The best Game of Thrones episodes, one year later

The final episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones aired one year ago this week, bringing an end to a series that ranks among the most popular TV shows of all time.

Game of Thrones‘ final season may not have lived up to some fans’ exceedingly high expectations, but either way, our Sunday nights became a lot more open. We could spend the time watching something else, waiting for George R. R. Martin to finish the books or debate who should’ve actually become king, but there’s really only one way to fill the dragon-sized hole in our hearts: Watch the series again.

Of course, now that we know what happens, we can skip straight to the good stuff, and if you’re feeling down after the show’s rocky conclusion, these episodes will remind you why you fell in love with Game of Thrones in the first place. This means, of course, that spoilers run rampant throughout the list. Seriously, lots of spoilers. Proceed at your own risk. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

13) The Mountain and the Viper (Season 4, episode 8)

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HBO

Of all the horrific death scenes in Game of Thrones, this one might have made us the most physically ill. Prince Oberyn of Dorne fights against Ser Gregor Clegane (aka The Mountain) in a battle to determine whether Tyrion will live or die. Why? Because that’s just how justice is done in Westeros, OK? Oberyn believes The Mountain killed his sister and her children, so he’s pretty mad and hops around with his poisoned spear like an angry frog. Ser Gregor, frankly, couldn’t care less. Oberyn gets a hit! A very palpable hit! Then another. Then he gets cocky. And as he struts around Ser Gregor’s monstrous body on the ground demanding a confession, Ser Gregor gives him one — while gouging out his eyes and caving in his skull with his bare hands. Poor Tyrion.

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12) Spoils of War (Season 7, episode 4)

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When Game of Thrones’ penultimate season hits its midpoint, it finally starts paying off on some of its longest-running storylines. In this episode, Arya finally returns to Winterfell, where she reunites with Sansa and Bran after the better part of seven seasons and spars with Brienne. Jon and Daenerys show some sparks, the mysterious Children of the Forest get a little less mysterious and, oh yeah, Dany sics her Dothraki soldiers and a freakin’ dragon on the Lannister army. That’s all stuff that we’d been waiting to see, and boy, did Game of Thrones ever deliver.

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11) Fire and Blood (Season 1, Episode 10)

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In the season 1 finale, Robb is declared King in the North, Cersei takes a new lover — her cousin, this time — and Arya escapes King’s Landing with a troupe bound for the Night’s Watch. But the best part of Fire and Blood is when Daenerys, after discovering her child was born dead and mutated and her husband, Drogo, is a vegetable, emerges from Drogo’s funeral pyre with three baby dragons. Daenerys’ character sorely needs those dragons, both in the context of the plot and also because she’s kind of boring compared to other characters. When they finally arrived, we thanked the old gods and the new for finally giving her story a boost.

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10) Kissed by Fire Season (Season 3, Episode 5)

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HBO

Things get steamy up in the North. Oh, Jon Snow, you puppy-eyed boy, you really do “know nothing.” But that’s OK, Ygritte likes you anyway. Lured into a cave with a natural hot spring, Jon and Ygritte shed their furs and make Jon a man — if you catch our drift. Things get steamy further south, too, in a weird and wonderful scene involving Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, and a Harrenhal bath. Cersei and Tyrion both get new beaus, whether they like it or not, making it an all-around love-struck episode.

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9) The Dance of Dragons (Season 5, Episode 9)

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HBO

Game of Thrones is infamous for killing off the best-loved, most-perceived-as-righteous characters. However, when Stannis sacrificed his own daughter, Shireen, to the Lord of Light by burning her at the stake while she cried out for him and her mother, even inured to the carnage of our favorite characters as we were, we were still indignant! Which is why, later in the episode, when Daenerys is ambushed in the fighting pit by Sons of the Harpy, we really thought it was the end for her, too. Luckily, Drogon swooped in to save her.

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8) A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Season 8, episode 2)

Arya and the Hound in Game of Thrones

The night before the White Walkers arrive and everything (including the final season, depending on your opinion) falls apart, Game of Thrones steps back and reminds us why we fell in love with the show in the first place: It’s not the brutal deaths or the game-changing plot twists, but the characters. Brienne finally getting the respect that she deserves is the episode’s highlight. Tormund, Daenerys, Jamie, Sansa, Lyanna Mormont, Podrick, Davos, and the Hound also get standout moments, and Arya and Gendry share the rare Game of Thrones love scene that isn’t completely horrific. Also, Jon tells Dany that he’s the real heir to the Iron Throne just moments before the dead attack, setting the Mother of Dragons on the road to supervillainy.

