Game of Thrones season seven looms, and we’re just 13 episodes away from what will surely be one of the most anticipated series finales in history. But for this list, we’re looking back over the 60 episodes that got us to this point, and trying desperately to pick 15 episodes that fall short of the show’s insanely high standards.
First and foremost, there just aren’t 15 terrible Game of Thrones episodes. You can count on one hand the number of episodes that have been flat-out awful, while the rest of this list is made up of episodes that typically spend their time on build-up and exposition rather than action and resolution.
The question is how you go about ranking one episode of characters standing around talking to each other as worse than another episode of characters standing around talking to each other.
We’re not here to bash the show for the sake of it, but to respond to our recently-published best Game of Thrones episodes list, and to outline the kind of episodes that season seven would do well to avoid. Let’s hope that none of these episodes are surpassed by the 13 still to come.
Here are the 15 Worst Game of Thrones Episodes, Ranked.
15 “The Broken Man” (6x07)
The episode most famous for reintroducing the Hound, “The Broken Man” just struggles to keep its momentum following the cold open reveal of an alive-and-well Sandor Clegane. The season six episode also wastes actor Ian McShane, who dies within the hour, and whose only purpose is to update us on how the Hound survived his battle with Brienne.
Though we are introduced to one of the breakout stars of season six in Lyanna Mormont, Jon and Sansa’s story is merely build-up to Bastard Bowl. Sansa later kicks up a fuss over recruiting more houses, while keeping from Jon the fairly crucial information that the Knights of the Vale are on standby.
Finally, Arya is caught off guard by the Waif in disguise (more on her later), despite two seasons’ worth of training with people who can literally change their faces.
14 “Garden of Bones” (2x04)
This season two episode marks the first meeting of Arya and Tywin Lannister, whose short arc together quickly turns into one of the show’s best deviations from the books, but later in the same episode comes one of its worst.
“Garden of Bones” is named for the desert wasteland surrounding Qarth, the so-called “greatest city in the world”, and the home of Daenerys’ weakest storyline in Game of Thrones.
In the most memorable scene of the episode, Melisandre gives birth to a shadow with Stannis’ face, which promptly kills Renly in cold blood. It’s a unique moment even in Game of Thrones, and after it disappears a few minutes later, we’re left wondering if it even happened in the first place.
What we do know is that it’s entirely impossible to take Renly’s death seriously, as our immediate reaction is one of confusion and ridiculousness rather than mourning for the third Baratheon brother.
13 “The House of Black and White” (5x02)
Game of Thrones traditionally takes its time in setting up a new season, but season five gets off to an agonizingly slow start. “The House of Black and White” is not the biggest offender in the struggles of season five, as we will discover later, despite being considered one of the weakest all-time episodes of the show.
There are at least a couple of scenes that pique our interest, as Jon is voted Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in a tense election, and Bronn returns in a Dorne arc that would later become one of the show’s worst. Drogon makes a brief appearance at the end, but rather than contribute anything, he feels more like a forced reward for sitting through another hour of not a whole lot.
12 “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (3x07)
Speaking of not a whole lot, “The Bear and the Maiden Fear” exists only as a precursor to other events. Bran and the Reed siblings begin their endless journey to find the Three-Eyed Raven, while Shae and Tyrion drift apart as the latter prepares to wed Sansa, but neither arc is fully resolved until the finale of season four.
Dany conquers yet another city in Slaver’s Bay, and Roose Bolton releases Jaime with a word to Tywin (who dominates the episode, showing Joffrey exactly who runs things in the capital), putting the finishing touches on the build-up to the Red Wedding.
Meanwhile, Jaime rescues Brienne from a bear in a surreal sequence that would feel more at home in a Disney fairytale. In the unforgiving world of Game of Thrones, it’s hard to believe that Brienne and a handless Jaime would survive an actual bear pit unscathed, but at least the pair set off for King’s Landing together in a touching finale.
11 “Lord Snow” (1x03)
We’ll forgive season one for taking its time in introducing the world of Westeros, but so many characters make their debuts in “Lord Snow” that there’s no room for anything to actually happen. Jon and Tyrion share some rare dialogue at Castle Black, where we meet Jeor Mormont, Alliser Thorne, Maester Aemon, and the new Night’s Watch recruits.
