Best Game of Thrones Moments

Game of Thrones returns for its eighth and final season this weekend, so you know what that means: it’s time to rank things. And a show as epic as this offers a great deal to rank. Yesterday, we ranked the 10 best episodes. Today, we’re ranking the 15 best moments of the entire series.

/Film’s resident Westeros experts, Jacob Hall and Ben Pearson, hunkered down, re-watched all 67 episodes of the series so far, and whittled down a list of dozens of moments to a final 15. In a show known for its shocking and grandiose scenes, this was like climbing The Wall during winter. Here’s what they came up with.

Note: Before you wonder “Why isn’t this moment part of the list?”, Ben and Jacob have you covered. They recorded an entire podcast episode where they hashed out their personal lists and debated what should make the final cut. You can listen to it here.

Dany baby dragon

15. Daenerys is Alive with Three Dragons

Game of Thrones begins in a world where magic is superstition, something that perhaps once existed but now lives in the fringes of history. But what felt like a pointed rejection of fantasy tropes was just a set-up for the blind-siding final scene of the first season. Daenerys Targaryen walks into the funeral pyre of her dead husband and emerges unburnt and alive. Not only that, she emerges with three baby dragons, hatched from eggs so old they had turned to stone. Suddenly, Dany wasn’t just a kid on the sidelines. She became a player in the game. One with three children who are the medieval equivalent of nuclear bombs. (Jacob Hall)

14. The Night King Raises His Arms

With one motion, the Night King shows Jon Snow his biggest glimpse yet at his true power. Jon already believed the White Walkers existed, but watching the Night King’s flex after barely making it out of Hardhome alive was a “point of no return” moment and the show’s chance to turn the Night King and the White Walkers from the mindless, drearily-marching horde they’d been before into the legitimately scary Army of the Dead that would drive much of the action in the show’s final seasons. (Ben Pearson)

13. The Meeting in the Dragon Pit

One of the grandest joys of George R.R. Martin’s world is how sprawling it is, how the characters exist thousands of miles from one another and how their stories send out ripple effects that change one another despite not everyone knowing what is going on in the North or South. In season 7, with the endgame in sight, the show narrowed its focus in a way it never had before: it put all of its major players in a single location for an extended parlay to deal with the whole “army of the dead” situation. The result: old feuds reignite, major characters meet for the first time, and the future of the continent rests on a few carefully chosen words. Few Game of Thrones scenes are this tense without bloodshed and even fewer pay off seven years of storytelling so remarkably. (Jacob Hall)

Purple Wedding Game of Thrones

12. The Purple Wedding

After years of watching Joffrey Baratheon be a torturous little punk, Game of Thrones finally killed him off in season 4. But they couldn’t just let audiences us enjoy his death. Watching Joffrey clutch at his neck with his eyes bulging, face turning purple, and blood streaming out of his nose as he breathes his last breath, the show reminded us that when you strip away all of his unearned arrogance and evil, he was just a kid. Are we really cheering for the death of a child? What does that say about us? Joffrey was a maniac who “deserved” to die, but should we relish his gruesome death? The whole scene is dirty and complex, just like the show as a whole at its best. And of course this death immediately led to Tyrion’s arrest, so we didn’t even have much time to enjoy it even if we wanted to. Little did we know that Ramsay Bolton would end up being a worse villain in every way. (Ben Pearson)

The Hound chicken

11. The Hound Wants Chicken

Season 4 is the strongest season of the series, and one of its strongest storylines is the unlikely partnership between Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark. Their buddy cop shenanigans get off to a bloody start when The Hound and The Wolf stop by a tavern that is infested with Lannisters. Insults are traded, the Hound makes it clear he could eat a whole bunch of chicken, and swords are drawn. The Hound once again proves why he’s one of the most feared men in the seven kingdoms and Arya reclaims Needle, using it to avenge a long-dead friend. And to cap it off, the scene ends with them riding into a war-torn horizon, with Arya finally having a horse of her own and the Hound chowing down on some chicken. Compared to some of the major events on this list, this sequence may seem like small potatoes. But sometimes, it’s the smaller sequences that enrich the whole. And this hilarious, brutal sequence enriches more than most. (Jacob Hall)

