And then there were 10. We've finally made it to the top 10 of this list, and the day of the House of the Dragon premiere. When I started my ranking/grading session 5 months ago, I had a general idea of what the top 10 would look like. There are some episodes on this part of the list that even surprised me, but there is one episode in particular that I always knew would be #1. As always, spoiler warning; now let's check out the top 10 for this legendary series!
10. And Now His Watch Is Ended: Season 3, Episode 4
This episode pulls out some major twists and turns. First, we see Ros has been feeding Varys information about Petyr, Margaery has her claws sunken into Joffrey, and the mysterious man who was helping Theon turns on him - right after Theon confesses that he didn't kill the Stark boys. We also see the mutiny take full effect at Craster's, as they kill both Craster and Jeor, Jaime gets pummeled and abused by Locke and his men, and Tywin scolds Cersei for not being able to control Joffrey. The episode ends with one of the most hype scenes in the series, where Daenerys honors her agreement with Kraznys and gives him Drogon. As she takes control of the Unsullied in exchange, she speaks with them in Valyrian and turns them against the masters. She turns back to Kraznys, and let's out the chilling command: "Dracarys". It's a smart ploy that Dany uses, and not only does she free the Unsullied, but they choose to follow her as well. It's a powerful scene, and it's the defining moment for Dany in her growth as a conqueror.
9. The Watchers on the Wall: Season 4, Episode 9
This episode is one of four episodes to take place in one main location, and oh man is it a good one. Between the cinematography, action, high stakes, and the seemingly inevitable demise of the Night's Watch, you're on the edge of your seat for the entire episode. We also get some great moments like Sam standing up for Gilly, Jon taking command of Castle Black, and the tear-jerking final interaction between Jon and Ygritte. Even as enemies, their love for each other shines through in Ygritte's final moments, and it's one of the saddest deaths in the entire show. Sprinkle in some awe-inducing moments like Grenn and others holding down the tunnel against a giant, the scythe getting dropped on the Wall, and Jon leaving Castle Black to go negotiate with Mance, this episode delivered in major ways and is an instant classic in the series.
8. The Laws of Gods and Men: Season 4, Episode 6
We move up the list from the most action packed episode, to one of the most dialogue driven in the series. We start with Davos pleading to the Iron Bank to back Stannis, Yara attempting to save Reek and failing to do so, and Hizdar confronting Dany about crucifying the former masters, as his father fought against slavery and was still nailed to a post. All three scenes vary in tone, but still deliver great value home. Then, we get a collection of scenes that define Tyrion's character and really brings out his most important qualities. With these scenes, we see everyone's true nature come to light, as Pycelle and Meryn Trant back Joffrey and exaggerate their stories to make Tyrion look guilty, Varys holds true to his devotion to the realm, and Cersei goes for the jugular by revealing passive threats Tyrion made against her. Tywin then conspires with Jaime to have Tyrion sent to the Wall, and having Jaime return to Casterly Rock. All seems to go to plan, until Shae gives her testimony and straight up lies to get back at him. Tyrion confesses, but not for his crime, rather for being a dwarf. He then rattles off fact after fact, and finishes his testimony with one of the most chilling lines in the series: "I demand a trial by combat". The music swells, we see the reaction of each major character at the trial, and we get sent off with Tywin's and Tyrion's hatred for each other in full clarity.
7. The Lion and the Wolf: Season 1, Episode 5
This episode is where I believe season 1 hits its stride. Between the joust and a sword fight with the Mountain and the Hound, we get some much needed action that we haven't experienced since the first episode. The next scene rallies off that, as Cat, Tyrion, and their pack are attacked by the hill-tribesmen. We flip back to some exceptional dialogue driven scenes where Varys tells Ned that he and Robert are in danger, Arya overhears Illyrio and Varys talking in the dungeons, and Petyr and Varys have a battle of wits regarding how much information they have on each other and their whereabouts. To cap off the heavy dialogue parts, we get some great moments with Robert and his council all opposing Ned on his point of view to not murder Dany, Ned giving up his role as Hand of the King, and Robert and Cersei talking about power, namely Robert's "which is greater, 5 or 1?" comparison. To finish, we see Jaime confront Ned about Tyrion's capture, and we get some fantastic build-up and a unfavorable payoff that still leaves us in amazement. Ned's men get butchered by Jaime's, and their fight is abruptly halted by one of Jaime's men stabbing Ned through his leg. It's unexpected and unclean, but it's exactly the type of show Game of Thrones is.
