As enhanced editions of George R.R. Martin’s novels come to iBooks, we’re celebrating the most unforgettable ‘Game of Thrones’ scenes.
When novelist-turned-screenwriter George R.R. Martin returned to the printed page to publish A Game of Thrones 20 years ago, he had a mission: write an epic fantasy too spectacular to be filmed. In a sense, he was successful. Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ blockbuster adaptation of the Song of Ice and Fire series that the show’s namesake novel kicked off, was too spectacular to be filmed – until the risk-taking, boundary-pushing New Golden Age of TV Drama made it possible. The result is, in every sense of the word, one of the biggest shows on television.
Now there’s a version of the source material that’s even bigger. Enhanced Editions of all five Ice and Fire novels to date – A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance With Dragons – are coming to Apple’s iBooks Store, featuring interactive maps, family trees, annotations and more. To honor this maester-worthy event, we’re counting down the 25 greatest moments in GoT history. From kisses to killings, baths to beheadings, shock endings to weddings of every color – these are the scenes and sequences that make Westeros the home of great storytelling.
25. Dany Burns the Slave Masters
Season 3, Episode 4: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”
“Dacarys.” In a single word – High Valyrian for “dragonfire” – Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, became the Breaker of Chains. The moment she traded one of her priceless beasts to the sleazy slave masters of Astapor in exchange for their unstoppable Unsullied infantry, she freed her freshly purchased troops and gave her flying reptilian weapons of mass destruction the signal to torch her enemies. The victory was short-lived, but it was a rare moment of Game of Thrones violence that felt genuinely cathartic and justified – as well as showing just what a game-changer dragons would be on the battlefield. When people hold up the Khaleesi as an icon of all things badass, this is the moment they’re thinking of.
24. The Purple Wedding
Season 4, Episode 2: “The Lion and the Rose”
One of the most awe-inspiringly awful villains in the history of television, Joffrey Baratheon was a sneering, snobby sadist who wreaked adolescent havoc wherever he went. So no wonder the little bastard’s demise during the reception for his own wedding, to the shrewd and sexy Margaery Tyrell, was the feel-good event of that season’s Westerosi social calendar. Take another look at the boy king’s demise, however, and the schadenfreude is a bit less sweet. For one thing, the grand conspiracy between scheming pimp Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish and Marge’s grandma Olenna “The Queen of Thorns” Tyrell left two innocents (Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark) as scapegoats. More to the point, Joffrey died in agony in the arms of his incestuous parents – a fate it’s hard to wish on anyone. It’s classic George R.R. Martin: serving you the thing you think you want, but making it hard as hell to swallow.
23. Robb Stark Proclaimed ‘King in the North’
Season 1, Episode 10: “Fire and Blood”
The key moment to watch here isn’t when the Northern lords – who’ve helped Ned Stark’s son Robb defeat a Lannister army following his dad’s murder – declare this teen warlord their new monarch. It’s when those lords’ soldiers, drawn from their tents by the raucous chants of “THE KING IN THE NORTH!”, stare toward the noise with obvious unease. It’s all well and good for the rich and powerful to rebel against the Iron Throne, but it’s the common soldier who will do the bulk of the killing and dying. It’s a rare, but key moment of Game of Thrones focusing as much on the pawns as it does on the power players.
22. The Battle for the Wall
Season 4, Episode 9: “The Watchers on the Wall”
Honestly, it’s hard to single out any one moment from this episode-length set-piece struggle between the Night’s Watch and the wildling army overseen by King-beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder and red-bearded Tormund Giantsbane. Do you go with the giants and mammoth storming the gate? The gigantic ice scythe that sweeps attackers away like gnats? The jaw-dropping single-take shot of the fighting across the courtyard of Castle Black? The death of warrior woman Ygritte in the arms of Lord Snow, the man she hates and loves more than anyone else? Under director Neil Marshall, the whole affair feels like one continuous heart-stopping stand-out sequence.
21. Stannis Baratheon vs. the Wildings
Season 4, Episode 10: “The Children”
Here he comes to save the day! Until this moment, steely Stannis seemed in many ways to be the least appealing of Iron Throne’s claimants: obsessed with the rule of law, unfriendly even to close advisors, prone to black sex-magic rituals, et cetera. But at the moment when things were darkest for the Night’s Watch and the realm they protected, the Lord of Dragonstone and his men came from out of freakin’ nowhere to cut down the Wildlings before they could overwhelm the Wall. In that fateful charge, Stannis the Mannis showed he wanted to win the crown by winning over the people, not the other way around.
