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30 Best Game Of Thrones Episodes Ranked

The shine may have worn off a bit in the wake of what many agree was a disappointing finale, but it's hard to dispute that when "Game of Thrones" was good, it was really, really good. Over the course of eight seasons, dozens of locations, and more elaborate twists than one of Daenerys' hairstyles, the HBO fantasy series captured the hearts and imaginations of millions through its complex characters and intricately woven storytelling.

From epic battles to sweeping romances, bitter heartbreak, and political intrigue, "Game of Thrones" offered viewers a little bit of everything. And sometimes, all of those disparate elements and storylines would line up just so to deliver the perfect alchemy of drama, tension, emotion, and thrills, all in a single episode. Obviously, some pulled this off better than others, but there are quite a few episodes that managed to fire on all cylinders to create an amazing viewing experience. It was a tough job, but we managed to whittle them down to the 30 best episodes which remind us why we loved this show so much.

30. Stormborn

The second episode of Season 7 focuses mainly on Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who demands a meeting with Jon Snow (Kit Harington), hoping to gain his support in her efforts to rule all of Westeros. By this time, the Mother of Dragons has already gained the loyalty of former King's Landing inhabitants Varys (Conleth Hill) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), along with Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) representing the Iron Islands and Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) of Dorne, making her potential alliance with Jon an important step in her consolidation of power.

But while Daenerys' quest to rule the Seven Kingdoms is exciting to watch as it nears its culmination, the most satisfying moments of "Stormborn" are the quieter ones. When Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) finally finds a treatment for Jorah Mormont's (Iain Glen) greyscale and implements it successfully (despite being forbidden by the maesters), it pays off a series-long arc of Sam worrying that his bookish tendencies leave him little to contribute. Jon leaves Sansa (Sophie Turner) in charge of Winterfell while he is gone, as Arya (Maisie Williams) reunites with both her direwolf Nymeria and her old friend Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey). Plus, the episode ends with a nighttime sea battle, as Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) attacks the Iron Fleet and captures Yara, putting an action-packed exclamation point on an eventful episode.

29. Second Sons

Taking place near the end of the third season of "Game of Thrones," "Second Sons" may best be remembered as the one where Tyrion and Sansa are forced to get married. While this does offer a few sweet character moments, as Tyrion attempts to make the situation as comfortable as possible for his young bride, there are a number of other important events strewn throughout the episode. While traveling through the Riverlands, Arya makes an unsuccessful attempt on the Hound's (Rory McCann) life, an early taste of the path she would eventually take as an assassin. And in Yunkai, Danaerys is introduced to the mercenary group the Second Sons, where she first meets her eventual lieutenant-with-benefits Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein, though Michiel Huisman would later take over the role).

But perhaps the most enjoyable part of the episode occurs north of the Wall, when Sam Tarly, the Wildling Gilly (Hannah Murray), and her infant son are tracked down by one of the undead White Walkers. Up until this point, the White Walkers have seemed unkillable, but when this one attempts to steal Gilly's child, the mild-mannered Sam fights back, although he expects his efforts will be futile. Imagine his surprise when he is actually able to slay the creature using a dragonglass dagger, not only saving Gilly and the baby, but also unlocking the key to successfully resisting the White Walkers in the future.

28. The Broken Man

After being presumed dead since the end of the fourth season, the Season 6 episode "The Broken Man" marks the return of Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, revealing that he's been living quietly in a small community led by the peaceful Brother Ray (Ian McShane). When the community is threatened by the Brotherhood without Banners, the Hound tries to warn Brother Ray to prepare for a confrontation, but he doesn't listen. Ultimately, the villagers are slaughtered by the Brotherhood, which motivates the Hound to once again pick up his ax and return to his old life, marking the long-awaited return of a fan-favorite character.

Elsewhere in the episode, alliances continue to shift. Yara Greyjoy announces her intent to pledge her allegiance to Daenerys Targaryen, the Blackfish of Riverrun (Clive Russell) refuses to side with the Lannisters, and the Wildlings ally with Jon Snow, along with House Mormont, led by fiery preteen Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey). Meanwhile, in Braavos, Arya is finally attacked by the Waif (Faye Marsay) after they spend all season circling one another. The two engage in a brutal fight and the episode ends with Arya grievously injured, but the encounter ultimately sets in motion an opportunity for Arya to complete her training and make her way back to Winterfell.

