Just three more sleeps until Game of Thrones returns for its final season. The #ForTheThrone countdown continues with the top ten episodes from the first seven seasons, and tomorrow we will have the Iron Throne power rankings ahead of Season 8. In case you missed it, you can also check out the top moments, quotes, and characters through Season 7.
10. “Beyond the Wall” (S7E6)
Last season’s “Beyond the Wall” might’ve given the closest glimpse to what the fight between the living and the dead will look like in the final season, as two of our main heroes (Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen) did battle with the Army of the Dead while the Night King watched and eventually got in on the action, delivering a huge blow by killing one of Dany’s children. Before the battle, series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were finally able to get a zombie polar bear into the show, and the conversations between everyone as they made their way through the tough terrain were very interesting.
While not many people actually witnessed the battle beyond the Wall, it was probably the first real battle of the Great War (considering Hardhome was basically just a massacre). Daenerys and her dragons were involved in their most extensive action yet, which was awesome to see as they saved the day—though the always-heroic King in the North nearly got himself killed, but Uncle Benjen made his final appearance while saving another family member. After the events, Jon and Daenerys came to an understanding—the Night King and the Army of the Dead must be destroyed—with Jon swearing his allegiance to his new queen. Finally, the final shot of Viserion’s eye turning into an icy blue is one of the most memorable final shots of the entire series.
9. “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. Daenerys Targaryen and Jorah Mormont had a very emotional scene where the Targaryen queen ordered her former advisor to find a cure for greyscale and return to her. And a new High Priestess of the Lord of Light, Kinvara, met with Tyrion Lannister and Varys in an eerie scene in which she knew what the voice said from the flames the night Varys was mutilated.
Of course, the episode really picks up when the Night King marks Bran within a vision, breaking the magical barrier of the cave with the Three-Eyed Raven. Suddenly, the Army of the Dead arrived, easily getting into the cave, with the Night King striking down the Three-Eyed Raven. While he lifted thousands of the dead at Hardhome, took out Viserion and turned him into an ice dragon, and then rode ice dragon Viserion to take down the Wall, the Night King in action during “The Door” might’ve been the most menacing he’s been in the series through seven seasons because he had the Children of the Forest fighting back against him (the only time he himself has had any opposition), but he went through their fire like it was nothing.
Another direwolf, Summer, was also unfortunately lost in the action, and the Children of the Forest were all eliminated during the chaotic attack on the cave. The reveal at the end of “The Door” is one of the most heartbreaking moments of the series, as the origin of Hodor was revealed while the gentle giant sacrificed himself so Bran and Meera could get away. So many moments were packed into the episode, and it was then able to end on a stunning and sad revelation that Bran witnessed while stuck in a vision in the courtyard at Winterfell.
8. “Baelor” (S1E9)
The entire first season revolved around Ned Stark, so his sudden death in “Baelor” was simply mind-boggling for those that did not read the A Song of Ice and Fire books—it’s not really anything that can be easily matched in television, and the shocking death alone makes it one of Game of Thrones’ best episodes. 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.” He 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.
While Ned’s death was the headline, a few more big things happened. Khal Drogo was ultimately going to die, and Daenerys Targaryen trusted a witch to bring him back—which led to Jorah Mormont having to defend his queen and kill Drogo’s bloodrider, Qotho. Jon Snow is given Longclaw by Jeor Mormont, which is obviously a hugely important moment because it’s a Valyrian steel sword. And then Jon has to deal with the news of his brother Robb Stark marching south to King’s Landing, as he felt he had to be there for him but ultimately did not leave his duty as a brother of the Night’s Watch. But the eldest Stark son was doing just fine, as he won the Battle of Whispering Wood, badly out-maneuvering the Lannisters in a decisive victory that led to the capture of Jaime Lannister. The future King in the North that never lost a battle had the right perspective, too, saying that the war was far from over and that “one victory does not make us conquerors.”
“Baelor” ends with the episode coming full circle, as Ned gave a false confession of treason in front of the people of King’s Landing. The plan, set up by Cersei Lannister, Varys, and the others, was that Ned would be send to Castle Black and live out his remaining days as a member of the Night’s Watch—but King Joffrey had other plans, saying that Sansa Stark and his mother have “the soft hearts as women,” calling for Lord Stark’s head. With Sansa crying, her sister Arya safe with Yoren after Ned spotted her near the statue of Baelor, and Cersei realizing her son was making a huge mistake, it was too late, as six words—”Ser Ilyn, bring me his head”—changed the realm forever.
