Warning: this article contains spoilers.
With the dust settled, the great game over and the board cleared once more, it is a fitting moment to look back over all the murder and mayhem of eight seasons. Here’s my (highly subjective) countdown from 73 to 1 …
73. Breaker of Chains (season four, episode three)
This comes rock-bottom for the dreadful decision to rewrite a consensual scene from the books between Cersei and Jaime into a rape.
72. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken (season five, episode six)
It’s a general rule of Game of Thrones that anything featuring the Sand Snakes, AKA Dorne’s answer to Fox Force Five, is best avoided. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken – in which Jaime and Bronn take them on in the most poorly choregraphed fight in the show’s history – is no exception. This is also the episode in which Ramsay rapes Sansa while Theon is forced to watch; a scene which in effect centres a woman’s trauma through male eyes.
71. Beyond the Wall (season seven, episode six)
This cuts to the heart of the issues with season seven. A mismatched group including Tormund, Jon and The Hound head off on Mission Improbable AKA an attempt to capture a Wight because it’s somehow meant to make Cersei join the battle against the Night King. Not only is it a stupid quest, but it ends in the death of Daenerys’ dragon, Viserion, subsequently raised by the Night King in chains.
70. Eastwatch (season seven, episode five)
Long-suffering Gendry fans rejoice as he finally returns from wherever he’s been rowing for multiple seasons. Unfortunately, this is the high point of an episode which also sees the genesis of Jon’s kidnap-a-Wight plan.
69. Sons of the Harpy (season five, episode four)
Another Sand Snakes episode – the first in which they appear, let us all weep together. It’s also the episode where Cersei has Loras Tyrell (remember him?) arrested and the Meereenese guerrilla warfare campaign against Dany culminates in Ser Barristan Selmy’s untimely death.
68. The Red Woman (season six, episode one)
The Sand Snakes continue to exist, Jon stays resolutely dead, and Melisandre reveals her true form to be a withered hag.
67. The House of Black and White (season five, episode two)
A slow one. Jon takes on the poisoned chalice that is the role of Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, while Cersei threatens to burn Dorne to the ground and Dany loses friends and influence in Meereen. Best remembered for the return of a man, Jaqen H’ghar, although this leads Ayra to spend an entire series undergoing Jedi/Karate Kid training.
66. Mhysa (season three, episode 10)
Heavily criticised for the ending, which sees Dany held aloft by a bunch of worshipful people of colour all of whom are calling her ‘Mother’, this is a grim episode largely concerned with the fall-out from the Red Wedding. The Freys parade Robb’s body with his Direwolf’s head sown onto it, while a barely conscious Theon begs Ramsay to end his torture. Meanwhile, Ygritte gets over the abrupt end to the love affair by trying to turn Jon into a human pincushion.
65. High Sparrow (season five, episode three)
One of the clunkier episodes, this introduces Jonathan Pryce’s High Sparrow and sees Margaery, newly married to Tommen, involved in a beautifully poisonous dance for power with Cersei. Meanwhile Arya’s Karate Kid lessons continue to the delight of no one (and indeed No One).
64. The Broken Man (season six, episode seven)
One of the few Bryan Cogman episodes that doesn’t work for me (the other is Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken). The highlight is the back-from-the-dead Hound’s meeting with Ian ‘Tits and Dragons’ McShane’s Septon, a relationship cut short by brutal death as is so often the case on Game of Thrones. Elsewhere, Arya finds herself on the wrong end of a clumsy assassination attempt and Jaime’s character development goes backwards.
63. Dragonstone (season seven, episode one)
Arya complete her roots-and-branch removal of the House of Frey before heading off for an unfortunate encounter with travelling soldier-boy Ed Sheeran. Meanwhile, comedy pirate Euron Greyjoy arrives in King’s Landing to make Cersei an offer she can’t (but should) refuse, and poor Sam discovers that dream jobs aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.
62. Winterfell (season eight, episode one)
Sticks in the mind because of the spectacularly cheesy scene of Dany and Jon riding dragons (oh Ygritte, if only you and your arrows of doom had survived.) Only partially redeemed by the silent reunion between Bran and Jaime, and Theon saving Yara.
61. Valar Dohaeris (season three, episode one)
A slow-paced opener dealing with the fall-out from the Battle of Blackwater and the ascension of the Tyrells, which sees the beginning of the power struggle between Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell. Barristan Selmy arrives in Essos.
