As the Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon swoops onto our screens, many fantasy fans will be bracing themselves. Keeping up with its predecessor was a serious commitment until 2019 when, after eight years and 73 episodes, the game was over at last. As the dust and ash settled, I think it’s fair to say the overall feeling, shared by viewers and reviewers but presumably by the cast, crew and producers, too, was one of relief. The final series of Game of Thrones attracted an amazing amount of opprobrium online, including a petition for the whole thing to be rewritten and shot.
Not all of the criticism was justified. The pacing was uneven, with some stories feeling rushed and others too slow. One or two major figures started acting totally out of character (hi Varys, Brienne). Yet no ending would have satisfied all of one of the most rabid fanbases around. The spectacle was bigger, bolder and badder than ever, with some of the most beautiful shots of the whole programme, especially the battles at Winterfell and Kings Landing. Drogon was arguably the real star of the series, a surprising hatchling that became a huge unstoppable juggernaut, hard to predict but difficult to ignore, like the show itself. We hadn’t seen its kind before. Will we, in an atomised era of Netflix and Amazon, see it again?
After some calm reflection, we can present this, a comprehensive and highly objective ranking of every single episode.
For obvious reasons, the top rankings are dominated by end-of-season numbers. It is also prejudiced according to the prejudices of me, the ranker:
Positively prejudiced towards: Arya Stark, Roose Bolton, Jonathan Pryce, Tywin Lannister, wildlings, sword violence, dragons, Euron Greyjoy, Margery Tyrell, Shireen.
Negatively prejudiced towards: early Bran Stark, Jon Snow, sexual violence, Daenerys Targaryen, Essos in general.
Click through the gallery below for every episode of Game of Thrones, ranked, or read on below:
Game of Thrones - every episode ranked
73. Season seven, episode five: Eastwatch
There has to be a loser. “Eastwatch” throws away one of the most important pieces of information in the whole show, Jon’s true parentage, as well as lots of good reunions. It’s the clearest example of how rushed the show has become in recent years, as its unpredictability gives way to conventional plot.
72. Season four, episode three: Breaker of Chains
Jaime appears to rape Cersei next to Joffrey’s corpse. The scene is confused, unpleasant and different from the books in confusing and unhelpful ways.
71. Season five, episode six: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
The Sand Snakes are just unbearably naff and this is one of their worst.
70. Season four, episode four: Oathkeeper
At Craster’s Keep, much rape and murder of children. Unpleasant.
69. Season one, episode two: The Kingsroad
The opposite of the rushed plot of the later seasons, this is basically a leisurely chat up the M1.
68. Season eight, episode four: The Last of the Starks
Given a chance to return to real intrigue after the Battle of Winterfell, Benioff and Weiss showed they had lost their grip, with an incoherent episode that betrayed several key characters for the sake of obvious plot grinding. A Starbucks cup left on a feasting table told us everything we needed to know about a series that has given up.
67. Season two, episode eight: Prince of Winterfell
There is some good stuff with Arya and Jaqen H’ghar, but it’s mainly placeholder as they set up the Battle of Blackwater.
66. Season three, episode 10: Mysha
Jon Snow and Ygritte’s goodbye at the climax of season three ought to have been much sadder.
65. Season five, episode two: The House of Black and White
Lots of setting up. Jaime and Bronn plan to go to Dorne, Arya arrives in Braavos.
64. Season seven, episode six: Beyond the Wall
This ought to have been one of the great battles: ice zombies plus dragons plus Jon Snow’s expedition. It looked spectacular, but everyone worried about teleporting ravens and speed of sound dragons.
63. Season six, episode eight: No One
Some absolutely horrible banter between Grey Worm and Missandei.
62. Season two, episode seven: A Man Without Honour
Pyat Pree kills the 13 in Qarth. Tywin talks to Arya about legacy.
61. Season six, episode one: The Red Woman
Melisandre is a very, very old woman.
60. Season two, episode two: The Night Lands
Lots of Tyrion talking in King’s Landing but not much else.
59. Season six, episode seven: The Broken Man
The Hound meets Ian McShane. That’s about it in an episode full of preparations.
58. Season three, episode one: Valar Dohaeris
A classic season opener that flits from place to place.
57. Season two, episode four: Garden of Bones
Lots of grimness. Rat and bucket torture at Harrenhal. Robb Stark meets Talisa. Joffrey is cruel to Ros and Daisy.
56. Season five, episode one: The Wars to Come
Mance Rayder refuses to bend the knee, is burned at the stake by Stannis before Jon shoots him with an arrow. A pretty good death actually.
