Dragons are flying across the skies. A sorcerer traps a queen inside a mysterious tower and floods her mind with visions of a life with her dead lover. An insurgency group donning gold masks envelops a city. These are just some of the eclectic events that occur in HBO's Game of Thrones, and this barely scratches the surface. In fact, it doesn't even include moments from Westeros, the narrative's central continent.
Across its 54 episodes thus far, the series has delivered several standalone moments that have left viewers shocked (as those who'd already read the books looked on smugly). While viewers continue a sixth season that extends the story's reach beyond what's been covered in the books almost entirely, Mic looked back and ranked all 54 episodes of the show to date, based on how closely the episodes translated their source material onscreen, which were critical to character development, which successfully shocked viewers and other factors.
54. Season 5, Episode 6: "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"
Even if you take away the much-maligned rape scene, in which Sansa Stark is raped by Ramsay Snow as Theon Greyjoy is forced to watch, you're still left with an episode that furthers the thoroughly disappointing Dorne plot with Bronn and Jaime's anticlimactic fight with the Sand Snakes. But the rape scene, in and of itself, is GoT's most indicting moment, which drew the ire of critics and fans alike. It's an easy choice for the bottom of the list.
53. Season 2, Episode 2: "The Night Lands"
While not terrible, "The Night Lands" acts as more of a check-in episode than most in the show, and the fact that this is its most sinful attribute — yet still lands as the second-lowest ranked episode — speaks to the quality of Game of Thrones. Tyrion's banter with the small council is fun, but Theon's journey to Pyke was one of the season's more underwhelming moments.
52. Season 3, Episode 2: "Dark Wings, Dark Words"
The episode introduces several characters to the show, including Jojen and Meera Reed and the Brotherhood Without Banners. However, while character introductions are exciting, they shouldn't take away from the overarching narrative, and "Dark Wings, Dark Words" struggled to move the plot along in the process.
51. Season 2, Episode 4: "Garden of Bones"
Daenerys finally makes her way to Qarth, a plotline that deviates quite a bit from the version in the books; this was the first time the seaseries put such distance between the source material and its onscreen equivalent. Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Joffrey continued to prove he was the series' worst person (at the time) through his continued torment of Sansa. Thankfully, Tyrion was there to step in.
50. Season 4, Episode 3: "Breaker of Chains"
As exciting as it is to start an episode with Joffrey's funeral, all good vibes are abruptly halted in another contentious rape scene, this time between Jaime and Cersei. The scene is taken from the books, but there's a distinct difference: In the books it's consensual, in the series it's not. The depiction of sexual violence seem to add little to the narrative other than shock value.
49. Season 1, Episode 3: "Lord Snow"
Jon Snow makes his way to The Wall with Tyrion, but the episode is bereft of breathtaking moments. That is, unless you count Tyrion peeing off The Wall among your series highlights.
48. Season 2, Episode 8: "The Prince of Winterfell"
Tywin Lannister leaves Harrenhal to head back to King's Landing, thus ending one of the more intriguing show-exclusive plotlines. Arya Stark's interactions with Tywin might not have been true to source material, but they were filled with entertaining banter nonetheless.
47. Season 3, Episode 1: "Valar Dohaeris"
Once again, a Game of Thrones episode is filled with introductions to new characters — this time Mance Rayder, Qyburn, Missandei and Tormund — but little else. Still, it was great to see Ser Barristan Selmy offer his services to Daenerys after disappearing from the show for a season.
46. Season 1, Episode 2: "The Kingsroad"
"The Kingsroad" provides some of the first of many confrontations between the Starks and the Lannisters. While it was satisfying to see Joffrey get bitten by a direwolf, Ned Stark being forced to kill Sansa's direwolf, Lady, was one of the series' early, disheartening deaths.
45. Season 2, Episode 7: "A Man Without Honor"
Theon Greyjoy had already sealed his fate by betraying the Starks and invading Winterfell with a small group of Greyjoy soldiers, but he then executes his most horrendous act to date by killing two children — whom he plays off as Bran and Rickon Stark — and hanging their burnt corpses for all to see.