60. No One (season six, episode eight)
An episode that could have been brilliant (Jaime’s melancholy conversation with Edmure, Sandor’s bitter reunion with Beric and Thoros) is let down by the bizarre death of the Blackfish off-screen and the increasingly circular storyline in Meereen.
59. The Night Lands (season two, episode two)
Another episode in which not a huge amount happens. Most memorable for an extended sex scene between Theon and a sea captain’s unfortunate daughter, the reunion between Theon and Yara and the arrival of Patrick Malahide relishing the chance to chew scenery as Theon’s grim father Balon.
58. Home (season six, episode two)
The least shocking plot twist in the show’s history sees Melisandre bring Jon Snow back to life. Meanwhile boring psychopath Ramsay murders his far more interesting father Roose and feeds his stepmother and her child to the dogs, Euron momentarily convinces me that he’s interesting after turning up in Pyke to dispatch older brother Balon, plus Max von Sydow guides Bran on a vision quest.
57. Stormborn (season seven, episode two)
Euron attacks Yara’s fleet managing to eliminate two Sand Snakes (I would cheer but it’s Euron…). Dany insists she doesn’t want to be Queen of the Ashes (and in the future, the people of King’s Landing let out a hollow laugh), Missandei and Grey Worm share a touching scene that has me rooting for them to survive against the odds and, in a stomach-turning scene, Sam attempts a spot of DIY greyscale removal on Jorah.
56. The Gift (season five, episode seven)
More Sand Snakes equals more torture. This episode is, however, redeemed by the beauty (particularly for fans of the books) of Maester Aemon’s final line: “Egg! I dreamed that I was old” and Cersei’s arrest on the orders of the High Sparrow.
55. Blood of My Blood (season six, episode six)
A quieter episode in which a number of pieces are moved into place. The long-missing Benjen Stark reunites with Bran, Jaime sets off for Riverrun to deal with the Blackfish, Sam has a particularly awkward family reunion and Gilly sums up the entire Game of Thrones viewing experience in one sentence: “I’m angry that horrible people can treat good people that way and get away with it.”
54. Oathkeeper (season four, episode four)
In this brutal episode, the Night’s Watch mutineers settle down in Craster’s Keep for a spot of rape and torture, while Dany ignores Barristan’s case for mercy and crucifies 163 Masters of Meereen. Meanwhile, Olenna reveals she was behind Joffrey’s murder and, in one of the most touching moments of the season, Pod calls Brienne ‘Sir’.
53. The Spoils of War (season seven, episode four)
Season seven is my least favourite season, although this outing does include the meeting between Littlefinger and Bran, which seemed odd at the time but in retrospect proved extremely important: the Three-Eyed Raven gets the Lord of Chaos to hand over the dagger that will kill the Night King.
52. The Wars to Come (season five, episode one)
Tyrion and Varys begin their drunken road trip, Jon delivers mercy to Mance Rayder and Dany brings military rule to Meereen (along with more doubts about how good a ruler she really is). A solid opener with a great start, where a young Cersei is told that all her children will die.
51. The Bear and the Maiden Fair (season three, episode seven)
Jaime Lannister grows a heart and saves Brienne from the bear pit in an episode written by George RR Martin which also sees Ygritte and Jon’s bond grow strong, Talisa tell Robb she’s pregnant and the ongoing torture of Theon become pretty much unbearable to watch.
50. The Kingsroad (season one, episode two)
A cluttered episode, but then it is only the second and there’s a lot going on. Ned and his children continue on their way to King’s Landing and doom – a doom foreshadowed by the execution of Sansa’s Direwolf Lady following a fight involving Arya, Joffrey and Arya’s Direwolf Nymeria. This is also the moment The Hound first earns Arya’s enmity.
49. Kill the Boy (season five, episode five)
This one ends up higher than it probably should thanks to one scene – the beautifully shot and melancholy moment when Tyrion and Jorah drift through the ruins of old Valyria.
48. The Last of the Starks (season eight, episode four)
A lot of people didn’t like this episode, largely because of Euron’s dragon-destroying-ex-machina ambush, but I maintain that despite Tyrion’s goading of Brienne, this is a solid entry lifted by Jon’s moving eulogy and Missandei’s tragic end.