20. Theon Captures Winterfell
Season 2, Episode 6: “The Old Gods and the New”
The sad, squalid, rain-soaked “triumph” of turncoat Theon Greyjoy over the forces loyal to the Starks, the family that raised him, was one of the series’ best acted, best shot, and best scored sequences up until that point. The prince of the Iron Islands had been charged by his foster brother Robb with winning over his father Balon to the Northern cause. Instead, he turned on his lifelong friend to win his dad’s approval, then attempted to impress the old man even further by seizing Winterfell directly. And just to show he meant business, Theon took it upon himself to behead Ser Rodrik Cassel, the aging knight who’d taught him how to wield a sword in the first place. The botched execution took place in full view of the sobbing, screaming Bran and Rickon to boot. “Victory” never tasted so sour.
19. Stannis Burns His Daughter Alive
Season 5, Episode 9: “The Dance of Dragons”
Sadly for Stannis, the good vibes couldn’t last forever. Baratheon’s rescue of the Night’s Watch and his decision to retake the ancestral Stark home from those who stole it made him seem like a decent guy. But when the going got tough, the man who would be king decided to sacrifice a princess, hoping that burning his disfigured daughter Shireen alive would please the Lord of Light. Instead, his wife committed suicide, half his army deserted him, and his offspring died in agony – all so that he could get his ass kicked by mad Ramsay Bolton and get beheaded by Brienne of Tarth. Grotesque in its own right, the killing of the child was also a total waste. While the murder hasn’t yet occurred in the books, one can only imagine how horrifying it’ll be in Martin’s hands.
18. Tyrion’s Drinking Game
Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”
Who says Game of Thrones can’t be funny? In the words of Tyrion Lannister himself, “Look how much fun we’re having!” By the time the Imp, his mercenary BFF Bronn, and his newfound sex-worker girlfriend Shae got loaded on the eve of his first big battle, Peter Dinklage’s hedonist had already become one of the show’s biggest stars. But this sequence was GoT at its emotionally wide-ranging best: The little Lion’s interplay with Shae was sexy, his back-and-forth with Bronn was hilarious … and the story of his first marriage — destroyed by his father, who ordered the bride to be sexually assaulted for the impudence of wedding a Lannister— was heartbreakingly brutal.
17. The Hound and Arya Team Up
Season 4, Episode 1: “Two Swords”
Technically, the episode title refers to the twin blades that Tywin Lannister created from the melted-down remnants of Ned Stark’s Valyrian steal greatsword. But the pair of weapons that really stole the spotlight were the ones wielded by Sandor “The Hound” Clegane – the former attack dog of House Lannister, now gone rogue — and wild-child survivor Arya Stark. Equal parts hostage, frienemy and protégé, she wound up helping him take down an inn full of Lannister goons, after which the two rode off into the sunset side by side. Never before had the viewing public been so thrilled to watch a little girl turn into a vicious killer.
16. Jon Snow’s Resurrection
Season 6, Episode 2: “Home”
It’s one of the greatest cliffhangers in the history of fantasy. The murder of Night’s Watch Lord Commander Jon Snow by his own men ended both Season Five of Game of Thrones and the fifth volume of George R.R. Martin’s source novels, A Dance With Dragons. Yet all the thematic and prophetic signs pointed to Lord Snow’s comeback – and sure enough, after some mystical mumbo-jumbo courtesy of resident court sorceress Melisandre, Jon rose again to fight another day. Does this make him the “Prince That Was Promised,” the messiah figure who will defeat the White Walkers and their zombie army? Or is he just, like, super-lucky? Only the author knows for sure.
15. Cersei Blows Up King’s Landing
Season 6, Episode 10: “The Winds of Winter”
Today, Cersei Lannister settled all family business. After a season and a half suffering losses courtesy of her enemies – from political rivals in the rich, popular House Tyrell to the fanatical followers of the religious fundamentalist the High Sparrow – the Queen Mother put the mother of all W’s in the win column. With the help of her mad-scientist right-hand-man Qyburn, she blew up a cache of wildfire under the Great Sept of Baelor during the trial of Margaery and Loras Tyrell, killing both them and their captor in one gigantic green explosion. Sure, it cost her the life of her son King Tommen as well, since he killed himself after realizing his wife Marge had been murdered. But that’s a small price to pay for the Iron Throne, isn’t it?
14. The Death of Viserys Targaryen
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Golden Crown”
Khal Drogo, the musclebound ruler of a horde of Dothraki horselords, promised the older brother of his bride Daenerys that he’d get a golden crown as a result of their alliance. But when Viserys taunted and tormented his kid sister one too many times, her husband opted for a literal interpretation of their deal: He poured molten gold onto the would-be Dragon King’s head, boiling him alive. An early jolt to the system that prefigured many shocking mortal-coil-shuffles to come, Targaryen’s demise was notable for many things: his genuine sadness upon realizing Dany wants him dead; the Khaleesi’s sneering — and prophetic — one-liner, “fire cannot kill a dragon”; that sickening “thunk” sound effect when his gilded noggin hits the ground; and giving the show its greatest death by pun to date.
