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The 21 Best Moments of Game of Thrones

The beheading of Ned Stark, the Red Wedding, and the burning of King’s Landing are among our picks for the biggest moments of the series. Plus, take our poll and tell us what would be on your list!

by | May 24, 2019 | Comments

In 2019, Rotten Tomatoes turns 21, and to mark the occasion we’re celebrating with a series of features that look back at the brightest moments on screen of the past two decades – and one year – and the things that have us excited for the future.

Game of Thrones is the latest title in the history of era-defining television – Seinfeld, Friends, The Sopranos – to reach its conclusion. Now that we know more – that Dany’s visions of the Red Keep at the House of the Undying so many years before was about ash, not snow, for one – some of the standout moments that brought us to this conclusion become clearer as well. We also talked to director Alan Taylor about a few of the epic scenes he oversaw. Read more of our interview with Taylor here.

Below are 21 of the biggest moments in the series’ eight seasons. Don’t like our picks? Take our poll or tell us your top moments in the comments.


21. “Hodor”

(Season 6, Episode 5: "The Door" 98%)
Directed by: Jack Bender
Written By: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Bran wargs into Hodor to help fight the wights invading the Three-Eyed Raven HQ. When Bran and Meera are safely out the door, she pleads with Hodor to “hold the door” – a refrain that young Hodor hears in Bran’s time-travel realm, forever changing the character.
MVP: Kristian Nairn
Why It’s On the List: Understanding how Hodor came to be afflicted was hugely satisfying, harrowing, and unforgettable.


20. Cleganebowl

The Hound versus the Mountain in Cleganebowl in season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (HBO)
(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 5: "The Bells" 49%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: The Hound finally faces off one-on-one against his brother.
MVPs: Rory McCann, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson
Why It’s On the List: It’s the battle royale that fans had been clamoring for, and the series did not disappoint.


19. Battle of Blackwater


(Season 2, Episode 9: "Blackwater" 100%)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Tyrion summons all of his bravery and leads the King’s Landing forces against Stannis’ army.
MVP: Peter Dinklage
Why It’s On the List: Dinklage’s delivery of Tyrion’s speech: “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them.”


18. The North Remembers


(Season 6, Episode 10: "The Winds of Winter" 99%; Season 7, Episode 1: "Dragonstone" 93%
Directed By: Miguel Sapochnik; Jeremy Podeswa
Written By: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moments: We’re cheating a little here, combining two moments — one season’s finale and the next season’s opening — into one. First, Arya Stark shows us what epic vengeance looks like when she plays the role of serving wench to feed Lord Walder Frey two of his sons, Black Walder and Lothar Frey, in a pie in season 6’s finale. Then in season 7’s premiere, she sports the face of Lord Frey to poison his brood of murderous sons with wine. She peels off the old man’s face and turns to his stunned wife: “When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”
MVPs: Arya Stark, David Bradley
Why They’re On the List: At the time, the extermination of House Frey was Arya’s bravest and most brutal move yet.


17. Cersei’s Walk of Atonement


(Season 5, Episode 1: "Winter Is Coming" 100%)
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Cersei finally escapes imprisonment by the High Sparrow by agreeing to his walk of atonement.
MVPs: Lena Headey with Hannah Waddingham as Septa Unella
Why It’s On the List: It was an unforgettable turn of fortunes for Cersei.


16. Jaime Pushes Bran from the Tower

Game of Thrones, season 1, episode 1, Jaime Lannister, Bran Stark screencap (HBO)
(Photo by HBO)

(Season 1, Episode 1: "Winter Is Coming" 100%)
Directed by: Timothy Van Patten
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Climbing a Winterfell tower, Bran Stark happens upon the queen, Cersei, having sex with her twin, Jaime. The latter pushes Bran from the tower hoping to permanently silence him.
MVPs: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Isaac Hempstead Wright
Why It’s On the List: Jaime’s act set the tone for the series to come: no one is safe.


15. The Execution of Littlefinger

Game of Thrones: Episode 67 (season 7, episode 7), debut 8/27/17: Maisie Williams, Aiden Gillen, Isaac Hempstead Wright. photo: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO
(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Season 7, Episode 7: "The Dragon and the Wolf" 87%)
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Sansa Stark puts Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on trial at Winterfell and sentences him to death for his crimes. Arya carries out the sentence.
MVPs: Sophie Turner, Aiden Gillen, Maisie Williams
Why It’s On the List: Machiavellian Littlefinger – the man who betrayed Ned Stark in season 1, then traded Ned’s daughter Sansa to the Boltons – finally gets the end many thought he long deserved.