47. Book of the Stranger (season six, episode four)
Dany burns some more enemies (David Benioff and DB Weiss weren’t kidding about the destruction of King’s Landing being forewarned), Sansa and Jon reunite (hurrah, cry Stark loyalists) and, in a truly rare moment for this show, a bunch of characters actually make it to where they intended to go as Brienne, Pod and Sansa reach Castle Black.
46. Lord Snow (season one, episode three)
A huge number of new characters are introduced, from the flighty Renly to the devious Petyr Baelish. Jon arrives at The Wall and swiftly discovers that the Night’s Watch is less Band of Brothers, more abusive reform school for unwanted boys.
45. Oathbreaker (season six, episode three)
Jon finds that coming back from the dead isn’t easy. More importantly, book fans finally get to see Ser Arthur Dayne’s last stand at the Tower of Joy.
44. The Dragon and the Wolf (season seven, episode seven)
The season seven climax summed up everything that is most frustrating about late-era Game of Thrones. The death of Littlefinger was clever, yet its power was diminished by the fake tension manufactured between Sansa and Arya earlier in the season. Similarly, the meeting between Dany and Cersei was well-handled as was Jaime’s decision to walk out on her, but both were retrospectively lessened by the turns of season eight. What moves this episode up the ranks, however, is the lovely scene between Jon and Theon in which both Kit Harington and Alfie Allen are at their best.
43. Garden of Bones (season two, episode four)
AKA the one in which Melisandre gives birth to the shadow baby in the most WTF moment in this show’s history. It’s also the episode in which Stannis outs himself as a grammar pedant, while Joffrey continues to humiliate poor Sansa as part of his campaign to be recognised as the psychopath’s psychopath.
42. Valar Morghulis (season two, episode 10)
Robb demonstrates he’s truly his father’s son by marrying Dr Talisa, Medicine Woman, for love and breaking the hard-won allegiance with the Freys. Dany enters the House of the Undying where, she is treated to a series of visions before burning Pyat Pree alive. Joffrey agrees to dump Sansa for Margaery, and Tywin takes the credit for the Battle of Blackwater, sidelining Tyrion in the process.
41. The Old Gods and the New (season two, episode six)
Theon, pushed to the edge of his limits, executes Ser Rodrik in a show of force that immediately backfires. This episode demonstrates the difference between those who understand the true cost of war and those who still see it as a game.
40. The First of His Name (season four, episode five)
The one in which we learn that Petyr Baelish, our lord of the wandering accents, is the devious weasel responsible for kicking the whole bloodthirsty shebang off in the first place. While he moves to become Lord of the Eyrie by marrying the crazed Lysa Arryn, the shy Tommen is crowned king in King’s Landing, Dany decides to learn how to rule in Meereen and Jon and his band of brothers successfully avenge Lord Mormont’s death.
39. What is Dead May Never Die (season two, episode three)
A Renly-heavy episode sees Catelyn Stark arrive at what I think of as ‘The Boys of the Summer Court’. There we meet the pragmatic Maergery Tyrell, her sulky brother Loras (who is also Renly’s lover), and the ungainly Brienne of Tarth, desperate to serve a man she loves who barely notices her.
38. The Queen’s Justice (season seven, episode three)
The best episode of season seven and a fitting sendoff for Diana Rigg as Olenna who, seeing Highgarden fall, takes the Socratic way out. Her melancholy final line: “And now the rains weep o’er our halls” is a masterclass in delivery.
37. Two Swords (season four, episode one)
Pedro Pascal arrives as Prince Oberyn Martell, upping the show’s smoulder quotient considerably. Meanwhile an astute examination of the notion that history belongs to the winners sees Tywin melt down Ned’s sword Ice, while the remaining Starks mourn the deaths of Robb and Catelyn. Arya finds herself trapped with The Hound in what will turn out to be one of the best pairings on the show.
36. Second Sons (season three, episode eight)
The world’s most horribly awkward wedding takes place with Sansa desperately clinging to her notions of courtesy as Tyrion gets magnificently drunk (“I am the God of tits and wine”). This is also the episode where Melisandre introduces Gendry to her unique take on seduction and Dany falls for Daario Mark I (Ed Skrein, lumbered with a horrendous Fabio-style hairdo).
35. The Wolf and the Lion (season one, episode five)
The first season reaches its midpoint with this quieter episode that features a number of lovely scenes, including the moment Robert and Cersei talk honestly about their marriage. Meanwhile, Ned is ambushed by Jaime in a scene that will have serious repercussions.
