Warning: graphic content ahead
If you’ve been obsessively watching the trailer for Game of Thrones‘s seventh season, which premieres on July 16 on HBO, you know the show is prepared to bring it, and bring it big. But the series will have to work hard to top some of the earth-shaking, game-changing, and cringe-inducing moments from its first six seasons. Here, a rundown of the series’ most important moments, so your memory will be properly refreshed before Season 7 begins.
Season 1, Episode 1
Game of Thrones wanted us to know, right from the very beginning, that not only was it unafraid to push the envelope, but it relished in breaking boundaries and shattering expectations. In the final moments of its first episode, GoTestablished itself as a series willing to push an adorable little boy out of a tower window to his maybe-death, no matter how innocuous his “crime”—witnessing sex between the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei Lannister, and her twin brother, Jaime—may be. On top of that, the casual indifference with which Jaime shoved Bran out of the tower showed both his willingness to protect Cersei at all costs and his capacity for doing deeply villainous things in a disturbingly nonchalant manner. Remember when we thought this was as bad as it was going to get?
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Season 1, Episode 6
Only GoT could lead a person to type the phrase “eats a stallion’s heart” sans euphemism. According to Dothraki tradition, when a khaleesi is pregnant, the high priestesses conduct a ritual in which she consumes a horse’s raw heart. Successfully completing this ritual means the khaleesi’s child will be strong, while puking is a bad omen. (Isn’t it always, though?) Because Daenerys is an absolute badass, she chokes down the heart, leading the priestesses to declare she will have a son who will be the Stallion Who Mounts the World—a khal who will unite all the Dothraki and ride to the ends of the earth. Daenerys’s son eventually dies in the womb, leaving the prophecy unfulfilled, but watching her tear into the heart, we see just how deeply her strength runs.
Season 1, Episode 9
While most of the GoT cast have become celebrities in their own right in the years since the series premiered, Sean Bean, who played Ned Stark, was arguably the most famous face in the show’s first season. Ned was considered the show’s main protagonist, so his execution following a forced confession of treason in the penultimate Season 1 episode came as a complete surprise—especially in a time when TV shows rarely killed off their main characters. The episodes leading up to Ned’s death suggested he would be exiled rather than murdered, but then King Joffrey Baratheon made a last-minute decision to put him to death (cementing his own status as one of the show’s most reviled characters). Ned’s murder, besides being shocking, set off a domino effect, as his son Robb became King in the North and declared the North and the Riverlands a sovereign kingdom which did not have to answer to the Iron Throne.
Season 1, Episode 10
After what felt like endless suffering for Daenerys in Season 1—a forced marriage, rape by her own husband, violence and ridicule at her brother’s hand, the death of her unborn son, Drogo’s demise—the birth of her dragons from the flames of her husband’s funeral pyre felt like a much-deserved moment of joy. The image of the smoke clearing around Dany’s body, naked but for three dragons curled against her skin, is one of the most iconic of the series—a fitting start to her journey to regain the Iron Throne.
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Season 2, Episode 9
When the Battle of Blackwater aired, it was the largest battle viewers had seen to date on Game of Thrones. It belongs on this list for that precedent alone, but it also shows Tyrion nearly leading the Lannister army to victory. Watching him rise from ridicule—charged with the city’s sewage system by his own father—to commanding an army was extremely satisfying. Additionally, Cersei shows her determination to protect her children at all costs, planning to poison her son Tommen if the city is taken by the enemy. On top of all that, this same episode sees Tyrion betrayed by someone bribed by Cersei, the Hound abandon Joffrey, and Stannis so roundly defeated his campaign never recovers. Most intense episode ever? It’s up there.
Season 3, Episode 9
All you really need to know about the Red Wedding is that George R.R. Martin was concerned it might cause viewers to throw their televisions into their fireplaces in rage. Everything about it is gutting—literally and figuratively—and it all kicks off in an instant, as it becomes clear Robb Stark and his new bride Talisa’s wedding celebration is a trap set by the Boltons, Freys, and Lannisters. It only gets worse from there: pregnant Talisa is fatally stabbed in the stomach, Robb Stark holds her in his arms as she slowly bleeds out before Roose Bolton stabs him in the heart, and Robb’s mother Catelyn watches it all unfold before her own throat is slit. Meanwhile, the entire Northern army is massacred, as is Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind. All of this goes down with Arya standing just outside, ready to reunite with her family. But this episode wasn’t just a new landmark for the show’s brutal violence and willingness to kill off its heroes; until this point, Game of Thrones was framed primarily around the war between the Starks and the Lannisters. This decisive win on the Lannisters’ part completely reshuffled the deck.