14. Mountain Vs. the Viper

Viper versus Mountain, Game of Thrones (HBO)
(Photo by HBO)

(Season 4, Episode 8: "The Mountain and the Viper" 96%)
Directed by: Alex Graves
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Accused of regicide in the death of his nephew Joffrey Baratheon, Tyrion Lannister opts for trial by combat. Cersei chose violent, cruel, and massive Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane as her champion. Tyrion named his brother, skilled swordsman Jaime, to fight for him, but was refused because the elder Lannister was far away fighting in the Riverlands. Because the Mountain raped and killed Elia Martell and murdered her children, her brother, Dornish prince Oberyn Martell – “The Viper” – steps up to defend the former acting hand of the king. Instead of a triumphant victory, he gets his eyes squished out of his head after taunting The Mountain.
MVPs: Pedro Pascal, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Indira Varma
Why It’s On the List: One of the series’ most gruesome moments, the Viper’s death was the eye-squishing that shocked the world. The events lead to a complete breakdown of the Martell family’s rule over Dorne. The Viper’s lover, Ellaria Sand, stages a coup of the kingdom-state, murdering Prince Doran Martell, and later allies with Daenerys Targaryen.


13. The Purple Wedding (Death of Joffrey)


(Season 4, Episode 2: "The Lion and the Rose" 100%)
Directed by: Alex Graves
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Olenna Tyrell facilitates the poisoning of cruel King Joffrey at his wedding to her granddaughter Margaery Tyrell.
MVP: Jack Gleeson
Why It’s On the List: After 31 episodes of Joffrey, “The Lion and the Rose” provided fans with a brutal end to the kingdom’s first vicious, idiot king.


12. The Murder (and Resurrection) of Jon Snow


(Season 5, Episode 10: "Mother's Mercy" 92%)
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Several disgruntled Night’s Watch brothers, led by Alliser Thorne, lure Jon Snow into a corner of Castle Black’s courtyard and take turns stabbing him.
MVPs: Kit Harington, Owen Teale as Alliser Thorne, Brenock O’Connor as Olly
Why It’s On the List: Another Stark family death that no one saw coming – based on the show’s history, there was no reason to think that a Stark would come back – except the Red Woman. Melisandre’s presence rightly gave viewers hope that Jon would be resurrected, but they would have to wait until season 6 to find out.


11. The Trial of Cersei Lannister

(Season 6, Episode 10: "The Winds of Winter" 99%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Don’t remember Cersei’s trial? That’s because there wasn’t one. The Queen Mother blew up the Great Sept of Baelor – and one-fourth of King’s Landing along with it – with wildfire rather than submit herself to examination by the High Sparrow and his righteous thugs.
MVPs: Lena Headey, Dean-Charles Chapman, Natalie Dormer, the VFX team, editors, and composer Ramin Djawadi
Why It’s On the List: Cersei’s simmering glee, Queen Margaery’s desperate terror, the green plumes of ignited wildfire, and King Tommen’s utter devastation after the explosion – all accompanied by Djawadi’s haunting score – added up to a beautiful symphony of treachery, mayhem, and death.


10. The Wall Falls


(Season 7, Episode 7: "The Dragon and the Wolf" 87%)
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Beric Dondarrion and Tormund Giantsbane are on hand to witness a terrifying and historic moment for the Seven Kingdoms – and for fans of the show – when the Night King appears out of the fog riding ice dragon Viserion, who blasts a hole in The Wall. Thousands of wights and their White Walker overlords stream through the passage created by the fallen ice.
MVPs: VFX team
Why It’s on the List: Ice dragon + falling 700-foot magical ice Wall = top 10.


9. Aegon Targaryen

Jon Snow and Rhaegal in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (HBO)
(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 1: "Winterfell" 92%)
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Dave Hill
The Moment: Samwell Tarly tells his best buddy Jon Snow who his birth parents are: “You’ve never been a bastard. You’re Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne…sixth of his name — all of it.” The next episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” followed this moment with its companion scene: Jon telling Daenerys (to her horror). Sam and Jon’s chat was also preceded in the season premiere by Jon riding Rhaegal (pictured above) — as if Dany needed more proof of his lineage.
MVPs: John Bradley, Kit Harington
Why It’s On the List: It wasn’t the splashiest scene or the most dramatic, but it finally aired out the best-kept secret in the Seven Kingdoms. It was a highly anticipated moment and it had arrived.


