7. SEASON THREE: “MHYSA”
Coming right off the back of the Red Wedding, “Mhysa” was more an epilogue than a season finale. All of the shocking, emotional moments had taken place in the episode prior, and we needed a cool-down so we didn’t all collectively pull a hamstring trying to flee from any and all memories of Catelyn and Robb’s last moments.
Highlights from this episode include the introduction of Reek, Bran heading north of the Wall for the next three-and-a-half seasons, Jon leaving Ygritte and the wildlings to return to Castle Black, and Daenerys’ ascent into Mereen at the hands of the newly freed slaves. Decent moments, but they pale in comparison to the crazy stuff that goes down in the other finales.
6. SEASON FIVE: “MOTHER’S MERCY”
“Mother’s Mercy” was an episode characterized by drastic (albeit temporary) changes for most of the show’s principle characters. At the time, this was a great finale–many of its scenes are, individually, incredibly well done and powerful. But its appeal is severely diminished by the curse of hindsight, as nearly every dramatic shift in position and status was revoked in season six.
Here’s what happened in “Mother’s Mercy”: Jon Snow died, Cersei was shamed in front of the entire city, Ramsay Bolton still controlled Winterfell. Here’s what happened in season six: Jon Snow came back to life, Cersei became the most powerful person in the Seven Kingdoms, Ramsay no longer controlled Winterfell and was, in fact, super dead. The one major plot point that wasn’t immediately overwritten was Arya’s murder of Meryn Trant and final transformation into No One… except it wasn’t final, because in season seven she’s Arya again.
5. SEASON TWO: “VALAR MORGHULIS”
Whereas “Mother’s Mercy” featured temporary changes, the shift in power dynamics seen in “Valar Morghulis” set up the show for years to come. Firstly, Tyrion woke up from his injuries at the Battle of Blackwater to discover that he was no longer Joffrey’s Hand; Tywin was. This was step one in Tyrion’s descent from top-of-the-world to rock-bottom, which lasted until midway through Season six.
But the Starks were the reason this episode shined. Jon killed Qorin Halfhand to sate the wildlings, Arya received the Braavosi coin from Jaqen H’qar and learns the phrase “Valar Morghulis,” and Robb married Talisa in secret. Jon’s first step to befriending the wildlings, Arya’s first step to becoming No One, and Robb’s first step to death.
4. SEASON SEVEN: “THE DRAGON AND THE WOLF”
In a season so full of destruction and so lacking in character interactions, “The Dragon and the Wolf” featured a whole lot of talking. This is great, as the talking has always been Game of Thrones‘ strong suit. However, I wish that some of last night’s focus on dialogue had been spread throughout the season. Don’t get me wrong–the battles have been fun, but the show has lost its intrigue and politics in favor of explosions and blood. That being said, this episode was definitely satisfying.
Jon and Dany got it on, both Lannister men called Cersei’s bluff and knew that even she wouldn’t kill her family, and the Stark sisters finally put an end to Littlefinger. Oh yeah, also THE WALL CAME DOWN! I’ve read dozens of fan theories over the years speculating who would be the third dragon rider, but they were all wrong. Turns out, it’s not Tyrion, it’s the freaking Night King.
3. SEASON ONE: “FIRE AND BLOOD”
Ah, season one. After Ned Stark’s death, no one was safe. Well, except No One. This episode–minus Daenerys–showcased the characters’ relationships in ways that most other season finales haven’t. Joffrey assaulted Sansa via Meryn Trant, only for the Hound to comfort her. This was the first inkling that the Hound might not be the evil man everyone thought, even if the Hound still thinks he is. Jon deserted the Wall to avenge his father, but his friends convince him that he is needed at the Wall.
Since then, Jon has done everything in his power to defend the Wall and its people. Arya fled King’s Landing with Gendry and Hot Pie, sparking a friendships that has lasted all the way through season seven. But Daenerys is the reason this episode is rated so highly. She finally took charge of her own destiny; Dany killed her husband out of mercy, executed the woman who sabotaged her pregnancy, then stepped into the funeral pyre herself. When she emerged, Daenerys was the Mother of Dragons and the true Khaleesi.
2. SEASON FOUR: “THE CHILDREN”
“The Children” was a BIG episode. Stannis the Mannis rode straight through the wildlings sieging the Wall and Bran fought literal skeletons and was saved by a Child of the Forest. If that weren’t enough, Brienne of Tarth finally came to blows with Sandor Clegane and defeated him in single combat.
Arya was the real Lady Stoneheart when she stone cold ignored The Hound’s pleas for death and simply stole his money. If this episode had a single most shocking moment, it’d be in the hands of Tyrion. After discovering that his lover, Shae, was also having sex with his father, Tyrion straight up murdered both of them. Even better, this episode came out on Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day, Tywin.
1. SEASON SIX: “THE WINDS OF WINTER”
I’m just going to say it. “The Winds of Winter” is the best episode of the entire series. The opening 15 minutes, accompanied by Ramin Djawadi’s haunting score, was some of the tensest television in the past decade, culminating in the deaths of Margaery and Loras Tyrell, as well as Tommen Lannister. In one fell swoop, Cersei became the most powerful woman in the world. And look at that freaking outfit! Queen indeed. The episode went on to proclaim Jon Snow King in the North and reveal the truth of his parentage: Jon isn’t Ned’s bastard, he’s Lyanna and Rhaegar’s. Jon Snow is a Targaryen and a Stark. Praise R’hllor, The Lord of Light.