7. “The Dance of Dragons” (E5E9)
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. The farewell between Davos Seaworth and Princess Shireen, the added hostility between Jon Snow—returning from Hardhome with more wildlings—and some members of the Night’s Watch, and the events in Dorne with Jaime and Bronn attempting to get Myrcella back were all key parts of the story, but the two biggest scenes came at the end of the episode.
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 screaming and pleading helplessly while being burned alive (thankfully the viewer’s eyes were fixed on the people watching the proceedings, including Melisandre, who was the only person to watch the princess burn the entire time). Shireen’s death was simply unbelievable and terrible.
Then, it looked like Daenerys Targaryen might actually be the next main character to die in the penultimate episode of a season—like Ned Stark in Season 1, and then Robb, Catelyn, and Talisa Stark in Season 3—as the Sons of the Harpy staged an attack at the Great Pit of Daznak, the biggest fighting pit in Meereen, after an outstanding gladiator type of scene that Jorah Mormont was able to win while trying to get in the good graces of his queen. When Dany closed her eyes, her time looked to be coming to an end; but Targaryens and their dragons have a connection, and Drogon knew his mother was in danger, coming to the rescue before they flew away—leaving Tyrion Lannister and the others in complete awe. Back to back amazing scenes to end an episode like “The Dance of Dragons” is rare, even for Game of Thrones.
6. “The Dragon and the Wolf” (S7E7)
The freshest episode in most people’s minds, especially those that have re-watched the entire series ahead of Season 8, “The Dragon and the Wolf” was a grand capper of the penultimate season. Nearly every key remaining character, including the five principle characters—Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, Jaime Lannister, and Cersei Lannister—were all on screen together for the first time in the dragonpit meeting, which included many important and subtle moments and had an interesting dynamic to it. As usual, the King in the North remained honorable and could not lie about his allegiance to Daenerys, even to Cersei; and he made it clear that the only war that matters—the Great War—is here.
Later in the episode, Theon Greyjoy began his final path towards redemption—after a significant talk with Jon about always feeling stuck between the Starks and the Greyjoys—finally getting some Ironborn to follow their prince while looking more like Theon Greyjoy than he had in quite some time. Also, Jon’s conversation with Theon was basically a way to say Jon is both a Targaryen and a Stark, and that he won’t have to choose when he finds out the truth about himself.
After seeing that the Army of the Dead is real for himself, Jaime finally had a real confrontation with Cersei, who looked like she might actually have The Mountain kill her brother for disobeying her. But Jaime took his chances, continuing one of the greatest character arcs of all time as he heads North for the final season. Just as he was leaving King’s Landing, snow began to fall across the capital in a breathtaking sight and one of the most beautiful scenes of the series.
For many fans of the series, Littlefinger’s death was long overdue, and it was fitting that it came at the hands of the three Stark children—with the Valyrian dagger he used as a catalyst in the tensions between the Starks and the Lannisters—via a twist that Littlefinger himself would ordinarily pull off. And with Littlefinger eliminated, the two Stark sisters had a nice conversation toward the end of the season, with Sansa delivering “the lone wolf dies but the pack survives” quote.
While it’s a revelation we’ve known, “The Dragon and the Wolf” did a masterful job of weaving Bran Stark going through his vision of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark (Jon’s parents) getting married in a secret ceremony, making the supposed Stark bastard the true heir to the Iron Throne. The relationship between Jon and Daenerys will be very interesting when Season 8 begins.
And the episode ends with the worst thing Jon, Daenerys, and anyone that’s seen the Night King and the Army of the Dead would want to happen: The Night King riding an ice dragon Viserion to take down the Wall and create a path to the Seven Kingdoms.
5. “The Spoils of War” (S7E4)
Three episodes from the penultimate season make the top ten Game of Thrones episodes before Season 8, and “The Spoils of War” makes the top five. The highlight of the episode is the Loot Train Attack, but the storylines with Jaime Lannister sending the gold from High Garden back to King’s Landing and Daenerys Targaryen losing a grip on the war before it really even starts both perfectly build up to the climax.
