Game of Thrones season seven is fast approaching, and with only 13 episodes total left to wrap things up, we’re taking a look back over the 60 episodes that got us to this point. Of those 60 episodes, very few have missed the mark, and our list of worst Game of Thrones episodes promises to be every bit as tricky as ranking this one has proved to be.
There are so many shocking deaths and battle sequences that claiming one as better than the next is almost impossible, but taking into account that one memorable moment does not necessarily make for a great all-round episode, we’ve tried to squeeze some of the less action-packed episodes in amongst the inevitable episode nine entries.
That leaves us with a whole host of honorable mentions for this list; “And Now His Watch Has Ended”, the season three episode which features Dany’s legendary “Dracarys” moment, doesn’t crack the list, while season one finale “Fire and Blood” and Tyrion’s trial in “The Laws of Gods and Men” are among the others to miss out. Here's hoping 13 of these episodes are surpassed by the season seven and eight episodes to come!
Brace yourselves for the 15 Best Episodes of Game of Thrones (So Far), Ranked.
15 “Home” (6x02)
“Home” is most famous for the single shot of Jon’s resurrected body, but it was a strong episode even before answering the question we had spent a whole 11 months obsessing over. We had waited even longer to be reintroduced to Bran, who watches over his young father in the same way Ned overlooked his son’s archery training way back in the pilot.
Roose Bolton becomes the first major casualty of season six, and just as Theon bids farewell to Sansa, uncle Euron gets an epic introduction over in Pyke. Tyrion, meanwhile, does something only Tyrion could pull off, and makes friends with some dragons.
His speech as he unchains Rhaegal and Viserion might have been the standout moment of the episode, if not for Jon stealing all the credit. The resurrection itself is built-up so carefully that it still packs a surprise, even knowing months in advance what was going to happen.
14 “Walk of Punishment” (3x03)
Not much happens through the first two acts of “Walk of Punishment”, but the surprising use of visual comedy makes for a nice change. Arya and Hot Pie’s awkward goodbye, complete with direwolf-shaped bread, is quickly outdone by Tyrion and Cersei’s musical chairs routine around the Small Council table. The reveal of Podrick’s sexual prowess also makes for one of the outright funniest moments in Game of Thrones.
As the episode reaches its end and you’re lulled into a false sense of security, Jaime Lannister loses his hand in a landmark moment for the show. It’s a satisfying moment in the sense that Jaime, who crippled Bran back in the pilot, must now suffer through a similar loss of identity. It’s also the first time you feel sympathy for Jaime, and the moment that he loses his old identity is ironically the moment that sets him on the path to redemption.
13 “A Golden Crown” (1x06)
The first half of season one drifts along fairly steadily, but episode six is when things really start to heat up (no pun intended). “A Golden Crown” is the first episode to kill off a main character, as Khal Drogo pours a crown of molten gold onto Viserys Targaryen’s head, at once setting Dany free of her controlling brother and introducing us to the harsh reality of Game of Thrones.
Elsewhere, Bronn vouches for Tyrion in a trial by combat at the Vale, laying the groundwork for one of the show’s most entertaining duos.
In King’s Landing, Ned spends his brief time as acting King actually getting things done; most notably calling for the Mountain’s execution and realizing that Robert’s children are in fact Jaime’s bastards.
12 “Watchers on the Wall” (4x09)
“Watchers on the Wall” is as epic as you could ever want from an episode of television (it even got its own IMAX screenings), but it’s the episode that feels the most out of place amid the intensity of the fourth season. Sandwiched between two of the show’s best ever episodes, this blockbuster doesn’t hit the shock value of “The Mountain and the Viper”, nor the countrywide stakes of “The Children”, but that takes nothing away from the spectacle.
The single tracking shot through the grounds of Castle Black would be enough to land a spot on this list, but throw in an ice scythe and a giant wielding a bow and arrow for good measure. Even in the chaos of battle, the episode doesn’t forget its human characters, as Sam comes into his own, Grenn dies a hero’s death, and Jon loses the love of his life in a bittersweet finale.
11 “Kissed by Fire” (3x05)
There’s nothing particularly epic about this season three episode, but “Kissed by Fire” is so consistently strong from start to finish that you’re invested in every moment. In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that we meet Stannis’ daughter in an episode titled “Kissed by Fire”, but Shireen is such a breath of fresh air in Stannis' story arc.
