The Definitive ‘Game of Thrones’ Episode Rankings

Welcome, lords, knights, ladies, and wights to The Ringers definitive Game of Thrones episode ranking. From “Hardhome” and “Blackwater” to “The Night Lands” and “First of His Name,” our staff is breaking down each of the show’s first 60 episodes in preparation for the Season 7 premiere on July 16 on HBO. The ranking is below, and yes, we are prepared to argue about it.


For a far more definitive explanation of the first 60 episodes, listen to our Binge Mode podcast, with Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion. The Mother of Dragons and Maester’s episode winners for each entry are listed here.

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  • 11
    Episode 610

    Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
    The Winds of Winter

    Directed by Miguel Sapochnik

    George R.R. Martin published A Game of Thrones, the first book in his sprawling A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy saga, in 1996, and for the ensuing 20 years, readers obsessed over the mystery of Jon Snow’s parentage. Through five of Martin’s novels and 59 episodes of the show that those tomes inspired, the speculation and theorizing surrounding that question fueled an unrivaled shared fan experience. In “The Winds of Winter,” Bran returned to the Tower of Joy to uncover the truth, in so doing providing legions of amateur sleuths and genealogists with the clarity they’d craved for two decades: Jon is not Ned’s son; he’s Lyanna’s. The cut from baby Jon’s face to adult Jon’s face as he’s poised to be named the White Wolf and the King in the North instantly earned its place in the pantheon of shattering TV moments, the rare reveal that not only meets but exceeds expectations and that sparks as many new questions as it just answered. Jon isn’t the episode’s only new ruler, though: Cersei channels her inner Aerys, burning her enemies by blowing up the Sept of Baelor in a chillingly choreographed and scored sequence. As always, her miscalculations have grave consequences, in this case her son Tommen’s suicide. But as Littlefinger once said, chaos is a ladder, and Cersei climbs those rungs right to the Iron Throne, crowning herself queen. She won’t sit comfortably for long, though. After years of languishing out East, Dany finally heads West as the episode concludes, a new Hand by her side, and Greyjoy, Martell, and Tyrell ships in her fleet. Not even Frey pie can beat that.

    — Mallory Rubin
  • 21
    Episode 508

    Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
    Hardhome

    Directed by Miguel Sapochnik

    We can say a lot of things about this episode: how it was the first time that the audience really understood the stakes of the story; how it set the stage for Jon's assassination; how its awesomeness stabilized a generally substandard season. All valid. I would add this: The last 20 minutes are as blistering an action sequence as anything I’ve seen in films or television in the last five years.

    — Jason Concepcion
  • 31
    Episode 309

    Directed by David Nutter
    The Rains of Castamere

    Directed by David Nutter

    “The Rains of Castamere” altered audiences’ expectations. Mind you, this is after Ned Stark's beheading at the end of Season 1, which at the time was the most notable NO ONE IS SAFE moment in television history.


    This time, the ostensible hero wasn't just killed off; he was murdered in shameful, savage fashion along with his family members and many of his supporters. King Robb's lovely, pregnant queen, Talisa, was stabbed in the belly right in front of him. His mother, Catelyn, pleaded for her son's life and the answer came in the form of a knife, slicing open her throat. Robb's direwolf was speared to death, decapitated, and its head sewed onto his body. AND IT ALL HAPPENED AT A WEDDING! OVER DINNER! AT THE HANDS OF ROBB'S SUPPOSED ALLIES!

    — Jason Concepcion
  • 41
    Episode 209

    Directed by Neil Marshall
    Blackwater

    Directed by Neil Marshall

    “Fuck the Kingsguard, fuck the city, fuck the king” — but cheers to “Blackwater,” a cinematic-quality experience that redefined not only what was possible from a bottle episode of a series or an hour of Game of Thrones, but from the television medium itself. “The dwarf has played his little trick; he can only play it once,” Stannis tells his men following Tyrion’s wildfire ploy, but that pyrotechnic brilliance has played in our minds on loop ever since we first saw it bloom, as green and fierce as any dragon. Amid Tyrion’s stunning heroics, the traitorous sword thrust to his face is also a blade to our hearts, awakening us fully and truly to the danger his own family poses to him. To be fair, kinslaying appears to be in the Lannister blood: Cersei, in one of the show’s most haunting scenes, is on the verge of poisoning Tommen during storytime, dropping her vial only when the saviors arrive. The Hound may be able to flee from fire, but Cersei can’t flee from the truth: In dedicating her life to keeping her children safe, she developed something of a habit of putting them in mortal peril. In ways both explosive and hushed, this episode is an achievement. It is, as Joff would say, urgent business.

    — Mallory Rubin
  • 51
    Episode 109

    Directed by Alan Taylor
    Baelor

    Directed by Alan Taylor

    Among its other magical qualities, Game of Thrones is unique on television because of its reputation as a show unafraid to kill any character. Throughout the realm, there is no Valyrian plot armor strong enough to protect even the most central of protagonists. Six seasons in, that’s part of the appeal, but back in 2011, viewers were entirely unprepared for Ned, the series’ first central protagonist, to die. “Baelor” plays with the common fantasy-genre expectation, too: Even with Ned, looking ragged and disheveled, in chains, Joffrey announces a possible plan to send the former King’s Hand to the Wall — and then he pauses, looks lovingly at Sansa, blinks, and declares, “Ser Ilyn, bring me his head.” Watch Arya’s face throughout this scene. Observe how the camera slows and the mics amplify Ned’s gulping breath in his final moments. You’ll see why — and when — Thrones became a cultural phenomenon.