27. A Golden Crown

Six episodes into the first season of "Game of Thrones," "A Golden Crown" changes the game for all of the major characters moving forward. "Game of Thrones" had established itself as a gritty fantasy drama, but it wasn't until Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) bestowed the molten "crown" upon Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) that it became clear just how brutal the series was going to be. The scene is also a pivotal point for Daenerys, who watches her brother's execution with calm resignation, hinting at the ruthlessness she would later display in her pursuit of the Iron Throne.

"A Golden Crown" also includes Ned Stark's (Sean Bean) game-changing realization that the Baratheon heirs are actually illegitimate Lannisters (and incestuous ones, at that). We see the first trial by combat of Tyrion Lannister in the Vale and the introduction of the sellsword, Bronn (Jerome Flynn). Bronn and Tyrion's friendship would go on to become one of the more amusing relationships in the series, and even in their first episode, they provide some much-needed humor to balance out the darker storylines.

26. What Is Dead May Never Die

A couple of major new characters enter the arena in the Season 2 episode "What Is Dead May Never Die," including political mastermind Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and imposing warrior Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). We meet both when Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) heads to the Stormlands to forge an alliance with Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony). The introduction of Brienne is particularly satisfying, since she bests Margaery's brother Loras (Finn Jones) in a tournament while in full armor, and is only revealed to be a woman after she's won.

The episode also sees Arya demonstrate some shrewd maneuvering when she fools a group of Lannister soldiers into believing that Baratheon heir Gendry (Joe Dempsie) is dead, and also manages to free Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) from captivity, a debt he would eventually repay by turning her into an assassin. Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Tyrion is at the top of his scheming game when he spreads a series of rumors in order to ferret out a spy, an underhanded process that is a joy to watch.

25. The North Remembers

Season 2 of "Game of Thrones" picks up after the shocking execution of Ned Stark, and sees all the major players taking their spots on the game board. As Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) gloats on the Iron Throne, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) leads the northern armies to avenge his father's death, and Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) throws his hat into the ring, arguing that since his brother Robert's heirs are actually Lannisters, he's the legitimate claimant to the throne.

"The North Remembers" does a great job of setting up the conflict to come, showing the many clashes brewing within Westeros following the shocking conclusion of the first season. But it also keeps things moving, building suspense as numerous threads of political tension are pulled taut. This may be one of the less action-heavy episodes of "Game of Thrones," but it does well in showing that there are many types of battles besides the ones fought with swords, and deftly maneuvers each of the fighters into position.

24. Kissed By Fire

The title of the Season 3 episode "Kissed by Fire" feels like it's being delivered with a wink, given that it's the episode in which Jon Snow and the red-headed Wildling Ygritte (Rose Leslie) finally consummate their long-simmering flirtation. But although that steamy cave scene may be the moment that is best remembered by many fans, it isn't the only noteworthy thing that happens in this episode.

"Kissed by Fire" also includes the thrilling trial by combat between Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and the Hound, which sees the Hound overcome his fear of fire to win the fight only for Beric to be resurrected minutes later. But probably the most emotionally impactful scene in the episode is the conversation that takes place between Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in the baths at Harrenhal. 

As they sit across from one another in the large pool of steaming water, Jaime tells Brienne the real story behind his "Kingslayer" nickname, revealing that he betrayed his king in order to save the people of King's Landing. It reframes the entire way Brienne — and the audience — thinks of the allegedly traitorous Jaime, and is a huge moment for both their characters.

23. Mockingbird

Most of Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish's (Aidan Gillen) scenes throughout "Game of Thrones" are difficult to watch, and the fourth season episode "Mockingbird" is no exception, featuring an unwelcome kiss between the scheming Baelish and the teenage Sansa Stark, after he has just married her unstable aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie). Baelish's treatment of Sansa oscillates from lascivious to abusive throughout "Game of Thrones," mostly because she reminds him of her mother, for whom he has carried a torch since childhood. But the payoff in "Mockingbird" is both shocking and grimly satisfying, when Baelish reacts to his wife's threatening of Sansa by admitting that he's always loved Catelyn and pushing her out the Moon Door. Are we rooting for him? No. Was it a great moment? Absolutely.

