Beyond The Wall

All 73 'Game of Thrones' Episodes, Ranked

game of thrones episodes ranked
HBO
This post contains spoilers up through Game of Thrones Season 8. Proceed with caution. And visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

It's difficult to fathom, but there are no longer any new episodes of Game of Thrones to look forward to. But before you go crying into your bowl of brown, you should know that few dramas are as rewarding to rewatch as Game of Thrones , and we highly encourage you to do so if you're in a state of withdrawal after the series finale.

But like all shows, some episodes of Thrones are better than others, and still more feature the Waif. Here's our estimation of which installments are closer to the Iron Throne of greatness and which are still wandering around in the punishing desert known as the Red Waste. It should also remind you of the characters we've lost and provide you with nice trip through time, starting in 2011.

unbowed, unbent, unbroken game of thrones
HBO

73. "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"

Season 5, Episode 6 (May 17, 2015)
Director:
Jeremy Podeswa
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: Though the episode is named for the Tyrells, it's most notable for the controversial final scene in which Ramsay rapes Sansa on their wedding night in front of Theon Greyjoy, who's forced to watch. It's a brutal, utterly unnecessary scene that punishes Sansa, who just moments before asserted her power in the face of taunting from Ramsay's girlfriend Myranda. But to the point about the Tyrells: Loras is put on trial by the Sparrows, as is, unexpectedly, Margaery, and both are taken prisoner, much to Cersei's delight and Tommen's horror. On the subject of the Lannister family: Jaime and Bronn sneak into Dorne to rescue Myrcella, who is perfectly happy with her hunky Dornish beau. Her (secret) father and his companion come face to face with the Sand Snakes. Jorah and Tyrion are sold into slavery while trying to get back to Daenerys, and Arya does some more training with the Faceless Men.
Most shocking moment: The horrific rape scene.
Why it's important: It's an episode that once again shows how putridly the show handles violence against women, and in doing so establishes Ramsay as one of the most frustratingly exhausting villains in its oeuvre. --Esther Zuckerman

sons of the harpy game of thrones
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72. "Sons of the Harpy"

Season 5, Episode 4 (May 3, 2015)
Director:
Dave Hill
Writer: Mark Mylod
Recap: An episode that's reflective of some of the larger problems that plagued Season 5, "Sons of the Harpy" introduces compelling ideas but doesn't always find the most effective ways to dramatize them. The most important developments have to do with fanatics and fundamentalists: Having teamed up with the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant, Cersei enrages Margaery when her brother Loras is arrested for his sexuality; traveling North to build support for Stannis's military campaign, Melisandre attempts to seduce John Snow into joining the Lord of Light; and following a riot in Meereen, Daenerys must contend with the deadly Sons of the Harpy, who are staging a coup against her. The less religiously inclined storylines have lots of set-up. As Jaime and Bronn continue their adventures in Dorne, where we meet the ill-fated Sand Snakes, Jorah and Tyrion slowly make their way back to Dany, making you wish they'd just arrive at their destination already.
Most shocking moment: Grey Worm's fight with the Sons of the Harpy, one of the best bits of hand-to-hand combat in the whole series, ends with poor Ser Barristan getting killed.
Why it's important: The role of religion went underexplored in the final season of the series, but it was a core thematic concern at various points. In its occasionally ham-fisted and clumsy way, this episode shows why. --Dan Jackson

the house of black and white game of thrones
HBO

71. "The House of Black and White"

Season 5, Episode 2 (April 19, 2015)
Director:
Michael Slovis
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Not only does this episode bring the narrative to Dorne, by extension beginning the Sand Snake plot line, but it also puts Arya into the House of Black and White, by extension beginning the Waif's plot line (ugh, the Waif!). Elsewhere, Cersei is freaked out for Myrcella because she (correctly) believes there's a plot to kill the child as revenge for Oberyn Martell's gruesome death. Jaime agrees to go to Dorne to bring her back, and convinces Bronn to come with him by offering him a better wife with a bigger castle, just like Bronn always wanted. Jon Snow manages to become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch thanks to a rousing speech from Sam, even though Stannis offers to legitimize him and make him Lord of Winterfell if Jon bends the knee. In Meereen, Dany tries to get the simmering class war under control, but isn't helped when one of her council members murders a captured Son of the Harpy in contravention of her direct orders. Daenerys publicly executes the council member in response, which leads to all-out war between former masters and slaves. Then there's Tyrion and Varys' undercover road trip, paralleling with Brienne and Podrick's road trip, the latter of which finds them running into Sansa and Petyr Baelish at an inn. Brienne wants to take Sansa away, but obviously Littlefinger won't let that happen, and as is always the case at inns, the exchange ends in bystander deaths.
Most shocking moment: Drogon comes back! But only briefly; Dany will have to wait before she can fly again.
Why it's important: It's a lot of setup and jumping around, but it puts Jon in a position to die, and likewise sets other plots in motion. --Anthony Schneck

blood of my blood
HBO

70. "Blood of My Blood"

Season 6, Episode 6 (May 29, 2016)
Director: Jack Bender
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: Somehow, the High Sparrow still dominates large portions of Game of Thrones in Season 6, and the battle between church and state heats up as Margaery gets out of her walk of atonement by converting Tommen to the Faith of the Seven. Much to Jaime Lannister's chagrin. The episode begins with Bran seeing visions of all of Westerosi history before he and Meera Reed are attacked by the undead, but they're saved by a mystery man who turns out to be Benjen Stark. Then Samwell Tarly takes Gilly home to meet the parents, and it... does not go well. His mom is super nice, though. There's also an extended assassination sequence in which Arya finds herself sympathetic to her target, an actress playing Queen Cersei in a play. Arya saves her life instead of ending it, which obviously turns the Waif against her (ugh, the Waif!). Walder Frey gets pissed that his adult sons have lost Riverrun, and decides to use Edmure Tully to take it back. The episode concludes with Daenerys giving a rousing speech from on top of Drogon, in which she tells the Dothraki they're about to go sailing for the first time ever.
Most shocking moment: When Bran and Meera's savior turns out to be Benjen Stark.
Why it's important: Is it important? Not exactly. But the dinner scene at the Tarly household is A+. --AS

book of the stranger hbo
HBO

69. "Book of the Stranger"

Season 6, Episode 4 (May 15, 2016)
Director: Daniel Sackheim
Writer: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Recap: A lot of brother-sister reunions going on here. The episode opens with Sansa -- rescued from Ramsay -- arriving at Castle Black and meeting up with her half-brother (or so she thought) Jon Snow. Jon was just about to bid the Night's Watch farewell when Sansa showed up, and he pledges to be by her side wherever he goes. This gets complicated when Jon receives a ransom note from Ramsay, who explains that he has Rickon and wants Sansa back. Later, Yara and Theon have an awkward face-to-face. In King's Landing, Margaery gets to see Loras again thanks to the High Sparrow. She encourages him to stay strong, but he just pleads for the torture to stop. All the while, Cersei and Jaime try to work with Olenna to get rid of the Sparrows. Meanwhile, in Dany's world, Tyrion's negotiating with slave owners in Mereen, and Daenerys herself faces off against the sexist Khals who want to rape her in Vaes Dothrak. She declares that none of them can lead the Dothraki, and burns down the Dosh Khaleen, walking through the fire on her way out.
Most shocking moment: Daenerys burns up the Khals.
Why it's important: Now that the series is over, we know that Daenerys' desire to play with fire is a bit of foreshadowing; meanwhile, in the North, the stage is starting to be set for the Battle of the Bastards. --EZ

game of thrones the gift
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68. "The Gift"

Season 5, Episode 7 (May 24, 2015)
Director:
Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Another Season 5 episode that trudges slowly along, jumping all over the map to advance storylines before the final three episodes of the season, "The Gift" is GoT at its most tedious. Jorah makes his way back to Dany, this time with Tyrion Lannister in tow, but that's one of the few meaningful moments until the final scene. Jon Snow has left for Hardhome, which leaves Sam at Castle Black to watch Maester Aemon die and attempt to fend of Gilly's would-be rapists. He fails, but Ghost saves the day, and Sam and Gilly wind up sleeping together. Stannis is bogged down in severe winter weather, with some of his mercenaries deserting and his supply chain succumbing to the snow. Melisandre recommends sacrificing Stannis' daughter, because why not! Jaime and Bronn's attempt to retrieve Myrcella has blown up in their faces, landing Bronn in a cell across from the Sand Snakes. But the real kicker comes in the last few minutes, when Cersei talks to the High Sparrow, thinking she has the upper hand still... until he tells her Lancel has revealed a sin she's committed, leading to Cersei's arrest. Whoops.
Most shocking moment: Cersei gets locked up, which begins a painfully boring series of prison scenes leading to the Queen Mother's walk of shame.
Why it's important: This is what people in the content biz call a "filler episode." But it does put Tyrion in contact with Daenerys, which plays a huge role in how the series ends. --AS

eastwatch
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67. "Eastwatch"

Season 7, Episode 5 (August 13, 2017)
Director:
Matt Shakman
Writer: Dave Hill
Recap: Sandwiched between the flame-kissed chaos of the lootrain caravan attack in "The Spoils of War" and the ice-covered dragon battle in "Beyond the Wall," this is an exposition-heavy hour that's short on spectacle and filled with some of the frustrating plotting that plagued the show's final seasons. Showing no mercy, Dany burns Randyll and Dickon Tarly, an action that takes on more importance in the following season. In Winterfell, there's some unexciting business with Littlefinger and the Stark sisters, along with some more warging from Bran. Having learned all he could, Sam finally ditches the Citadel, taking Gilly and her baby with him. Then there's Tyrion's big plan to capture a wight, show it to Cersei, and convince her to band together to save humanity. The plan, which leads to Jon Snow pulling together his own Dirty Dozen-like squad of rogues, requires a frankly baffling amount of naivete from multiple characters that we've previously been taught to see as master manipulators and brilliant strategists. They should all know better, right? Guess not! If you don't get too hung up on the details, there's certainly material to enjoy here, especially as our mismatched heroes prepare to venture into the Night King's turf and wage war on the army of ice zombies awaiting them.
Most shocking moment: Cersei tells Jaime that she's pregnant with his child, a revelation that will obviously have a major impact on both of their choices going forward.
Why it's important: Jon Snow has a friendly interaction with Dany's favorite winged-creature Drogon, and Gilly stumbles on proof of the  R + L = J theory in the Citadel , two moments that confirmed facts about Jon's parentage that were long suspected. --DJ

game of thrones last of the starks
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66. "The Last of the Starks"

Season 8, Episode 4 (May 5, 2019)
Director:
David Nutter
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Recap: After the Battle of Winterfell, everyone's sad for a second, but then there's a feast where the whole crew gets drunk and horny. Ayra rejects Gendry's proposal of marriage, and Brienne and Jaime end up having sex . Daenerys wants to immediately go and fight Cersei, ignoring Sansa's warnings that her troops might be exhausted after facing the White Walkers. The Starks are so skeptical of Dany's leadership that they take Jon aside, and he ends up telling them the truth about his parentage, despite his promises to his lover/aunt that he'll keep it a secret. Sansa then relays that information to Tyrion, who in turn gives it to Varys. Ultimately, they are all right to be worried about the Mother of Dragons, who's about to suffer some serious blows. She loses her dragon Rhaegal when he's shot down by Euron Greyjoy, whose Iron Fleet attacks her ships, taking Missandei prisoner. After refusing to negotiate with Tyrion, Cersei has The Mountain behead Missandei right in front of Daenerys, who is now extremely pissed off.
Most shocking moment: Euron shoots down Rhaegal , because... how?
Why it's important: Cersei's beheading of Missandei directly leads to Daenerys' massacre at King's Landing, which turns her into the villain of the final episodes. --EZ

oathbreaker game of thrones
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65. "Oathbreaker"

Season 6, Episode 3 (May 8, 2016)
Director:
Daniel Sackheim
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Jon Snow is back! After being brought back to life by Melisandre's magic in the previous episode, the mopey warrior spends most of this episode… being mopey. (It turns out dying didn't change the guy's demeanor or outlook on life that much.) Besides reuniting with Tormund and Davos, his big action in this episode is hanging his fellow Night's Watchmen who betrayed him, an action that leaves him dramatically declaring, "My watch is ended." Elsewhere, Sam and Gilly continue on their way to the Citadel, Arya receives more brutal Waif training and gets her eyesight back, Cersei conspires against the ever-dangerous High Sparrow, Daenerys makes her way to Vaes Dothrak, and Tyrion struggles to maintain control of Meereen. It's not that this episode feels like stalling, but an hour of TV like "Oathbreaker" can be frustrating when you feel like you know where most of these characters are going but they're taking forever to get there.
Most shocking moment: Jon's hanging of his murderers isn't exactly shocking, but his despairing mood was a surprise to some fans who thought he would spring immediately into a less gloomy king mode following his resurrection.
Why it's important: Bran gets his first flashback trip to the Tower of Joy, a significant bit of history from the series, in this episode courtesy of the Three-Eyed Raven. --DJ

breaker of chains hbo
HBO

64. "Breaker of Chains"

Season 4, Episode 3 (April 20, 2014)
Director: Alex Graves
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Recap: A good chunk of this episode is focused on the aftermath of Joffrey Baratheon's (well-deserved) death. It opens with Sansa's escape from King's Landing, which lands her right in the manipulative clutches of Petyr Baelish, who swiftly murders her rescuer Dontos and convinces her that he's her only option. While Olenna Tyrell tells Margaery that she's better off without the shithead king -- all but confessing to the murder -- Cersei is seething and raging at her son's resting place. She hisses at Jaime to kill Tyrion, who she thinks committed the act. Jaime begins to kiss her at the tomb, and then turns on her calling her "hateful" and raping her on the spot as she pleads, "It's not right." A bunch of other characters are prepping for Tyrion's trial: Twyin enlists Oberyn to be a judge, and Tyrion tells Podrick to get the hell out of dodge. Elsewhere, Arya and the Hound continue their road trip. At Castle Black, Sam is being overly protective of Gilly and Jon is wrestling with is divided loyalties between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings. And, finally, Daario whoops some ass in Mereen.
Most shocking moment: Jaime's rape of Cersei.
Why it's important: Plot-wise, this episode sets the stage for Tyrion's trial, but it's probably most notable as another example of Thrones carelessly using sexual violence to further a narrative. --EZ

game of thrones the climb
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63. "The Climb"