44. Season 5, Episode 2: "The House of Black and White"
The biggest twist in "The House of Black and White" is one we all saw coming: Jaqen H'ghar reveals himself to Arya Stark after her arrival in Braavos. While an entertaining scene, nobody really believed Arya would travel across the world to join a group of faceless assassins only to be snubbed at the gate.
43. Season 5, Episode 4: "Sons of the Harpy"
The titular Sons of the Harpy strike in the streets of Meereen, killing Ser Barristan in an alley. It's certainly not a noble way for one of the Westeros' most famous knights to go, and another diversion from the novels that left viewers irate. Still, the scene in question is undeniably intense and captivating.
42. Season 2, Episode 1: "The North Remembers"
Season two starts off with a slew of child murders, as Robert Baratheon's bastards are abruptly killed by the Gold Cloaks. And on Dragonstone, viewers were first introduced to Stannis Baratheon and his mysterious red priestess, Melisandre. As it turns out, she is immune to poison — perhaps in part because of her glowing red necklace? More on that later.
41. Season 1, Episode 5: "The Wolf and the Lion"
As the title suggests, the highlight of this episode is the clash between Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister in the streets of King's Landing. It's a brief, albeit engrossing battle (and one that doesn't appear in the books, as Ned injures his leg after a horse falls on him), and it's a shame we'll never know who the real winner was. A Lannister soldier stabbed Ned in the leg, preventing a clean fight — and drawing the rage of the Kingslayer in the process.
40. Season 5, Episode 3: "High Sparrow"
"High Sparrow" features one of Thrones' most satisfying deaths, even if it's not the most creative. Janos Slynt disrespects Jon Snow's authority as the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and swiftly pays the price — a beheading. Best of all, we get to see the same character who hid during a battle and slit a baby's throat on Joffrey's orders in season two beg for mercy and admit he's a coward. A fitting end.
39. Season 5, Episode 1: "The Wars to Come"
Series premieres in Game of Thrones are tough to execute, as the showrunners feel the need to touch base with several characters in the span of an hour, which can sometimes leave the overall narrative at a standstill. But "The Wars to Come" offers one major plot development with the death of Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall.
38. Season 4, Episode 5: "First of His Name"
Even if it doesn't bear the emotional weight of other battles, Jon Snow's fight sequence with the Night's Watch mutineers is the highlight of this episode. Moreover, it's one of the few fight scenes that will leave an audience satisfied over who meets the pointy end of the blade.
37. Season 2, Episode 5: "The Ghost of Harrenhal"
What kind of king would Renly Baratheon have been? Sadly, we'll never find out, given his untimely death inside his own camp — much to the dismay of his newest Rainbow Guard member, Brienne of Tarth.
36. Season 3, Episode 3: "Walk of Punishment"
The episode ends with a huge shocker: Jaime Lannister, arguably the best swordsmen alive, loses his hand while trying to talk his way out of a set of chains. It's the beginning of a brutal, but impressive, redemption story for the Kingslayer, who loses his hand partly because he wanted to save Brienne of Tarth from being raped by Bolton soldiers. Thankfully, he succeeds.
35. Season 5, Episode 7: "The Gift"
Jorah and Tyrion's part-prisoner, part-bromantic journey to reach Meereen took a page from Gladiator in this episode, as Daenerys' former knight fought in the fighting pits. Was she not entertained? Yes, and even more so once she saw the previously banished Jorah take off his visor and reveal himself.
34. Season 6, Episode 1: "The Red Woman"
A solid — if unspectacular — introduction to season six. We don't yet discover the fate of Jon Snow, but are still provided an interesting reveal: Melisandre is not as she appears.
