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The 12 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Episodes, Ranked

I like that one episode with the gory violent death. Which one was that, again?

Hannah Waddingham, Lena Headey

House of the Dragon, the prequel to Game of Thrones, was a smash hit on HBO Max, and plans are in the works for a second season and an expanded Game of Thrones universe. Seeing the Targaryens in all their glory might have you jonesing for some vintage Game of Thrones, though. If that’s the case, look no further: here are the twelve best Game of Thrones episodes of all time, ranked.

Note: since Game of Thrones is ten years old and you probably know the story already, these episode descriptions contain spoilers to help you remember which ones they are. If, for some bizarre reason, you haven’t seen the original series yet, don’t jump around—start it from the beginning! Then you can come back to this list and decide if you agree with this ranking or not.

12. “The Mountain and the Viper” (season 4, episode 8)

Thanks to his performances in The Last of Us and The Mandalorian, Pedro Pascal is one of the hottest actors in Hollywood—but who can forget his role as Oberyn Martell? “The Mountain and the Viper” contains the infamous battle scene between Oberyn, who’s acting as Tyrion’s champion, and the Hound. Things do not go well for Oberyn.

11. “The Lion and the Rose” (season 4, episode 2)

Margaery stands, smiling and wearing a white gown, behind a table laden with food, with Joffrey sitting next to her. A red and gold backdrop is behind them.

In this episode, Margaery marries Joffrey, finally granting her wish to become queen of the Seven Kingdoms. There’s so much to love about Margaery’s plays for power, including wooing the people of King’s Landing and getting digs in at Cersei. At the wedding, Cersei tries to hold onto some semblance of power by reversing Margaery’s order that the leftovers go to the poor, telling the staff to give them to the dogs instead.

But Margaery’s dream of becoming queen is thwarted, though, when Joffrey is poisoned. The chaos that ensues—and the new story arcs that it launches for several characters—is unforgettable.

10. “Baelor” (season 1, episode 9)

Sean Bean as Ned Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones is famous for a lot of things: the gore, the violence, the vast amounts of gratuitous sex. But what it’s most famous for is killing off its main characters.

Usually, in fantasy series, no one ever truly dies—especially not the hero. However, when George R.R. Martin wrote the original Song of Ice and Fire books, he threw everything we knew about fantasy out the window when he decided to set Ned Stark up as the hero of the series, only to kill him off at the end of the first volume. Viewers who hadn’t read the books beforehand were gobsmacked at the end of “Baelor,” when Ned issues the public apology he negotiated with King Joffrey, only to get beheaded in front of his daughters Arya and Sansa. Ned’s beheading laid the groundwork for the rest of the series by showing viewers that no character was safe, and anything could happen.

9. “The Rains of Castamere” (season 3, episode 9)

This episode might as well be called “The Red Wedding,” because that’s the event it’s known for. Robb Stark, having betrothed himself to one of the daughters of House Frey to secure an alliance, has to go and apologize for falling in love with Talisa and marrying her instead. Robb, Talisa, and Catelyn Stark think that everything has been smoothed over and the Freys won’t hold a grudge, but they’re wrong: the Freys get their revenge by slaughtering every Stark in attendance. This episode is intense not just because we lose some of our favorite characters, but because it makes the situation seem almost hopeless for everyone trying to stop the Lannisters’ rise to power.

8. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (season 3, episode 7)

Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Game of Thrones

Like all Game of Thrones episodes, this one advances several plotlines at once, all over Westeros and Essos. In “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” we get to see a significant moment in Jaime Lannister’s redemption arc when he jumps into a fighting pit to help Brienne fight off a bear. Jaime’s grudging friendship with Brienne is one of the most interesting developments in the series, so this moment in their relationship is especially satisfying.

But if Jaime and Brienne’s friendship feels too fuzzy wuzzy for your tastes, don’t worry: this episode also has Theon Greyjoy’s transformation into Reek at the hand of Ramsay Bolton. Yeah. That scene.

7. “Hardhome” (season 5, episode 8)

Game of Thrones the Night King in The Long Night

This episode includes the battle at the town of Hardhome, where undead wights swarm the city and attack Jon Snow and his band of wildlings. As Jon escapes, he looks back to take in one of the most chilling shots in the whole series: the Night King reanimates all of the wildlings who have just been slain, and Jon is forced to reckon with the fact that every loss he suffers means one more soldier for the Night King’s army.