Season 3, Episode 6 (May 5, 2013)
Director:
Alik Sakharov
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: As you'd imagine, the title of this episode refers to both the social-climbing going on in the bedrooms and corridors of King's Landing, where a series of politically motivated marriages get brokered, and the mountain-climbing going on beyond the Wall, where Jon Snow and the Wildlings cling to massive sheets of ice with axes and ropes. The actual summit sequence is thrilling, packed with strong winds and last-minute rescues, and it ends with Jon and Ygritte sharing a kiss. The pairing off at King's Landing is much less romantic, with Tywinn and Olenna brokering a series of arranged nuptials between their children. Loras ends up with Cersei and Sansa ends up with Tyrion, who must give her and Shae the upsetting news at the same time. Elsewhere, Robb attempts to make amends with the hard-to-trust Frey family, Jojen has visions of future troubles, Arya meets the other-worldly Melisandre, and, since we're still in Season 3, Theon gets tortured some more in an increasingly unpleasant fashion. Enough already! There's a wheel-spinning quality to some of the storytelling here, particularly with the foreboding and bleak events in the North, but at this point the show had built up enough good will that loyal viewers were invested in the climb. Just keep moving.
Most shocking moment: We see the aftermath of Joffrey killing Ros with his new crossbow, one of the cruelest and most vicious acts in the show.
Why it's important: Littlefinger's "chaos is a ladder" line, which he delivers while revealing his sinister plot to Varys at the end of the episode, is one of the most quoted lines in the show's history. --DJ

the night lands game of thrones
HBO

62. "The Night Lands"

Season 2, Episode 2 (April 8, 2012)
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: The second episode of Season 2 largely focuses on advancing plot, often through its tried-and-true sexposition technique. You have Theon returning to the Iron Islands (uh oh!), Robb Stark's terms of peace are laughed off, and the search for Gendry continues as it's revealed Joffrey is the one who ordered the hunt for all of Robert Baratheon's bastards. Daenerys languishes in the Red Waste, waiting for her riders to return, one of whom does -- though, technically, it's just his head that comes back. Jorah tells Dany that this is a message, which, yeah, obviously. Also in this episode, Melisandre and Stannis have sex and discuss exactly what they're up to, and why Stannis needs to commit himself to the Lord of Light. Helpful! The biggest moment, though, comes when Jon follows Craster as he takes a son out into the wilds north of the wall -- that's when the young Snow figures out that Craster's giving his kids away to the White Walkers.
Most shocking moment: When Craster knocks Jon out just as he's discovering the spooky truth about how the White Walkers multiply.
Why it's important: It's a lot of setup, but we see Stannis' religious, uh, fervor take over, and get significant insight into the nature of the White Walkers. --AS

game of thrones
HBO

61. "Kill the Boy"

Season 5, Episode 5 (May 10, 2015)
Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: Much of Season 5 plods along at a snail's pace, and "Kill the Boy" embodies this trait perfectly as the narrative comes to its midway point. It features Jon Snow wavering over whether to invite the Wildlings to join his burgeoning alliance, Tyrion and Jorah traveling through Valyria, Stannis prepping to attack Winterfell, the Boltons prepping to defend it, and Grey Worm receiving palliative care from Missandei. The two major moments of this episode come when Brienne has a Stark loyalist she and Podrick meet at an inn deliver a message to Sansa to put a candle in Winterfell's highest tower if she's in trouble (uh, yeah, she's got Ramsay on her hands, she's in trouble), and when Jon frees Tormund, who tells him he has to go to Hardhome in person if he wants to convince the Wildlings to join his fight against the White Walkers. Neither of these events plays out smoothly, but they had to be set up at some point.
Most shocking moment: When Jorah looks down and sees greyscale starting to break out on his wrist after he and Tyrion are attacked by a pack of feral greyscalers. Not good!
Why it's important: The most important future events this episode tees up are the impending battle with the Army of the Dead, and Stannis' bad decision-making that will get his entire army destroyed. --AS

60. "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

Season 3, Episode 2 (April 7, 2013)
Director: Daniel Minahan
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Recap: In later seasons, one of the most common complaints about the series has become that it lacked the large scope of the earlier seasons, but it's easy to forget that the early days were filled with accusations that the narrative was ungainly. Occasionally, there was a sense that the map was too crowded, too busy. This episode, which introduces future fan-favorite Lady Olenna Tyrell and brother-sister duo of Jojen and Meera Reed, is packed with scenes where we get quick updates and moments of conflict with various characters: Jon and Ygritte continue to argue and grow closer beyond the wall; Joffrey attempts to impress his more savvy bride-to-be Margaery with a crossbow; Robb gets bad news about the death of his grandfather, Lord Hoster Tully, and the sacking of Winterfell; Jaime and Brienne get in a sword-fight before getting captured; Arya and her gang of friends encounter the Brotherhood without Banners before an awkward encounter with the Hound; and, oh yeah, there's some warg-ing action with Bran that we'll get to below. See, lots of stuff -- but little of it really lingers in the mind.
Most shocking moment: The torture of Theon Greyjoy at the hands of what will eventually be revealed to be Ramsay Bolton's soldiers. It's incredibly unpleasant, but at this point it wasn't as repetitive as it would later become.
Why it's important: This is the episode where Bran has a dream about a three-eyed raven and then learns that he is, in fact, the three-eyed-raven. It's a somewhat baffling but still big "whoa" moment that would obviously have profound effects on the future of the series. --DJ

prince of winterfell
HBO

59. "The Prince of Winterfell"

Season 2, Episode 8 (May 20, 2012)
Director:
Alan Taylor
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: As far as "calm before the storm" episodes go, "The Prince of Winterfell," which fell right before the Battle of Blackwater, leaves much to be desired. It's not that the episode is bad or completely lacking in tension -- Theon's confrontation with his sister Yara at Winterfell is fraught and the reveal that Osha is stealing bread for the (still alive!) Stark boys is compelling -- but some of the beats feel familiar and repetitive. Robb Stark again makes a mistake by choosing to  go after Talisa when he's committed to marrying one of Walder Frey's daughters; Tyrion feuds with Cersei as they prepare for battle with Stannis; Daenerys is still in Qarth, checking out the House of the Undying in the hopes that something interesting will happen. It's a lot of table-setting. At least that mischievous assassin Jaqen H'ghar is around to help Arya, Hot Pie, and Gendry escape from Harrenhal, setting them on a path for adventure.
Most shocking moment: Catelyn Stark frees the Kingslayer Jaime Lannister, royally pissing off her own son Robb, who decides to place her under guard.
Why it's important: Catelyn's decision to send Jaime back to King's Landing in exchange for her daughters might not sound like a brilliant strategic move, but it gave us Brienne and Jaime's road trip, one of the show's best plotlines and greatest character pairings. --DJ

valar dohaeris game of thrones
HBO

58. "Valar Dohaeris"

Season 3, Episode 1 (March 31, 2013)
Director:
Daniel Minahan
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: The Season 3 premiere didn't exactly set the world on fire, but it was a nice companion piece to the Season 2 finale, "Valar Morghulis," which means "all men must die" in Valyrian. "Valar dohaeris" means "all men must serve," and the episode dutifully sets up an action-packed season while falling short on action itself. Jon Snow meets Mance Rayder and Tormund Giantsbane, Bronn returns to Tyrion's service as Lannister family bickering ratchets up (can't Tywin just acknowledge Tyrion played a huge role at the Blackwater??), Davos goes back to Stannis and gets locked up for trying to take out his rage on Melisandre, and Dany thinks about buying the Unsullied before she escapes an assassination attempt, picking up a new protector in Ser Barristan Selmy along the way. Meanwhile, Robb Stark discovers The Mountain has killed everyone at Harrenhal, and people are pretty pissed about that. Overall, it's mostly just expository setup spread across too many storylines (read: boring and complicated).
Most shocking moment: Uh, maybe when Barristan saves Dany? Sure!
Why it's important: Look, not every Game of Thrones episode can be "important," but since Season 3 had to start somewhere, "Valar Dohaeris" is relevant insofar as it accomplishes its only essential task. --AS

brother ray game of thrones
HBO

57. "The Broken Man"

Season 6, Episode 7 (June 5, 2016)
Director:
Mark Mylod
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: "Violence is a disease," claims Brother Ray, the pacifist leader played by Deadwood 's Ian McShane. "You don't cure it by spreading it to more people." It's a great quote delivered by a great guest star, and this episode, which brought back the Hound after a long time away and set him back on his path of vengeance, does its best to dig deeper into some of the larger themes driving the series at this point. As Jon Snow and Sansa argue over the number of allies they need, leading to the introduction of the fearsome-yet-small Lyanna Mormont, the show's other notable fearsome-yet-small warrior, Arya, attempts to make her way back to Westeros but gets stabbed by the Waif wearing an old-woman disguise. (The Waif was not a good character, but she was tricky!) In King's Landing, Margaery, Lady Olenna, and Cersei do their best to outwit the powerful High Sparrow, who continues to reign over the city with his brutal fundamentalism. There's some business with Yara and Theon as well, but the Hound's story is the main thread here, and it ends in typical Game of Thrones fashion: A bleak call to arms that leaves poor Brother Ray dead and the Hound picking up his axe for battle once again.
Most shocking moment: Was the Hound's return actually "shocking" for viewers? Most knew he was coming back; what's more surprising is that the show only signed up Ian McShane for one episode.
Why it's important: Even if the pacifist community shown in this episode is ultimately destroyed, that village does offer a different, less domination-based political path forwards. In the context of such a dark series, it's a valuable reminder that things don't have to be so terrible all the time. --DJ

man without honor
HBO

56. "A Man Without Honor"

Season 2, Episode 7 (May 13, 2012)
Director: David Nutter
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Recap: Let's start with Robb Stark's camp, where Jaime Lannister is prisoner and about to do some really bad things. In order to escape he kills his kin, Alton Lannister, a former squire of his who also happens to be a big fan. Jaime lures the poor kid into a sense of security by bonding with him. After a pleasant conversation, he bashes his new friend's head in, telling him, "You'll only have to do one thing. You'll have to die." But after making his escape, Jaime gets recaptured and comes face-to-face with Catelyn, who tells him he's a "man without honor." (Hey! That's the title!) He retorts that because he's only been with one woman, Cersei, he's more honorable than Ned Stark who (supposedly) fathered a bastard child.  Another man making some brutal and awful decisions is Theon, who, in an attempt to take Winterfell and show his strength, also sets out to murder Bran and Rickon, who have escaped with Osha. Scrambling, Theon burns two random children to try to cover for his mistake. As for the other Starks: Sansa has her first period, which is terrible news; Arya, at Harrenhal, gets on surprisingly well with Twyin Lannister. Jon is north of the wall flirting with his captive, Ygritte, who also has the upper hand in their relationship, landing him with other Wildlings. And, finally, Daenerys continues to look for her dragons in Qarth, where Xaro and the ever creepy Pyat Pree stage a coup, the latter explaining that her children are in the House of the Undying.
Most shocking moment: Jaime bashes Alton's head in, after charming him. He's terribly sneaky.
Why it's important: This episode sets up a lot of scenarios that will become crucial in coming episodes. Jaime, after his incident, encounters Brienne; Theon makes an erratic move that will lead to his eventual torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. As the series draws to a close, Daenerys' time in Qarth and her experience in the House of the Undying becomes all the more relevant. --EZ

the wars to come game of thrones
HBO

55. "The Wars to Come"

Season 5, Episode 1 (April 12, 2015)
Director: Michael Slovis
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Recap: As with many Thrones premieres, "The Wars to Come" has a lot of setup, but it opens with a flashback that will launch a thousand theories: Young Cersei goes to visit Maggy the Frog , who tells her all of the horrible things that will happen to her, including that all her children will die. Back in the present day, she's mourning the death of her father, Twyin, and raging against his killer, Tyrion. She's also extremely pissed off at Jaime for setting Tyrion free. Later she has an awkward encounter with her former lover Lancel -- now a seriously religious Sparrow -- who wants her forgiveness for their relationship and his aid in the murder of Robert Baratheon, but she pretends she knows nothing about that. Back on the subject of Tyrion, he's been escaping to Pentos with Varys, who's hidden him in a box and wants him to go interview for a job with Daenerys. She's off having a shitty time in Meereen where her allies are being killed by the Sons of the Harpy and two of her dragons are still chained up and angry. And then there's Jon Snow, whose allegiances are being pulled in all sorts of directions. Stannis wants to take Winterfell, and he wants Jon to convince the Wildlings to help him do so. That doesn't go over so well with Mance Rayder, who refuses to bend the knee and is sentenced to burn. As he goes up in flames, Jon shoots him with an arrow to ease his suffering.
Most shocking moment: A member of the Unsullied is murdered by surprise.  
Why it's important: The Maggy the Frog prophecy is one of the crucial moments in the entire series, offering a glimpse of the future and a view into Cersei's psychology. It also lays out some of the major conflicts of the season: Dany's bad time in Meereen, the Sparrow situation, Jon's awkward relationships with Stannis and the Night's Watch. --EZ

oathkeeper game of thrones
HBO

54. "Oathkeeper"

