Any number of episodes could have made the list, but with the hit HBO series now concluded, these are our picks for the top episodes in Game of Thrones history.
25. “The Lion and the Rose” (S4E2)
Typically, Game of Thrones followed a formula where the big moments/deaths came at the end of the season, so it was a shock for those who didn’t read the books when King Joffrey was murdered at his own wedding in the second episode of Season 4. Even before the gruesome death, director Alex Graves masterfully weaved all the character interactions together at the feast, and viewers have their guard down by the time Joffrey starts choking because we had just seen the intensity ratcheted up (when Tyrion was humiliated as cupbearer) and suddenly halted (when Margaery wisely shouted for the cake). But even for someone as wicked as Joffrey, it was a horrible to see his discolored face with the life being sucked out of him and Cersei screaming for Tyrion to be taken.
24. “Home” (S6E2)
A lot was going on in “Home”—from Bran visiting Winterfell in the past (when Ned was a boy), to Jaime’s confrontation with the High Sparrow, to Ramsay killing his father—but the ending is what gives it a spot among our top episodes. Despite not being a “devout man” by his own admission, Ser Davos urged Melisandre to try to bring the Jon Snow back from the dead, but it seemed to fail, as the former Lord Commander remained motionless while everyone left the room. However, Ghost wakes up and looks towards Jon, who eventually opens his eyes and realizes he is somehow alive. Unsurprisingly, composer Ramin Djawadi had the perfect score to play through the end credits.
23. “And Now His Watch Is Ended” (S3E4)
The episode title is named for the mutiny at Craster’s Keep that resulted in Lord Commander Mormont’s death, but that wasn’t even the final scene in “And Now His Watch Is Ended”, which also included the Hound learning his trial by combat would come against Beric Dondarrion (actually instilling a bit of fear in him), and most importantly, Daenerys’ first large-scale use of her dragons. The latter moment showed the Mother of Dragons take control of the Unsullied while earning their trust as free men.
22. “You Win or You Die” (S1E7)
After being introduced to Tywin Lannister in a memorable opening scene where he talks to Jaime about the family legacy, viewers are given an insight into “the game” back at the capital with Cersei Lannister telling Ned Stark, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” The Hand of the King was trying to show mercy by telling Cersei he knew the truth about her children actually being Jaime’s (hence, giving them all a chance to leave), but we find out by the end of the episode that honor doesn’t play well in King’s Landing, as Ned ends up with a knife to his throat (via Littlefinger) and his men killed. Also in the episode: Jon Snow takes his Night’s Watch vows beyond the Wall, which leads to Ghost finding a severed hand.
21. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (S8E2)
People who can’t watch a show without looking at their phone might not have enjoyed this dialogue-heavy episode enough to rank it among the best, but we think it undoubtedly deserves a spot. Things started out with Brienne vouching for Jaime and his pledge to fight for the North (because Daenerys and Sansa didn’t believe him), and he eventually returned the favor by knighting Brienne in a heart-warming scene. The episode name could be about that moment, but in general, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” may have actually been about Jaime and how far he’s come as a person, which he explained to Bran in the Godswood. It also happened to be arguably the funniest episode of the series (and that’s a good tool to use prior to a huge battle), but things got serious when Podrick started signing “Jenny of Oldstones” and the montage carried us to Jon Snow telling Dany who he is right before the horns blow with Death approaching.
20. “Winter Is Coming” (S1E1)
The series premiere started with a chilling pre-credits scene that introduced us to the White Walkers, while the rest of the episode gave us a feel of the Starks, Lannisters, and Baratheons in Westeros, and the last two known Targaryens—Viserys and Daenerys—in Essos. Simply through conversations, viewers were able to get an idea of all the characters, but the final scene where Bran Stark is pushed by Jaime after he catches him with Cersei was a surprising end to this new fantasy world on HBO. Plus, on a happier note, who doesn’t love direwolf puppies?
19. “The Watchers on the Wall” (S4E9)
The Night’s Watch barely had the numbers to hold Castle Black when the wildlings attacked, but the heroism of Jon Snow—first taking command on top of the Wall and then joining the action on the ground—allowed it to stand yet again (as Alliser Thorne said it a speech, the castle had never fallen before). The highlight of the episode was the long sequence where Jon leaps from the elevator, pauses for a moment at the top of the steps, and then joins the action, as we got a look at all the characters we know (Ygritte, Tormund, and even Ghost) before Olly eventually saved Jon by killing Ygritte. In the morning, Jon made the executive decision to go beyond the Wall and try to assassinate Mance Rayder, so we weren’t sure what was in store for the Season 4 finale.
