This post contains spoilers for all eight seasons of Game of Thrones. Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page where you can read our recaps, our ranking of the best episodes, our guide to ending theories, and much more.
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Over the course of Game of Thrones, the show with one of the highest body counts in TV history, we've had a lot of surprises, shocks, and scares. Whether it's Jaime Lannister losing his favorite hand to Ned Stark losing his favorite head (his own), we, masochists that we are, decided to pull together the definitive list of all the most shocking moments in the show, ranging from the gruesome to the profound. Prepare to be shocked. And this should go without saying at this point, but spoilers follow. Like, Ned Stark gets his head chopped off.
Season 1, Episode 10 "Fire and Blood" After the gut-punch that the ninth episode of the season ended with, it was time for the show to give us a little break. Daenerys' storyline promised the world, then swiftly stole it away, leaving our favorite khaleesi with a tiny, doomed band of loyal supporters, a vengeful witch, and a catatonic husband. They build Khal Drogo a giant funeral pyre, lashed the murderous Mirri Maz Duur to a stake, and watched as Daenerys stepped into the flames. It seemed like the end for her, until the morning light revealed her unharmed body sitting in a pile of ashes, three baby dragons curled around her. Hell yes.
26. Theon beheads Ser Rodrik Cassel
Season 2, Episode 6 "The Old Gods and the New" In the first few minutes of the first episode of the show, we watch someone's head get lopped off. Ned Stark, who firmly believed that "the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword," was a big proponent of leaders taking responsibility for their people, especially when rules are broken. So to see Theon attempting to become a leader of the Ironborn in his own right by brutally executing one of their enemies, reenact this moment, messing everything up along the way, is HARSH. Ned took off poor Gared's head with one clean swing. It takes at least FOUR for Theon to do the same to Cassel.
25. Daenerys eats a horse heart
Season 1, Episode 6 "A Golden Crown" This episode's title referred, in part, to the "golden crown" that Khal Drogo gifts Viserys Targaryen, pouring a molten pot of metal onto Daenerys' brother's horrible little head, killing him pretty much instantly (after a few bloodcurdling shrieks). But it's what happens in Vaes Dothrak before this that provided one of the grossest and weirdest moments of the season: Daenerys, in order to cement her position as khaleesi and bearer of the Stallion Who Will Mount the World, eats a fresh, juicy horse heart totally raw. She gags a little bit, as we all would, but keeps it down, as most of us surely wouldn't. Emilia Clarke described the taste as a combination of "bleach and raw pasta." Mmmmm.
24. Selyse Baratheon's baby jars
Season 3, Episode 5 "Kissed by Fire" Selyse Baratheon keeps her dead babies in jars. I repeat: Selyse Baratheon keeps her dead infant babies in jars of preservative fluid, displayed prominently in her room at Dragonstone. Healthy!
Season 7, Episode 4 "The Spoils of War" In an episode where we finally see Daenerys use nearly the full force of her army on the soldiers of Westeros for the first time, it's a small, sad moment that's the most overwhelming. Now that she'd gotten Bran safely back to his home in Winterfell, Meera Reed decided it was time for her to go back to her own home, so she and her family could prepare for the coming war together. But when she visits him one last time to say goodbye, he acts like he barely knows her. This is a girl whose brother sacrificed his life to save Bran, who trundled his limp body all over the lands beyond the Wall, and all he can do is give her a nod when she says she's leaving forever? Dude. What is WRONG with you??
22. Wun Wun dies
Season 6, Episode 9 "The Battle of the Bastards" The Battle of the Bastards racked up a pretty high toll when it came to major named characters, from Rickon Stark (you never had a chance buddy) and his beloved Shaggydog to the big bastard himself, Ramsay Bolton. As soon as Rickon starts to run, you just know he's not gonna make it, that final arrow handily knocking the Stark family down to three. But it's the death of Wun Wun, the last living giant, at the end of the battle, that stung the most. He barrels through the gate so that Jon and Tormund could finally get Ramsay for good, only to get shot through the eye by one of the Bastard of Bolton's arrows. Bye-bye, Wun Wun.
21. Melisandre is WAY old
Season 6, Episode 1 "The Red Woman" 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. When she takes off her red necklace to go to bed at the end of this episode, her glamour disappears and her real body is revealed, looking absolutely ancient.
