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Every Game Of Thrones Season Ranked Worst To Best

It wouldn't be a stretch to call "Game of Thrones" the biggest TV show of the 21st century. There are other contenders, to be sure, especially in the realm of reality TV like "American Idol" and "The Bachelor." But when you think of modern, big-budget, prestige TV, you're probably thinking about "Game of Thrones."

HBO's adaptation of the popular fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin redefined what scripted TV could be. It took props from prior prestige HBO shows like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" and added in even more money, marketing, and Hollywood stars. "Game of Thrones" showed that blockbuster budgets can work to great effect on television and that TV series can be more dominant in pop culture than movies. Looking back on how the entertainment landscape has changed since the show first premiered on HBO, its impact is undeniable. Big film franchises like the MCU and "Fast & Furious" still play big at the box office, but most people's day-to-day entertainment comes to them on their couch, delivered by Netflix, Disney+, Amazon, Hulu, and the dozen other streaming platforms that have popped up in recent years.

Not all of that can be traced back exclusively to "Game of Thrones," of course, but the show has undeniably been one of the biggest singular forces in driving TV to become the dominant entertainment medium it is today. For all its fame and popularity, however, not all seasons of "Game of Thrones" are equal to each other in objective quality, and the show's now-notorious ending has tainted what could have been an insurmountable legacy. So what was it that made the show so great at its peaks, and where did it go wrong? Let's talk about it. Here's every season of "Game of Thrones," ranked from worst to best.

8. Game of Thrones Season 8

Oh, where it all went wrong.

If "Game of Thrones" is one of the biggest TV series of all time, then "Game of Thrones" Season 8 is one of the most colossal failures in the history of entertainment media. And you don't even have to look at the quality of the writing and the production objectively to reach that verdict. Strictly from a public perception standpoint, it is honestly impressive that the most popular show in the world could become the most reviled show in the world over the course of just six episodes. A brand that could have continued to reign over pop culture for years crashed itself into the dirt in a hundred ways, and it still remains to be seen if HBO can salvage it with the upcoming spinoffs.

It's not that Season 8 looks cheap, falls flat in terms of cinematic action, or anything like that. The big battles aren't quite up to the standard set by the previous seasons, but they're still incredibly expensive. The problem is that Season 8 feels like a betrayal of years of buildup and character arcs. Jaime's whole redemption story is thrown away, Daenerys is rushed into a cartoon villain climax, none of the prophecy surrounding Jon and Dany comes to anything, and countless other details that fans were told meant something ended up meaning nothing.

In the end, "Game of Thrones" Season 8 feels more like a middle finger pointed at what people actually liked about the show than a celebration of what once made it great.

7. Game of Thrones Season 5

Season 5 is when "Game of Thrones" really started running out of material to adapt, and it shows. That's not to say that every deviation the series makes from George R. R. Martin's books is a bad one (more on that later), but the 5th season begins to show the signs of creative depletion that would eventually be the downfall of Season 8.

There are some good episodes and individual moments here. Jaime and Bronn's team-up in Dorne — while entirely different from their respective stories in the books — is a lot of fun, mostly because of the natural chemistry between Jerome Flynn and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Stannis Baratheon meets a perfect end at the tip of Brienne of Tarth's blade, Daenerys takes flight, and "Hardhome" delivers one of the show's best battles as Jon, Tormund, and the rest of their crew face off against the White Walkers.

Unfortunately, much of "Game of Thrones" Season 5 suffers from an odd blend of mundane and shocking material. A lot of time is spent on characters talking about doing things, planning how to do things, and going to the place where they will do the things. That's kind of inevitable given the big climaxes that end Season 4, but that doesn't make the content any more interesting to watch. In what seems like an attempt to up the excitement, Season 5 weaves in some bigger twists for shock value, but a lot of them feel forced and fall flat. Sansa Stark being abused by Ramsay Bolton, Loras Tyrell being tormented for his sexuality, and the rampant murder of anyone interesting in Dorne — all big changes from the novels — feel like desperate grasps for the kind of public frenzy that followed the Red Wedding and other prior storylines.

6. Game of Thrones Season 7

Though "Game of Thrones" Season 7 leads directly into the show's frustrating final act, it avoids many of the pitfalls that ruin Season 8. With many of the show's more ancillary antagonists and supporting characters dead, the narrative focus shifts back to the original protagonists in a great way. Season 7 provides a lot of satisfying conclusions to story arcs that began many seasons earlier. Arya Stark reunites with her family as the most dangerous woman on the planet and kills Littlefinger; the true nature of Jon Snow's heritage is revealed and explored; Daenerys begins her long-awaited conquest of Westeros; Sansa rises from her darkest moments to become the powerful ruler of Winterfell. These are moments that longtime fans waited years to see, and they mostly deliver. After so much tragedy, seeing the main characters win for a change is satisfaction enough.

Still, "Game of Thrones" Season 7 is far from perfect. The plotline about capturing a wight to bring to Cersei is a struggle to make much sense of, Euron Greyjoy fails to fill the villain void left by past bad guys, and a lot of the King's Landing drama falls flat as a result. But there's still plenty to get excited about here. Going off the Season 7 finale, you'd think "Game of Thrones" was bound for a fantastic final act.

5. Game of Thrones Season 1

Enough of those middling to bad "Game of Thrones" seasons — now it's time for the really good ones. Season 1 may not have all the expensive adornments that give later seasons their luster, but it paves the way by focusing on what the show was always best at — flawed characters, political intrigue, and stunning fantasy vistas. The lack of big battles and absurd twists may seem pedestrian in retrospect, but there's real gravity and groundedness to the action in "Game of Thrones" Season 1, and it's better for it.

