With HBO’s mega-hit “Game of Thrones” heading around the final curve toward the finish line, we’re looking back at seven seasons of episodes and picking out the 15 best.
15. The Bear and the Maiden Fair
Season 3, Episode 7
In Season 3, episode 7, Daenerys was truly coming into her own as a ruler as she laid plans to take over the city of Yunkai and free all the slaves therein. This was also the episode that infamously featured Theon getting castrated by Ramsay Bolton, after having tortured him in previous episodes. The most famous scene of this one, however, was the ending in which Brienne squared off against a live bear with little more than a stick to defend herself, forcing Jaime to put himself in danger to save her.
14. The Climb
Season 3, Episode 6
The Wall has remained the most awe-inspiring landmark in “Game of Thrones,” but this episode painted its enormity in a new light. Watching Jon, Ygritte, Tormund, and the rest of the wildlings scale The Wall was a pulse-pounding experience. “The Climb” gets bonus points for having Littlefinger and Varys’ “chaos is a ladder” exchange.
Season 6, Episode 2
Season 6, episode 2 introduced Euron Greyjoy while also killing off Roose Bolton, courtesy of his son Ramsay. Bran also experiences a vision of Winterfell when his father was a child, seeing his uncle Benjen and aunt Lyanna as well. And in a twist ending that almost everyone saw coming, Jon Snow was brought back from the dead by Melisandre.
12. The Lion and the Rose
Season 4, Episode 2
In Season 4, episode 2, fans learned that Ramsay Bolton has successfully turned Theon into his sniveling servant Reek. It also featured a fantastic scene in which Tywin verbally spars with Lady Olenna, aka the Queen of Thorns. But this episode makes the list for one simple reason: Joffrey finally dies. The horrid boy king is living it up at his wedding when he suddenly starts choking. It becomes painfully obvious very quickly that he has been poisoned, and everyone in the kingdom probably wished they had been the ones to administer it.
11. The Children
Season 4, Episode 10
The Season 4 finale saw Daenerys heartbreakingly chain two of her dragons rather than let them kill innocent people, as well as Stannis Baratheon break Mance Rayder’s wildling army. Bran Stark also finally meets the Three-Eyed Raven, and Brienne has a knock-down, drag-out with the Hound. And perhaps one of the last remaining shreds of Tyrion’s convivial nature dies when he not only kills his traitorous former lover, Shae, but also his tyrannical father Tywin.
10. Winter Is Coming
Season 1, Episode 1
The one that started it all. The premiere episode of the series helped establish basically everything that was to come in the world of Westeros. It was in this episode fans learned of Cersei’s evil plotting, her affair with brother Jaime, the honorable nature of House Stark, and Jon Snow’s bastardliness. The opening scene also gave fans their first look at the sinister White Walkers before anyone knew what a White Walker was.
9. The Mountain and the Viper
Season 4, Episode 8
This episode certainly gave all the people who complain about “Game of Thrones” being too violent something to talk about on Monday morning. There was plenty to love in this episode — like Sansa gaining some new-found confidence, and Daenerys learning of Jorah’s betrayal — but everyone knows it for the fight between the Mountain and Oberyn Martell. After an acrobatic assault, Oberyn has the Mountain on his back and defeated but — like a Bond villain — chooses to grandstand and launch into a monologue until his feet get knocked out from under him, and has his skull popped like a grape in the Mountain’s hands.
Season 1, Episode 9
Before the first season’s penultimate episode, “Game of Thrones” was a solid show, but “Baelor” — and the beheading of then-central protagonist Ned Stark — elevated it to must-watch TV. The episode revealed to viewers “Game of Thrones'” hidden credo: nobody is safe and nothing is sacred.
7. The Winds of Winter
Season 6, Episode 10
Daenerys finally has her ships and army! There was plenty to love from the Season 6 finale — Jon being named the White Wolf and King in the North, watching Cersei’s plot to blow the Sept of Baelor unfold to German composer Ramin Djawadi’s “Light of the Seven” — but seeing the Mother of Dragon finally set sail for home after all these years was a rare positive note to end a season on.
6. The Door
Season 6, Episode 5
Hodor’s death remains the most devastating moment in the entirety of “Game of Thrones,” hands down. It wasn’t just that he went out like a hero — holding off a horde of wights so Bran and Meera could escape — but that he was predestined to die this way since he was a kid. “The Door” also finally gave viewers a taste of how powerful Bran’s abilities as the Three-Eyed Raven really were.
5. The Spoils of War
Season 7, Episode 4
Season 7, episode 4 ramped up the storylines with Arya returning to Winterfell, seeing her brother Bran and sister Sansa for the first time in years. Arya also memorably sparred with Brienne, with each proving to be an able match for the other. Jon and Daenerys continue to discuss the White Walker threat at Dragonstone, but Dany takes off in order to burn the Lannister forces in the epic “loot train” battle.
4. The Rains of Castamere
Season 3, Episode 9
Ned’s beheading in Season 1 taught fans that any character — even one pegged as the central protagonist — wasn’t safe from death, but “The Rains of Castamere” proved the show was truly fearless. The last 10 minutes saw Robb and Catelyn Stark — two characters that had starred in the show from day one — Robb’s pregnant wife, and Robb’s direwolf all killed by the Freys. There’s a reason showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff said when they began the show that they hoped they’d last long enough to get the massacre of “The Red Wedding” on screen.
Season 2, Episode 9
Season 2’s ninth episode gave fans their first true taste of the battle scenes the drama was capable of producing. Stannis Baratheon’s army is devastated early on by a wildfire explosion courtesy of Tyrion, who later leads the men of King’s Landing into battle. Cersei also goes delightfully off the rails in this episode, drinking wine heavily and almost poisoning her youngest son to avoid him falling victim to an executioner.
2. Battle of the Bastards
Season 6, Episode 9
Season 6, episode 9 will go down as featuring one of the most elaborate battle scenes ever portrayed on television. Jon Snow and his ragtag army go toe-to-toe with Ramsay Bolton, with Jon personally facing down a mounted charge armed with only his sword, Longclaw. Fans also got to finally see Ramsay get his just deserts when he’s fed to his own hounds. The episode also featured a memorable scene in which Daenerys kills the rulers of other slave cities and burns their fleets with her dragons.
Season 5, Episode 9
Season 5 wasn’t exactly the show’s high point, but “Hardhome” certainly was. The last 20 minutes alone features a literal wave of the Night King’s wights descending on Hardhome and the handful of wildlings and Night’s Watch brothers there. It’s the first real showcase of the Night King’s power, and the first time in a while Jon Snow gets to put Longclaw to some use.