55. Season five, episode five: Kill the Boy
Season five is perhaps the weakest, and this is one of the weakest episodes in it, despite some good Bolton action and the Stone Men’s fateful attack on Tyrion and Jorah Mormont as they sailed through Valyria.
54. Season two, episode one: The North Remembers
In the season two opener we meet Stannis at Dragonstone, and then Joffrey orders a tremendous infanticide. It was vaguely controversial at the time. Feels like a lifetime ago. “Power is power,” Cersei tells Littlefinger, which was good.
53. Season six, episode three: Oathbreaker
Jon Snow coming back to life really shouldn’t have felt flat. Yet it did.
52. Season one, episode three: Lord Snow
Understandable given that it had to build an entire medieval universe, but 12 major characters are introduced here. That’s too many major characters.
51. Season six, episode four: Book of the Stranger
Jon and Sansa reunite, which is cool, Daenerys burns some more enemies, which is hot, good High Sparrow monologue to Margaery.
50. Season three, episode six: The Climb
Theme of climbing. Thormund makes his way up the Wall; Littlefinger gives his most famous monologue, as he explains to Varys that chaos is “a ladder”.
49. Season five, episode two: Sons of the Harpy
Mid-season doldrums, particularly acute in five, as Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne.
48. Season five, episode seven: The Gift
The same, basically, except for Tyrion meeting Daenerys. Everyone gives each other presents.
47. Season three, episode two: Dark Wings, Dark Words
Sluggish early-season number, although we meet Olenna and Margaery shows how skilful she will be at manipulating court.
46. Season one, episode eight: The Pointy End
Until the later series, eight episodes are a bit hamstrung by setting up denouements to follow. This is true in season one, as the machinery creaks to set up the beheading they didn’t think could happen.
45. Season three, episode seven: The Bear and the Maiden Fair
Even re-looking at what happened in this episode I still can’t really remember it, except for the fight with the bear. Oh yes, Mackenzie Crook! Forgot he was in this programme.
44. Season two, episode five: The Ghost of Harrenhal
Two good moments: Renly is killed by the shadow, and Arya meets Jaqen H’ghar.
43. Season eight, episode two: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
Another slow scene setter for the epic Battle of Winterfell, full of night-before antics including the knighting of Brienne by Jamie, and the slightly disturbing sight of Arya and Gendry preparing to go at it hammer and tongs.
42. Season six, episode two: Home
The demise of top lad Roose Bolton, as well as Balon Greyjoy, both sent to their ends by their families. Melisandre finally works her anti-death magic on Jon Snow.
41. Season four, episode five: First of His Name
One of the good things about season four was that it was the only moment where, even briefly, it looked as though a kind of temporary stability had been achieved. Tommen is king, Sansa has escaped King’s Landing, Jon Snow and co get revenge on the mutineers at Craster’s Keep.
40. Season two, episode 10: Valar Morghulis
The White Walkers attacking the Night’s Watch at the Fist of the First Men is a good laugh, but other than that there is a lot to get through, after the events of Blackwater in the previous episode, and the season two finale anticipates some of the rushed feeling that will occur later on.
39. Season one, episode seven: You Win or You Die
Our first real glimpse of what Cersei will become, as she outmanoeuvres Ned Stark after Robert Baratheon’s death in a hunting accident.
38. Season seven, episode one: Dragonstone
A superb moment for Arya, as she wipes out the rest of House Frey, but mainly this is set-up for a season that packs a lot in.
37. Season one, episode four: Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things
Ned working as policeman in Kings Landing to find out what happened to Jon Arryn.
36. Season five, episode nine: Dance of Dragons
One of the most upsetting deaths in Game of Thrones, as Stannis Baratheon burns his friendly daughter Shireen alive to appease Melisandre.
35. Season seven, episode two: Stormborn
Theon jumping off the boat after Euron overruns the Greyjoy fleet. Nice reunion between Arya and Hot Pie. Tyrion talks Daenerys down from incinerating King’s Landing.
34. Season eight, episode one: Winterfell
A slower than expected opener for the final season, albeit with some touching reunions at Winterfell, especially Bran and Jamie seeing each other again.
33. Season six, episode six: Blood of My Blood
Midseasoner. Cersei sends Jaime to retake Riverrun, while Arya is finally trained as an assassin. Can’t really remember it, to be honest.
32. Season one, episode five: The Wolf and the Lion
Jaime and Ned have a brawl in the streets of King’s Landing in an episode that focuses on skulduggery rather than magic. If you ask me skulduggery always trumps magic.