8. Burning of King’s Landing

Drogon destroys King's Landing season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (HBO)
(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 5: "The Bells" 49%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: The Northern coalition led by Jon Snow and Grey Worm meet the Golden Company at the gates of King’s Landing. While they stare each other down, Daenerys has been busy blowing the Ironborn fleet to hell with dragon fire on Blackwater Bay. When she’s done there, she starts on the city’s ramparts, destroying the scorpions meant to bring down her dragon, and finally makes her way to the main gate where she surprises Harry Strickland and his men with a blast of dragon fire from behind. Daenerys takes a breather with Drogon on the wall waiting for the bells to ring, signaling the city’s surrender. The bells do ring, but the Dragon Queen gets a wild-eyed look and sets upon the streets of King’s Landing, unleashing Drogon’s fiery vengeance. “You slaughtered a city!” Tyrion later scolds her.
MVPs: VFX team, Emilia Clarke for her effort in selling a moment that no one wanted
Why It’s On the List: Many didn’t agree with this plot turn, arguing that the behavior Daenerys displayed was out of character and only served as a cheap way of getting to an end; that is, giving Jon Snow irrefutable cause to also act out of character and execute her. The episode landed dead last on the Tomatometer of all 73 episodes. The burning of King’s Landing makes our top 10 here for its artistry, horror, and infamy.


7. Viserion Becomes an Ice Dragon

Viserion blue eyes Game of Thrones season 7, episode 6 (HBO)
(Photo by HBO)

(Season 7, Episode 6: "Beyond the Wall" 84%)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Traveling beyond the Wall to save Jon Snow and his wight-hunting party, Daenerys finds out that her dragons are vulnerable when the Night King hurls a lance and kills Viserion. Before he can reload his magical throwing arm, she loads up Drogon with the hunting party (minus Jon) and flies away back to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
MVPs: VFX team, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke
Why It’s On the List: From the wight army threat to the dragon flame, exploding ice, and downing of the great beast, everything in the final fight of the episode up and through the moment of Viserion’s death was epic, and the turning of the dragon was one of the series’ most surprising twists. Plus, the emotional investment the actors put into the moment was palpable and perfect.
Director’s Note: “The fact that you’re basically killing a puppy,” Taylor told Rotten Tomatoes, “you know it’s gonna have a very strong resonance with the audience, so I was really grateful to be able to handle that moment. And the reveal of the turn at the end, of course, was one of the yummiest episode-enders I’d ever been given – when we see the blue eye open and know what that means.”

Read more of Taylor’s take on the birth of ice dragon Viserion.


6. The Battle of the Bastards / The Death of Ramsay Snow


(Season 6, Episode 9: "Battle of the Bastards" 98%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Technically two moments, but so intertwined that the latter could not have happened without the former – and Sansa Stark gets mad credit for both. From her “I’ll do it without you” shaming of Jon at Castle Black, to calling in the Knights of the Vale, to releasing the hounds on Ramsay: all Sansa. “Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. All memory of you will disappear.” Jon swung the sword, but when all hope was lost, the future queen’s diplomacy and strategy saved the day.
MVPs: Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Iwan Rheon
Why It’s On the List: All corners of the episode from performance to directing, to production and art design, costuming, and the pure blood, sweat, and tears – surely there were tears! – that made this scene come together were superb. The episode won six Emmys in 2016: Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic), Outstanding Special Visual Effects, Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour), Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series. The series also won Outstanding Drama Series that year.


5. Arya Stark Kills the Night King

Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3 (HBO)
(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 3: "The Long Night" 74%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Theon Greyjoy finds redemption protecting Bran Stark from the wight horde and the Night King, but loses his life. Just when it seems all hope is lost, the hero of Winterfell breezes past the White Walkers before they even know she’s there, and puts a knife in the Night King’s belly. He shatters into a million ice shards, the White Walkers also explode, and the wights, including ice-dragon Viserion, all crumble to the ground as so many rotting bags of bones.
MVPs: Maisie Williams, Alfie Allen
Why It’s On the List: Thus, the war against the dead ends.


