathered the skills necessary to finish her kill list, now she has to break herself out of Faceless Man training. Out beyond the Wall, Bran and Meera are rescued by Benjen as Bran struggles to comprehend the newfound sense of responsibility inflicted upon him. After a tense dinner with his family, Sam realises that Gilly cannot stay with the Tarlys while he studies at the Citadel, so he heads to the Citadel with her instead. After the High Sparrow reveals that Tommen has formed a holy alliance between the crown and the Faith, Jaime is relieved of his Kingsguard duties and ordered to retake Riverrun. Initially dismayed, Cersei encourages him to seize the castle in a show of dominance simply because he can, to show the world what Lannisters do when they’re bruised. The episode ends with another fist-pumping scene for Daenerys, as she reunites with Drogon and rallies the entire Dothraki horde to her cause. Of all the pieces on the board, Daenerys perhaps has the most at her disposal, and she’s preparing to use it all.

55. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken (season 5, episode 6)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
“This is my home, and you can’t frighten me.

Sansa Stark prepares to marry Ramsay Bolton (Winterfell).

‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’ is perhaps the episode that dented the faith of the book readers who believed the show could successfully divert from George R. R. Martin’s source material. Personally, I’ve never been as downhearted or negative about this episode. Ramsay’s rape of Sansa on their traumatic wedding night is a clumsy plot turn for reasons which have been covered extensively (and by people far more qualified to discuss such matters), and the five-way scuffle in Dorne between Bronn, Jaime and the three Sand Snakes is haphazardly constructed. But while these issues might dominate the discourse, they don’t take much away from what is an otherwise great mid-season episode. Olenna arrives in King’s Landing to trade fantastic insults with Cersei, only to see her grandchildren arrested by the Faith Militant; Arya’s experiences with the Hound are peeled back by the Faceless Men’s games before we’re introduced to the terrific Hall of Faces set; Jorah and Tyrion are plunged into comedy hijinks when they’re captured by slavers on the search for “cock merchants”, while Littlefinger’s plans for the next two seasons are revealed in the space of a single conversation with Cersei. And I do think that, though the execution leaves something to be desired, this episode contains the moment that Sansa becomes the woman we now know her to be — who leads armies, kills her tormentors, and rules the North alone. Two clunky scenes aside, ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’ is still classic mid-season Thrones.

54. ‘Breaker of Chains’ (season 4, episode 3)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alex Graves
“You’ll be fine. You’re stronger than you know.”

Tormund Giantsbane (foreground) and a group of wildlings attack a northern village (The North).

Another political vacuum opens up in ‘Breaker of Chains’, as the aftermath of Joffrey’s death sends shockwaves around King’s Landing. Tyrion is immediately arrested and thrown in jail, accused of regicide. Unfortunately, however, we’re given a terribly misjudged rape scene between Jaime and Cersei — if you’re going to have a rape scene then you could at least make sure it has narrative consequences or remains consistent with character development. Elsewhere, it’s an episode concerned with analysing how the children of this world are about to lose what little leverage they’d managed to regain over the previous seasons. Sansa is whisked away from King’s Landing and taken north by Littlefinger to a destination unknown, while Arya is powerless to stop the Hound from murdering an innocent family (something he’s reminded of in the season seven premiere). Tyrion’s previously mentioned arrest leaves him facing the death penalty for a crime he didn’t commit. In Essos, however, things are looking up for our children as Daenerys takes Meereen in a fantastic show of dominance and warns the Meereenese masters of things to come.

53. ‘The Prince of Winterfell’ (season 2, episode 8)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
“Being a lord is like being a father, except you have thousands of children and you worry about all of them.”

Jon Snow (left) is presented by Ygritte (right) to the Lord of Bones (beyond the Wall).

As the War of the Five Kings ramps up, the impending doom facing many corners of Westeros has caused several of this show’s characters to reconsider a few things. ‘The Prince of Winterfell’ finally sees them prioritise the protection of those they hold dear, in a refreshingly human episode. This is a show where characters make ridiculous, foolish decisions in the name of upholding terrible traditions and maintaining honourable reputations, and they have their lives taken from them in an instant as a result. Their behaviour in this episode is irrational and erratic but it’s at least heartening to see each character recognise the danger over the horizon and attempt to shield their loved ones by any means necessary. We’re given the strongest example of this theme as Robb and Talisa walk through the sunset in the south, discussing the importance of leadership and the less glamorous responsibilities of kinghood. Robb recalls Ned once telling him that “being a lord is like being a father,” except the children you worry about are the farmers and maids and soldiers, and that they’re all in need of protection.

52. ‘The Gift’ (season 5, episode 7)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
“We march to victory or we march to defeat. But we go forward, only forward.”

Melisandre (left) and Stannis Baratheon (right) plan the next stage of his march south (The North).

‘The Gift’ isn’t necessarily what you’d call a “forgotten” episode of Game of Thrones, but if you were to ask casual fans what happens during this hour, they might be hard pushed to instantly recall anything of note — which is strange, because this is both a decisive and incredibly literal outing. Sam gifts Jon a bag of dragonglass daggers before he heads out beyond the Wall; Littlefinger gifts Lancel Lannister’s confession about his affair with Cersei to both Lady Olenna and the High Sparrow; Cersei gifts Margaery a bowl of venison stew as a way of taunting her in the black cells; and most importantly, Jorah presents the gift of Tyrion Lannister to Daenerys Targaryen. That’s right, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen have finally shared a scene together. It’s not the moment we were all waiting for, exactly (which would come later), but it is a decisive moment as the show moves forward, not only diverting from the source material but heading out beyond it. Another storyline that’s prepared for adventures beyond the books is Stannis’ planned attack on the Boltons at Winterfell, as Melisandre suggests burning Shireen alive to keep the Lord of Light on their side. Oh, how Stannis’ resolve should have remained as steady as it does here, as he initially rejects her offer this time.

51. ‘The Queen’s Justice’ (season 7, episode 3)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Mark Mylod
“If we don’t put aside our enmities and band together, we will die. And then it doesn’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne.”

Ellaria Sand(left) and Tyene Sand (right) are brought in front of Cersei (King’s Landing).

‘The Queen’s Justice’ feels as lengthy and necessarily patient as it does economical and slightly too accelerated. A pair of patient two-hander scenes define the episode, but the plot content that passes outside of these two scenes would usually be enough to fill several episodes of earlier seasons: Sam cures Jorah of his greyscale, the Unsullied travel to Casterly Rock and seize it, Cersei completely levels the playing field by wiping out the Tyrell forces, Euron Greyjoy makes a quick stop in King’s Landing to secure his alliance with the crown, before following the Unsullied to Casterly Rock by sea to destroy their fleet. It’s a lot to get through. Now, onto those two-handers: Daenerys and Jon’s first scene together really has been sixty-three episodes in the making, and it doesn’t disappoint: their negotiation is tense but the way it develops is elegant and satisfying, with Emilia Clarke bringing a serious element of fierceness to Daenerys’ mannerisms. The episode closes as the Lannisters, lead by Jaime, take Highgarden and wipe the Tyrells from the map. Lady Olenna goes out swinging as she manages to insult Jaime and Joffrey while revealing she was behind the late king’s death. Diana Rigg was a star from her first appearance to her last, and her Game of Thrones swansong really steals the show in this packed hour.

50. ‘Valar Morghulis’ (season 2, episode 10)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
“The king won’t give you any honours, the histories will not mention you, but we will not forget.”

Robb Stark (left) and Talisa (right) say their wedding vows (Riverlands).

In ‘Valar Morghulis’, the Game of Thrones season two finale, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss prioritise narrative functionality and plot efficiency. Their decision is understandable, however, due to the circumstances that arise when the penultimate episode of a season of a political fantasy soap opera is rooted in one location (as ‘Blackwater’ was). But despite ‘Valar Morghulis’ box-ticking exercises, it’s a testament to the show’s character depth, worldbuilding, and plot weaving up to this point that an episode so obviously preoccupied with plot efficiency can still be so engaging and involving. Robb and Talisa’s beautiful (if ultimately tragic) wedding takes place in the snowy north and Tywin Lannister is promoted to the position of Hand of the King (taking Tyrion’s place), while Daenerys’ uneven journey in Qarth reaches a satisfying and intriguing end in the House of the Undying. The episode’s defining moment comes far beyond the realms of men, however, as the White Walkers descend on the Fist of the First Men to attack the Night’s Watch. Sam is with Edd and Grenn at the foot of the mountain when three horn blasts interrupt them. It’s the three horn blasts Sam warned them about just a few episodes ago, indicating White Walkers are near, but his friends have already scarpered and left him behind. We’re on the brink of this show entering its consistently world class run of episodes, and ‘Valar Morghulis’ is worthy set-up.

