Warning: contains spoilers for Game of Thrones seasons 1-8 (and – curveball – The Shield pilot).
The act of compiling a list of moments such as these – trawling through memories, devouring fan-sites, gorging on clips – really hammers home the joy of being a Game of Thrones fan. Whatever you thought of the latter seasons, or how the show ended, it’s impossible to recall certain moments from the fierce and frantic, frenetic, kinetic, splenetic, sprawling, sword-and-sorrow-soaked timeline without some part of you screaming: ‘Again! Again!’
The selection criteria here isn’t random, but neither is it scientific. The final results and rankings lay no claim to definitiveness. How could they? Whittling this list down to a mere 100 moments would’ve been tough. This is where you come in. If you feel that your favourite scene or iconic moment is conspicuous by its absence, then fly to the comments section and help us relive it through your passionate powers of recall: make us want to re-watch Game of Thrones even more than we already do.
20. Bran’s Window of Opportunity
S1 E1, Winter is Coming
Game of Thrones’ first ever episode ends with a mission statement that is every bit as shocking and provocative as Vic Mackey’s execution of a fellow police officer at the close of The Shield‘s pilot. Even though ‘Winter is Coming’ never stopped nailing its gritty, blood-soaked colours to the mast, there was something about a small boy witnessing an incestuous embrace and then being pushed from a high window to his apparent death that seemed to say, ‘Yeah, you ain’t seen nothing yet.’ And my Gods we hadn’t.
19. Here There Be Dragons
S1 E10, Fire and Blood
While the White Walkers are introduced early on in the first season, the series’ fantasy – and more fantastical – elements don’t truly announce themselves until the season finale. Prior to that, Game of Thrones appeared to be dealing primarily with dynastic wrangling and political intrigue: ye olde world, but ye olde ‘real’ world. Then Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) emerged from a pyre of flames adorned with dragons, and a little voice inside each and every one of us said: “F*** yeah, dragons!”
18. Hodor Begins… and Ends
S6 E5, The Door
Few could have guessed that Hodor (Kristian Nairn) – gentle giant and occasional comic relief – would be given such a heartbreaking backstory, least of all that his ‘name’ had been a harbinger of his doom all along. Hodor’s death – a culmination of prophetic visions, time-travel mechanics, pre-destination, destiny, impossible odds, and noble sacrifice – was so deeply tragic and traumatising that we would have needed a thousand Hodors to hold the door against our tears.
17. Slayer and the Bear
S3 E7, The Bear and the Maiden Fair
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) spent so long hiding his nobility and decency behind the pantomime villainy of his family name that even he seemed to forget that there was anything worth recovering from beneath the surface of his psyche. Throughout the series, the character ran the full gamut from swaggering villain to anti-hero to beloved fan favourite (heroic, but never exactly a hero). Nowhere was his arc of redemption more transformative than when he was with Brienne of Tarth, an unlikely bond that ultimately teased out the best in Jaime, most notably the selfless zeal with which he leapt – weary and one-handed – into a bear-pit to save Brienne from a grisly death. Pre-Bri Jaime might well have cheered on the bear.
16. Wight and Wrong
S7 E7, The Dragon and the Wolf
The emergency meeting to discuss the Night King’s impending incursion was so heavy with dread, and taut with tension that the appearance of an un-crated Wight came as something a relief. This long-awaited confrontation – part Real Housewives of Westeros, part Dragons’ Den – set the stage for the plot-collisions and dovetails to come – even if some of the pay-offs that followed failed to satisfy everyone.
15. Dragon-mounted Massacre
S8 E5, The Bells
The foundations for Daenerys’ slippery-slope slide from justice-powered earth-mother to murderous megalomaniac had certainly been laid, but the bulk of the character work came too late, and certainly came too fast. Even still, Daenerys’ dragon-backed decimation of King’s Landing is a stand-out, striking ‘What the Frostfangs?’ moment in a show that was never exactly lacking in shock and spectacle to begin with.
14. Tywin Lannister has Left the Building
S5 E1, The Wars to Come
Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) doubtless imagined his death taking place either on the battlefield, or in the quiet, cossetted dignity of a royal bed-chamber. Thankfully, the cruel scoundrel got the pathetic, ignoble death he deserved when his son Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) – whom he’d spent a life-time rejecting, hectoring, under-estimating, bullying and betraying – shot him through the heart with a crossbow while the old man was having a poo. Tyrion may not have poisoned his nephew, but there zero doubt he was the one who’d made an Elvis Presley of his father.