But aside from the episode-ending battle, Arya Stark finally returned to Winterfell after a long and winding journey—and it meant a couple of Stark reunions with Sansa and Bran. Arya then showed she can more than hold her own against a warrior as skilled as Brienne of Tarth in a sparring session, which was fun (and a little bit tense) for the both of them.
At Dragonstone, Jon Snow led Daenerys through a cave, which had the mountain of dragonglass he requested to mine for the war against the dead; and he then led her further down to a smaller area of the cave, where carvings on the wall showed the White Walkers have always been the real enemy. When they emerged, Tyrion was waiting with a good news, bad news situation—they took Casterly Rock, but the Lannister forces took a more bountiful High Garden. While Jon was seemingly able to talk Daenerys out of flying to the Red Keep with her three dragons, The Mother of Dragons looked to the sky and had a decision to make.
This led us to Theon Greyjoy returning back on shore of the island after his uncle took Yara prisoner forced him to retreat, and he was looking for the queen—except she was not at Dragonstone. The episode then goes back to Jaime the Lannister army moving through Blackwater Rush, where a stampede could be heard in the distance. It was Dothraki, but Jaime thought they could be held off—then the Kingslayer (and everyone else) was in complete shock when the screech of Drogon, with Daenerys riding him, was heard in the distance and the battle was on, with two main characters on opposite sides of the battlefield for the first time.
The Lannisters were no match for the Dothraki, but Bronn used the big-spear “scorpion” weapon to show that dragons can be harmed. And Jaime tried to end the war right then and there while Dany tried to get the spear out of Drogon. 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 be the most intense.
4. “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 in cinema or movie, without question. The battle is the focus, but a critical moment occurred in Meereen, when Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion laid waste to the slavers’ warships, as Grey Worm slashed the necks of slavers Belicho and Razdal, leaving Yezzan to tell of what happened “when Daenerys Stormborn and her dragons came to Meereen.”
In the North, the pre-battle meeting included Jon Snow challenging Ramsay Bolton to a one-on-one fight to prevent thousands from dying, then Sansa promising her husband that he’ll die tomorrow. The final preparation was interesting, with Jon afterwards telling Melisandre not to bring him back if he should fall again. The battle, which started with Ramsay drawing Jon out and out of position before killing Rickon Stark, started the opposite of how the Stark forces intended. The former Lord Commander looked poised to take on dozens of adversaries on his own, but his allies came behind him at the last second—and from there, it was complete chaos.
The Battle of the Bastards is simply spectacular and awe-inspiring, mostly following the actions of Jon carving through people as a skilled swordsman but also getting lucky to survive with arrows and other weapons flying throughout the fight. Eventually, Jon’s army was stuck in a double envelope, and the resurrected northerner looked like he’d die again—this time by trampling. But even when Lord Stark somehow emerged from the pile, it appeared the battle would be lost—until a warhorn sounded and the Knights of the Vale rode in, sweeping away the Bolton army as Sansa and Littlefinger looked on.
Fittingly, the Battle of Bastards, which was the battle for Winterfell, ended in the Stark’s ancestral home. Via a shot to the eye from an arrow by Ramsay, the giant Wun-Wun was unfortunately killed after breaching the castle’s door—but the former Bolton bastard could not stop a fellow bastard from getting to him and pummeling him, ending the battle for good. Seeing the Stark banners fly in Winterfell again was a welcome sight, as was the pleased look on Sansa’s face when she unleashed Ramsay’s formerly-loyal dogs on him to end the episode.
3. “Hardhome” (S5E8)
“Hardhome” started with Daenerys Targaryen hearing out both Tyrion Lannister and Jorah Mormont, wondering why she would bring a Lannister into her service. As a former Hand with a great knowledge of Westeros—and jokingly, his expertise as a killer of Lannisters given that he killed both his mother and father—Tyrion was able to stay, but Dany again exiled Jorah, breaking the disgraced knight’s heart again. Daenerys then talked to Tyrion, whom she accepted into her service as an advisor, about not wanting to stop the wheel, but to “break the wheel” of Westerosi monarchs.