49. ‘The Pointy End’ (season 1, episode 8)

Written by: George R. R. Martin
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
“I’ll not sit here and swallow insults from a boy so green he pisses grass.”

Arya Stark escapes from Meryn Trant (King’s Landing).

The simmering tensions between the Starks and the Lannisters, which had been insidiously creeping towards us since the pilot, boil over following the imprisonment of Ned Stark in this George R. R. Martin penned episode. Instead of flash points, there’s now all-out panic brought on by the extreme instability of the Westerosi political landscape. There’s a power vacuum that’s ready to consume everything in its proximity, and this episode is the clearest warning yet that everyone we’ve come to sympathise with is in danger. The War of the Five Kings truly begins in this episode, and it’s a point of no return for many of the folks we’ve come to sympathise with. Actual children are forced to confront situations that felt further than an entire world away when Robert was still king just two episodes ago. Some of these children are preparing to charge head first into battles they’re not emotionally or physically ready for, some are forced to fend for themselves after being cut off from their families, and some of them, even outside of the political disputes of Westeros’ ruling houses, have witnessed threats so frightening that there’s no ignoring them (Jon battles his first wight, which doesn’t die until it’s burnt to a crisp). ‘The Pointy End’ is, simply put, an hour of watching children being thrown, voluntarily or otherwise, into the reality and intensity of war and conflict. And none of them are ready.

48. ‘Dragonstone’ (season 7, episode 1)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
“We’re the last Lannisters. The last ones who count.”

Daenerys Targaryen returns to her ancestral home of Dragonstone.

Game of Thrones opens its final act with a subdued, patient hour that focuses on plot efficiency and the endgame, but stops off to produce some rewarding character moments. In King’s Landing, Cersei seems completely oblivious to the legitimate threats to her new reign — she acknowledges that Jon Snow has been named King in the North, and that Daenerys is approaching (having allied with the Martells, Tyrells and Greyjoys) but pays them no mind as she remains convinced that she and Jaime can establish a dynasty with Euron Greyjoy’s help. In the South, Arya wipes House Frey from existence before encountering some friendly Lannister soldiers, who seem to dampen her thirst for revenge. Sam’s artfully directed toilet cleaning duties at the Citadel display his frustration with being denied access to more important books, Thoros and Beric encourage the Hound to have something of a religious awakening, and Bran and Meera make it back south of the Wall. Jon and Sansa debate over the immediate future of the North in the wake of the Battle of the Bastards, with Littlefinger attempting to drive a wedge in between them. In the near wordless but still powerful epilogue scene, Daenerys finally arrives in Westeros and takes up her ancestral seat of Dragonstone. Boy it’s exciting to have everybody in such close proximity, isn’t it?

47. ‘The North Remembers’ (season 2, episode 1)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
“Do you want to lead one day? Well, learn how to follow.”

Robb Stark stands over his prisoner, Jaime Lannister (not pictured) (Riverlands).

In the season two opener, we’re welcomed back to Westeros and Essos as the children of the story take on new positions of leadership and responsibility. Robb understands what it means to be the King in the North, Jon Snow learns valuable lessons of compromise from Lord Commander Mormont, and Daenerys’ stranded khalasar are trapped on the Red Waste, desperate for a way to survive. We’re also taken to Dragonstone for the very first time and introduced to the rightful king Stannis Baratheon, his red priestess Melisandre, and his faithful servant Ser Davos Seaworth. Their introduction to the show brings with it a greater prioritisation of magic and darkness, indicating the medieval politics of the show’s first season are gradually going to have to compete with the fantasy elements we’ve come to know and love. In King’s Landing, however, Joffrey has quickly adjusted to seizing the reins of power and, in the episode’s shocking closing segment, sends his City Watch guards into every corner of the city to murder every bastard child of the now deceased former king Robert Baratheon, no matter their age. As Cersei declares in the wonderful scene where she — to put it bluntly — completely fucking owns Littlefinger, “Power is power”, regardless of whether you’re wielding it or after it.

46. ‘The Broken Man’ (season 6, episode 7)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Mark Mylod
“It’s never too late to come back.”

Jaime Lannister (foreground) and Bronn (background) inspect the Frey-Tully siege (Riverrun).

Until things get weird — as opposed to intriguing — between Arya and the Waif in Braavos, ‘The Broken Man’ is a pastoral pause point concerned with returns, rebirth, and regrowth. Taking centre stage is the Hound’s revival that just makes me wish this show did more cold opens. His companion, Brother Ray, is a foul-mouthed and realistic priest leading a group of religious villagers in the luscious green of the Riverlands. He preaches the value of second chances, of change, and the Hound reluctantly accepts his wisdom — at least until Ray is slaughtered by rogue members of the Brotherhood and the Hound ends the episode out for revenge. Elsewhere, Theon Greyjoy might have always been there physically, but it’s only after a (perhaps necessarily) brutal, insensitive pep talk from Yara that something flickers behind his eyes. Theon is back, baby. The Blackfish also returns to the action as Jaime attempts to retake Riverrun from the Tullys and get back to Cersei, with the Freys proving to be comically useless. Jon, Davos and Sansa race around the North to hurriedly assemble an army to fight the Boltons — but in an episode concerned with rebirth and regrowth, it’s the declaration by Lord Glover that “House Stark is dead” that provides the chilling summation of our favourite family’s desperate situation.

45. ‘Garden of Bones’ (season 2, episode 4)

Written by: Vanessa Taylor
Directed by: David Petrarca
“A naked man has few secrets, a flayed man none.”

Tywin Lannister (foreground) arrives at Harrenhal.

‘Garden of Bones’ is largely recognised by both the Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire communities as the first major deviation from the source material. Entirely new scenes, written exclusively for the visual medium, are introduced in this episode as the show gets in some early practise at riding without stabilisers. Even as someone who hasn’t read the source material, the atmosphere of the adapted scenes and completely new scenes during this hour are noticeable in ways that the writers might not have envisioned — but these new scenes are still effective drama, and by their very nature they mirror several culture clashes that take place throughout the episode, as characters from various locations in the Known World are forced to confront one another and exchange views. Robb might meet his future wife Talisa for the first time, and we might be made aware that Tyrion will care for Sansa from arm’s length in King’s Landing, but Daenerys is encountering the exploitative, conniving Thirteen of Qarth and Arya is taken into Tywin Lannister’s staff at Harrenhal. So as Game of Thrones gains the confidence to not only adapt the scenes outlined in George R. R. Martin’s novels, but to use his characters to develop fresh plotlines and take the show in new directions, it still shows that it’s willing to plunge its characters into uncertain depths just as the books would.

44. ‘Dark Wings, Dark Words’ (season 3, episode 2)

Written by: Vanessa Taylor
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
 “I imagine it must be so exciting to squeeze your finger here and watch something die over there.”

Margaery Tyrell (left) and Joffrey Baratheon (right) test out the king’s new crossbow (King’s Landing).

‘Dark Wings, Dark Words’ is little pre-occupied with updating us on the progress of plotlines we didn’t get chance to catch up with in the season three premiere, but there are some wonderful character moments here that, just as they did in the season two finale and the season three premiere, prevent it from being a simple box-ticking exercise. We get to witness a revealing moment with Catelyn Stark as she delivers a fiercely memorable and significant monologue concerning her relationship with Jon Snow, and as we’re introduced to the Tyrell matriarch Lady Olenna, she and Cersei grapple for power in King’s Landing without properly encountering one another. Their individual struggles signify the importance of the royal children in their respective families, and Olenna’s entrance to the show is as brilliantly sharp-tongued as you’d expect. The scene shared between Joffrey and Margaery, as they learn how to use a crossbow together, is one of the finest two-hander scenes in the show’s run. How Margaery manages to shift the dynamic of the conversation without saying much at all is a true showing of just how good she was at playing this game and good the show is at this point at driving scenes entirely on the spoken word. Margaery has the sort influence and control over Joffrey that Cersei wishes she had — this episode is the beginning of their brilliant rivalry.

43. ‘Oathkeeper’ (season 4, episode 4)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Michelle MacLaren
“I will answer injustice with justice.”

Jojen Reed (left) and his sister Meera hide near Craster’s Keep (beyond the Wall).

