When April comes each year we have a tradition in society that is entering its sixth year. We crowd around our televisions on Sunday nights, turn on HBO, and watch Game of Thrones. We enjoy the beautiful scenery of Westeros, we marvel at the spectacular dragons and gratuitous nudity, and we feel at peace as good always wins the battle against evil and our favorite heroes live to fight another day.
Except that last part is not at all true. Watching Game of Thrones is no picnic, and if you’re hoping for a happy ending then you’re watching the wrong show. Game of Thrones will rip your heart out, crush it into a bloody pulp, and feed that pulp to a monster that will then use the fuel of your heart pulp to burn cities to the ground. It will brutally murder everyone you’ve ever cared about in the most awful and gut-wrenching way, and then find new ways to top that in the next episode. It’s a show for sick, unhealthy, sadistic, masochistic people. And we can’t get enough of it.
Keeping in mind that SPOILERS follow for the first 5 seasons, here are the 15 Most Shocking Deaths In Game of Thrones
Skip down to number one on this list if you want to see what really made us hate Olly, Jon Snow’s steward, but before that moment came this one; Olly’s dumb little murder of Ygritte. We say little because that’s all it was, a well-placed arrow shot from a bow and boom, the life is snuffed out of Jon Snow’s one and only love. Thanks a lot, Olly.
Having gone through so much together, Ygritte and Jon’s romance was at one point the beating heart of the show, and everyone watching wished these two crazy kids could work out their differences. Part Romeo and Juliette – lovers from opposing clans – part steamy late-night cave-sex adventure, Jon and Ygritte’s story was special. When Ygritte attacked the wall with her Wildling brothers and finally found Jon after spending time apart, the two shared a moment, and like any Game of Thrones death it looked like everything was going to work out. But it didn’t. Ygritte died, Olly nodded that shit-eating nod, and a piece of Jon died right with her.
Sometimes – not often – but sometimes, a character on Game of Thrones that you really hate will eat it. Such was the case with Tywin Lannister, when he got everything he deserved and more at the hands of his son Tyrion. It was a fitting moment of revenge in a show where so few characters get to deliver justice, because after seasons full of vitriol and hatred spewed Tyrion’s way, Tyrion got to shoot his father with a crossbow while he sat on the toilet still thinking he had the upper hand.
The look on Tywin’s face as the first of Tyrion’s arrows went in was priceless, a gif-able moment that we could look at for a thousand years. It was the look of a tyrannical asshole finally realizing that – for the first time in his life – he’s been bested; and all by the person he underestimated most in the world.
Think back to how simple we thought the world was back in season 1 when Robert returned from his hunting trip with a fatal wound. We assumed that sure, maybe Robert would die, but surely that would be a huge moment and this seemingly normal show we were getting invested in would take its time dwelling on it. But nope, Robert’s death was just the first glimpse of what Game of Thrones had up its sleeve, and killing off the King of Westeros turned out to be a drop in the bucket of what was to come.
One of the few characters that actually had a death-bed to lie on, Robert got a send-off that set up what was to come. With everything that’s gone wrong since Robert’s death, the real shocking part when you look back at is was just how innocent we thought this moment was. We thought one king was a fair price to pay because it would ultimately lead to justice being served. We thought the good guys would win, and the season would be complete. Boy, were we ever wrong.
Next in line to join the long list of dead Baratheons was Renly, the brother of Robert and one of those claiming the Iron Throne for themselves. Shocking because it took out a key player in the War of the Five Kings, Renly’s death was weird and magical and mysterious and important all at once. While the pieces on the board in the Game of Thrones shifted quite a bit following Renly’s demise, the really interesting thing about his death wasn’t the fallout, but rather how it happened.
As Brienne of Tarth is always quick to point out, Renly was killed by a shadow with the face of Stannis. While that sounds like nonsense to anyone that isn’t Brienne, to us it makes total sense because that’s literally how he died. Stannis and Melisandre had a baby, the “baby” turned out to be a murderous smoky entity, and said smoky entity snuck into Stannis’ camp and dropped him right then and there. No warning. No discussion. Just a shadowy death, the full mechanics of which we’re still waiting to be explained.
At this point in Game of Thrones it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think “Who’s Viserys?” But if you think back to the first few episodes of the series then you’ll remember that he’s Daenerys’ brother, the man who sold her to Khal Drogo in hopes of getting an army and becoming King of Westeros. How'd that work out for you, Viserys?