Season 4, Episode 4 (April 27, 2014)
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: Tyrion denies to Jaime that he had any part of Joffrey's murder, but Cersei remains unconvinced. Olenna implies to Margaery that she might have kinda sorta planned Joffrey's murder, or at least assisted it, to protect her from his cruelty. Margaery visits Tommen, her new betrothed, in his room at night and charms him, complimenting his beloved cat. Jaime gifts Brienne a new suit of armor and the Valyrian steel sword that Tywin game him, which Brienne names "Oathkeeper." Littlefinger and Sansa head to the Eyrie, and Littlefinger informs her that, while he's not a suspect in Joffrey's murder, she could be, because the missing stone on her necklace contained the poison that killed him. At the Wall, Jon trains some new recruits before Alliser Thorne comes and ruins all the fun, reminding him that he's only a steward. Thorne and Janos Slynt conspire to send Jon on a suicide mission to kill the mutineers holed up on Craster's Keep, hoping that Jon himself is killed before he can be elected the new Lord Commander. The Unsullied launch a slave revolt in Meereen, and Daenerys, though she's advised to be merciful, has 163 of the masters executed, for each of the dead slave children who were crucified along the road. The mutineers at Craster's Keep discover Craster's bargain with the White Walkers, and Craster's last baby boy is left in the woods as an offering. Bran and his companions are captured, and he's forced to reveal his identity. The baby boy is taken to the Lands of Always Winter, where the Night King transforms him into a White Walker.
Most shocking moment: The last few minutes of the episode, where we see the White Walkers in their snowy fortress, setting up a lot of big questions and promises for what was to come.
Why it's important: This episode is the first time we meet the Night King, though we won't learn his name until later. --Emma Stefansky

game of thrones garden of bones
HBO

53. "Garden of Bones"

Season 2, Episode 4 (April 22, 2012)
Director: David Petrarca
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Recap: Robb Stark handily wins a battle against Lannister forces outside Oxcross, and he rejects his bannerman Roose Bolton's offer to flay the prisoners, saying that giving them fair treatment is important, given the fact that, as far as he knows, both Sansa and Arya are held prisoner in King's Landing. He meets Talisa in the act of amputating a man's leg, and she holds him accountable for the violence. He falls in love, naturally. Tyrion and Bronn arrive in the Red Keep's throne room just in time to save Sansa from a beating, and Tyrion decides to send some prostitutes to Joffrey to settle him down. To show his uncle how messed up he is, Joffrey forces one of the women to beat the other. Tyrion gets Lancel to spy on Cersei for him. Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie are imprisoned at Harrenhal, where the Mountain's men are torturing prisoners. Tywin Lannister arrives and makes Arya his cupbearer. Xaro Xhoan Daxos vouches for Daenerys and her starving khalasar, and the city of Qarth allows them through its gates. In the Stormlands, Littlefinger visits Renly Baratheon's forces, asking Margaery about her marriage to the would-be king, and his relationship with her brother Loras. He then brings Catelyn Ned Stark's remains as a gesture of goodwill, telling her that the Lannisters have her daughters. Cat, Renly, and Littlefinger later parley with Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre, none of whom agrees to surrender. Stannis commands Davos Seaworth to row Melisandre to the shore that night, where she births a horrifying smoke creature that heads off into the night.
Most shocking moment: That last scene is one that sticks in viewers' minds: Whatever Melisandre is, she definitely has some kind of magic.
Why it's important: "Garden of Bones" gets a lot of characters where they need to be for some shocking stuff to happen in the final few episodes of Season 2. It also works from a character-building standpoint: Robb falls for Talisa's strength, which will later doom him and his army, Daenerys puts her trust in the hands of someone she shouldn't out of desperation, Arya gets a front-row seat for Tywin's plans, and Renly lives his last night. --ES

stormborn
Helen Sloan/HBO

52. "Stormborn"

Season 7, Episode 2 (July 23, 2017)
Director: Mark Mylod
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: There are plenty of pieces moving across the chess board in this one, as the major leaders realize they might not be able to survive without a little help from their friends. Having received an invitation from Daenerys that he feels he can't refuse, Jon Snow goes against the wishes of almost all his closest advisors and sets off to meet the Queen and her dragons. At Dragonstone, Daenerys does a lot of strategizing and debating on how she wants to take over King's Landing, where Cersei and her loyal tech mastermind Qyburn test out a spear-firing dragon-killing weapon. Eventually, Tyrion's plan wins out. At the Citadel, Sam, disobeying the commands of his elders, goes ahead and cures Jorah of his terrible greyscale, which is a relief for anyone who finds the greyscale make-up to be a little gross. After pulling off a massacre in the previous episode, Arya reunites with her direwolf. And, perhaps most importantly, Greyworm and Missandei finally have sex, or whatever they're calling it.
Most shocking moment: Euron Greyjoy's big Pirates of the Caribbean moment at the end of episode. It's not shocking that he kills the Sand Snakes, who felt doomed for a while, but his psychotic glee brings the episode to a jarring conclusion.
Why it's important: The relationship between Jon Snow and Daenerys is essential to the show's endgame and this episode puts Jon on the path to meeting her. --DJ

high sparrow
Helen Sloan/HBO

51. "High Sparrow"

Season 5, Episode 3 (April 26, 2015)
Director: Mark Mylod
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Recap: There are wedding bells in King's Landing...again. Margaery marries the too-good-for-this world Tommen, and everything's actually OK for a moment. Tommen's smitten, and Margaery is grateful she is both queen and doesn't have to deal with Joffrey anymore. The only one not happy? Cersei, of course. Margaery tries to convince Tommen to get her scheming mother-in-law to retreat to Casterly Rock, but that backfires when Cersei gets wind of a new plot. The uber-religious, incredibly brutal Sparrows catch the High Septon in Littlefinger's brothel and parade him through the streets naked, chanting "sinner." Instead of aligning herself with the Septon, Cersei decides to make a deal with the High Sparrow, seeing it as a way to get revenge on her enemies. Little does she know, it's going to turn out very badly for her too. Another unfortunate alliance is made this episode when Petyr Baelish essentially forces Sansa to agree to wed Ramsay, newly a Bolton rather than a Snow. "I'll never hurt her, you have my word," Ramsay tells Littlefinger, absolutely lying. At least, Brienne and Pod are on Sansa's trail. Meanwhile, up at the Wall, Jon Snow's having a rough time dealing with all of the members of the Night's Watch who aren't too pleased that he wants everyone to get along with the Wildlings. In order to assert his authority as Lord Commander, he beheads the insolent Janos Slynt, who refuses to take his order. Arya's in Braavos dealing with all kinds of nonsense from the Waif -- ugh, the Waif -- while Tyrion makes Varys stop in Volantis for some wine and women. Unfortunately, Jorah Mormont is also hanging out there, and decides to take Tyrion in order to get back into Daenerys' good graces.
Most shocking moment: Jon Snow beheads Slynt. Our nice, noble boy has an edge.
Why it's important: There are a lot of beats that are continually relevant, but it's the one that Cersei probably most regrets that's crucial. She makes a deal with the High Sparrow in order to take down Margaery, but it will definitely come back to haunt her when she's being forced to march naked through the streets. --EZ

beyond the wall
Helen Sloan/HBO

50. "Beyond the Wall"

Season 7, Episode 6 (August 20, 2017)
Director:
Alan Taylor
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Besides some rather tedious business with the Stark sisters in Winterfell and a few contemplative moments with Tyrion and Daenerys back at Dragonstone, this episode is mostly devoted to the Ocean's 11- style heist of a wight from beyond the wall to bring to King's Landing. As many critics and fans have noted, the plan carried out by Jon Snow and his rag-tag team of warriors isn't exactly clever or smart. However, the execution of the plan involves basically turning Game of Thrones into a thrilling, delirious action extravaganza, complete with daring escapes, last-minute rescues, and wild ice javelin throws. Where the writing in this episode is lackluster and less satisfying than some of the other major military battles in the history of the show, the direction and the special effects are stunning. It has the scale, tone, and the heft of a blockbuster movie. If you can look past the logical inconsistencies and bone-headed plotting, it's a blast.
Most shocking moment: It's gotta be when the dragon Viserion gets turned into an ice dragon, right? No competition there.
Why it's important: In the larger scope of the show, this will probably be seen as the moment when Benioff and Weiss completely abandoned the slow-cooker plotting of the early seasons and just put the pedal to the metal. --DJ

the long night
HBO

49. "The Long Night

Season 8, Episode 3 (April 28, 2019)
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Recap: After an evening of nervous preparations and bittersweet ceremonies, the weary humans assembled at Winterfell finally face off against the mighty Night King and his Army of the Dead. How does it turn out? Dark -- very, very dark. So visually dark that many critics and fans took to social media afterward to note that they couldn't always tell what was going on , especially as the various factions sparred in the dead of night and the dragons took to the skies for an aerial dogfight out of Top Gun . Between the sparsely lit shots of armor-smashing brutality and flesh-piercing mayhem, Melisandre returns to offer up some final magical help, Arya plays hide-and-seek with some wights in a thrilling library confrontation out of a horror movie, Lyanna Mormont slays a giant while getting crushed in his enormous hand, and Theon dies while protecting Bran, who spends a good chunk of the episode flying around as a bird. (Jorah Mormont also gets an appropriately heroic final moment.) In the end, the Night King is defeated and the stage is set for a showdown with Cersei Lannister.
Most shocking moment: Arya taking out the Night King at the last second is an immensely pleasing bit of WWE-style storytelling. It's made even better by the misdirection of spending so much time watching Jon Snow struggle against the dragon.
Why it's important: This was the end of the line for the Night King, one of the show's most metaphorically potent but psychologically uninteresting villains. This conflict was set up way back in the pilot, and ending it with three episodes to go will either be seen as a brilliant move by Benioff and Weiss or a potentially fatal misstep. --DJ

lord snow
HBO

48. "Lord Snow"

Season 1, Episode 3 (May 1, 2011)
Director: Brian Kirk
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Recap: There's a lot of plot development here, including the fallout from Lady's death, which made both Stark girls very unhappy, and rightfully so. At least Arya cheers up when she begins sword-fighting lessons with Syrio Forel. In King's Landing we also meet two important characters, and they love to scheme and gossip: Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish and Varys aka The Spider, aka The Eunuch. Catelyn tries to arrive in King's Landing unnoticed, but Lord Baelish sees all, and brings her to one of his brothels, where Ned and The Spider are waiting. Petyr reveals to the group that the dagger used in the attempted assassination of Bran is one he'd lost in a wager with Tyrion. Tyrion, meanwhile, is up at the Wall, where he helps Jon Snow understand why it's important to make friends. Lastly, Daenerys is discovering her power and exerts it over her terrible brother. She's also pregnant.
Most shocking moment: Daenerys is pregnant. That was fast.
Why it's important: Littlefinger's Machiavellian machinating in this episode are crucial to the plot for seasons to come, and his manipulation of Catelyn here directly leads to the war -- and the many tragedies -- to come. --EZ

dragonstone
Helen Sloan/HBO

47. "Dragonstone"

Season 7, Episode 1 (July 16, 2017)
Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Coming off the one-two punch of "Battle of the Bastards" and "The Winds of Winter" to end Season 6, there was an absurd amount of pressure on Season 7 to deliver the goods and set up the conclusion to the series, which would obviously not have the narrative safety net of George R.R. Martin's books to fall back on. "Dragonstone" is effective and patient -- filled with charged exchanges between characters like Jon and Sansa, poignant moments with the Hound, and some comical material like Sam's poop duty at the Citadel -- but it's not exactly the most exciting premiere episode in the show's history. Isn't the clock ticking? Daenerys's arrival at Dragonstone, drawn out toward the end in a slightly inert sequence, is an example of the series beginning to feel like it's dragging its feet, even though things would soon speed up in a significant way in later episodes. (For many, this will also be forever known as the episode with the Ed Sheerhan cameo.)
Most shocking moment: It arrives right at the beginning: Arya pulls off the "face" of Walder Frey after poisoning his sons during a grand feast. Who knew the face-swapping magic was that effective?
Why it's important: In certain corners of the internet, Season 7 was the most controversial set of episodes yet. This episode, with its slightly cheerier (for Game of Thrones, at least) tone, was a marker of things to come. --DJ

the bear and the maiden fair
HBO

46. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair"

Season 3, Episode 7 (May 12, 2013)
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Writer: George R.R. Martin
Recap: The show-stopping moment comes at the end of this episode when Jaime, now with a conscience, heads back to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne, satisfying a million Braime shippers. The Tarth warrior has found a formidable foe in the form of a bear, while Roose Bolton's mercenary, Locke, who'd separated Jaime from his sword hand earlier in the season, watches it all as if it's entertainment. But while Jaime's noble act serves up a good climax, there's a lot of other plot machinations in this installment. Robb Stark and Talisa are madly in love, and, surprise, she's also pregnant. This is all bad news for Edmure Tully, who has to marry one of Walder Frey's many daughters in Robb's stead. On the subject of marriages no one wants: Neither Sansa nor her handmaiden, Shae, is happy about the former's impending arranged marriage to Tyrion. Arya, pissed that the Brotherhood traded Gendry to Melisandre, runs away, and ends up being captured by the Hound. Still, no one has a worse go of it than Theon, who gets taunted and castrated by Ramsay Snow as part of the endless and exceedingly tiresome introduction to Roose Bolton's sadistic bastard.
Most shocking moment: There's a freakin' bear! Brienne and Jaime go up against a freakin' bear! We've seen White Walkers. We've seen dragon. But here's a bear!
Why it's important: The attempted redemption of Jaime Lannister continues, as his noble rescue of Brienne. --EZ

winterfell
HBO

45. "Winterfell"