Ned joins the Small Council in the capital, but that’s all he does, as our attention is instead diverted toward the first appearances of Littlefinger, Varys, Grand Maester Pycelle, Renly Baratheon, and Barristan Selmy.
Arya is taught to “water dance” by the eccentric Syrio Forel, and Old Nan recounts forgotten tales of the White Walkers to Bran. “Lord Snow” is by no means a bad episode, but with so many names to learn in every single corner of Westeros, it’s the season one entry that’s the most difficult to keep up with.
10 “The Wars to Come” (5x01)
“The Wars to Come” catches us up on the events of the previous year’s finale, which you expect from a season opener (hence the generously low ranking). What you don’t expect is a dangerously slow build-up that would take season five eight whole episodes from which to fully recover.
The standout moment of the episode, which sees Mance Rayder burned alive for failing to swear loyalty to Stannis, is not enough to regain the momentum of season four, and only highlights the show’s brutal underuse of actor Ciaran Hinds.
Elsewhere, a young Cersei receives a prophecy that misses out a crucial detail from the books. Present Cersei, meanwhile, meets a reformed Lancel Lannister, who marks the unwelcome addition of the Sparrows.
9 “Mhysa” (3x10)
The follow-up to the Red Wedding was never going to reach the levels of its predecessor, but it’s still a disappointing way to round out a season. Besides a great final scene between Jon and Ygritte, “Mhysa” deals more with the fallout from “The Rains of Castamere” than it does with wrapping anything up.
Tyrion tries to console Sansa, Joffrey gloats insufferably, and Tywin’s idea of a celebration is to send the king to bed without his supper. All of it makes for good television, but it feels more like a season opener than a finale.
By the end of the episode, we’re waiting for Dany to pull out something spectacular to make up for time spent looking backward rather than forward. Instead, she is inducted as queen by the people of Yunkai in an anticlimactic end to a season that ensures she won’t be sailing to Westeros any time soon.
8 “The Prince of Winterfell” (2x08)
“The Prince of Winterfell” rounds out a shaky couple of episodes in season two, as both sides make their final preparations before the (much more exciting) Battle of the Blackwater. This means that Tywin and Arya, whose storyline was an unexpected treat all season, are torn apart as the former heads to the capital.
Also torn apart are Dany and her dragons, but that was a few episodes ago, and she still hasn’t found them. That’s literally the extent of Dany’s arc in this episode.
Just as Theon refuses to leave Winterfell with his sister for fear of being labeled a coward, we hear our first mention of Ramsay, who has a lot worse than name-calling planned for the titular Greyjoy. And in other stupid decisions of the week, Catelyn seals her fate by releasing Jaime behind Robb’s back.
7 “Mother’s Mercy” (5x10)
After “Hardhome” and “The Dance of Dragons” worked doubly hard to set season five back on track, “Mother’s Mercy” goes some way to undoing all that upward momentum. The title itself was an unnecessary tease at a time when Lady Stoneheart speculation was rife, as “Mother’s Mercy” proved to be relevant only to Cersei’s arc.
Her walk of shame, though powerful, takes up almost 10 minutes of an episode that desperately needs to spend more time elsewhere. Particularly in Winterfell, where Theon’s redemption is entirely rushed.
Rather than kill Ramsay for raping Sansa in front of him, Theon turns on Myranda. The pair then jump from a tower, leaving Ramsay to rule the North and Sansa helpless despite five seasons’ worth of development to suggest otherwise. Staying in the North, the battle between Stannis and the Boltons that had been teased all season happens conveniently between episodes.
There are some great moments in “Mother’s Mercy”, as Arya ticks Meryn Trant off her list (at the cost of her eyes), but it’s a frustrating end to a largely frustrating season.
6 “The Night Lands” (2x02)
Season two opens with a generic recap of season one’s events, but the second episode takes two steps back for every one step forward. “The Night Lands” introduces a whole host of new and unimportant characters just as first-time watchers have finally come to grips with the existing cast.
We visit Pyke for the first time, where we meet Yara and Balon Greyjoy, neither of whom will have anything significant to do for another four seasons. Instead, Theon and his sister share a reintroduction right out of the Lannister twins’ handbook, while Balon simply makes up the numbers in the so-called War of the Five Kings.
