Game of Thrones Season 7 Highs and Lows

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

Game of Thrones season 7 has been a mixed bag, and it will likely take more than one watch-through to really let the events and revelations sink in. But now that the first flakes of winter have begun to fall on King’s Landing and the Wall has crumbled against the forces of the dead, I’ve got some thoughts on the “highs and lows” of the penultimate season of HBO’s most popular show.

promo327713341.jpgThe show has been remarkably consistent in its strengths over the years, and one of those “highs” is the acting. The show features a stellar cast across the board. Though we’ve lost so many memorable characters over the years, through tragedy and vengeance alike, the ones who remain have demonstrated vast range and incredible ability, and have engaged viewers across their arcs, drawing them into the individual character stories. As a viewer, I might not like every character, but I cannot deny that every member of the main/supporting cast has done a brilliant job of bringing their characters to life. Some particularly notable moments from this season include:

*Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) confrontation/reunion in episode 7.
*Ellaria Sand’s (Indira Varma) final scene with Cersei and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) in episode 3.
* Olenna Tyrell’s (Diana Rigg) last moments in episode 3 (Slay, Queen of Thorns, slay!).
*Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)… pretty much all season, but especially in his final moment with Cersei in Episode 7 and the battle/his charging at Dany/Drogon in episode 4.
*Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) losing Viserion and nearly losing Jon in episode 6, and returning home in episode 1.
*Euron’s (Pilou Asbaek) dramatic entrance via Silence in episode 2.
*Sansa (Sophie Turner) adjusting to her title as Lady of Winterfell and handling the stresses of delivering justice over the course of the season.
*Samwell (John Bradley West) struggling with his position at the citadel and ultimately deciding to leave in Episode 5.
*Davos (Liam Cunningham) pretty much whenever he’s onscreen. Same for Jorah (Iain Glen).
*Littlefinger’s (Aiden Gillen) death. Seeing him beg for mercy was so surreal.
*Arya’s (Maisie Williams) reunions with Sansa, Hot Pie, and Nymeria.
*Meera’s (Ellie Kendrick) goodbye with Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright).
*The Hound (Rory McCann) in his “Gravedigger” moment in episode 1, as well as his interactions with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and the Brotherhood in episode 6.
*Theon (Alfie Allen) succumbing to “Reek” in episode 2, then rising from the ashes in episode 7.
*Jon (Kit Harington) in episodes 6 and 7, but also his meeting with Dany in episode 3.

Honestly, there are several more standout moments that could be included in this list, but these are the first few that come to mind. The combination of chemistry and strong character arcs over the course of the series has really made fans grow attached to these characters and their relationships, and become invested in where their stories are going, which ultimately makes the audience fearful, yet excited, for the end.

I think a prime example of the complex characterizations is episode 4, “The Spoils of War,” which features the dramatic showdown between the Dothraki and Daenerys on Drogon and the Lannister Army. Watching that scene, with the Dothraki horde cresting over the hill and the Lannister soldiers literally shivering in fear at their approach, I couldn’t decide how I wanted it to end. I was cheering when Drogon dropped through the clouds, but cringing as he incinerated an entire line of soldiers with his flames. You don’t want Dany to die, you don’t want Jaime to die, you don’t want Tyrion to die, you don’t want Bronn to die, you don’t want Drogon to die. Watching these characters face one another on the battlefield is mesmerizing and presents a genuine conflict, because as a viewer, I had no idea what I wanted the outcome to be, and that is the type of complexity GoT is known for, and part of what makes it so great.

The production for this season has also been top-notch, as usual. The effects (especially in “The Spoils of War,” “Beyond The Wall,” and “The Dragon and the Wolf”) are amazing. The costumes are excellent, with embellishments and little touches here and there that actually seem to give clues to character traits and upcoming events. It’s been cool to see fur and more black emerge as the newest fashion staples, but the real style winner of the season is Daenerys’s coat in episode 6. I am predicting an Emmy in 2018; mark my words. The new locations were great, as were the old. I also think this might be the season with the best music; I both eagerly anticipate and lament the approach of season 8 for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that we have only one more season of Ramin Djawadi’s soaring score to look forward to.

Although this season has less – ahem, I mean fewer –  episodes, it has delivered a ton of memorable scenes and moments, and no episode lacks for exciting content. It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite, and I likely won’t be able to make a definitive conclusion until I revisit them, but after first viewing, I think “The Spoils of War” might take the cake. However, “The Dragon and the Wolf” is a strong contender, as well. The “Aegon Targaryen” reveal was quite a stunner, and the Dragon Pit meeting, with so many characters all in one place, was exciting to see unfold.

We’ve also had some spectacular returns and reunions this season, and of them all, I was most pleased to see Gendry (Joe Dempsie) again. Fans (and Davos, apparently) feared that he might still be rowing since his last appearance in season 3, but now he’s back, swinging a hammer just like his father, good ol’ Bobby B. I hope to see more of him in season 8, and look forward to his eventual reunion with Arya.