Season 8, Episode 1 (April 14, 2019)
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Dave Hill
Recap: A whole lot of people reunited in the first episode of the final (sobs!) season of Thrones . From Daenerys and Jon's opening march into Winterfell onward, the hour is full of often awkward meet-ups between characters who haven't seen each other in a while or are meeting for the first time. Sansa is in immediate conflict with Daenerys, who's brought a giant army plus two hungry dragons to Winterfell. Arya and Jon are making up for lost time, as are Arya and Gendry. The youngest Stark girl asks her (now very hot) blacksmith pal to make her a special, very pointy weapon , surely good for killing White Walkers. Varys, Davos, and Tyrion plot a joint Jon-Daenerys rule of the Seven Kingdoms, as the two lovebirds/relatives take a dragon joyride, with Jon getting on the back of Rhaegal. (Drogon doesn't really like to see his mama making out , though.) The biggest revelation is one we already know: Jon Snow is Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Except now Jon Snow himself knows this, after Sam spills the beans. Sam, meanwhile, is pissed at Daenerys because right after meeting him she broke the news that she burned his brother and father alive -- neither of whom, it must be said, Sam had a great relationship with. Speaking of past vindictive behavior coming to bite our friends in the ass: In the very last moments of the episode, Jaime makes eye contact with the kid he attempted to murder all those years ago. Bran's been waiting for him.
Most shocking moment: Tormund, Beric, and Edd find little Ned Umber as part of the White Walkers' latest art installation. Look out, Tormund! He's alive!
Most important moment: Jon knows something. He's just really confused about it. --EZ

the red woman
Macall B. Polay/HBO

44. "The Red Woman"

Season 6, Episode 1 (April 24, 2016)
Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Roose Bolton warns Ramsay that they need to gather the Northern lords as insurance in case the Lannisters attack, and berates him for losing Sansa, who could have been used as a figurehead. Brienne and Pod rescue Sansa and Theon from the Boltons' men, and Sansa accepts Brienne's pledge of fealty. Ellaria and Tyene murder Doran Martell for being boring. Jaime returns Myrcella's body to Cersei and Margaery fails to get information about Loras from the High Sparrow. Obara and Nymeria Sand murder Prince Trystane for… doing nothing wrong? Tyrion and Varys discover Daenerys' fleet of ships on fire, and realize that she won't be able to sail to Westeros. Daario and Jorah find the ring that Daenerys dropped when she was taken by a Dothraki horde. In Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys is told that, since she is a widow, no man will touch her, but she also won't be allowed to leave. Blind Arya begs in the streets of Braavos while the Waif whacks her over the head with a stick once a day. Jon's friends gather around his dead body in a storeroom while Dolorous Edd sneaks out of Castle Black to gather the Wildlings to help them. Alliser Thorne wins over the other brothers, who surround the storeroom and tell Davos and the rest of Jon's friends to surrender. Melisandre is troubled because she had seen Jon fighting at Winterfell in the flames. When she takes off her red necklace to go to bed, her glamour disappears and her real body is revealed, looking many, many years older than it usually does.
Most shocking moment: Melisandre is OLD. Very old. She's at least 100, and maybe as old as 400, but her actual age is never revealed. She's obviously incredibly difficult to kill, as evidenced during one of her first scenes when she drinks the poison Stannis' former priest gives her and doesn't die.
Why it's important: Many characters are finally coming together (Brienne and Sansa), while others are busy paring down all the superfluous ones (RIP Martells). The early episodes of Season 6 are mostly spent treading water waiting for Jon Snow to come back. --ES

first of his name
HBO

43. "First of His Name"

Season 4, Episode 5 (May 4, 2014)
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Writers: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Recap: Little Tommen is crowned king and Margaery and Cersei can at least agree that he's the nicest king they could hope for. Tywin and Cersei plan Tommen and Margaery's wedding, as well as Cersei's wedding to Loras Tyrell to cement the Lannister-Tyrell alliance (and get their hands on some of that shiny Tyrell gold). Cersei also pokes around to see if Tywin would testify against Tyrion at his trial. Petyr Baelish and Sansa arrive at the Eyrie, where Lysa welcomes them and makes sure that Sansa isn't trying to seduce Petyr. When they're alone, Lysa tells Petyr that she wants to marry him as soon as possible, listing all the things she's done for him, such as... murder her husband Jon Arryn, the Hand of King Robert Baratheon, and write a letter to Catelyn saying she suspected the Lannisters did it. Daenerys learns that the recently freed cities Astapor and Yunkai have devolved back to their old slaving ways and decides to stay and rule Slaver's Bay for a while as queen before attempting to conquer Westeros. Brienne finally respects Pod (a little) and Arya and the Hound discuss Arya's list -- and the Hound's presence on it. Jon Snow and the Night's Watch finally attack Craster's Keep and end that horrible storyline for good. Bran wargs into Hodor and uses his giant body to fight his way through the mutineers and save him and the Reeds. He wants to reconnect with his brother Jon, but Jojen tells him he'd only try to stop their journey North, so they leave. Craster's wives decide to stay at the keep alone, and the Night's Watch burn the dead.
Most shocking moment: Jon Snow kills Night's Watch mutineer Karl Tanner with a sword through the back of his head and OUT HIS MOUTH. Definitely one of the gorier deaths of the show.
Why it's important: This episode marks the calm before the storm, as we're only a few weeks out from Tommen's marriage to Margaery, Tyrion's trial, and Lysa Arryn's flight out the Moon Door. --ES

What Is Dead May Never Die
HBO

42. "What Is Dead May Never Die"

Season 2, Episode 3 (April 15, 2012)
Director: Alik Sakharov
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: Sent by Robb to negotiate an alliance, Catleyn Stark parleys unsuccessfully with the haughty king-declarant Renly Baratheon, but the mission allows us to meet two characters who become hugely important in the larger story: Margaery Tyrell, who's married to Renly and hoping to conceive an heir, and Brienne of Tarth, who earns a place in his Kingsguard by defeating the renowned Ser Loras Tyrell in combat. In King's Landing, Tyrion does some masterful spywork by planting three versions of a rumor with Littlefinger, Varys, Grand Maester Pycelle to find out which of them has been funneling information to his sister, Cersei. Poor bearded Pycelle ends up being the mole, so Tyrion has him hauled off to the dungeon. Meanwhile, Bran has some scary wolf dreams, Theon Greyjoy chooses loyalty to his family over his fealty to Robb Stark, and Daenerys is entirely absent from this episode, probably just chilling in the desert.
Most shocking moment: Yoren's bloody and brutal death, witnessed by Arya from the bushes, is thrilling, but it's not exactly shocking. Young Lommy getting slaughtered after getting an arrow in the leg and begging for help on the ground? That's pretty extreme -- and it took a long time for Arya to avenge him.
Why it's important: "What Is Dead May Never Die" deals with palace intrigue, advances the plot, and introduces new characters -- some who become just as beloved as the people we met back in Season 1. --DJ

the kingsroad
HBO

41. "The Kingsroad"

Season 1, Episode 2 (April 24, 2011)
Director: Timothy Van Patten
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: While the show's second episode focuses on character development, further exposing Cersei's extreme pettiness and Joffrey's dangerous brattiness, "The Kingsroad" doesn't skimp on the action. The Starks largely disperse, with Ned and the girls heading south to King's Landing; Catelyn staying home with Robb, comatose Bran, and Rickon; and Jon Snow going north with Benjen Stark (and tag-along Tyrion!) to the Wall. Before leaving Winterfell, though, Jon gives Arya her famous accessory, the sword that she dubs Needle, and Ned tells Jon that he'll tell him about his mother the next time they see each other (sad!). On the long trip to King's Landing, Sansa is so desperate to impress little twit Joffrey that she unwittingly facilitates the death of her pretty direwolf, Lady, after the prince bullies Arya and her friend, and Arya's wolf, Nymeria, comes to her rescue and Cersei demands lupicide. At Winterfell, Catelyn and direwolf Summer fight off an assassin coming to claim Bran's life with the famous Catspaw Dagger . Elsewhere, Daenerys is fed up with having shitty, rapey sex with Drogo, and gets her handmaiden to teach her how to please the horselord.
Most shocking moment: Ned executes Lady. Only two episodes in and already a direwolf is dead. This show is out to break hearts.
Why it's important: The mysterious assassin's attack on Bran and his choice of weapon turn out to be far more complicated than they seem, and the moment resonates into the final season, while the irrationally cruel punishment of innocent Lady is core Cersei. --EZ

the queen's justice game of thrones
HBO

40. "The Queen's Justice

Season 7, Episode 3 (July 30, 2017)
Director: Mark Mylod
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Like most of Game of Thrones ' seventh season, "The Queen's Justice" spends an hour doing what it probably could have accomplished in a few minutes. This episode is all about Jon Snow and Daenerys finally meeting up, even though Dany tells Jon to fuck off with his White Walker talk, because she's after the Iron Throne. Their initial meeting doesn't exactly set off the romantic fireworks everyone was expecting, but it does set the stage for the mutual respect necessary for all solid relationships. Especially ones that start with a mining agreement. Euron Greyjoy, fresh off his sea battle victory, delivers the Sand Snakes as a gift to Cersei -- Euron takes some time to woo Cersei and talk shit to Jaime along the way. Cersei decides to exact revenge on the Dornish women by giving Ellaria's daughter a kiss with a long farewell. Cersei likes her justice to be both cruel and unusual. Sansa remains in Winterfell with Littlefinger creeping over her every move, while Jaime manages to defeat Tyrion's foolproof plan to take Casterly Rock by just abandoning the position and taking a wider view and going after Highgarden instead. It's there that we say goodbye to Olenna Tyrell, who drinks poison but still manages to tell Jaime she was the one who killed Joffrey. Cold-blooded!  
Most shocking moment:  Randyll Tarly is on Team Lannister? This doesn't bode well for his relationship with Sam. But from a big-picture perspective, Jaime pulling off the old switcheroo by trapping the Unsullied on Casterly Rock, foiling Tyrion's unbeatable plan in clever fashion, was a pretty neat trick.
Why it's important: Game of Thrones  will likely end with some version of Dany, Jon, and/or Tyrion running the show, so it was important to get them together, even under less-than-friendly circumstances. --AS

no one game of thrones episode
HBO

39. "No One"

Season 6, Episode 8 (June 12, 2016)
Director:
Mark Mylod
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr attempt to recruit the Hound into the Brotherhood Without Banners. Brienne and Podrick attempt to make a plan with Jaime, who's leading the army laying siege to Riverrun: If Brienne can convince the Blackfish to surrender, Jaime will allow him to leave and join the forces rallying behind Sansa in the North. Both Brienne and Edmure Tully fail to convince the Blackfish to surrender, and he dies after helping Brienne and Pod escape. In Meereen, Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Missandei trade jokes, and Daenerys and Drogon return just in time to save the city from a sea attack waged by the Masters. Cersei is being edged out by King Tommen, who announces the date of Cersei and Loras' trial by the zealot Sparrows, and also notes that trial by combat will be abolished -- meaning that Cersei can't use the formidable Mountain to save her. Qyburn sidles up to her to mention a rumor that she'd told him to check on, and says that whatever it is is "more, much more." Wildfire is imminent. After Arya saves the mummer Lady Crane from being assassinated, the Waif is sent after her to clean up the mess. Arya leads the Waif back to the House of Black and White and finally kills her, taking her face. When Jaqen congratulates her on becoming "no one," Arya says that, no, her name is Arya Stark, and she's going home.
Most shocking moment: Watching Arya go toe to toe with the Waif and finally get the upper hand just feels so, so good.
Why it's important: A lot of this episode is setup for what's to come, but it contains some really compelling character work. Plus, it's one of the last funny episodes in the show. --ES

dance of dragons game of thrones
HBO

38. "The Dance of Dragons"

Season 5, Episode 9 (June 7, 2015)
Director: David Nutter
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Following the action-packed "Hardhome," this episode slows down a bit before the finale. That means we get some tedious business with the Sand Snakes in Dorne, wound-licking with the snow-covered at the wall, and Arya going undercover as an oyster vendor for her assassin training. (So many seashells!) The most exciting part of the episode has to be when Drogon, the dragon teased in the title, makes his big rescue of Daenerys from a deadly conflict in the fighting pit. It's one of those scenes that sounds a bit ridiculous and resembles the cover of a less "serious" fantasy book, but the show earns the grandeur. There's also some truly upsetting stuff involving Stannis that we'll get to below. For now, just remember this as the episode where Drogon comes through in the clutch!
Most shocking moment: The burning of innocent, young Shireen at the stake, an act of violence with none of The Godfather -like sense of suspense and sweep associated with the Red Wedding, was a deal-breaker for some viewers growing tired of the show's unending misery.
Why it's important: As harrowing as the Shireen's death was, it was not just a narrative act of sadism directed at the audience. It was essential to showing us how utterly lost Stannis has become and it set the stage for his inevitable death. --DJ

the old gods and the new game of thrones
HBO

37. "The Old Gods and the New"

Season 2, Episode 6 (May 6, 2012)
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Vanessa Taylor
Recap: Frankly, the most memorable moment comes at the end of this midseason episode, when Daenerys's beloved dragons, just wee babes at this point, are stolen in Qarth. She wants ships to cross the Narrow Sea, but encounters opposition from all ends, specifically from the belittling Spice King. Then, poof, her dragons are gone. But that's one of the least consequential plots that unfolds here, because in "The Old Gods and the New" we meet Rose Leslie's Ygritte for the first time when Jon and his Night's Watch buddies encounter her crew of Wildlings. Ygritte and Jon get separated from the pack and a great romance begins. Well, she teases him a bunch and they spoon for warmth, but it's a start. Speaking of romance: It's a good time in the love lives of Ned's boys. Robb is falling for Talisa Maegyr as she fixes up the wounded in his camp, which leaves him more frustrated that he's technically supposed to marry one of Walder Frey's daughters. Meanwhile, in Winterfell, Theon's making vile and idiotic choices like beheading Ser Rodrik Cassel. Osha gets the best of him, though, when she seduces him in an effort to smuggle Bran and Rickon out of the city, saving their lives. All this melds in some Red Wedding and Reek foreshadowing when Roose Bolton suggests that his bastard son, a.k.a. that shithead Ramsay, retake Winterfell. And on top of all of that, the Hound saves Sansa in King's Landing after she gets separated in an angry mob.
Most shocking moment: The dragons are gone! The dragons are gone!
Why it's important:  The love between Ygritte and Jon Snow is still the purest love the show has ever seen. Plus! It gave us a perfect meme in Emilia Clarke bellowing: "Where are my dragons?" --EZ

the dragon and the wolf
HBO

36. "The Dragon and the Wolf"