13. The Hound Gets His Pound of Flesh
S6 E8, No One
Sir Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), aka The Hound, is what you get if you cram Connery’s Bond and The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker into the body of a medieval Terminator. He’s a terrible brute, yes, but noble and code-driven in his own way, even bordering on sweet at times – although his sweetness does tend to involve just as much death and weaponry as his murderousness. Case in point was his bloody quest to avenge one of the few men in Westeros he’d ever actually liked, his friend and mentor, Septon Ray (Ian McShane). Sandor’s blunt quips are legendary, but never better than when he coolly observes to a gurgling, dying victim: ‘You’re really sh** at dying.’
12. Tyrion’s Big Gambit
S2 E9, Blackwater
While Tyrion was undoubtedly the wisest and smartest character in the show, his talents were forever sealed within a stature the world had decided was incapable of housing such treasures. King’s Landing quickly, though briefly, saw the error of its ways when Tyrion proved himself not only a natural leader and rallier of men – “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!” – but a cunning military tactician. When Tyrion’s plan to ignite Stannis’ (Stephen Dillane) fleet with a lone boat packed with Wildfire came to fruition, you could faintly hear, beyond the roar of destruction, the sound of a million households on far-off Earth punching the air in triumph.
11. The Walk of Shame
S5 E10, Mother’s Mercy
The Lannisters’ psychopathic entitlement reigned over Kings’ Landing, until Cersei (Lena Headey) found herself very much trumped and usurped by the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), a holier-than-thou, po-faced zealot whose silent seizure of power made an already bad place much, much worse. Cersei’s treatment at the hands of the High Sparrow made you feel sorry for her, in spite of her many misdeeds, while the cold, calm dignity with which she undertook her forced ‘Walk of Shame’ – marching naked and bloody through the city as boos and garbage rained down on her – made you respect her, even admire her. Just a little.
10. Here Come the Fireworks
S6 E10, The Winds of Winter
At the close of Todd Phillips’ Joker, Gotham becomes an external manifestation of the inside of Arthur Fleck’s tormented, chaotic brain. It’s hard not to imagine the same osmotic harmony at work in Cersei’s brain as she smiles balefully in the direction of the Great Sept of Baelor as a mushroom cloud of wildfire strips the skin from the bones of her enemies: the Sparrows and their despotic leader, and despised daughter-in-law Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). In Game of Thrones, revenge is a dish that’s best served hot. Very hot.
9. Double Dragon
S7 E6, Beyond the Wall; S7 E7, The Dragon and the Wolf
We’ve got a dead-heat, Double-Dragon situation here, with two equally shocking, game-changing moments involving Viserion. Fans thought that dragons would be the nuclear warheads Westeros needed to take down the White Walkers, but when the Night King speared Viserion with his immaculately-aimed death-javelin, the hitherto unbeatable dragon dropped impotently into the drink like a vast scaly stone. When Viserion re-emerged, undead and under the control of his new master, he took down the Wall in a jet of blue fire with the ease of a man flame-throwing a model-village. Thousands of years to build; seconds to destroy.
8. I Now Pronounce You… Dead
S3 E9, The Rains of Castamere
The aftershocks of The Red Wedding were felt not just across Westeros, but here in the real world, where people who’d never even heard of Game of Thrones wondered about the ramifications. The Red Wedding – the event during which a significant portion of the Stark family taste betrayal and death when the crotchety old man from Harry Potter takes things a little too far – cemented the show’s place as an icon of popular culture. The scene also served as shorthand for everything fans loved about the show: its tragic grandeur, its unflinching brutality, and its thrilling unpredictability.