Burned, melted, exploded, suffocated, crushed, metalicized, whatever you want to call it, Viserys bit the dust – literally – with a head covered in gold; it just wasn’t the crown he always wanted. Brought down by his own entitlement and treachery, Viserys’ life ended when a pot of melted gold was poured on his unassuming head, leading to sick screams, silence, and a satisfying metallic THUNK on the ground that still works its way through our dreams every once in a while; a nice reminder that sometimes someone will get what they deserve in this series.
Daenerys’ sun and stars – Khal Drogo – fought for her honor when he battled a member of his own khalasar; Mago. Pushing Mago’s blade into his chest to show contempt, Khal brutally kills Mago in battle, only to fall a short time later himself due to the chest wound which has since become infected. But if that were the end of Khal, Game of Thrones wouldn’t be Game of Thrones, so of course there had to be insult added to injury. Without his khalasar following him after becoming weak, Daenerys is desperate and turns to blood magic to heal Drogo; and that obviously goes horribly wrong.
Though Drogo doesn’t die, he turns catatonic, unable to do anything other than stare for the rest of eternity. And that’s obviously not the bargain Daenerys wanted when she gave up her unborn child for his life. So with Drogo a shell of a human being and with Daenerys having given up the human being that they created together, the groundwork was laid for Dany to step up, become the Mother of Dragons, and learn a thing or two about what it means to be a leader; and not to trust magic.
The camera may have cut away at the last second, but there’s no doubt that Stannis was killed by Brienne when she swung her sword Oathkeeper straight into his head. It was game over for the one true king as the woman who swore to avenge Renly finally got her justice, right after Stannis woke up in the middle of a bloody battleground, finding himself among hundreds of dead bannermen that marked the end of his attempted conquest.
It was an appropriate end to Stannis after desperation turned him into a man that he surely despised. Having done unspeakable things just days prior – all for an attempt to sit on the Iron Throne – Stannis was resigned and accepting when Brienne of Tarth found him leaning against a tree in the battlefield. He was ready to die, he wanted his hunt to be over, and his death marked the end of one of Game of Thrones’ longest running chapters.
When did Theon die, you may be thinking to yourself? Well, sure, the body of Theon Greyjoy is still (mostly) alive, walking around and presumably ready to redeem himself in season 6. But in reality that’s Reek, as Theon died somewhere in a long line of torture sessions at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.
The real Theon Greyjoy quickly moved into the pantheon of Westeros’ biggest jerk right around the time he seized Winterfell, burned two innocent children, and betrayed everyone he ever loved in an effort to impress a bigger jerk – his father. And while it was satisfying to watch Theon be slowly flayed, tortured, and stripped of his favorite “toy” by Ramsay, that eventually got old as the Theon we loved, then hated, eventually “died,” only to be replaced by Reek; a shadow of Theon’s former self who knew the mistakes he made and was forced to live with them.
Shireen was a rare character on Game of Thrones; one of the truly innocent and good people in all of Westeros. Between teaching Davos how to read and being the one thing that her father Stannis seemed to love as much as the Iron Throne, it was a joy to watch Shireen make the most of her truly tragic time alive. But that didn’t stop her death. In fact, it only made it more brutal, more graphic, and more heartbreaking than any other.
Shireen’s death at the hands of her father – like the best deaths on Game of Thrones – impacted the show in a host of different ways. As Shireen stood in front of Stannis’ army, screaming as flames engulfed her, everyone knew what kind of man Stannis truly was. As viewers we could no longer root for Stannis – though we once viewed him as having the rightful claim to the throne – and it wasn’t long before Stannis wouldn’t need to be rooted for; his days were numbered. The next morning the majority of his army left, his wife Selyse hanged herself, and he was one short battle away from losing everything.
The Hound wasn’t a great guy – he was a murderer and a thief – but he knew the right way to look at a world like Westeros, and he navigated his life accordingly. That’s why, despite everything he did, we still liked him, and we even kind of rooted for him. So to see him suffer the way he did, at the hands of Arya of all people, was a huge bummer. Are we hoping against hope that there was a maester behind that rock and he’s still alive somewhere, ready to adopt Arya and become one half of the world’s greatest vigilante duo? Yes, but anyway.
Bloodied and broken from his epic fight with Brienne, The Hound’s exit from Game of Thrones was a thrilling one. While he survived the fight and reconnected back with Arya, he knew he was dying, and he asked Arya to end his suffering. But Arya, being the person she is, had The Hound on her list, and every night she would tell The Hound to his face that she was going to be the one who killed him. So while she might not have inflicted the killing blow, Arya kept her promise by walking away and forcing The Hound to die on his own time.
