In this series…
- Before season 8 starts, read our guide to where every character left off.
- The most beautiful shots of Game of Thrones, curated by One Perfect Shot.
- Every episode of Game of Thrones, ranked by our own resident Maester.
- Read our in-depth breakdown of the Game of Thrones season 8 trailer.
- We rank the best duels in Game of Thrones.
- We rank the 50 most important props from Game of Thrones.
- Gather your tunics and explore Game of Thrones in 50 Costumes.
- We also ranked the villains on Game of Thrones.
- Brush up on who’s left on Arya’s kill list.
- We try to answer the unanswered questions of Game of Thrones season 8.
There are 67 episodes of Game of Thrones. That’s somewhere around 70 hours of film, and God knows how many scenes. I’m not going to count.
What I am going to do is share my favorites with you. Some are cinematic. Some are groundbreaking. There’s even a funny one in there. But for the most part, they’re moving — they’re scenes that show important characters at pivotal moments that mean something both in the present and with an eye to the future and the reverberations their acts will have on the story. After the final season airs, my thoughts might change.
But for now, these are my top five scenes of each season, raked in order. They’re the ones that I dwelt on after my first viewing, and that stuck out to me as the characters grew and I learned more about them. These scenes might not be your favorites, but that’s okay. There’s more than enough of this show to go around.
Special thanks to my colleague Ciara Wardlow and my friend Matt Wiener, who were both a huge help in picking out scenes.
Ned Kills Lady
“The wolf is of the North. She deserves better than a butcher.”
The Starks are in over their heads, and they haven’t even gotten to King’s Landing yet. Ned is honor-bound to commit a terrible act, Arya is powerless against injustice, and Sansa, caught up in cute boy fever, commits the terrible crime of lying to a king and suffers the swift and indirect consequences. And Lady the direwolf, the only true innocent, gets her journey cut short before it’s barely started. It’s a scene that bodes very badly for the Stark family, a portent of how each of them will be received when they reach their destination. And in the case of Ned, executing a creature who’s done no wrong at the exultant whims of the Lannisters, it’s a portent of the end of his life.
Bronn Fights for Tyrion
“You don’t fight with honor.”
Lysa Arryn has some issues, and if living in a castle that’s literally removed from the rest of the world isn’t sign enough that you’re weird and out of touch, the blind confidence that your knight is going to beat a brutal and scrappy sell-sword ought to do it. We believe Tyrion’s innocent, and even if we didn’t, there’s enough rotten in the house of Arryn that we’d probably be rooting for him anyway. It’s a rare satisfying moment of good (or at least likability) triumphing over evil (or at least insular paranoia). As Game of Thrones goes, that’s pretty good. The start of a lasting friendship, a strong early example of pragmatism trumping honor, and a showcase of killer parting lines, this is a terrific OG GoT scene.
A Golden Crown
“He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.”
Five out of five Dothraki agree: Viserys had to go. Game of Thrones isn’t big on giving its villains redeemable qualities, and Daenerys’ awful brother was one of its earliest testaments to that fact. The show also isn’t known for poetic justice, but it makes a satisfying exception in this case, killing him with what he’s been asking for all along — a golden crown. While Viserys’ death itself is horrifying, it’s Dany’s knowing and steely acceptance of it that’s the real draw, and a preview of her ruthlessness to come. Just remember: in life or death situations, don’t ever bank on arcane rules, especially when they revolve around turns of phrase in a language you don’t even speak.
“So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished.”
If there’s one rule you should be able to lean on, it’s that a show won’t kill off its main character. And at least in the first season, Ned was very much marketed as that. The patriarch of the Stark family, the focal point for much of the story, and (at least at the time) the show’s only big name actor, no one felt safer than Ned. And yet here we find ourselves — the carefully crafted political solution, which would surely lead to a second season of Ned and Jon working happily together in exile at the Wall, all goes up in smoke at the whim of a twerp in a crown. By now it’s practically become a joke that no character is too likable or too guarded by literary tropes to be safe — the phrase “All Men Must Die” has all but overtaken the original tagline “Winter Is Coming.” But at the time (at least for those of us who hadn’t read the book) it was a serious shock that compelled us to reevaluate the kind of show we were watching and the preconceptions we held so dear.
The Dragons Hatch
“I am the dragon’s daughter and I swear to you that those who would harm you will die screaming.”
It may have been a little bit telegraphed, but who cares? Seeing Daenerys rise out of the ashes of a funeral pyre unscathed and covered in her newly birthed dragons is immensely satisfying. So early in the game, it’s a tantalizing opening up of the world. After a full season in a purported fantasy universe that’s delivered mostly in recognizable and realistic brutality and violence, it’s a breath of fresh air to see some honest-to-God magic. And it leaves you with the feeling, at least for the time being, that Dany is capable of anything.