Elsewhere in Westeros, after demanding a trial by combat to challenge the accusations that he killed Joffrey, Tyrion struggles to find a champion to fight for him. After being turned down by both Bronn and his brother Jaime, he is feeling hopeless, until the newly introduced Dornish Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) emerges as a surprise volunteer. Having a charismatic new character come to the aid of one of the most beloved figures on the show gives us chills whenever we think of it.

22. You Win or You Die

No one can ever claim "Game of Thrones" wasn't upfront about what kind of show it was: In the seventh episode of Season 1, Cersei (Lena Headey) utters the iconic line, "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." The context is a conversation between Cersei and Ned Stark, who informs the queen that he knows her children's true lineage, only for her to subtly threaten him in return.

As if to illustrate her point, the episode also includes a couple of other ultimately fatal decisions for the honorable Ned. In addition to tipping his hand against Cersei, he informs Stannis Baratheon that he is the rightful heir to the throne, and begs to save the life of Daenerys Targaryen. These choices would prove to have serious ripple effects long after Ned's untimely death. By the end of the episode, Ned has been arrested for treason, set up by Littlefinger, who adheres to Cersei's code much more closely than Ned. And keeping in the spirit of short-term decisions that will have long-lasting consequences, elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, Ser Jorah saves Daenerys from an attempted assassination, helping him earn her trust going forward.

21. The Dragon and the Wolf

While it's pretty universally acknowledged that the quality of "Game of Thrones" tends to taper quite a bit as it approaches its endpoint, there are still quite a few moments of greatness scattered throughout the final few seasons. Case in point: "The Dragon and the Wolf," which caps off the penultimate season of the series. The title, of course, refers to Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, who finally act on their romantic attraction to one another — right as it's revealed that Jon is actually a Targaryen himself, making Daenerys his aunt (a detail both the show and the fans would prefer to overlook.)

But really, it's an episode chock-full of huge moments. In Winterfell, Sansa and Arya finally reveal that they're both wise to the fact that Littlefinger has been playing them against each other all season, and he is promptly executed for treason in one of the best bait-and-switch moments in the series. In King's Landing, Cersei pledges her troops to Daenerys to fight the White Walkers, only to later reveal that she's bluffing in the hopes that her enemies will all be wiped out. And at the Wall, the White Walkers defeat the Night's Watch, with the help of one of Daenerys' dragons, now transformed into a wight and controlled by the Night King (Vladimir 'Furdo' Furdik).

20. Beyond the Wall

Even stronger than the finale of Season 7 is the episode leading into it, which focuses on Jon Snow leading an unlikely party of allies north of the Wall in order to capture a wight. The plan is to bring the undead creature back to King's Landing to prove to Cersei that the White Walker threat is real and convince her to pledge troops to their cause (a plan which depends on Cersei acting for the greater good, which everyone should know by this point is never a safe bet).

Despite the ultimate futility of the endeavor, seeing Jon, the Hound, Jorah, Beric, Thoros (Paul Kaye), Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), and Gendry head off on the "Game of Thrones" version of a road trip is definitely one of the more amusing scenarios the series has created. And their ultimate battle against the wights — including the last-minute dragon-riding rescue by Daenerys, and the tragic loss of the Viserion — is loads of fun to watch. That the episode is capped off by the White Walkers dragging Viserion out of the ice to bring him back as a wight is just the icing on the cake.

19. The Spoils of War

Falling midway through Season 7, "The Spoils of War" is a bit of a mixed bag, spending a little more time focused on banking terms and tactical scheming than we would prefer. But where it is good, it is really good. To start, the episode features the reunion of three of the Stark kids, having grown up significantly since the last time they were together. Even though Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is now the enigmatic Three-Eyed Raven, Arya has been transformed into an assassin, and Sansa has had her optimism stripped away by years of abuse, seeing the three come back together can't help but warm hearts. Arya's lighthearted sparring with Brienne is just an extra treat to enjoy.