Daenerys and Jon might be poles apart this point in the story, but their decisions in this episode hint at one common goal: justice. Daenerys symbolically tortures the Meereenese masters by hanging them to crosses and frees the slaves, while Jon makes plans to travel beyond the Wall and kill the traitorous mutineers at Craster’s Keep. Elsewhere, it’s a mid-season pause as future plot points are mapped out: Brienne and Podrick begin their journey together, Olenna privately reveals her role in Joffrey’s murder and leaves Margaery to introduce herself to Tommen, while Tyrion continues to prepare for his trial in a touching scene with Jaime. Beyond the Wall is where the intense action comes, as Bran & co. are captured by the mutineers at Craster’s Keep, where Karl Tanner rules over a horror-show of rape and abuse. We’re also introduced to the Night King, as he transforms Craster’s last son into a White Walker.

42. ‘Oathbreaker’ (season 6, episode 3)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Sackheim
“I fought, I lost. Now I rest. But you, Lord Snow, you’ll be fighting their battles forever.”

Jon Snow stands above a group of wildlings and Night’s Watch brothers (Castle Black).

Following the urgent and propulsive nature of ‘Home’ (the second episode of season six), Game of Thrones rounds off the opening act of its first season beyond the source material with an understated but subtly crucial episode. Visiting nearly a dozen locations across Westeros and Essos — as well as travelling back through time — ‘Oathbreaker’ checks in with several key characters as the first pieces are put into place for the story to reach its final act. After his resurrection last week, Jon Snow has woken up an exasperated nihilist. Reckoning with the fact that he was murdered for doing what he thought was right weighs heavily on him, as he hangs the men responsible for his death before giving command of Castle Black to the closest person. Further north, Bran Stark trawls through the archive of this epic story, as he witnesses the (expertly choreographed, five-way, dual-sword) fight between Ned Stark’s men and Arthur Dayne beneath the Tower of Joy. Daenerys is brought before the Dosh Khaleen and informed that her future choices are either execution or wasting away in a temple on the far side of the world. In Lord Varys’ absence, Qyburn has taken command of his “little birds” to dig out any rumours concerning Cersei in King’s Landing. Winterfell finally has another Stark within its walls, Rickon returns after three seasons away, but sadly as Ramsay’s prisoner (R.I.P. Shaggydog). And a delicately paced and carefully edited montage in Braavos sees Arya complete the next step of her Faceless Man training and regain her eyesight. There are crucial steps all around in ‘Oathbreaker’, but it never needs a bang to signify their importance.

41. ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ (season 2, episode 5)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: David Petrarca
“I have always found [revenge] to be the purest of motivations.”

Xaro Xhoan Doxos (middle) welcomes Daenerys Targaryen (left) (Qarth).

In an episode that sees the show’s second major casualty taken early on, as Renly Baratheon is murdered by a shadow assassin sent by his own brother Stannis, ‘The Ghost of Harrenhal’ takes us on a tour through the inner workings of revenge. The Tyrells, especially Loras, have entered the game now and, having been a partner of Renly’s before his death, Loras is after Stannis’ head (“I will put a sword through his righteous face!”). Margaery’s out to be the queen now her family have a stake in this war. Disguised as ‘Arry’, Arya continues her new job as Tywin’s cupbearer at Harrenhal, before being formally introduced to Jaqen H’ghar, whose skills she uses to awaken the vengeance that lives inside of her — her kill list is some way off being completed at this stage, but the climax of this episode (as The Tickler lies dead in the Harrenhal courtyard) is a wonderful teaser for more.

40. ‘Walk of Punishment’ (season 3, episode 3)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: David Benioff
“It often comforts me to think that, even in war’s darkest days, in most places in the world, absolutely nothing is happening.”

Brynden “Blackfish” Tully fires a symbolic arrow at his uncle’s funeral (Riverrun).

‘Walk of Punishment’ is another necessary pause point in season three’s opening stretch — the calm before the storm. For now, we’re sitting with the characters we know so well, learning more and more about them, and waiting for the intensity to ramp up. But waiting is such a pleasure because watching these characters interact is such a treat. The episode opens with a wonderful, wordless scene that introduces two characters in such a memorable way that both their personalities shine through: Edmure Tully tries and fails three times to ignite Hoster Tully’s coffin-boat via bow and arrow, only for the Blackfish to push him out of the way and complete the job without breaking sweat. The episode closes on a moment which is anything but tender, as one of the most important character arcs in the series’ entire history is ignited: Jaime Lannister loses his hand and jumps into our hearts.

39. ‘The Wars to Come’ (season 5, episode 1)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Michael Slovis
The sun drops fast this time of year. Hurry, Jon Snow.”

Lord Varys (left) and Tyrion Lannister (right) discuss Westeros’ future (Pentos).

The season five premiere, which begins the second act of Game of Thrones, is a revealing slow-burner of an episode. After the events of season four’s final stretch, which ended conflicts and storylines we’d been following since the pilot, ‘The Wars to Come’ sits patiently in the eye of the hurricane, as future battles are mapped out. With Tywin dead, Cersei deals with two emerging threats: the Faith Militant’s “Sparrows”, who hold the secrets to her sinister past, and Maggy the Frog’s dark prophecy, which pushes her towards an inescapable fate. Daenerys deals with unfamiliar problems too, as militant group the Sons of the Harpy begin to resist her rule over the city as she loses touch with her dragons. Heading towards her is Tyrion, who is convinced by Varys over the course of two wonderful character-focused scenes to join the cause for Targaryen restoration. With Stannis now stationed at Castle Black and eager to take Winterfell, it’s the first concrete indication we have that Jon Snow is ready for leadership — although Stannis’ current idea of leadership is to burn Mance Rayder alive for not kneeling, which is a bizarre move for all involved. But with revealing character interactions throughout and an eye on the future, season five begins with an assured, patient step.

38. ‘You Win or You Die’ (season 1, episode 7)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
“What we don’t know is usually what gets us killed.”

Ned Stark (middle) is escorted into the throne room following King Robert Baratheon’s death (King’s Landing).

Dropping the title of an episode and the name of the television show to which it belongs into a single line of dialogue usually leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. It’s the sort of TV trope that’s been parodied a hundred times over and is perhaps best avoided if you want to prevent your audiences from creasing up on their sofas. But on this occasion, “When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die,” causes no such reaction. That’s because it’s 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.

37. ‘Stormborn’ (season 7, episode 2)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Mark Mylod
“You’re not here to be queen of the ashes.”

Euron Greyjoy attacks Daenerys’ fleet (the Narrow Sea).

With the War of the Five Kings over, a new civil war has begun. Cersei levels the playing field in ‘Stormborn’ as she fights with Daenerys for control of Westeros. With Tyrion intent on ensuring the common people devote themselves to Dany through love rather than fear, he holds off an immediate, dragon-led destruction of King’s Landing and suggests the Dornish army lay siege to the capital instead. Only, on their journey to retrieve said army, the Greyjoy fleet is overcome by Cersei’s ally, Euron. It’s an erratic but intense sea battle sequence, with Alfie Allen producing his finest moment of both facial and physical acting, as Theon’s PTSD returns in heartbreaking fashion, forcing him to jump overboard. Elsewhere, this is an episode of heartwarming, tingly Stark moments: Arya briefly reunites with Hot Pie who informs her that Jon is now King in the North, encouraging her to return home rather than continue seeking vengeance; she then encounters her old direwolf Nymeria and decides that her vengeful ways might be best left behind; and at Winterfell, Jon accepts an invitation from Daenerys and rides for Dragonstone, leaving Sansa in charge of the North, but not before choking Petyr Baelish to warn him to steer clear of Sansa, directly mirroring Ned Stark’s actions from season one. And at the Citadel, Samwell Tarly, friend and servant of Jeor Mormont for many years, defies orders and attempts to cure Jorah Mormont’s greyscale in gruesome but suitably comedic fashion. The War of the Two Queens (if we’re calling it that?) has begun.

36. ‘A Man Without Honor’ (season 2, episode 7)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: David Nutter
“Do you know what legacy means? It’s what you pass down to your children, and your children’s children.”

Daenerys Targaryen (middle) and Jorah Mormont (right) stare in horror as the Thirteen of Qarth are slaughtered (Qarth).