6. Blackwater: Season 2, Episode 9
This was the first episode in the series to take place in one exclusive location, and it did not disappoint. All season, we've been building up to Stannis's invasion of King's Landing to retake the Iron Throne that's his by right. Even in an action filled episode, we get some deep dialogue with Pycelle bringing Essence of Nightshade to Cersei, Sansa sending Joffrey off for the fight, and Varys telling Tyrion that he is the only one who can save the city. As the city prepares for siege, we witness one of the best shots in the show with wildfire exploding and burning up a chunk of Stannis's fleet. Even in this moment, Stannis knows he can still take King's Landing and chooses to raid their shores. This is a staple Stannis moment, as he's the first one off the boat and charges in head first with his men. We get other character defining moments, like Joffrey leaving the battle to hide, the Hound abandoning King's Landing, and Tyrion leading his men and getting them pumped up for battle. While the battle rages on, we get a closer look at Cersei, Sansa, and Shae as they hide from the battle. Cersei shares with Sansa about what a woman's best weapon is, and Shae protects Sansa by sending her off in case they get killed. The episode ends with Tyrion getting his face sliced in half by a Kingsguard member, Cersei preparing to kill Tommen instead of seeing him butchered, and Tywin and his men riding in to save the battle and reclaim King's Landing. Between Cersei telling Tommen a story about a mother lion protecting her cub, Tywin and the Tyrells slicing through Stannis's men, and then bursting through the doors right as Cersei is about to kill Tommen, there are no words to describe how this scene made me feel. Between shock, anger, sadness, and a triumphant feeling, even though the "bad guys" won, this is something I have never felt watching any other show.
5. Baelor: Season 1, Episode 9
Baelor changed the course of TV history forever. It seems like nearly every scene has an "a-ha" moment. Varys challenges Ned on risking not only his own life, but his daughter's lives in the name of honor, and Maester Aemon tells Jon he must choose to either stick by his vows, or do his part for his family and join Robb in the war. Jon also learns that Aemon is a Targaryen, which gives what Aemon told him about choosing a whole other meaning. We also see Drogo succumb to his wounds, to which Dany has the witch use blood magic to try and save him. This creates discourse among the Dothraki horde, and Mago challenges Dany and Jorah. Tyrion meets Shae, and tells her and Bronn the story of Tysha, a tragic marriage he had endured at the hands of his father. Speaking of Tywin, the supposed war genius gets outsmarted by green commander Robb Stark, as he ambushed Jaime Lannister with his other 18,000 men. It's a great victory, but the war is far from over. And then, we get the scene that rocked the TV world. Ned gives in and strays away from honor, falsely confessing that Joffrey is the true king and that Ned committed treason. Joffrey toys with him, making it seem he's going to send him to the Wall, but opts out and decides that treason will never go unpunished. We then get the line heard round the world: "Ser Ilyn, bring me his head". Chaos ensues, the people clamor and chant at Ned, and right before he loses his head, the music muffles, everything slows down, and we hear the ringing of Ilyn's blade as it slices through Ned's neck. It's a monumental moment in TV and effectively reshaped the entire structure of shows moving forward.
