You Win or You Die – My Top 10 Game of Thrones episodes (so far!)
So season four of Game of Thrones is sadly over and what fun it was! Book 3 is my favourite of all the books written to date, due to all the shocking twists and turns scattered throughout its two volumes. Let’s face it, so much happens it needed two seasons to do it justice! So, now Game of Thrones is over for another year and people either begin to: (a) catch up with previous seasons; (b) read the books; or (c) continue the long wait for The Winds of Winter, I thought I’d choose my top 10 episodes of the series so far.
Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments!
1. Blackwater (season 2, episode 9)
The penultimate episode of season 2 has always stood out for me and had to come top of the list. Written by George R.R Martin, it is set entirely in King’s Landing and sees Stannis’s fleet arrive at the entrance to the centre of power in Westeros. Due to Joffrey’s cowardice, it is up to Tyrion to rally the men and defend the city and thanks to his forward planning and wildfire, we see an incredible display of destruction before Tywin’s arrival ends the fighting. The explosion is one of the best sequences I’ve seen on television. As Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion had quickly established himself as my favourite character, I was terrified that Tyrion was dead despite Pod’s heroic bravery and was so relieved he survived! The episode also has some superb moments between Sansa and Cersei as they shelter in the fortress and Cersei drinks lots of wine, although you certainly don’t think Sansa is any safer in there! As a book reader I do still wish the chain across the bay had been included in Tyrion’s plan, but that’s a minor quibble.
2. You Win or You Die (season 1, episode 7)
For me this is the episode of the first season where it really all kicks off! Although I didn’t read the books until after season two, I had an uneasy feeling that a tragic fate was becoming inevitable for Ned Stark so his death didn’t really shock me as much as it could have and so this episode has much more of an impact for me personally than episode nine. We see the dynamic between Jaime and his father Tywin (brilliantly played by Charles Dance and introduced as he skins a stag – the symbol of the Baratheons!) and hear about the White Walkers from Osha (played so well by Natalia Tena, that she made her so much more interesting than Asha in the book). Jon Snow takes his vows and becomes Lord Mormont’s steward, whilst Khal Drogo finally commits to invading the Seven Kingdoms after an attempt is made on Daenerys’s life. Jason Mamoa is spectacular as he gives his rousing speech. Then we have Ned confront Cersei with the truth and we see her strength as Lena Headey (so perfect as Cersei) delivers the now iconic line that those who play the Game of Thrones either win or die. Then, in the aftermath of Robert’s death, we despair as Ned ignores Renly’s warnings and is double-crossed by Littlefinger. This amount of plot development would cover multiple episodes of any other series, but not GoT. It only highlights how ambitious the series has always been.
3. The Watchers on the Wall (season 4, episode 9)
The penultimate episode of the latest season comes next in my top 10. Having a whole episode set at the Wall was a great decision, in order to truly produce the excitement and importance of the defence of the Wall by the Night’s Watch as the Wildlings advance. This part of the book took a long time to tell and absolutely deserved a whole episode to bring it to life, with the battle sequences looking incredibly impressive on the 360 degree set. It’s fantastic to see Sam start to grow up and his relationship with Gilly is lovely. Jon (Kit Harington only grows in his role) starts to show what he is capable of as a Crow, taking command in order to ensure, for one night at least, the Wall will not fall and his final moments with both Ygritte (I’ll miss Rose Leslie) and then Sam are lovely and fantastically acted. Who needs Robb anyway with Jon around?!
4. The Rains of Castamere (season 3, episode 9)
Talking of Robb, we move on to one of the most talked about episodes so far and the first moment when I was reading the books that truly shocked me so much I had to put the book down and take a moment! The Red Wedding is superbly brought to life for television here. Earning David Benioff and DB Weiss an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama series, we see Bran’s abilities develop, Jon show his true loyalties and Daenerys take a city. However it is the tragedy that occurs at the Twins which is the focus as we see the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey become a massacre, resulting in the deaths of Robb, his wife and unborn child, Catelyn and Grey Wind, together with virtually the entire Stark northern army. It’s all the more tragic as Ayra misses being there by minutes, held back by the Hound. Plus even for those of us ready for the slaughter, the brutal attack on Robb’s wife (who is not pregnant or present at the wedding in the book) came as a huge shock for the sheer horror of it. Tragic television at its best, which stunned millions.
5. Winter Is Coming (season 1, episode 1)
It took me a few episodes to truly start to love Game of Thrones and become hooked. However, when looking back now and rewatching the show, the first episode has become one of my favourites. The opening sequence is fantastic – eerie, unsettling and violent enough to set the tone of the show, it makes you sit up and pay attention! We meet the Starks (enjoy this happy family time while you can gang), the Lannisters and Baratheons (well most of them) and start to delve in to the relationships, especially Ned and Robert (and Cersei and Jaime!). It’s interesting to wonder if Ned would have accepted the job of Hand without Lysa Arryan’s letter implicating the Lannister’s in her husband’s death (something we now know was all at the behest of Littlefinger!). Finally we meet Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen and see how dreadfully she is treated by her brother. I was probably most comfortable watching the show once it became clear she was actually happier with Drogo! Plus it has a stunning ending! Only in Game of Thrones can a character push a 10 year-old from a window and a few seasons later be someone you actually like! A superb opener to the series, which certainly set the tone of the standard HBO had in mind for the series.