While he doesn't live to see Season 2, Sean Bean's Eddard Stark is absolutely fantastic here. The character of Ned serves as the show's moral foundation — a family man who will make any sacrifice to protect those he loves and do what he believes to be right. His (at the time) shocking execution at the end of Season 1 lays the groundwork for all the chaos to come, and seeing him slowly descend into the web of intrigue and betrayal in King's Landing is tense and gripping.

The early arcs for characters like Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon, Arya, and Sansa are also deeply compelling, even if they're slow burns. "Game of Thrones" Season 1 takes its time, builds its world beautifully, and delivers a killer combo of great performances and effective drama.

4. Game of Thrones Season 2

There's a lot to love about the slower pace and tighter focus of "Game of Thrones" Season 1, but Season 2 ups the stakes and the drama in all the right ways. Things don't get too crazy here, but the web of loyalties, rivalries, and vendettas is woven thicker and thicker in a way that's just riveting to watch.

Season 2 just has a lot of really compelling storylines, plain and simple. We get the rise of Brienne of Tarth and Stannis Baratheon as a villain. We get a great journey for Jon Snow north of the Wall that teases the dark magic lying in wait there. We get the show's first massive action episode in "Blackwater" and the development of Arya and the Hound into two of the show's fiercest and most beloved characters.

But most of all, we get Tyrion Lannister in King's Landing, trying desperately to balance out the viciousness of his sister Cersei, the brutality of his father Tywin, and the insanity of his nephew Joffrey in the midst of a civil war. When "Game of Thrones" is at its best, Peter Dinklage's performance as Tyrion is usually the best part of it, and that's absolutely true in Season 2. It's a season that delivers incredible action and storytelling and perfectly teases what's to come, starting the true ascent of "Game of Thrones."

3. Game of Thrones Season 6

The 1st season of "Game of Thrones" shows one extreme — a pared-down story that focuses on interpersonal drama and intrigue over-sensationalized action. Over time, the twists, deaths, and big battles grew more and more central to the image and public persona of the show until it reached another extreme — Season 6. This is not a subtle show about politics anymore. No, this is a show about wild, ridiculous, expensive things happening. And boy, there sure are a lot of them.

"The Battle of the Bastards." "The Door." "The Winds of Winter." These are episode titles that immediately conjure powerful responses. Season 6 has arguably the best battle sequence in the whole show, magical explosions that kill off a quarter of the cast, Frankenstein monsters, time travel (sort of), characters who turn into gods, and all the dragon action you could ask for. It's big, loud, dramatic, and it did exactly what it was meant to do when it first aired in 2016 — it got everyone talking about "Game of Thrones" again, maybe even more than ever before.

There is an undeniable entertainment value in the big-budget thrill ride that "Game of Thrones" Season 6 is, but looking back on it after the end of the show, its legacy becomes a bit more complicated. This is where the series really started prioritizing spectacle over long-term narrative, and while the stories here are still strong here to make it work, this trend would work against the show later on.

2. Game of Thrones Season 3

Drama and spectacle — the two things that, in combination and amplified by great acting and high production values, made "Game of Thrones" such a pop culture phenomenon. And in the show's two best seasons, the drama and spectacle were brought into perfect balance.

In the silver medal spot, we have "Game of Thrones" Season 3, which is packed to the brim with some of the series' most iconic moments. Jaime gets his hand cut off and starts to become a sympathetic character largely through his relationship with Brienne. Arya and the Hound join up, forming a reluctant but compelling duo. Daenerys claims her Unsullied army, Jon scales the Wall with Ygritte and the wildlings, and of course, the Red Wedding happens. It's an excellent blend of big showstopper moments and the more muted, slow-burn political drama that the show started with.

Strictly on a character level, Season 3 is masterfully made. A combination of strong source material, perfect casting, and stellar performances create a season where everyone from the most pivotal protagonists to the most ancillary side characters are fun and intriguing to watch. Ygritte and Olenna Tyrell are great examples of this — supporting characters who don't stick around that long in the grand scheme of the show but who still leave huge, lasting impacts. "Game of Thrones" Season 3 weaves a ton of equally compelling plotlines together seamlessly, and that's its greatest feat.

1. Game of Thrones Season 4

It's tough to rank "Game of Thrones" Season 4 above Season 3 because in many ways, they're two halves of the same story. They split the events of George R. R. Martin's third "Song of Ice and Fire" novel — "A Storm of Swords" — pretty evenly, tying them together tightly in both narrative and theme. However, there are a few reasons why Season 4 is the show's crowning achievement.

To start, this is probably Tyrion Lannister's greatest season. The struggle he's been facing the whole show — being the most reasonable and intelligent person in the room yet constantly facing hate because of how everyone views him — comes to a head here when he's put on trial for murdering Joffrey. Yes, this whole plotline is pulled straight from the books, right down to Tyrion killing his father on the toilet before fleeing Westeros, but Dinklage brings it all to life in a way that demands to be watched and rewatched. He's a tour de force from beginning to end, and the greater drama between the Lannisters and the Tyrells that surrounds Tyrion's arc is also fantastic.

But really, "Game of Thrones" Season 4 notches the top spot on this list because of its final three episodes: "The Mountain and the Viper," "The Watchers on the Wall," and "The Children." This brief run is arguably the greatest part of the entire series, combining one of the best battle episodes, the best individual fight scene, and the culmination of several longstanding and hugely important character arcs. In the books, this is the end of the original trilogy, and it shows.