Season 3, Episode 10
While riding through the woods after the Red Wedding, Arya and Sandor Clegane come upon a group of Frey soldiers reenacting and joking about desecrating Robb’s body (after Robb’s death, Grey Wind’s head was sewn onto his body and marched around in a mocking procession). Arya manipulates one of the soldiers into crouching beneath her to pick up a coin, then she stabs him in the neck while Sandor quickly kills the others. Nowadays, Arya is a fully-fledged assassin with an epic kill list she whispers to herself at night, so re-watching this moment feels like a true rebirth for the youngest Stark daughter. (And yes, Arya also “accidentally” stabbed that stable boy way back in Season 1, but this was her first intentional murder.)
Season 3, Episode 10
Ramsay’s relationship (such as it is) with Theon is one of the most complex, difficult-to-watch pairings in the series. Beginning with kidnapping Theon in Season 3, Ramsay goes on to sadistically torture him, physically and mentally. He flays Theon alive. He cuts off Theon’s penis and pretends to eat it. He makes Theon watch him rape Sansa. But as much as watching Ramsay’s behavior makes viewers’ skin crawl and stomach turn, the depths of his depravity show that while some people play the game of thrones to win or simply survive, others play it because they think it’s fun.
Season 4, Episode 2
The Red Wedding is a prime example of how devastating it can be when GoTkills off protagonists; by contrast, the Purple Wedding is proof of how satisfying it is when the show’s villains meet their demise. Joffrey was one of the most maddening, obnoxious characters in the history of the show, and seeing him die so ignobly, choking on wine at his own wedding, was pretty darn delightful. And Joffrey’s (intentional?) misidentifying of Tyrion as his killer set up one of the most compelling moments of the series four episodes later, when Tyrion testifies on his own behalf at court and ultimately demands a trial by combat. While Jaime Lannister’s summary of the events in A Storm of Swords didn’t make it into the televised version, it’s hilarious enough to repeat here: “My sister outdid herself, I’m told. Seventy-seven courses and a regicide, never a wedding like it.”
Season 4, Episode 10
Tywin Lannister was awful to Tyrion. There’s no other way to put it, and his hatred toward his son was especially hard to stomach because it sprung from something out of Tyrion’s control: the death of his mother during childbirth. Tywin’s list of enemies was so extensive it seemed too much to hope that one day Tyrion would get revenge, but on the night before he’s wrongly set to be executed for killing Joffrey, Tyrion escapes with Jaime’s help and hunts down Tywin. Finding him on the toilet, Tyrion kills him with a crossbow. Years of abuse were one thing, but Tywin turning Shae against Tyrion, then sleeping with her after criticizing Tyrion for his “whoring,” was a shade too far. It is a truly ignoble end to a man who deserves nothing less, and yet another affirmation that Tyrion is not to be trifled with. Plus, some of Tywin’s last words—“You’re no son of mine”—hint at a believable fan theory, that Tyrion really isn’t Tywin’s child, but Aerys Targaryen’s. This could be another case of classic GoT foreshadowing.
Season 5, Episode 1
In the Season 5 premiere, we watch a young Cersei receive multiple prophecies from a witch, Maggy the Frog: she’ll marry the king instead of a prince, she’ll become queen until one “younger and more beautiful” takes her down, and she’ll outlive her three children. In the following episodes, we see that prophecy almost completely fulfilled. Cersei was already married to a king (Robert Baratheon) instead of a prince (Rhaegar Targaryen, whom her father originally wanted her to wed). She had three children and they all died, fulfilling the witch’s promise, “gold will be their crowns and gold their shrouds.” During the Season 6 finale, she ascended the Iron Throne as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms after the death of her son, King Tommen. Will Daenerys Targaryen, a “younger and more beautiful” queen currently en route to Westeros, take her down? What’s fascinating is even though we’ve heard the prophecy (in effect, the show spoils itself), watching it unfold is still compelling thanks to the series’ masterful ability to plant the seeds of a story that pay off later. It’s important to note one part of Maggy’s prophecy included in Martin’s book A Feast for Crowsdidn’t make it into the series: “When your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” In Valyrian, “valonqar” means “little brother.” Will Tyrion or Jaime kill Cersei in Season 7?
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Season 5, Episode 8
There are moments in GoT history that are significant because they reveal hidden truths about characters or take storylines into wildly unexpected places. And then there are moments that are significant purely because they’re point-blank terrifying. Such is the end of the Battle of Hardhome, when Jon Snow and the wildings face off against the White Walkers and the wights. As Jon flees, the Night King locks eyes with him, raises his arms, and resurrects everyone who died in the battle, forming an army of the dead and doubling the size of his own battalion. If the Night King hasn’t appeared in at least one of your nightmares since, consider yourself very, very fortunate.