34. Dark Wings, Dark Words (season three, episode two)
Vanessa Taylor, the writer for Garden of Bones and The Old Gods and The New, turns in another strong episode concerned with the forging of new alliances. Jaime begins to see Brienne in a new light, Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, arrives in King’s Landing and Ayra encounters the Brotherhood without Banners. Not an episode for the squeamish, as Ramsay Bolton begins the unnecessarily prolonged torture of Theon.
33. The North Remembers (season two, episode one)
Stannis Baratheon, stickler for grammar and future immolator of children, arrives, beautifully played by Stephen Dillane. We also meet Ben Crompton’s gloriously dour Edd Tollett and are treated to one of the show’s most powerful conclusions – the Massacre of the Innocents-style eradication of almost all of Robert Baratheon’s bastards.
32. And Now His Watch is Ended (season three, episode four)
A vengeance-driven hour most remembered for Dany’s ransacking of Astapour and leading The Unsullied out of its gates, her dragons circling the skies behind. Elsewhere the Night’s Watch turn on Lord Commander Mormont at Craster’s Keep and Varys reveals to Tyrion just what he’s keeping in that heavy crate. Clue: it’s not pretty.
31. A Man Without Honour (season two, episode seven)
A Lannister-heavy episode sees Jaime let down his guard with cousin Alton, Cersei confessing to Tyrion that Joffrey is a monster and Tywin and Arya continuing to steal most of the best moments. Best of all, Ygritte utters the phrase that will come to define Jon. All together now: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
30. The Prince of Winterfell (season two, episode eight)
Catelyn frees Jaime and sends him off with Brienne to find her daughters. Tyrion and Cersei face-off about her decision to have Ros tortured. Plus Yara delivers one of my favourite lines of the whole series after unsuccessfully trying to get Theon to leave Winterfell: “Don’t die so far from the sea.”
29. The Climb (season three, episode six)
The one in which Littlefinger delivers his theory of chaos (“the climb is all there is”), Ramsay helpfully outlines that this is not a show for those keen on happy endings and in one of the show’s rare beautiful moments, Ygritte and Jon make it to the top of The Wall.
28. The Ghost in Harrenhal (season two, episode five)
For me, this is the high point of Arya’s time as Tywin Lannister’s cup-bearer and Maisie Williams really sells the way the youngest Stark daughter has changed. It’s also the episode in which Stannis’s murderous shadow baby kills Renly, thus wiping out the most likable claimant to the Iron Throne.
27. The Pointy End (season one, episode eight)
George RR Martin is on scriptwriting duties for this excellent Stark-centric episode in which Robb Stark AKA The Young Wolf amasses an army in the North, Sansa tries unsuccessfully to save her imprisoned father by appealing to Cersei’s better nature and Arya is saved by ‘dancing master’ Syrio Forel, a wonderful scene that bumps the episode right up the ranking.
26. You Win Or You Die (season one, episode seven)
Ned’s honour proves his undoing, we say goodbye to Mark Addy’s blustering King Robert and hello to Charles Dance’s magnificent bastard Tywin Lannister, while Littlefinger introduces the Game of Thrones crowd to the concept of sexposition. The best moment, however, is Jon and Sam saying their Night’s Watch oath. All together now: “I am the Sword in Darkness. I am the watcher on the walls …”
25. The Bells (season eight, episode five)
I wasn’t sure about the show’s penultimate episode when I first watched it but it’s grown on me. Miguel Sapochnik directs the fire and fury of Dany’s vengeance with conviction, capturing the horror of the conflagration perfectly. There is however the nagging sense that plotting is occasionally playing second fiddle to spectacle.
24. Winter is Coming (season one, episode one)
The opener had a couple of bedding-in issues, mainly due to introducing such a large group of characters. It was redeemed, though, by the shocking ending, in which Jaime pushed Bran from a Winterfell window (“The things I do for love”) as audiences everywhere realised that this was not your standard fantasy show.
23. The Watchers on the Wall (season four, episode nine)
Directed once more by Neil Marshall, this is the hour in which the long-awaited clash between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch occurs. It’s a well-paced, CGI-heavy episode although the best moments don’t involve Giants or Thenns (or even Edd’s clever use of an anchor of doom) but rather the death of Ygritte in Jon’s arms and the ends of poor Pyp and Grenn, who bravely try to hold The Wall to the end.