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7) Mother’s Mercy (Season 5, episode 10)

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Watching Cersei Lannister get a comeuppance was exquisitely gratifying. Less gratifying but still fun to watch was Sansa — finally, finally fed up enough to bust out of her wooden helplessness and take action — making a run for it. Ramsay is so horrible, she chooses to jump off the walls of Winterfell and hope for the best rather than return to him when her flight is discovered. But of course, to make up for those moments, someone trying to do the right thing had to go. Jon Snow, we loved your pretty hair. You didn’t deserve to be stabbed, Caesar-style, by all your own men and left to die. We can only hope that you somehow miraculously survive to bat your pretty lashes in season six.

HBO

6) The Lion and the Rose (Season 4, episode 2)

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HBO

God, was there anything better than watching Joffrey choke to death? Seriously. If there was one main character in Game of Thrones who truly had absolutely nothing redeeming about him, it was Joffrey. At his and Margaery’s wedding feast, he is at his repulsive best. While the camera works hard to insinuate who the poisoner might be, we were too busy waiting for him to finally just drink the damn wine and die. Sansa escapes with the help of once-knight-now-fool Dontos in the ensuing hubbub, which proves to be a very wise decision given she and Tyrion are quickly accused of the murder.

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5) Hardhome (Season 5, episode 8)

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HBO

Remember this guy? Like The Mountain and the Viper, there’s one really great scene in Hardhome that garners it a spot on this list. Jon, some wildlings, and some of the Night’s Watch brothers have sailed north to convince more of the wildlings to join forces with them. When they arrive, wights and White Walkers attack. It’s an all-out massacre, and as Jon retreats on a small boat, the Night King raises his arms, and thus, the dead. Replay that scene in your head while listening to Thriller –or, better yet, just actually watch it.

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4) Battle of the Bastards (Season 6, episode 9)

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HBO

Game of Thrones does big, epic clashes between rival armies very, very well, and the Battle of the Bastards is arguably the best of the bunch. From the opening moments, in which Ramsay Bolton mows down poor Rickon Stark with an arrow, to watching Jon Snow nearly drown in a pile of bodies, the Battle of the Bastards is equal parts thrilling and horrifying, illustrating the cost of war better than any Thrones episode before it. Ultimately, however, it’s the ladies who steal the show: Sansa saves the day by allying with Littlefinger behind Jon’s back, Daenerys sticks it to a bunch of slavers, and through diplomacy, Yara proves that she’s the leader the Iron Islands deserve.

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3) Baelor (Season 1, episode 9)

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The death that tipped us off to the way Game of Thrones would roll. Lord Eddard Stark is great at telling the truth and being honorable, but sadly, he’s less effective when it comes to denouncing a king. Accused of treason, he stands before all of King’s Landing and, thinking of his family and clemency, abandons his principles and falsely declares he lied about Joffrey’s incestuous parentage. For once, he does what everyone — family and foes alike — want him to do, and he still gets his head lopped off.

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2) The Rains of Castamere (Season 3, episode 9)

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HBO

Those wily Freys. No, Robb did not learn anything from his father’s demise, and has always been more honorable than brilliant. Still, he didn’t deserve to be double-crossed just because he followed his heart and married a political nonentity who brought nothing to the table. This is also when we get a glimpse at how ruthless Roose Bolton can be. Old Walder Frey, don’t you think for one second that we didn’t know you were up to no good! Once a Filch, always a Filch.

HBO

1) The Children (Season 4, episode 10)

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HBO

We couldn’t help but root for Tyrion when he had that crossbow pointed at his dad. After finding Shae, his one-time mistress, in his father’s bed, Tyrion strangles her and fires a bolt into Tywin. We didn’t think Tyrion had it in him, and neither, to his demise, did his dad. But Tyrion, not for the first time, manages to tap some inner reserve of courage he keeps well hidden under layers of wit and wine. After killing his dad, he escapes with the help of Varys.

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