7. Snow has Fallen
S5 E10, Mother’s Mercy
While the lasting impact of Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) death at the hands of his disgruntled underlings was undercut by his subsequent resurrection, it’s impossible to understate just how hard a punch it packed on first airing. No one expected Jon Snow would ever die, even in a show that had proven itself so frenziedly committed to the regular, random genocide of its cast. The question left hanging after season five was: ‘Is Game of Thrones bluffing?’ With a show as pitiless as Game of Thrones it was impossible to tell: and that delicious doubt made the wait for season six all the more agonising. And it was hard to banish that doubt when you remembered the entry below…
6. Ned’s Dead, Baby. Ned’s Dead
S1 E9, Baelor
When Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark (Sean Bean) discovered that the children of King Robert Baratheon (Mark Eddy) and Cersei Lannister had actually been sired by Jaime Lannister, no-one expected that he’d pay for this discovery with his head. Didn’t the character have double plot armour? Not only was he one of the show’s biggest and best characters, but he was Sean Bean! Sean bloody Bean! Viewers already had an inkling that their new favourite show didn’t play by any set of rules they’d yet encountered (readers of the books were a few steps ahead), but Ned’s ‘Samuel-L-Jackson-in-Deep-Blue-Sea’ moment definitely sealed the deal.
5. The Red-eyed Wedding
S4 E2, The Lion and the Rose
It’s not many shows that will make you cheer the death of a child; but then it’s not many children who will shoot naked, helpless women with a crossbow. Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) was such an entitled, unhinged, universally despised king that the field of suspects in his very public poisoning included anyone who’d ever met him, and anyone who’d ever heard of him. Kudos to Jack Gleeson for bringing to life such a cruel and callous character, a boy so lacking in the promise or possibility of redemption, and make him so deeply and utterly compelling.
4. Hardhome Hits Home Hard
S5 E8, Hardhome
The first skirmish between the ever-expanding army of the Night King, and Jon Snow and the Wildlings (which, incidentally, would be a great name for a band) is epic and thrilling and terrifying, but the scene that lodges deepest in the psyche comes in the eerie aftermath of this mini-massacre. Jon Snow, huddled at the prow of his retreating vessel, locks eyes with The Night King and watches as with one Christly flourish of his arms he reanimates the freshly-dead bodies of Jon’s friends and comrades. The new recruits join the rest of the silently staring horde on the shoreline, filling Jon Snow’s heart – and ours – with dread.
3. Olenna’s Final Toast to Joffrey
S7 E3, The Queen’s Justice
Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) spent her final minutes utilising the sharp tongue and caustic turn of phrase that had made her both such a thorn in Cersei’s side and a treasured fan favourite. Jaime Lannister, stern but merciful, allowed Olenna to pontificate a while on the game of thrones before meeting her maker, but when the conversation took an uncomfortable turn towards his loyalty to his sister he quickly proffered the poison that was to be her last drink. Once supped, Olenna delivered one last blow to the Lannister family: the revelation that it was she who had poisoned Joffrey. As Olenna herself so succinctly summed up the former boy-king: ‘He really was a c***, wasn’t he?’
2. The Eyes Have It
S4 E8, The Mountain and the Viper
Game of Thrones briefly tricked us into believing that it was going to give the sure-footed, sharp-suited Oberon Martell (Pedro Pascal), a conventional – possibly even feel-good Hollywood – ending. We believed in the force of his conviction, and the power of his words; we expected him to win for Tyrion in his by-proxy battle against The Mountain; the man who had killed Oberon’s sister and children. What we didn’t expect (and really should have, in retrospect) was for Oberon Martell to have his eyes thumbed backwards through his skull until his head literally caved in. His was a death, and a death scene, that lingered rather too long in the mind’s eye. Not to mention the stomach.
1. Feudal Family Feud
S4 E6, The Laws of Gods and Men
Tyrion finds himself in his family’s kangaroo court accused of nepoticidal regicide thanks to some ante-mortem finger-pointing by Joffrey. Once in the dock, Tyrion is betrayed by the false testimony of his lover, Shae. This is a show-trial; nothing more. Tyrion, alive with anger, seethes at his sister: “I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish that I had. Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores!” He doubles down on his tirade by declaring that he wished he possessed enough poison “for the whole pack of them”. His grand finale is a demand for trial by combat, which elicits stunned gasps from all assembled. This is an epic, jaw-dropping, electrifying speech that’s rarely been bettered on this or any other show, delivered with titanic passion and conviction by Peter Dinklage, who – if you’ll excuse the vernacular – sells the shit out of it. Brilliant stuff.