22. The Long Night (season eight, episode three)
Some people really hate this episode – it’s too dark, too rushed, too early – but I think it’s beautifully shot, haunting and smart about the chaos of battle. It also provides a wonderful sendoff for Melisandre, whose Lord of Light truly comes through for her, fits in a couple of tragic, moving deaths for Theon and Jorah and features the memorable exchange: “What do we say to the God of Death?” “Not today.”
21. Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things (season one, episode four)
A clever, well-scripted (by Bryan Cogman) and often overlooked episode in which we learn how The Hound got his scars, meet Samwell Tarly and see Tyrion’s ingenious mind at work in the creation of a special saddle for Bran.
20. The Laws of Gods and Men (season four, episode six)
Another Bryan Cogman number. This is most momentous for Tyrion’s trial, in which Shae shatters his heart by lying under oath about their relationship, driving him to speak the truth about how he is seen by the twisted court of King’s Landing. An hour heavy with rejection which also sees Yara walk away from Theon/Reek, Jaime fail to save his little brother and Varys return to deliver some home truths about the nature of privilege to Oberyn.
19. Mother’s Mercy (season five, episode 10)
In which a huge amount happens: Jon’s death, Arya’s blinding, Cersei’s walk of shame, Myrcella’s death, Selyse’s suicide, Dany’s capture by the Dothraki, Qyburn’s waking of Ser Gregorstein, “bad pussy” Tyene Sand’s uttering of the worst line ever written on this show. The best moment, however, is the death of Stannis, who gambled everything he had only to lose it all. A great, bleak ending for one of the best characters, brilliantly played by Stephen Dillane.
18. A Golden Crown (season one, episode six)
I have a particular fondness for this episode, largely because of Harry Lloyd’s portrayal of the snivelling Viserys, who finally gets the crown he’s been banging on about since the series began. Up in the Eyrie, Tyrion backs the right horse in Bronn while Theon and Robb’s relationship begins to fracture.
17. The Children (season four, episode 10)
Most memorable for the realisation that Tyrion, so long the avatar for the audience, is as capable of committing savage deeds as everyone else in this god-forsaken world. While his murder of Shae followed by his final showdown with his father proves the most powerful moment, Jon and Meera provide the heart as one says goodbye to his dead love with a funeral pyre and the other weeps while her brother dies in her arms.
16. Mockingbird (season four, episode seven)
A cracking episode notable for two things: Oberyn’s decision to stand as Tyrion’s champion so he can gain revenge for the death of his sister and Littlefinger’s confrontation with Lysa Arryn which ends with him telling her a few home truths (“Oh my sweet, silly wife. I have only loved one woman my entire life – your sister”) before pushing her out of her moon door.
15. The Door (season six, episode five)
Oh Hodor. This is an emotional gut-punch in which we finally learn how Westeros’s gentle giant got his name. It also features a dark and powerful scene between Sansa and Littlefinger, in which Sansa calls out her devious protector for selling her to the Boltons.
14. The Winds of Winter (season six, episode 10)
AKA the one where Cersei blows up half the cast, freeing up some budget for the final two seasons while causing Tommen to kill himself in an unbearably moving scene. It’s stuffed with great moments – Arya delivers justice to Walder Frey and his sons, Davos confronts Melisandre, Bran gets confirmation that L+R=J, Olenna Tyrell tells the Sand Snakes to shut up, and Dany finally sets sail for Westeros. It would be higher were it not for the nagging suspicion that Cersei’s action fatally unbalanced later seasons in King’s Landing, leaving her no one to play off.
13. The Walk of Punishment (season three, episode three)
Another favourite. Jorah spells out to Dany the difference between romantic heroism and brutal pragmatism (“Rhaegar fought valiantly. Rhaegar fought nobly. And Rhaegar died”), Catelyn returns to Riverrun for her father’s funeral, Arya says goodbye to Hot Pie and Jaime saves Brienne and in doing so loses his sword hand.
12. The Dance of Dragons (season five, episode nine)
An episode I’ve come to reappraise over the years, having struggled with it when it first aired. It’s the one where Stannis sacrifices his daughter to help his cause and, as he believes, save Westeros. At the time I wondered if this tipped into gratuitous, but the power and tragedy has grown on me. I would have placed it even higher had it not been for the cheesiness of Jorah leading his one true Khaleesi to Drogon and safety. Also Dorne sadly continues to exist.