33. Season 2, Episode 3: "What Is Dead May Never Die"
Though its title bears a reference to House Greyjoy, the episode's high mark belongs to Tyrion's political scheming as the Hand of the King. Telling each member of the Small Council a different account of who he plans to marry Myrcella off to, he discovers who's been feeding Cersei Lannister information. Unfortunately for Grand Maester Pycelle, that means a trip to the Red Keep and a trimming of his beard.
32. Season 5, Episode 5: "Kill the Boy"
The dialogue-heavy "Kill the Boy" benefits from the conversations actually providing some emotional weight without straying away from the narrative. In particular, the talk between Jon Snow and Maester Aemon about leadership is an integral precursor to Jon's decision to let the wildlings pass through The Wall.
31. Season 6, Episode 3: "Oathbreaker"
"Oathbreaker" featured the most important flashback on the show the date — the Tower of Joy sequence that many fans believe has a relation to Jon Snow's patronage. Now, if only the Three-Eyed Raven hadn't stopped Bran from seeing what's inside the tower...
30. Season 3, Episode 6: "The Climb"
In terms of dialogue, Littlefinger's "chaos is a ladder" speech hits the nail on the head with how the political game in Game of Thrones functions. Littlefinger's manipulation of chaos and confusion has driven his status in Westeros higher and higher, and the speech — along with the literal climb of Jon and the wildlings across The Wall in the same episode — is quintessential Thrones.
29. Season 1, Episode 7: "You Win or You Die"
It bears the name of Cersei's ominous warning to Ned Stark after he confesses to her that he knows the truth of Joffrey's parentage. Sadly, by episode's end, Ned discovered the hard way just where honor will take you in King's Landing: betrayed and arrested.
28. Season 4, Episode 4: "Oathkeeper"
We're rarely given glimpses of the White Walkers, but when we do, it's always a revelatory scene. In "Oathkeeper," that means showing what they do to the infant males they take from Craster (no surprise: It's really creepy), along with the first cameo of the Night's King.
27. Season 3, Episode 10: "Mhysa"
"Mysha" is more so a reactionary episode than a season finale, but it benefits from reeling in the aftermath of the show's most iconic scene: the Red Wedding. After such a bloody massacre, the small victories count — Tyrion's not-so-subtle threat to Joffrey and Arya killing a Frey soldier.
26. Season 4, Episode 1: "Two Swords"
Arya's killing streak continues in the subsequent season four premiere, and The Hound nabs a few bodies as well. Plus, she got to take a name off of her list and reclaim her sword, Needle. As for The Hound? Anything for chicken.
25. Season 1, Episode 4: "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things"
Bromances shine in the first season's fourth entry, as we're introduced to Sam Tarly on The Wall, plus Bronn in Tyrion's reluctant journey toward the Eyrie. Even early on, the banter between both duos is memorable.
24. Season 2, Episode 10: "Valar Morghulis"
The second season finale closes with uplifting scenes: Daenerys gets her dragons back, Sansa is no longer betrothed to Joffrey and Robb marries the woman he loves. However, that hope quickly turns to despair in the final moments with another ominous White Walker scene as Sam witnesses the army's march south.
23. Season 4, Episode 7: "Mockingbird"
The highlight of "Mockingbird" belongs to Littlefinger's not-so-surprising betrayal of Lysa Arryn. Even if we all saw it coming, watching someone so despicable fall out of the Moon Door is — at the very least — entertaining.
22. Season 3, Episode 7: "The Bear and the Maiden Fair"
Jaime's path to redemption in the eyes of the viewer is encapsulated in his rescue of Brienne from, quite literally, a bear in a pit. Ultimately, it's a scene that strengthens the bond between these the two characters as they make their way to King's Landing.
21. Season 2, Episode 6: "The Old Gods and the New"
"Gods help you Theon Greyjoy, now you are truly lost." Ser Rodrik's final words are the perfect foreshadowing for Theon's' extremely painful fall from grace, and it's absolutely heartbreaking to see the Starks' beloved knight beheaded in front of Bran and Rickon. It's a gut-wrenching scene, coupled with excellent acting from all involved.
