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    The 20 Best "Game Of Thrones" Episodes, Ranked

    These episodes prove why Game of Thrones was the best show of the 2010s.

    Game of Thrones was a phenomenon like no other.

     Still from Game of Thrones: Drogon flying back to one of the castles
    Courtesy of HBO

    For so many years, it was my absolute favorite show in the world — and millions of people agreed with me. Like a lot of fans, I now have complicated feelings about it as a result of the final season. There were a lot of issues, and I know I'm not alone in saying that the ending did not meet my expectations.

    But my expectations were extremely high, and that's down to the fact that Game of Thrones really was a spectacular show. For most of its run, it was the best thing on TV. The directing, writing, costumes, music, sets, and most of all the acting — a lot of people did a lot of great work over the course of the show's eight seasons.

    In celebration of that, here's a look at the top 20 episodes, ranked from very good to actually brilliant...

    20. "The Queen's Justice" (Season 7, Episode 3)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Jon Snow faces Daenerys in the throne room of Dragonstone,
    Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

    Directed by: Mark Mylod

    Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

    This episode had to do so much heavy lifting — too much, really. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen's relationship was crucial to the last two seasons, and as such their meeting was a significant moment — one which it felt like every step of their journeys had been building towards. While overall their relationship did feel rushed, this initial scene was long and given plenty of room to breathe, allowing their complicated power dynamic, their parallel pasts, and their intertwined futures to be explored.

    This episode also gives us Cersei's revenge on both Ellaria Sand and Olenna Tyrell in sad but powerful scenes. Olenna Tyrell's death was particularly memorable; she still managed to win, even when she was losing. On top of that, we have Sansa and Bran's bizarre but emotional reunion AND the attack on Casterley Rock, which was ultimately underwhelming — understandably so, in such a packed episode.

    19. "Winter is Coming" (Season 1, Episode 1)

    Still from Game of Thrones: The Stark family stand in a row in the courtyard at Winterfell
    HBO

    Directed by: Tim Van Patten

    Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

    After a notoriously disastrous first attempt at a pilot that was so bad it will apparently never see the light of day, Benioff & Weiss went back to the drawing board, recast some roles, and produced "Winter is Coming". It earns its place in the top 20 episodes because, like "The Queen's Justice", it does a lot of heavy lifting — here introducing the world and the vast array of characters. It might be a little overwhelming when you first watch it (anyone else initially think Theon was one of the Starks for a few episodes?), but the character work done here has long-reaching consequences.

    Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that this is the only episode where we see all the Starks together in one place, and at home. In just a few scenes, we as an audience have to become attached enough to them and their bond to root for them and want them to be reunited over the course of the next eight seasons. The episode lays the foundation for Ned as the ultimate honorable hero, readying us to be devastated and shocked over his death later in the season. We also see very early hints for one of the biggest plot twists of the entire show (aka R+L=J), an introduction to the White Walkers, oh, and of course the future king of Westeros gets PUSHED OUT OF A WINDOW. No doubt about it "Winter is Coming" readied us for what was to come, even if we didn't fully realize it at the time.

    18. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" (Season 3, Episode 7)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Brienne fights a bear with a wooden sword
    HBO

    Directed by: Michelle MacLaren

    Written by: George R.R. Martin

    George R. R. Martin didn't write many episodes over the course of Game of Thrones, but it was exciting when he did. No one truly understands these characters better than him (except maybe Bryan Cogman). This episode would perhaps be higher if not for Theon's storyline — this is when Ramsay cuts off his genitals, and the whole sequence around it is just too uncomfortable to watch. But elsewhere, "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" is full of excellent moments, most especially those at Harrenhal, as Jaime takes another step towards redemption when he risks his own freedom, and his life, by rescuing Brienne from Locke and his bear.

