Tearjerker Moments (S1-6) on Game of Thrones

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for all 7 seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones, all 5 ASoIaF books, and other related material/speculation.

For this post, I’m going to examine five moments on HBO’s Game of Thrones that made me (and may have made fellow viewers) a bit misty-eyed. I will, however, be selecting more subtle moments and will be AVOIDING the most obvious sob-worthy moments, which include, but are not limited to, particular weddings, door-related incidents, merciful pillow-smothering, and all traumatic head injuries, which includes both “loss of” and “smushed like an egg.”

1.) “You would be m’lady.”
My opinion on the “Gendrya” ship wavers a bit (I’m in favor but I think it’s more likely in the books than the show) but one of their final moments in season 3 episode 5 (“Kissed by Fire”) just about made me scramble for the tissue box. After traveling together for about a season and a half, Arya and Gendry part ways when he decides to stay (for a hot second) with the Brotherhood Without Banners and smith for them, while Arya is set to continue north. Though Arya pleads with him to come with her, telling him that she can be the family he’s never had, he tells her that isn’t possible; due to their difference in status, Arya wouldn’t be his family, she’d be “m’lady.” The look on Maisie Williams’ face when she says “I could be your family,” killed me, it was delivered so well. I loved Gendry and Arya’s friendship on the show and was sad to see it end, so I hope they reunite this season or the next… maybe for a pie at the Inn at the Crossroads, so Hot Pie can join in on the reunion.

2.) “Do I have to beg you?”
Of all the deaths (or, I suppose in this case, “deaths”) across the many episodes of the series thus far, I did not expect to get choked up in season 4 episode 10 (“The Children”) when the Hound, broken and dying at the base of a steep drop after his fight with Brienne, was delivering what was believed to be his final speech to Arya, who then leaves him to perish alone and in agony. Honestly, I wasn’t a huge Hound fan until that moment, but after witnessing his last bout with Brienne, his admission about watching over Arya, and his plunge over a cliff, I was swayed. Rory McCann’s performance moved me to actual tears, and on a subsequent rewatch of the series, I developed a deeper appreciation for the character and all of his complexities and The Hound rocketed to a top position on my favorite character’s list, a testament to his development across his initial 4 season appearance.

3.) “I will be your champion.”
Most folks remember Oberyn Martell’s story arc in season 4 for its gruesome end, when hubris gets the best of him and his head gets squashed between the Mountain’s meaty fists. But for me, the most memorable moment comes one episode earlier (“Mockingbird” season 4 episode 7) where Oberyn visits Tyrion in his cell and offers to be Tyrion’s champion at his trial by combat. Hearing Oberyn’s story – about seeing Tyrion as a baby, disappointed that the “monster” he expected was “just a baby”, and how he wants nothing more than vengeance for the deaths of his sister, nephew, and niece – solidified his position as one of my favorite characters in the show, despite his short stint. Though Tyrion claims that he’s come to the wrong place for the justice he seeks, Oberyn asserts that he’s “come to the perfect place” to get the vengeance he so desires, and when Oberyn plucks up that torch and tells Tyrion, “I will be your champion,” I get choked up EVERY TIME.

4.) “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
I know, I know… to which specific Ygritte quote am I referring? Not the last one, actually – that would be too obvious. I’m speaking of the tearful moment in season 3 episode 10 (“Mhysa”) where Jon, having fled the wildlings, thus revealing his defection from the Night’s Watch as a ruse, is tracked down by Ygritte, who promptly aims an arrow at him. Though she has the opportunity to kill him, he confesses that although he loves her, he needs to go home – and when he tells her that he knows she won’t hurt him, she says “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Ultimately, she shoots him with three non-fatal arrows, which only proves him right. I think the doomed Jon/Ygritte romance is one of the most tragic, shown in scenes like this one, but also their final moment together at the Battle of Castle Black, and also when Jon flees in the rain, and Ygritte watches, dumbfounded, at his retreating back. Love is the death of duty, all right – but Jon’s allegiance to the Watch was not conquered by his feelings for Ygritte. And Rose Leslie was perfect as Ygritte, providing a compelling balance between her ruthless wilding spirit and her moments of vulnerability, which made it so much easier to be moved by her performance.