    — Zach Kram
  • 62
    Episode 605

    Directed by Jack Bender
    The Door

    Directed by Jack Bender

    So the whole Hodor thing is pretty messed up, right? In “The Door,” we finally find out what happened to the show’s friendly giant. After one of Bran’s visions goes awry, the Night King and several White Walkers turn up at the Three-Eyed Raven’s arboreal lair. In an attempt to escape, Bran wargs into Hodor, rupturing the gap between the present and past for Hodor (né Wylis), and inadvertently causing severe psychological distress to boy-Hodor, who from then on is able only to repeat a slurred version of adult-Hodor’s final instruction from Meera: Hold the door. So, to recap: Bran deeply traumatized a child and then forced that now grown-up child to die while defending him. It’s tragic, and it’s also more than a little bit messed up, even if it was an accident. (Like, whoops, a certain castle fall.)

    — Claire McNear
  • 73
    Episode 602

    Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
    Home

    Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

    JON BACK. There are so many critical plot points in “Home,” but most of them were forgotten the second Jon’s eyes flew open. The second episode of Season 6 is exactly as advertised: It’s all about homes. Jon reunites with his body, Ramsay starts his reign in the North by killing off his relatives, and Theon decides to journey back to the Iron Islands while his father, Balon Greyjoy, takes a walk on a rickety bridge in a storm and meets his end at the hands of his brother, Euron. Bran returns to Winterfell, if only through the Weirwood network, and sees a young version of his aunt Lyanna — a beautiful introduction to a character that will become crucial later in the season. And although Tyrion is not “home,” he makes friends with some dragons and spouts the quote that launched a thousand “saaaaame” responses on Twitter: “I drink, and I know things.”

    — Megan Schuster
  • 81
    Episode 408

    Directed by Alex Graves
    The Mountain and the Viper

    Directed by Alex Graves

    This is an all-timer, a fantasy nerd’s dream come true: Two mythical figures — a monstrous killing machine in Gregor Clegane and a smooth-talking, poison-loving fighter in Oberyn Martell — going head-to-head. As a book reader, I could not have been more hyped for this episode, and it delivered with a near-perfect re-creation of a ridiculously entertaining duel. For much of the fight, Oberyn is cool and calm, and he eventually takes the Mountain down. He briefly tastes victory, but he’s there for vengeance, needing Gregor to confess his crimes against his sister, Elia Martell. It’s one misstep, but it leads to Oberyn’s gruesome death: His head is squished like a large piece of fruit. In typical George R.R. Martin fashion, just when you think your favorite character has a victory, it’s immediately taken away. Rest in peace, Red Viper. May your head be forever unsquished in the afterlife.

    — Sean Yoo
  • 92
    Episode 402

    Directed by Alex Graves
    The Lion and the Rose

    Directed by Alex Graves

    It’s not every day that Twitter celebrates the death of a teenage boy, but that’s all I can remember after the original airing of “The Lion and the Rose”: pure, unadulterated joy that King Joffrey was finally out of our lives forever. This Lannister death was deeply satisfying, in part, because it was preceded with a relentless string of cruel, petty behavior. Joffrey chops up his uncle’s thoughtful wedding gift, tortures a fool for entertainment, uses dwarves to act out the recent deaths of his guests’ family members, and publicly humiliates Tyrion by forcing him to be his cupbearer. His demise begins with a pathetic little cough, and ends with him lying helplessly in his mother’s arms. Tyrion is immediately blamed, but an earlier conversation hints at the true assassin: “War is war, but killing a man at a wedding? Horrid,” Olenna Tyrell says to Sansa. “What sort of monster would do such a thing?”

    — Alyssa Bereznak
  • 102
    Episode 107

    Directed by Daniel Minahan
    You Win or You Die

    Directed by Daniel Minahan

    Shouts to this Season 1 episode for making it plainly clear how unfair the world of Game of Thrones is — watching Ned Stark’s honorable choices blow up in his face, as Cersei and Littlefinger brazenly circumvent the proper chain of succession, is an “aha” moment. But this episode stands out not for the ending, but for the beginning: Tywin Lannister’s stern speech to Jaime about the importance of the family name — delivered while skinning a deer — is a top-three Tywin moment.

    — Andrew Gruttadaro
  • 112
    Episode 305

    Directed by Alex Graves
    Kissed by Fire

    Directed by Alex Graves

    Though “Kissed by Fire” does feature a fight to the death between the Hound and Beric Dondarrion with a FLAMING SWORD, Robb Stark (stupidly) beheading Rickard Karstark, and some all-time maneuvering by Tywin Lannister, this episode should be remembered as The One Where Jaime Lannister Tells His Story. Sitting in a Harrenhal bath, his right arm newly missing a hand, Jaime tells Brienne his side of the tale that led to his nickname, Kingslayer. Jaime’s confession that he needed to make a choice between keeping an oath and saving innocent lives is the first time we empathize with him. It’s a shining example of one of Game of Thrones’ greatest abilities: presenting us with complex characters who do not land comfortably in classifications of good or bad.

    — Andrew Gruttadaro
  • 123
    Episode 409

    Directed by Neil Marshall
    The Watchers on the Wall

    Directed by Neil Marshall

    "Watchers" is probably the least celebrated of Game of Thrones' now-anticipated blockbuster episodes, but simply being in that category automatically lands it in the top 15 overall. Formidable as Neil Marshall's proved ability to fit an action feature inside a TV season may be, though, "Watchers" is largely remembered for one of the more emotional deaths in a series with an average of three-plus deaths per hour. Ygritte and Jon were likely doomed from the start, but having her die at a child recruit's hands — a child who'll eventually kill the other half of the couple, too, for completism's sake — is a particularly tragic twist.

