Warning: Major spoilers ahead!
Neither HBO’s hit series or the George R.R. Martin novels on which it’s based are known for happy endings. In fact, if you’re familiar with the story thus far — engineered by Martin and show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss — you’ve probably already seen plenty of your favorite characters perish.
Gory, creative, spectacular death scenes are the set pieces that drive the plot forward in this beloved show, and it often feels as if the creators of Thrones are constantly playing Russian Roulette with your favorite cast of characters. With Game of Thrones’ final season just a few days away, we’ve decided to look back over the past eight years and put together a chronological list of the 10 most memorable death scenes in the show’s history. (Warning: Both spoilers and graphic imagery abound below)
A Crown Fit for a King (season 1, episode 6: A Golden Crown)
Viserys Targaryen was destined to die from the moment he appeared onscreen. Being the malicious, scheming, incestuous heir to the lost throne of Westeros, Viserys fancied himself a “dragon” that deserved the utmost admiration and respect. After brokering a deal to “sell” his sister Daenerys to Khal Drogo in exchange for an army — with which he planned to retake the Iron Throne — Viserys accompanies Drogo’s cavalry to ensure the Khal keeps his end of the bargain. After repeatedly embarrassing himself in front of the Khal, Drogo offers Viserys a golden crown — which turns out to be molten. Tough luck for Viserys, but as Dany so eloquently puts it, “He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.”
A Severed Hand (season 1, episode 9: Baelor)
Baelor, the penultimate episode of season 1, set the tone for Game of Thrones audience members unfamiliar with the books. The death of Eddard Stark, at the time the primary protagonist of the series, came as a shock to many viewers. Although we’re now somewhat numb to the systematic elimination of our favorite characters, it’s not hard to remember a time when Ned was this close to uncovering and exposing the dark secrets behind the Iron Throne. Eddard’s beheading established the cruel, impulsive nature of Joffrey Baratheon and kickstarted the rise of the Northern armies under the banner of Robb Stark, Eddard’s son.
The Red Wedding (season 3, episode 9: The Rains of Castamere)
Robb Stark may have united the Northern houses under one banner, but one wrong move in the Game of Thrones can be quite costly. After agreeing to marry the daughter of Lord Walder Frey, Robb instead went and married a beautiful nurse that he met on the field of battle. Bad move, Robb. Instead, an arrangement was made for Edmure Tully, Robb’s uncle, to take his place as the groom-to-be of Roslin Frey. At the wedding reception, Walder repays Robb’s treachery by murdering Robb, his mother Catelyn, his pregnant wife, Talisa, and even his dire wolf, Gray Wind. As the Frey soldiers ambush the Northern camp and decimate the remainder of Robb’s army, Gray Wind’s head is sewn onto Robb’s decapitated corpse and paraded around on a horse. For fans that expected Robb to storm into King’s Landing and avenge his father’s death, this was a rude awakening.
The Purple Wedding (season 4, episode 2: The Lion and the Rose)
When John Locke said that “life is nasty, brutish, and short,” we can only assume he was talking about Joffrey Baratheon. The tyrannical teenager that Thrones fans loved to hate finally met his match in the form of a cup of red wine, at his own wedding no less. Joffrey’s dictatorial tendencies were on full display at the lavish ceremony, where he repeatedly humiliates Tyrion before finally — to the relief of viewers everywhere — choking on his wine, writhing on the floor, turning a deep shade of purple, and dying painfully. At this point, it might just be safer for Westerosi wedding-goers to think twice about checking the “RSVP” box on the invitation.
The Red Viper’s Demise (season 4, episode 8: The Mountain and The Viper)
If there’s any way to guarantee yourself a spectacular death, it’s to carry yourself with the type of hubris exhibited by Prince Oberyn “The Red Viper” Martell. He prided himself on his fighting ability, his suave demeanor, his sexual prowess, and pretty much everything else. And if we’ve learned anything in five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones, it’s that pride is certainly a deadly sin. In a duel to decide the fate of Tyrion Lannister, the Viper’s acrobatic swordsmanship (spearsmanship?) would have won him the fight — and saved his own life — were it not for his insistence upon taunting his fallen opponent, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. Instead, Clegane popped Martell’s head like a cherry tomato in a gruesome scene that made even the most hardened Thrones fans avert their eyes.