5.) “Promise me, Ned.”
Like many fans (both book and show) I was not surprised by the confirmation that R+L=J, since the theory’s been tumbling around for ages. I’m actually really proud that I gleaned the theory from the books on my own, before I scoured the internet for details I may have missed post-reading binge. But the way the show revealed it in Season 6’s finale “The Winds of Winter” was so beautiful that I actually shed a tear or two… or twelve. The build-up with the music, (“The Tower,” by Ramin Djawadi) and the on-point acting of both Robert Aramayo and Aisling Franciosi as young Ned and the dying Lyanna, the whisper of “Promise me, Ned,” the seamless transition from brooding baby to “DAKINGINDANORF” vol. 2, all served as the culmination of what Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire fans have been waiting years for. It was done so well, I can’t imagine any fan to be disappointed by that brilliant Tower scene, even if the theory has been kicked around for so long now that it’s basically been purported as the truth long before being officially confirmed. I re-watched the episode before S7 came out and still cried. Definitely one of the biggest tear-jerking moments on the show so far.

Changes from Page to Screen: Game of Thrones

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for all 7 seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones, all 5 ASoIaF books, and other related material/speculation.

I know there are sticklers and purists out there who dislike it when significant changes are made to the source material in order to bring a book or series to the screen, and I totally understand that perspective. But, as I see it, that’s why it’s called an adaptation. Sure, there are egregious adaptations out there, like the Percy Jackson movies, but sometimes, the changes made to the story in order to adapt it to a new medium are more of a positive than a negative, like in The Lord of the Rings, or must be made for timing, plot, or casting purposes. Books don’t function entirely the same as films or television shows, which is why such (occasionally drastic) changes between mediums are often necessary.

In the case of HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones, many changes have been made from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in order to bring the novels to the small screen. And while some of those choices have understandably struck a nerve with die-hard fans or even caused some outrage, others have worked pleasantly well. And here’s a list of some of the changes I found myself a fan of, and even a few I found myself preferring. And, for reference, I did read the books first, and I LOVE the books and all of the rich detail they include; I’m just not a “one or the other” type of fan, so I don’t demonize the show or the show runners for taking creative liberties.

Here we go…

Aging the Characters Up
One thing that really threw me in the books is how young all of the characters are. For reference, in the books, Arya is about 9 when the story begins, Sansa is 11, and Daenerys is 13. In the books, it’s a realistic choice because of the medieval setting, as once girls hit puberty in those times they were essentially expected to marry and bear children. But, considering the fact that Daenerys gets sold as a bride to Khal Drogo in the first episode, among various other shocking events that occur to other characters, it’s a good thing that the characters were aged up a few years. Reading about heinous things happening to characters who are essentially children is different than seeing it, and might have deterred less die-hard fans. The aging up also works for characters like Robb, who was 14 in the books, as an older Robb leading his own army makes more visual sense.

Axing Lady Stoneheart
I’m going to be honest; I’m not a huge fan of the Lady Stoneheart plot in the books. I don’t dislike it, per se, I just thought Cat dying at the Red Wedding was more fitting and poignant as the end of her character arc, so when she didn’t make her vengeful return in the show, I wasn’t torn up about it. Admittedly, one of my favorite characters is Beric Dondarrion, and since he dies (for good) in order to bring Catelyn back in the books, I am glad it didn’t happen on the show because it means Beric is still around valiantly leading the Brotherhood Without Banners. I do think Lady Stoneheart might have bogged down the plot a bit too much if she had made an appearance on the show, since so many plot-lines have been shifted around, trimmed, and altered to move the story along. At the very least, it does seem as though elements of her character have been given to others – her daughters, especially. Plus, Catelyn’s influence and impact on the other characters is still felt in the series, roughly four seasons later, a testament to her strength as a character. Plus, we can’t be bringing all much-missed characters back from the dead.