    — Alison Herman
  • 133
    Episode 101

    Directed by Tim Van Patten
    Winter Is Coming

    Directed by Tim Van Patten

    Pilots are often terrible, but Game of Thrones’ inaugural episode is a sprawling, gripping epic, introducing most of the series' main characters and conflicts. It’s stuffed with detail, but somehow doesn’t feel rushed. This is the result of meticulous retooling: The original version of the episode fell short of HBO's standards, so “Winter Is Coming” was completely reshot, and several key roles were recast, including Daenerys. Imagine Dany played by anyone but Emilia Clarke! I can't, and that's a testament to how assiduously Game of Thrones mapped out and populated George R.R. Martin's universe, right from the start.

    — Kate Knibbs
  • 144
    Episode 410

    Directed by Alex Graves
    The Children

    Directed by Alex Graves

    After a head-smashing trial by combat and an epic showdown at the Wall in the previous two episodes, what else is left for the Season 4 finale? SO MUCH. Stannis captures Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall; Bran is tree-united with the Three-Eyed Raven; Dany chains two of her dragons; the Hound and Brienne savagely clash over Arya; and the man who supposedly “shits gold” is given a fitting end.

    — Zach Mack
  • 152
    Episode 510

    Directed by David Nutter
    Mother's Mercy

    Directed by David Nutter

    Every character strives to return to what’s familiar — sometimes at a great cost. For Theon, that means finally breaking free from his torture-induced alter ego, saving Sansa from an arrow to the face, and jumping off a very tall wall to escape Winterfell. Arya’s reunion was a bloody confrontation with the man who killed her sword-fighting teacher, which also angered the Many-Faced God and cost her her eyesight. Cersei confesses (some of) her sins to the High Sparrow, endures the saddest pixie cut makeover ever, and bares all in her walk of shame back to that high castle in the sky. But of all the bum reunion deals handed out in this episode, Jon Snow’s is the worst. He’s told a wildling might know about his uncle’s whereabouts, but when he runs into a crowd to investigate, all he gets is a bunch of daggers to the gut. Reunions have a funny way of going South on this show, just like weddings.

    — Alyssa Bereznak
  • 164
    Episode 609

    Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
    Battle of the Bastards

    Directed by Miguel Sapochnik

    This is, in my opinion, the greatest Game of Thrones episode ever, and it has the best battle scene in the entire series. The episode hits on three major Thrones themes: dragons, murder, and revenge. It’s dragons galore in the first half of the episode, as Dany and her crew attack the slavers’ fleet, with Drogon looking bigger than ever (I guess those offseason workouts paid off). Later, Ramsay kills Rickon Stark, a death that probably could have been avoided if Young Rick just zigzagged as he ran. The last 30 minutes are full of blood, guts, and a full range of emotion: fear when the Bolton army is constricting Jon’s crew; sadness when Wun-Wun, possibly the last giant, dies after taking an arrow to the eyeball; and happiness when the Vale army arrives, and Jon punches Ramsay’s face repeatedly. Finally, in perfect Thrones fashion, Sansa gets her revenge on Ramsay by feeding him to his own dogs.

    — Sean Yoo
  • 173
    Episode 304

    Directed by Alex Graves
    And Now His Watch Is Ended

    Directed by Alex Graves

    I’m generally annoyed by the way Daenerys breezes through any obstacle that comes her way, so her going on yet another uninspired “I am Daenerys Stormborn, etc., etc., etc.” speech before taking the Unsullied and burning the masters of Astapor is a low point for me. But the beginning of Jaime’s babyface turn (his hand was cut off in the previous episode), a classic Tywin scene, Varys finally revealing his backstory, and Olenna and Margaery Tyrell running wild more than make up for Dany’s unsatisfying conquest.

    — Riley McAtee
  • 184
    Episode 110

    Directed by Alan Taylor
    Fire and Blood

    Directed by Alan Taylor

    Goodbye, Khal Drogo — HELLO, MOTHER OF DRAGONS! In the wake of Ned’s shocking beheading in the freshman season’s penultimate episode, the finale birthed a new hero for us to invest in — and three miraculous baby dragons to boot. Also back in the world after a prolonged slumber: the King in the North title, awarded to Robb Stark in a scene as chilling as the events that fueled his rise (and that will come to fuel his fall). Robb’s siblings, meanwhile, are in dire straits: Bran is starting to grasp the power of his Three-Eyed Raven dreams; Arya is in hiding, pretending to be a boy and a Night’s Watch recruit; and Sansa is Cersei’s prisoner, forced (by Joffrey, who else?) to gaze upon her father’s severed head. Speaking of Cersei: Don’t underestimate the importance of the finale’s Lancel affair reveal. Jaime, now Robb’s prisoner, tells Catelyn in “Fire and Blood” that “There are no men like me; only me.” If only he’d known to say “And the younger, scrawnier version of me who’s going to bed my sister, find religion, and then betray her, thereby causing her to burn down half of King’s Landing.”

    — Mallory Rubin
  • 195
    Episode 104

    Directed by Brian Kirk
    Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things

    Directed by Brian Kirk

    The seed is strong! And so is this episode’s closing scene, a thrilling call to arms in which Catelyn Stark, suddenly face-to-face with the man she thinks tried to murder her son, solicits the assembled knights of the Riverlands to come to her aid to take Tyrion Lannister prisoner. Of course, Cat’s decision is one of the chief inciting incidents for the wars to come, a bold but hasty maneuver that will spark myriad other bold but hasty maneuvers. But that’s what makes it fun! Also fun: Meeting Bronn, Gendry, the Mountain, and Sam for the first time; hearing Littlefinger creepily tell Sansa about the Mountain and the Hound’s fiery history; and witnessing Ned and Grand Maester Pycelle discuss what Hermione Granger would surely consider a bit of light reading. Also, never forget that we got one of our earliest and best dragon intel downloads while Viserys was boning Doreah in a bathtub. Ah, sexposition.