But where the episode truly shines is in Daenerys' spectacular attack on the Lannister army's loot train, led by Jaime. When the Lannisters are besieged by Daenerys' dragons and the Dothraki army, there's nothing Jaime can do to hold them off. It's a thrilling and tense sequence, especially as Tyrion watches from a distance, knowing his brother is sure to be on the front lines. But against all odds, Jaime survives the battle, saved at the last minute by Bronn. "Game of Thrones" always excels with battle sequences, but the fiery loot train siege is among its most visually stunning.

18. The Queen's Justice

While some of the best "Game of Thrones" episodes hinge on hard-won victories and uplifting emotional payoffs, sometimes, there can be beauty in darkness as well: Defeat for one character can often look like triumph for another. Such is the case with "The Queen's Justice," which includes both the much-anticipated meeting between Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, as well as the reunion of Bran and Sansa Stark. But the episode is much better remembered for the poetic ends of two other characters: Ellaria Sand and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), both at the hands of Cersei Lannister, albeit in very different ways.

For Ellaria, Cersei decides that the most fitting end for the woman she blames for the murder of her daughter is to force her to watch her own daughter die and decompose, all while chained just a few feet away. It's a horrific death, one that highlights just how far Cersei will go in the name of her own sense of justice. But the crown jewel of the episode comes when Jaime Lannister takes Highgarden for his sister and offers the shrewd matriarch a merciful and painless death in the form of poison. Olenna accepts his terms, but after she has swallowed the poison, she confesses that she is the one responsible for poisoning Joffrey, her last words being one of the series' best mic drops: "Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me."

17. The Dance of Dragons

Let's get this out of the way: "The Dance of Dragons," the penultimate episode of Season 5, contains one of the most horrific scenes in "Game of Thrones," when Stannis Baratheon and the witch Melisandre (Carice van Houten) sacrifice his young daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram), burning her at the stake. It's a horrible moment that makes it impossible to root for Stannis, especially after he sends Davos (Liam Cunningham) — Shireen's protector — away on a meaningless errand beforehand, showing just how precalculated the heinous act is. That this episode is so high on this list, despite containing this scene, is just a testament to how effective the rest of it is.

At the Wall, Jon loses the faith of the Night's Watch. In Dorne, Jaime's attempts to rescue his daughter Myrcella (Aimee Richardson) are thwarted. In Braavos, Arya continues her training to become an assassin. But the real meat of the episode happens in Meereen, where Daenerys has agreed to reopen the fighting pits, believing it will win her the approval of Meereen's citizens. But the event turns out to be a trap, as a group of assassins takes advantage of the opportunity and attempt to kill Daenerys. It's a jaw-dropping sequence that includes a disgraced Jorah earning Daenerys' trust by saving her from an attacker, and it culminates in something fans had been waiting to see since the beginning of the series: Daenerys finally riding one of her dragons.

16. The Watchers on the Wall

"Game of Thrones" often liked to put major battles in its penultimate episodes rather than season finales, and Season 4's "The Watchers on the Wall" is a great example of using an action-packed episode to tell an emotional, character-driven story. The episode takes place entirely around the northern Wall, where Jon Snow has recently rejoined his brothers in the Night's Watch, leaving behind his lover Ygritte and the Wildlings. The two know they'll be on opposite sides once the Wildlings attack, but while they're sure they can handle it, viewers were not.

The battle itself is a spectacularly claustrophobic action sequence, as the Wildlings descend on the Night's Watch at Castle Black, pinning them in, but the moments that linger the most are the ones that happen in pockets of stillness. When Ygritte and Jon come face to face, they realize that their feelings are more complicated than either of them wants to believe, only for Ygritte to be shot with an arrow a moment later, and die in Jon's arms. The poignancy of Ygritte's death is rivaled only by the moving scene when the terrified brothers of the Night's Watch, assigned to hold an inner gate, repeat the vows they took to one another, summoning the last of their bravery so that they can make their final stand.