20. Varys shows off his creepy new prisoner
Season 3, Episode 4 "And Now His Watch Is Ended" Look, the "Dracarys" scene 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 pops open a wooden crate to reveal the sorcerer who castrated him when he was a child, all while admonishing Tyrion that revenge takes time and patience. Varys was born a slave in Lys, his nether parts used in a dark magic ritual to summon some sort of nameless spirit. He trades humorous barbs about it with Littlefinger frequently in the first few seasons, but obviously harbors a deep hatred toward the man who did this to him. He explains to Tyrion that he cultivated his influence, traveling from Lys to Myr to the Small Council, so that he could one day have his revenge.
Season 4, Episode 10 "The Children" When Tyrion got broken out of jail by none other than his big brother Jaime, he knew that there was one thing left to do before he fled Westeros for good. His father Tywin, who always belittled and abused him, needed his comeuppance -- doubly so because Tywin basically did nothing to help Tyrion while his phony trial was underway. Yes, fearsome Tywin dies by crossbow bolt while sitting on the toilet, but it's what happens before this that's truly disturbing. When Tyrion enters Tywin's bedroom, he finds Shae, his lost love, who had testified against him at his trial, lying in Tywin's bed. In a moment of rage and grief (and, partially, self-preservation, since Shae does go for a knife) he jumps on top of her and strangles her with her own necklace.
18. Hodor holds the door
Season 6, Episode 4 "The Door" There were many theories about what the name "Hodor" could actually mean, from another person's name to a phrase or sentence distorted through time. Those who thought it was a garbled form of "Hold the door" were right (especially once they got a look at the episode titles for Season 6), though few saw its big reveal coming the way it did. While Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven are looking back in time at Ned Stark when he was a boy, the White Walkers attack the Three-Eyed Raven's tree, sending undead wights in to kill Bran. He and Meera only survive because they tell Hodor to "Hold the door" while they escape, as the child Hodor in Bran's vision (whose name was Wylis!) writhes on the ground when his higher mental faculties leave him. Bran's visions are also revealed to be way more than visions, since his spectral "presence" in that courtyard all those years ago acted as a bridge through time, causing everything that was happening in the present to irrevocably affect the past.
17. Littlefinger makes Lysa fly
Season 4, Episode 7 "Mockingbird" Book readers knew this scene was coming, but show watchers screamed in shock (and probably also delight) when Sansa's creepy, greasy Aunt Lysa Arryn finally got booted out the Moon Door by none other than her new husband Littlefinger. In the scene, Lysa is flipping out at Sansa after seeing Petyr Baelish kiss her, and holding her by the neck over the open maw of the Moon Door, a thousand-foot plummet beneath them. Littlefinger trots in just in time to talk Lysa off the edge -- only to push her off himself. "I have only loved one woman. Only one, my entire life," he says to her. "Your sister." Ouch.
16. Daenerys burns King's Landing
Season 8, Episode 5 "The Bells" It's common knowledge that whenever a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin. Maybe they'll be sweet and kind, or maybe they'll be absolutely insane, like Mad King Aerys was. It seemed like Daenerys' fate was firmly on the other side, until the strain of battle and losing the ones she loved became too much for her, and she took her anger and hurt out on the citizens of King's Landing in one of the most divisive scenes of the final season. Maybe it was hinted at seasons ago, and maybe it wasn't, but the Targaryen house motto, "Fire and Blood," really only means one thing.
15. Littlefinger gets what he deserves
Season 7, Episode 7 "The Dragon and the Wolf" "How do you answer these charges... Lord Baelish?" may well go down as one of the best mic drop surprises of the show. After a questionable plotline in which it appears that Littlefinger is turning the two Stark sisters against each other, they both turn the tables on him at the last second, scheming circles around the chief manipulator of Westeros. Finally we got to see what Petyr Baelish looks like when he's literally pleading for his life -- and it's not pretty. After a few choice words from a Sansa who is 100% done and a quick, contemptuous slash of a dagger from Arya, one Game of Thrones villain finally got his due.
14. Jon Snow's parentage revealed
Season 6, Episode 10 "The Winds of Winter" There were a lot of viscerally shocking moments in this episode, from the Great Sept blowing itself to shreds to poor Tommen deciding living wasn't worth it if his wife and his religion had just been wiped from the face of the world. But 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 (as we learn a season later), the rightful heir to Westeros. L + R does = J, after all.