    — Mallory Rubin
  • 205
    Episode 406

    Directed by Alik Sakharov
    The Laws of Gods and Men

    Directed by Alik Sakharov

    Tyrion turns heel! "Laws" is home to three of the finest minutes of grandstanding in Thrones history (and boy, is there some competition there). Peter Dinklage does stunning work in showing his character's bitterness finally overtaking his pragmatic idealism, gleefully letting his long-repressed spite boil over into a truly vicious series of takedowns. "Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores" is a burn for the ages. Oh, and it sets up Oberyn Martell's iconically grisly death as Tyrion's champion in a trial by combat.

    — Alison Herman
  • 216
    Episode 401

    Directed by D.B. Weiss
    Two Swords

    Directed by D.B. Weiss

    “Everything’s changed,” Cersei says to Jaime as she exiles him to the brother/friend zone, and she’s not wrong. “Two Swords,” the Season 4 premiere, reorients our Westerosi reality in a post–Red Wedding world. Sansa has finally realized that being a Stark sucks. We are introduced to Oberyn Martell, who stabs a Lannister 75 seconds into his debut and then invites Tyrion and Bronn to a good old-fashioned Dornish orgy (Dorngy?). But ultimately, this episode is about the Hound slaughtering a bunch of Lannister soldiers over some food. They should have just called this episode “Two Chickens.”

    — Danny Heifetz
  • 226
    Episode 108

    Directed by Daniel Minahan
    The Pointy End

    Directed by Daniel Minahan

    Jon (re-)kills a wight, Tyrion bonds with Bronn, and Robb gains the respect of the assembled Northern lords with a dinnertime animal show. The best scene in “The Pointy End,” though, comes in King’s Landing, where Syrio Forel shows full-speed water dancing for the first time. He’s graceful with a wooden sword and utterly contemptuous of the oafs who dare attack him, and before he falls, one last time we hear: “What do we say to the God of Death?” “Not today.”

    — Zach Kram
  • 235
    Episode 603

    Directed by Daniel Sackheim
    Oathbreaker

    Directed by Daniel Sackheim

    “My watch is ended,” the newly resurrected Jon Snow says as he resigns his post as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch (presumably because “This job sucks” isn’t a very Messiah-like thing to say). After Jon is reborn at Castle Black, we finally get a sneak preview of his original birth at the Tower of Joy, and with it an up-close look at Ser Arthur Dayne slicing up Stark bannermen like cheese on Cersei’s cutting board. The only thing in this episode more brutal to watch than Dayne being stabbed in the back of the throat is Tyrion trying — and failing — to get Grey Worm and Missandei to play a drinking game with him (a.k.a. the most awkward college-freshman-like exchange ever seen on Game of Thrones).

    — Danny Heifetz
  • 244
    Episode 306

    Directed by Alik Sakharov
    The Climb

    Directed by Alik Sakharov

    Ygritte and Jon Snow have basically the same relationship as a pair of horny teens fumbling around at sleepaway camp: They flirt by talking shit, pitch tents in more ways than one, and make out during deadly, scenic hikes. But their repartee isn’t even the episode’s best: Second place goes to Olenna Tyrell and Tywin Lannister’s exchange (“He’s a sword-swallower, through and through!” Olenna chirps of Loras, her grandson), while a conversation between Littlefinger and Varys earns the gold. “Chaos is a ladder,” Littlefinger hisses, channeling Steve Bannon and defining the entire Game of Thrones series more accurately than even valar morghulis does.

    — Katie Baker
  • 252
    Episode 210

    Directed by Alan Taylor
    Valar Morghulis

    Directed by Alan Taylor

    Thrones finales are for cleaning up the mess the penultimates’ explosions leave behind. Coming immediately after "Blackwater," "Valar Morghulis" is no exception, particularly since it has to shoulder some of the plot burden its predecessor shrugged off by focusing exclusively on King's Landing. That said, "Valar Morghulis" is surprisingly exciting, featuring the first of many dragon roastings, a rough comedown for Tyrion the hero, and the beginnings of Brienne and Jaime's buddy routine. Overall, it's an effective springboard for Season 3, one of Thrones' very best.

    — Alison Herman
  • 266
    Episode 608

    Directed by Mark Mylod
    No One

    Directed by Mark Mylod

    There’s plenty of strategic maneuvering in “No One,” but this episode also injects some necessary humor into a season that will only get heavier in its final two episodes. Early on we see Brienne and Pod chilling on horseback outside Riverrun, monitoring the Lannister forces surrounding the castle. “Looks like a siege, m’lady,” Pod points out. Brienne stares out over the field and responds, “You have a keen military mind, Pod.” From there we get some Pod-Bronn shenanigans, a Tyrion-hosted comedy night in Meereen, and a few sassy comebacks from the Hound. Although “No One” largely serves to tie up loose ends before “Battle of the Bastards,” we do end with one shining moment. Arya finally bests the waif and then mic-drops her way out of Braavos: “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. And I’m going home.”