    17. "And Now His Watch Is Ended" (Season 3, Episode 4)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Arya stands in the forest
    HBO

    Directed by: Alex Graves

    Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

    At this stage of the series, the players were really spread out. There was a lot happening, and storylines weren't always well-balanced, but this episode does a good job. We have political machinations in King's Landing, with the Tyrells and Littlefinger circling Sansa and Cersei going head to head with Margaery;  not to mention a big character moment for Varys, as he unravels some of his past and gets revenge on the sorcerer who abused him. In the Riverlands, Jaime is being tortured by Locke and his men, and his bond with Brienne deepens; meanwhile Arya, Gendry and the Hound meet Beric Dondarrion after being captures by the Brotherhood without Banners. But one of the most dramatic and heartbreaking moments is, of course, the mutiny at Craster's Keep during which Jeor Mormont is killed.

    It's all topped off by Daenerys' iconic "Dracarys" moment after she fools Kraznys the slaver into thinking she's exchanged Drogon for the Unsullied — but actually she executes Kraznys and sets the Unsullied free, essentially guaranteeing their loyalty to herself. It's a crucial turning point in Dany's journey and characterization — and it's also just really, really fun to watch.

    16. "The Laws of Gods and Men" (Season 4, Episode 6)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Tyrion stands trial in a crowded thrown room
    HBO

    Directed by: Alik Sakharov

    Written by: Bryan Cogman

    Bryan Cogman episodes were always special. In this one, we have Daenerys struggling to rule Meereen, Stannis and Davos heading to the Iron Bank, and the incredibly brutal moment Yara tries to rescue Theon-as-Reek, only for him to refuse her help. But the true highlight of the episode is Tyrion's trial for Joffrey's murder. It's tense and full of twists, culminating in the breath-taking monologue in which Tyrion lets loose about what he really thinks of the people of King's Landing. Peter Dinklage did a lot of excellent acting as Tyrion over the years, but this was some of his best.

    15. "Book of the Stranger" (Season 6, Episode 4)

    Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

    Directed by: Daniel Sackheim

    Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

    The reunion of Jon Snow and Sansa Stark is one of the most memorable scenes of the entire series. We had all waited SO long for the Starks — any Starks — to be reunited, and the fact that this meeting, between two characters we had never even seen interacting before, was so powerful is testament to that groundwork laid in "Winter is Coming", as well as this scene itself. With the Stark theme playing in the background and not a word of dialogue, Kit Harrington and Sophie Turner manage to convey so much. By this stage, Jon and Sansa had both been through hell, and we as an audience had endured so much brutality, and we all finally got some desperately needed catharsis.

    The other major moment of the episode comes at the end, when Daenerys does her fave fire trick and wipes out all of the khals, impressing the Dothraki so much they all vow allegiance to her. It's both an iconic and troubling scene (especially in hindsight); still, there's no denying it was exhilarating to watch.

    14. "A Golden Crown" (Season 1, Episode 6)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Khal Drogo looks at a screaming Viserys who has molten gold encasing his head
    HBO

    Directed by: Daniel Minahan

    Written by: Jane Espenson, David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

    By this stage of Season 1 we were firmly embedded in the world of Westeros and perhaps knew what to expect. Or so we thought. The show might have shocked us by pushing a 10-year-old out the window in the very first episode, but watching Khal Drogo pour a pot of molten gold over Viserys' head was a particularly vivid and gruesome image, reinforcing the idea that actually the only thing we could expect was the unexpected. And, as an early seed of the endgame, there was something very discomforting about Dany's detached reaction to her brother's brutal execution, even if it was somewhat understandable considering he'd abused her for her entire life and had just threatened her unborn child.

    The episode was intense in other areas, too — we see Tyrion's trial by combat and the birth of his beautiful partnership with Bronn, Robert goes on his fateful hunting trip, Ned sends Ser Beric Dondarrion after the Mountain and unwittingly forms the Brotherhood without Banners, and Ned also finally clocks that Cersei's children are actually Jaime's and not her husband's.