Season 7, Episode 7 (August 27, 2017)
Director:
Jeremy Podeswa
Writer: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Recap: Jon Snow and Daenerys attempt to convince Cersei to join forces with them to stop the White Walker menace coming down from beyond the Wall. Cersei agrees to if and only if Jon remains neutral during the war between the Lannisters and Daenerys, but he admits he's already pledged himself to Daenerys. Cersei leaves in a huff, and remains resolute even when both Tyrion and Jaime try to convince her to change her mind. She reveals to Jaime that she's sent Euron Greyjoy to collect the Golden Company from Essos, which she'll use to fight whoever remains after Jon and Daenerys encounter the Night King. Jaime, disgusted, leaves her and rides off to join the North. In Winterfell, Littlefinger's attempts to turn Sansa and Arya against each other backfire spectacularly, and he's executed by Arya for all of his many, many crimes. Bran tells Sam, who's back from the Citadel, that Jon is the rightful heir to Westeros, as Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark's marriage was legitimate ; meanwhile, Jon gets it on with Daenerys , who is actually his aunt. The Night King arrives at the Wall riding a zombified Viserion (R.I.P.) and uses ice-dragon fire to breach the Wall.
Most shocking moment: Zombie Viserion is cool and scary and all, but watching the Stark sisters scheme circles around Littlefinger is a joy. "How do you answer these charges… Lord Baelish?" LEGENDARY.
Why it's important: In addition to giving us that ridiculous shot of the Night King bouncing up and down astride ice dragon Viserion like he's riding a horsey, the Season 7 capper directly sets up the final six episodes. If you have time to watch only one episode before Season 8 begins, make it "The Dragon and the Wolf." --ES

mhysa game of thrones
HBO

35. "Mhysa"

Season 3, Episode 10 (June 9, 2013)
Director:
David Nutter
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Mother! Daenerys is… mother! "Mhysa" means mother in Ghiscari, in case you didn't get it, and it's what the freed slaves of Yunkai chant in the famous closing scene of Season 3, when Dany crowdsurfs on her new subjects, with some uncomfortable "white savior" overtones. This episode mostly deals with the fallout from the Red Wedding, with the effects reverberating throughout the kingdoms as the deck gets reshuffled in a major way. Sansa is sad in King's Landing, Cersei encourages Tyrion to get Sansa pregnant to secure the rights to the North, Davos frees Gendry but escapes Stannis' punishment because the White Walkers are coming, Ramsay continues torturing Theon, and Sam takes Bran north of the Wall. It's a lot to pick through, but "Mhysa" makes the most of its various storylines, delivering some of the show's more memorable moments: Tywin sending Joffrey to his room, Ramsay castrating Theon, and Arya and the Hound witnessing Robb Stark's body paraded around with a direwolf head. Not as gruesome as the Red Wedding, but pretty close.
Most shocking moment: When Game of Thrones steals a scene from Roots and Ramsay Bolton renames Theon "Reek."
Why it's important: Like virtually all season finales in Thrones history, "Mhysa" comes down off an intense penultimate episode to set up the storylines for the following season: Dany's continued push toward King's Landing, Tyrion's unstable position, and Ramsay Bolton's ascent to the title of most brutal character on the show. --AS

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34. "The Pointy End"

Season 1, Episode 8 (June 8, 2014)
Director: Daniel Minahan
Writer: George R.R. Martin
Recap: As the title suggests, this episode delivers some swordplay to go along with all the scheming and world-building as the show barrels ahead to the end of its impressive first season. With Ned Stark behind bars, this episode gives Sansa and Arya a chance to shine, focusing on their attempts to survive under the cruel, merciless reign of King Joffrey, who continues to establish himself as the most insufferable boy in Westeros. The action outside of King's Landing is a mixed bag, particularly the plotline about the unceasing brutality of the Dothraki, but there are some spectacularly staged fight scenes in this one, including a battle at the Wall where a wight gets torched by a lantern. Unsurprisingly, the first episode written by Martin has an inspired mix of bloodshed and wit.
Most shocking moment: The tragic (off-screen) death of Syrio Forel is a brutal reminder that the kindest, most charming characters in the Game of Thrones universe often suffer the most.
Why it's important: Sansa has become one of the show's most compelling characters, a natural leader who isn't afraid to make difficult, pragmatic decisions to protect herself and the people she cares for. This is the first episode that really shows off what makes her tick. --DJ

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HBO

33. "The Ghost of Harrenhal"

Season 2, Episode 5 (April 29, 2012)
Director: David Petrarca
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Midway through its second season, the notoriously sexposition-heavy series aired its first episode featuring no nudity. That means "The Ghost of Harrenhal" chews through a lot of story, resulting in an occasionally jumbled narrative with abrupt jumps in action. After forging an alliance with Catelyn Stark, Renly Baratheon suddenly takes a knife through the chest, courtesy of a shadow creature that vanishes almost immediately. Suspicion naturally falls on Brienne, who escapes with Catelyn and sets up the long and winding storyline Brienne will travel for the rest of the series. Elsewhere, Theon's terrible political instincts and wishy-washy decision-making skills set into motion the long series of betrayals that will eventually lead to his capture and torture. In King's Landing, Arya and Tywin start one of the show's more fertile oddball relationships based on mutual rivalry and respect, while Tyrion gathers up a stockpile of wildfire that will prove crucial in the coming Battle of the Blackwater.
Most shocking moment: No nudity! Also, Renly's death basically comes out of nowhere, with the shadow blowing in, stabbing him, and disappearing within a few seconds. Nobody knew what the hell was happening!
Why it's important: Well, Renly's dead, which puts Brienne on the run and ties her to the Starks. You also have the unwitting odd-couple respect between Tywin and Arya, which sets up some of the most surprisingly enjoyable scenes in the series. --AS

game of thrones series finale
Helen Sloan/HBO

32. "The Iron Throne"

Season 8, Episode 6 (May 19, 2019)
Director:
David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Plenty of people hated the series finale of Game of Thrones , but the reality is: It was fine! Good, even. Remember how many people freaked out about the ending of The Sopranos , and now it's one of the most iconic in TV history? Well, "The Iron Throne" probably won't reach that level, but in wrapping up one of the most convoluted, sprawling fantasy adaptations ever, Game of Thrones did right by (most of) the protagonists it focused on throughout the years: The Starks and Tyrion Lannister. The plot is probably fresh in your memory, but just in case, the episode was divided into two parts. Dany's taken King's Landing via massacre, and now she's going on about continuing to liberate the rest of the world. She throws Tyrion in prison for setting Jaime free, and the Lannister proceeds to convince Jon to off Dany. He does so in the throne room before she can actually sit on the Iron Throne, and Drogon arrives to melt the symbol of power down into lava. In the second part, everyone lands where they're supposed to. Bran becomes king . Tyrion is hand of the king (again). Sansa rules the free North. Arya explores the unknown west . Jon rejoins Ghost and trudges north of the wall, his final fate uncertain. Say what you will, but most people didn't see Bran Stark as king, nor did it seem probable that neither Jon nor Daenerys would rule the realm -- expectations were high, and so many fans felt the final season had already failed to deliver on the promises of prophecies and theories cultivated over the course of the decade, making it nearly impossible for the finale to provide instant gratification. But just simmer on it for a few weeks, or even years, before deciding it ruined the entire series.
Most shocking moment: Jon killing Dany was shocking, but somewhat expected. Drogon melting down the Iron Throne and sparing Jon's life? THAT was shocking!
Why it's important: It's the last. Game of Thrones. Episode. Ever.

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HBO

31. "Mockingbird"

Season 4, Episode 7
Director: Alik Sakharov
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Both Jaime and Bronn refuse to be Tyrion's champion at his trial, Jaime citing his bad swordship skills how that he's lost his hand (a good excuse), Bronn citing the fact that he really, really doesn't want to fight Cersei's champion, the Mountain (a very good excuse). But the third time's the charm, as Oberyn sneaks into Tyrion's cell at night and pledges his sword, saying again that the main reason he wanted to come to King's Landing was to avenge his sister and kill the Mountain himself. Jon Snow and his men return to Castle Black, but Alliser Thorne refuses to block the passage through the Wall, leaving it open for Mance Rayder's army. Melisandre convinces Selyse Baratheon to bring Princess Shireen along when they depart Dragonstone. Hot Pie tells Brienne and Pod that Arya was taken by the Brotherhood without Banners, who were intending to ransom her. Pod says that the only remaining relative is Lysa Arryn in the Vale, so he and Brienne head there. The Hound is attacked by Rorge and Biter, who bites him on the neck before the Hound kills him. Arya stabs Rorge for threatening to rape her. She offers to cauterize the Hound's wound for him, but he refuses, telling her the story of how the Mountain mashed his face into a fire when they were boys. Daenerys says, "Take off your clothes" to Daario before sending him away to counsel the masters of Yunkai. Sansa builds her snow-castle Winterfell and Robin wrecks it. Petyr kisses Sansa and Lysa sees, freaking the hell out and threatening to throw Sansa out the Moon Door. Petyr talks her off the ledge only to throw her through the hole himself.
Most shocking moment: Bye, Lysa! Wish we could say we'd miss you! Book readers knew this scene was coming, but were still shocked when Benioff and Weiss opted to change one of the book's best lines: In the show, Petyr tells Lysa that he's only ever loved one woman, "Your sister." In the book, the line is, "Only Cat."
Why it's important: We're gearing up for "The Mountain and the Viper," one of the show's most anticipated one-on-one fights. This episode also succeeds in moving lots of characters around the board pretty economically, as the Baratheons leave Dragonstone and Daario is booted out of the Meereen plot for the time being. --ES

game of thrones
HBO

30. "Two Swords"

Season 4, Episode 1
Director: D.B. Weiss
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: The episode begins with Tywin melting down Ned Stark's Valyrian steel sword, Ice, and having two swords forged from it: one for Jaime and the other for Joffrey. Dornish golden boy Oberyn Martell arrives in King's Landing in his brother Doran's place, blabbing to Tyrion that he came to get vengeance for his sister Elia, who he alleges was raped and murdered by the Mountain. Jaime gets his golden hand and Sansa is crushed to learn about Catelyn and Robb's deaths. Meanwhile, Ser Dontos, a former knight turned king's fool, gives Sansa a necklace to wear at Joffrey's wedding that turns out to contain poison. Ygritte, Tormund and their Wildling crew meet the Thenns. Maester Aemon has Jon Snow released after he confesses to his brothers that he killed Qorin Halfhand and slept with Ygritte. Daenerys' dragons are growing bigger and more feral as her growing army marches to Meereen. Arya and the Hound encounter a group of chicken-eating Lannister soldiers, including Lommy-killing, Needle-stealing, Arya's-list-denizen Polliver.
Most shocking moment: The brutality of the masters of Meereen is on full display as Daenerys marches toward the city: when Jorah offers to have the Unsullied remove the dead slave children from the posts they've been nailed to, she tells him she'd rather look upon each of their faces as they go by. That'll definitely make killing the masters much easier when it comes to that.
Why it's important: This is another beginning-of-the-season setup episode, with not a ton of action but lots of key items getting passed around. Jaime gets his new hand and a Valyrian steel sword, Sansa gets the poison necklace, and Arya gets Needle back. --ES

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HBO

29. "The Bells"

Season 8, Episode 5 (May 12, 2019)
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: A lot of people had issues with the second-to-last Thrones episode ever, so let's get the bad stuff out of the way first: Dany's heel turn was a betrayal of her character , Jaime and Cersei somehow became sympathetic figures , and Arya just kind of… ran around for a while . But! While so many fans are angry that the show has gone off the rails, "The Bells" was still a ridiculously entertaining hour-and-a-half of television that killed off several main characters and set up an ending that will surely leave fans dissatisfied. While there's still the sense that the show is rushing to wrap up its main characters' arcs, the carnage and horror depicted in "The Bells" were some of Thrones ' best moments of pure spectacle and visual extravagance. And in showing the effects of Dany and Drogon's rampage from the ground up, Game of Thrones reminds viewers that despite the excessive violence that defines the show, war creates human devastation no matter what its cause.
Most shocking moment: There were a lot, but it has to be when The Mountain crushes Qyburn's head so he can fight the Hound -- it came out of nowhere and was especially gruesome.
Why it's important: It's the penultimate episode! It's (almost) all over! --AS

the wolf and the lion game of thrones
HBO

28. "The Wolf and the Lion"