Patricide (season 4, episode 10: The Children)
Coincidentally (or maybe not), this episode aired on Father’s Day. In the season 4 finale, Tyrion exacts some well-deserved revenge upon his father and his ex-lover. Upon escaping from one of the many dungeons in King’s Landing with aid from his brother Jamie, Tyrion finally reaches the end of his short fuse. Justifiably upset after receiving some pretty unfair treatment during his trial — and seeing Martell throw away what might have been his only chance for redemption — the diminutive drinker takes advantage of his newfound freedom by heading down to Tywin’s quarters, where he sees Shea sprawled upon the bedsheets and swiftly throttles her with a chain. Tyrion moves on to find Tywin on the toilet and engages in one final verbal sparring match with his father before firing two crossbow arrows into Tywin’s chest.
Khaleesi Feeds her Dragons (season 5, episode 5: Kill the Boy)
Since Daenerys emerged from the flames unharmed at the end of the first season, her dragon companions had been all but absent from the screen. Apart from a few short scenes early on and, of course, Daenerys’ memorable escape from the Meereen fighting pits atop Drogon’s back, the fork-tongued firebreathers remained mostly an empty threat, dwindling emblems of power for a queen desperate to maintain her throne. In season 5, though, the Mother of Dragons decided to make an example of Meereen’s Great Masters by feeding the slave drivers to her “children.” Despite the inconsequential status of the characters dying here, this episode marked the first time we saw the dragons strut their stuff — and it was glorious.
A Desperate Gambit (season 5, episode 9: The Dance of Dragons)
The Great Masters of Meereen weren’t the only characters to go up in flames in season 5. In one of the most shocking moments in Thrones to that point, Stannis Baratheon — at the behest of Melisandre — had his adolescent daughter Shireen burned at the stake in an attempt to garner favor (and power) from the Lord of Light. Thrones handled Shireen’s death in the same manner as some of the other more graphic incidents from the show, turning the camera away and allowing the audience to hear the screams. This one was not fun to watch.
For the Watch (season 5, episode 10: Mother’s Mercy)
Et tu, Olly? After firing the arrow that killed Ygritte, Jon Snow’s wildling lover, the young farm boy-turned-Watchman delivers the final blow in the bloody betrayal led by First Ranger Alliser Thorne. The brutal murder, carried out by a motley crew of Night’s Watchmen who think Jon Snow’s decision to allow wildlings refuge beneath the wall is more treasonous than literal treason, ended the life of the only real male protagonist left on the show. With Daenerys an ocean away, many viewers held out hope that Jon would be the hero to defeat the supernatural White Walkers and restore peace (or some semblance of it) to the Seven Kingdoms. Sadly, judging by Jon’s glassy stare and the growing pool of blood beneath him, it seemed (for the moment, anyway) as though Westeros would need to find a new savior.
Release the hounds (season 6, episode 9: Battle of the Bastards)
Joffrey Baratheon was bad. Ramsay Bolton was worse. He spent an entire season torturing and brainwashing Theon Greyjoy. He raped and abused his wife, Sansa Stark. He shot Rickon Stark with an arrow. He murdered his father and fed his step-mother to his dogs, whom he starved to make sure they were always ready to dine on human flesh. Ramsay was the most despicable villain on a show full of despicable villains, which is why it was so, so sweet to see him get his comeuppance. After Jon Snow, the wildings, and the Knights of the Vale defeat the Boltons and liberate Winterfell, Ramsay is locked away in the kennels. That’s when Sansa pays him a visit. With a smile, Sansa releases Ramsay’s underfed hounds, who eat their master face first. It’s just as gruesome as it sounds.
Bonus: The Tickler (season 2, episode 4: Garden of Bones)
In the grand scheme of things, the rat torture scene in season 2 is a minor occurrence, but it’s so unique and brutal that we just couldn’t leave it off our list. As Arya arrives at Harrenhall, occupied by Tywin Lannister and his forces, she sees a man nicknamed “The Tickler” torturing a man in the keep in search of information on the mysterious Brotherhood. When the man refuses to divulge information, the Tickler places a rat in a metal bucket, presses the bucket against the prisoner’s chest, and orders the bucket heated with flames. You can imagine the result, as the prisoner dies slowly and painfully. The Tickler, though, gets what’s coming to him, as Arya uses one of the three favors granted by Jaqen H’ghar to have him killed.
- Relive the horror and the glory of the 10 best Game of Thrones episodes
- The 10 most brutal battle scenes in Game of Thrones, from Hardhome to The Door
- Game of Thrones season 8 is coming! Here’s everything we know so far
- The best Game of Thrones theories
- Game of Thrones’ season 8 premiere reminds us why Daenerys shouldn’t be queen