15. The Laws of Gods and Men

The most thrilling scenes in "Game of Thrones" tend to accompany epic battles or noble sacrifices, but occasionally there's one that can make the hair on the back of our necks stand up through the power of dialogue alone. Such is the case in "The Laws of Gods and Men," which takes place midway through the fourth season, and features the trial of Tyrion Lannister for the murder of Joffrey Baratheon.

After sitting through the dubious testimony of several hostile witnesses, most of whom have a vested interest in Tyrion being found guilty, Tyrion's breaking point comes when his lover Shae (Sibel Kekilli) lies on the stand to claim that she helped Tyrion plan the murder. At that point, feeling betrayed and abandoned, Tyrion gives a scathing monologue verbally tearing his accusers to shreds, before demanding a trial by combat. The episode contains other subplots, of course — Daenerys' dragons killing villagers, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) refusing rescue by his sister — but the drama of Tyrion's trial overshadows them all.

14. The Bear and the Maiden Fair

Midway through the third season of "Game of Thrones," it feels as though everyone is on the move, with main characters each pursuing individual quests throughout the Seven Kingdoms. In the north, Jon and the Wildlings continue their journey toward the Wall, despite Jon's insistence that their journey is hopeless. At Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) tortures and mutilates Theon Greyjoy, in one of the show's most gruesome subplots. In the Riverlands, Robb and his army head toward the Twins for a fateful wedding. In Essos, Daenerys and her army arrive at Yunkai, where Daenerys announces her intention to free the slaves of the city.

But the most notable storyline in "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" is the one that inspired its title, following Jaime and Brienne in Harrenhal. Following his bathtime confessional a couple of episodes prior, Jaime says his goodbyes to the captive Brienne and prepares to head back to King's Landing. But he soon learns that Brienne has not been ransomed as promised. Instead, she's been forced into a fighting pit with a grizzly bear, armed only with a wooden sword. Jaime jumps into the pit to help her, and against all odds, they're both able to escape with their lives, strengthening their bond with one another and delighting viewers.

13. The Door

Taking place midway through the sixth season, "The Door" furthers several storylines, but we bet you only remember one. Yara and Theon flee the Iron Islands, Jorah reveals to Daenerys that he's been infected with greyscale, and Arya witnesses a troupe of actors dramatizing her father's execution. But the bulk of the episode follows Bran and his companions as they travel north of the Wall. After meeting the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow) and learning the true origin of the White Walkers, Bran is accidentally touched by the Night King while in a vision. Realizing this will draw the Night King to them, the Three-Eyed Raven warns Bran that he must leave, and begins transferring his knowledge to Bran.

As Bran's consciousness tumbles through a series of visions, his friends hold back an army of wights. Bran remains in the visions while also controlling his servant Hodor (Kristian Nairn), using his physical strength to help them escape. But as Bran and Meera (Ellie Kendrick) flee the hideout, Hodor stays back to hold the door shut, despite the wights tearing him apart, as Merra yells at him to "hold the door." Simultaneously, in Bran's vision of the past, he sees a young Hodor collapse and convulse, repeating "hold the door" over and over until it becomes just one word: "Hodor." Learning the origin of Hodor's name was one of the series' most shocking and heartbreaking twists, leaving us with tears in our eyes and our jaws on the floor.

12. And Now His Watch is Ended

"And Now His Watch is Ended," which takes place early in the third season, gets its name from the phrase that the brothers of the Night's Watch say at the funerals for their fallen brethren. The episode features such a funeral, along with a fight that prompts Sam to flee with Gilly and her infant son. Elsewhere, Arya, Gendry, and the Hound are held captive by the Brotherhood without Banners; Brienne tries to keep Jaime from giving up while in captivity; Theon is taunted by Ramsay; and Cersei and Margaery circle one another in King's Landing.

But the punctuation mark on an episode focused on infighting and intrigue is Daenerys in Astapor, where she negotiates with a brash slave owner to purchase an army. Throughout the episode, Daenerys seems to rely on a translator to understand the man, who routinely belittles her in his native language of Valyrian. But as soon as the terms are agreed upon — an army in exchange for one of Daenerys' dragons — Daenerys reveals her hand: She is fluent in Valyrian, and knows exactly what the slave owner has been saying about her the entire time. She orders her new army to kill the slave owners and free the slaves, before offering them the choice to stay with her or depart freely. Without exception, the soldiers remain with Daenerys, establishing her as the queen she's always known she was.