In Braavos, Arya Stark received a task from Jaqen to keep watch over the Thin Man, though the Waif did not think the young Stark girl was ready—if she wasn’t it was “all the same to the Many-Faced God”, Jaqen responded. And at Winterfell, the other Stark sister found out that two of her siblings were still alive. Thought to be dead by almost everyone, Theon Greyjoy admitted that the two burnt bodies hung up at Winterfell were two farm boys—not Bran and Rickon. This was a game-changer for Sansa, who suddenly had a little more to live for in a terrible situation.
“Hardhome” was another strong Game of Thrones episode (as usual) before the events at Hardhome, but things really picked up at the end. First, Jon made an offering of dragonglass to be used as weapons against the dead and gave a great speech to the Free Folk about needing to come together “when the real war begins,” and—with the help of Tormund Giantsbane vouching for the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch—some wildlings agreed to help, though many did not. Suddenly, the weather got even colder, and Army of the Dead arrived—with the Night King and other White Walkers watching from above—as a massacre ensued.
The Night King’s army looked difficult enough to overcome, and the wildlings and select brothers of the Night’s Watch were not ready for an attack like this—so a White Walker getting involved in the action was a frightening sight. Using Longclaw, Jon showed that Valyrian steel weapons can kill Walkers and hold up against their weapons, as he killed a White Walker in one-on-one combat and interestingly drew the attention and intrigue of the Night King from above. But overall, any slight success the living had against the dead basically didn’t matter when thousands of wights threw themselves off a cliff, only to rise again and relentlessly attack, forcing a retreat to the water.
At the end of the episode, the Night King came down from his perch, walked to the edge of the deck, and rose tens of thousands of new wights for his army, with a clear eye toward the Seven Kingdoms. To this point, the ultimate threat beyond the Wall was kind of looming in the background as the politics of Westeros played out; but for both the viewer and Jon Snow, the threat of the Night King and the Army of the Dead vaulted into the forefront after the attack on Hardhome. And it happened out of nowhere in the episode, putting “Hardhome” squarely among Game of Thrones’ best hours.
2. “The Winds of Winter” (S6E10)
Game of Thrones has done a remarkable job with all of its finales, but Season 6’s “The Winds of Winter” is probably the best finale of the first seven seasons. Many huge events took place throughout the 68-minute episode, starting with the events in King’s Landing: Cersei Lannister was to stand trial, as was Loras Tyrell. While the Tyrells—including Margaery but not including Olenna, who was at High Garden—were at the Sept, Cersei was still at the Red Keep and calmly poured herself a glass of wine. King Tommen, blocked by The Mountain from leaving, also remained in the Red Keep.
At the trial, after Loras was carved up and gave up all birthright, becoming a devotee of the Seven, Margaery knew something was up with Cersei still not there—but the smug High Sparrow wasn’t hearing it. Meanwhile, Qyburn’s Little Birds stabbed Grand Maester Pyclle to death; and Lancel Lannister—a member of the Faith Militant—was led down a passageway, where he was stabbed and paralyzed. When tons of barrels were shown, with a green glow at the end of the passageway, it was clear wildfire was going to be used in some manner.
When the three candles burned down to their wicks before Lancel could stop them, the Sept and everyone in it was instantly obliterated by wildfire. Obviously, Cersei was very pleased, sipping wine alone after instantly eliminating a large number of her enemies. But Tommen was also alone, and he took off his crown and threw himself out the window. Toward the end of “The Winds of Winter”, Jaime arrived home to see his sister sitting on the Iron Throne in an uneasy moment heading into Season 7.
The musical score during the 20-minute opening scene was perfect, helping build hype and tension to the explosion. And while the music is always great in Game of Thrones, it continued throughout the rest of the episode, delivering perhaps the best background sound of any episode—particularly during the Tower of Joy/King in the North II scene and the “Winter is here” scene between Sansa Stark and Jon Snow.
“The Winds of Winter” started shrinking the world of Game of Thrones a little more (Cersei eliminating several enemies helped), magnificently building momentum to the final two seasons and 13 episodes of the series. For having Princess Shireen burned at the stake, Melisandre was sent away by Jon at the request of Davos Seaworth. Samwell Tarly arrived at the Citadel and gave us our first look at the glorious library. And Arya Stark killed Walder Frey in a death mostly everyone cheered gleefully because it finally meant more retribution for the Red Wedding.