Season 1, Episode 5 (May 15, 2011)
Director: Brian Kirk
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Despite its reputation for epic storytelling, Game of Thrones often benefits from a limited scope, and this is one of the first episodes to show what that approach looks like. Jon Snow, still stationed at the Wall, and Daenerys, learning to live with the Dothraki, are booted off the map for "The Wolf and the Lion," allowing Benioff and Weiss to focus on the brewing conflicts in King's Landing, which are plentiful and increasingly bloody. (The Mountain beheads a horse at one point and we get our first bit of hype for a possible "Cleganebowl.") Mostly, it's fun to see Ned Stark play detective and diplomat for an hour, attempting to crack a possible conspiracy to kill King Robert and prevent a larger military conflict with Daenerys in the future. The action builds to poor Ned getting stabbed in the leg by one of Jaime Lannister's guards, hardly the worst act of violence suffered in the episode but a harbinger of bad things to come for Ned.
Most shocking moment: The scheming involving the Lannisters and the Starks at King's Landing are thrilling, but the most shocking moment has to be the introduction of Catelyn Stark's nephew Robin Arryn, the creepy breast-feeding 8-year-old who likes to send people "flying" through the moon door.
Why it's important: After the excitement of the pilot, the first season of Game of Thrones spent a lot of time setting up the pieces on the board, which could lead to some ponderous storytelling and character beats that felt disconnected from the main narrative. This episode showed the potential "pay-off" to that serialized approach, rewarding your patience and showing that the series wouldn't just tease conflicts forever. --DJ

mother's mercy game of thrones
HBO

27. "Mother's Mercy"

Season 5, Episode 10 (June 14, 2015)
Director: David Nutter
Writer: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Recap:  The Season 5 finale tries to sprint through enough storylines to give Season 6 several cliffhangers to work with, resulting in a jumbled, action-packed episode. Things go pretty badly for Stannis, who sees half his army desert and his wife hanging from a tree after Shireen's sacrifice, while Melisandre flees the scene. To make matters worse, the Boltons destroy the remains of the Baratheon army, and Brienne shows up to execute a wounded Stannis for killing Renly. Bad day at the office for House Baratheon. Back in Winterfell, Theon/Reek finally shows an ounce of courage when he saves Sansa from Myranda by tossing Ramsay's lover off a wall, which unfortunately means Sansa and Theon have to GTFO there before Ramsay figures out what's happening and goes on a mutilation spree. Arya steals a face and brutally murders Ser Meryn Trant (who killed Syrio Forel). Over in Dorne, Jaime succeeds in bringing Myrcella back to King's Landing, but she dies en route thanks to a Dornish long farewell... just after claiming she's proud to be an incest baby. Meanwhile, Daenerys finds herself surrounded by a marauding horde of Dothraki. Cersei finally confesses to sleeping with her cousin (but not Jaime!!) and receives a sentence of "Mother's Mercy," which isn't all that merciful. When she finishes her nude walk, she finds a re-animated zombie version of The Mountain ready to murder all her enemies. More importantly, Jon Snow's brothers in the Night's Watch betray him and stab him to death, even young little Olly. Hopefully there's some kind of magic out there that can bring him back to life. 
Most shocking moment:  Shame!!! Kidding -- it's when Olly plunges a knife into Jon. Come on, Olly, he's trying to do the right thing, sorry your family was murdered by Wildlings but there are bigger problems now. 
Why it's important:  Goodbye, House Baratheon! Goodbye (for now), Jon Snow! A very long goodbye to Myrcella! Goodbye, Reek and Sansa, hope your escape goes well! Goodbye, Meryn Trant! Goodbye, Arya's sense of sight! Goodbye, Cersei's dignity! Goodbye Sam and Gilly, have fun at maester school! This episode truly sets the stage for the beginning of the end of Thrones . --AS

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HBO

26. "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things"

Season 1, Episode 4 (May 8, 2011)
Director: Brian Kirk
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: Ned Stark begins investigating Jon Arryn's murder -- Grand Maester Pycelle tells him that the former Hand of the King's last words were "the seed is strong," and before he died he was reading a book about the lineages of the great houses of Westeros. Ned meets Gendry, and deduces (correctly) that he's at least one of King Robert's bastards. He also plans to talk to Arryn's squire, but he's killed in a tournament by the Mountain. Daenerys stands up to Viserys for the first time, telling him that if he ever tries to lay a hand on her again, it'll be the last time he has hands. Samwell Tarly arrives at the wall and Jon Snow convinces his buddies not to bully him. Tyrion receives a chilly welcome at Winterfell but gives Bran some blueprints for a modified saddle so that he could ride a horse by himself. When Tyrion later recognizes Catelyn and tries to make her feel awkward at an inn, she rallies the bannermen loyal to her two families, the Tullys and the Starks, and makes a citizens arrest of Tyrion for attempting to murder Bran.
Most shocking moment: Catelyn's cold-blooded display of power. 
Why it's important: We meet a few key characters (the Mountain! good old Sam!), and we get to see Tyrion humanize himself a little before Cat has her big moment. --ES

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25. "Second Sons"

Season 3, Episode 8 (May 19, 2013)
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Writer: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Recap:  Another bit of proof that Game of Thrones episodes tend to be at their best when they don't cram too many storylines into a single hour, "Second Songs" limits itself to a few storylines and one game-changing final shot. Much of the narrative focuses on Sansa and Tyrion's miserable wedding, which is depressing even by Thrones standards. Arya makes an ill-advised attempt to kill the Hound while he sleeps (he's not asleep!), and Daenerys gets a new ally in Daario and the Second Sons when Daario shows up in Dany's tent with the heads of the two captains who wanted her dead. How sweet. But the real wow moment comes at the end of the episode, when Sam, Gilly, and Gilly's new son find themselves hunted by a White Walker. Just when it looks like the end of Samwell and his new family, he stabs the White Walker in the back with dragonglass, causing the undead entity to freeze and shatter.
Most shocking moment: Sam kills a White Walker! They can be beat! This is why Jon Snow is so keen on forming his dragonglass mining company later in the series.
Why it's important : The White Walkers can be killed. Did you know that they're NOT invincible? Well, they aren't. --AS

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HBO

24. "Battle of the Bastards"

Season 6, Episode 9 (June 19, 2016)
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: It's hard to remember what else happened in this episode other than the title tilt between Jon Snow's crew and the usurping Bolton bannermen. But in the first third of "Battle of the Bastards," Theon and Yara land in Meereen with their bounty of ships, just as Daenerys (with Tyrion also now in cahoots) burns down the slaver fleet atop Drogon. But yeah, it's mostly just about the battle for Winterfell and the North -- which Jon Snow wins, thanks to Sansa's secretly penned note to Littlefinger, who arrives with the Knights of the Vale -- and the aftermath, in which the Seven Kingdoms are finally rid of Ramsay Bolton, the most purely sinister of all Game of Thrones villains.
Most shocking moment: The competition is fierce here -- Jon beating his fists into Ramsay's irksome face, Ramsay's death at the teeth of his own hounds, the dragons unleashing fire on Slaver's Bay. But no, the biggest shock came with the death of Wun Wun , the last of the giants. Farewell, big fella.
Why it's important: The Starks -- Jon Snow and Sansa Stark at this point, with Arya to follow -- finally make it past the Bolton thresher to reclaim Winterfell and their rightful rule in the north. --John Sellers

the spoils of war game of thrones
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23. "The Spoils of War"

Season 7, Episode 4 (August 5, 2017)
Director: Matt Shakman
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Cersei promises to repay the Lannisters' debts to the Iron Bank, and discusses the possibility of a loan to get the mercenary Golden Company over from Essos to fight for her. Littlefinger attempts to get past how weird Bran is now by gifting him the Catspaw Dagger that nearly killed him in Season 1. Bran responds by quoting Littlefinger's "chaos is a ladder" speech, cluing him in to the fact that Bran sees all -- and knows about all of Littlefinger's manipulations. Arya arrives at Winterfell and Bran gives the dagger to her, and she impresses Brienne with her swordfighting skills after Brienne has a crisis of faith. Meera leaves and Bran doesn't care. Jon shows Daenerys the huge dragonglass mine underneath Dragonstone and the cave paintings depicting the First Men and the Children fighting the White Walkers together, but refuses to swear fealty to her. Daenerys toys with the idea of taking her dragons to King's Landing, but Jon tells her that if she blows up the capital her followers will think she's a tyrant just like all the others. Theon and Jon have a confrontation in which Jon tells him the only reason he won't kill him is because Theon saved Sansa from the Boltons, and Theon asks for their help in rescuing his sister Yara, who has disappeared. Jaime and Bronn lead a loot train caravan down the Roseroad, and Daenerys surprises them with her Dothraki bloodriders, her Unsullied, and Drogon, whom she rides into battle, destroying all the Lannister carts of gold and supplies. Bronn abandons his gold (character development!) and manages to wound Drogon with Qyburn's giant scorpion crossbow. Jaime charges Drogon when he lands, and the dragon breaths a mouthful of fire at him. Bronn tackles Jaime off his horse, but the two sink into the Blackwater Rush under the weight of Jaime's armor. Will they be OK??? (They're fine.)
Most shocking moment: Seeing Daenerys and Jaime come nearly face to face in the heat of battle is dope as hell, but the most shocking moment is seeing Bran treat Meera, who trundled him all over the lands beyond the wall, like she's absolute garbage. Dude. What is WRONG with you?
Why it's important: This is the first time we see Daenerys bring nearly the full force of her army into battle in Westeros, and realizing the fine line she'll have to walk between becoming a beloved leader or spreading absolute terror everywhere she goes. It's also a good episode to catch up on if you're following the hot potato game everyone's playing with Littlefinger's dagger . --ES

valar morghulis game of thrones
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22. "Valar Morghulis"

Season 2, Episode 10 (June 3, 2012)
Director: Alan Taylor
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Following the spectacle of the Lord of the Rings -like siege episode "Blackwater," an instant classic of blood-and-guts storytelling, Season 2 shifts back into sprawling historical novel mode with this lengthy, immensely satisfying finale. The tone of unceasing dread that defines much of the season only intensifies: Joffrey continues to reign following his surprising military victory; Tyrion realizes he has a gift for playing the manipulative power games of the kingdom; Stannis retreats and finds comfort in Melisandre's visions of the Lord of Light; and, oh yeah, there's a giant army of ice zombies approaching beyond the wall. (Eventually, even casual viewers learned to call them "white walkers" and sound authoritative, but for a while they were just ice zombies to many.) The episode might not have the literal firepower of "Blackwater" -- and the "cut to white walkers approaching" trick gets wearying as the series grinds on -- but the finale makes up for it with psychologically rich character beats, emotionally complex payoffs to long-gestating plotlines, and a surprising amount of magic.
Most shocking moment: The white walkers showing up at the end! Where'd they come from? Where are they going? Why don't they just kill Sam? Unanswerable questions overload.  
Why it's important: In the early seasons of Game of Thrones , the more outlandish fantasy elements were less pronounced and less integral to the story. Arguably, this episode was a tipping point, signaling that the future of the series would be largely defined by geeky images one might find on the covers of a paperback novel or a metal album. --DJ 

the north remembers game of thrones
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21. "The North Remembers"

Season 2, Episode 1 (April 1, 2012)
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Recap: To be fair, it would be tough for any family, regardless of their home territory, not to remember the patriarch who was executed in cold blood after thinking he would be spared. The fallout from Ned's death continues to ripple throughout Westeros: Bran has to take on leadership duties, just as he's getting really  weird, and King Joffrey continues to reveal the depths of his cruelty. Daenerys wanders through the desert, but don't worry, she's going to make it out just fine. "The North Remembers" also introduces viewers to three key figures in Stannis Baratheon, Red Woman Melisandre, and Ser Davos Seaworth. They'll form up Joffrey's chief antagonistic army as Stannis makes his magic-informed bid for the Iron Throne, bolstered by a scathing letter that (accurately) describes Jaime and Cersei as incestuous freaks whose heirs are the product of their relationship, not a product of Cersei's marriage to Robert Baratheon. Tyrion lords his new status as Hand of the King over Cersei, who's worried about Jaime, now a prisoner of war in the North thanks to Robb Stark's rebellion. Also in the North, Jon Snow gets his first taste of how far he has to go when he expresses disgust at Craster's, uh, bizarre home life. Let's not forget the red comet, which Osha tells Bran means only one thing: dragons.
Most shocking moment:  Craster having daughters with all his daughters is still gut-churningly gross in a show that doesn't shy away from incest. 
Why it's important:  Tyrion reveals he's acting Hand of the King, and just like that, Thrones  got itself a hero from the Lannister clan. Plus we get the creepy Red Woman and Stannis storyline going in earnest. -- AS

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20. "Walk of Punishment"

Season 3, Episode 3 (April 14, 2013)
Director: David Benioff
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: It's neither the most shocking nor the most important moment in this episode, but it is probably the most random: Here we learn that Podrick is so good at sex that the prostitutes Tyrion hires for him as a thank you for his heroism during Blackwater hand back the money they are owed. That is to say, there's a bit of wheel-spinning in this installment, which is actually rather funny at times. See: Tyrion and Cersei's posturing at Twyin's council meeting in which he brings up the idea of Littlefinger marrying Lysa Arryn. Mance Rayder also has some plans: Have his team (plus Jon Snow) climb The Wall and attack Castle Black. Elsewhere, Ramsay tortures Theon, Hot Pie says bye bye, and Dany makes a deal for the Unsullied, ostensibly giving up one of her dragons. But most of the action is with Brienne and Jaime, who are imprisoned by Roose Bolton's man, Locke. When Jaime tries to sweet talk his way into their freedom -- offering up promise of a monetary reward -- Locke gets pissed and cuts off the Kingslayer's precious hand.
Most shocking moment: Jaime's hand ends up on the chopping block.
Why it's important: Jaime's loss of limb is crucial in shaping perceptions of the character who has probably evolved most over the course of the show. --EZ

a knight of the seven kingdoms
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19. "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms"