Arya and Tywin at Harrenhal (and other interactions)
One of the perks of the TV show is seeing characters meet face-to-face and story-lines intersect, and the show has a couple of these interactions that did not originate in the books, the most prominent being Arya serving as Tywin Lannister’s cup bearer at Harrenhal in season 2. Their banter and discussions and Tywin’s developing fondness for her is a major highlight of that season, and it orchestrates additional tension, since Tywin has no idea that his new cup bearer is the missing daughter of a family in open rebellion against the crown. In the books, Arya has the same general arc, but serves Roose Bolton at Harrenhal instead, which isn’t quite as memorable. Other such interactions include the Hound and Brienne in season 4, Bronn and Jaime from season 5 onward, and, on a different note, the non-book conversation between Robert and Cersei in season 1 where they discuss Lyanna Stark and their marriage. I think that conversation will bear a lot of relevance in this season and the last…

Expanding Bronn
Not much to this one, except Jerome Flynn is excellent as Bronn, inserting a bit of crass humor into his scenes, and I’m glad he’s been around the last couple of seasons instead of shacking up with Lollys at Stokeworth. Unfortunately, that means he’s in the thick of things and will probably die either this season or the next, but I do hope he gets his lady and his holdfast someday.

Sansa Goes North
I think this is a decision that resulted in some pretty severe backlash, and I understand that perspective; especially since Sansa had already suffered plenty before being handed over to the Boltons, where she proceeded to suffer even more – taking her pain to a near obscene level in season 5. I don’t like that Sansa going north and marrying Ramsay meant she needed to endure even more horrendous treatment right as she was beginning to gain new footing and independence, but it also advanced her plot and put her in position to reunite with Jon, reclaim Winterfell, and get her vengeance in season 6. She’s suffered enough, and though it was tough to watch, she couldn’t stay holed up in the Vale on the show or her plot would have lagged behind the others. Besides, if the show had followed the book plot, Ramsay would be torturing poor Jeyne Poole (being purported as Arya Stark) instead (and in far more gruesome fashion), which doesn’t bear as much emotional or narrative weight in the showverse, and wouldn’t have as big of an impact for the viewers.

Reduction and Streamlining of Minor/Supporting Characters and Plot-lines
Although I don’t think the Dorne story-line or the Iron Islands story-line made the transition to the screen quite as smoothly as they could (here’s looking at you, Sand Snakes) if they had thrown even more characters and intricate plot-lines and twists and turns into a story already has a ton of rich detail, or followed the books verbatim, the show could easily go for ten more seasons – which would be a dream for fans, but also a logistical nightmare and unrealistic. It’s a shame that dynamic characters such as Arianne Martell, Victarion Greyjoy, Arys Oakhart, Quentyn Martell, Moqorro, “Aegon Targaryen,” Jon Connington, and Dark Star were omitted, and others, like Doran Martell, Areo Hotah, the Sand Snakes, and Euron Greyjoy got scaled back, but I do think stream-lining the show, and adding a few character traits of absent characters to those already present in the show (Yara getting some of Victarion’s story, for instance, or Jorah inheriting Jon Connington’s greyscale) was ultimately a smart choice. It’s also a shame that characters like Strong Belwas, Edric Storm, the woods witch, Mya Stone, Patchface, etc, got left out of the show entirely, but again, combining characters (Gendry inheriting Edric’s storyline, as an example, and Daario taking on some of Belwas’s role) has been fairly effective thus far and kept the show from getting too bloated.  I know a few folks who are more “casual” viewers who still don’t know the names of the main characters; imagine if they’d gone full tilt and adapted the books word for word! Other choices, like Talisa replacing Jeyne Westerling also worked pretty well from a narrative standpoint, as the character arc and relationship with Robb was a bit more dramatic to witness, and Vargo Hoat would have been entertaining/ridiculous to see, but I think Locke was an acceptable substitute. Do I wish we could have seen more characters/plot-lines? Yes – but I understand why the changes were made.