31. Season three, episode three: Walk of Punishment
The first moment where a character’s trajectory was really reversed. We’d disliked Jaime since the start, but when his hand was chopped off he began to win us back. The Blackfish schooling Edmure at shooting fire arrows was another highlight.
30. Season four, episode one: Two Swords
The opening of the fourth series introduced the charismatic, enigmatic Viper, one of the few good things other than wine to come out of Dorne. Also notable for an excellent scene with Arya and the Hound clearing out an Inn.
29. Season two, episode three: What is Dead May Never Die
Introduces Margaery Tyrell and Brienne of Tarth, two of the best characters, and also sees Theon decide to betray Robb Stark. What is family? Who can you trust?
28. Season three, episode eight: Second Sons
Built around Sansa and Tyrion’s unwelcome wedding, while in the north there is a display of how important Sam will be as he draws on reserves of bravery to dragonglass a white walker.
27. Season four, episode seven: Mockingbird
Littlefinger dumping Lysa out of the Eyrie is probably the most dramatic moment here, one of his decisive power-stealing moments as he saves Sansa.
26. Season one, episode one: Winter Is Coming
Can you remember a time before Game of Thrones? Re-watch ‘Winter is Coming’, marvel at the baby Starks, think on how many characters have died, reflect on your own mortality. You are much, much older than when Game of Thrones began. Your life is running between your fingers.
25. Season one, episode six: A Golden Crown
Another dramatic death which is hard to remember now, as the miserable Viserys was put out of his grump with molten gold.
24: Season eight, episode six: The Iron Throne
Well, that was that. The grand finale provoked much gnashing of teeth and hot air, not all of it from Drogon. In truth, things were tied up as best they could, given the way the the different pieces had been arranged, although some of the criticism was valid. The king-choosing and first council scenes were amazingly lame. A number of questions were skirted over. Still, what a spectacle.
23. Season two, episode six: Old Gods and the New
Theon takes Winterfell. Theon, you utter bastard. I hope you are punished for this.
22. Season five, episode three: High Sparrow
A key Littlefinger episode, as he continues to manipulate Sansa, while Jon Snow executes Janos and, in King’s Landing, Cersei’s machinations are matched by Margaery’s.
21. Season four, episode two: The Lion and the Rose
Joffrey, scratching at his throat, going purple, dying. Top stuff.
20. Season four, episode six: The Laws of Gods and Men
An excellent mid-season episode, built around Tyrion’s trial but with lots of other things to admire that hint at the underlying economies in the Game of Thrones universe. Drogon barbecues some livestock, while the Iron Bank of Braavos refuses to bail out Davos and Stannis.
19. Season three, episode four: And Now His Watch Is Ended
The full depravity of Ramsay Bolton is laid bare as he taunts Theon with a fake escape, while Commander Mormont is murdered at Craster’s Keep. But really it’s all about Daenerys, as she and her pets flame Astapor to the ground.
18. Season seven, episode seven: The Dragon and the Wolf
It turns out Jon Snow is actually the true heir to the Seven Kingdoms, the remaining Stark children finally team up to kill Littlefinger, admittedly in overwrought style, and the White Walkers use their new lizard hairdryer to destroy the wall. There is far too much going on, especially the odd scene where Jon shows Cersei the wight, but nevertheless it sends you reaching for the popcorn and cheering along, which is more or less where we are at with the whole series by now.
17. Season three, episode five: Kissed by Fire
Most notable for Ygritte and Jon’s much-parodied love grotto scene, but also for the Hound’s duel with Bendric Dondarrion, which revealed his terror of fire. Nursing his stump in the baths, Jaime tells Brienne the truth about his assassination of the Mad King. Mid-seasoner.
16. Season five, episode 10: Mother’s Mercy
The denouement of the fifth series is the most sympathetic we ever see Cersei, as she completes her walk of atonement through the streets of King’s Landing, her hair cut and her clothes stripped. Strategically, humiliating Cersei proves not to be the masterstroke the High Sparrow thought it would be.
15. Season seven, episode four: The Spoils of War
Spoils aplenty. Arya returns to Winterfell and sees Sansa, then fights a brief duel with Brienne that shows just how much she’s learnt. It’s nothing on one of the great shots of the whole series, however: Daenerys riding Drogon above a Dothraki horde in full charge before incinerating the Lannister lines.
14. Season one, episode 10: Fire and Blood
We were promised dragons, and here they are, mewing atop the naked Daenerys. And one thing we know about baby dragons is they must grow up. This is Game of Thrones’ version of Chekhov’s rule about guns. You’ll keep watching until they torch something.