After having her dragons stolen in ‘The Old Gods and the New’, Daenerys approaches the Thirteen of Qarth, who are all slaughtered by Pyat Pree. It’s the first time Daenerys’ adventures in Qarth are backed up by a solid wedge of tension, as we look ahead to her inevitable journey to the city’s House of the Undying. Otherwise, it’s an episode concerned with legacy. Cersei is especially concerned with hers, as her son Joffrey continues to abuse those under his rule. However, it’s Tywin and Arya’s exchange at Harrenhal that really gets to the heart of what this episode is trying to communicate and defines every other scene in it. There’s a pause in a conversation of theirs as Tywin stares out of a small opening in the ruined castle wall, and remarks that the War of the Five Kings is to be his last war — the one he’ll be remembered for — and it’s a fine display of Charles Dance’s talents as he lectures Arya on the importance of legacy and family. Elsewhere, Jaime Lannister breaks free of his prison in the Stark camp by murdering his cousin, while Theon Greyjoy burns two orphan boys and attempts to pass them off as the bodies of Bran and Rickon Stark. Things are getting bleak.

35. ‘Valar Dohaeris’ (season 3, episode 1)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
“The lowest among us are no different from the highest if you give them a chance and approach them with an open heart.”

Jon Snow, now a wildling prisoner, is escorted through their camp (beyond the Wall).

Much like the season two finale that preceded it, ‘‘Valar Dohaeris’ is also focused on its box-ticking exercises, but it’s a testament to the show’s character depth, worldbuilding, and plot weaving, that an episode so obviously preoccupied with plot efficiency can still be so engaging and involving. Three Tyrells arrive on the scene in King’s Landing, Tywin Lannister has entered the show’s central core of characters as Hand of the King (replacing Tyrion in the process), and Daenerys begins to understand the true meaning of being the Mother of Dragons as she begins the negotiation process to buy the Unsullied army in Astapor. It’s a sensible place to pause for thought and look ahead at what’s to come. As the show’s roster deepens, it’s only fair to give the audience a detailed look at some unfamiliar faces.

34. ‘Winter is Coming’ (season 1, episode 1)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Tim Van Patten
“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”

Ned Stark (right) beheads Will, a Night’s Watch deserter (the North).

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. It was one thing for George R. R. Martin to build this world on paper, but to flesh it out for the visual medium was another matter entirely. 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 perhaps the only time that so many important characters were on screen together in one location, with almost the entire Lannister and Stark families at Winterfell for King Robert Baratheon’s arrival, and that does mean an awful lot of information has to be crammed into the hour. But this is a solid start to the series, as cast and creators came together to turn a logistical nightmare into a fully realised product.

OKAY, WE’RE DEEP INTO “EXCELLENT EPISODE” TERRITORY NOW. THESE EPISODES ARE SERIOUSLY AMAZING.

33. ‘Book of the Stranger’ (season 6, episode 4)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Sackheim
“Let us sail on the tide of freedom instead of being drowned by it.”

Petyr Baelish calls the Knights of the Vale to arms (The Vale).

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. After sharing one of the most heart-warming reunions in the show’s entire run, Sansa convinces Jon to shake himself out of his post-resurrection lull and seize Winterfell back from the Boltons (sadly, inside the walls of the Stark homestead, Osha is killed just one episode after her return as she attempts to assassinate Ramsay). In Meereen, Tyrion offers the slave masters seven years to end their cruel practise — much to the justified chagrin of Missandei and Grey Worm, who remind Tyrion that his brief experience as a slave cannot match the years of torture they endured. In King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime convince the Small Council to invade the Sept and take Margaery back (their plans are powerfully soundtracked by ‘The Rains of Castamere’), with Johnathan Pryce providing the episode’s highlight with the High Sparrow’s wonderful one-take monologue beneath the Sept of Baelor. Littlefinger schemes his way to complete control in the Vale. And in Meereen, Daenerys brings the episode to a suitably fiery conclusion as she burns down the temple of the Dosh Khaleen with Khal Moro and his bloodriders inside, taking up command of the khalasar in the process. All over the map we’re being presented with alternatives to the losses season five dealt, with, the promise of freedom pushing us there.

32. ‘Lord Snow’ (season 1, episode 3)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Brian Kirk
 “Someday, you’ll sit on the throne, and the truth will be what you make it.”

Jon Snow (right) trains with his new Night’s Watch brothers (Castle Black).

‘Lord Snow’ feels like something of a true beginning for Game of Thrones. The characters who called Westeros home either started the pilot in Winterfell or arrived there halfway through. Two episodes later, and the huge cast of characters has been quickly dispersed. Ned and his daughters are in King’s Landing with Robert and the Lannisters, learning about how different the capital is to home in some fantastic character scenes; Robert, Ser Barrisan and Jaime Lannister discuss the truth of war, and how stories and songs could never convey the brutality nor the fear of battle; Catelyn is a step further in her investigation of Bran’s fall; Jon and Tyrion have arrived at Castle Black and are settling in with the Night’s Watch; Bran’s now awake and listening to Old Nan’s stories of White Walkers while he recovers; across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys and Khal Drogo head for Vaes Dothrak. With the pieces now around the board, and with introductions no longer a central concern, ‘Lord Snow’ sits us down, pulls back the curtain, and informs us that the grand history of this world was nothing but a victor’s lie.

31. ‘Mockingbird’ (season 4, episode 7)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alik Sakharov
“If you want justice, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

Petyr Baelish (left) comforts Lysa Arryn (right) before throwing her to her death (the Eyrie).

A character-focused place-setting episode follows the dramatic events of Tyrion’s trial, with many characters waiting in the disquiet before making their next moves. In King’s Landing, Tyrion’s inner circle of sympathisers begins to drift apart as both Jaime and Bronn join the list of people who’ve distanced themselves from him to protect their necks. Oberyn Martell, however, has his own agenda, and nominates himself as Tyrion’s champion to avenge his sister’s death at the hands of Cersei’s champion, The Mountain. Elsewhere, as the Hound begins to fade from Arya’s list after teaching her the value of mercy killing, Daario and Daenerys sleep together for the first time, while Brienne and Podrick briefly encounter Hot Pie in the Riverlands. In the final scene, Sansa is held over the Moon Door in the Eyrie by her aunt Lysa, who’s just witnessed the disturbing scene in which Petyr kisses Sansa. Petyr rescues Sansa from her death, but pushes Lysa to hers in the process, stealing her seat of authority in the Vale.

30. ‘The Night Lands’ (season 2, episode 2)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
“This is what ruling is: lying on a bed of weeds, ripping them out by the root, one by one, before they strangle you in your sleep.”

Gendry (right) and Arya (left) hide from City Watch gold cloaks (the Riverlands).

Before the final moment of the episode provides us with a somewhat hackneyed cliffhanger, as Jon Snow spies on Craster before being bopped on the head, ‘The Night Lands’ remains relatively low on incident — but crucially so. Instead, it’s 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, with Tyrion Lannister stealing the show in King’s Landing. His conversations with Varys and Janos Slynt in particular are some of the show’s finest work with Peter Dinklage. Elsewhere, Theon arrives back to a hostile reception in the Iron Islands, Yoren uses his words to defend Gendry from City Watch men who have come hunting for him, and Daenerys is lumbered with the responsibility of caring for her now decimated Dothraki tribe. 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.

29. ‘The Wolf and the Lion’ (season 1, episode 5)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Brian Kirk
“This is no longer a game for two players.”

Ned Stark (foreground) is confronted by Jaime Lannister (not pictured) (King’s Landing).

‘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. It’s an episode which makes the calculated decision to excise the show’s two fantastical strands (The Wall and Essos) to focus on the families and factions engaging in the unspoken political conflicts at this preliminary stage. Powerful people might have the right family names, and kings might lead armies into battle, but ‘The Wolf and the Lion’ 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. 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 highpoint of a strong outing for the show.

28. ‘What is Dead May Never Die’ (season 2, episode 3)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Alik Sakharov
“Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall.”

Theon Greyjoy (left) is baptised as he rejoins his family (Pyke).

In an episode that analyses the relationship Theon Greyjoy has with his own family after being raised by the Starks since he was a young boy, the relationships established in the closing stages of Game of Thrones’ first season are strained here — in some cases, they’re completely broken in some heartbreaking sequences. Theon, intending to tell Robb of the imminent Greyjoy invasion of the North, burns that precious letter and instead betrays Robb. In the south, there’s a heart-breaking and dramatic climax to the episode, as Yoren is murdered by Amory Lorch while Lorch is on the hunt for Gendry (a consequence of Joffrey’s murderous order in ‘The North Remembers’). Moments before his death, Yoren ignites a vengeful fire inside Arya that’s still burning strong as we look ahead to season eight: it’s where her kill list is born.

27. ‘Second Sons’ (season 3, episode 8)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Michelle MacLaren
“My sword is yours. My life is yours. My heart is yours.”