4. Dragons!

Daenerys Targaryen Game of Thrones (HBO)HBO

(Season 1, Episode 10: "Fire and Blood" 100%)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Daenerys Targaryen honors her dead husband with a king-size funeral pyre and places her dragon eggs alongside him, she adds the witch for a taste of vengeance, sets the lot on fire, then walks into the inferno. At daylight, Jorah Mormont and Rakharo approach the smoldering embers and find Daenerys, naked with three newly hatched dragons.
MVPs: This was Emilia Clarke’s moment with an impressive debut by three adorable baby dragons
Why It’s On the List: The arrival of Daenerys’ children delivered the fantasy to this fantasy epic after an entire season of talk of magic, monsters, and dragons.
Director’s Note: “A lot was going on there, obviously. It’s a tragedy, it’s a funeral, it’s the end of things, and as we discovered, it’s the beginning of everything, too. I know — I’ve heard this, and we spoke about it — that Emilia did not think her character expected to die in the flames…There’s a wonderful look she gives to Iain Glen, when he’s all torn up, when she’s about to walk in, she looks at him, and it’s such a forgiving, letting-go look, from such a place of wisdom, that I thought it was really beautiful, and that for me, was sort of the attitude that Emilia had Daenerys take into the flames, that she knew the rightness of what she was doing,” Taylor said. “She’s a Targaryen, and I think in her mind, she sort of knew flames were not gonna be the problem…that it wasn’t necessarily her death that she was walking to. I don’t think, certainly nobody, including her, expected the birth that happened, with her three sidekicks. But that was the beginning of the new dawn.”

Read more of Taylor’s take on the hatching of Daenerys’ children. 


3. Jon Snow Kills Daenerys Targaryen

Game of Thrones season 8, episode 6, series finale "The Iron Throne" (HBO)
(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 6: "The Iron Throne" 49%)
Written and directed by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: So it’s all come down to this. Eight seasons of following the adventures of the young Night’s Watch warrior and the Dragon Queen, worrying about their choices and the dread of what’s to come, feeling their heartbreak and pain, and witnessing their phoenix-like rebounds, only to have the one (Ice – not the sword) kill the other (Fire). And to punctuate the moment, Drogon melts down the Iron Throne.
MVPs: Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, and the episode’s VFX team for Drogon
Why It’s On the List: Putting aside other major developments from the finale – that Bran the Broken is now king of the Six Kingdoms, the North seceded the union and crowned Sansa queen in the North, and Arya is now a famed and feared assassin-adventurer of Westeros – this was the true end of the tale, the “Song of Ice and Fire.” That this Targaryen love story couldn’t have a happily-ever-after ending was devastating to a vast swath of fans who hoped or expected that the characters would choose love, not tyranny and assassination. Vocal fans on social media weren’t the only ones grousing; critics weighed in and gave the episode one of the worst scores in the series’ 73-episode history, and, in perhaps an even more stunning turn of events, the season is now Rotten on the Tomatometer.


2. The Death of Ned Stark


(Season 1, Episode 9: "Baelor" 100%)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: King Joffrey fools everyone, promising that Ned Stark will get to confess his sins against the crown and head to the Wall to take the black, joining the Night’s Watch. Instead, and seemingly on a whim, he decides that Ned should lose his head.
MVPs: Sean Bean, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Jack Gleeson
Why It’s On the List: Ned’s death set the stage for his son to be named King in the North – and every tragic consequence of the Seven Kingdoms’ split.
Director’s Note: “The most emotional moments [of the scene] for me were some of the stuff between the way we crosscut between Ned and his daughters and certainly between Ned and Arya, who sort of inherits the narrative, at the end of that episode. We hand off from Ned, and sort of take it to her in a way that I was happy with, because of course, her character, like all characters, has a long road ahead of them,” Taylor said. “Ned Stark was the lynchpin, the centerpiece of the whole thing, and his performance, I still think, is just heartbreaking and beautiful, and it’s partly because I have daughters…but I think I identify with him up there: kind of a combination of anguish and shame and despair. His performance was perfect.”

Read more of Taylor’s take on the beheading of Ned Stark.


1. The Red Wedding


(Season 3, Episode 9: "The Rains of Castamere" 100%)
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Roose Bolton along with Walder Frey and his brood of murderers kill Robb and Talisa Stark, their unborn child, Catelyn Stark, and the Stark army.
MVPs: Michelle Fairley as the Stark matriarch, and David Bradley as the head Frey in charge
Why It’s On the List: The Red Wedding drew the ultimate line in the sand between the Lannisters and the Starks – between ruthlessness and decency. From that point forward, the series became a battle of good and evil.


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