18. “The Laws of Gods and Men” (S4E6)
In a crucial scene before Tyrion is put on trial for Joffrey’s death, Stannis and Davos went to Braavos, and the Onion Knight was able to convince the Iron Bank to support the only remaining Baratheon in his war against the Lannisters. Also, the dungeon fight to free Theon—a knife-wielding Ramsay Bolton and his men against Yara and her men—was unsuccessful but awesome to watch. The entire trial was what made “The Laws of Gods and Men” so great, though, as in a backroom deal, Jaime was able to convince his father to let Tyrion live out his days on the Wall if he pleads for mercy, which all three Lannister men agree to under one condition—no more outbursts from the accused. However, when Shae was brought in as a witness to lie about him, Tyrion couldn’t take it and decided to wish death upon the entire crowd before demanding a trial by combat.
17. “The Children” (S4E10)
“The Children” had a ton of events packed into it—Tyrion killing his father, Bran reaching the Three-Eyed Raven, Daenerys locking up her dragons, the Hound fighting Brienne, the beginning of the Mountain’s transformation, and to start the episode, Stannis attacking Mance Rayder and the wildlings—but two of the more underappreciated scenes were centered around Jon Snow. First, he tells Stannis that his father would have told him to burn all the dead bodies if he’d seen what he’s seen, and later, he says goodbye to Ygritte by creating a funeral pyre for her beyond the Wall as suggested by Tormund.
16. “Fire and Blood” (S1E10)
With Ned Stark now dead, it looked like Daenerys Targaryen and Robb Stark were the two main heroes of the story. For his first scene in “Fire and Blood”, Robb is crying and repeatedly striking a tree with his sword after hearing of his father’s death, but Catelyn reminds him that they need to need Sansa and Arya back—“and then we will kill them all.” At the same time, Daenerys is abandoned by the Dothraki and has nothing except for three petrified dragon eggs. But soon enough, Robb is named King in the North, and Dany becomes the Mother of Dragons.
15. “The Bells” (S8E5)
The Last War didn’t really turn out to be much of a war at all after Dany laid waste to Euron’s fleet, the Golden Company, and the Lannister forces, but how could an episode where two of the five principal characters die (Jaime and Cersei) and another is revealed to be the show’s final villain (Daenerys) not make the list? Even though the signs were there looking back, the Mother of Dragons ignoring the bells of surrender was equally shocking and heartbreaking to watch. Besides Jaime reaching and dying with his sister, the destruction of King’s Landing led to an apocalyptic Clegane Bowl, Jon Snow seeing the horror of what’s happening, and Arya somehow surviving and riding off on a white horse for the penultimate final scene.
14. “Blackwater” (S2E9)
The first battle episode in Game of Thrones, “Blackwater” was outstanding television from start to finish. Like “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” provided prior to “The Long Night”, there were some comedic moments before Stannis attacked King’s Landing, including Joffrey’s misplaced confidence and arrogance as Sansa sees him off the battle. But substance came once the fighting began, and very real emotions came to the surface for the Hound (fear), Joffrey (cowardness), and Cersei (worry), forcing Tyrion to take charge and help save the city. However, Ser Mandon tries to kill the Lannister dwarf and ends up slicing his face before Podrick saves him, and we see more forces—led by Tywin and Loras Tyrell—win the battle.
13. “Mother’s Mercy” (S5E10)
The Season 5 finale starts about as dark as possible when Stannis—after being told that half his army has deserted him—gets even worse news when he goes out to the woods and sees his wife has hanged herself after their daughter’s death by fire in the previous episode. To make matters worse, a previously confident Melisandre left despite Shireen’s sacrifice melting the snows away, but Stannis still marches on Winterfell—leading to a Bolton victory and beheading at the hands of Brienne in the aftermath. Before the big moment (Jon Snow’s shocking death at the hands of his brothers), Cersei is forced to endure a walk of atonement, which was absolutely humiliating and showed the power of the Faith Militant. But “Mother’s Mercy” ranks so highly because of the cold-blooded group assassination of the Lord Commander, who bleads out in the snow.