    13. "Fire and Blood" (Season 1, Episode 10)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Daenerys is covered in ashes with a baby dragon on her shoulder
    HBO

    Directed by: Alan Taylor

    Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

    Season 1 ended with a (tiny, baby dragon) roar. Daenerys enters Khal Drogo's funeral pyre and emerged unscathed, with three baby dragons, transforming her into the Mother of Dragons. It's a mind-blowing moment — but, for my money, not actually the episode's strongest point. That lies in the quieter, more emotional scenes, as the impact of Ned Stark's death at the end of the previous episode is felt and explored. One of the things that's sorely missed in later seasons is the time and space fo consequences to actually play out, but here it's beautifully done.

    12. "Blackwater" (Season 2, Episode 9)

    Game of Thrones still: green wildfire explodes over the water as shoulders watch on from the castle
    HBO

    Directed by: Neil Marshall

    Written by: George R.R. Martin

    Game of Thrones is known for its battle scenes, so it's kind of amazing to consider that it wasn't until this episode — almost at the end of Season 2 — that we got our first actual battle on screen. This was also the first episode to stick to one location for its entirety, a format that Game of Thrones used sparingly but always to great effect. It's a tense and thrilling journey watching the battle unfold, and the focus on a few key characters — Tyrion, Cersei and Sansa in particular — and the examination of their emotions, and the lengths they're willing to go to protect themselves and the ones they hold dear, showcases Game of Thrones at its very best. But, of course, if emotional character work isn't your jam, there's also plenty of explosions.

    11. "The Watchers on the Wall" (Season 4, Episode 9)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Jon Snow cradles Ygritte's dead body in his arm as battle wages around him
    HBO

    Directed by: Neil Marshall

    Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

    This is another episode set entirely in one location, this time at Castle Black. We see the battle between the Night's Watch and Jon Snow one one side, and Mance Rayder's wildling army and Ygritte on the other. Like with "Blackwater", there are some great character moments in this episode. The action itself is absolutely incredible, with a beautifully choreographed tracking shot making for a particularly memorable sequence. But what really makes the episode is Jon Snow and Ygritte's meeting amidst the fighting. They take each other in without saying a word, their complicated emotions playing out on their faces, and then Jon watches in horror as Ygritte is shot by Olly and dies in his arms. The scene packs a huge emotional punch, especially with the performances of real-life couple Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie.

    10. "The Dragon and the Wolf" (Season 7, Episode 7)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Jon Snow and Daenerys look at each other at the entrance to her bed chambers
    Courtesy of HBO

    Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa

    Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

    Season 7 was an extremely uneven ride, but this final episode felt like a long overdue return to form. The extended runtime — 79 minutes — allowed for a slower pace that was rarely felt in the last two seasons. The meeting at the dragonpit enabled so many exciting reunions and first time interactions, it was almost dizzying. Fortunately, the complex relationships between all the characters, and the high stakes of the meeting, are given the space they need to hit home.

    For fan theorists, the latter part of episode was a huge moment, as the long-held theory that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark were secretly married — and Jon Snow was therefore a legitimate Targaryen, with a stronger claim to the throne than Dany — was confirmed. Littlefinger's death was a satisfying conclusion to a pretty terrible story arc, and the Wall coming down was a terrifying way to end the season.

    But most important of all: Jon Snow's butt.

    9. "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" (Season 8, Episode 2)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Brienne kneels before Jaime as he knights her with his sword; Davos, Tyrion, Tormund and Podrick look on in the background
    Courtesy of HBO

    Directed by: David Nutter

    Written by: Bryan Cogman

    Season 8 was, without a doubt, the worst season of Game of Thrones. And yet it also gifted us with one of the best episodes. A lot of that is owing to Bryan Cogman's writing — his love for these characters and care for this story permeates the episode.

    It's the night before the battle against the Night King, and the many characters gathered at Winterfell ready themselves for what feels like inevitable defeat and death. As they confront mortality, they reckon with their history, their own internal journeys, and their relationships with each other. There are so many brilliant conversations and interactions in this episode, but the absolute high point is definitely Jaime Lannister knighting Brienne of Tarth. It's the culmination of two of the best character arcs on the show (ahem, ignoring what happened after this episode), and one of the most compelling dynamics. In fact, why don't we just pretend Game of Thrones ended here? What an incredible finish!