13. Euron's giant crossbows waste Rhaegal
Season 8, Episode 4 "The Last of the Starks" There were a lot of huge plot developments in Season 8 that felt inevitable, but Rhaegal's bloody death at the hands of Euron Greyjoy's new and improved armada armed to the teeth with massive scorpions was truly a shock. One moment you're flying happily with your dragon brother and your human mom, and the next you're plummeting into the sea with a bunch of arrows sticking out of your neck. At least Jon Snow wasn't riding him that time.
12. Cersei poisons Tyene Sand
Season 7, Episode 3 "The Queen's Justice" Game of Thrones finally wrapped up its extremely disappointing Dorne/Sand Snakes plot with, if not the most gruesome, one of the most stick-in-your-brain tragic deaths of the show. After Euron Greyjoy paraded Yara and his two Dornish captives through the streets of King's Landing, Ellaria and Tyene sand were handed over to Cersei, who enacted the most brutal revenge of the season. Poisoning Tyene with the same toxin that Ellaria killed Myrcella with, Cersei leaves her and her mother Ellaria chained to opposite walls in one of the cells of the Red Keep, dooming Ellaria to watch her daughter die a slow death and go on living while her corpse decomposes.
11. Arya ices the Night King
Season 8, Episode 3 "The Long Night" "Who is Azor Ahai???" was the one question on all of our minds when we weren’t wondering when Jon Connington was finally gonna show up and fix everything in Game of Thrones' final episodes. As it turns out, prophecies are tricky things, but Melisandre seemed to know from the start that Arya was destined for greatness. The Stark girl used her stealthy tricks to sneak up on the Night King in the last moments of the battle for Winterfell, stabbing him with dragonglass and doing away with one giant threat for good.
10. Ned Stark betrayed
Season 1, Episode 7 "You Win or You Die" The citizens of King's Landing had spent the whole season telling too-noble-for-his-own-good Ned Stark that he really can't trust anyone he meets. When Ned finally confronted the Queen in the Great Hall, accusing her of adultery and incest, claiming her children aren't descendants of Robert Baratheon at all and their claims to the Iron Throne were illegitimate, Cersei had already put a plan in place that would ensure Ned wouldn't be spreading talk like that around the city. "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 demonstrated his double-crossing bona fides in a big way.
9. Stannis burns his daughter
Season 5, Episode 9 "The Dance of Dragons" Few moments were as soul-crushing as the moment when Stannis Baratheon had his own daughter Shireen led up to one of Melisandre's sacrificial pyres. Given Melisandre's constant evangelizing about the "power" in kings' blood, it was only a matter of time before she took Stannis' own daughter in a last-ditch attempt to help his army fight the Bolton forces. Watching Shireen first realize what was going on and then hearing her scream for her father as the flames ignited isn't a moment any fan of the show will soon forget (it was also the moment when a lot of viewers jumped ship). Even if you didn't know exactly what was coming next, you knew that Stannis had sealed his fate right here: there's no coming back from murdering your own child.
8. Jon Snow is stabbed to death
Season 5, Episode 10 "Mother's Mercy" This episode ended with the biggest cliffhanger of the entire show, and we had to wait nearly an entire year to see how it all panned out. After Jon Snow and his Night's Watch brothers successfully integrated the wildlings into their numbers, everything looked extremely fine for our heroes in the North. When Ser Alliser trotted into Jon's office claiming his Uncle Benjen was back from beyond the Wall, we were excited for a long-awaited Stark reunion. But it all turned out to be a trap, and Jon, while staring at a creepy "TRAITOR" sign, was stabbed to death by all the Night's Watch brothers who didn't care for his policy of inclusion. The worst was little Olly, who saw his parents murdered by the violent Thenns back when the wildlings and the Watch were at odds, and hates Jon for his perceived weakness. "For the Watch," the mutineers said as they stuck their knives into their Lord Commander. Little did they know that was not the last they'd see of "Lord Snow."
