This article comes from Den of Geek UK. It contains spoilers for Game of Thrones seasons one to seven.
With the return of Game of Thrones fast approaching, let’s admit it, we’ve probably left it too late to cram in another “right from the start” rewatch. But the final season of HBO’s fantasy mega-hit demands our respect, and we’d better cram in a bit of revision if we want to understand what’s going on when season eight kicks off in a few weeks.
We’ve tried our very best to condense Game of Thrones into a handy stack of eight pivotal episodes that will bring you back to speed before the season eight premiere. This combination of episodes should give you a refresher course in the background details of the show, as well as touching on major turning points for the key players that are still standing at this stage.
There are certain long-dead characters that we’ve skipped over here, including such significant-at-the-time-but-seemingly-irrelevant-now players as Stannis and Ramsay. But these eight episodes should prepare you nicely for the six impending installments of season eight…
1. Season 1 Episode 9 – Baelor
Having spent eight episodes uncovering the fact that Robert Baratheon’s seed was strong and therefore working out that Joffrey Baratheon isn’t actually the heir to the Iron Throne, Sean Bean’s Ned Stark is locked up in a dungeon at the start of this iconic episode. We see Ned at his lowest ebb, as Conleth Hill’s Varys shows his soft side by coming to offer advice.
Ned heeds Varys’ advice and keeps his silence regarding Joffrey’s true parentage, but (earning the show’s ninth episodes their rug-pulling reputation) Joffrey decides to kill him anyway. Maisie Williams’ Arya and Sophie Turner’s Sansa both look on in horror, establishing their motivations for years to come. Elsewhere, we see Caitlin Stark agreeing to marry Robb into Walder Frey’s family, which sets the stage nicely for our next key episode…
2. Season 3 Episode 9 – The Rains of Castamere
Of course, Robb went and ignored his pledge to the Frey family by marrying Talisa, a high-born from Volantis who moved to Westeros to tend wounds on its battlefields. Here, we see the consequences of that move in the still-horrific Red Wedding. The Lannisters send their regards as Walder Frey teams up with Roose Bolton to murder Catelyn, Robb, and Talisa during Edmure Tully’s wedding feast. (Fun fact: Edmure, played by Tobias Menzies, remains alive but captive as we press ahead into season eight.)
As a handy aside, this episode also offers a crash course in Isaac Hempstead-Wright’s warging abilities. He takes control of Hodor’s mind for the first time here, and also wargs into a dire wolf to save Kit Harrington’s Jon Snow from the Wildlings. We also see Jon refusing to kill for the Wildlings, which establishes his moral leadership qualities rather nicely.
3. Season 4 Episode 2 – The Lion and the Rose
“The Lion and The Rose” (aka the Purple Wedding episode) is the perfect send-off for Joffrey, with Jack Gleeson’s kid king providing a detailed reminder of why we hate him before popping his clogs next to a pie. Joffrey rules in his own horrid way throughout his wedding reception, pouring wine over Tyrion and laughing maniacally through a tastelessly-staged recap of the show so far. Even Natalie Dormer’s Margaery, normally such a good actress, lets some hate-filled facial expressions slip through the facade. Watch out for her grandmother, Diana Rigg’s Olenna Tyrell, who later takes responsibility for the murder.
Elsewhere, we see Roose Bolton chastising his bastard son for flaying Alfie Allen’s Theon Greyjoy, who is somehow still alive all these years later as we edge closer to season eight. We also see a little bit of Jaime’s development, as he practices left-handed swordplay with Bronn for the first time. Also, Melisandre burns some people alive to please the Lord of Light.
4. Season 5 Episode 8 – Hardhome
This episode provides a few neat updates on major players: we pop into Bravos to see Arya’s Faceless Man training; we see Cersei imprisoned but refusing to confess her crimes; we see Theon telling Sansa that he didn’t actually kill Bran and Rickon; Tyrion joins Daenerys’ council and Jorah Mormont is banished from her sight.
But, of course, for all its solid character work, it’s the epic White Walker action that “Hardhome” is remembered for. Building up to that unforgettable image of Night King lifting his arms and raising the dead as Jon sails off in shock, we see the first proper clash between the icy ruler and Kit Harington’s character. The moment in which Jon’s Valyrian-steel sword smashes a memorable Walker is also a top-notch action beat.