20. Season 3, Episode 8: "Second Sons"
All things considered, Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister's wedding is one of the show's most lenient — there are no deaths! Even so, Joffrey still threatens to enter Sansa's bed at night and rape her. Thankfully, for that and many other childish slights, Tyrion delivers an incredible, drunken threat to Joffrey that leaves the room speechless.
19. Season 6, Episode 2: "Home"
Thanks to an encouraging pep talk from Ser Davos, Melisandre successfully revives Jon Snow by episode's end. Though, in fairness, it was obvious as winter: We knew it was coming.
18. Season 1, Episode 8: "The Pointy End"
Rather than one huge, climactic moment, "The Pointy End" features the last stand of Arya's fencing teacher Syrio Forel, Robb Stark's rallying of the North and Ser Barristan departure from the Kingsguard. While Game of Thrones is best known for having one momentous scene (think: Red Wedding), the best episodes don't always have to rely on that formula. Here, many sequences comprise an excellent installment.
17. Season 1, Episode 6: "A Golden Crown"
Game of Thrones is generally quite cruel to its protagonists (particularly House Stark). So whenever we're offered fitting justice to a horrible character, it's a moment to relish. Viserys Targaryen was a deplorable character who treated Daenerys like an object — and thus paid a fitting price for his ambition to sit upon the Iron Throne: "a crown for a king."
16. Season 3, Episode 4: "And Now His Watch Is Ended"
In one fell swoop — and literally a single word, "Dracarys" — Daenerys seized the army she needed and proved the extent of her dragons' strength. As a bonus, the scene birthed perhaps the single most satisfying Game of Thrones-themed GIF.
15. Season 5, Episode 9: "The Dance of Dragons"
While "The Dance of Dragons" is most remembered for Daenerys riding atop Drogon to escape the Sons of the Harpy, it also delivers the heartbreaking death of Shireen Baratheon. One of the few characters in Westeros whose optimism seemed boundless, her willingness to help her father unwittingly leads to her brutal demise: burned alive to appease the Lord of Light.
14. Season 3, Episode 5: "Kissed by Fire"
"Kissed by Fire" provided the most definitive proof that Jon Snow could come back to life after he was murdered in the season five finale, something that caused great anticipation among fans ahead of season six. Here, Beric Dondarrion fights The Hound, dies, and is promptly brought back to life by Thoros of Myr. As for Jon Snow? He's very much alive at this point — and he and Ygritte have sex in a cave, so it's certainly a series high point for everyone's favorite bastard.
13. Season 6, Episode 4: "Book of the Stranger"
"Book of the Stranger" was the episode where women truly took charge of Westeros. Sansa implored Jon to take back the North and reclaim their home, while Cersei and Olenna Tyrell formed an alliance to stop the High Sparrow. But best of all, Daenerys escaped the clutches of the Dosh Khaleen by literally setting their temple on fire with her inside. Emerging unscathed with the Dothraki in awe, she's as strong as she's ever been in the political game.
12. Season 1, Episode 10: "Fire and Blood"
Game of Thrones shied away from the supernatural elements of the series for the majority of the first season, but they sure ended that trend with a bang. Daenerys giving birth to three dragons was a harbinger for more magical events in the series — but it all started with a blaze and some baby dragon roars.
11. Season 1, Episode 1: "Winter Is Coming"
It all began here, and the series pilot benefitted from not having to bounce between as many storylines as subsequent season premieres. We're given ample time to learn about the Starks, the Lannisters and the things an incestuous couple would do for love. Not to mention, the White Walkers' first appearance, to open the show, is delightfully creepy.
10. Season 4, Episode 9: "The Watchers on the Wall"
A battle between the Night's Watch and the wildlings was built up for a while, and once it came in the penultimate episode of season four, it didn't disappoint. There were giants, mammoths and beautiful tracking shots of the wide, far-reaching fight. But it wasn't all blood and violence — moments like Jon Snow's witnessing the death of his lover Ygritte gave the sequence emotional weight as well.