12. “Beyond the Wall” (S7E6)
Hardhome was such a one-sided massacre that it probably didn’t count, so the events of “Beyond the Wall” could be classified as the first battle of the Great War. Things started off sort of like a stealth mission when the Eastwatch crew picked off a White Walker and captured a wight, but they soon found themselves trapped at the center of an ice lake, forcing Daenerys and her dragons the go north. Unfortunately, the awesomeness of dragonfire wiping out the Army of the Dead was soon turned into horror when the Night King used a spear to strike Viserion, killing the majestic beast, who crashed into the ice. Then, it looked like the King in the North might be lost when he was tackled into the water, but his Uncle Benjen made his final appearance while saving another family member. After Jon made it back to the Wall to the relief of Daenerys, he and the Mother of Dragons came to an understanding—the Night King and the Army of the Dead must be destroyed at all costs—leading to Jon swearing his allegiance to Dany. The final shot of Viserion’s eye turning into an icy blue is one of the most memorable final shots of the entire series.
11. “The Door” (S6E5)
The ending sequence of “The Door” is easy to remember, but a lot more happened before the events north of the Wall. Sansa Stark gave Jon Snow a handmade cloak with the Stark sigil—a lot like the one Ned Stark used to wear; we found out the origin of the White Walkers via Bran Stark’s vision (the Children of the Forest created them to protect themselves against men); Euron Greyjoy took control of the Iron Islands, forcing Theon and Yara to flee; and Daenerys Targaryen had a very emotional scene with Jorah Mormont where she orders her former advisor to find a cure for greyscale and return to her. The main draw, though, was the Night King arriving to kill the Three-Eyed Raven, which led to Bran becoming the new Three-Eyed Raven earlier than expected—and a heartbreaking death/origin for Hodor.
10. “Baelor” (S1E10)
The entire first season revolved around Ned Stark, so his sudden death in “Baelor” was simply mind-boggling for those that had no knowledge of the books Game of Thrones was based on. At the beginning of the episode, an imprisoned Ned talked to Varys and delivered one of the best quotes of the series: “You think my life is some precious thing to me? That I would trade my honor for a few more years…of what? You grew up with actors. You learned their craft and you learnt it well. But I grew up with soldiers. I learned to die a long time ago.” Lord Stark was adamant that he would not lie and bend the knee to a false king, but Varys was able to convince him by asking if his daughter’s life is precious to him, setting the stage for the final scene of the episode—which was all the more tragic after things were looking up for the Starks following Robb’s victory and capture of Jaime Lannister at Whispering Wood. After it looked like Ned would be sent to the Wall to live out his days with Jon Snow (who had received Longclaw from Lord Commander Mormont earlier in the episode), King Joffrey said six words—”Ser Ilyn, bring me his head”—to change the realm (and television) forever.
9. “The Spoils of War” (S7E4)
Aside from the episode-ending battle, “The Spoils of War” included Arya Stark’s long-coming return to Winterfell, a fun display of swordsmanship between the Stark assassin and Brienne, and Jon showing Daenerys what he found on the walls while mining the dragonglass. But when Dany is furious after being told that the Lannister forces took Highgarden, it causes her to wonder if she should fly to the Red Keep with her three dragons to end the war (Jon says it wouldn’t be a good idea). Shortly after, Theon arrives at Dragonstone, and when he asks about the queen, Jon tells him she isn’t there. The way the scenes were set up was masterfully done, as the viewers learn at the same time Jaime and Bronn do that Daenerys didn’t fly to King’s Landing—she was attacking the Lannister army as they were moving through the Blackwater Rush. The combination of the Dothraki and the dragons was seemingly unstoppable until Bronn was able to ground Drogon with a Scorpion bolt, and it opened the door for Jaime to charge at the Mother of Dragons to end the war. However, as we see by Tyrion’s reaction as he looks on (“Flee, you idiot”), the attempt at her life probably wasn’t going to end well. It looked like one of them would die for certain—first Daenerys, who had her back turned; then Jaime, when Drogon turned his head to protect his mother—but Bronn was able to save the Lannister knight, as all the main characters lived to fight another day. “The Spoils of War” is the shortest episode of the series, but it might have been the most intense.