6. “Mother’s Mercy” (season 5, episode 10)

Jon Snow on Game of Thrones

The season 5 finale has so many jaw-dropping moments it’s almost hard to list them all. Cersei finally confesses her crimes to Septa Unella, who then cuts off Cersei’s hair and forces her to walk the streets of King’s Landing naked while angry crowds yell at her and pelt her with rotten food. Cersei has done some pretty horrific things throughout the series, but this episode is one of the rare moments in which you feel real compassion for her—after all, Unella and the Faith Militant are just as horrible as she is. Meanwhile, Arya is punished by the Faceless Men by having her sight taken away, and Jon Snow is betrayed and killed by the Night’s Watch mutineers. All this stuff happens in one episode.

5. “The Laws of Gods and Men” (season 4, episode 6)

Tyrion Lannister during his trial in Game of Thrones Season 4

In this episode, Tywin Lannister holds a trial for Tyrion, who’s accused of murdering Joffrey by poisoning him at his wedding. Tyrion’s anger at his family’s hypocrisy and moral corruption has been festering since the beginning of the series, and when his father tells him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit, Tyrion finally loses it. He lashes out at his family for punishing him his whole life because he’s a dwarf, and then tells the assembled lords of Westeros that he’d love to poison them all. Tyrion’s outburst isn’t just emotionally satisfying, though. There’s also the gut-twisting irony that Tywin had planned to pardon Tyrion after his confession, but Tyrion demands a trial by combat instead—which he ultimately loses.

4. “Fire and Blood” (season 1, episode 10)

Emilia Clarke Fire Game of Thrones

Much of the season 1 finale is devoted to wrapping up loose ends and setting up season 2, but Daenerys’s final scenes earn it a spot in the top ten. Daenerys finds out that instead of saving Khal Drogo, the wise woman Mirri put him in a catatonic state and caused Daenerys to have a stillbirth. It seems like Daenerys has lost everything, but then she puts her dragon eggs on Drogo’s pyre and walks into the flames, emerging the next morning as the mother of dragons.

3. “The Winds of Winter” (season 6, episode 10)

lena headey as cersei lannister on game of thrones.

Remember that compassion you felt for Cersei back in “Mother’s Mercy?” You didn’t seriously think Cersei was going to stay a victim forever, did you? In “The Winds of Winter,” she gets her revenge in the most metal way possible: luring every single one of her enemies to the Great Sept, and then blowing the whole thing up with a cache of wildfire hidden in the crypts. Moments before the explosion, Margaery finally drops her act of being a convert to the Faith Militant and tries to warn everyone to flee, but to no avail. Then, devastated by Margaery’s death, King Tommen jumps out the window. The season ends with Cersei, as the only eligible Lannister left in the line of succession, being named ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.

2. “Battle of the Bastards” (season 6, episode 9)

Ramsay Bolton looks at dog before he is eaten in GOT

Ramsay Bolton is such an irredeemable turd that you spend several seasons rooting for his violent death. “Battle of the Bastards” delivers, but not before showing us one of the most harrowing battle scenes of the series. Jon arrives at Winterfell with an army, determined to take it back from the Boltons. Ramsay begins the battle by sending the long-lost Stark sibling Rickon out to meet Jon, but then kills Rickon with an arrow before Jon can get him. In the ensuing chaos, Jon nearly gets crushed to death by a wall of dead soldiers, and thanks to some extremely claustrophobic camera work, you feel like your breath is slowly getting pressed out of your body alongside his.

Oh, and Ramsay? After he’s defeated, Sansa visits him in the dungeon along with his dogs, whom he’s been starving for a week so that they could devour Jon. Ramsay insists that the dogs are still loyal to him, but oops, no, they eat him alive while Sansa walks away, savoring his agonized screams. Revenge is a dish best served helpless and flailing.

1. “The Door” (season 6, episode 5)

Hodor in GOT

For much of the series, the friendly giant, Hodor, serves as little more than lazy ableist comic relief. Only able to say one word—his name—Hodor never seems to have much interiority as he carries Bran around after Bran becomes paralyzed.

All that changes in “The Door.” Meera and Hodor are protecting Bran from attacking wights while Bran’s mind journeys to the past. As Meera and Bran flee, Meera yells back to Hodor to “hold the door,” and her order echoes back into the past to his younger self, Wylis. In a mind-bending time travel sequence that rivals the trippiest time travel movies, Wylis begins to yell “hold the door,” eventually slurring it to the word “hodor” as Bran’s presence overwhelms him. In the present, Hodor is killed by wights as Meera and Bran get away, and it turns out that Wylis/Hodor’s entire life has been defined by Bran’s ascendance to the Three-Eyed Raven. There are a lot of casualties in Game of Thrones, but Hodor’s death might be the most heartbreaking.

(featured image: HBO)

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Julia Glassman (she/they) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and covers film, television, and books for The Mary Sue. When she's not making yarn on her spinning wheel, she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. You can check out more of her writing at, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.