Elsewhere, Cersei’s face when told that she will wed Loras Tyrell is priceless, while her brother shares an intimate moment with Brienne in the highlight of the episode, as Jaime reveals the truth behind the nickname “Kingslayer”.
Jon and Ygritte spend a night together in a secluded cave, Robb beheads Rickard Karstark, and Beric Dondarrion is brought back from the dead to complete a solid all-round episode.
10 “Battle of the Bastards” (6x09)
If this were any other show, an episode the size of “Battle of the Bastards” would surely top the best episode list, but this is such a strong top 10 that our ranking comes down to the finest of margins. If we have to knock the war for Winterfell, it’s that Jon’s victory, Sansa and Littlefinger’s timely arrival, and Ramsay’s death are surprisingly predictable by Game of Thrones standards, but like its season four counterpart, “Battle of the Bastards” is all about scale.
Even in Meereen, we get an unexpected reunion of dragons in a scene that would easily have been the highlight of most Game of Thrones episodes. When we get to the battle in the North, it’s unlike anything that’s ever been on TV. Where else would you see a giant rip a soldier in two, someone drowning in a literal mountain of corpses, or a man preparing to fight an army of charging horses alone? “Battle of the Bastards” single-handedly broadens the possibilities of television.
9 “Hardhome” (5x08)
In a fairly slow-building fifth season, episode eight comes out of nowhere to deliver a long overdue White Walker showdown. Unlike battle episodes of the past, “Hardhome” offers book readers a new experience, but it’s clear why the episode’s finale doesn’t have a place in the books.
Not that it’s any less exciting to see the action unfold, but the reveal that Valyrian steel kills White Walkers we already knew, and the only cast member actually affected is a Wildling woman we meet earlier in the same episode.
Even if the stakes are relatively low for a blockbuster episode, it’s still a blessed relief from the mid-season struggles of season five. The suspense is paced to perfection, while the images of the four horse-zombies of the apocalypse standing in shadow atop the mountain and the Night’s King reawakening the dead are not easy to forget.
8 “Two Swords” (4x01)
Arya, the Hound, and a room full of chickens. Enough said. The season four opener is Maisie Williams’ best episode on the show, as Arya invades a tavern held by Lannister men in an attempt to reclaim her sword.
Both she and the Hound, who delivers several of the show’s greatest quotes in a single sitting (“I understand that if any more words come pouring out your **** mouth, I’m gonna have to eat every f***ing chicken in this room”), have each other’s backs as the most unlikely pairing in television quickly becomes the most beloved.
In King’s Landing, Tywin cements his place as the most powerful man in Westeros by burning Ned’s Valyrian sword into two of his own. Oberyn Martell, meanwhile, struts into the capital like he owns the place, and needs just two scenes to make an instant impact on the show.
7 “The Mountain and the Viper” (4x08)
When Oberyn’s plans are eventually revealed, the Red Viper of Dorne goes head-to-head with Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane in a trial by combat for Tyrion’s life, but not before some great work by the Stark sisters in the Vale.
First, Lysa’s murder has sparked a change in Sansa, who thinks on her feet and testifies on Littlefinger’s behalf. Arya sums up her entire journey thus far by laughing in the face of the Eyrie guard who mournfully informs her of Lysa’s death.
To King’s Landing, and the best one-on-one battle sequence in Game of Thrones. Oberyn had already become so popular that all the signs were pointing towards a long stay on the show, but we forgot who writes these books.
The Viper’s premature death sent social media into meltdown, less than a season after the Red Wedding, which is a huge credit to this world’s ability to continually reverse expectations.
6 “The Door” (6x05)
Season six was already off to a strong start, but no one could have predicted that the single saddest Game of Thrones death would go down in episode five. Traditionally, the show saves its memorable moments for the eighth or ninth episode of a given season, but “The Door” throws tradition out the window, killing off Hodor in a drawn-out scene that’s just as tough to watch as Oberyn’s head being squished.
With Oberyn’s death, and Ned’s, and even Robb and Catelyn’s to some extent, the show relies so heavily on shock value that it’s difficult to process what’s happening. “The Door” lets you work out what’s going to happen before it does, so that by the time the episode ends, you’ve already made the journey from shock to genuine heartbreak.
Extra credit goes to Kristian Nairn and young actor Sam Coleman, who sell the moment entirely despite devolving into saying only a single word between them.
Elsewhere, Emilia Clarke does some of her best work on the show as Dany and Jorah part ways (possibly for good), and we finally learn how the White Walkers came to be.