    8. "The Lion and the Rose" (Season 4, Episode 2)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Joffrey clasps his hand to his throat with a shocked look on his face
    HBO

    Directed by: Alex Graves

    Written by: George R.R. Martin

    It's perhaps a sign of how Game of Thrones screwed with our collective moral compass that we all cheered at the on-screen death of a 14-year-old boy. But wow, was Joffrey's death satisfying. It's not the only great thing about this episode, of course. The whole long, drawn-out wedding celebration is fraught with tension and intrigue, full of charged conversations and significant looks. It's the perfect example of George R. R. Martin doing some of his best work and having a great time with the characters he created. Margaery and Olenna Tyrell and their manipulation of the people and events around them are a particular highlight.

    7. "Hardhome" (Season 5, Episode 8)

    Still from Game of Thrones: close up of The Night King standing in front of hordes of wights at Hardhome
    Courtesy of HBO

    Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

    Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

    Miguel Sapochnik was one of the best directors of Game of Thrones, particularly when it came to battle scenes (his one misfire was the entirety of "The Long Night" and its abysmal lighting — good in theory, unwatchable in reality). The battle in "Hardhome" — or rather, the massacre, because that's what it is as White Walkers and wights descend on the wildling camp — is a prime example of Sapochnik at his best. The action is exquisitely choreographed and shot, creating a sequence that is both thrilling and horrifying to watch. The final scene, as Jon Snow and the Night King stare each other down, is both chilling and significant. The events of "Hardhome" forever change Jon Snow, and set him on the path he follows for the rest of the series, and you can feel in these moments the seismic shift taking place.

    6. "The Door" (Season 6, Episode 5)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Hodor stands against a tree-covered door looking pained
    Courtesy of HBO

    Directed by: Jack Bender

    Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

    In a show full of heartbreaking moments and memorable deaths, it says something that "The Door", and Hodor's death, somehow hits harder than most others. The mystery around Hodor's name was something fans puzzled over for years, and the reveal packs a devastating gut punch. The juxtaposition between young and old Hodor, connected through time and Bran's powers, and the horrifying realisation that young Hodor experienced his own future death, is truly brutal. Bran doesn't really emerge from this encounter either — he becomes the Three Eyed Raven, and the Stark boy we once loved is gone. Summer also dies, and the Children of the Forest are effectively wiped out. It's a thorough tragedy, made all the more upsetting by the fact that it was Bran's recklessness and selfishness that caused it.

    But "The Door" stands out for other scenes, too — Sansa confronts Littlefinger about his role in her abuse at the hands of Ramsay, and it's a powerful moment for her, brilliantly acted by Sophie Turner. Meanwhile, Arya has to confront her grief over her father's death, as she watches a troupe of actors perform a twisted version of Ned's execution.

    5. "Kissed by Fire" (Season 3, Episode 5)

    Still from Game of Thrones: a dirty and bloody Jaime Lannister sits in a bath, looking upset
    HBO

    Directed by: Alex Graves

    Written by: Bryan Cogman

    The bath scene between Jaime and Brienne remains one of the best in Game of Thrones history. It's a key turning point for Jaime and Brienne, and also how we as an audience see Jaime. It even makes us view the righteous Ned Stark in a new, slightly less flattering light. Jaime's revelation about why he killed the Mad King, and the fact he willingly sacrificed his precious honor to save the lives of those in King's Landing, was a subtle yet powerful twist. The writing and directing is wonderful, but it's Nikolaj Coster-Waldau acting that truly shines. It's his best work in the show, and it's a shame the end of Jaime's arc undid what was built here.

    Also in this episode: cave sex! Jon Snow DOES know where to put it! Plus the farewell scene between Arya and Gendry, which is pretty heartbreaking.