 

I know it’s a disappointment to many that so much detail was left out of the show, but let’s be real; the show is pretty darn great regardless. Besides – we always have the books! I think it’s safe to say the show and the books might meet the same general ending, but there are still plenty of surprises to be had from the book series that will not be present on the show, and I’m glad we have deeper plot-lines and a developed mythos to look forward to in the books, even if the show spoils some surprises.

Top 15 Game of Thrones Episodes (So Far)

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ALL 5 ASOIAF BOOKS AND 6 SEASONS OF GAME OF THRONES (AND SOME THEORIES) SO READ AT OWN RISK. 

I started watching HBO’s Game of Thrones almost immediately after season 3 aired – I’d heard so much about the show I had to give in to the temptation and see what all the fuss was about, so I snagged the season 1 and 2 blu-rays from Amazon. I actually binged books 1-3 before watching, as that was the only material covered by the show at the time and I knew I’d never read the books if I went for the show first. After reading, I watched episodes 1-10 in one sitting, and was hooked. I bought HBO Now for the start of Season 5, went to the Game of Thrones Live concert back in March, and I’ve been a loyal fan since I cracked open the first novel. And, as it is with most fans, the wait for a new season and new episodes is AGONIZING.

Show-wise, for reference, my favorite character is Jaqen H’ghar/Faceless Man (followed by Jon, Sandor, Beric Dondarrion, and Meera), my favorite house is the Starks (followed by the Mormonts and Baratheons) my least favorite character (besides the obvious) is Theon, my favorite controversial character is Melisandre, and I am 100% on the Cleganebowl hype train. I also half-supported Stannis the Mannis up until 5.9, and I don’t really know who will sit on the throne at the end of the series, but I don’t think it will be Jon or Dany. I also think Jaime and Cersei are more likely to be secret Targaryens than Tyrion, but I’m hoping that none of them are, I think Jorah is a massive creepazoid in the books but I really like him on the show, and while I generally like (and occasionally prefer) the changes the show has made to the source material (Sansa replacing Jeyne Pool, Mance getting axed, Arya in Harrenhal with Tywin, all the characters getting aged up, the omission of Lady Stoneheart,) the character assassination of Loras Tyrell is a grave books-to-show injustice that is only made tolerable by the performance of Finn Jones, and I hate the way Barristan Selmy’s death was handled; he (and Ian Mcelhinney) deserved way more and I would have loved to see him make it through S6 at least.

So, with the premiere of season 7 only two days away, I thought I’d list my top fifteen episodes. Bear in mind, this list is MY OPINION so please set down the torches and pitchforks.

Honorable mentions:  Winter is Coming (1.1), A Golden Crown (1.6), Valar Morghulis (2.10), And Now His Watch Is Ended (3.4), The Bear and the Maiden Fair (3.7), Two Swords (4.1), Mockingbird (4.7), The Dance of Dragons (5.9), Mother’s Mercy (5.10), Home (6.2), The Broken Man (6.7).

15.) Kissed by Fire – Season 3 Episode 5
Not only do Jon Snow and Ygritte get their “cave” moment in this episode, a pivotal point in their relationship, but Jaime and Brienne also achieve a breakthrough. I credit this episode as the moment where I began to actually appreciate Jaime as a character, as he bares his soul to Brienne and ponders “by what right does the wolf judge the lion?” This episode also gives me hope that Jaime will turn his back on Cersei for good in the upcoming season; it is the first bright spark of Jaime’s redemption arc, the first sign that there is more to him than his bond with his sister, the glimpse of his turmoil over his “sullied” reputation and how he feels about being called “Kinglsayer.” Robb also grapples with dissent among his camp and tries to assert his power by beheading Rickard Karstark, a move that will ultimately contribute to his undoing as he loses the support of the Karstarks and allows unrest to fester among the Northern forces. My favorite moment from this episode, however, is the blazing battle between Beric and the Hound, which culminates in the first on-screen “Lord of Light” powered revival in the series, but I also love Arya’s plea to Gendry that she could be his family, only for him to tell her that could never happen, as she would be “m’lady.” GOD, THE HEARTBREAK.