5 “Baelor” (1x09)
The fact that Ned Stark – the protagonist, top-billed in the credits and played by an actor of Sean Bean’s caliber – dies at all marks the moment that it becomes physically impossible to stop watching the show. But there are no heroic final words, no epic score in the background; Ned dies in disgrace, having declared his loyalty to Joffrey. He's unceremoniously murdered with his own sword.
Game of Thrones has moved onto grander sets and bigger budgets in recent years, but it’s the minimalism of Ned’s beheading that tells you everything you need to know about the show.
There are no hints to Ned’s death in the episode’s build-up, as Robb captures Jaime and Tyrion meets Shae for the first time in two scenes that would have solidified “Baelor” as a strong episode without Game of Thrones’ landmark moment.
4 “The Rains of Castamere” (3x09)
The most iconic moment in the books, the Red Wedding is the episode that creators Benioff and Weiss were desperate to reach, and for obvious reasons. Amid all the death and violence of Game of Thrones, no episode has sparked a bigger reaction. Even fans still catching up and desperate to avoid spoilers knew that a Game of Thrones wedding meant absolutely nothing good.
We’ll spare you the entire bloody recap, and instead riff through the highlights, starting with the haunting chorus of the titular song growing ever clearer. The Lannister theme had been teased all season for no reason other than to sink a million hearts as it’s played here.
The Hound’s rescue of Arya, who is so close to reuniting with her family (just as Jon and Bran nearly meet earlier in the episode), is our one crumb of comfort as the horror unfolds.
Finally, the look in Catelyn’s eyes the moment that her eldest son is killed sums everything up. Robb had been gaining so much momentum in the war, and in one fell swoop, Roose Bolton puts an end to the Stark revolt we had supported from the very first moments of the show.
3 “The Children” (4x10)
Almost every character has a storyline to wrap up at the end of the fourth season, but unlike some other of the show’s finales, all of it works. Stannis’ fleet saving Jon from the Wildlings, the Three-Eyed Raven’s introduction and Arya setting sail for a new beginning in Braavos open so many possibilities for the show moving forward. Nothing in the show increases momentum more than Tywin Lannister’s death, however.
Tywin’s death at Tyrion’s hand is arguably the best all-around display of acting, writing and directing Game of Thrones has ever produced. Tywin eventually claims that Tyrion is no son of his, but what’s so special here is Tyrion proves beyond all doubt that he is most definitely his father’s son; first by seeing right through Tywin’s sweet talking and second by pulling the trigger.
All this without mentioning the Hound, who defends Arya from Brienne in a savage display of physicality, and whose reward is to be left for dead by the youngest Stark girl. Valar Morghulis and all that.
2 “The Winds of Winter” (6x10)
As if following on from “Battle of the Bastards” wasn’t hard enough, the season six finale had so much to wrap up, and what could have been so rushed ends up as one of the best-paced episodes in the show’s run. Composer Ramin Djawadi is in fine form, first by building the tension towards Cersei’s merciless slaughter of her entire rogues’ gallery, and later combining Dany’s two themes as the Mother of Dragons finally sets sail for Westeros.
Arya offs Walder Frey, Liam Cunningham kills it as Davos confronts Melisandre, Dany offers Tyrion another chance as Hand, and the Sand Snakes even get in on the action when Varys mysteriously teleports to Dorne. But yet again, Jon steals the show, and in two different timelines no less.
The Tower of Joy, where Bran learns that his brother is actually his cousin, was worth the wait. Jon is declared the King in the North, a huge fan theory was proven right, and everything is set for the final act in the Game of Thrones story.
1 “Blackwater” (2x09)
The benchmark for Game of Thrones battle episodes, “Blackwater” may have been topped in scale over the most recent seasons, but it still tops the list in all other departments.
The imagery of the wildfire burning Stannis’ fleet, the power of Tyrion’s speech, the juxtaposition as Stannis is the first to climb the ladders while Joffrey cowers behind his Kingsguard; director Neil Marshall captures everything that is great about Game of Thrones in just 60 minutes.
Marshall deserves so much credit, not just for setting the standard for the show’s marquee episodes, but for pulling it off with just a week’s prep, following the original director’s last-minute decision to drop out for personal reasons.
With an Emmy-nominated performance from Peter Dinklage, a script written by George R. R. Martin himself, and an unprecedented $8 million budget, “Blackwater” is Game of Thrones at its absolute peak.
Which episodes did we miss? Leave your favorites in the comments!