    — Megan Schuster
  • 273
    Episode 509

    Directed by David Nutter
    The Dance of Dragons

    Directed by David Nutter

    This is a compelling hour in which the pressure is on for several of the show’s female characters. Faced with a choice between duty and personal vengeance, Arya betrays her assassin’s code to exact unbelievably gruesome revenge on Ser Meryn Trant; Daenerys’s tenuous hold on Meereen breaks as rebellion rises (though, on the bright side, Drogon returns!); and in one of the show’s darkest moments, Stannis Baratheon burns his own daughter at the stake as a sacrifice. The penultimate episode of Season 5 is a brutal one, but it proves to be an important turning point in the show.

    — Andrew Gruttadaro
  • 285
    Episode 310

    Directed by David Nutter
    Mhysa

    Directed by David Nutter

    Following an act like the Red Wedding isn’t easy, and living up to the previous season finales — Dany and her dragons in Season 1, those White Walkers in Season 2 — is just as tough. The solution: the ol’ dick-in-the-box — always a crowd pleaser. This is an episode filled with desecration: the Frey’s mount Grey Wind’s head on Robb Stark’s body; Joffrey fantasizes about serving Sansa her brother's head for dinner; Ygritte fills Jon Snow’s torso with arrows. And then there’s Gendry, who avoids his own bodily harm by hopping on the slow rowboat to wherever. Bon voyage!

    — Katie Baker
  • 297
    Episode 407

    Directed by Alik Sakharov
    Mockingbird

    Directed by Alik Sakharov

    In the episode in which Oberyn is named Tyrion’s champion for a trial by combat, Dany gets it on, and Lysa Arryn dies, it's an encounter in the Riverlands that stands out most. Normally when Thrones talks about death, it’s romanticized. Every God, king, lord, and serf has something to say about the end, often with an idealized tone. In “Mockingbird,” that isn’t the case. Arya tells a dying man not to be afraid of “nothing,” because "Nothing isn’t better or worse than anything. Nothing is just nothing” — right before the Hound puts him out of his misery. No kill we’ve watched is more matter-of-fact. The man’s death is a harsh reality in a fantasy world.

    — Shaker Samman
  • 303
    Episode 205

    Directed by David Petrarca
    The Ghost of Harrenhal

    Directed by David Petrarca

    THE MOTHERFLIPPIN’ SHADOW MONSTER COMES TO SAY HELLO! Or, uh, goodbye. The unleashing of the Red Woman’s murderous Shadow baby sentenced us to umpteen future scenes of Stannis “Boring Weirdo Who I Think Taught at My Middle School” Baratheon, but it also launched Brienne of Tarth’s allegiance to the Stark family. It signaled something new, at least for those of us who’ve never read the books: Magic is real in this world, and it’s in all likelihood going to be the thing that shapes how the kingdoms look at the end of all the mortals’ scheming.

    — Claire McNear
  • 317
    Episode 606

    Directed by Jack Bender
    Blood of My Blood

    Directed by Jack Bender

    "Blood of My Blood" is one of those unglamorous midseason episodes — featuring check-ins with Arya, Bran, and of all people, Walder Frey — that does a lot of heavy plot lifting without many well-known highlights. It does, however, feature Sam learning to stand up to his asshole of a dad during a pitstop in the Reach on the way to the Citadel. Sam’s memorable lifting of his family's Valyrian steel sword lands "Blood" solidly in the middle of the pack in the rankings.

    — Alison Herman
  • 327
    Episode 103

    Directed by Brian Kirk
    Lord Snow

    Directed by Brian Kirk

    The episode introduces us to Littlefinger and Varys, two characters who’ll make the King's Landing viewing experience delightful for seasons to come. It's also the first appearance of Arya's beloved sword-fighting instructor, Syrio, and a standout episode for Maisie Williams. It's almost like a second pilot, in that it’s extremely exposition-heavy. I will always hold "Lord Snow" dear to my heart because in it we see Tyrion and Jon Snow bond on the Wall, and I would watch a whole show about Tyrion and Jon being buds.

    — Kate Knibbs
  • 334
    Episode 208

    Directed by Alan Taylor
    The Prince of Winterfell

    Directed by Alan Taylor

    Everyone acts like an idiot in “The Prince of Winterfell.” Robb and Lady Talisa finally make out after she tells him a long-winded story about her brother almost drowning, which might have been a happy moment for people who hadn't read the books before watching the show, but for readers it was like watching people take the first steps toward their inevitable deaths. Theon preens around Winterfell, Cersei mistakenly kidnaps Ros instead of Shae in a failed attempt to punish Tyrion, Dany mopes about her dragons, Catelyn gets arrested by her own son for being such a nuisance, and Sam FINDS A MAGICAL HORN AND LEAVES IT IN THE SNOW. I recommend skipping this episode if you're doing a rewatch because it's tough to see everyone reaching their foolish apex at once.

    — Kate Knibbs
  • 348
    Episode 105

    Directed by Brian Kirk
    The Wolf and the Lion

    Directed by Brian Kirk

    Memorable moments abound in a solid mid-first-season episode. Tyrion makes his first kill, Ned and Robert spar, and Ned and Jaime star in the series’ first standout fight sequence. The long-gestating plot Arya overhears developing deep in the Red Keep’s dungeons is the episode’s most important element and provides a delicious rewatch.

    — Zach Kram
  • 355
    Episode 203

    Directed by Alik Sakharov
    What Is Dead May Never Die

    Directed by Alik Sakharov

    There’s some excellent scheming in this one: a pragmatic Margaery offers to let her brother fluff her husband if it will help produce an heir; a suspicious Tyrion, hoping to find the human leak in Westeros’s deep state, gives different information to various members of the Small Council to see which version of the story gets back to Cersei. (Turns out Pycelle isn’t just a laxative dealer; he’s also the mole.) The episode also includes an introduction to tha gawd Brienne of Tarth, poor sweet Tommen’s first lines in the series, and a tender moment between Sam and Gilly involving a cherished thimble.

