It’s been an eventful week here at Watchers on the Wall, with Con of Thrones (hello everyone we’ve met there so far!), and reopening our forums. Oh, and this here countdown! We’ve had a blast creating the list and talking about our favorite past moments. Everyone has such passionate opinions, and such a diverse range of favorites- even among the writers- it’s fascinating to see how so many Game of Thrones scenes strike deeply personal chords with fans. Thank you for following the countdown this week, and we hope you enjoy the finale- the top 20!
Without further ado, the top 20 Greatest Moments of Game of Thrones!
20. The Blackwater Lights Up with Wildfire. Episode 209, “Blackwater”
The moment when viewers first learned of the true potency of “pig shit.” Season 2 continues to be, IMHO, one of the most underrated seasons of Game of Thrones. Maybe my opinion stems from the pure enjoyment of watching Tyrion Lannister play the Game as he conducted business in King’s Landing. Or it could be because I wasn’t busy comparing it to the written verse of GRRM. Regardless, when a scene coerces a response of “holy shit,” makes you stand up, and commences in making one of your surround sound speakers plummet to the floor, you’ve just observed something exceptional. It was the culprit that made the moments leading up to the Cersei’s Sept annihilation in Season 6 so intense. Never forget Blackwater. Never forget Blackwater. – Oz of Thrones
19. Jon Gifts Arya with Needle. Episode 102, “The Kingsroad”
Oh innocent little Arya, back before tragedy struck. This was such a heartwarming scene, and it becomes much more significant in retrospect. As Arya was packing to leave Winterfell (with Nymeria adorably attempting to help), Jon arrived with a gift. That Jon had a sword made for her demonstrated how close they were, and that he truly understood and accepted Arya as she was – not a lady, but a warrior. Jon not only gave Arya a moment of happiness here, her gave her strength, identity, and a weapon that saved her life. He also left her with a sound piece of advice – “Stick them with the pointy end.” – Vanessa Cole
18. Oberyn Takes on the Mountain. Episode 408, “The Mountain and the Viper”
It goes without saying that this fight is beautifully shot and choreographed. But then there’s that moment when the Mountain is flat on his back, and you begin to think that everything is going the way of Team Tyrion…until it all dissolves into gloriously gory, eye-gouging nastiness. The camera pan from the screaming Ellaria to a smirking Cersei and finally to a resigned Tyrion is just perfect. And of course, without this fight, we would never have had the fabulous FrankenGregor! – Geoffery
17. Theon Takes Winterfell and Botches an Execution. Episode 206. “The Old Gods and the New”
This is a moment so iconic it has intentional staging and musical echoes during Robb’s execution of Rickard Karstark and Jon’s execution of Janos Slynt. Theon’s uncertainty, Dagmar’s manipulation, Maester Luwin’s failed intercession, Rodrik Cassel’s pride, the wailing of the Stark kids, the storm falling over Winterfell, the heart-rending music — it all comes together so beautifully, if tragically. In fact, though Theon burning the letter to warn Robb may have been the beginning of Theon’s interminable tragedy, the messy execution of Ser Rodrik was the point of no return. Or as Rodrik himself put it with his last words: “Gods help you, Theon Greyjoy. Now you are truly lost.” – Luka Nieto
16. Daenerys Sacks Astapor and Acquires the Unsullied. Episode 304, “And Now His Watch is Ended”
I never thought a single word would render such an intense wave of emotions but every time I hear the word (and epic score) “Dracarys” my blood boils as hot as dragon fire. In Dany’s iconic victory, she breaks the chains of every oppressed soul present, from the army of Unsullied to her ever-growing dragons to even herself as she commands the respect of all who witness this blaze of glory. By allowing herself to be disrespected and underestimated by the short-sighted Kraznys, she ensures a fiery triumph that is a wonder to behold. “Zaldrīzes buzdari iksos daor!” (A dragon is no slave!) the Breaker of Chains declares in her mother tongue to the horrified egomaniac’s dismay as she rains fire and blood upon the masters. This monumental moment is wholly spectacular as Emilia Clarke becomes so intertwined with her role as Daenerys that the two become almost indistinguishable. – Nate
15. The Night King Raises the Dead. Episode 508, “Hardhome”
Season 5 had its ups and downs and is considered by some as the worst overall installment in the Game of Thrones saga (although to be fair, always remember the words of my great grandfather who said of sex, “the worst I ever had was good”). When the unexpected events of Hardhome took place, the internet crashed yet again thanks to HBO. It was a reminder that you are watching Game of Thrones, and we can bend you over the kitchen table and shock you anytime we want. We already knew that the Night King could raise the dead. But when the wicked face of Richard Brake did it, it was one of the most chilling, intimidating scenes that you will most likely never forget for the rest of your days. – Oz of Thrones