Game of Thrones is a visually stunning, engrossing, genre-bending, and utterly captivating show, and season 7 is no different in that respect. Every episode had me on the edge of my seat, the emotional sequences moved me to tears, or in some cases, enraged me, and the wait for season 8 (a rumored 18 month wait, no less) will be unbearable, though at least we have 7 seasons to re-watch and 7 soundtracks to listen to (and, hopefully soon, a sixth book to read) until then. After watching the Game of Thrones unfold for seven seasons, with players moving and shifting or being axed from the board entirely, it’s hard to believe that The Long Night has come, and out watch is almost over.

BEFORE I GET INTO THE “LOWS” OF THE SEASON, let me just say, I love this show. It will, barring catastrophe, officially be my all-time favorite show come s8 ep6. After watching several “behind the scenes” from this season and previous seasons, I am consistently amazed and awed by how much work and passion goes into the production of this show. That said, though I’m usually pretty quick to defend the showrunners for the liberties they take, season 7, while amazing in so many ways, did strike a couple of off-notes, but for me, that’s like, giving Season 7 an A- rather than an A+, and I can narrow it down to two “lows;” a combo of writing and pacing.

One of the common issues folks seem to have with this season is the pacing, and I must say, I agree. I will give mad props to the show writers/runners (and especially Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington) for making me care about and notice the progression and chemistry of Jon/Dany A.K.A. “Jonerys.” I have my doubts a “happily ever after” is in the future for them, especially when they find out they’re aunt/nephew and with the war for the dawn creeping ever closer, but I guess the incest blow is softened a bit by the fact that they don’t know they’re related, and at least it’s not as squicky as Cersei/Jaime. I wish their romance had a bit more build-up, but for what we got, I was pretty impressed by their interactions and the development of their relationship, in spite of the short time.

Overall, the pacing wouldn’t be an issue if the rest of the series was as fast-paced as this season was, but it isn’t. If this were an earlier season, it would have taken Jon at least 3 episodes, if not more, to get to Dragonstone, or from Dragonstone to the Wall. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for some things, but compared to how things are handled in the earlier seasons, GoT feels like a different show now. The writing is not bad, and I’m not bashing the writers, it’s just now, the writing is different in tone and pace and how characters make decisions. Season 6 faced similar “logic” issues, but the pacing less so, because there was a full 10 episodes.

I’m not saying that I don’t understand why they are doing it this way. I get it. But that doesn’t make it any less jarring as a viewer since it’s unlike the show in its early years, where more time was spent getting the pieces in place and developing relationships and situations for some grander scheme rather than big moves and power plays happening in quick succession, so swift it becomes tough to process. The big moments lose their impact because there is no time to decompress afterward. The show used to dwell; it used to thoroughly explore situations and expand on intrigue, and this season seems like a lot has been glossed over in favor of flash and spectacle. Generally, the changes the show has made don’t bother me a whole lot, because I know the books will be different and I accept that, but this is the first season that I noticed the “streamlining” as a detriment instead of a strength.

Sure, the shortened season may be due to monetary/budget reasons, or it may be due to the fact that they’ve run out of book material, but the difference in writing (especially in the dialogue) and the pace, while not necessarily bad, is noticeable. Conversations that should be happening aren’t; Why hasn’t Jon brought up Maester Aemon to Dany? Why did Jorah not mention Sam to Jon? Why did Gendry not mention Arya to Jon? Why did Brienne and Sandor only discuss Arya, not Sansa? Why did NO ONE address Varys at the Dragon Pit meeting? Where does Euron have Yara? WHY DOES NO ONE MENTION THE FREYS AFTER ARYA KILLED THEM ALL? WHERE IS EDMURE TULLY? IS MEERA GOING TO COME BACK? WILL WE EVER GET TO SEE HOWLAND REED? HOW DID THE UNSULLIED SURVIVE POST-CASTERLY ROCK INCIDENT? The decrease in meaningful conversations is apparent, and it makes some of these “reunions” or decisions feel hollow, and definitely rushed. Which, if the series continues in that direction, season 8 will likely face similar complaints. If they didn’t have enough material for two final 10 episode seasons, we shouldn’t have even MORE questions rising after season 7.

Also, some characters don’t seem to have much to do (Varys, Brienne, Melisandre, even Tyrion) while others have lost a bit of their spark, and with the end looming, I wonder if there will be enough time to really give all of the great characters the amount of screen time they deserve to close out their individual stories. Granted, the books have a lot more characters and scenarios to deal with (and a lot more freedom due to the whole “no budget” factor), and I know that the show and the books are not the same thing any more, but just because the show has scaled things back doesn’t mean they should be skimping on the story or cutting corners. The non-book material they made for seasons 1-4 was pretty seamless, so they are capable of blending their own ideas in with Martin’s tone, and I hope they hit the right notes with season 8 despite the restrictions they face.