5. Season 6 Episode 5 – The Door
You get two huge glimpses into Westeros history for the price of one in the episode, as Bran starts to really test out his past-seeing abilities. For starters, Bran witnesses the birth of the White Walkers, as a flashback explains that the Children of the Forest created the Night King to turn the tide in a battle against mankind. And then, for a tear-jerker of a main course, Bran serves up the emotional “Hold the Door” scene that gives the episode its name.
As it turns out, of course, Bran’s time-altering skills are what turned an ordinary Winterfell youth called Wylis into the man of one word that we’ve come to know as Hodor. All of this is revealed as Bran, trapped in the past, urges Wylis to “hold the door” in the present day. This kid’s mind is permanently damaged, and Hodor gives his life to hold that door, keep the White Walkers at bay, and save Bran’s life.
6. Season 6 Episode 10 – The Winds of Winter
If Game of Thrones episodes were titled the same as Friends episodes, this would be The One Where Cersei Blows Everyone Up. It’s absolutely essential rewatching for numerous reasons: it’s a powerful reminder of how brutal Lena Headey’s queen regent can be, as she swats a huge number of pieces off the chessboard at once, and it’s also a vivid example of Game of Thrones at its bravest and boldest.
The piano-led intro music and a lengthy absence of dialogue lead us into the episode, and another of its most powerful scenes is also totally silent: Tommen’s suicide as he leaps from the Red Keep. Between those quiet moments, we see, contrastingly, a huge explosion decimating the Sept of Baelor and killing Margaery Tyrell, Loras Tyrell, and a whole lot of other players in the great game. The episode also gives us a key moment for the other major queen, ending on a shot of Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen finally sailing over to Westeros.
7. Season 7 Episode 6 – Beyond the Wall
With two episodes to go in this condensed pre-season eight binge, the time has come to skip ahead to the final episodes of season seven and refresh your understanding of who is where at this point in the timeline. In this, the penultimate episode of the penultimate season, we see a lot of action in Winterfell as Arya discovers Sansa’s pre-Red Wedding letter to Robb and Sansa uncovers Arya’s bag of faces. Littlefinger, being Littlefinger, tries to pit the Stark sisters against one another.
Meanwhile, Jon ventures beyond the wall with his band of merry men (feat. the recently-returned Gendry) to fetch a wight and bring it back to King’s Landing. The troupe ends up in a pickle and Dany comes to rescue them, sacrificing one of her dragons (Viserion) to an undead javelin champion (the Night King) in the process. We also say goodbye to Thoros of Myr, whose death seems to suggest that his oft-resurrected chum Beric Dondarion is now on his last life. Also, Jon finally bends the knee to Dany.
8. Season 7 Episode 7 – The Dragon and the Wolf
The final episode of season seven, naturally, is the best thing to watch if you want to recap the state of Westeros before diving into season eight. This episode finally brought together all the key characters, with the remaining warring factions gathering in a King’s Landing dragon pit to clap eyes on the wight that Jon has captured. Everyone is persuaded to team up, with the exception of Cersei, who decides to sit this one out and hire the Golden Company of Braavos to maintain her grip on the Iron Throne while everyone else marches north to fight the White Walkers.
There’s plenty of housekeeping towards the end of the episode, as the Stark sisters team up to kill Littlefinger and Jaime abandons Cersei in order to “fight for the living.” Also, just as Jon and Dany are bumping uglies (with Tyrion looking concerned in the corridor), Bran completes his Tower of Love vision to find out that Jon and Dany are actually related. Then, boom, the Night King uses his new zombie dragon to break through the Wall and bring the fight to Westeros.
We’ve skipped over the “Battle of the Bastards” (season 6 episode 9) in this time-saving recap because Ramsay’s death in that episode knocks him out of the running for the Game of Thrones grand finale, but it is worth rewatching this episode if you’ve got the time. Not just for the epic battle scenes, but also for closure, as Sansa’s revenge here is a key point in her character arc.
Another honorable mention should go to season 2 episode 10 (“Valar Morghulis”), in which Dany sees a vision in The House of the Undying – including a destroyed King’s Landing throne room, filled with snow – which could yet prove to be prophetic.
Cersei’s flashback at the start of season 5 episode 1 (“The Wars to Come”), in which she is told that someone younger and more beautiful will rob her of everything she holds dear, may well turn out to be relevant in season 8 as well. And if you want the extended edition of Bran’s vision about Jon’s parentage, you’ll want to check out season 6 episode 3 (“Oathbreaker”), too.
However much prep you manage to do, Game of Thrones season 8 will premiere on Sunday, April 14 on HBO