    — Katie Baker
  • 366
    Episode 207

    Directed by David Nutter
    A Man Without Honor

    Directed by David Nutter

    This is a workhorse episode of Thrones, prepping for future events that will rock the series. Sansa enters womanhood, Tyrion continues preparations for Stannis’s attack, Ygritte’s flirtations with Jon become more explicit, and Pyat Pree invites Dany to find her dragons in the House of the Undying. There’s plenty of interesting wrinkles here, but it doesn’t have the “wow” factor of so many other episodes.

    — Riley McAtee
  • 378
    Episode 601

    Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
    The Red Woman

    Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

    This episode is brought to you by misery, with instructions on how to wallow in it. The premiere of Season 6 finds our protagonists depressed by, and powerless against, their increasingly extenuating circumstances. After discovering that Jon is dead, Davos and Co. lock themselves in a room with his lifeless body, unsure of what to do. Jorah hopelessly searches for Dany (and her forgiveness) alongside her much more handsome suitor, Daario, all while itching at that nasty rash of Greyscale that will eventually turn him into a monster. Thoroughly shook by her false prediction that Stannis would prevail, the Red Woman takes off her choker to reveal that she’s actually a terrifying 10-million-year-old lady who just needs a long nap. The only two people with optimistic plotlines in this episode are those who had given up hope long ago: Sansa and Theon. Just when it looks like they’re doomed to be torn apart by the Bolton canine unit, Brienne of Tarth saves them and pledges her allegiance once again. As Sansa accepts, you can almost see a twinkle of optimism in her eye.

    — Alyssa Bereznak
  • 389
    Episode 106

    Directed by Daniel Minahan
    A Golden Crown

    Directed by Daniel Minahan

    “A Golden Crown” provides the first instance of a viscerally hateable character meeting a gruesome end when Viserys gets his titular golden crown. (Just listen to the clank Viserys’s head makes hitting the floor.) Second, and more important, this episode unites Tyrion and Bronn. Tyrion’s trial by combat teaches us everything we need to know about Thrones: Gold talks, honor is overrated, and social mobility is all about killing the right people at the right time.

    — Danny Heifetz
  • 397
    Episode 204

    Directed by David Petrarca
    Garden of Bones

    Directed by David Petrarca

    [Extremely Stefon from SNL voice] If you’re looking for a classic Game of Thrones episode featuring all your favorite players, this is the one for you. Head to King's Landing if you’re jonesing for some Joffrey cruelty or a Tyrion monologue that gets Emmy voters all hot and bothered. Westeros’s hottest new club is Harrenhal. It’s got a Tickler, a Mountain, and a scene where good-guy-bad-guy Tywin Lannister befriends Arya Stark. Finally, across the Narrow Sea, a new club-promoting group called the Thirteen has the hottest place in downtown Qarth. This episode has all the things you love about Game of Thrones stuffed into 51 minutes of quality cable content.

    — Sean Yoo
  • 408
    Episode 206

    Directed by David Nutter
    The Old Gods and the New

    Directed by David Nutter

    There are only a handful of moments when we get the satisfaction of Joffrey being completely humiliated, and none is better than a cowpie to the face quickly followed by a slap from Tyrion in “The Old Gods and the New.” Plus, a forbidden-love story is born as Jon Snow meets Ygritte the wildling in a botched beheading turned cuddle sesh.

    — Zach Mack
  • 416
    Episode 302

    Directed by Daniel Minahan
    Dark Wings, Dark Words

    Directed by Daniel Minahan

    All I want is Jaime + Brienne. Braime. Jaimenne. They are so right for each other and yet duty/sororal libidos keep interfering. A lot happens in “Dark Wings, Dark Words,” principally scheming that’s going to end poorly for everyone soon enough — Shae mackin’ on Tyrion; Margaery giving Joffrey a Murder Boner (medical term) — but it’s the first real bit of heave-ho with Jaime and Brienne that makes the episode memorable. Jaime’s a jerk; Brienne’s too proper; but they agree even on this early occasion that love follows no rules and makes everything else look petty. Braime forever.

    — Claire McNear
  • 427
    Episode 303

    Directed by David Benioff
    Walk of Punishment

    Directed by David Benioff

    In “Walk of Punishment,” Podrick Payne goes from big ol' virgin to the hottest stud in Westeros, so it gets an automatic A. This is also where Dany meets Missandei and Hot Pie bakes a hilariously crappy direwolf bread loaf. It's not perfect, because Theon first encounters Ramsay (which means this is the beginning of Game of Thrones’ most dragged-out, grossly violent story line), but it has a hell of an ending — this is the last episode featuring both of Jaime Lannister's hands, and the final scene made me scream the first time I saw it.

    — Kate Knibbs
  • 438
    Episode 307

    Directed by Michelle MacLaren
    The Bear and the Maiden Fair

    Directed by Michelle MacLaren

    This episode is representative of the third season’s up-and-down nature. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is mired in Ramsay’s ongoing torture of Theon (this is the infamous “Theon castration” episode) and Daenerys’s aimless Essos conquests. But it’s also filled with moments of brilliance, like a delicious tête-à-tête between King Joffrey and Tywin (I miss thee!) and, most notably, Jaime Lannister in Peak Good Guy mode, racing back to Harrenhal to save Brienne from an angry bear.