Sansa (right) prepares for her wedding to Tyrion Lannister (King’s Landing)

Arriving so late in the third season, you’d be forgiven for expecting ‘Second Sons’ to ramp up the pace a little. Instead, it does the opposite, and expertly uses nearly thirty episodes worth of context and deep character history to increase the tension. Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding, marred already by the upsetting, reluctant arrangement, is interrupted as the groom drinks himself into a stupor and threatens Joffrey, who has taken it upon himself to tease the newlyweds throughout the ceremony. Elsewhere in the episode, Sam and Gilly — now days from the Wall — are attacked by a White Walker who’s come to claim Gilly’s baby. Sam, however, is having none of it, and, in an explosive and unforgettable display of bravery, realises what the dragonglass he discovered in season two was really for: killing White Walkers.

26. ‘Mhysa’ (season 3, episode 10)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: David Nutter
 “Any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king.”

Joffrey Baratheon (middle) confronts Tywin Lannister during a Small Council meeting (King’s Landing).

A calm season finale follows the tragic and dramatic events of the Red Wedding, allowing for some emotional and unexpected character interactions to define the episode. As Davos sets Gendry free, Sam and Gilly encounter Bran at the Nightfort, while Jon survives three of Ygritte’s arrows to make it back to Castle Black. In King’s Landing, the “good news” of Robb Stark’s death doesn’t temper the atmosphere for long, as Joffrey and Tyrion both quarrel with Tywin before their meeting adjourns, with both Jack Gleeson and Charles Dance bringing their best performances from their time on the show. The closing moments of the episode see Daenerys free the slaves of Yunkai as she moves into the city following her defeat of the slave masters and their army. ‘Mhysa’ is not one of the most eventful season finales, as each of them were from this point on, but a more considered pace provides us with some wonderful character moments.

25. ‘Home’ (season 6, episode 2)

Written by: Dave Hill
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
“It is beautiful beneath the sea. But if you stay too long, you’ll drown.”

Brandon Stark (left) is shown a vision of the past by the Three-Eyed-Raven (right) (Winterfell).

With ‘Home’, Game of Thrones’ sixth season really clicks into gear. It’s a propulsive, decisive episode with a strong script that not only moves on confidently from George R. R. Martin’s source material, but also rewards fans of his novel series by confirming dozens of decade-old book theories. 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, with Ramsay Bolton and the newly arrived Euron Greyjoy the culprits in respective cases. Elsewhere, after a season-long absence, we’re finally back with Bran as he continues his training with the Three-Eyed-Raven. In a heart-warming flashback sequence that gives a glimpse of the past to show-watchers and provides book-readers a snapshot of a time before the novels began, a young Ned and Benjen Stark play in the Winterfell courtyard, with their sister Lyanna Stark and stable boy Wylis (Hodor) making appearances to tease future revelations that will shake the show to its very core. Jaime Lannister’s tense discussion with the High Sparrow at Myrcella’s (empty) funeral steals the show in King’s Landing. And to round off, the moment we were all waiting for — the resurrection of Jon Snow — finally arrives. Melisandre, after a quick pep talk from Davos, finds it within herself to bring our prince back from the dead. Cutting to black on his gasps that make it sound as though he was drowning in the blood he lost, we’re now heading swiftly into one of the show’s most exciting seasons.

24. ‘Kissed by Fire’ (season 3, episode 5)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Alex Graves
“You all despise me. Kingslasyer, oathbreaker, a man without honour.”

Beric Dondarrion (right) is resurrected by Thoros of Myr (left) (Riverlands).

After the explosive events of ‘And Now His Watch is Ended’, and the other defining moments of season three’s opening stretch, ‘Kissed by Fire’ is something of a necessary comedown. It’s an effective and tight character study written by Bryan Cogman, making just his third appearance on the show. There are no great spectacles and the memorable scenes are driven entirely by dialogue, so it’s a sweet reminder of what adaptation-era Thrones is so wonderful at. Alongside said character changes, the episode formally reintroduces Beric Dondarrion after a two-season absence, and with him the concept of resurrection is crucially brought to the table. Beric is brutally hacked to death during the Hound’s trial by combat, only for Thoros of Myr to resurrect him via the Lord of Light. Jon forgoes his Night’s Watch vows and gets intimate with Ygritte. And in one of the show’s most powerful scenes, Jaime goes from revealing the obsession Aerys Targaryen had with wildfire to describing, in detail, the events that lead to the Mad King’s death at Jaime’s hands. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is much better suited to the person Jaime is in this scene: still defiant and proud on the surface, but visibly rocked by emotions he’s deliberately restrained for years as a defence. Elsewhere, the Hound and Beric Dondarrion’s duel reveals that resurrection is possible in this world.

23. ‘The Old Gods and the New’ (season 2, episode 6)

Written by: Vanessa Taylor
Directed by: David Nutter
“Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.”

Robb Stark plans his assault on the southern kingdoms of Westeros (Riverlands).

Defined by the intense and frightening riot in King’s Landing, which provides some wonderful character moments — the Hound rescuing Sansa from rape and murder, Tyrion finally slapping Joffrey upside the head — ‘The Old Gods and the New’ contains some of the finest scenes Winterfell has ever played host to. As Theon Greyjoy’s invasion of the North spirals out of control, he beheads Ser Rodrick Cassell, whose final words probably still ring in Theon’s ears this side of season seven (“Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.”). Beyond the Wall, some unforgettable first scenes between Jon and Ygritte keep the tone a little lighter. Jon offers to behead Ygritte but he can’t carry out the deed. Ygritte flees, and Jon eventually takes her prisoner, but her mind is sharp, and her tongue more besides. Welcome to the show, Rose Leslie!

22. ‘The Dance of Dragons’ (season 5, episode 9)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: David Nutter 
“What great thing has ever been accomplished without killing or cruelty?”

Ser Davos Seaworth (left) says goodbye to Princess Shireen (right) (the North).

During ‘The Dance of Dragons’, Game of Thrones produces what is arguably its darkest moment, as Shireen Baratheon is burned alive. Her demise is harrowing and almost impossible to endure. It’s one of the most controversial scenes in the show’s entire run, and with good reason: her screams are difficult to hear to say the least, and it marks the beginning of the end for Stannis Baratheon. Elsewhere, in a wonderful sequence in Meereen, Daenerys opens the Great Games, Jorah fights for his queen’s affection and wins, Tyrion and Hizdahr share some wonderful dialogue as they analyse the link between cruelty and greatness, before Drogon swoops in to save Daenerys from an attack by the Sons of the Harpy. It’s a spectacle built on emotional character beats and backed by some of Ramin Djawadi’s finest work. Elsewhere, Jon escorts the wildlings through Castle Black, much to the dismay of Ser Alliser; Jaime, Ellaria and Prince Doran reach an uneasy truce in Dorne; and Arya briefly abandons her Faceless Man training to follow Meryn Trant.

21. ‘The Mountain and the Viper’ (season 4, episode 8)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alex Graves
“There’s no kind of killing that doesn’t have its own word.”

The Mountain (left) and Oberyn Martell (right) fight during Tyrion’s trial by combat (King’s Landing).

The final stretch of season four begins with a crushing (sorry for the pun) episode. Not only does this hour feature the beginning of Ser Jorah’s agonising two-season arc to win back Daenerys’ favour, but it also contains the hideous death of Oberyn Martell and plunges Tyrion Lannister’s fate into seemingly inescapable danger. Defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory during Tyrion’s trial by combat as Oberyn demands retribution for his murdered sister, nephews and nieces before their murderer, The Mountain (Cersei’s champion, no less) can be allowed to die. In one of the show’s most graphic scenes, the Mountain clings to life long enough to trip Oberyn, punch his complete set of front teeth out, and crush his skull with his bare hands, all while admitting to his horrible crimes. Elsewhere, a small wildling force attack Mole’s Town on their journey to Castle Black, and Sansa falls completely under Littlefinger’s control in the Vale, while Ramsay Snow is legitimised by his father as the Boltons move into Winterfell. A grisly, depressing hour indeed for anyone who sympathises with those the Lannisters and Boltons have betrayed.

20. ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’ (season 7, episode 7)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
“There is only one war that matters: the Great War — and it is here.”

The Army of the Dead prepare to breach the Wall and enter Westeros (Eastwatch-by-the-Sea).

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. Doing so allows it to present viewers with scenarios which have been teased, predicted, theorised, and wished for since George R. R. Martin’s book series began more than two decades ago. For years, book readers and show watchers alike have waited for episodes like ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’. Each major character meets in King’s Landing to analyse the past, present and future of every relationship this show has ever built; Jaime completes his arc from pompous arrogance to brave nobility, leaving an increasingly isolated Cersei behind; fate forces Jon and Daenerys, the two most important children in this story, to fall in love; three Stark children finally unite to defeat Littlefinger, their family’s greatest foe since day one; we’re given confirmation that not only was Jon Snow (Aegon Targaryen now!) never a bastard, but that he’s been the heir to the Iron Throne all along; and the White Walkers inevitably breach the Wall and break into the Seven Kingdoms, leaving Westeros doomed. The longest episode in Game of Thrones history 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.

