For eight seasons from 2011 to 2019, HBO's Game of Thrones was known for producing some of the best episodes in television history. As one of the most successful series to ever air on television, Game of Thrones was also known for constantly upping the stakes and shocking viewers at every turn with (usually) smart and sophisticated writing.
Some of the most truly gripping episodes of the entire series have been the season finales of each of its eight seasons. Finales traditionally serve multiple purposes - they wrap up all that has happened during the previous months while also setting the stage for what's to come in the next season. Some of the most iconic moments of Game of Thrones have taken place in the closing episodes, including shocking deaths and surprising coronations.
Here, we compare and rank all eight season finales of HBO's series from worst to best.
Game of Thrones' first season was arguably one of the slower paced of the series, as it had a lot of world building to establish. But in the penultimate episode of the season, the true stakes are made clear with the execution of Ned Stark. The first season finale, "Fire and Blood," takes place in the immediate aftermath of this crucial moment.
Sansa becomes a glorified prisoner of war within the Lannister-Baratheon rule of King's Landing, forced to witness her father's and septa's heads on spikes. Robb and Catelyn set out to seek revenge against the Lannisters in any way they could, and Jon even considered breaking his oath to the Night's Watch to do the same. Robb is ultimately proclaimed King in the North, as the North rejects the rule of the southern ruler. During the episode's final moments, Daenerys emerges as the Unburnt, accompanied by her three newborn dragons.
The second season finale, "Valar Morghulis," picks up in the aftermath of the decisive Battle of the Blackwater, which ensured the Lannisters remain in control of King's Landing and the Iron Throne. Joffrey, jubilant upon the arrival of House Tyrell and the prospect of marrying Margaery, breaks his engagement to Sansa Stark. Tyrion, publicly humiliated during an assassination attempt in the battle, is deposed from his role of Hand of the King by his father.
Brienne of Tarth goes to great lengths to protect Jaime Lannister as she journeys with him toward King's Landing. While Arya parts ways with her new ally, the Faceless Man Jaqen H'ghar; Bran, Rickon, Hodor, and Osha bear witness to a sacked Winterfell. But the episode's most significant act comes when Robb Stark breaks the oath that had been made to House Frey, foreshadowing the forthcoming Red Wedding when he impulsively marries Talisa Maegyr for love, rather than political gains.
Season three of Game of Thrones is arguably one of the series' strongest, and certainly one of its most remembered and dramatic, given the inclusion of the Red Wedding in the penultimate episode, "The Rains of Castamere." The episode deals with the immediate aftermath of the brutal murders of House Stark members, including the fractured relationship between newlyweds Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark, and The Hound's protection and teaching of a vengeful Arya Stark.
Bran, Hodor, Rickon, and Osha meet Samwell Tarly and Gilly, who accompany the ragtag group toward the Wall and eventually past it. Brienne succeeds in returning Jaime home to King's Landing, and the now disabled Kingslayer has a frosty reunion with his sister-lover Cersei. Davos sends Gendry away so he won't be killed by Stannis and Melisandre, and Daenerys frees the slaves of Yunkai, who regard her as "mhysa" - mother - and hoist her up on their own shoulders.
Unlike all seasons before it, the final episode of season eight had far more expectations resting upon it, as it also served as a series finale. The episode has proven to be incredibly controversial and divisive among fans and critics alike, given the unexpected nature of the events that took place within it. But, as Tyrion himself explains at times within the episode, this is really one of the only ways this story could have gone.
Daenerys Targaryen, having just sacked King's Landing and slaughtered innocents in a bout of madness, is assassinated by her nephew-lover, Jon Snow. A council is established to determine the new ruler of the Realm, and Bran Stark is crowned the King of the Six Kingdoms. The North remains an independent kingdom, with Sansa crowned as the first ever Queen in the North. Arya sets out on an adventure to find whatever is west of Westeros; meanwhile, Jon returns to the Wall and beyond, free to live among the Wildlings - the only people who ever truly accepted him for who he is.
Game of Thrones' fifth season struggled in many ways, as it represented some of the series' first real departures from George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire source material. Polarizing plotlines, including the prominence of the High Sparrow's cult and the abuse of Sansa Stark, are still controversially discussed to this day. But the fifth season finale, "Mother's Mercy," stands as one of the most impactful episodes of the entire series.
The wicked Cersei Lannister finally receives some of her just desserts, forced to walk naked through the streets of King's Landing on a shame walk for her crimes of incest. Stannis Baratheon is killed by Brienne of Tarth, who is finally able to avenge the memory of her beloved Renly. Myrcella Baratheon is murdered by Ellaria Sand, and Sansa and Theon break free from Winterfell and Ramsay's clutches together. Arya pays the price for upsetting the Many-Faced God, Daenerys is missing, and in the episode's final act, Jon Snow is betrayed and assassinated by his own men of the Night's Watch.
Season four is perhaps the strongest Game of Thrones season of them all. With the tensions higher than ever following the brutal horrors of the Red Wedding, all members of House Lannister and House Stark are given truly gripping material over the course of the season. The finale, "The Children," brings all of this tension to a boiling point. Daenerys is forced to hide her dragons away in a cell, as they have become far too powerful and violent. Bran and his companions finally meet the elusive Three-Eyed Raven.
Brienne and the Hound very nearly battle to the death, and Arya sets off for Braavos, hoping to reunite with Jaqen H'ghar. But the bulk of the episode focuses on Tyrion, who had been framed for the murder of the hateful King Joffrey. Tyrion is freed from his holding cell by his older brother, Jaime. He then goes on to find that his former lover, Shae, has become intimate with his father, and is forced to murder her after she tries to kill him first. He then enacts the ultimate act of revenge against his father, brutally killing Tywin with an arrow while the older man sits on the toilet.
The seventh season of Game of Thrones, while not as hotly contested as the series eighth and final one, is certainly one of the series' more controversial. However, there's no denying that the final episode of the season, "The Dragon and the Wolf," is one of the finest episodes of television that the series ever produced. While there's a whole separate debate to be had about whether their romance was ever believable or necessary, the episode finds Jon and Daenerys officially consummating their fateful romance.
The Northern kingdom attempt and fail to convince Queen Cersei of the threat of the Night King and the Army of the Dead, leading Jaime to abandon his sister at last and ride North to serve in the fight against the dead. The long-teased conflict between sisters Sansa and Arya is revealed to have been a ruse, which allows them to turn the tables on the duplicitous Littlefinger and execute the political animal. But the most significant reveal of them all comes in the confirmation that Jon Snow was never Ned Stark's bastard after all. He is, instead, Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
Like many season finale episodes before it, the sixth season finale "The Winds of Winter" is tasked with navigating the aftermath of an intense, gory battle - in this case, the Battle of the Bastards. But before it can deal with what happens in the North, the episode has much more ground it needs to cover, and it does so masterfully.
Arya finally enacts revenge against Walder Frey for the Red Wedding, killing his sons and feeding them to him in a pie, before she slits his throat. Cersei assassinates the entirety of the Faith by blowing up the Sept of Baelor with Wildfire. Tommen commits suicide, and Cersei is named Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Daenerys and her many allies begin to travel to Westeros, hoping to reclaim Dragonstone, and then the Seven Kingdoms themselves. With the Starks finally regaining control of Winterfell, Jon Snow is named the new King in the North, attaining yet another leadership position he's never really wanted.