14.) Fire and BloodSeason 1 Episode 10
Whenever I think of definitive images and moments from Game of Thrones as a whole, one of the first scenes that comes to mind is the closing shot of this episode – Daenerys, the Unburnt, with her trio of freshly-hatched dragon babies and a bowing Khalasar around her. It is, effectively, the “rebirth” of Dany after she loses her husband and unborn son and becomes the “Mother of Dragons,” among about a thousand other titles. This episode also features the fallout from Ned’s death, with Robb and Cat mourning his loss and Cat declaring they will kill the Lannister’s for what they’ve done, Sansa very nearly ending Joffrey before his reign of terror can pick up any traction, and Yoren rescuing Arya by disguising her as a boy and taking her on the road north with some other Night’s Watch recruits, including Gendry, and Jon’s escape from Castle Black foiled by his new friends, who encourage him to stay true to his vows. Plus, we’ve got the “DAKINGINDANORF” speech vol.1, which still gives me chills upon subsequent re-watches.

13.) MhysaSeason 3 Episode 10
The Season 3 finale is a standout episode all on it’s own, despite following perhaps the most shocking and heartbreaking episode in the series up to that point. I guess some folks consider this one of the “weaker” finales, and I understand where that viewpoint comes from, but I think that’s mostly because it gets overshadowed by The Rains of Castamere. This episode features the first signs of Arya’s changing character after witnessing her dead brother being paraded around with his wolf’s head sewn onto his body, Bran’s foreshadowing tale of the “Rat Cook” and their encounter with Gilly and Sam, Tywin’s amazing ownage of his sadistic grandson followed by his cool demeanor when explaining his motivations for the Red Wedding and continuing cruelty toward Tyrion, our last view of Gendry (for now), Jon confessing his love for Ygritte post-betrayal to which she promptly shoots him with three arrows, and Dany being hailed as “mhysa” by the freed slaves of Yunkai. All in all, it’s a great episode that suffers from placement; it follows one of the most horrific and powerful episodes in the series, but still stands tall on its own. On a recent rewatch, I did notice one interesting bit of dialogue… when Davos is arguing for Gendry’s life, Stannis muses, “What’s the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?” and Davos replies “Everything.” He was referring to Gendry in the moment, but could it also imply… Jon? (I’m sure I’m not the first to notice this; I’m not that clever.)

12.) The Laws of Gods and MenSeason 4 Episode 6
There is one major reason for the inclusion of this episode over it’s successor, Mockingbird; Tyrion’s trial. It’s such a defining moment for Tyrion’s character and his relationships and it plays out with such conviction and tension that it’s easily one of the highlights of the series overall, and perhaps Dinklage’s best performance on the show so far. His speech at the end, where, after suffering Shae’s betrayal, he demands a trial by combat and eschews the safety of being sent to the Wall after a basically guaranteed guilty verdict, is pure genius. The rest of the episode is great as well, with Yara’s failed attempt to rescue “Reek,” Davos’s appeal to the Iron Bank on behalf of Stannis, and Dany’s realization that ruling is not all about conquest and honor, but the main draw is the trial, and it remains one of the most pivotal and dramatic moments in the show’s run, even though it hasn’t got any bloodshed/murder or physical altercations.

11.) The Lion and the RoseSeason 4 Episode 2
I think there’s one major reason why fans love this episode… and that is the long overdue (and satisfying) demise of everyone’s least favorite sadistic boy king, Joffrey Baratheon. Written by GRRM himself, this episode delivers on multiple levels; it’s visually gorgeous, the music is sublime, the acting is stellar (per usual) and it’s almost sad to say goodbye to Jack Gleeson, who, despite playing one of the most hated and vile characters in television history, did so with such amazing skill and talent that it’s hard not to love him a bit. This episode is vindicating, has great music, costumes, and dialogue, and the entire wedding segment is a testament to effective narrative structure. It’s great to watch  over again so you can try to pinpoint the moment where the plan to murder Joffrey is put in motion.