19. ‘High Sparrow’ (season 5, episode 3)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Mark Mylod
“Stop being a bystander, do you hear me? Stop running. There’s no justice in the world, not unless we make it.”

Sansa (left) is told about her future by Petyr Baelish (right) before being taken home (the North).

Game of Thrones continued its patient opening stretch of season five with ‘High Sparrow’, one of its strongest character-focused episodes. With Tywin Lannister dead and Tommen only recently crowned, and with several main characters now settling into new roles and new surroundings, ‘High Sparrow’ investigates whether the people from this story have any chance of seizing control. Cersei scurries about King’s Landing, only to find Margaery Tyrell’s manipulation of Tommen seemingly around every corner; Arya arrives in Braavos and, by deciding to hide her sword Needle rather than get rid of it, attempts to become a Faceless Man on her own terms; Brienne has realised over the years that “Nothing is more hateful than failing to protect the ones you love”, and so she’s outlined her mission to avenge Renly Baratheon; up at Castle Black, Jon is adjusting to life as Lord Commander, and his first major decision is to execute Lord Janos and warn those who would threaten to undermine him. Sadly, the man who delivers this episode’s thesis statement, Littlefinger, delivers it to Sansa, who doesn’t yet know how she’s being manipulated into marrying Ramsay Bolton. Heaps of memorable dialogue-driven scenes and some intriguing developments make this one of the strongest episodes of the entire series.

18. ‘Two Swords’ (season 4, episode 1)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: D. B. Weiss
“Tell your father I’m here. And tell him the Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.”

Arya (left) sits with The Hound (right) before a fight with Polliver (the North).

‘Two Swords’ is Game of Thrones’ strongest season premiere. It’s an episode that’s bookended by two brilliant scenes: first, Tywin Lannister proudly displays the power of his house by melting down Ned Stark’s great sword Ice in the cold open, before Arya Stark and the Hound slaughter Polliver and his men at a roadside tavern, with Arya finally reclaiming Needle after two seasons apart. This episode also sees the ice-cold arrival of Prince Oberyn Martell to King’s Landing and stake his claim as one of the most memorable and adored characters in the show’s entire run, while Jon Snow survives his trial at Castle Black as the leaders investigate his time with the wildlings and decide he doesn’t need to face punishment after all.

17. ‘The Kingsroad’ (season 1, episode 2)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Tim Van Patten
“All the things men do to show you how much they care.”

Ned Stark (middle) deals with accusations that his daughters attacked Joffrey (Riverlands).

In an action-packed and intense second episode, Game of Thrones immediately lights the touch paper of the conflict between the Lannisters and the Starks with some of the series’ earliest defining scenes. After Jaime Lannister pushed him out of the window in the pilot, Bran Stark is rescued by his mother as a cutthroat comes to kill him in his sleep in a frightening and intense fight to the death; Arya and Nymeria attack prince Joffrey and, as a result, Sansa’s direwolf Lady is ordered to be killed by Ned as a form of cruel punishment. This episode also gives us the now infamous conversation between Jon Snow and Ned Stark, where Ned promises to tell his bastard son the truth about his mother (who Jon doesn’t know is Lyanna Stark), while Tyrion and Yoren tell some wonderful tales to one another at Castle Black, while learning the truth of being a Night’s Watch brother from Jon’s uncle, Benjen Stark. In addition to this, ‘The Kingsroad’ spends its time further exploring the nature of the characters whose eventual mission will be to flip this world on its head: Daenerys learns to tame Khal Drogo, Tyrion brilliantly reigns Joffrey in during their time at Winterfell, before Arya attacks the current prince with Nymeria in the previously mentioned incident. The touch paper is indeed lit.

WHEN THE SHOW IS LONG GONE, THE FOLLOWING EPISODES ARE THE ONES I’LL ALWAYS COME BACK TO. SPECTACULAR HOURS OF TELEVISION FOLLOW.

16. ‘Mother’s Mercy’ (season 5, episode 10)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: David Nutter
“I’m glad the end of the world is working out for someone.”

Cersei Lannister begins her walk of atonement (King’s Landing).

In true Game of Thrones fashion, ‘Mother’s Mercy’ brings a bleak fifth season to a suitably bleak close. Early in the episode, Jon jokes with Sam that the end of the world might well be working out well for somebody. He couldn’t be more wrong. Stannis loses his wife and army before suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Boltons, with the North’s most hated family solidifying their grip on Winterfell in the process; Daenerys is rejected once more by Drogon before she’s captured by the Dothraki horde; Arya might well get her revenge on Meryn Trant in a brutal scene, but her descent into madness is now too real for us to enjoy Trant’s slaughter; Cersei finally gets the dressing down (no pun intended) she has deserved for so long, but her walk of atonement is so protracted and merciless that relishing in her punishment is not an option; and, finally, our last best hope against the White Walkers, Jon Snow, is stabbed six times in a mutiny by his Night’s Watch brothers and left to die in the snow. This is powerful, emotionally exhausting television, and one of Game of Thrones’ darkest hours.

15. ‘The Door’ (season 6, episode 5)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Jack Bender
“Hold the door!”

The Children of the Forest plan to create the very first White Walker (beyond the Wall).

‘The Door’ is not the best episode of Game of Thrones but reaching so deeply into the show’s rich mythology — by displaying events from both before season one and during season one — allows it to stake a claim as the most important. Ignoring the door-holding elephant in the room for a moment, we see how history has been distorted by the victors ever since we first stepped into this world. Arya’s assignment to poison Lady Crane invites us to view a wonderfully constructed sequence of a mummers’ play, which displays how doctored reports hideously misrepresented Ned Stark’s death and Joffrey’s rise to power. Varys is visibly disturbed for the first time in this series as Kinvara, a Red Priestess invited by Tyrion to Meereen to spread pro-Daenerys propaganda, recalls his mutilation. The show finally allows Sansa to regain some agency as she confronts Littlefinger about her sale to Boltons, before keeping her cards suspiciously close to her chest as Jon and Davos plan for the battle for Winterfell. The Ironborn elect a new leader in Euron Greyjoy as a wonderful montage sees Euron crowned while Yara and Theon escape their uncle’s rule, and Jorah’s farewell to Daenerys provides an emotional character beat and gives us some of Emilia Clarke’s best work as the Dragon Queen. It’s beyond the Wall, however, that the true strengths of this episode lie. After learning that the Children of the Forest were responsible for the creation of the White Walkers, Bran causes time-travel chaos. He carelessly allows the Night King to enter a vision, break the spell protecting them beneath the tree, and launch an assault on the cave. As they flee, Meera’s shouted instructions to Hodor — to “hold the door” containing a horde of wights — pass through Bran’s consciousness, enter his vision, and break the mind of a young Hodor, who hears Meera’s cries from the future and suffers a seizure. The process creates a time loop that ties together at the point of Hodor’s death, creating one of the most heart-breaking revelations in the show’s entire run while also displaying Bran’s ability to affect history. Hodor held the door, and we wept like children.

14. ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ (season 4, episode 9)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Neil Marshall
“Love is the death of duty.”

Jon Snow (left) battles a Thenn (right) as the wildlings attack the Wall (Castle Black).

Billing ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ as season four’s ‘Blackwater’ was perhaps unfair, and placing it immediately after the biggest shock of the season’s principal storyline (as Tyrion is sentenced to death) didn’t help its cause either. But in spite of the odds stacked against it, another character-focused battle delivers serious goods as the wildlings attack Castle Black in an attempt to get south of the Wall. Following the battle through Sam’s eyes as much as possible while focusing on the individual battles taking place across the fortress gives the episode a number of focus points, as the battle between love and duty rears its head again. Sex and love dominate the pre-action discussions, Sam doesn’t shy away from his oath despite Gilly’s protests, while Jon and Ygritte share their last moments together on opposing sides before she is killed by Olly’s arrow. The characters who defend the Wall from those live beyond it clash to end a story arc which has been building ever since the first moment of the first episode, and it excels at delivering emotional resolutions.

13. ‘Fire and Blood’ (season 1, episode 10)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
“I swear to you, that those who would harm you will die screaming.”

Daenerys Targaryen walks into Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre (Essos).