11. Hardhome (season five, episode eight)
Considered one of the most spectacular battle scenes in the show’s history, Hardhome sees the Night King and Jon’s outnumbered band of brothers meet near a tiny fishing village of Free Folk. What follows is brilliantly handled. The moment the Night King raises up all the dead is genuinely shocking, as is the tragedy of what happens to the people of Hardhome – one of the few moments when the plight of the ordinary people of Westeros is really rammed home.
10. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (season eight, episode two)
The second best episode of the final season, a melancholy eve-of-war episode scripted by the king of reflection, Bryan Cogman, in which Winterfell prepares for battle by sitting around drinking and shooting the breeze or, in the case of Arya, seizing the day and Gendry. Includes the perfect scene in which Jaime knights Brienne, plus Theon’s emotional reunion with Sansa.
9. The Mountain and the Viper (season four, episode eight)
Most memorable for the sickening (and smart) conclusion in which Oberyn’s desire for revenge crumbles to nothing after he fails to finish off Ser Gregor and is himself brutally murdered. One of the most gory scenes in this show’s history, it worked because it was an inversion of everything film and TV usually tells you: that the charming, flash-talker with the righteous cause will win the day in the end.
8. Fire and Blood (season one, episode 10)
The finale of the first season is all about one moment: Dany, having lost her unborn child in her attempt to save her husband, walks into his funeral pyre with three stone eggs and walks out with three baby dragons.
7. The Iron Throne (season eight, episode six)
Ending a long-running show is never easy, but while there were pacing and scripting issues leading up to The Iron Throne, this was the best possible conclusion – a bittersweet, stirring and at times beautiful finale which stayed true to the spirit of the books, ending with the Starks triumphant while making pertinent points about love, duty, family, power and the gap between the stories we want to hear and the brutal reality.
6. The Lion and the Rose (season four, episode two)
If Game of Thrones has one guiding principle it’s “Never attend a wedding in Westeros.” Scripted by George RR Martin, this is particularly memorable for the final 15 minutes focussing on the ill-fated wedding between Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell, which begins with the humiliation of Tyrion and ends with the poisoned boy king choking slowly to his death, blood streaming from his nose.
5. Kissed By Fire (season three, episode five)
The one where Jon and Ygritte find a cave for him to demonstrate that he does actually know something, Tara Fitzgerald makes a creepy appearance as Stannis’s religious fanatic wife Selyse, Arya breaks my heart by asking Thoros to bring back her dead father, and, in one of the best scenes of the entire series, Jaime tells Brienne how he came to murder a king.
4. Baelor (season one, episode nine)
The episode that got everyone talking. The brutal end of Sean Bean as the Stark patriarch, positioned throughout the first series as the show’s hero, was a genuinely shocking moment made all the more powerful by the fact that we saw it through his two devastated daughters’ eyes.
3. The Battle of the Bastards (season six, episode nine)
Probably the best battle scene this show ever filmed, certainly the most ambitious, as director Miguel Sapochnik took the theme ‘war is chaos’ and used it to pay homage to everything from Saving Private Ryan to Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. From the terrifying shots of Jon being slowly crushed under the weight of dead men to the eerily beautiful scene shot from above of Littlefinger and his knights encircling Ramsay’s men, this is an episode filled with haunting moments in which the most shocking of all comes as Sansa finally defeats Ramsay. “Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. My memory of you will disappear.” As epitaphs go, it’s devastating.
2. The Rains of Castamere (season three, episode nine)
Another moment that had fans screaming at their TVs: the brutal deaths of Robb, Talisa and Catelyn Stark was very nearly my choice for number one. Filled with iconic moments from “Jaime Lannister sends his regards” to the way the haunting strains of the Rains of Castamere, AKA the Lannister song of doom, tips Catelyn off to the carnage to come.
1. Blackwater (season two, episode nine)
Others might prefer the Battle of the Bastards for ambition, Hardhome for shock value and The Bells for its unflinching depiction of the true cost of war, but Blackwater, scripted by George RR Martin and directed by Neil Marshall, is both my favourite battle episode and my favourite overall. Why? For the scene with Cersei holed up with the women of the court, drinking and dishing out bitter advice to Sansa; for Tyrion’s brave attempt to rally the disheartened troops and The Hound’s fearful reckoning with fire; for Stannis’s realisation that even his iron will couldn’t vanquish wildfire and Davos’s that he couldn’t save his son, and even for the unexpected arrival of Tywin Lannister and the Tyrells. A perfect hour of television.