13. Season five, episode eight: Hardhome
As the big battles go, the showdown between the Night’s Watch and wildlings and the wights at Hardhome doesn’t quite match some of the others, but it is still dead cool, especially when Jon realises his sword works against the snowmen. If that wasn’t enough, Sansa also learnt that her family might be alive.
12. Season four, episode nine: The Watchers on the Wall
The big set-piece between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings. Not quite up to Blackwater’s standards, despite its battle specialist Neil Marshall being summonsed back to direct.
11. Season seven, episode three: The Queen’s Justice
There is too much crammed into this episode, which could have been spread over several hours, but it’s wonderful stuff all the same. Jon meets Daenerys for the first time, Sam cures Jorah of greyscale, Cersei obliterates the Tyrells. Best of all is Diana Rigg, at a table in her tower, bowing out from what is perhaps Thrones’ best overall performance.
10. Season eight, episode five
One of the most divisive episodes, as Dany’s frustrations spilled over into a holocaust in King’s Landing. Whatever you thought of the pacing, or the plot’s fidelity to the characters, it was quite a spectacle, and killed off several key figures in dramatic style.
9. Season six, episode five: The Door
Poor old Hodor. The death nobody wanted, as a wonderful character, played so sympathetically by Kristian Nairn, is finally given his due.
8. Season four, episode eight: The Mountain and the Viper
Other things happen: Littlefinger takes over the Vale, and the Boltons move into Winterfell, but the episode is mainly memorable for the central duel, as Oberyn seeks justice from the man who murdered so many of his relatives, and for one image above all, of the Mountain’s armoured fingers crushing Oberyn’s skull like a grapefruit.
7. Season one, episode nine: Baelor
Poor old Ned Stark. The death they said could never happen! Clearly they had not watched enough Sean Bean films.
6. Season eight, episode three: The Long Night
After two scene-setting episodes, The Long Night finally delivers on the promise of season eight, with 90 minutes of marvellous blood and fire at Winterfell. The Night King’s hordes meet the assembled ranks of Westeros, wildlings, Dothraki and Unsullied. The defenders lose and lose and lose until they finally win, although not before a few spectacular deaths. If it lacks some of the strategic nuance of other battles, it compensates with stunning action sequences and CGI, especially on the dragons, who dogfight high above the plain.
5. Season six, episode 10: The Winds of Winter
Winter has come. It opens with peak Cersei, as she eliminates all her remaining enemies in one enormous blaze. Arya kills Walder Frey. The Jon Theory is confirmed. Tommen walks out of the window.
4. Season three, episode nine: Rains of Castemere
The Lannisters send their regards. Some would have this number one, and one could easily make the case. The Red Wedding was the scene that broke Game of Thrones out of its fandom and into broader popular culture, the point where it was no longer avoidable. Fury, anguish, love, surprise, pity, hate: it’s all here. The look Roose Bolton gives Catelyn Stark when she reveals the chainmail he is wearing to dinner might be my single favourite moment of the whole programme.
3. Season six, episode nine: Battle of the Bastards
Anyone who has seen Mel Gibson’s Mayan drama Apocalypto knows that running in a straight line away from arrows rarely works. So it proved for Rickon, setting up one of the great battles not only on TV but on any kind of film. Where in previous seasons battles had occasionally felt hampered by budget, most egregiously when Tyrion was knocked out and missed the whole thing, this was the full belt and braces. It was brilliantly directed, with aerial shots, as well as face-in-the-mud close-ups to convey the full grinding horror of the battle, and the grim relief of victory.
2. Season four, episode 10: The Children
The fourth season is the best all-round, I think, the high-point of character development before it started to be forced by the machinations of the plot in the later series. Brienne’s bloody brawl with the Hound leaves him bleeding and broken, as Arya heads off to Braavos. Tywin finally gets his comeuppance, a crossbow bolt on the loo, administered by his son, Tyrion, who then flees. And Stannis’s cavalry arrives to save Jon and defeat Mance Rayder and the wildlings in a pincer movement, having been persuaded by Davos.
1. Season two, episode nine: Blackwater
This is purely a personal view, but if Ned Stark’s death was the moment you sat up and paid attention, Blackwater was the where you started cheering at the TV. The scale, the splendour, the depth of character brought to bear on grand events: they all felt new, somehow. This might have been the last moment where we were equally rooting for both sides, except for one side to be consumed in an eerie green glow. Wildfire doesn’t care who your favourite character is.