In the first season’s fantastic finale, it’s a key turning point for several characters as the children of this world began to regain some leverage. Sansa begins to understand the world she’s been brought up in as she fights back against Joffrey for the first time; Tyrion becomes Hand of the King; and Jorah finds Dany alive in the ashes of her husband’s funeral pyre in the earth-shattering closing scene. Unburnt, and with three living dragons crawling over her, filling the morning air with their music. Much like Ned’s beheading in ‘Baelor’, the birth of the dragons is an event that changes this show forever. Only, where Ned’s death is shown as the ultimate consequence of Game of Thrones’ violent politics, the birth of those three mythical beasts pulls the show into fantasy territory. It’s a point from which both Dany and the show will never look back.

12. ‘The Laws of Gods and Men’ (season 4, episode 6)

Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Alik Sakharov
“I wish I was the monster you think I am.”

Jaime Lannister (left) pleads with his brother Tyrion during his trial (King’s Landing).

‘The Laws of Gods and Men’ is an intense and satisfying hour that launches Game of Thrones into its strongest run of consecutive episodes, and it’s an hour built entirely around intriguing twists and unexpected false dawns. You expect Stannis and Davos’ pleas with the Iron Bank to land them financial support, only for their passionate claims to fall on deaf ears; Yara attempts to rescue Theon from the Dreadfort but leaves empty-handed after Ramsay Bolton uncovers their mission and attacks them in the night; Daenerys quickly sets up shop in Meereen but finds ruling to be difficult when Drogon incinerates livestock in nearby farmlands; and in King’s Landing, the episode’s — and, arguably, the season’s — centrepiece explodes as Tyrion is called for trial. But as he fights a losing battle in the docks, and as Varys, Meryn Trant, Pycelle and even Shae deliver testimonies that leave his future looking both short and bleak, Tyrion fights back, with Peter Dinklage delivering one the show’s finest monologues. With nothing to lose, he lays into Joffrey, Cersei, the population of King’s Landing, and anyone else who’s tortured him, taunted him, or completely disregarded him up to that point. It’s a cathartic protest that’s superbly augmented by Ramin Djawadi’s excellent ‘The Rains of Castamere’ score, as the entire cast bring their Emmy A-game to carry the episode home.

11. ‘A Golden Crown’ (season 1, episode 6)

Written by: Jane Espenson, David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
“There is one thing we say to death: not today.”

Khal Drogo (left) prepares a “golden crown” for Viserys Targaryen (right) (Essos).

‘A Golden Crown’ 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 separates the wheat from the chaff with regards to who can cheat the system to stay ahead, and those who can’t spot danger at all. In an episode that properly introduces Bronn as he fights as Tyrion’s champion in the Eyrie, and features Ned’s brief time on the Iron Throne in Robert Baratheon’s absence, we still have time for the first satisfying and gruesome death of the series, as Khal Drogo finally loses patience with Daenerys’ vicious brother Viserys. In the episode’s unforgettable climax, the Dothraki leader pours molten gold onto the head of his wife’s intolerable brother, giving us our first notable death and forever preserving his final expression: horrified and burning.

10. ‘The Spoils of War’ (season 7, episode 4)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Matt Shakman
“Enough with the clever plans.”

Daenerys Targaryen and Drogon attack the Lannister army (the South).

Later seasons of Game of Thrones are at their best when you forget you’re watching the small screen. Think ‘Hardome’, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘The Winds of Winter’. You can add ‘The Spoils of War’ to that list now, too. After watching her forces knocked back over the previous two episodes, 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. Jaime Lannister’s horror is woven superbly into the terrifying action as Drogon emerges as a new weapon in Westerosi war. The Loot Train Battle is chocked full of instantly iconic visual beats and is masterfully suspended by the fear that characters we sympathise with might well kill each other. Fire, smoke and ash fill almost every inch of the screen, Daenerys and her Dothraki horde feel utterly frightening, and as Tyrion watches his brother charge at his queen we’re given eyes to watch this chaos through. It’s stunning television and a defining sequence of the seventh season. Speaking of chaos, Bran disturbs Littlefinger by quoting his “chaos is a ladder” monologue back at him before Meera Reed bids a tearful farewell to the show. Arya then returns home to bring the “Starks at Winterfell” count to three! You have to go back to the second episode of the entire series to see our favourite Northern family populating their own home so densely — Littlefinger might be scheming here, but we can bask in the warmth of seeing so many safe Starks for now. The above all adds up to the highest point of season seven, a fantastic outing.

9. ‘Baelor’ (season 1, episode 9)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alan Taylor
 “I learned how to die a long time ago.”

Tyrion Lannister (front) leads the tribes of the Vale into battle (Riverlands).

‘Baelor’ taught us, without sugar coating it, that the children of this story are completely powerless and, to be blunt, completely fucked. It’s a world run by vicious tyrants who play their games and push their children into situations where life suddenly flashes before their eyes. The shock of Ned’s death is an appropriate warning that anybody can be taken out of Game of Thrones at a moment’s notice. The words “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword” might well have defined every aspect of Ned Stark’s life up to this point, but the words don’t save him when he’s this far out of his comfort zone. His death goes on to define the show he belongs to in almost every way, and impacts the rest of television with it. When ‘Baelor’ concludes, Game of Thrones is fully underway, and there’s no stopping it. Along with ‘The Rains of Castamere’, this is a defining episode not just of this show, but of 21st century television as a whole.

8. ‘Battle of the Bastards’ (season 6, episode 9)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
“Thousands of men don’t need to die. Only one of us.”

Ramsay Bolton (left) instructs Rickon Stark (right) to run to his brother across a battlefield (the North).

‘Battle of the Bastards’ might not be Game of Thrones’ best battle-focused episode (keep reading), but the horrifying chaos that ensues on the fields outside Winterfell might be its best battle set-piece. As Ramsay Snow’s Bolton-Umber forces meet Jon’s wildling-Mormont army, director Miguel Sapochnik pushes back the boundaries of what television is capable of and produces intensely exciting results. This is an ambitious spectacle that really delivers. Beginning in Meereen, Daenerys’ dragons resist the slave masters’ siege in spectacular boat-burning fashion, before Daenerys herself seizes their invading fleet of ships for herself and forms an alliance with Yara and Theon Greyjoy. The second half of the episode then focuses entirely on the battle that’s been promised since Jon came back, and the pay-offs are wonderful. Visually, the battle is absolutely stunning, with every swing of every sword thundering with serious impact, while horse hooves and arrows fly about the place in a dizzying swamp of a melee as we follow Jon’s footsteps throughout. As the battle progresses and as it seems all hope is lost, a little deus ex machina never hurt anyone (except the Bolton forces, who are quickly decimated) as the Knights of the Vale charge in to win the battle for Jon’s side. Sansa, a survivor of everything Ramsay put her through, finally notches her first major win in this game. And just like that, the Stark banners are back in Winterfell. Fuck, it feels good to say that.

7. ‘The Lion and the Rose’ (season 4, episode 2)

Written by: George R. R. Martin
Directed by: Alex Graves
“He’s choking!”

Joffrey Baratheon (left) is wed to Margaery Tyrell (right) in the Sept of Baelor (King’s Landing).

In this landmark early season show-stopper, book series creator and TV show producer 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. Even before the episode’s shocking, unforgettable climax, which points towards the unsuspecting Tyrion as the culprit, the tension developed across the scenes in King’s Landing is some of the finest construction of suspense in the show’s entire run. It’s Joffrey’s final lap, and so he uses it to taunt Tyrion and Sansa and hurl abuse at the entertainment — it’s a last reminder of how truly, delightfully abhorrent he was before Lady Olenna’s poison takes him from us forever. Elsewhere, Ramsay displays to Roose Bolton the control he has over Theon now that he’s become “Reek”, while Bran sees revealing visions of the future beyond the Wall that point towards the show’s exciting future.

6. ‘And Now His Watch is Ended’ (season 3, episode 4)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alex Graves
“The revenge you want will be yours in time if you have the stomach for it.”

Daenerys Targaryen (front) claims ownership of the Unsullied army (Astapor).

Suddenly, with this episode, we weren’t so much looking forward to season three’s key events as we were being thrown at them. After three episodes of place-setting to open the season, we’ve landed in the middle third with a bang. ‘And Now His Watch Is Ended’ isn’t necessarily an episode concerned with revenge, but it does preach the value of patience when planning bolts from the blue. Even the scenes that are no larger than two people exchanging words extol the virtues of playing the long game when trying to get what you want. The defining moments are suitably bloody and fiery, however: 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 an episode full to the brim with fantastic character moments, devilishly smooth dialogue, and some of the show’s most memorable events. The planning for these events has been so patient, so thorough, so calculated, that once the dust settles — literally in the case of Daenerys’ show-stopping climax — these shocking moments seem completely inevitable. The burning of Astapor is one of Game of Thrones’ most fondly remembered sequences, and revenge and patience are at the heart of it all. This is adaptation-era Thrones at its very best.