11. The Lion and the Rose

Weddings tend to be rather grisly affairs on "Game of Thrones," and what would come to be known as the Purple Wedding between Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell only proves the point. Prior to the wedding itself, Jaime works with Bronn on training himself to fight one-handed, and Tyrion sends his lover Shae away to try to protect her, speaking harshly in order to convince her to leave and inadvertently setting up her eventual betrayal.

After a lavish ceremony, the nobility of King's Landing heads to the Red Keep for the wedding feast, where Joffrey takes great pleasure in humiliating Sansa, Tyrion, and whoever else strikes his fancy. Margaery tries her best to smooth things over in spite of her loathsome new husband, but even she finds herself at a complete loss when Joffrey begins choking and collapses, turning purple from poison. As Joffrey writhes on the ground, Sansa takes the opportunity to flee King's Landing. As Joffrey takes his last breaths, he points at Tyrion, who is immediately arrested for the murder of the king: a suitably dramatic way to bid farewell to one of the series' most despicable characters.

10. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Only one episode from the much-maligned final season of "Game of Thrones" was strong enough to make this list, but that episode is so impressive that it's kicking off our top ten. "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" is the second episode of Season 8, and it calls back to some of the quieter, more character-driven episodes of earlier seasons. Unlike most episodes of "Game of Thrones," which jump all over Westeros following parallel storylines, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" is set entirely in Winterfell, as Daenerys, Jon, Sansa, and their allies prepare for the coming battle with the Army of the Dead.

The episode features a number of small but deeply satisfying interactions, as seasons worth of character development finally pay off. Sansa presses Daenerys on her plans for the North, proving herself by far the most politically minded of the Stark children, while Jaime offers Bran a long overdue apology, Arya sleeps with Gendry, and Sam gives Jorah the sword of House Tarly. But the most moving scene is the culmination of the mutual respect and friendship that has been building between Jaime and Brienne for years: Jaime finally knights Brienne, naming her a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms and giving her the recognition she's always yearned for.

9. Winter Is Coming

Pilot episodes are a hard thing to get right, especially when they have the daunting task of introducing a large ensemble of characters. However, the first episode of "Game of Thrones" was more than up to the task, opening with an intriguing and disturbing scene teasing the existence of the White Walkers, before turning its attention to the three main families who would vie with one another for control of the Seven Kingdoms: the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Targaryens.

It's almost bizarre now to see all of the Stark children gathered happily in Winterfell with both of their parents, something that never happens again after the first few episodes of the season. But "Winter Is Coming" does such a good job establishing the loving dynamic of the Stark family that the emotional impact of its eventual loss carries throughout the entire series. Similarly, when we meet Daenerys as she is pledged in marriage to a Dothraki warlord she doesn't know, she doesn't resemble at all the formidable queen she will eventually become. The only characters who show who they are right from the start are the Lannisters, who are always maneuvering for power, and prove they'll do anything to hold onto it — which we see when the episode closes with Jaime shoving young Bran out a window.

8. Fire and Blood

Season 1 of "Game of Thrones" is bookended by strong episodes, with its season finale, "Fire and Blood," taking place in the wake of Ned Stark's jaw-dropping execution the episode prior. The death of Ned served as a paradigm shift for the entire series, and "Fire and Blood" shows all of the characters coping with their new reality. In King's Landing, Arya realizes she is no longer safe, and disguises herself as a boy so that she can travel to the Wall. Meanwhile Sansa, no longer harboring any romantic notions about her intended husband, is terrorized by Joffrey, and forced to grow up in an instant in order to survive.