9. Season 4, Episode 6: "The Laws of Gods and Men"
The high ranking for this episode hinges entirely on Peter Dinklage's incredible speech during Tyrion Lannister's murder trial. It's the reason he captured an Emmy that year, and it doesn't take a lot of analysis to see why: His anguish and anger command the attention of the whole court after he learns that his lover Shae has sold him out and listens to her feed the lie that he poisoned his nephew, King Joffrey.
8. Season 5, Episode 10: "Mother's Mercy"
Jon Snow grabbed all the headlines after "Mother's Mercy" aired, but the real highlight of this episode was Cersei Lannister's chilling Walk of Atonement and the emotional, Emmy-nominated performance by Lena Headey. How good of a scene was it? By the end of her punishment, it made the cruel, near-indomitable Cersei a sympathetic character, as the audience saw firsthand how it broke her down emotionally and physically.
7. Season 4, Episode 10: " The Children"
The finale of the best season of Game of Thrones doesn't shortchange its audience after the chaos of the battle at The Wall from the episode prior. In many ways, it adds to it. The Hound clashes with Brienne of Tarth, Stannis Baratheon helps the Night's Watch defeat the wildlings and Tyrion kills his father as he's sitting on the toilet. Plus, Arya takes her first steps toward becoming an assassin when she boards a boat to Braavos.
6. Season 4, Episode 2: "The Lion and the Rose"
Only in Game of Thrones can you raucously celebrate the poisoning of a tween king and feel perfectly vindicated in doing so. What's often lost in Joffrey's wedding is the palpable tension between Tyrion and Joffrey before the latter's death, and the excellent acting and chemistry between the duo that was apparent from season one. We'll miss that the most, but we certainly won't miss Joffrey's cruelty.
5. Season 2, Episode 9: "Blackwater"
The entire episode is dedicated to the Battle of the Blackwater, and while no major players die, the varying storylines within King's Landing have no trouble maintaining the suspense. Most notably, the tense, intimate moment between Cersei and Tommen — in which she believes the city has been sieged by Stannis and is seconds away from poisoning her son — is one of the series' most understated, but impressive moments.
4. Season 4, Episode 8: "The Mountain and the Viper"
The greatest single combat fight of the show pitted two distinctly different fighting styles against each other: the quick and eccentric Oberyn Martell vs. the brute force of The Mountain. Of course, what makes this scene stand out is its shocking conclusion with Oberyn's death. Even on a show infamous for its disgusting death scenes, seeing a beloved character like Oberyn get his eyes gouged and skull crushed will keep you up at night.
3. Season 5, Episode 8: "Hardhome"
We went through the best single-combat fight; now here's the greatest battle. "Hardhome" pits the White Walkers against the wildlings and a handful of members of the Night's Watch, including Jon Snow. While technically a battle by the show's standards, it's really a massacre as explained in the books, as the living are mercilessly butchered by the undead. What's more, the final stare down between the Night's King and Jon Snow is fitting, as viewers were just as shocked as Jon by what they'd just seen.
2. Season 1, Episode 9: "Baelor"
It's easy to forget now, six years later, but Ned Stark's unexpected beheading was how Game of Thrones set its tone. Ned was by and large the series protagonist — at that point, we followed him more than any other character — and those unfamiliar with the books would have expected him to somehow escape his fate up until the very last minute. But he didn't, and from then on viewers understood what they were getting themselves into.
1. Season 3, Episode 9: "The Rains of Castamere"
Even with the tone set by Ned Stark's death, viewers had clearly been lulled into a sense of safety by the time the Red Wedding came around, based on the fan reactions alone. Oddly, looking back we all should've seen the Frey and Bolton betrayal coming — and readers felt a similar sense of dread just seeing this iconic moment from the books come to life onscreen. It's not just the best episode of Game of Thrones; it's one of the most historic scenes in television history.