THE FOLLOWING EPISODES HAVE LEGENDARY STATUS, NOT JUST IN GAME OF THRONES, BUT ALL THE TELEVISION I’VE EVER CONSUMED.

5. ‘Hardhome’ (season 5, episode 8)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
“I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”

Jon Snow approaches the wildling port of Hardhome (beyond the Wall).

Well, there it goes. The best sequence this wonderful show ever produced, and, of course, one of its very finest episodes. As Jon Snow and Tormund Giantsbane convince a number of wildlings to flee south of the Wall from the Army of the Dead, the strongest warning yet of the undead threat is fully realised in an intoxicating, horrifying, violent fifteen-minute sequence that completely switches the show’s primary focus and reminds us all that, while we might have been distracted by the War of the Five Kings over the previous four seasons, none of it really mattered. The Night King and his White Walkers attack the wildling port of Hardhome in a blistering wave of destruction that leaves every living thing either dead or fleeing at tremendous speeds. It’s a frightening sequence that’s punctured with decisive moments for the story, as Jon’s Valryian steel sword Longclaw blocks a Walker’s ice spear before killing said Walker, and emotional character beats, as we’re introduced to the feisty and determined wildling Karsi, only to have her taken from us by a group of undead children. It’s post-adaptation Thrones at its absolute peak. Elsewhere, as Daenerys reveals to Tyrion her plans to “break the wheel” in Westeros during their excellent two-hander scenes together, it seems the White Walkers are a step ahead with on their own path to conquer and destroy. That wheel does turn again as the Boltons prepare for Stannis’ arrival at Winterfell, while Sansa drags little bits of Theon back to life in their tense encounter, but the Long Night is coming to end it all. And, as this episode confirmed in stunning fashion, the dead are coming with it.

4. ‘The Rains of Castamere’ (season 3, episode 9)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: David Nutter
“The Lannisters send their regards.”

Walder Frey (centre) sits at the front of the Frey-Tully wedding dinner (The Twins).

This is Game of Thrones’ defining episode, and one of its very best. The moment when those who were either ignorant of the show, or unconvinced by their friends’ recommendations, finally decided to see what all 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. So, what happens? Well, the hero Robb Stark, his loving mother Catelyn, his loyal wife Talisa (and her unborn child) are all brutally murdered in a tragic, shocking bloodbath at Edmure Tully’s wedding by a combination of Bolton and Frey soldiers on the orders of Tywin Lannister. It’s a plot that develops almost completely unnoticed for the entire season and its result is one of the most infamous and upsetting moments in modern television. Elsewhere, this is an hour of agonising near-misses: Arya almost reunites with her family before they’re all mercilessly slaughtered. Jon and Bran briefly cross paths but are separated by unbearably tense wildling-led chaos in the North, with the show also providing the first clue that Bran and Hodor’s minds are connected in ways we couldn’t possibly comprehend. And in Yunkai, Daario Naharis, Ser Jorah and Grey Worm lead an attack on the city and seize it for Daenerys. It’s an episode packed to the gills with drama, shock and expert character development amid the fury, and 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 entertainment. A classic.

3. ‘The Children’ (season 4, episode 10)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Alex Graves
“You are no son of mine.”

Lady Brienne (front) faces the Hound (not pictured) (The Vale).

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of several story arcs closing shut. Some close quietly, some close with a bang, but they close all the same. Tyrion Lannister, after four seasons of being made to feel like the lowest Lannister, finally exacts revenge on his father, Tywin, murdering him via crossbow before being escorted across the Narrow Sea to Pentos. It’s a stunning end to the series’ longest character duel. The tension might not have gone yet, but the war between the wildlings and the Night’s Watch is effectively over, as Stannis arrives at Castle Black to put the final nail in Mance Rayder’s mission to get beyond the Wall. After three seasons of being dragged north, Bran gets himself to the weirwood tree, with Jojen sacrificing himself in the process. Arya, after four seasons of being held captive and learning the value of vengeance from dangerous men, finally sails to Braavos alone after leaving the Hound to “die” in the Vale. The Hound is left in such a state following a brutal physical fight with Lady Brienne, featuring much in the way of blood, teeth and punches to the gut. Tying up so many arcs inside an hour is a task ‘The Children’ carries out with delicacy and efficiency in equal measure, completing plotlines and character journeys in such a way that it now sees itself placed as one of the series top five episodes.

2. ‘Blackwater’ (season 2, episode 9)

Written by: George R. R. Martin
Directed by: Neil Marshall
“I’ve always hated the bells. They ring for horror, a dead king, a city under siege.”

Joffrey Baratheon (left) presents his sword to Sansa Stark (right) before the battle (King’s Landing).

‘Blackwater’, without a shadow of a doubt, is Game of Thrones’ first ten-out-of-ten episode. It had much shakier foundations to stand on than the other classic episodes in the series — its purse strings were pulled tight, it’s the show’s first attempt at standing in one location for the whole hour, and one of the armies fighting in this epic battle was only introduced eight episodes previously. But despite all this, it’s driven by George R. R. Martin’s tremendously rich script and launches itself, over its fifty-four minutes, into contention for the title of being Game of Thrones’ greatest ever episode. The wildfire explosion alone is one of the most memorable sequences in the show’s entire run, but it’s what happens inside the walls of King’s Landing that elevates Game of Thrones’ first on-screen battle to legendary status. Peter Dinklage operates expertly as the episode’s focal point as Tyrion Lannister leads the defence of the city, producing hilarious punchlines (“That would make me the quarter-man…”), delivering defiant speeches (“Those are brave men knocking at our door, let’s go kill them!”) and leading the charge to the Mud Gate all in the same battle. The exchanges between Cersei and Sansa see both Lena Headey and Sophie Turner deliver their best performances as the women of the city take shelter in the Red Keep. And the Hound’s awakening this episode allows us to sit inside the mind of a man who has been raised to kill but has been left damaged and completely dejected by it (“ The world is built by killers, so you’d better get used to looking at them”). It’s character-focused chaos as Stannis is ultimately defeated, and it almost places ‘Blackwater’ as this show’s very best episode.

Feel free to listen to HOUSE CHUMS, my show that’s covering season 8: https://soundcloud.com/house-chums

1. ‘The Winds of Winter’ (season 6, episode 10)

Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
“Sometimes before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest.”

Cersei Lannister waits to be called for trial by the High Sparrow (King’s Landing).

Wow. Erm, yeah, just… wow. I’ve watched through Game of Thrones six times now and I’ve seen ‘The Winds of Winter’ individually more times than that, 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 opens with Cersei quietly picking off her enemies before blowing up the Sept of Baelor in a brilliantly devised sequence that will live long in the memory — it’s funereal, suspenseful, unbearably tense, and ultimately, literally explosive. The list of named casualties in her scheme is ginormous (Margaery Tyrell along with her father Mace and brother Loras, the High Sparrow, Lancel and Kevan Lannister, Septa Unella, King Tommen Baratheon and Maester Pycelle, as well as hundreds of common people), as the show wipes the slate clean and careers towards its final act. Cersei then has the psychotic gall to crown herself queen in the aftermath. It’s absolutely stunning television. And the episode goes up from there! Arya resurfaces at the Twins to avenge the Red Wedding, slicing the throat of Walder Frey in a sequence you could cheer at every time; Samwell Tarly arrives at the Citadel and fulfils his lifelong dream to step foot in Westeros’ largest library; Davos finally confronts Melisandre over the death of Shireen, with Liam Cunningham producing an Emmy-worthy performance; the show confirms the R+L=J theory with one of the greatest transition shots in 21st century television and then names Jon Snow King in the North in the space of five minutes; Daenerys Targaryen finally sails for Westeros after six seasons in Essos, naming Tyrion Lannister as her Hand and securing an alliance with the Martells, Tyrells and Greyjoys in the process. AND THEN THE SHOW FINALLY CONFIRMS THAT AFTER SIX SEASONS, WINTER HAS FINALLY ARRIVED! Fucking hell! Is there anything this episode doesn’t do? All of the above takes place in sixty-nine triumphant minutes. An episode of television that shoots for epic spectacle rooted in seasons-worth of character depth and goes miles beyond achieving what we expected to be possible. I need a lie down.