4. Fire and Blood: Season 1, Episode 10
With an episode that changed the entire landscape of TV, the episode right after it does an even better job capturing the fallout of Ned's death, setting up consequent plotlines, and adding more avenues for the story to flow through. Bran and Rickon hint at their supernatural abilities as they saw Ned in the crypt in their dreams, Cat and Robb share their sadness and anger together, and Joffrey continues to display his devious ways. As such, he brings Sansa to see her father's and her Septa's head on spikes, to which Joffrey says he showed Ned mercy by giving him a clean death. At Robb's camp, the men of the North name him the King in the North, and claim independence for themselves. Cat confronts Jaime, to which he admits he shoved Bran out a window. Tywin tells Tyrion he will rule as Hand while he is away, Dany finds Drogo motionless and braindead, and Jon abandons the Night's Watch, only to be chased down by Grenn, Pyp, and Sam. Jon is brought back to the Night's Watch, in which Jeor tells him they are going North of the Wall to find the truth behind the White Walkers. Petyr and Varys continue to play mind games, Arya and company leave King's Landing to head to the Wall, and Dany puts Drogo out of his misery. The season ends with Dany burning Drogo's body, the witch, and her dragon eggs together; and as the fire reaches its peak, she steps into it. In the morning, she emerges unburnt, with her dragon eggs hatched and her Khalasar left in silence. She rises, the Mother of Dragons.
3. The Lion and the Rose: Season 4, Episode 2
The past three seasons, we saw some show-shifting events happen during episode 9. Season 4 flips that system on it's head as episode 2 brings out a rejoiceful and terror-inducing moment. Before that, we see Ramsay continue to torture Reek and his subjects, Jaime begins to train with Bronn, and Varys tells Tyrion that Shae has been noticed and he needs to send her away to keep her safe. Shae meets with Tyrion, and he calls her a whore to get her to leave. This scene is gut-wrenching - he can't even look at her because he knows what he's saying isn't the truth and it's only for her protection. Bran works on his warging and he finds a weirwood tree, which gives him a vision of what's to come and that he needs to head north. The second half of the episode revolves around Joffrey's wedding, and we get some subtle, but powerful foreshadowing. When the minister says that whoever would tear Joffrey and Margaery apart will be cursed, the camera pans towards Olenna. It's small and unnoticeable to a first time watcher, but a great touch for those who revisit the episode. The reception takes place, and we get some enticing dialogue between Olenna and Tywin, Jaime and Loras, and Brienne and Cersei. We also see Tywin and Cersei have a verbal clash with Oberyn and Ellaria about the wellbeing of Myrcella and the events that transpired regarding Elia Martell. As the chatter dies down, Joffrey honors their history as he has dwarfs come out and perform The War of the Five Kings. Joffrey mocks Tyrion by making him his cupbearer and forces him to get him a drink. After Joffrey takes a sip, he starts to gag and choke, leaving everyone in shock and caught off guard. Joffrey collapses, Jaime and Cersei rush over to him, and his face turns purple. Right before he dies, he points at Tyrion, causing a commotion of chaos and Cersei demanding Tyrion be taken. It's a great moment for the audience, but a terrible moment for the characters involved. The contrast between the audience and character experience is something GoT excels at, and this scene is the epitome of it.
2. The Children: Season 4, Episode 10
Some people might question why I have this episode so high, but I have my reasons. We see Jon confront Mance, prepared to kill him if he needs to, but Stannis and his army riding in interrupts that. Tywin and Cersei argue about what's best for their family, and she admits to nearly killing Tommen and that her and Jaime are in love, noting that Tywin's legacy is a lie. Daenerys deals with the backlash of forcing older slaves to be free and her dragons growing and becoming uncontrollable, as a man's daughter was burned alive. She locks Rhaegal and Viserion in the catacombs, and Drogon is nowhere to be found. Jon burns Ygritte's body in the real north, Bran and company make it to the Three-Eyed Raven, but not before Jojen is killed - even though he knew that was his destiny, and we get a all out brawl between Brienne and the Hound, leaving the Hound nearly dead. He begs Arya to put him out of his misery, but she takes his silver and leaves him to die. In King's Landing, Tyrion awaits his execution, but is saved by Jaime. Before Tyrion heads out to escape, he collects himself and heads into the Tower of the Hand. He walks to Tywin's bed to kill him, but finds Shae alone there instead. Tyrion, full of rage and bitterness, chokes her out and murders her. He finds Tywin's crossbow on the wall, takes it, and makes his way towards the privy. He finds Tywin there, with him trying to persuade Tyrion that he would never have him killed. They go back and forth about how Tyrion never felt like his son, right up until Tywin calls Shae a whore. Tyrion shoots him with the crossbow, and right before putting another bolt through him, Tywin claims that Tyrion is no son of his. Tyrion shoots him a second time, leaving him to die. Varys brings Tyrion to a ship, and as the bells toll, Varys joins him and they flee King's Landing. The season ends with Arya meeting a captain sailing to Braavos, to which she shows him the iron Braavosi coin that Jaqen gave her. She sails off, and starts to lead a life in becoming a faceless man. It's a perfect season finale and closes a lot of doors, while leaving us with enough questions about what's to come.