    — Andrew Gruttadaro
  • 448
    Episode 404

    Directed by Michelle MacLaren
    Oathkeeper

    Directed by Michelle MacLaren

    This marked a major turning point in the diverging Books vs. Show narratives: The eerie closing flourish especially, involving the Night King and a crying baby, was defiantly off-book, and helped cement the idea that this show was intent on doing its own thing. In Meereen, Grey Worm gives a big slave-rebellion speech (“A single day of freedom is worth more than a lifetime in chains.”) while Daenerys crucifies the slavers. There’s plenty of dour Jon Snow–Sam-Gilly-Bran–Craster’s Keep action, sure, fine. But the MVP is Jaime Lannister, managing the fallout from Joffrey’s death via a series of delicate conversations: with a defiant Bronn, an imprisoned Tyrion, an inconsolable Cersei, and most effectively a moon-eyed Brienne, who gets a new sword (Oathkeeper), new armor, a new squire (Pod!), and a new mission to hunt down Sansa. For Jaime-Brienne shippers, this is the Emmy moment in our cold, cold hearts.

    — Rob Harvilla
  • 454
    Episode 501

    Directed by Michael Slovis
    The Wars to Come

    Directed by Michael Slovis

    This is the episode that gives us Cersei's flashback to Maggy’s prophecy — a move I was initially skeptical of, but it was handled excellently, setting the stage for the Tower of Joy flashbacks in Season 6. The other highlight of this episode: Jon shooting Mance Rayder in the heart as he’s being burned at the stake. Anything that foils the Red Woman’s barbaric acts of human sacrifice is a plus.

    — Riley McAtee
  • 469
    Episode 604

    Directed by Daniel Sackheim
    Book of the Stranger

    Directed by Daniel Sackheim

    This is one of those sprawling episodes that mostly “sets the table,” but as Osha finds out the hard way after trying to seduce Ramsay, the knives on that table are super sharp. Dany coolly strolls through murderous flames, Margaery hears about the bad ol’ days when “The High Sparrow” was a description of her captor’s favorite orgy positions, some Stark siblings embrace, and we all wish Brienne and Tormund would, too.

    — Katie Baker
  • 4710
    Episode 102

    Directed by Tim Van Patten
    The Kingsroad

    Directed by Tim Van Patten

    So the pilot ended with an incestuous brother-sister couple shoving a cute kid out a high castle window, and here you are, back for more. Huh. As you wish! Ned heads to King’s Landing and Jon Snow gets his first look at the Wall, gaping at it with his trademark erotic vacuousness; meanwhile, Joffrey sniffs through his first super-evil showcase, menacing Arya and a poor doomed “butcher’s boy” down by the river. In happier, or at least sexier news, Daenerys learns how to please her new husband Khal Drogo by speaking a little Dothraki. She also hones her bedroom wiles after hearing the inspiring legend of a famous courtesan literally named “Irogenia of Lys,” an early indication that this show would be trying hard, but not that hard. The episode ends with a comatose Bran opening his eyes as Ned slashes a direwolf’s throat — yikes — but it’s not like you weren’t warned.

    — Rob Harvilla
  • 4810
    Episode 607

    Directed by Mark Mylod
    The Broken Man

    Directed by Mark Mylod

    All right! Ian McShane! Finally! He’s gonna do all kinds of rad stuff! Welp! He’s dead! Never mind! The Hound’s still alive and super-pissed, though, which is reasonable consolation; meanwhile, the show (and the internet) gains a new folk hero in Lyanna Mormont, the 10-year-old ruler of Bear Island, who thoroughly owns Jon Snow during his wan attempts to build an army for his attack on Winterfell. Otherwise, we’re a little stalled here: Margaery Tyrell butters up the High Sparrow, Jaime negotiates with the Blackfish in the midst of a castle siege that will definitely not end in anticlimax, and Theon and Yara get some drinking in before they head off to find Daenerys. The most alarming development: Arya’s endless battle with the Waif is finally winding down, which is to say that Arya gets stabbed in the gut a bunch of times and is left for dead. Relax, she’ll be fine. Eventually.

    — Rob Harvilla
  • 499
    Episode 201

    Directed by Alan Taylor
    The North Remembers

    Directed by Alan Taylor

    The War of the Five Kings is underway, and drama is everywhere in the Seven Kingdoms. Robb Stark is winning battles, newcomers Stannis and Melisandre come in blazing hot, and Tyrion returns to King’s Landing to begin his fabled arc as stand-in Hand of the King.

    — Zach Mack
  • 509
    Episode 308

    Directed by Michelle MacLaren
    Second Sons

    Directed by Michelle MacLaren

    Sansa, who has been the victim of one long chain of tragedy and wickedness, finally had the fortune in “Second Sons” to find kind-hearted misfortune: Her new groom, Tyrion, opts not to rape her, which somehow comes across as an act of great kindness given everything else that happens in this world. The O.G. Daario, moon of my own personal life, makes his first, lock-flowing appearance, and we are all better for it.

    — Claire McNear
  • 519
    Episode 405

    Directed by Michelle MacLaren
    First of His Name

    Directed by Michelle MacLaren

    Tommen is crowned King, Cersei and Margaery get passive-aggressive, and, across the Narrow Sea, Dany puts Jorah in the friend zone (poor Jorah). We also get a weird family reunion between Sansa, Li’l Robin Arryn, and Bizarre Aunt Lysa. They eat lemon cake together and stare at the Moon Door, like all families do in the Seven Kingdoms. Toward the end of the episode, Bran wargs into Hodor — forming Brandor — and Jon has a warm embrace with Ghost. If only we all had a direwolf or a Hodor to call our best friend. This is a solid Thrones episode, especially for people who love lemoncakes, odd family dynamics, and besties.