10.) The Mountain and the Viper – Season 4 Episode 8
For the record, I mostly consider Mockingbird (the previous episode) to be of comparable standing, partly due to Lysa’s plunge through the Moon Door, but mostly because of Oberyn’s speech and his offer to become Tyrion’s champion at his trial by combat, which I consider one of the best monologues/moments in the entire show. BUT, The Mountain and the Viper contains the epic showdown between Oberyn and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, which propels it above its predecessor. The entire trial by combat is an edge-of-your-seat spectacle, with a very Thrones-style conclusion, as victory and vengeance seemed to be in Oberyn’s grasp…only for his head to end up smushed like an egg between The Mountain’s fists. Though that’s the major event in the episode (and a gruesome highlight of the season) this episode’s also got the Darth Sansa reveal, the banishment of Jorah from Dany’s squad, and Reek’s “performance” as Theon Greyjoy. R.I.P, Oberyn – but major kudos to Pedro Pascal for a memorable performance with a shocking and soul-crushing conclusion. I didn’t love Oberyn in the books, but Pascal just about stole season 4 with his portrayal as the suave Dornish prince.

9.) HardhomeSeason 5 Episode 8
Though this episode as a whole is great, the main draw is the White Walker and Wight invasion of the wildling camp at Hardhome. The moment where Jon’s Valyrian steel sword clashes with the White Walker’s spear is my favorite moment of season 5 overall – I know season 5 gets a lot of flak, but it’s hard to argue against the greatness of this episode (and the two that follow it). I was on the edge of my seat for the entire second half, watching as the wights savaged the camp and tumbled over a cliff in a zombie avalanche, closing with the shot of the Night King staring at Jon and lifting his arms, raising his massive Army of the Dead, now enhanced with hundreds of new wildling recruits. This episode has some other great moments, like Dany’s “break the wheel” speech and her allowing Tyrion to serve as her adviser, but the battle at Hardhome is a standout scene for the season (and the series), rivaled only by Dany’s fleeing Meereen on Drogon and Cersei’s walk of atonement in the following two episodes.

8.) BaelorSeason 1 Episode 9
Season 1’s penultimate episode is the first major gut-punch in the series, and the first solid realization for (non-reader) viewers that life in Westeros is not about the good guys getting their happily ever after and honor winning over underhanded, scheming politics. Our stern, stalwart northern hero Ned Stark’s head gets lopped off at the command of a vicious boy king, and the “game of thrones” officially begins. I read the books beforehand, so I knew what was going to happen (plus, he’s played by the amazing Sean Bean, so clearly he wasn’t long for the world) but it didn’t make the blow any less painful. And while that moment is easily the defining point in the episode, there are some other great moments as well; Tyrion’s game with Shae and Bronn, Robb’s victorious return from the Battle of the Whispering Wood, Jon and Aemon’s conversation about love and duty, and Daenery’s fateful decision to turn to magic to try and save Drogo’s life. This episode marks the true launch of the series; after Ned falls, the pieces are in place for the War of the Five Kings to start and set off even more mayhem.

7.) The Rains of CastamereSeason 3 Episode 9
I’m not ranking this episode highly because I like what happens in it, because I don’t. Robb was one of my favorite characters in the books up until the fateful wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey.  I mean… watching it back, Robb totally had it coming, but it doesn’t make the event any less devastating. As soon as the cello churned out the first notes of the ominous song, I knew the Red Wedding was upon us, and still found myself getting emotional watching it all play out onscreen – largely because the acting in this episode is on point. Massive credit to Michelle Fairley (Catelyn) and Richard Madden (Robb) for making me sob and bringing such a horrific scene to life, and also to David Bradley (Walder Frey) for making me want to rip his head off and chuck it in the Trident, and Maisie Williams (Arya) for her portrayal of such anguish at getting so close to her family, only to have her hopes slashed savagely out from beneath her. It’s a slow burn to a massive bomb, and the entire framework of the episode functions as the set-up to the dramatic, heartbreaking close, and the final wail of a mother as she watches her son breathe his last. This episode is one of the most definitive episodes of Game of Thrones, and one of the most shocking moments in television history, and it doesn’t get any easier to watch upon multiple viewings.