Season 8, Episode 2 (April 21, 2019)
Director: David Nutter
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: After the rather lackluster season premiere, the second episode in the final season is a welcome, understated return to form for Game of Thrones . Not much happens and it's very talky, being the lead-up to the greatest battle ever on the show, which led many to refer to it as a pseudo-"bottle episode " -- though that's not really accurate, since plenty of important plot stuff does take place. Lots of items get passed around: Gendry makes Arya her dragonglass weapon; Sam hands Heartsbane, the Tarly family's Valyrian steel sword, over to Jorah Mormont; and some battle planning takes place. The episode begins with Jaime Lannister pleading for his life in front of a bunch of people whose lives he either ruined or helped to ruin, but after Brienne vouches for him, Sansa Stark grants him his life. Jon agrees, saying they need all the living warriors they can get for the battle to come. Theon returns and says he wants to fight for the North as well, and Tormund, Beric, and Edd arrive from Last Hearth to tell everyone that the dead will be there by nightfall. The war council makes a weird plan to use Bran as bait to lure out the Night King, so that, presumably, either Daenerys or Jon can kill him. The Hound tells Arya that he did care about her all those years ago in the Riverlands, and Arya seduces Gendry , telling him that she doesn't want to die a virgin. Relatable. In the emotional high point of the episode , and probably the season (and hell, maybe even the whole series), Jaime repays Brienne for saving his life by giving her a knighthood -- the one thing she's always wanted. In the crypts, Jon tells Daenerys that his real name is Aegon Targaryen, and she mentions how convenient it is that the two people who told him he has a strong claim to the Iron Throne are his brother and his best friend. And then the dead arrive, and they have more immediate things to worry about.
Most shocking moment: Arya Stark was maybe the last person we expected to get a sex scene on TV's horniest show, but she sure did, and it served as both a reminder that she's not a little kid anymore, and that it's possible for even the creepiest, most bloodthirsty characters in Westeros to still have emotions and needs.
Why it's important: After a few seasons of light-speed travel and dragon battles, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" felt like we were back in the best era of the show, where what was most important was how characters felt, what they did for each other, and who they'd choose to be with when the world was about to end. --ES

home game of thrones
HBO

18. "Home"

Season 6, Episode 2 (May 1, 2016)
Director:
Jeremy Podeswa
Writer: Dave Hill
Recap:  The Game of Thrones media machine tried to convince us for a long time that it was up for debate as to whether Jon Snow was going to survive his stabbing at the hand of the Night's Watch at the end of the Season 5 finale. What kind of suckers did they take us for? Of course Jon Snow wasn't dead dead. He was just going to be briefly dead. The question was more a matter of how he was going to be revived. Turns out, nakedly. Melisandre reluctantly does her magic and just when it seems like it's failed, Jon awakens, gasping for air. Most of the rest of the episode is typical early-in-the-season filler and plot-churning: Arya's dealing with the Waif (ugh, the Waif ), Ramsay Bolton's being excessively evil, but, hey, we learn Hodor's real name through Bran's visions: It's Wylis.
Most shocking moment: Duh: Jon takes his second first breath.
Why it's important: Jon Snow's journey away from a man held back by his vows to an increasingly obsolete entity into a leader really begins here. --EZ

a golden crown game of thrones
HBO

17. "A Golden Crown"

Season 1, Episode 6 (May 22, 2011)
Director: Daniel Minahan
Writers: Jane Espenson and David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Recap: This was an episode for changing tides: Tyrion acquires Bronn as his muscle; Osha is captured by Robb and Theon after a pack of Wildlings attack Bran; Ned strips Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane of his land and titles after he rapes and pillages a village in the Riverlands, pissing off the Lannisters and setting in motion Ned's eventual downfall; Sansa falls for Joffrey, after which Ned realizes that Joffrey is not Robert Baratheon's son; and Arya learns a big lesson about facing down Death from her swordsman instructor, Syrio. But by far the biggest and most important shift in the Thrones power dynamic comes for the pregnant Daenerys, who eats a raw stallion heart in a Dothraki ritual, declaring her unborn son, Rheago, the one who will unite the world, picks up her newly gifted dragon eggs from a fire unscathed, and gets the first real taste of her ascendance to Khaleesi. Her pesky, power-hungry brother Viserys tries to smuggle out the dragon eggs but is stopped by Ser Jorah Mormont, and later, drunk, threatens to cut out Dany's baby from her stomach if Khal Drogo doesn't give him the army and crown that was promised to him. Obligingly, Drogo says he'll get his crown, melts down a pot of gold coins, forces Viserys to his knees, and dumps the scalding metal over his head. Daenerys watches on, coldly saying, "He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon." Damn, Dany.
Most shocking moment: You'd think it'd be the absolutely sick (and long-overdue) murder of Dany's snake brother Viserys "Somehow Worse Than Joffrey" Targaryen via a pot of molten gold to the dome, but no. It's when Khaleesi munches down the entire horse heart. Mmmmm.
Why it's important: With the first Bad Man dead, "A Golden Crown" taught us this show was deft at delivering sweet, sweet justice when it wants to. --Leanne Butkovic

the watchers on the wall
HBO

16. "The Watchers on the Wall"

Season 4, Episode 9 (June 8, 2014)
Director:
Neil Marshall
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: This episode takes place entirely at one location, specifically the Wall during the battle between the Wildlings and the Night's Watch. Ygritte tells her troop and the Thenns that Jon Snow is hers to kill. When Mance Rayder's army arrives at the Wall, Sam gives Gilly a smooch before running off to join his brothers in the fight. Castle Black is attacked from both sides, on one by the Thenns, on the other by a bunch of Wildlings, giants, and a bellowing woolly mammoth. Jon's Night's Watch brothers Pyp and Grenn both die, Pyp from one of Ygritte's arrows, and Grenn battling a giant to protect the gate that runs through the Wall. Ygritte finds Jon but hesitates, and little Olly shoots her in the back. As she dies, she tells Jon that they should have stayed in the cave together. The Wildling army withdraws and Tormund is captured. In the morning, Jon goes north of the Wall to kill Mance Rayder.
Most shocking moment: The shot of Jon holding Ygritte's dying body in his arms is one of the rare uses of slow-motion on the show, and it's so effective.
Why it's important: It's another great battle episode, and forces Jon to cement his loyalty to the Night's Watch, and the Night's Watch alone. --ES

the children
HBO

15. "The Children"

Season 4, Episode 10 (June 15, 2014)
Director:
Alex Graves
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Game of Thrones is often at its best when it focuses on inter-generational tensions and struggles within large families. With its unconventional parenting methods and withering criticism of his own offspring, Tywin Lannister remains one of the show's most compelling figures and a reliable source for great scenes. The Season 4 finale, which also includes Brienne of Tarth's brutal swordfight with the Hound and Daenerys's tearful chaining of her beloved (but unruly) dragons, is mostly a collection of enormously entertaining showdowns between characters with long-simmering antagonistic histories. Certain confrontations might leave a bad aftertaste -- Tyrion's final confrontation with Shae is as frustrating as Game of Thrones gets -- but throughout the episode, the real focus is on the performances, rather than the pyrotechnics, which you arguably can't say of future seasons. Charles Dance, the English actor who played him Tywin for four, Emmy-deserving seasons, really gets to strut his stuff on the way out of the series.
Most shocking moment: It's not especially shocking that Tywin Lannister died in this episode, since it's surprising he survived as long as he did. But the specifics of his death are surprising: killed with a crossbow on the toilet! For a man who prized dignity so much, it was an unbecoming way to go out.
Why it's important: It put Tyrion on the path to meeting Daenerys, as Varys helps smuggle the Imp out of King's Landing to Essos, and also confirmed Arya's journey to becoming a face-changing assassin, as she hops her own ship over the Narrow Sea toward Braavos. --DJ

you win or you die game of thrones
HBO

14. "You Win or You Die"

Season 1, Episode 7 (May 29, 2011)
Director: Daniel Minahan
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Recap: This is one of a handful of Season 1 episodes that alerted casual fans to just how quickly and viciously Game of Thrones churns through plot. There are bits of action across the map -- Daenerys survives an assassination attempt thanks to ever-watchful Jorah, and Jon Snow gets a nasty, bloody hand delivery from his direwolf at the Wall -- but most of the worthwhile, memorable intrigue takes place at King's Landing, where the delicate political balance looks like it might tip into outright civil war. Non-book-reading viewers might have expected grizzled King Robert Baratheon to die a noble death at the end of the first season, setting the stage for large-scale conflict in Season 2; instead, he gets killed by a boar during a hunt that occurs offscreen, and dictates his will to poor Ned, who attempts to triangulate a coup behind the scenes by fudging some of the wording on the document. (He wants Stannis, Robert's brother, to sit on the Iron Throne.) That plan doesn't exactly work out: Joffrey and Cersei seize power, while Ned ends up with a blade at his throat to close out a fiendishly entertaining hour of backroom scheming.
Most shocking moment: "I did warn you not to trust me," says Littlefinger as he pulls a dagger on Ned Stark. It was clear early on that Petyr Baelish wasn't exactly the most upright figure in Westeros, but this episode established his double-crossing bona fides in a big way.
Why it's important: This episode sets the stage for Ned's tragic downfall, introduces the imposing Tywin Lannister, and includes one of the more ridiculous examples of "sex-position" in the history of the show. (Yes, it involves Littlefinger.) Most essentially, the episode rewards the patient chess-piece moving of the previous six episodes. --DJ

the laws of gods and men game of thrones
HBO

13. "The Laws of Gods and Men"

Season 4, Episode 6 (May 11, 2014)
Director:
Alik Sakharov
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: For one episode, Game of Thrones transforms into Law & Order: Westeros . At least, that's the hook of one of this Season 4 stand-out, which finds Tyrion standing trial for the murder of Joffrey Baratheon and making the case for his own innocence. It's an uphill battle for the most loquacious Lannister, but the courtroom ends up being an ideal setting for a Game of Thrones episode: Plenty of opportunities for impassioned scenery-chewing, righteous monologuing, and calculated double-crossing. By the end, Tyrion makes the demand for a Trial by Combat, setting the show up for one of its most brutal and stomach-churning scenes. Like many of the show's better episodes, this one primarily focuses on King's Landing, but the scenes in Braavos with Stannis, the ruminations on justice in Meereen with Daenerys, and the disturbing exchanges between "Reek" and the despicable Ramsay are strong, too.
Most shocking moment : Shae's testimonial at the trial, where she claims Tyrion planned to commit regicide with Sansa, remains one of the most emotional betrayals on the show.
Why it's important: Besides showing off how great Dinklage is as an actor, this episode feels like a significant tipping point for Tyrion as a character, setting him on a new path he's still on. --DJ

fire and blood
HBO

12. "Fire and Blood"

Season 1, Episode 10 (June 19, 2011)
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: For the characters and actors alike, this was the deep breath following two shocking occurrences: Ned Stark's death at the hand of a vengeful new boy-king, and Daenerys' allowing the witch Mirri Maz Duur to use magic to "save" Khal Drogo's life, inadvertently dooming him and her unborn child, and setting the rest of the khalasar against her. In King's Landing, Sansa Stark is cruelly held hostage by the Lannisters, who have learned that Jaime was taken captive by Robb Stark's rebellion. Arya has luckily been spirited away onboard a convoy heading to the Night's Watch at the Wall, along with a certain Baratheon bastard. In the North, Jaime halfheartedly taunts a newly widowed Cat while the lords pledge their fealty to the "King in the North." And in Essos, across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys takes revenge on the witch by burning her alive on Drogo's pyre, shocking Jorah and those who remain loyal to her by walking into the flames herself. The morning after, Mormont and her bloodriders find her very much alive and ready to begin her crusade to become queen of Westeros.
Most shocking moment: Subtly teased throughout the whole season, Daenerys uncurling herself from her husband's funeral pyre, unburnt, holding three real live baby dragons, held all kinds of promises for Season 2.
Why it's important: Daenerys finally hatches her dragons and goes full Targaryen, plus Cersei gets her first taste of ruling the kingdom as she presides next to Joffrey. --ES

hardhome
HBO

11. "Hardhome"

Season 5, Episode 8 (May 31, 2015)
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Recap: The first half of "Hardhome," one of the few stand-out episodes in the overly brutal and hugely controversial fifth season, is remarkably boring (though it does give us Arya's iconic "Oysters, clams, and cockles! "). It dwells on exposition and desperately wants to advance other storylines, but how much screen time do we need to spend on Cersei languishing in prison? Eventually, we get into the REAL action, which is Jon Snow's journey to convince the Wildlings that they're all going to die and turn into zombie warriors unless they come with him south of the Wall. Obviously a lot of the Wildlings aren't going to trust a CROW who tells scary stories about White Walkers, but Jon's buddy Tormund convinces a few thousand of them to board ships and sail for slightly warmer climes. Unfortunately, the White Walkers are closer than any of them realize, and when they show up, a 24-minute action scene plays out that's among the best GoT has to offer. As super-realistic skeleton soldiers hurl themselves at the small village of Hardhome, creating a frenzied, chaotic fighting retreat, Jon Snow nearly gets himself killed going after the dragonglass he brought along with him and really shouldn't have just left lying around. The kicker, though, comes in the episode's final moments, when Jon, Tormund, and everyone around them realize just how fucked they are.
Most shocking moment: When the Night King raises his arms and all the Wildlings just killed turn into zombie soldiers in the Army of the Dead as Jon and his crew row away. Spooky!
Why it's important: I mean, look at the Night King's pose up there in that photo. The Night King doesn't give a fuck. And now that he and his legions of undead minions are marching south of the Wall, we'll finally see in his final showdown with Jon Snow and friends in Season 8 whether he can back up all that arms-raising swagger. --AS

kissed by fire game of thrones
HBO

10. "Kissed by Fire"