14. Daenerys Finally Sets Sail For Westeros. Episode 610, “The Winds of Winter”
It was a moment fans had anxiously awaited for 5 years (or 20, for some book readers). After her defeat of the masters in Meereen, Daenerys set her sights on Westeros – the home she’d never known. It was a fitting end for a phenomenal season finale: Ramin Djawadi’s majestic score, Dany and crew at the head of a huge new fleet with Targaryen sails (along with her Greyjoy, Tyrell, and Martell allies), and the three dragons soaring over all. Whether you love her or hate her, Dany finally being on the move and ready to take back the throne was thrilling to see. I doubt Queen Cersei will feel the same. – Vanessa Cole
13. A Golden Crown for a King. Episode 106, “A Golden Crown”
This was the first of Game of Thrones’ satisfying villain deaths and, boy, did it set the bar high. Deliciously ironic, Viserys technically gets what he always wanted but in the worst way imaginable. This scene also marks a turning point for Daenerys when she throws out the plan to install Viserys as king, and starts concocting a plan of her own. – Petra
12. Brienne Fights the Hound, and Arya Leaves Him to Die. Episode 410, “The Children”
The unexpected duel between Sandor Clegane and Brienne of Tarth is a vicious, audacious affair that rivals the Mountain and the Viper’s infamous clash thanks to the absolute commitment of Rory McCann and Gwendoline Christie, stunning cinematography, and expert choreography involving steel, rocks, fists, and teeth. The pain of seeing these two warriors clash is magnified by their status as unconventional heroes and fan-favorites whose motives for battling one another are rooted in an altruistic desire to protect Arya Stark. But the emotional agony of the scene reaches another stratosphere when Brienne finally leaves the Hound bleeding at the foot of the mountain, and Arya confronts the man whose life she had sworn to end. McCann, one of the show’s most remarkable and steadfast actors, has never been better than he is here as an utterly broken man, pleading for release, and Maisie Williams matches his intensity even as she remains almost entirely silent. Amidst shattered bones and torn flesh, witnessing the brutality of mercy denied proves to be the most excruciating twist of all. – Jared Kozal
11. Sharing a Bath with Brienne, Jaime Opens Up About His Past. Episode 305, “Kissed by Fire”
This monologue is not only a perfect adaptation from A Storm of Swords, but it’s also one of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s finest acting feats in the show, if not the finest. As the scene begins, the Kingslayer is the brash man we have come to know, and Brienne wants nothing to do with him, let alone to be naked in a bath with him. That completely changes following the revelation of the Mad King’s genocidal plans for the capital and Jaime’s breaking down. Jaime is shown to be a broken man, and perhaps more of a hero than people know, while Brienne learns that oaths are not as black and white as she once believed, and she sees Jaime with new eyes. The scene marks a before and after in the character arcs of Jaime and Brienne, as well as in their relationship. – Luka Nieto
10. The Things I Do For Love. Episode 101, “Winter is Coming”
For me, this was the moment, the “oh shit” moment- the “I think this show might be about to take over my life” moment. I started watching the show a few years after it began airing, I’d never read the books and I was totally spoiler-free, so I had no idea how the first episode was about to end. While I’d enjoyed what I’d seen so far, this was the point that got me hooked. Not only is there the sheer shock value of a child pushed seemingly to his death out of a window, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau delivers that line in such a brilliantly casual way you’re suddenly all too aware of the how nasty the Lannisters are prepared to be. Oh, and the revelation that Jaime is bonking his sister, of course. It’s brutal and it’s perfect. – Geoffery
9. For the Watch. Episode 510, “Mother’s Mercy”
The most heart-rending moment of the season 5 finale was the coldblooded murder of Jon Snow. To add insult to injury, we’re first deceived by the egregious Olly to believe one of the wildlings has information on the lost Benjen Stark. An uplifting score further torments us by thinking this will end well as Alliser Thorne leads Jon to his demise. All becomes clear when Jon pushes his way to the front of the crowd to a plank that reads “TRAITOR” and the mutiny begins. Kit Harington’s look of horror as the realization sinks in is truly breathtaking. He masters an intense wave of emotions in seconds and the result on screen is stunning. The stirring change in score and look of desperation in Kit’s eyes as he pleads with Olly is Jon’s most vulnerable moment yet. Our hearts break with each blade that pierces Jon as the Brothers profess it’s “For the Watch,” and then leave their Lord Commander’s corpse in the blood-soaked snow. Without a follow-up book to consult, fans Sullied and Unsullied alike were left stupefied by this gut-wrenching moment as we pan out leaving Jon Snow behind, the audience dumbfounded by the final black screen and bewildered that this actually could be his end… – Nate