6. A Golden Crown (season 1, episode 6)
Another episode filled to the brim with fantastic moments. I love Tyrion at the Eyrie and his clever request to “confess”, followed by the demand for trial by combat (which works out much better for him here than in season four)! We also get to meet Bronn, played superbly by Jerome Flynn (who has come a long way since Soldier, Soldier / Robson & Jerome days!). I love his quip about the man he has defeated being the one who fought with honour and it’s the start of the wonderful pairing of him and Peter Dinklage. Ned is continuing to deal with the politics of King’s Landing following his fight with Jaime, while Ayra continues with her sword-dance lessons with Syrio (played with passion, fun and flair by Miltos Yerolemou) and Sansa continues to be blind to Joffrey’s true character. Then there is Daenerys’s growing strength across the Narrow Sea, which comes to a head here with the gruesome demise of Viserys and her powerful lack of emotion about it. This was another moment I did not expect to happen so soon! A superb first season episode.
7. The Lion & The Rose (season 4, episode 2)
Another eventful Westeros wedding – this one fondly known as The Blue Wedding, in which we all cheer as evil King Joffrey is poisoned and drops dead during the wedding feast! Written by George R.R Martin, all the aspects of the book that make this so enjoyable are here. We also see Theon’s total transformation in to Reek (Alfie Allen has excelled in this incarnation of his character), although the reveal that Theon is Reek is far more effective in the book, simply by the style in which it is written and the fact Martin is able to hold off revealing they are the same person until much later. As for the wedding, it is as grand as expected and I loved the way the entertainment scene is done, in which Joffrey humiliates Tyrion, Sansa and a good portion of the guests. It’s also a testament to Jack Gleeson’s portrayal of Joffrey, just how thrilled everyone was to see him die!
8. Fire & Blood (season 1, episode 10)
The finale of the first season is another brilliant episode. So much happens and so much is set out for the next year. We see the immediate aftermath of Ned’s death and Jofffrey’s true torment of Sansa begins. Robb becomes the King in the North, which suggested such promise for victory (poor Robb), whilst Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is wonderful as a captive Jaime being interrogated by Catelyn. Ayra meets Gendry and begins her long journey north, while Jon prepares to go out beyond the Wall. Then there is Daenerys, as all the hints about her immunity to fire prove correct, as she walks in to the funeral pyre, only to emerge from the ashes as the Mother of Dragons. Such a stunning moment to end this first brilliant season.
9. The Children (season 4, episode 10)
The latest season finale had to be included in my top ten if for no other reason than the amount it covered. I didn’t think everything would make it in with just an episode remaining to finish book 3. Stannis’s arrival in the North looks great with those aerial shots of the army pouring through the forest and I liked his meeting with Ned Stark’s son (let’s face it, if Ned has sided with Renly he may have had a chance of surviving!). Jon’s final farewell to Ygritte was also a heartfelt moment. Maisie Williams continued to be superb as Ayra (probably my second favourite character after Tyrion) and her lack of emotion as she walks off, leaving the Hound to a slow death was so well acted by her. The “off book” fight between the Hound and Brienne was brutal, but incredible to watch and Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance were fantastic together as usual and Tyrion’s face as he sees and hears Shae were handled perfectly. However I do wish more of the scene in the privy had been included as there was so much more as to why he was so angry with his father and whole family, including Jaime that was left out. I did however like that, unlike in the book, this meant that Tyrion parts with Jaime on good terms. Overall a satisfying end to a very strong season.
10. Valar Morghulis (season 2, episode 10)
The last episode in my top ten was a tough decision between three episodes but in the end I have chosen the season two finale, as it’s a fantastic way to close season two and had me dashing to buy all five books in order to catch up before season three. We see the aftermath of the battle of Blackwater with poor Tyrion shut away. Varys’s genuinely grateful words about how the people won’t forget what he did and his emotional reunion with Shae are lovely to watch. We start to see the relationship between Brienne and Jaime as they continue their trek to King’s Landing and Jaime’s surprise at her murder of the three soldiers is a highlight. The chemistry between Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a joy to watch and only grew stronger in season three. In a rare moment of happiness (now all the more bittersweet with hindsight), Robb marries Talisa. Ayra receives her iron coin, to be used if she ever needs to find her mysterious face changing assassin again – something we have now seen her use at the end of season four. I also particularly like Daenerys’s scenes as she searches for her dragons. The fantasy dream-like scenes in which she is at the Wall, in the Throne Room and then back with Drogo and their son are beautifully directed and lit as well as being superbly acted by Emilia Clarke. I also love the powerful image of her in chains surrounded by fire as her dragons save the day. Then just when it couldn’t get more exciting we finally see what the White Walkers look like, as poor Sam is left to hide as they march southwards. The final shot of them all in the snow is visually stunning and made the wait for season three a nightmare (only filled for me by the books)!
Notable mentions must go to Kissed By Fire (in which Jaime opens up to Brienne about killing the King) and And Now His Watch Is Ended (in which Lord Mormont dies and Daenerys unleashes Drogon on the slavers with one powerful word), both from season three. I loved both of these episodes and on another day writing this list they may well have made the top 10.
So that’s my list. I’d love to hear yours! What to do now? Maybe I’ll read all the books again. Hurry up with book 6 George!