8. “The Dragon and the Wolf” (S7E7)
The Season 7 finale was a monumental episode, as the five principal characters—Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, Jaime Lannister, and Cersei Lannister—were all together for the first time, leading to several interesting interactions during the dragonpit meeting. Of course, the end result was Cersei lying about marching north to join them, but that caused Jaime to finally leave his sister’s side as he honored his pledge to fight the Army of the Dead. Overall “The Dragon and the Wolf” had both subtle moments (everyone criticizing Jon for being too honorable; snow falling in King’s Landing) and big moments (Littlefinger’s death), but the two biggest were Jon being revealed as the true heir to the Iron Throne, and the Night King using the undead Viserion to take down the Wall—creating a path for his army to destroy the Seven Kingdoms.
7. “The Dance of Dragons” (S5E9)
Sandwiched between “Hardhome” and the Season 5 finale “Mother’s Mercy”, “The Dance of Dragons” is sometimes forgotten about among the best Game of Thrones episodes. However, it was yet another great, eventful penultimate episode of a season, especially because of the final two scenes. First, Princess Shireen was burned at the stake in one of the saddest and most disturbing moments of the series. It was tough to watch the look of anguish on Stannis Baratheon’s face and Selyse having a change of heart, but it was even tougher to see Shireen—who just wanted to help her father—realize what was happening and then get burned alive. The fact that the moment didn’t end the episode showed a) how good Game of Thrones is, and b) what was in store for Daenerys in the final scene. The Mother of Dragons didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger watching the fights in the Great Pit of Daznak, but when she hears Jorah’s voice, you could see shock/fear come over her, which Emilia Clarke did a tremendous job of showing with her facial expressions. He survives, but soon Dany is in danger, as Jorah throws a spear right by her to take out a masked member of the Sons of the Harpy. From there, it’s absolutely mayhem, and our heroes are surrounded until Drogon comes to the rescue to save his mother—leaving Tyrion and the others in complete awe as she flies away.
6. “Battle of the Bastards” (S6E9)
The same case can be made for every single one of the battles in Game of Thrones, but “Battle of the Bastards” is the finest example of the show delivering the best battle scenes ever put on screen. The penultimate episode of Season 6 also treated viewers to Daenerys turning Slaver’s Bay into the Bay of Dragons, but the focus was obviously Jon Snow trying to take Winterfell back. The pre-battle meeting (including Jon challenging Ramsay Bolton to a one-on-one fight to prevent thousands from dying, and then Sansa promising her husband that he’ll die tomorrow) was great, as were the final preparations—with Sansa telling Jon that he doesn’t know Ramsay, and Jon telling Melisandre not to bring him back if dies again. Prior to the start of the action, the former Lord Commander was sadly unable to save Rickon before Ramsay put an arrow through his heart, but the shot of Jon unsheathing his sword as the Bolton forces charged is one of the most memorable in history. Fortunately, the Knights of the Vale arrive just as it looks like the battle would be lost, leading to a retreat by Ramsay and a one-on-one fight between he and Jon in the Winterfell courtyard. The end result is Jon pummeling Ramsay, and the episode fittingly concludes with Sansa unleashing her husband’s hungry dogs on him.
5. “The Long Night” (S8E3)
“The Long Night” was arguably the most hyped episode in television history, as it was the ultimate battle of good versus evil between the living and the dead—and no one knew what would happen. The battle started out with the Jorah, Ghost, and the Dothraki (who had their Arakhs lit on fire by Melisandre) riding out to attack the wights, but it was an unsettling sight to see all their flames slowly go out in the distance with only a few of them returning. The plan for the living went out the window as Daenerys saw her people get destroyed, but despite some early success with her and Jon Snow providing air support, the White Walkers proved to be too dominant. Even a midair dragon battle that got the Night King on the ground wasn’t enough to beat him, as he quite literally smiled after Drogon’s fire didn’t affect him. The expectation was that Jon would face the Night King in a one-on-one fight, but the dead were too overpowering, and wights simply rose to keep our favorite hero from getting in striking distance. The long sequence of the Night King walking to Bran—including Theon’s heroic ending after being told he’s “a good man”—looked like a buildup for the Three-Eyed Raven to be killed, but Arya flew in to save her brother and keep Westeros from having a never-ending winter. In time, hopefully “The Long Night” gets more respect, as most people seem to simply be disappointed that their theories didn’t come true more than anything else.