Jaime Lannister bath

10. Jaime’s Hot Tub Confession

Through the first two and a half seasons, Jaime Lannister is a real son of a bitch. He pushes Bran out of a window. He’s in an incestuous affair with his sister. He strangles his own cousin. He’s an irredeemable piece of shit. But then he loses his hand, steps into a hot tub with Brienne, and tells the truth: the “kingslayer” only betrayed his oaths because the Mad King planned to burn down his entire city, and every person in it, rather than admit defeat. This loathsome guy committed his most infamous murder to save millions of innocent people from death. And thus, Jamie Lannister 2.0 forms before our eyes. The series never forgives his sins, but if recolors him a terrifying shade of gray. What if we connected with our enemies? What if we saw goodness at the heart of someone evil? What if the worst person in the world decided to seek redemption? There are no easy answers on Game of Thrones and Jaime is one of its most complex questions. (Jacob Hall)

Tommen's Suicide Game of Thrones

9. Tommen’s Suicide

You’ve gotta feel for Tommen. He was a good kid trapped in a rotten family, thrust into a position he was never meant to have. Things were looking up for him when he married Margaery Tyrell, but once his mother blew his lover to bits, the young Protector of the Realm decided there was only one way out: down. There were a million ways to film this moment, but director Miguel Sapochnik’s decision to hold the framing steady as Tommen sees the carnage of the burning Sept, hears the news about Margaery, takes off his crown, exits the frame to put it down, and then climbs up into and out of the window resulted in one of the most arresting shots of the entire series. And it all happens in silence, stripping away the score to highlight the horror of the moment. (Ben Pearson)

Tyrion's Speech Game of Thrones

8. “Those Are Brave Men Knocking at Our Door”

Tyrion’s big speech to the troops during the Battle of the Blackwater is indeed rousing. It gets the blood pumping. You want to follow him into battle. You want to save the city from Stannis Baratheon’s forces. This guy, this unlikely rich kid, is the hero and leader King’s Landing needs. The speech is brilliantly written. Peter Dinklage’s performance is brilliant, as always. But what makes this so special, what makes it stand out in the mind all these years later, is the look on Tyrion’s face as he leads his men to battle. He’s terrified and he’s definitely not sure if he believes a word he just said. (Jacob Hall)

Game of Thrones battle featurette

7. Daenerys’ Forces Attack the Lannister Caravan

There are so many specific shots that leap to mind from this dazzling scene that it’s impossible to narrow it to just one or two, but Dany’s attack on the Lannister army is the show at the height of its powers. It’s late enough in the series that the visual effects team has the budget to make everything look believable, the mixture of practical and CG effects is top notch, and it gives us several moments focused on characters we love within the larger action. Bronn gets his Jon Snow-style POV oner as he fights his way toward the Scorpion (Qyburn’s dragon crossbow), there are some phenomenal overhead shots of Drogon spewing fire, and the whole thing ends with a showdown between Jaime Lannister and Dany, with Bronn coming in for the last second save. It’s all so damn good that it easily makes up for its ill-advised cliffhanger ending. (Ben Pearson)

6. “Tell Cersei. I Want Her to Know It Was Me.”

Most deaths on Game of Thrones are shocking, sometimes humiliating affairs. Violence on this series is no joke – people scream and shit and beg when faced with the end. So when the series decides to send off one of its finest characters like a total boss, it’s a reason for celebration. Diana Rigg’s Olenna Tyrell was one of the show’s greatest characters, an acid-tongued tactical genius who navigates social circles like a general navigates a battlefield, using her age as her greatest weapon and her strongest shield. But when Highgarden falls to the Lannister forces, words can’t protect her castle. Still, Jaime (knowing what his sister has in store for Olenna if she’s taken prisoner) offers her an easy way out: fast-acting, pain-free poison. The Queen of Thorns does not even hesitate. But as she sits dying, she tells Jaime her best-kept secret: she orchestrated the death of Joffrey at his wedding. “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.” Two sentences that splash like acid. What a way to go out. (Jacob Hall)

