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The 10 Most Essential Episodes of GAME OF THRONES

With so many great and interesting shows out there these days, it’s impossible to watch them all. On the same token, it’s really hard to make time to rewatch your standing favorites.But even if you don’t have time to sit down for another full run of your favorite series—like, say,Game of Thronesyou can still get everything you need and love from the show by watching individual installments that capture what makes it the most popular series on the planet. And to save you even more time, we came up with a list of which ones will give you what you want most from a visit to the Seven Kingdoms. So here are the 10 most essential episodes of Game of Thrones.

1. “Baelor” (Season one, episode nine)
(Ned is executed)

By beginning with ice demons and zombies and ending with Jaime throwing Bran out of a tower window after Bran had discovered the queen was having sex with her brother, the Game of Thrones pilot established how insane its world can be. Nevertheless, nothing could fully prepare fans for a TV show where literally no one was safe no matter the size of their role. When “Baelor” axes Ned Stark, the unquestioned lead of season one, it is a truly shocking development for anyone unfamiliar with the novels and who was used to normal fantasies where good guys usually triumph over bad. In the end, “Baelor” sets up an all-important lesson for Game of Thrones viewers: get ready to feel terrible all the time.

2. Kissed by Fire” (Season three, episode five)
(Jaime tells Brienne the truth about killing the Mad King)

“Kissed by Fire” concludes arguably the best three-episode run in the show’s history. What’s more, the episode contains major developments with lasting impacts and it exemplifies how connected the rich past is to it the story, all while featuring some of the show’s best acting. This is when we first saw Thoros bring Beric Dondarrion back from the dead, which taught us that death is not definitive in this world, setting up Jon Snow’s resurrection. It also featured a one-handed and naked Jaime confessing the truth to Brienne about the day he become the Kingslayer. In that moment, everything we though we knew about his character and the past totally transformed. No matter how much we “know” about the past on Game of Thrones, we often have no idea.

3. The Rains of Castamere” (Season three, episode nine)
(The Red Wedding)

At this point in the show, fans knew they were watching a very different kind of fantasy series, where the classic heroes were more likely to be incestuous than honorable, and where evil often triumphed over virtue. But there was still a clear line between the good guys and the bad, with a clear indication of which side we could and should be rooting for. Then the Red Wedding came along, totally wiping out the good guys, upending the story, leaving fans with a group of flawed heroes surrounded mostly by terrible people. This episode is still emotionally brutal to watch, but it captures how real the stakes always are, and why no one can ever be complacent while watching.

4. Oathkeeper” (Season four, episode four)
(Jaime sends Brienne off to find the Stark girls)

This Jaime-heavy episode shows off amazing acting, character development, and the depth of the show’s relationships. And while Game of Thrones loves to make us cry, this is one of the rare occasions when it does so for a good reason, when Jaime gives Brienne his Valyrian sword and tells her to keep his vow to Catelyn Stark to return her daughters home. She accepts, and tells him she will call the sword Oathkeeper. In this episode, a man who was unquestionably the show’s biggest villain at the start of the series solidifies his position as someone we care about, and is treated with honor by one of Westeros’ best citizens. It’s heartbreaking, but in the best way.

5. The Mountain and the Viper” (Season four, episode eight)
(Oberyn fails to get his revenge)

You’d think eventually Charlie Brown would have learned Lucy was going to pull the football away, but nope, his foolish hope led him to pain every time. Just like how fans always allow themselves to be suckered into thinking Game of Thrones will reward the characters with a just and righteous outcome, like when it looked like Oberyn would finally kill the Mountain. It’s a testament to the show that it can still set us up emotionally, only to smack us in the face again with the harsh reality that life doesn’t always go as planned. Only instead of falling on our backs like Charlie Brown, we see a monster we hate make a guy we love’s head explode.

6. The Children” (Season four, episode 10)
(Tyrion kills Tywin, Bran reaches the Three-Eyed Raven)

The amazing season four finale captures two of the show’s most important elements: family and the truth of Westerosi legends. This is where Jaime helps his brother escape after being falsely accused by his sister and convicted by his father for killing Joffrey. But Tyrion then goes and kills Tywin, which might lead to the end of House Lannister entirely. At its core, Game of Thrones is a show about families, and no house better exemplifies the good and bad sides of the same family than Lannisters. This is also where we finally meet the Three-Eyed Raven, and learn the Children of the Forest weren’t just legends, and they are still around. Those old stories proving to be true will likely be vital in the show’s end game.

7. Hardhome” (Season five, episode eight)
(The Night King makes a surprise attack)

There are a number of episodes that show off the show’s gift for unparalleled large-scale, big-budget battles, including “Blackwater,” “The Watchers on the Wall,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and most of season seven. But of all the spectacle episodes, none was more surprising, terrifying, and intense than the Night King’s sneak attack at Hardhome. From a technical point of view it has only grown in stature, but unlike the Battle of the Bastards, which has some logic gaps and plot holes, it’s also brilliantly written (and still shocks even on rewatches).

8. The Door” (Season six, episode five)
(“Hold the door.”)

Seven bloody hells, this episode contains the saddest moment on a show full of them. Still, that’s not the only reason “The Door” belongs on this list. What makes this such a standout episode is that despite Game of Thrones being the most popular, most discussed, most analyzed show of its time, no one saw this coming (except as a joke). It didn’t seem possible it could have any true surprises left for us, and then it pulled off the revelation of Hodor’s secret, which basically pulled our hearts out of our chests.

9. “The Winds of Winter” (Season six, episode 10)
(Cersei blows up the Sept of Baelor and Bran learns the truth about Jon’s mother)

Considered by many to be the best episode of the series, “The Winds of Winter” opens with the amazing, haunting dialogue-free sequence before Cersei’s trial at the Sept of Baelor which goes in her favor when she blows it up—along with hundreds of citizens and a slew of her enemies—using the Mad King’s old cache of wildfire. But the entire hour is amazing and emotional, the kind of installment only a show with rich, complex characters who have gone through difficult journeys together can manage. Daenerys names Tyrion her Queen of the Hand, Jon is named the new King in the North, and Bran learns the truth about Jon’s mother and the secret Ned carried.

10. “Eastwatch” (Season seven, episode five)
(Gilly unearths a huge secret)

Though season seven had plenty of issues, it also gave us so many huge moments that you could call any of its episodes essential. But for every fiery Loot Train, Frozen Lake attack, zombie dragon resurrection, and Wall collapse, the most shocking secret in show history was when Gilly found out Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stasrk were official married, making Jon Snow is trueborn son and rightful heir to the Iron Throne. It changed every dynamic on the show, at a time when Jon and (his secret aunt) Daenerys were growing closer. It combined Game of Thrones’ use of the past, family, secrets, political intrigue, and potential incest. What more could you want?

But what episode did we forget? Which one should have made the list? Tell us in the comments below.

Images: HBO

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