There are literally not enough words in the Common Tongue – or in the Old Tongue, or in Dothraki, or in High Valyrian, or in Braavosi, Volantene, Lhazar, you get the idea – to convey the emotions involved in watching Joffrey slowly choke, suffocate, and die of poisoning. But if we were to sum it up, we’d say it was f**king awesome!
Shocking purely because Joffrey was Game of Thrones’ chief executive asshole for four seasons, his death marked the end an era, and we were finally treated to our wildest hopes and dreams when he died. Probably the most replayed scene in television history – what with everyone going back just to make sure that he really did die – Joffrey’s death wasn’t heroic or bloody or epic or dignified. It was a perfectly written, acted, and shot scene of a little brat choking on a pigeon pie at his own wedding while wearing a gold dress. It was everything Joffrey would have hated, and that’s why we loved every minute of it.
Now we get into the worst of the worst, the truly good guys that fought for the side of justice and were cut down along the way. And none of those good guys' deaths sting as much as Oberyn Martell, the man who fought The Mountain and won; until he didn’t. And then his head exploded all over the ground.
Reminiscent of The Princess Bride in Oberyn’s unrelenting quest for revenge and closure, the scene where Oberyn fought The Mountain was scripted like one of the world’s greatest sporting events: the underdog vs. the heavy favorite. And like the greatest stories ever told, the underdog was kicking ass. Oberyn quickly made a fool out of The Mountain and had him on the ground, able to land the final blow. But he taunted The Mountain. His emotions got in his way. And in one sick second The Mountain grabbed Oberyn and clobbered him, crushing his skull and sending our stomachs sinking downward right into the closing credits.
Did the death of Ned Stark change television forever? It may be too early to tell, but the one thing we’re sure it changed forever; all our lives. When that axe came down and liberated Ned’s head from his body, our lives were shattered and our belief systems were in disarray. We didn’t know what to believe, who to trust, or what to do with ourselves. The hero of our show was dead, just like that, with one episode remaining in the first season. And – the most shocking part at the time – it wasn’t a fake-out.
Though we should’ve seen it coming considering Sean Bean’s penchant to die onscreen, Ned’s death was the catalyst that all of Game of Thrones still runs on. It’s the key ingredient to one of the most important shows of this generation. It demonstrates a willingness to do anything, to go anywhere, to make any turn in the plot happen as long as the story calls for it. It’s what makes Game of Thrones so captivating, rewarding, earth-shattering, and devastating. It’s the signature move of the series; and it all came to a blood-curdling point at this exact moment.
By the time season 3 was winding down we were finally all starting to get it; Game of Thrones killed off main characters. We accepted that as a fact, then watched with disbelief and heartbreak as The Red Wedding happened. What were we expecting? Certainly not this.
First went Talisa, hers and Robb’s unborn child stabbed in her womb, then her dead on the floor. It was brutal, it was awful, but it was Game of Thrones – we could deal. But up next was Robb, and as he went to help his wife in shock and disbelief, the arrows started piercing his flesh. But fine, he was a little injured and he’d survive. He would walk out, just like Catelyn urged him to. But no. More arrows, and the King of North was dead. That left Catelyn with Walder Frey’s wife in one arm, a knife to her neck, and hopelessness surrounding her. Surely she’d make it out alive? Not a chance. Her throat was slit, she dropped to the floor, the episode cut to black, and none of us functioned in society for the next week.
This one… If the previous 14 deaths have taught us anything, it’s that anyone is fair game in this show. No one will survive the winter, and we’re fools for thinking someone can. But Jon can. Jon knows nothing, but he also knows everything. He can’t die, because he’s Jon Snow. He’s Jon Snow, damnit! He can’t die!
But as of this writing, days away from the premiere of season 6, Jon is dead. His Brothers of the Night’s Watch took him out in cold blood, one after the next, until that little prick Olly finished him off. And as Jon lay bleeding in the snow, the life leaving his eyes as we consider all the unfinished business he had – all the lives he had to save, all the wars he had to win, all the Stark reunions he had to attend – we thought this; “he’s not dead. Not Jon Snow. He’s different. He’ll be okay.”
But as we look back at 14 of the most jaw-dropping deaths on Game of Thrones, we can’t help but think this; what if he’s not okay? What if Jon Snow is really dead?
Which of these losses hurt you the most? Which of them were your happiest moments? Which deaths did we miss? Let us know in the comments!