7. Oberyn loses his eyes… and his life
Season 4, Episode 8 "The Mountain and the Viper" No character on Game of Thrones became a fan favorite as fast as Oberyn Martell did, his swagger and fluid, open sexuality charming the pants off of anyone who got near his ruggedly handsome face. He also has a dangerous streak: Oberyn ostensibly arrived in King's Landing to make nice with the royal family, but he was really there to suss out the Mountain, who raped and murdered Oberyn's sister Elia Martell. When he offers himself as Tyrion's champion for his trial by combat, we all felt a shred of hope that maybe there is justice in this world -- but it was swiftly dashed by Oberyn not keeping his eyes on the prize. He nearly won the fight against his towering foe, before he ruined everything my making the whole event about himself. And then he got his eyes squished out of his skull. That's what happens!
6. Bran wins the game of thrones
Season 8, Episode 6 "The Iron Throne" In a totally wild turn of events, after poor Sam was nearly laughed out of the room for daring to suggest something as silly as democracy, a council of the last remaining house elders convened to decide the fate of Westeros. The North would become an independent kingdom, on Sansa's insistence, Jon Snow would go back to Castle Black and join the Night's Watch (lol), and Bran Stark, the Three-Eyed Raven, was selected unanimously to become the new king, ensuring that the monarchy of Westeros would be decided by the citizens, instead of by blood and war.
5. Jaime loses a hand
Season 3, Episode 3 "Walk of Punishment" Before this point, Jaime Lannister's personality is basically that he regularly has sex with his sister and that he's one of the best swordsmen in Westeros, his notoriety preceding him everywhere he goes. To take away his sword hand is to take away part of his soul: a fact that Vargo Hoat knew extremely well when he captured Jaime and Brienne on the Kingsroad. In a tense manipulation of emotions, Vargo allows Jaime to think he convinced them to set him free before cutting off the one part of his body that actually means anything to him. The Hold Steady's rousing cover of "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" playing as soon as the credits rolled is a jarring complement to Jaime's horrified scream.
4. The Purple Wedding
Season 4, Episode 2 "The Lion and the Rose" Finally, FINALLY Joffrey Baratheon kicked the bucket, and what a way to go out. After tormenting his mother, his fool, Sansa, a few unlucky doves, and his uncle Tyrion by pulling the classic "it's my party and I can make you do whatever I want" trick, someone slips the shrill little terror a few drops of a particularly potent poison and he chokes on either the pie or the wine, depending on who you ask. That final shot of his snotty, purple face as he asphyxiates in his mother's arms makes all those years of misery worth it.
3. Bran Stark takes a tumble
Season 1, Episode 1 "Winter Is Coming" Game of Thrones needed a way to let its viewers know that it wasn't like other shows. The good guys don't always win everything in the end, and even major characters can get killed off with one sword swing. The first episode also needed a way to keep viewers engaged in a show whose dialogue in the first few seasons was notoriously dense, and what better way to do that than -- seemingly -- kill off that cute little kid we all just spent an hour growing attached to? Bran "I Will Never Stop Disobeying My Mother" Stark spins on his heel right after Cat warns him to stay off the high ledges, and shimmies up one of Winterfell's towers, only to catch siblings Jaime and Cersei Lannister in flagrante delicto. Fearing he'll tell everyone their worst-kept secret, Jaime tosses the poor kid out the window.
2. Talisa Stark's gruesome death
Season 3, Episode 9 "The Rains of Castamere" The Red Wedding was this season's Ned Stark death, taking out a bunch of major characters in one horrific swing that ruined Game of Thrones watch parties all across the nation. Robb's death is devastating to the Northern rebellion, and Catelyn has her own defiant, tragic scene, but it's Talisa Stark -- the woman Robb married to start this whole mess -- who gets the most shocking moment of bloodshed. She's the first to die, stabbed multiple times in the belly by a Frey mere minutes after she told Robb she was pregnant. Talisa served as a reminder that death on the show, more often than not, is really, awfully sad.
1. Ned Stark is executed
Season 1, Episode 9 "Baelor" Game of Thrones had already made it pretty clear that it was the kind of show that wouldn't shy away from killing off a few major characters now and then, but when it finally got to Ned Stark's game-changing execution, we still weren't ready. In the books, Ned is a point-of-view character, one of the few citizens of Westeros whose perspective the reader actually gets to see. As a general rule, those characters usually aren't offed -- at least not in the first book of a lengthy series. Ned's death accomplished two things: It surprised the pants off of all the viewers who weren't ready for it, and it established that Westeros is not the kind of world in which things happen as they should.