6.) The DoorSeason 6 Episode 5
This episode was the “Red Wedding” and “Ned Beheading” for the book readers, since Season 6 was the show’s first major foray into material that has been speculated about, but is not yet released in book form. The “Hold the Door” moment was the first major instance on the show (there have been some smaller “OH SHIT” moments and surprises) where my jaw dropped and I said, “Oh my god” and then eventually wept like an infant. As soon as I realized what was happening I very nearly screamed “OH MY GOD BRAN YOU LITTLE SHIT”, but, for the sake of my neighbors, I refrained. After all, the “past is already written, the ink is dry” and clearly, Bran had to do what he did because it had…already… been done, I guess? This episode marks a turning point for Bran, as he realizes his actions have had an effect on his life (and the lives of those he cares about) for far longer than he anticipated, and he is the reason for “Hodor.” Bran now must become the Three-Eyed Raven, much like Jojen predicted way back in season 3. But mad props to Kristian Nairn for his performance; he only ever had one line, but he never said “Hodor” the same way twice and was easily the most lovable character in the series, which made his last stand all the more crushing. Other than that, we have Sansa’s angry confrontation of Littlefinger, another tearful goodbye for Dany and Jorah, the first instance of Varys being rattled as he and Tyrion meet with the priestess Kinvara, the crowning (and near drowning) of Euron, and Sansa gifting Jon with a new “Ned-esque” cloak. But really, this episode’s strongest point is the “Hold the Door” moment, and it, like many other moments on this show, is not any easier to watch the second or third time.

5.) Battle of the BastardsSeason 6 Episode 9
This episode tops a lot of folk’s lists, and for good reason. I consider this episode’s major strengths to be the directing, cinematography, special effects, battle choreography, music, and the fitting curtain call for Westeros’s most sadistic bastard, Ramsay Bolton – not even his supporters from House Twentygoodmen could save him. Weirdly enough, I was almost more hyped up by Dany’s epic conquest of the Masters of Slaver’s Bay in the opening of the episode, with the amazing track “Reign” playing over it. This episode is stunning in a multitude of ways, particularly the visual, but I actually found the writing to be a bit weaker, with some dubious character actions that, upon rewatching the episode, appeared to be concocted to create a sense of tension or drama that could have easily been avoided or shouldn’t have happened at all. Like… run in a freaking serpentine pattern, Rickon, my god. But regardless of nitpicks, there are some incredible moments in this episode, such as Jon standing his ground and drawing his sword as the mounted soldiers barrel toward him, Jon nearly being smothered in a pile of bodies and scrambling soldiers, the Knights of the Vale charging in to save the day, and Sansa striding away with a smile as Ramsay screams behind her. It’s an amazing episode and worthy of “GoT Episode 9” infamy, but I do think it’s a tad overblown.

4.) The ChildrenSeason 4 Episode 10
There’s a lot of season 4 on this list… mainly because it’s my favorite season, but I also believe it is the most well-rounded season thus far, with multiple standout episodes that are the epitome of what Game of Thrones is about, and The Children is a big example of that. Stannis swoops in with reinforcements to intersect with Jon’s storyline and saves the Wall from the wildling invaders, and Melisandre stares with keen interest at Jon Snow through the flicker of a mass pyre. Though we lose Jojen, Bran and co. (I call them Bran and the Flakes, but it never caught on) finally get to the tree where the Three-Eyed Raven resides, and Bran is told he will never walk again, “but you will fly.” Dany chooses to lock two her dragons away, symbolic of a mother parting from her “children” in the attempt at some greater good. Tyrion realizes the true extent of Shae’s betrayal, and we discover that Lord Tywin doesn’t “shit gold” after all. We see the Hound vs Brienne fight, and, as the Hound lays dying at the base of the cliff, pleading with Arya to have mercy on him, I actually cried – which I never would have expected, but Rory McCann’s performance is utterly moving, even in its crass gruffness. The final shot of Arya on the boat heading toward Braavos as “The Children” plays in the background is a phenomenal end to the season, even though it’s the first season-close not to feature a valiant Dany and her dragons. For me, this is one of the strongest episodes in the series and the dramatic finale to what I still consider to be the show’s best season in terms of plot development and character evolution.