4. “Hardhome” (S5E8)
Jon Snow’s expedition to Hardhome was an attempt to get as many wildlings as he could south of the Wall before they became part of the Army of the Dead, but it certainly took some convincing. The Lord Commander gave a powerful speech to some of the tribe leaders about putting their differences aside because everyone needed to come together to beat the Night King, and many of them seemed to agree when Tormund backed his friend. However, when the weather began to turn, it didn’t take long for a straight-up massacre to breakout. The big events in Game of Thrones were usually saved for the penultimate episodes every season, so “Hardhome” was a complete surprise to viewers. Importantly, Jon killed a White Walker by using Longclaw (which drew the Night King’s attention), but that was a minor victory for what was 20 minutes of chaos and death. When the Night King walked to the edge of the dock to stare down Jon and add thousands of dead to his army, all everyone could do was helplessly watch as they saw Westeros’ biggest threat become clear.
3. “The Winds of Winter” (S6E10)
Including Arya crossing a name off her list by killing Walder Frey, there were four huge moments in the Season 6 finale. First was the unforgettable opening scene of Cersei’s supposed trial, which she made sure didn’t take place by blowing up the Sept—and all her enemies—with wildfire after an intense buildup thanks to Ramin Djawadi’s score. Later in the episode, Bran goes back in the past to the Tower of Joy and finds out that his father never had a bastard during Robert’s Rebellion; he was tasked with protecting his sister Lyanna’s baby: Jon Snow. The scene transitioned to Jon in the present day for what was a chill-inducing moment, and he gets named King in the North by all the northern lords despite his bastard status. Finally, “The Winds of Winter” ended with a triumphant scene of Daenerys sailing to Westeros after six seasons in Essos, which set the stage of the final 13 episodes of the series.
2. “The Iron Throne” (S8E6)
People seem to dislike the Game of Thrones finale because what they wanted to happen didn’t happen, but “The Iron Throne” was top-notch drama with a perfect ending to the greatest show of all-time. Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Arya knew that Daenerys needed to be stopped after what happened in “The Bells”, but we don’t see the true extent of Dany’s sudden villainy until she begins talking about liberating the entire world—including Winterfell. Combined with finding Jaime and Cersei killed, the frightening speech to the Dothraki and Unsullied caused Tyrion to resign as Hand, which leads to him to be taken prisoner. The climax of the entire series comes after Jon’s talk with Tyrion about killing Daenerys (without actually saying it), as he’s able to pass Drogon (who trust him because he’s a Targaryen) and enter the Throne Room. The former King in the North pleads with the woman he loves to see things a different way, but she insists her way is right, causing a broken Jon to kill his queen and end her reign before she even gets a chance to sit on the Iron Throne. Following Drogon’s torching of the throne and carrying his mother away to rest in peace, everyone is left to pick up the pieces. Bran is named King of the Six Kingdoms, with Tyrion as his Hand; Sansa is named Queen in the North; Arya goes west of Westeros; and Jon—who was sent to the Wall to live out his days to avoid more bloodshed for killing Dany, leading to a difficult goodbye with the rest of the Starks—goes where he found the most happiness in his life: “The Real North”.
1. “The Rains of Castamere” (S3E9)
It’s worth noting a couple key moments that don’t take place at the Twins in “The Rains of Castamere”, as Jon Snow—unknowingly aided by Bran warging into a direwolf—was able to escape the wildlings (leaving Ygritte heartbroken and betrayed), while Bran tells Rickon that he can’t go with him beyond the Wall, which caused the youngest Stark to cry and say he needs to protect his brother in a sad scene. However, the Red Wedding—an event that led to creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss making George R.R. Martin’s book series into a television show—is the reason for the penultimate episode of Season 3 ranking atop our list. Viewers can only watch in complete shock as the Starks are attacked with the song of House Lannister playing, but Robb looks like he might be able to make it out alive before the traitor Roose Bolton stabs his king in the heart, telling him: “The Lannisters send their regards.” The final shot of the episode was painfully long, with Catelyn Stark standing motionless having watched her son die before getting her throat cut and seeing the screen cut to black with dead-silent credits rolling.