13. Bronn’s Trial by Combat
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Golden Crown”
It was a the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The seasoned, skillful sellsword named Bronn helped Lady Catelyn Stark capture Tyrion Lannister. But when it came time for the Imp to stand trial for his crimes, the mercenary heard opportunity knocking. Switching sides in hopes of receiving serious Lannister gold, he handily dispatched the armor-clad champion of Cat’s sister by moving fast and playing dirty. One of our first real glimpses of the no-nonsense way the show would handle swordfighting – i.e. people swinging huge sharp chunks of metal at each other until one of them can no longer get up – it also gave us one of its key bits of dialogue. “You do not fight with honor!” yelled Lady Arryn at the man who’d defeated her knight. “No,” Bronn responded, before pointing at the “moon door” through which he’d just tossed the loser to his death. “He did.”
12. Jaime Lannister’s Hot Tub Confession
Season 3, Episode 5: “Kissed by Fire”
TV has seen its share of odd couples before – but Felix Unger and Oscar Madison never bathed nude together (that we know of). There’s much more to the steam bath shared by maimed, disgraced kingsguard Jaime Lannister and his enemy-turned-wary-ally Brienne of Tarth than meets the eye, even though plenty meets the eye. Worn down by his wounding and his constant battle of words with the warrior woman, the captive lets his guard down, revealing the true story of why he became the Kingslayer: He slew the mad regent Aerys Targaryen to stop him from burning King’s Landing to the ground. In the end, the exhausted knight collapses in the Maid of Tarth’s arms, asking only that she call him by his real name. It’s a moving moment that shows a softer and more heroic side of a previously loathsome character.
11. The Walk of Shame
Season 5, Episode 10: “Mother’s Mercy”
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” Instantly infamous and punishingly long, the nude “walk of atonement” Cersei Lannister is forced to endure after entering a partial guilty plea was as shocking as any death the show has served up. Why? On one hand, it’s a crystal-clear illustration of the brutal misogyny of Westerosi society, even toward those in a position of privilege. On the other, it humanized the series’ greatest villain. If you couldn’t feel empathy toward the Queen Mother despite all her crimes as she was harried through the streets, exposed and humiliated courtesy of the High Sparrow, you’re watching the wrong show.
10. The Kiss on the Wall
Season 3, Episode 6: “The Climb”
To paraphrase David Bowie, let’s remember Jon Snow and Ygritte standing on the Wall, where they kissed as though nothing could fall. The star-crossed couple’s big moment came after a pulse-pounding sequence in which their raiding party scaled the treacherous icy obstacle, nearly dying in the process, so their mere survival was cathartic enough. But the future Lord Commander and his wildling lover seized the moment – and the stunning, sunlit view – and locked lips in the series’ single most romantic shot to date. Game of Thrones so rarely gives us reasons to simply be happy; these two crazy kids never got one again.
9. The Battle of the Bastards
Season 6, Episode 9: “Battle of the Bastards”
It’s hard to connect the inexperienced kid making out with his girlfriend on top of the Wall with the resurrected warlord drowning under a mountain of corpses, fighting to retake his ancestral home. But that’s Westeros for you: You’ve got to grow up fast if you want to survive, and even that’s no guarantee. This merciless match-up, pitting Jon’s Northern alliance of wildlings and Stark loyalists against smiling psychopath Ramsay Bolton’s army, outdid every other human-versus-human battle for sheer carnage. Its depiction of the horror of war, a central tenet of both the show and Martin’s books, was so hideous that by the time Lady Sansa Stark sent in the cavalry, it felt less like a victory and more like a mercy killing. The sheer scale of the nightmare was unprecedented.
8. The Mountain and the Viper
Season 4, Episode 8: “The Mountain and the Viper”
Played with swagger and style by Narcos‘ Pedro Pascal, Prince Oberyn Martell was the breakout star of the show’s fourth season — horny, funny, and deadly in equal measure. The Red Viper had come to King’s Landing to seek vengeance against House Lannister and its chief goon for their role in the death of his family back in the day. There’s just one problem: Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, portrayed by world-class strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, is the biggest, scariest, toughest creep in the Seven Kingdoms. Just when it seemed the prince had defeated the behemoth, the Mountain rallied just long enough to confess his crimes … and crush the Viper’s skull like a casaba melon. Gross even by GoT standards, the moment left us as shocked as the Imp.