1. The Rains of Castamere: Season 3, Episode 9
Did you expect anything else? A good chunk of people will put the big battle sequences like Blackwater and The Watchers on the Wall up at #1, or even later episodes like Battle of the Bastards or The Winds of Winter, but The Rains of Castamere will always be the best episode in my book. We kick the episode off with foreshadowing from Walder when he says "the wine will flow red, the music will play loud, and we'll put this mess behind us". Right there, we get another instance where a quote doesn't mean much the first time hearing it, but it's intention is clear as day on every rewatch. We then see Daario and Jorah planning their ambush of Yunkai, to which Daario challenges Jorah for being dishonest. Sam and Gilly make it to the Wall, Arya and the Hound hijack a wagon heading towards the Twins, and the wildlings charge towards a man's house to steal his horses. Jon startles the horses by slapping his sword against a rock, and he persuades Ygritte to miss her shot. They rally the man to a broken windmill, where Bran and company are posted up at. The wildlings command Jon to kill the man to prove he is a wildling, and simultaneously, Bran wargs into Hodor to get him to calm down. Jon can't kill the man, and instead fights the wildlings. Jon kills Orell, and he rides off on one of the horses. In the windmill, Jojen tells Bran that no one can warg into a human, then Osha takes Rickon and leaves, knowing it's not safe for them to go north of the Wall. In Yunkai, Daario, Jorah, and Grey Worm sneak into the city and fight off waves of soldiers. They return, showing Dany the Yunkai flag and saying the city is hers. And now, the Red Wedding. Edmure gets married off to one of Walder's daughters and they have a feast. Walder calls on Robb to start the bedding ceremony, and they send Edmure off. As he clears through the doors, Talisa tells Robb that if they have a boy, she wants to name him Eddard. Cat sees them together, and then glances at a man who walks past her. He closes the large doors, and the Lannister theme "the Rains of Castamere" begins to play. Cat knows something is wrong, and sits down with Roose. Walder calls on Robb again, and says he hasn't extended his best hospitality. Roose puts his arm on the table, Cat pulls back his sleeve and sees chainmail. She gets up and slaps him, she calls out to Robb, and the unthinkable takes place. Walder's son stabs Talisa's pregnant belly, the band shoots at Robb and Cat, and the Frey men slaughter the Starks. Outside the castle, Arya and the Hound arrive, and right before she runs to save Grey Wind, the Freys shoot him to death. As Arya tries to escape, the Hound knocks her out and takes her away. Back in the hall, Cat pleads for Robb's life, and threatens to kill Walder's wife if he doesn't let Robb live. Walder refuses, Roose approaches Robb and says "the Lannisters send their regards", and shortly after impales his knife into Robb's heart. Robb collapses, Cat let's out a deafening scream, and slices Walder's wife's throat. As she stands there, the emotion rushes out of her face, almost death-like, and then has her throat sliced open. The music fades out, leaving the viewers in horror and deafened by silence. No episode can compare to this one, and this clears all others as the best in the series.
This series is one of my favorites, even if I don't like how it ended at all. The first half of the show is amazing, and a good chunk of episodes in the second half are worth sticking through the series for. I hope the House of the Dragon lives up to the hype and brings a new taste of the Game of Thrones series to the table.
I'll be posting a full list without descriptions, as well as a season breakdown based on how well each other graded out. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this series and I hope you enjoy House of the Dragon!