Season 5, Episode 10
GoT‘s fifth season sparked a lot of, “Has the show gone too far?” conversations, which only intensified after Cersei was forced on a naked walk of atonement through King’s Landing as punishment for admitting to sleeping with her cousin. As she walks, the city’s residents throw rotten fruit, chamber pot contents, and cutting insults at her (despite the intense vulnerability and nudity required for the role, more than a thousand actresses applied to be Lena Headey’s body double for the scene). Even though Cersei has done terrible things, watching this scene is painful, not just because it strips her of her much-valued dignity and pride, but because we’ve seen other male GoT characters go unpunished for far worse actions. It’s a profound injustice, and if the show’s writers wanted us to be outraged, they did an excellent job of generating that fury and setting up a pretty spectacular revenge arc for Cersei.
Season 6, Episode 2
Depending on who you ask, Kit Harington’s return to GoT and Jon Snow’s resurrection were either a foregone conclusion (if you’d diligently monitored Harington’s hair length during his time away from the show) or a massive shock. By resurrecting Jon from death, Melisandre proves her powers extend way beyond birthing a murderous shadow demon and sets a host of Season 6 storylines in motion, including Jon’s reunion with his half-sister Sansa Stark, his epic duel with Ramsay and, ultimately, his rise to King of the North.
Season 6, Episode 6
While it might seem like Bran’s frenzied visions of Westeros past exist purely to give viewers something to feverishly debate between seasons, they were, of course, much more than that. Firstly, they look back at some of the most seminal moments in the show’s past—not just as a walk down memory lane, but as a nod to which stories remain unfinished and questions unanswered. But perhaps most importantly, Bran saw events mentioned in the series but never depicted onscreen, including Jaime Lannister’s assassination of the Mad King. As Bran continues to warg, his visions serve as important history lessons about the GoT universe: he learns why the White Walkers were created (they were made to protect the Children of the Forest from the First Men), he sees his father Ned fight at the Tower of Joy, and he discovers who Jon Snow’s birth mom is. Ultimately, Bran becomes the new Three-Eyed Raven. He’s come a long way from being shoved out that window.
Season 6, Episode 9
It was so clear that a major battle was in store during GoT‘s sixth season that it was hard not to want the show to just get on with it already. But the Battle of the Bastards was worth the wait, taking the show’s cinematography to the next level and offering a very, very rare example of the “good guys” winning. Seeing the Starks so close to defeat, then watching the Sansa-led comeback win the battle and allow the Starks to reclaim Winterfell felt like a long-awaited victory for viewers and perfectly tied up Jon Snow’s resurrection arc. But the Starks weren’t the only hero of the day; tiny Lady Lyanna Mormont, who gave her forces to Jon and shamed the other lords into battle, proved her own worth as a leader. In the next episode, she declares Jon King in the North.
Season 6, Episode 9
When GoT deviated from the books and added a scene in which Ramsay brutally raped Sansa on their wedding night, it caused a profound and warranted uproar. Adding a sexual assault to Sansa’s storyline did nothing to advance the plot or teach us more about the characters involved; we already knew Ramsay was a sadist and Sansa was equipped to endure unspeakable pain. In hindsight, maybe this scene was a misguided attempt to make Sansa’s ultimate murder of Ramsay—at the teeth of his own hounds—feel like that much more of a triumph. Ramsay’s death was immensely satisfying, and it showed the leader and warrior Sansa has evolved into. But it couldn’t undo one of the show’s most colossal storytelling mistakes.
Season 6, Episode 10
Many people on Game of Thrones kill their enemies, but it takes a special sort of person to kill all their enemies at the same time. After more than a full season of indignities—including that walk of shame—Cersei conspired with her mad scientist buddy Qyburn to use the Mad King’s secret stock of explosives to blow up the Great Sept of Baelor. She kills not only her captors, but some of her own family members, as her son King Tommen leapt to his death after learning of his wife Margaery’s death. Only on GoT could a character go from criminal awaiting trial to reigning queen, as Cersei somehow manages to walk away as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s hard to like Cersei, so it’s all the more remarkable that the show has given us so many reasons to respect her. Because that walk of shame was so painful to endure, Cersei’s large-scale retribution made total sense.
Season 6, Episode 10
Throughout the series, there have been hints that Jon Snow wasn’t Eddard Stark’s bastard son, but this wasn’t confirmed until the final episode of Season 6, when Bran has a vision of Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark giving birth to a baby. That baby is Jon Snow, and his father is understood to be Rhaegar Targaryen. This puts Jon in a very strong position to claim the Iron Throne, and it’s safe to say GoT‘s seventh season will explore what that means. For now, only Bran and the audience know this information, and it’s unclear whether anyone else in the GoTuniverse does. Keep an eye on Littlefinger, who always seems to know just a tiny bit more about the Stark family than everyone else.
All clips courtesy HBO.
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