Gilly makes her debut in preparation for the war between the Night’s Watch and wildlings, and we meet pirate Salladhor Saan, who admittedly provides some light entertainment in a slow start to Stannis’ arc.
5 “No One” (6x08)
Looking back at “The Mountain and the Viper” and “Hardhome”, it’s disappointing that episode eight marks the low point for season six, but at least we got an incredible final two episodes to make up for it. “No One” opens with the Hound, who commemorates Ian McShane’s premature death with a good old killing spree, but it’s pretty much all downhill from there.
Arya and the Waif embark on a final showdown, as the former has healed remarkably well from being stabbed in the gut a few minutes before, and the latter reveals herself to be just about the worst Faceless Man of all time. When all’s said and done, Arya returns to Jaqen, who finally declares her to be no one. What?!
Perhaps even more disappointing is Blackfish’s off-screen death. It’s not just that he chooses certain death over fleeing with Brienne, but that he doesn’t even get a final scene, and we’re informed of his death by a nameless guard.
4 “High Sparrow” (5x03)
For all the missteps of “No One”, at least something of substance happened in the episode. Back to early season five, where there’s very little going on in the first place, but the High Sparrow’s debut makes for arguably the most yawn-inducing episode in the show’s entire run.
Marriage is the theme in the first half of the episode, as Margaery celebrates her third with an uncomfortable post-sex scene, while Littlefinger spends the hour convincing Sansa that marrying the son of Roose Bolton will allow her the chance for revenge, which for some reason Sansa accepts.
If there’s one thing to note in favor of “High Sparrow”, it’s the performance of Maisie Williams. Arya gets the episode’s best moment as she discards her only possessions (minus Needle), but she is rewarded with a few more dead bodies to wash.
3 “Breaker of Chains” (4x03)
The previous year’s third episode didn’t fare much better, as “Breaker of Chains” marks the one and only slip-up in an otherwise exceptional season. It’s not so much that it’s a bad episode, but that it makes one fatal mistake, and there’s not quite enough going on elsewhere to balance the scales.
Tywin and Oberyn share some sharp dialogue in King’s Landing, Dany chooses Daario to face off against the champion of Meereen, and Tyrion bids an emotional farewell to Pod in a strong start. But things start to go wrong when Sam sends Gilly to Mole’s Town for absolutely no reason, and then Jaime rapes Cersei over the corpse of their son.
The scene is obviously consensual in the books, while the showrunners avidly deny the rape allegations, so there’s no reason for it to come across that way. It’s either rape, or a complete lack of awareness from everyone involved, especially after Jaime’s drawn-out redemption arc. Game of Thrones is no stranger to controversy, but in this case, it could have been so easily avoided.
2 The Unaired Pilot
Few people outside HBO have seen the original pilot, but by all accounts, it was a pale imitation of the one that eventually aired. With Tamzin Merchant and Jennifer Ehle in for Emilia Clarke and Michelle Fairley respectively, it’s hard to imagine any kind of Game of Thrones without the current cast, but it isn’t just casting that separates the two pilots.
According to creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, test audiences originally had no idea that Jaime, Cersei, and Tyrion were even siblings. They also note that some scenes, particularly the one between Ned and Robert in the Winterfell crypts, were doubly long and overblown with exposition.
That being said, the original pilot could well be the best episode of television ever made, and we all know it’s only here to keep us from criticizing another aired episode.
1 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (5x06)
The one you’ve all been waiting for. There is almost nothing redeeming in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”, named for the words of House Martell, as Jaime and Bronn’s trip to Dorne reaches its lowest point.
Their claustrophobic battle with the Sand Snakes, who we are supposed to believe as Prince Oberyn’s daughters, is put together so sloppily by director Jeremy Podeswa. Podeswa will at least have the chance to redeem himself as he tackles the first and last episodes of season seven, but the Sand Snakes may be beyond redemption after this episode.
Then we get to the controversial rape scene, which, again, is controversy for the sake of it. The bottom line is that it adds nothing to the story or characters, as Ramsay was already irreversibly sadistic, while Sansa had grown into more a manipulator than someone to be manipulated.
Which bad Game of Thrones episodes did we miss? Leave your least favorites in the comments!
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