Season 3, Episode 5 (April 28, 2013)
Director: Alex Graves
Writer: Bryan Cogman
Recap: Stannis Baratheon finds out his wife Selyse is totes cool with him having sex with Melisandre, because the Lord of Light wants it that way. We also meet Stannis' adorable (and doomed) daughter Shireen, suffering from greyscale, who decides to teach an imprisoned Davos Seaworth how to read. In the Riverlands, the Hound and Beric Dondarrion duel and the Hound wins, but not after nearly flipping his shit about Beric's flaming sword. Thoros resurrects Beric and the Hound is set free after Beric tells him the Lord of Light has more plans for him. Robb Stark executes Lord Rickard Karstark for revenge killing a couple of Lannister hostages, and the Karstarks abandon him, forcing him to go crawling back to Walder Frey. Jaime gets his stump fixed by creepy former Maester Qyburn, and he and Brienne share one of the best scenes of the show in Harrenhal's bathhouse, where Jaime confesses to her that he killed the Mad King because Aerys had threatened his family and the entire city with his giant cache of wildfire. Jon and Ygritte finally get it on after she cajoles him into chasing her into a romantic cave, and in Essos Jorah Mormont tries to figure out if Barristan Selmy, the former Kingsguard who's just joined Daenerys' team, knew Jorah was snitching on her to the Small Council. Tywin finds out that the Tyrells plan to marry Sansa to Margaery's brother Loras, and he decides to have Tyrion marry her instead. Cersei giggles evilly before her dad informs her that she'll be marrying Loras. Whoops.
Most shocking moment: Selyse Baratheon's baby jars. SELYSE BARATHEON'S BABY JARS. SELYSE!! BARATHEON'S!! BABY!! JARS!!
Why it's important: Jon Snow breaks his final vow to the Night's Watch and Robb Stark puts the final nail in his coffin by executing Lord Rickard Karstark for disobeying his orders. --ES

winter is coming
HBO

9. "Winter Is Coming"

Season 1, Episode 1 (April 17, 2011)
Director: Tim Van Patten
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Were they ever so young? Yes, they were. In the pilot episode, which feels like a million years ago, the fresh faces of the Winterfell kids -- Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon, along with bastard Jon Snow and ward/captive Theon Greyjoy -- will surprise any re-watcher, but you'll be immersed into the epic story: Ned Stark reluctantly agrees to head to King's Landing to be the right hand man to King Robert Baratheon, his old war buddy, who is married to scowling queen Cersei Lannister and has children, including eldest Joffrey, the truest brat in the history of television. Tyrion unleashes some epic quips, with blonde hair, to boot. And we hop across the Narrow Sea to meet Daenerys Targaryen, whose irksome and ill-fated brother marries her off to Khal Drogo, the leader of a horde of horselords known as the Dothraki.
Most shocking moment: After being caught in the incestuous act with twin sister Cersei, smirky Jaime pushes Bran out a castle window and quips, "The things I do for love."
Why it's important: It perfectly establishes the stakes of the entire series: Don't trust the Lannisters, don't be overly bound by tradition, don't get too comfortable. --JS

and now his watch has ended
HBO

8. "And Now His Watch Is Ended"

Season 3, Episode 4 (April 21, 2013)
Director: Alex Graves
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Tyrion attempts to figure out whether or not he can prove Cersei tried to have him conveniently killed during the Battle on the Blackwater. Meanwhile, Cersei's influence over Joffrey is being handily undermined by Margaery Tyrell, who cajoles her fiance into waving to the crowds, showing them his love. While Littlefinger plots to take Sansa with him when he journeys to the Eyrie and his betrothed Lysa Arryn, Varys, Olenna Tyrell, and Margaery hatch a plan to keep Sansa under their wing with a marriage to Ser Loras. After a botched escape attempt, Theon officially meets Ramsay Snow. Jaime recuperates from the loss of his sword hand. Beric Dondarrion sentences the Hound to a trial by combat for killing Arya's friend. Jeor Mormont is murdered as a rebellion breaks out amongst the Night's Watch at Craster's Keep, and Sam and Gilly flee. Across the Narrow Sea, in Astapor, Daenerys buys her army of 8,000 Unsullied from Kraznys and then, taunting him in fluent Valyrian (which she has spoken all along), she tells her new army to kill all the slavers they can find and commands Drogon to roast Kraznys alive. Afterward, she frees the Unsullied from her service, telling them they can leave or fight for her as they choose. They choose to stay.
Most shocking moment: Look, "Dracarys" is the most badass thing we and anyone else will ever see in our lives, but LEST WE FORGET , this is also the episode where Varys yanks the sorcerer who castrated him out of a wooden crate while admonishing Tyrion that revenge takes time and patience. Holy shit.
Why it's important: Daenerys' legend grows and she begins building the huge army she'll eventually sail to Westeros with, and this has a lot of important Littlefinger and Olenna Tyrell scheming that reveals a lot about how the game of thrones is truly played. --ES

blackwater
HBO

7. "Blackwater"

Season 2, Episode 9 (May 27, 2012)
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: George R. R. Martin
Recap: With Game of Thrones a verified, albeit not yet mammoth, hit after its first season, the sophomore edition began to codify many of the features fans would come to expect of the show in the years to come. "Blackwater" firmly established the penultimate episode as one with a big, spectacle-filled battle that leaves the deck totally reshuffled just before the season finale, generating infinite threads of online discussion. With Stannis Baratheon making his play for King's Landing, Tyrion Lannister has to step up as the Hand of the King and lead the defense of the city, which he pulls off thanks to a massive wildfire explosion, a rear attack via a secret tunnel, and some well-timed reinforcements. This is the episode where Tyrion gets his trademark facial scar, where Joffrey goes back inside to hide with mommy because Cersei knows he'll reveal the full extent of his cowardice on the battlefield, Ser Davos loses his son in the wildfire explosion, and the Hound straight up leaves in the middle of the battle, sending him on the fugitive wanderer path he'll take up for the rest of the series. That's a lot of important plot points to keep straight!
Most shocking moment: There are so many! The winner is not an event from the battle, but when Cersei coldly, half-drunkenly informs Sansa that she's going to be raped by the invading army. We knew she was ruthless, but this is another level.
Why it's important: "Blackwater" and its epic battle stands out as the indication that Game of Thrones would be going for massive scale, and HBO would provide the huge budgets necessary to make it happen. --AS

the door game of thrones
HBO

6. "The Door"

Season 6, Episode 5 (May 22, 2016)
Director:
Jack Bender
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Hodor... Hodor. Hodor! Hodor!! Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor. Hodor. Hodor! Hodor! Hodor... Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor. Hodor -- Hodor! Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor... Hodor. Hodor. Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor, Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor. Hodor.
Most shocking moment: "Hold the door ." Ohhhhhhhhhh!
Why it's important: One of the most beloved Game of Thrones characters dies and the origin of his name becomes a meme . But the biggest, most important moments in this episode are the reveal of the White Walkers' origin story, and Bran's taking over of the Three-Eyed Raven's powers, including the (effective) ability to time travel via greensight. --DJ

the lion and the rose
HBO

5. "The Lion and the Rose"

Season 4, Episode 2 (April 13, 2014)
Director:
Alex Graves
Writer: George R.R. Martin
Recap:  The last episode Martin would write for the show, "The Lion and the Rose" starts with a pretty tragic scene involving Ramsay goading Reek, a.k.a. Theon yet again (is any scene where the two interact not tragic?) before sending us beyond the Wall, where Bran FINALLY learns where he has to go, thanks to a vision from the Three-Eyed Raven that sets him and the Reed siblings (remember them?) traveling north. Melisandre starts on the road to figuring out how she'll convince Stannis to burn his daughter Shireen alive, by convincing him to burn a couple of his loyal subjects to appease the Lord of Light. And then, at last, down in King's Landing Joffrey marries Margaery and, as he's taunting Tyrion at his wedding feast, chokes to death on his wine. Or his pie. Or, as we later learn, on a poisoned gem from the necklace that expert schemer Lady Olenna Tyrell had given to Sansa. And the world said, good freakin' riddance.
Most shocking moment: It's definitely an even split between seeing Joffrey's snotty, purple face as he asphyxiates to death and seeing that Theon/Reek has been so broken by Ramsay that he can't even nick the bastard of Bolton while giving him a shave.
Why it's imporant: Joffrey dies! The ensuing squabble for power opens up room for Sansa to make her getaway from King's Landing with Littlefinger. --ES

game of thrones winds of winter
HBO

4. "The Winds of Winter"

Season 6, Episode 10 (June 26, 2016)
Director:
Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: This episode is ridiculously loaded. First, Cersei ignites a cache of wildfire barrels underneath the Sept of Baelor to blow up the High Sparrow, Margaery, Loras, Mace Tyrell, Lancel, and the other Faith Militant, and close out the show's most tiresome plotline in one satisfying swoop. One-note windbag Grand Maester Pycelle finally eats it. King Tommen learns that Margaery, whom he really, really actually liked, is dead and promptly throws himself from the Red Keep. Jaime and Bronn arrive back at King's Landing just in time to see Cersei crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, Sam and Gilly arrive in Oldtown and Sam gets to visit the Citadel's massive library. Nerd. In a vision, Bran visits the Tower of Joy and learns that the Jon Snow parentage theory of R + L = J is true, as he watches a dying Lyanna Stark hand over a newborn to her brother Ned. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes take Varys' advice and agree to ally themselves with Daenerys, and Lady Olenna signs on as well. With Littlefinger and Sansa looking on, Jon is named King in the North. And Daenerys leaves a reluctant Daario behind to rule Meereen in her stead, names Tyrion her Hand of the Queen, and sails with her army of Ironborn, Dothraki, and Unsullied soldiers, at last, to Westeros.
Most shocking moment: If you hadn't plunged deep into the long-existing theory well concerning Jon Snow's origins, you were probably extremely shocked at the twist that Jon isn't Ned's son after all, but instead the offspring of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen -- and, effectively, the rightful heir to Westeros.
Why it's important: This is the episode that sets up the endgame of Daenerys' arrival to conquer Westeros, but it also wraps up some dangling threads and finally confirms that R + L does, in fact, = J. --ES

the mountain and the viper
HBO

3. "The Mountain and the Viper"

Season 4, Episode 8 (June 1, 2014)
Director: Alex Graves
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Pedro Pascal's stint on Game of Thrones was brief but effective. Not only did it launch the endlessly charismatic Pascal into stardom, it gave the show one of its most gruesome moments. Pascal's Oberyn Martell, a revenge-seeking prince known as the Red Viper of Dorne, approaches his fight with Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane on behalf of Tyrion Lannister with an Inigo Montoya flare, on mission to avenge the rape and murder of his sister, Elia Martell. But on the verge of triumphing, he talks too much and gets his head burst open, which leaves Tyrion sentenced to death. Elsewhere, Sansa Stark proves that her instincts of self-preservation are on point, when she lies to save Littlefinger after the murder of Lysa Arryn -- and she tops it off with a new hairdo. Over in Mereen, Dany banishes Jorah Mormont for spying on her. Bad times all around.
Most shocking moment: Squish! Oberyn gets his eyes mushed out of his face.
Why it's important: This episode reaffirms the divide between Cersei and Jaime and their brother Tyrion, while also setting up the importance of Littlefinger's take-over of the Vale. -- EZ

baelor
HBO

2. "Baelor"

Season 1, Episode 9 (June 12, 2011)
Director: Alan Taylor
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: Despite a last ditch attempt to keep his skull attached to his body (or more likely, to save Sansa from certain torment) by refuting his investigation that determined Joffrey is not the rightful air to the throne, Ned is executed thanks to the shittiest little fictional royal to ever reign. Yes, Joffrey goes against the plan urged by Cersei and betrothed Sansa to exile Ned to the Wall and instead has him publicly beheaded in front of his two daughters. It was an early indication that no one -- not even the ostensible hero of the series -- is safe. Beyond Ned's fate, it's an episode that sets in motion a lot of threads that will continue to be of import (and a couple that will portend more death). Here, we meet the ever creepy Walder Frey for the first time when Catelyn Stark makes a deal that will come to haunt her down the road, offering up her daughter Arya and son Robb in exchange for passage through his domain. (Do you hear "The Rains of Castamere" in the distance?) Meanwhile, Tyrion meets Shae, a relationship that will also turn out nasty, and Daenerys decides to go all blood magic to help save Khal Drogo.
Most shocking moment: Chop, and the sound of pigeons flapping. You know, the part where Ned Stark's head rolls.
Why it's important: "Baelor" is when early Game of Thrones fans -- at least the ones who hadn't read the books -- knew the show was not fucking around. --EZ

the rains of castamere
HBO

1. "The Rains of Castamere"

Season 3, Episode 9 (June 2, 2013)
Director:
David Nutter
Writer: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Recap: For sheer heartbreak and emotional pain, Game of Thrones will never top the sustained agony of "The Rains of Castamere," the episode that concludes with perhaps the most shocking (and certainly the most violent) wedding in the history of television. (Apologies to all the weddings on Friends .) Yes, we're talking about the Red Wedding, the bloody nuptials between Catelyn Stark's brother Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey, a daughter of vengeful Walder Frey. Book readers knew that the party would end with a sudden, brutal bloodbath that claims the lives of Robb and Catelyn Stark in unforgettable fashion, and the show throws in the stabby murder of Robb's pregnant wife, Talisa. There's a diabolical quality to the way director Nutter stages the unforgiving sequence, particularly in the way Arya witnesses the death of Robb's poor direwolf, Grey Wind, and the stunning final image of Catelyn's throat getting sliced open, followed by silence during the end credits. Given the importance that the massacre has to this specific episode and the rest of the series, it's easy to forget that there's also a fun Daenerys plot in this episode too, along with some cool warging action with Bran in the north.
Most shocking moment: It's the Red Wedding : there are so many shocking parts to choose from. While it's tempting to say the death of the direwolf is actually the most shocking part -- because you knew Robb was vulnerable before this episode -- it's the death of Catelyn that remains the show's ultimate gut-punch, a harrowing echo of her husband's death in Season 1.
Why it's important: This is the episode, even more than "Baelor," where fans of the show learned that literally anyone could be killed off at any time. -- DJ

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