Elsewhere, Robb vows revenge on the Lannisters, and Jon attempts to desert the Night's Watch in order to join him, but both brothers are talked out of their rash plans by others. And while Ned's death doesn't have much bearing on Daenerys, she finds herself mourning another death, after her husband Drogo succumbs to an infection and she offers him a merciful end. At his funeral, she enters his burning pyre with her dragon eggs, and in the morning emerges unscathed, with the newly hatched baby dragons on her shoulders. While all of Season 1 establishes that the Baratheon hold on the Iron Throne is tenuous, "Fire and Blood" makes it clear that there are numerous other parties who want the throne, and they'll attempt to take it by any means necessary.

7. Battle of the Bastards

There are a lot of battles in "Game of Thrones," but perhaps none quite as viscerally stunning as the Battle of the Bastards, which pits the armies led by Jon Snow against those led by Ramsay Bolton as Jon fights to take back control of Winterfell. The episode takes place toward the end of the series' sixth season, at which point it had the budget to create a battle sequence that could rival anything you'd see on the big screen. But despite the grand scale and spectacle of the episode, it still manages to weave a moving storyline throughout its chapters, starting with the heartbreaking murder of youngest Stark sibling Rickon (Art Parkinson) by Ramsay, right in front of his siblings.

At that point, all of Jon's thoughts of diplomacy blink out of existence, and the battle commences, creating a press of dead bodies so dense Jon is nearly suffocated. All hope seems lost when suddenly, help arrives in the form of the Knights of the Vale, summoned by Sansa, who knew not to underestimate Ramsay. After the Bolton armies are defeated, Jon single-handedly takes down Ramsay, but stops just shy of killing him, saving that honor for his sister. The episode ends with Sansa feeding Ramsay to his own dogs, the same fate she'd watched him mete out to countless others.

6. The Rains of Castamere

Believe it or not, some other things happen in "The Rains of Castamere" besides the Red Wedding, but we wouldn't blame you if you couldn't remember what. The episode marks the first time Bran realizes he is able to warg into Hodor's mind, which he does shortly before using his powers to help an unknowing Jon escape his Wildling captors. It's a bittersweet moment to see the Stark brothers so close together, without ever coming face to face, and without Jon even realizing that his younger brothers are so nearby.

But of course, the Red Wedding is the centerpiece of the episode, as Robb, Catelyn, and Robb's new wife Talisa (Oona Chaplin) attend a wedding hosted by Walder Frey. Earlier in the season, Robb had been betrothed to Walder's daughter, but had backed out after falling in love with Talisa. The Starks assume all is forgiven, but the Freys have other plans, forging a secret alliance with the Boltons to slaughter the Stark family and all their soldiers. The second half of the episode buzzes with tension as Catelyn realizes the betrayal, and the bloodshed begins, and as Arya — who has snuck into the city to find her family — watches helplessly. It's a devastating episode, but masterfully executed ... literally and figuratively.

5. The Children

As season finales go, there are few more satisfying than "The Children." The episode sees the culmination of several storylines that have been gradually building throughout the fourth season, delivering an episode that offers equal parts catharsis and intrigue. Beyond the Wall, Stannis' armies finally catch up to the Night's Watch and the Wildlings, taking over control of the soldiers and holding the Wildlings captive. Elsewhere in the North, Bran and his party finally reach the Heart Tree, but are set upon by wights and subsequently saved by the Children of the Forest, who introduce him to the idea of the Three-Eyed Raven.

In the dungeons of King's Landing, Jaime helps Tyrion escape before he can be executed. Before leaving, Tyrion not only kills the duplicitous Shae, but murders his father as well, shooting him dead with a crossbow as he sits on the toilet, bringing an undignified end to one of the series' greatest masterminds. 

In the Vale, Brienne of Tarth finally catches up with Arya and the Hound, and attempts to free Arya by fighting her captor. Brienne is ultimately victorious after a brutal yet thrilling fight, leaving the Hound for dead, but Arya sneaks away instead of going with her, heading to Braavos to join the mysterious Faceless Men.

4. Baelor

If there's a single episode of "Game of Thrones" where everything changes, it's probably "Baelor," the penultimate episode of the first season. After following Ned Stark all season as he gradually realizes the layers of treachery and deceit in King's Landing, he is arrested under false charges and begins "Baelor" awaiting his trial. Despite being innocent, he is convinced to make a false confession in order to save his daughter.

