As we sit here, over ten years removed from the premiere of Game of Thrones, three years since the show ended, and now on the cusp of the premiere of House of the Dragon, a Game of Thrones prequel, it can challenging to take stock of the show’s legacy. On the one hand, there were the massive set pieces and battles, shocking deaths, and breath-taking episodes, i.e. the stuff you are likely to remember fondly. On the other hand, there’s the rushed ending that flew in the face of nearly everything that had come before. Everyone always likes to talk about the power of first impressions but let us not sleep on the power of finishing strong, something Game of Thrones most definitely did not do.
Ah, but the nay-saying and nit-picking is boring and tired and worn out. I for one, like to think back positively about the show and think about those things I mentioned. I like to think about the scope of the show especially. You know, the big stuff, kid, the parts of the show that largely separated Game of Thrones from everything else on television.
Game of Thrones just felt so enormous, certainly more massive than anything you’d have expected to see on television and anything we had seen up until that point.
To this day, “Blackwater,” the penultimate episode of the show’s second season remains the most in awe I’ve ever been watching a television show. The scale of the Battle of Blackwater Bay was akin to something you’d have seen on the big screen, not on your own small screen, and from the comfort of your own home. I don’t care how big some of these new flatscreen televisions may be, there wasn’t a television screen out there prepared for what that episode entailed.
From that point on, the show would continue to double down, especially when it came to battles. Almost every season from season two on had one and if not, there was a moment that rivaled a battle in terms of the emotional impact. For better or worse, with Game of Thrones we expected the grandiose. With a new show set in Westeros set to premiere and with it, a flood of Game of Thrones retrospectives and memories, it’s the grandiosity of Game of Thrones that is so easily remembered.
But in between the battles and gasp-inducing deaths were the things that really made Game of Thrones so good, the little moments. For a show that operated on such a massive scale, it excelled at also capturing little moments between characters, usually right before things got cranked up a notch. The fireworks Game of Thrones provided were always the main takeaway, but more often than not, the calm before the storm moments was the stuff that got you at the time.
And that’s what I want to focus on as we gear up to head back to the friendly confines of Westeros. I want to celebrate the ten best moments from the show.
Of course, limiting myself to ten means that some classic Thrones’ moments aren’t making the cut, moments like when Jon and the Wildlings climbed the wall or when Tyrion killed his father Tywin. Likewise for when it appeared Theon had murdered Bran and Rickon or when Jon watched Yrgitte get killed. It wouldn’t be anything related to Game of Thrones without something unfortunate happening, though. Them’s the breaks in Westeros, kid.
10. When the Mountain swiped Oberyn’s leg during their fight
Episode: “The Mountain and the Viper” (S4, E8)
Oh Oberyn, we hardly knew ya, bud.
The Dornish Prince arrived in Westeros at the start of the show’s fourth season in the wake of The Red Wedding and Tywin Lannister having eliminated the Robb Stark-led threat from the North. For the Lannisters, things were pretty good, although this Oberyn fella was a bit too much of a wild card for their liking and seemed destined to cause a problem for them, which he eventually did, stepping in to be Tyrion’s champion when Tyrion chose trial by combat for his role in Joffrey’s murder.
And it looked like Oberyn might actually pull off something of an upset against Cersei’s champion, the Mountain, the man responsible for the murder of Oberyn’s sister. But our dude got cocky and started celebrating at the five-yard line. A rookie mistake and when he wasn’t looking, the Mountain made him pay, first with his eyes and then with his skull.
Oberyn’s death was a tough watch. Someone crushing another person’s head will do that. But there was something about his death that twisted stomachs and stuck with you. Here was a new character, a breath of fresh air, and a possible replacement for the main foe of the Lannisters, someone who could maybe take them down, and just like that, he was gone.
If anything, it’s our fault for getting attached. At that point, we should have known better.
9. When Jon watched Rickon die before the Battle of the Basterds
Episode: “Battle of the Basterds” (S6, E9)
So, if our first life lesson is not to celebrate too early, our second lesson is that you never run away from a deranged psychopath in a straight line. You gotta zig-zag, and be a little elusive because there’s a good chance the deranged psychopath in question might start shooting arrows at you and if you’re running in a straight line, you are making it super easy on them.
Did you catch all that, Rickon? God, man.
Of course, Rickon took a lethal arrow to the back and of course, Jon felt compelled to throw his well-crafted plan out the window and charge Ramsey and his large army all by lonesome. Very on-brand for Jon.