    4. "The Rains of Castamere" (Season 3, Episode 9)

    HBO

    Directed by: David Nutter

    Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

    The Red Wedding. Need I say more?

    There’s a slow, creeping sense of unease that runs through the episode, and it finally reaches a breaking point when Catelyn Stark realizes Lord Bolton’s betrayal, and all seven hells break loose. It’s horrific and hard to watch, but equally hard to turn away from.

    While it's all very well done, a special shoutout has to go to Michelle Fairley, whose portrayal of Catelyn in her desperation and visceral grief is perhaps the best acting of the entire series.

    3. "Baelor" (Season 1, Episode 9)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Ned Stark kneels as an executioner swings a sword above his head; Joffrey looks on smiling, Cersei watches concerned and Sansa is screaming, being held back by a guard. A crowd watches from the castle in the background.
    HBO

    Directed by: Alan Taylor

    Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

    This episode defines Game of Thrones more than any other. We'd already seen shocking twists and deaths by this stage in Season 1, and yet nothing was quite as impactful as Ned Stark's death. Right up until the very moment it happens, you can't help but think he's going to get out of it somehow. He's the hero, after all — the good guy, and good guys get out of these situations! Except, of course, the ones in Game of Thrones. With one swift slice of a sword, the show established itself as something different and unique, and we couldn't look away.

    It wasn't just that big moment that makes this episode great, of course. There are a lot of scenes that feature layered, complex conversations — most notably, Jon Snow and Maester Aemon talking about honor and being a Targaryen (FORESHADOWING).

    2. "Battle of the Bastards" (Season 6, Episode 9)

    Still from Game of Thrones: Jon Snow stands with his back to the camera, holding a sword, as soldiers on horses charge towards him
    Courtesy of HBO

    Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

    Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

    “Battle of the Bastards” is not a perfect episode, but it has several perfect scenes. Miguel Sapochnik took his battle-won reputation from “Hardhome” to a whole new level, mounting what is probably the best battle sequence in TV (and, dare I say, movie) history.

    Following Jon Snow’s point of view through the Battle of the Bastards is not just smart from an action and character point of view, it also allows for some visually stunning shots. The real standout moment is the “crush” scene, in which Jon gets trampled by his own men. It’s absolutely suffocating, and also serves as a crucial moment for Jon’s character, as he has to actively fight for his life after wishing for death all season.



    The only other storyline we cut to during this episode is Dany’s, as she battles the Masters in Meereen and then forges an alliance with the Greyjoys. The dual focus signalled what was to come for these two characters, and the important role they would play in the endgame.

    1. "The Winds of Winter" (Season 6, Episode 10)

    Still from Game Of Thrones: Daenerys looking out into the ocean along with Tyrion and Missandei
    Courtesy of HBO

    Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

    Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

    I’m willing to admit that there’s a lot of subjectivity around what makes a good episode, and that many people might justifiably disagree with the episodes, and the order, I’ve listed here. But sorry, if you try to say any other episode but “The Winds of Winter” is the best, you’re wrong.

    The opening sequence alone is enough to make it one of the greatest episodes of TV ever. The build up to the wildfire explosion is tense and terrifying and beautiful. Ramin Djawadi’s score was always one of the strongest parts of Game of Thrones, and “Light of the Seven” used here is his absolute best work. The use of the piano — never heard before in the show — immediately signalled that something wasn’t quite right. That we had to pay attention. And the pay-off more than delivers.

    From the amazing opening, the episode continues to go from strength to strength. There’s SO much happening here — Arya murders Walder Frey! Dany finally leaves Essos! JON SNOW IS LYANNA STARK’S SON! AND KING IN THE NORTH! — but it’s all beautifully handled. 

Watching it for the first time was a truly unforgettable experience, and it’s worth returning to, even now. It’s also a good reason — along with “Battle of the Bastards” and “Hardhome” — to be excited that Miguel Sapochnik is showrunner for the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel. If it's anything like "The Winds of Winter", it will be must-watch TV.