Though the distant final season is even shorter (in episodes, maybe not running time) I hope the show is able to steer back to form for the final run, and address the lingering questions. I don’t envy the showrunners/writers, who are adapting a book series that isn’t finished and have run out of actual book material, though I fail to understand why they believe the story could be wrapped up in a convincing and satisfying manner in 13 episodes after season 6. I hope they can end the show with the detail, nuances, and richness the series is known for, rather than a reliance on fan-service. And I have confidence they will.

FINAL RANT: Can I just say, though… people need to stop shitting on Rhaegar because of the wig the actor was wearing. If you’re going to shit on Rhaegar for anything, it should be the fact that he abandoned his first wife and two children (who were later brutally murdered) in favor of running off with a much younger Northern girl, which threw the kingdom into chaos and caused thousands of deaths. Annulling his marriage is a dick move, too, because he essentially discarded and dishonored the innocent Elia Martell and her two children, Rhaenys and Aegon, and then he NAMED HIS CHILD WITH LYANNA “AEGON TARGARYEN,” EVEN THOUGH HE ALREADY HAD A SON NAMED AEGON. Rhaegar is not a hero; he is flawed, and his romance with Lyanna, however genuine it was, should not be idolized. End of story.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10 (It may seem like I have a lot of complaints, but it is still a top-notch quality show!)

Season 7 M.V.Ps
Beric Dondarrion: HE HAS A F*CKING FLAMING SWORD AND UNFAILING COURAGE. The man is my hero. And he has a voice that could soothe even the most ornery of wights.

Drogon: Our baby is all grown up! Torching Lannisters like nobody’s business.

Gilly: Girl delivered the “Prince Ragger” revelation. Gilly dropping the info bombs this season!

Benjen Stark: The man half-lived alone beyond the wall for years, all for the sake of fighting for life. I wish his mini-reunion with Jon had been a bit longer, but he will be missed. I hope “the pup” has found his peace.

Meera Reed: GIRL DESERVED A BETTER SEND-OFF. SHE BETTER BE BACK OR I WILL RIOT.

Samwell Tarly: The man is all of us when he’s talking to Bran in the last episode. Also, it takes great courage to walk away from a lifelong dream, as he did when he left the Citadel. Samwell is a hero.

Ramin Djawadi: Seriously, this man delivers A+ quality music every single season. Even songs that feature the familiar themes get fresh spins and new twists, and songs like “Truth,” are wonderful additions. It’s going to be on repeat for ages!

Season 7 R.I.Ps
Thoros of Myr: All things considered, death by zombie bear is a pretty badass way to go. Also, Paul Kaye nailed the role of our favorite drunken red priest.

Randyll and Dickon Tarly: Randyll was a real dick, but Dickon didn’t deserve his fiery fate. He should have bent the knee, but whatevs.

Viserion: Due to the episode leak, this pivotal moment was spoiled for me thanks to the title of a youtube video, but I still legit got emotional. I mean… no lie, his wight form is BADASS but it was still so sad to see 1/3 of the dragon troupe get iced.

Littlefinger: I hated the smarmy, weasel-like Littlefinger from his first appearances in season 1, but I cannot deny that Aiden Gillen absolutely killed the role. Seeing him break down in front of Sansa and beg for his life was so shocking, because he’d never acted like that before, and I loved it.

The Freys: Good riddance.

The Sand Snakes: Dorne may not have had the best book to screen transition, but I was sad to see them dispatched in such a cruel way.

Benjen Stark: Mentioned above.

Ellaria Sand: She may be gone, but Indira Varma absolutely owned her final scene.

Reek: The “Reek” has been killed, and “Theon” (re)born!

Ghost: He’s not dead, I know. But he endured a “death by budget” this season, and I’m sad we didn’t see him even once.

SEASON 8 PREDICTIONS (CONDENSED VERSION):
*Dany is so going to get pregnant. They’ve discussed her infertility way too much this past season for her not to get pregnant. It’s the Targaryen way, after all. I also think, once Jon and Dany find out they’re related, Jon’s ensuing identity crisis will drive them apart (if not permanently, it will at least cause some friction) but the whole “being related” issue will be more pertinent for Jon, while Dany would be more bothered by the issue of inheritance, since Jon technically ranks above her now. But it’s also an issue that will probably be resolved fairly quickly, because of the limited amount of episodes.
*I think there’s a good chance that both Jon and Dany will die, but if it’s just one, I think it will be Dany.
*I also think Gendry will be legitimized, will inherit Storm’s End, and (CALL ME CRAZY) if romance is in his future, I think he is more likely to end up with Sansa than he is with Arya. Arya is so different now I can’t imagine her settling down.
*Cersei will not have her child, and will die by season’s end. It will either be via Jaime, or Arya; not sure which, but I’m leaning toward Arya at this point, even though I’d rather it be Jaime.
*Cleganebowl will happen.
*Bran does have something to do with the Night King. I don’t know what, but they are definitely connected.
*The Iron Throne, as a concept, is done for.

 

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Advertisements

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.

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!