8. Joffrey’s Death at the Purple Wedding. Episode 402, “The Lion and the Rose”
Finally, we came to the end of an era. The end of the short-lived, yet long-reaching reign of King Joffrey, who exited the world like the scared little boy he always was. Jack Gleeson played him with a deplorable smarm, despite his penchant for being a lovely, sweet person off screen. His final moments were nothing short of stellar, as he used Joffrey’s power to taunt his uncle one final time, before succumbing to poison’s grasp. We lost a great actor and a character everyone loved to hate (or hated to hate). What a weird feeling it was to feel empty inside at the death of a tyrant. – SirSquinty
7. Cersei’s Walk of Atonement. Episode 510, “Mother’s Mercy”
What a way to close season 5! A lot of people were curious how this brutal and graphic scene taken directly from the books would be portrayed. I remember watching this with 11 other friends for a very awkward six-minute silence. If the goal of the scene was to make us feel emotionally uncomfortable and drained, it sure as hell did its job. We sat there feeling extremely unpleasant as the crowds threw shit and rocks at a naked, crying woman. Lena Headey OWNED this scene and the emotions that she poured into her portrayal. I remain forever upset that she has not won her long-deserved Emmy. The sequence’s images are burned into my and everyone’s brain. Don’t believe me? Just type “Shame” into Google and see how many parodies, GIFs, and memes surface. I’ll wait. – SirSquinty
6. Jon’s Mother Is Revealed In The Tower of Joy. Episode 610, “The Winds of Winter”
It was another scene long anticipated by fans – the moment R+L=J stopped being a theory and became a reality. After cruelly cutting the Tower of Joy scene short in episode 603 (curse you Three Eyed Raven!), we finally got to see what was inside and oh, was it worth the wait. Ned’s reunion with his dying sister Lyanna is both wonderful and heartbreaking, as she utters the words we’d been longing to hear: “Promise me, Ned.” The shot of him holding her newborn son, with the camera closing in on his face and then cutting to Jon Snow, was masterfully done. The entire scene – from the acting, to the music, to the cinematography – was beautiful, poignant, and so terribly sad. – Vanessa Cole
5. Hodor Holds the Door. Episode 605, “The Door”
We knew his name, but we never knew his story, and few among us ever thought it could be so tragic. The kind-hearted stableboy once known as Wylis was a beloved fixture in the world of Ice and Fire, as Kristian Nairn thankfully remains in ours. But it’s always the innocent who suffer when the high lords play their games, and when Bran inherits his god-like power over time and space, the magnitude of the horror he inadvertently inflicts upon his oldest and most loyal friend almost beggars belief. As Wylis’s panicked shouts of “Hold the door!” slowly blended into a more painfully familiar refrain, we were left as devastated and helpless as Old Nan trying to save her kin, as Bran coming to terms with what he had done, and as Wylis himself before a desperate command from decades in his future burned all other words from his mind forever. The past was written, the ink was dry, and so it was ordained that the gentle, caring man now known as Hodor, who hated violence and feared things as natural and commonplace as thunder, would find himself standing alone against the most unnatural and extraordinary terror in this world. But when the moment that had defined his entire existence arrived, he still had to summon the bravery necessary to fulfill that terrible destiny, standing tall and strong as the wights ruthlessly tore at his flesh and his inevitable death drew ever closer. Wylis still had to choose to hold the door. And hold it he did, long after Bran and Meera had disappeared into the winter night. Sadly, our tears had no time to freeze before the circle was complete, and Wylis’s life – along with the episode – was plunged into darkness. – Jared Kozal
4. Cersei Blows Up The Sept During The Trial. Episode 610, “The Winds of Winter”
3. Daenerys Rises From the Ashes with Her Newborn Dragons. Episode 110, “Fire and Blood”
When we first meet Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, she’s an ethereal princess without a home or a friend, or anything to call her own. Throughout the course of season one, Dany suffers terribly under the crushing rule of her mad brother Viserys and then through a rough marriage to Khal Drogo. The princess clings to the tales of her family’s greatness and fire-breathing dragons but those days are long past- or so she thinks. As she discovers the fire within herself, learns to tame her new husband, and starts to create her own family, Daenerys steps out of the shadow of Viserys, the false dragon, and finally finds a piece of happiness for herself, as the khaleesi.