    — Sean Yoo
  • 525
    Episode 505

    Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
    Kill the Boy

    Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

    The Sansa-Ramsay-Myranda triangle is the least compelling, most discomfiting relationship in which the show has invested. Everything that goes down in Winterfell in “Kill the Boy” is uncomfortable to watch — and not in a narratively engaging, Red Wedding–type way, either. It’s just hard to stomach, and it dims the appeal of an episode that’s otherwise fine, if largely transitional in nature.

    — Zach Kram
  • 5310
    Episode 301

    Directed by Daniel Minahan
    Valar Dohaeris

    Directed by Daniel Minahan

    This is a great premiere episode that sets the tone for an amazing third season. We start with Sam and the remaining members of the Night’s Watch, who escaped death at the hands of the White Walkers. At the wildling camp, we get two classic scenes: Jon nearly soiling himself in front of a giant, and then foolishly bowing to Tormund, thinking he was Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall. Tywin continues to be a bad dad in King’s Landing, and Barristan Selmy pledges his loyalty to the Mother of Dragons in Astapor. Season 3 is one of the best, and this episode starts things off with a (mild) bang.

    — Sean Yoo
  • 546
    Episode 502

    Directed by Michael Slovis
    The House of Black and White

    Directed by Michael Slovis

    I had high hopes for Arya reuniting with Jaqen H’ghar, but her journey to that reunion was a slog, and this episode is where it begins. Meanwhile, Jaime decides to head to Dorne — talk about another slog. The only good moment is Lyanna Mormont’s forthright letter to Stannis ("Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark”), a preview of her delightful inclusion in Season 6.

    — Riley McAtee
  • 5510
    Episode 202

    Directed by Alan Taylor
    The Night Lands

    Directed by Alan Taylor

    Family usually comes first in Game of Thrones, but “The Night Lands” explores the messy dynamics that arise when characters form alliances outside their own clans. Theon returns home to Pyke dressed in fancy Stark attire, and his dad immediately questions whether iron still runs through his son’s veins. (Also: in the most twisted Punk’d stunt ever, Yara waits till after Theon gropes her to reveal she is his sister.) Meanwhile, Tyrion’s affinity for his Shae, his prostitute turned-lover, becomes a problem when Varys points out how easily she could be used against him. And north of the Wall, in Craster’s terrifying polygamist ice prison, Sam takes a chance on helping a pregnant Gilly. (Spoiler alert: It pays off big time.) Of course, it’s Jon Snow who discovers the most unholy arrangement of all: that Craster is sacrificing his newborn sons to the White Walkers, unwittingly helping them build a colossal army. It may be one thing to fall in love with a prostitute, but it’s a whole other one to help a dangerously ambitious ice king build a killer army from scratch.

    — Alyssa Bereznak
  • 5610
    Episode 403

    Directed by Alex Graves
    Breaker of Chains

    Directed by Alex Graves

    In “Breaker of Chains,” we’re post–Purple Wedding and shit has hit the fan in King’s Landing. Sansa escaped and meets up with Littlefinger, who promises her safety (which basically means nothing — words are winds, my dear Sansa). Joffrey’s death is mourned by nobody except Cersei and Jaime, and in Meereen, Dany launches barrels full of broken chains at the masters of the city to send the message that she’s there to spread freedom.

    — Sean Yoo
  • 577
    Episode 503

    Directed by Mark Mylod
    High Sparrow

    Directed by Mark Mylod

    Good: Margaery taunts Cersei about how she boinked Cersei's youngest son.


    Bad: Arya gets smacked by the Waif during her boring assassin apprenticeship in Braavos.


    Worst (Like Literally, I Can't Watch It Again It Makes Me So Upset): Littlefinger callously hauls Sansa back to Winterfell to wed the monstrous Ramsay Bolton.

    — Kate Knibbs
  • 588
    Episode 507

    Directed by Miguel Sapochnik
    The Gift

    Directed by Miguel Sapochnik

    “The Gift” is basically the appetizer leading up to “Hardhome,” which excuses the fact that it puts you to sleep faster than a glass of milk of the poppy. Admittedly, saying a Thrones episode is boring is like complaining that your Valyrian sword is dull, but when the most violent act of the episode comes from Tyrion, of all people, it makes for a subpar Sunday.

    — Danny Heifetz
  • 599
    Episode 504

    Directed by Mark Mylod
    Sons of the Harpy

    Directed by Mark Mylod

    “Sons of the Harpy” suffers from an imbalance toward meandering and ineffectual plotlines, notably by introducing the Sand Snakes, the show’s most disappointing adaptations, who announce themselves with hyperintense dialogue to the point of parody. And look — I don't mind that Barristan Selmy dies. It's Game of Thrones; that's fine, it happens. I don't even mind that Barristan dies at the hands of untrained insurgent fighters thousands of leagues from Westeros; Jaime Lannister lost his hand to a random guy in the Riverlands, so again, it happens. What I do mind is that Thrones has proved time and again that it’s capable of staging a dynamic fight scene, but for Barristan’s last, it instead veers toward the schlocky and unimaginative.

    — Zach Kram
  • 6010
    Episode 506

    Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
    Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

    Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

    For a show with a notoriously checkered history in its depictions of sexual assault, this episode marked the point of no return. There's a case to be made for confronting the audience with Sansa's suffering by demonstrating the horrors of her wedding night at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. That the final shot of "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" frames that suffering in terms of Theon's relatively minuscule discomfort is inexcusable. For many fans, this was a deal breaker — and who could blame them?

    — Alison Herman
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.