3.) Watchers on the WallSeason 4 Episode 9
More or less the “Helm’s Deep” of Westeros, Watchers on the Wall is a full-scale battle with drama and action that could rival any fantasy film, despite being just a single television episode. The cinematography and choreography in this episode is mind-blowing, but for me, the greatest moment in this episode is when Grenn and a few of his other Night’s Watch brothers face down a charging Giant whilst reciting the Night’s Watch pledge, holding the gate though it costs them their life. I also sobbed when Jon sees Ygritte again and smiles at her, only to watch as she’s pierced by an arrow by Olly, vengeance for the death of his father. The battle fades away around them as they say goodbye and Ygritte delivers her final, heartbreaking “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The brothers of the Watch put their lives on the line to defend a realm that shows them significantly less regard than they deserve, and they do so with valiance and courage. There’s also great character development in this episode, with Jon and Alliser Thorne striking a note of truce in the face of pending battle, Sam swearing for the first time as he defends Gilly, Grenn’s last stand, and Ygritte’s faltering thirst for revenge in the face of the man she loves.

2.) BlackwaterSeason 2 Episode 9
I very, very nearly put this episode at #1, as it honestly is my favorite in the series (tied with Watchers on the Wall.) I think the pacing in the episode is phenomenal, the effects are astounding, the writing is incredible, the music (the Lannister themes fused with Stannis’s)… everything comes together to weave an amazing battle and a story as powerful as a burst of green fire. Tyrion’s epic speech, the Hound’s offer to save Sansa, Bronn’s single arrow, Sansa’s calming efforts toward the other ladies and her sick burn of “just as I pray for the king’s” at Tyrion, the tavern sing-a-long before the battle, the freshly-combined Tyrell and Lannister forces riding to the rescue, and Loras donning Renly’s armor, all combine to make a stellar and engrossing episode, even though it only takes place in one location. Each character shines in this episode, be it for their moments of valor or cowardice or both. My favorite moment in this episode is… well, it’s hard to pick, because there are far too many great ones to pare down.

1.) The Winds of WinterSeason 6 Episode 10
This episode isn’t my favorite, but I still consider it to be the best episode in the series. The “Light of the Seven” opening sequence, with the music from Ramin Djawadi, the performance of the actors, and the stellar direction of Miguel Sapochnik, is sheer brilliance, from the first plink of the piano to the bombastic demise of the Tyrell family, the High Sparrow and his little sparrowlings, and a bunch of innocent folks who just wanted to spend their morning seeing a trial and got blown up instead, while Cersei watches from afar with a smug, silent smile. Obviously, it’s difficult to follow such an explosive moment, but the rest of the episode is no slouch. The pivotal “tower” reveal – with Bran weirwood visioning the truth of Jon’s parentage – was handled so effectively and beautifully that I’ve teared up every time I’ve seen it since. From the renewed “DAKINGINDANORF” rallying, the reveal of the Citadel’s library, Cersei’s coronation and Jaime’s conflicted face as he watches her sit the Iron Throne, Arya’s vengeance on the smarmy Walder Frey for the role he played in the deaths of her family, and Dany finally setting sail for Westeros, this episode has no slow moments, has a ton of big events all one after the other, and is framed in such a way to make the wait for season 7 all the more unbearable. This episode flows like a poem; smooth and beautiful with flawless rhythm. It is the declaration that Winter is Here, and it does so in marvelous, jaw-dropping, and visually-engrossing fashion.

Luckily, we don’t have long to wait now… on Sunday, season 7 begins, and hopefully there will be some titles swapped around on this list come episode 7.7!