The Door Game of Thrones Hodor

5. “Hold the Door”

Of all the tragedies in Game of Thrones – and there are plenty – the season 5 reveal of Hodor’s origin is the most emotionally impactful. The crosscutting between the invasion of the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave and Bran making the heartbreaking realization that he inadvertently “created” Hodor and forever altered young Wylis’s life is a total punch to the gut, and capping it off with this gentle giant dying to protect the boy he’s been watching over for years was one of the few moments in this show that brought tears to my eyes. Rest in peace, Hodor, and thanks to Kristian Nairn for acting the hell out of that one last stand. (Ben Pearson)

Dany burns the slavers Game of Thrones

4. Daenerys Burns the Slavers

How much dissent can a queen endure before she displays a show of strength? That’s been a big question for Daenerys through much of the show, and she finally hit her threshold near the mid-point of season 3. This is a huge moment for Dany: she reveals that she speaks Valyrian (and has all along), burns the vicious slavers of Astapor, and secures the loyalty of the now-liberated Unsullied army all in one fell swoop, officially adding the “Breaker of Chains” to her long list of titles. It’s a fist-pumping, righteous, and heroic moment that turned Dany into a true force to be reckoned (Rickoned?) with. (Ben Pearson)

3. The Viper vs. The Mountain

Here’s where Oberyn Martell learns why pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Speed and skill won out over brute force during the fight – he had the Mountain down on his back and seconds away from death, but Oberyn wasn’t content with simply killing the man who raped and murdered his sister. He had to keep him alive long enough to force a confession, but that arrogance gave Gregor Clegane the opening he needed to turn the tide and squeeze Oberyn’s head into a pulp. In the wake of some of this show’s earlier shocking moments, we all really should have seen Oberyn’s horrific loss coming – the heroes of Westeros don’t always win, even when they have righteousness on their side. (Ben Pearson)

2. The Red Wedding

Compared to history, fiction is forgiving. In history, the good guys lose. Often. The victors, the bad guys, write the books and sing the songs and spread the tales. The Lannister’s unofficial theme song, “The Rains of Castamere,” tells such a tale. Once upon a time, someone dared to defy House Lannister. And now they’re gone. The warning of those lyrics rings louder than ever during a wedding reception held at The Twins, where Walder Frey, Roose Bolton, and Tywin Lannister conspire to murder Robb Stark and cut the head off the Northern army. In another show, a show that took its cues from fiction rather than harsh medieval history, someone would have saved the day. But not here. Robb’s wife is stabbed to death. Robb is shot full of arrows and lives long enough to see his failure. Catelyn Stark begs and pleads for any kind of mercy before her throat is cut as well, silencing one of the most devastating screams in television history. The Red Wedding shook the foundations of Game of Thrones, but it also shook everyone who watched it, who endured it. It lingers in your brain like a bad day. Where were you when you first watched it? (Jacob Hall)

Ned Stark's execution Game of Thrones

1. The Execution of Ned Stark

There’s only one murder more shocking than the events of The Red Wedding and it may be the single most important pop culture moment of the past decade. Seriously. The execution of Ned Stark, when Game of Thrones killed off its “lead” character in a manner so humiliating and belittling that it made some people temporarily swear off watching the show (they all came back), became an instant cultural touchstone. And it goes beyond the shock factor. It works because we love Ned and hate Joffrey. It works because it’s a stupid decision from an idiot king. It works because it sees the most noble guy in Westeros lie in public to sully his name, all so he can save his family. It works because it hurts. Cue countless imitators. Cue other shows chasing this diseased magic. Cue Game of Thrones becoming HBO’s flagship series overnight. Cue the next ten years of popular culture. (Jacob Hall)

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

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