The two biggest moments were probably the ones that revolved around Jon and Daenerys Targaryen. First, after bidding his Uncle Benjen farewell after saving them, Bran Stark went back to the Tower of Joy, following his father Ned inside and witnessing his Aunt Lyanna dying after giving birth. Lord Stark was handed a baby, and to honor a dying wish from his sister, he was to protect this baby: Jon Snow. The scene transitioned to Jon in the present day in a chill-inducing moment, and Lord Snow was then named the second King in the North of the series after winning the Battle of the Bastards and taking back Winterfell.
The episode ends with a moment we’ve been waiting for since the very beginning of Game of Thrones: Daenerys Targaryen finally had her army made of Dothraki and Unsullied, strong allies, and enough ships to transport them and sail to Westeros—not to mention three large dragons flying overhead. The Mother of Dragons would finally be returning home, as “The Winds of Winter” delivered a superb final shot to the episode and the season.
1. “The Rains of Castamere” (S3E9)
A lot happened in “The Rains of Castamere”, which is an aptly named episode for the stunning and sudden victory for House Lannister over House Stark in the War of the Five Kings. Before the wedding between Edmure Tully and one of Walder Frey’s daughter, Roslin, Lord Frey insulted Robb Stark’s wife Talisa—which the King in the North was clearly enraged about, though he was held back by his mother and Walder then pledged they would move forward and put the past behind them.
Meanwhile, other key storylines aside from the wedding at the Twins included Arya Stark promising The Hound that she would kill him; Bran Stark warging into a Stark direwolf (after warging into Hodor to quiet the giant and learning form Jojen Reed that he’s the only person that can warg into other people) to protect Jon Snow, who then had to leave Ygritte and go back to Castle Black in an emotional moment; Daenerys Targaryen getting the city of Yunkai after the slave soldiers immediately surrendered to Daario Naharis, Jorah Mormont, and Grey Worm; and Bran and Rickon going their separate ways as Bran decided he must find the Three-Eyed Raven north of the Wall.
However, it’s the Red Wedding that headlines “The Rains of Castamere”. The Red Wedding is the event creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss really wanted to go to, probably because it’s just so good in the A Song of Ice and Fire books that it should be legendary on-screen—and the cast and crew could not have done a better job of delivering the ultimate turning point of the series to viewers.
After apparently getting past their differences at the beginning of the episode, the wedding appeared to be going about as well as possible—Edmure was happy and surprised by his new wife Roslin, and Roslin also appeared to be happy marrying a Tully. The King in the North was having a good time, and he received heartwarming news when Talisa said she wanted to name their potential son after Ned—and Catelyn Stark, despite everything the family had been through and the fact that Robb broke his vow to Walder, looked on as a happy mother at this moment. All things considered, everything seemed nearly perfect.
Then, “The Rains of Castamere” played, and the uplifting tone took a slow-but-sudden turn in the complete opposite direction. When Lord Frey called the attention of Robb and the rest of the party, and Catelyn got the hint from Roose Bolton that something was up, it was unfortunately too late. A pregnant Talisa was stabbed in the stomach, as knifes and arrows began flying to slaughter the Stark army in an absolutely shocking turn of events.
Outside, Grey Wind was killed with Arya, who was too late, watching and not really aware of what was happening before The Hound knocked her out and took her away. And back inside the castle, the massacre was now at an agonizing pace: Robb and Catelyn were both wounded but alive, so it looked like there might be a slight chance they survive—after Ned was already killed, it didn’t seem possible that more members of the Stark family would be eliminated. But despite Catelyn grabbing Walder’s wife and pleading for Robb to get up and leave, the King in the North was too stunned about Talisa to do much of anything, only uttering the word, “Mother”; it was over for them, and Lord Bolton put a knife into his king’s heart. The final shot of the episode was painfully long, with Lady Stark killing the Frey girl before standing motionless and getting her own throat cut before dead-silent credits rolled.
“The Rains of Castamere” showed that—much like in real life—the good guys don’t always win, and that Game of Thrones is a lot like the real world—where anything can happen—despite the presence of magic, dragons, and an army of dead people. House Stark was at its lowest point, and the series was turned upside down completely thanks to the Red Wedding. With perhaps the most devastating and utterly shocking scene in the history of television or film, the Red Wedding helps make “The Rains of Castamere” simultaneously the worst episode—in that it’s tough to watch—and best episode of Game of Thrones.