The Spoils of War Game of Thrones

5. The Spoils of War

Arya Stark finally returns to Winterfell and reunites with her siblings Sansa and Bran, and she has a fun little sparring session with her old pal Brienne of Tarth (possibly hinting at a match-up to come if one of them dies and is resurrected in season 8!). Jon Snow shows Daenerys Targaryen some cave paintings of the White Walkers at Dragonstone, lending some credence to his stories of the horrors he’s witnessed beyond the Wall.

But most impressively, Dany hops on Drogon’s back and cruises over to the Roseroad, where the Lannister forces are traveling back to King’s Landing after taking Highgarden from the Tyrells. In a bravura sequence, Drogon torches the caravan as the Dothraki horde rides in and engages the troops on the ground, revealing the devastation Dany can rain down at the height of her power. It’s a hugely impressive Game of Thrones debut for director Matt Shakman, a guy who was previously best known for directing episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (Ben Pearson)

The Lion and the Rose Game of Thrones

4. The Lion and the Rose

It may sit in slot number four on this group list, but “The Lion and the Rose” is my personal favorite episode of the whole damn series. There is so much to love and treasure here, so much to chew on, so much to cherish. How do we even begin to count the joys and miseries?

First, there’s tons of Joffrey being a total dick, something that later seasons are sorely lacking (admit it: you miss the bastard). Second, there’s a ton of characters with wildly contrasting motivations all in one location for the majority of episode. Third, we get to watch those characters, including Tyrion, Sansa, the Queen of Thorns, Cersei, Oberyn, Jaime, Tywin, and so many more bounce off each other as they attempt to navigate the social and political minefield that is Joffrey’s wedding day. Fourth, we get to watch these characters mercilessly insult and belittle each other, in ways both unsettling and hilarious. Fifth, it all builds to an extended wedding reception that is as tense and gripping as any battle, especially when Tyrion finds himself forced to stand up to his world-class ass of a nephew. And finally, like all great Game of Thrones episodes, it concludes with a shocking death. Goodbye, Joffrey. You little shit. We’ll miss you, but few will admit it.

Honestly, this is a perfect hour of television. The fact that three episodes rank above it says a lot about the overall quality of Game of Thrones. (Jacob Hall)

Blackwater Game of Thrones

3. Blackwater

“Blackwater” is one of the absolute finest hours Game of Thrones ever produced, but it ended up being a double-edged sword. Once HBO and the showrunners realized they could pull off a massive battle sequence, future seasons became a race to top it. The result: many impressive action scenes that are Hollywood blockbuster quality. The other result: many impressive action scenes that lack the character, humor, clarity, and ground-level, feel-it-in-your-gut intensity of what director Neil Marshall pulled off here.

The whole season has been leading to this. Stannis Baratheon and his fleet are arriving at King’s Landing and only a skeleton crew of soldiers and Tyrion Lannister can save the city and its denizens from annihilation (not to mention rule under the least charismatic man to ever command forces in Westeros). It takes some time to get to the literal fireworks. “Blackwater” lingers in the calm before the storm: the sleepless night, the anxious conversations, the last-minute planning, the soldiers drinking and singing because this could be their final night alive. And when the battle does begin, the focus is less on the blood on the battlefield and more about the psychology behind the walls – how long can the defenses hold and just how doomed is everyone in the Red Keep?

Cersei’s catty drunkenness. Tyrion’s desperate rallying speech. The Hound spitting “Fuck the king” in Joffrey’s face. That final arrival by Tywin and the narrow aversion of a decision the Queen herself could never take back. The fireworks are amazing, but the people watching them and suffering them on the ground? They’re the reason we show up. (Jacob Hall)

The Winds of Winter Game of Thrones

2. The Winds of Winter

This episode has everything. Composer Ramin Djawadi’s score has never been better than the “Light of the Seven” track that plays under the opening montage. Assassin Arya feeds Walder Frey’s own sons to him and then slits his throat, enacting her revenge for the Red Wedding. Cersei Lannister blows the Sept of Baelor sky high with wildfire, killing Margaery, Lancel, Mace, Kevan, and that sanctimonious High Sparrow in the process. Realizing he’s lost his wife, King Tommen Baratheon removes his crown and calmly falls out his window to his death. Cersei takes the Iron Throne for herself. Jon Snow is proclaimed the new King in the North, and his parentage is finally confirmed through one of Bran’s flashbacks to the Tower of Joy. And after several years of fighting for a slavery-free Essos, Daenerys Targaryen gathers her forces and finally sets sail for Westeros. Just typing that out makes me want to rewatch the episode again immediately. (Ben Pearson)

The Children Game of Thrones

1. The Children

Stannis Baratheon rides into the North and captures Mance Rayder, interrupting a tense stand-off between Mance and Jon Snow. Qyburn keeps the Mountain alive after the Viper’s poison takes hold. Cersei confronts Tywin with the truth about her and Jaime, in one of the last great instances of the show crafting a small, brilliant scene with just two people in a room talking. North of the Wall, Bran and his friends fight their way through skeleton wights to arrive at the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree of knowledge, with Jojen Reed dying in the process.

Tyrion Lannister, just hours away from execution for a crime he didn’t commit, is freed by his brother Jaime – but before Tyrion leaves King’s Landing, he takes his revenge on Shae and Tywin, killing both of them and ensuring that Varys comes along with him on a long boat ride away from the capital. And Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne stumble across Arya and The Hound, and one of the show’s best one-on-one fights plays out, ending with The Hound left for dead and Arya on a boat to Braavos. This is peak Game of Thrones, with the show killing off major characters and paving the way for huge storylines to come. Valar morghulis. (Ben Pearson)

***

Game of Thrones season 8 premieres on HBO this Sunday night, April 14, 2019.

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