Meanwhile, in Lhazar, Khal Drogo is succumbing to an infected wound, while Daenerys nears the end of her pregnancy. Desperate to save him, she asks a witch to heal him using blood magic, but doesn't realize it will cost her the life of her unborn child, while also not restoring Drogo in the way she'd hoped. And in the Riverlands, Robb Stark handily defeats Jaime's army and takes him captive, marking a major shift for all of the central families.

But no family is changed as much by the events of "Baelor" as the Starks. Although Ned is promised mercy for him and his family if he confesses to treason and bends the knee, once Joffrey has his confession, he instead orders his execution. As his daughters watch, Ned is beheaded with his own sword, revealing to both the characters and the audience that the stakes of the games being played are much higher than anyone thought.

3. Blackwater

The major battles of "Game of Thrones" take place all over Westeros, and with "Blackwater," it's King's Landing's turn to be at the center of the action. As Cersei's armies prepare for an attack by Stannis and his fleet, the queen mother herself is ushered into a hold with the other women and children –including Sansa — to wait out the battle. Little do the women and children realize that Cersei has given orders to kill them all if the battle goes south (she has a vial of poison for herself and her youngest son).

Fortunately, it doesn't come to that, thanks to some quick thinking by Tyrion. His strategic maneuvering turns the tide of the battle, buying the Lannister forces enough time for his father Tywin (Charles Dance) to arrive and finish the task, securing a victory for the people of King's Landing. It's a tense, thrilling episode with some excellent moments for typically uncelebrated characters, including Tyrion proving invaluable in battle, Sansa beginning to show her potential as a leader, and even kindhearted squire Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) getting a chance to show his mettle.

2. Hardhome

After a few minor skirmishes, the first major clash between the living and the dead takes place toward the end of the fifth season of "Game of Thrones," in the Wildling village of Hardhome. After Jon and Tormund convince the people of the village to resettle south of the Wall in anticipation of the coming White Walker threat, it turns out that their efforts are too late, and the wights are already upon them. Armed with dragonglass blades and Valyrian steel, Jon and the Wildlings aren't completely helpless against the White Walkers, but are still quickly overwhelmed and forced to retreat back to the Wall. As they go, they watch as the Night King reawakens all of their fallen allies as wights.

Elsewhere, Daenerys exiles a disgraced Jorah and gives a memorable speech about "breaking the wheel," Cersei plummets toward rock bottom as she's held in the King's Landing dungeons by the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), and the Boltons plan for war with Stannis' army as Ramsay holds Sansa and Theon captive. But the breathtaking battle at Hardhome is indisputably the high point of the episode, expertly delivering thrilling action and pulse-pounding suspense, even if it ultimately leads to a devastating loss.

1. The Winds of Winter

For our money, the strongest standalone episode is the finale of Season 6, "The Winds of Winter." The episode opens with a 20-minute sequence set to a haunting piano score as Cersei and Loras Tyrell each prepare for their trials. Except something is amiss; Cersei doesn't leave her chambers, and her son, King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) is barred from leaving his. Numerous things happen at once: Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) is assassinated by Qyburn's child spies; Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) discovers a cache of wildfire under the Sept, but is murdered before he can raise the alarm; and Margaery Tyrell realizes that the trial is a trap just before the wildfire is ignited and the Sept explodes, killing everyone inside.

The rest of the episode is also uniformly strong, with young Lyanna Mormont rallying the Northern lords behind Jon Snow. In Dorne, Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand pledge their allegiance to Daenerys, while in Meereen, Daenerys finally sets sail for Westeros. At the Twins, Arya gets her long-awaited vengeance on Walder Frey, gruesomely baking his sons into pies before revealing her true identity and slitting his throat. And at the Wall, Bran has a vision of Jon's birth, revealing that he is not the son of Ned, but of Ned's sister, Lyanna Stark (Aisling Franciosi). It's an episode jam-packed with major developments, stunning twists, and long-awaited payoffs, all executed flawlessly, showing how brilliant "Game of Thrones" could be when firing on all cylinders.