But it was a little surprising because, since his resurrection, Jon had seemed like a man on a mission, someone possibly not so prone to bouts of emotion-led acts of foolishness. Going into the battle with Ramsey for Winterfell, it was clear Ramsey had the numbers and the advantage. Jon and his squad needed to play it perfectly and that all started with being patient. Yet then Rickon died and all that went to shit.
Jon Snow 2.0 is out there still making Jon Snow 1.0 mistakes.
8. When Littlefinger realized he was the one about to get got
Episode: “The Dragon and the Wolf” (S7, E7)
Season seven was supposed to be fun because finally, after so much time apart, the Stark children would be reunited. Well, except for Rickon. Can you imagine what Arya must have thought when she heard about the whole running in a straight line thing?
But the good times didn’t really last that long, especially when it came to Sansa and Arya. Granted they had never been close, but you would have thought that some time apart and the experiences and hardships each had endured during that time would have brought them together. Not so much, though.
Sansa was trying her best in a management position she was learning how to do on the fly and Arya was giving off major just-got-home-from-a-semester-abroad-and-now-I-know-things vibes and the two clashed. It got awkward and you know, it was a bummer because damn it, man, we had waited so long for any kind of Stark reunion. To have it sour so quickly almost didn’t seem fair.
And then for Sansa to turn on Arya? Shit. Come on now.
But surprise, Sansa and Arya fooled you, fooled me, and most importantly, fooled Littlefinger, who after seven seasons of being a devious son of a bitch in the shadows, finally reached the end of the road. The look on his face when he realized it was him on trial and not Arya, ooooh, that shit was delicious.
7. When Margaery realizes Cersei is up to something by not showing up to her trial
Episode: “The Winds of Winter” (S6, E10)
Margaery Tyrell, like Oberyn, was a welcome addition to the show and while she stayed around longer than the Dornish prince, it still wasn’t long enough for my liking. But you know, Margaery was too good for us and definitely too good for Westeros.
As season six wound down, the religious fanatics, the Sparrows, had captured the hearts and minds of Westeros and were set to hold a trial for Cersei. The charge? Living her life, I guess. And the trial was a who’s who of the Westerosi elite. Everyone and their uncle was there.
Except for Cersei.
And while the High Sparrow didn’t seem to see the problem with this, Margaery did and tried her best to convince the leader of the Sparrows that something was afoot and they needed to get the hell out of there. Naturally, he ignored her pleas to bail and doubled down, barring anyone from leaving.
Then they all died. Except for Cersei.
Margaery was a worthy adversary for Cersei but in the end, Cersei downs threats, both real and imagined, like some top-shelf Dornish red wine.
6. When Tormund learns that Brienne is not a knight
Episode: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (S8, S2)
It takes outsiders living outside of an established system to more often than not be the ones to correctly point out the faults of said system. In this case, it was Tormund ready to question some Westerosi bullshit like why the gals can’t be knights, especially when the woman in question is none other than Brienne of Tarth.
Brienne getting knighted by Jaime on the eve of the throwdown with the White Walkers was definitely one of the high points of a flawed season eight and one of the most touching moments of the entire series. But in rewatching it, Tormund’s reaction to learning that Brienne wasn’t a knight really stuck out to me.
Because yeah, why the hell Brienne wouldn’t be a knight? Brienne was badass and a better fighter than the majority of dudes rolling around Westeros calling themselves knights. But she couldn’t be one because of BS gender roles? Get out of here with that nonsense.
It was wonderful that Jaime did what he did but not-so-wonderful that it took so long and a quiet moment before certain death for it to happen.
5. When the Nights Watch Rangers find the bodies left behind by the White Walkers
Episode: “Winter is Coming” (S1, E1)
Silly me. Heading into the show’s seventh season, I was adamant that the only thing that truly mattered on Game of Thrones was the inevitable clash with the White Walkers. I felt that all the backstabbing and quibbles happening amongst the living would eventually be pushed aside in the face of a common enemy, effin’ ice zombies.
Now, my main reason for this kind of thinking went all the way back to the show’s very first episode and how that episode began. It didn’t begin with Starks or Lannisters or dragons. It began with three members of the Nights Watch out for a jaunt north of the wall and hello, they run into a Wight and some meticulously placed dead bodies. That’s what the showrunners felt was the best way to start the entire series. That had to mean something right? The showrunners definitely had a plan and knew what they were doing right?
Ugh, maybe skip that second question.
But whatever. I felt very strongly about this because the prologue to “Winter is Coming” had such a distinct vibe and feel to it. Plus, over the course of the next couple seasons, amidst all the human shenanigans, the show would remind us not to sleep on the threat from the north. They kept dropping hints and the hints seemed important and damn it, I fell for it.
Oh well, this is a great way to introduce a show, regardless of the overall meaning of the whole thing.