Then violence and blood magic strip away her new family, and there is nothing left for her but fire and blood. In the season one finale, Emilia Clarke shows us a Daenerys hollowed out by grief, and yet sure of herself as she prepares Drogo’s pyre, places the dragon eggs in it, and reassures Jorah. Terrifying her khalasar and the audience alike, Daenerys walks into the funeral pyre. There should have been nothing but ash and bone when the flames died down. And yet Daenerys emerges unscathed, Unburnt, and the music of dragons comes alive with the Ramin Djawadi’s “Finale.” It’s an incredible moment that still sends chills down my spine every time I rewatch it, with Drogon’s final scream landing as the screen fades to black. Unforgettable. – Sue the Fury
2. The death of Ned Stark. Episode 109, “Baelor”
There are events that occur during your life when you never forget where you were or what you were doing. For me, Baelor is pretty easy…I was sitting in my comfy spot on the couch next to Ozzette engaging in a cold beer and still wondering where this new HBO series was headed.
And then, the golden rule of television was broken…never kill off your lead, especially when the series shows promise of being renewed. But they did it anyway, which is a decision I respect to this day, regardless of what happened in the books. It was a huge risk, and it paid off because since then, Game of Thrones has been appointment television. Jon Arryn’s death set it in motion; Ned Stark’s death started a war. – Oz of Thrones
The Red Wedding. Episode 309, “The Rains of Castamere”
- And who are you, the proud lord said,
- that I must bow so low?
- Only a cat of a different coat,
- that’s all the truth I know.
- In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
- a lion still has claws,
- And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
- as long and sharp as yours.
- And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
- that Lord of Castamere,
- But now the rains weep o’er his hall,
- with no one there to hear.
- Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall,
- and not a soul to hear.
It’s the only number one that there could be, on this list. Because the Red Wedding isn’t just the most important moment in all of Game of Thrones; it’s one of the most significant moments in television history. The Red Wedding scene, which saw the horrifying murders of multiple major characters, was such an instant classic that it immediately became a cultural touchstone after “The Rains of Castamere” aired on June 2nd, 2013. Killing off main characters to shock your audience out of complacency and change the arc of your storyline trajectory became much more common after that, and the sudden death of a main character on any show is invariably referred to as a “Red Wedding” moment by its fans.
But pop culture importance aside, at its heart the Red Wedding is an emotionally devastating scene that hasn’t lost any of its power over the last four years. It was a tall order for the TV show to match the potency of A Storm of Swords’ legendary scene, but one the showrunners took on with gusto. Not only did Catelyn and Robb Stark and their loyal army meet their end at The Twins, but Robb’s pregnant wife Talisa joined them in death on Game of Thrones. The Red Wedding was brutal, and raw, and flawlessly paced: from the opening strains of “Rains” played by the Frey band, with Cat’s suspicious glance upward, to her discovery of Roose’s chainmail, to Talisa’s gruesome slaughter, to Robb’s final weak “Mother,” to Michelle Fairley leading the scene to its bitter, throat-slashed end. And of course, what would we do without Ramin Djawadi’s staggering “The Lannisters Send Their Regards” weaving in and out, carrying the bloody drama?
The Red Wedding was the end of an era for Game of Thrones, and some thought, the end of House Stark. But the wolves are coming again, and one by one by those responsible for the Red Wedding have fallen. Tywin Lannister, Roose Bolton, and Walder Frey are dead, but three of Catelyn Stark’s beloved children live. – Sue the Fury
“Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall,and not a soul to hear.”