7. The Night King Triumphant
Season 5, Episode 8: “Hardhome”
You want an anti-war metaphor? How about a literal avalanche of bloodthirsty corpses raining down on humanity? That was the fate that befell the isolated village of Hardhome in an out-of-nowhere attack by the White Walkers and their undead army on those who’d gathered there in a last-ditch attempt to get everyone out of harm’s way. But the truly stunning moment came after the fighting stopped and the few survivors, including Jon Snow, started drifting away on their boats. The Walkers’ leader, the Night King, raised his arms – and every man, woman, and child who’d just died rose again, ready to kill. Accompanied only by the sound of the waves, this face-off between good and evil was the series at its epic-fantasy best.
6. ‘Hold the Door’
Season 6, Episode 5: “The Door”
Nietzsche’s warning that he who fights monsters may well become a monster himself has received more than its fair share of support here. But few things were more heartbreaking, and surprising, than what happened to young psychic Bran Stark and the towering, mentally disabled Hodor. Fleeing from a raid on the cave where the little lord was learning magic, Bran and his companions exited the cavern with the living dead just yards behind them. Thanks to the boy’s telepathic time travel, his friend Meera Reed’s plea to “hold the door” was psychically burned into the mind of a young servant named Willas decades earlier. His vocabulary was reduced to a shortened single-word version of the phrase: “Hodor.” Through a cruel twist of fate, Stark could only live to help save humanity from the White Walkers by accidentally inflicting damage on an innocent man. The revelation was breathtakingly sad.
5. Mother of Dragons
Season 1, Episode 10: “Fire and Blood”
Stop for a second and think about the out-there image that both Game of Thrones and its namesake novel ended with: A nude young woman emerging from the ashes of her husband’s funeral pyre, her body crawling with freshly hatched dragons. This iconic visual marked a major turning point in the life of Daenerys Targaryen, her followers, their society –and for us as well. It was a mainline injection of capital-f Fantasy, fantastic beasts and all. The ruthlessly realistic world of Westeros and its neighbors just got way more magical. And the Mother of Dragons got her name.
4. Bran Pushed Out the Window
Season 1, Episode 1: “Winter Is Coming”
“The things I do for love.” Ask any reader of George R.R. Martin’s first Song of Ice and Fire novel, and they’ll likely tell you this was the moment that hooked them. A playful, good-hearted little boy stumbles across the queen fucking her own brother – then gets unceremoniously thrown by Jamie Lannister to what appears at first to be his death? This simply isn’t done in fantasy, whether on the page or on the screen. But Martin went ahead and did it anyway. The show smartly ended its pilot with Bran Stark’s fall, sending the message that anything could happen here, to anyone …
3. The Death of Ned Stark
Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”
… and here’s where they proved it, once and for all. Played by Sean Bean, the cast’s best-known actor, Ned Stark was the undisputed, top-billed hero of the show and its source novel, the face on all the posters, the heroic figure standing for truth and justice against an unjust new regime. None of that saved him. When King Joffrey’s executioner dropped the axe on Ned’s neck, he shocked the world, both on-screen and off. No other moment is as responsible for the cultural phenomenon that the novels and the show have become.
Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”
The first of Game of Thrones‘ four major battle sequences to date, “Blackwater” remains, in many ways, the one to top. Shot by director Neil Marshall, who’d return to helm “The Watchers on the Wall” two seasons later, the fight between Stannis Baratheon and the Lannisters for control of King’s Landing and the Iron Throne took up an entire episode, from build-up to the declaration of victory by Lord Tywin. In between was the most expansive and explosive action ever filmed for television – literally explosive, thanks to the huge green wildfire detonation that blew Baratheon’s navy to shrieking, smoking smithereens. With a focus on the human cost of the conflict on both sides, the sequence set the gold standard for blockbuster storytelling with heart and soul intact.
1. The Red Wedding
Season 3, Episode 9: “The Rains of Castamere”
It began with a music cue, the most ominous opening notes this side of John Williams’ Jaws theme. The moment that the wedding band began playing the Lannister anthem “The Rains of Castamere,” both Lady Catelyn Stark and we at home knew something was wrong. We just had no idea how wrong it could get.
What followed instantly entered the pop-cultural pantheon of shocking TV, placing the phrase “the Red Wedding” right up there with “Who shot J.R.?” Betrayed by Walder Frey and his partner in crime Roose Bolton, the Starks were ruthlessly slaughtered: King Robb shot multiple times and stabbed in the heart; his pregnant Queen Talisa and their unborn child knifed to death; and his mother Catelyn done in by a slit throat, collapsing to the floor to end both the episode and all hope of Stark victory. Whether you first attended the bloody nuptials while reading the third book in Martin’s series, A Storm of Swords, or caught it on HBO in the penultimate episode of the show’s third season, chances are good some part of you feels like you never made it out.