4. When Daenerys pulls a fast one on the slaver when purchasing The Unsullied
Episode: “And Now His Watch Has Ended” (S3, E4)
We learned that Daenerys wasn’t to be trifled with from the early going and throughout the show’s first two seasons, we continued to be given examples of this being the case. Overlook her or underestimate her and she’d make you pay. The girl walked into a burning fire and walked out with three baby dragons. She’s not messing around, guys. Danys came to play.
I feel that Danys reputation as a bad motherfucker was cemented four episodes into season three when she acquired The Unsullied. It definitely seemed like she was going to be giving up one of her dragons to get the highly touted army and for armchair experts like myself, that seemed like a steep cost, regardless of how amazing the army might be. It’s a dragon. You’d probably want to hold onto those.
And then she did!
And in the process, she pulled a fast one on the asshole slaver selling her The Unsullied and it was one of the most satisfying deaths in all of Game of Thrones. Eff that guy, am I right?
After that happened, there was no denying the force of Danys.
3. When Cat Stark sees Roose Bolton’s armor and gets wise to what’s happening at The Twins
Episode: “The Rains of Castamere” (S3, E9)
Where were you when The Red Wedding? Oh, that’s easy. IN A STATE OF SHOCK thank you very much.
Do you know who wasn’t? Catelyn Stark. She got wise to the whole thing before poor Robb did and while that didn’t really do a damn thing, we still award her five bonus points and she gets extra time at recess.
Catelyn sensing something was up and making eye contact with Roose and then confirming that treachery was coming in hot is one of those things that benefits from a second viewing because in the moment, it’s all happening so fast and everything becomes so dark and ominous, it gets overlooked.
Another life lesson? Just listen to your mom. She knows what’s up.
Cat knew Walder Frey was going to be salty about Robb reneging on his agreement to marry one of his daughters and that no amount of talk would cool him down. Walder Frey doesn’t get cooled down. Walder Frey lures you into his home and murders you under the guise of a celebratory feast. I bet that when Cat and Robb met up in the afterlife, the first twenty minutes they spent together consisted of her just looking at him and Robb pleading with her to stop, telling her that ‘yes, she was right and he was wrong.’
It’s okay, Robb. We’ve all been there. I mean, not to that extent but yes, we’ve all been there.
2. When the dogs start barking at Hardhomme
Episode: “Hardhomme” (S5, E8)
The massacre at Hardhomme is my favorite battle in Game of Thrones. God, I love it. It’s also probably the episode I think about and want to rewatch the most because that last twenty minutes or so is amazing. It’s creepy, it’s foreboding. It’s like a horror/action movie and you can’t take your eyes off of it.
And it all starts when the dogs begin barking.
Everything seems fine like it’s pretty much all going to plan. Yes, Jon would have liked more Wildlings to take him up on his offer to come south of the Wall, but beggars can’t be choosers and as Tormund points out, when the food runs out, they’ll change their mind. That one woman says goodbye to her daughters, says she’ll be right behind them and of course, that seems like a major red flag in hindsight but at the time it didn’t. It just seemed like something that character would say in that moment.
And then the dogs start barking.
Then the wind seems to shift and ooooh that feeling that shit is about to get a little crazy begins to creep its way up your spine. “Close the gates!” And that always sucks because without fail, someone just misses getting through the gates before they close, and then everything goes quiet.
“Hardhomme” was Game of Thrones reminding you that they’re not effin’ around and when they need to, they can blast a 500-foot homerun or break off a 80-yard run. Oh and the way the Night King looked at Jon and when he raised the dead and was like, guess what assholes, I have a bigger army now…
Damn it, I love that episode.
1.When Daenerys sets sail for Westeros
Episode: “The Winds of Winter” (S6, E10)
No, really. Finally.
After six seasons of trudging through deserts, being captured, being captured again, escaping death, vanquishing foes, sniffing out traitors, raising dragon babies and more, Daenerys was finally headed to Westeros. The show, which had always been massive in scale and scope was going to start contracting and coming together. Plots would begin to merge and an endgame was in sight.
It was all very exciting.
The Danys stuff had started to become almost its own show, albeit a great show, but still, one that was removed from everything else happening on Game of Thrones. It was fun while it lasted but it was time to get everyone in the same room and get down to business.
Was this the last truly exciting moment in Game of Thrones? Yeah, maybe. The ones that would follow have a case but they are also hampered by context and surrounding events. Danys setting sail to Westeros has a purity the other moments don’t. Anything and everything seemed possible at that point. The potential of Game of Thrones was off the charts and nothing could get in their way.
Well, except for themselves.
But that’s for another time.