In honor of the faith of the Seven, and to pass the interminable wait for the conclusive episodes of Game Of Thrones, and not at all to scratch a compulsive itch that wouldn't go away once the idea occurred to me, I have decided to list my seven favorite moments from each of the first seven seasons. Videos will be embedded in the headings. Anyway, without further ado...
The S4 premiere heralded the arrival of a new swinging dick in King's Landing, Oberyn “The Red Viper” Martell. In short order, a single sequence establishes his suave, omnivorous sexuality, his exorbitant wealth, his unparalleled badass credentials, and his righteous, Inigo-Montoya-esque quest for revenge (and we haven’t even gotten to his mastery of poisons and poetry yet). Pedro Pascal deploys some superhuman charisma to make him seem almost plausible as a person, and of course GRR Martin knew exactly what he was setting us up for when he created this ridiculous Mary Sue character. And he knew that in this brutal milieu he had created, we would be desperate enough for someone to serve justice to the Mountains and Tywins of this world that we would embrace such an idealized characterization even less critically than we might in other circumstances. Which we did.
It should have been obvious from the start that Oberyn was going to love us and leave us. But it was also clear from the start that he was going to show us a really, really good time before he left.
Even before the long-overdue comeuppance of perhaps the most loathsome character in all of fictional history, this sequence is a literal feast. It’s impossible to pick the best small moment from the festivities. Jaime birddogging Loras? Oberyn/Ellaria and Tywin/Cersei? Varys’s face when the dwarf performer bops the back of his head? Brienne and Cersei? Joffrey sputtering wine all over himself, laughing at his own joke? The Dornish checking out Loras and the contortionist?
For the broad sweep of the show, and its dozens of schemers, warriors, ladies, monsters, and fools, we rarely get to see so many of them come together in one place outside a battlefield. The Small Council scenes are microcosmic versions of it, but it’s not until the big parlay in the Dragonpit in the S7 finale that we get so many different factions bouncing off each other in a single sequence. It’s a rare treat, even before we get to the delicious dessert.
I love Cersei, obviously. Which is what allows this scene to edge out the many other contenders from Oberyn. His powwows with Varys, with Tywin, with the Small Council, with Tyrion in jail, these are all great scenes that others may prefer. The quieter, more reactive mode he is in here does not showcase the roguish charm that defined the character, but the fact that he can be thoughtful and reserved when it suits his purposes does a lot to establish him as a GOT triple threat - not just a famous name and a sharp spear, but a keen mind that can spar with the schemers as nimbly as he can outdance the Mountain.
Headey is so great in scenes like this. You know that she is playing an angle. Oberyn does too, for that matter, since he tells Tyrion as much later on. But her ploy is simple and not even particularly devious; just to show him the genuinely grieving mother that Joffrey’s murder has left behind. It’s the closest she can get to a charm offensive, and it’s pretty damn glum for all that. But it would be one thing if she were just feeding him a line. None of the sentiment she expresses here is anything but true. She is suppressing her distaste for the Martells, certainly, but she has to do that. Not just because she wants the judge at the upcoming trial to look favorably upon her case, but also because her beloved daughter remains in their power. And while Oberyn means it when he says that they (currently) intend her no harm, Cersei is correct that there is no such thing as a place where girls are truly safe from harm. And events will prove that Dorne is absolutely not excluded from that.
Game Of Thrones is not a funny show. Sure, any story that has the slightest sense for how humans behave is going to strike upon the occasional amusing moment, but on the whole it is defined by its singularly grim and gritty approach to the fantasy milieu. This means that that a few of the dozens and dozens of characters really pop against the unremittingly grim tone just for having a discernible sense of humor - Tyrion, Bronn, Tormund, Olenna, Davos, and of course Arya. Lysa Arryn’s death represented a rather momentous shift in the power dynamics of the kingdoms, but she was such an infrequent and one-dimensional a character that we didn’t really feel it as a huge deal the way we did with various, less politically significant deaths. And the show doesn’t ask us to, but rather leans right into the bleak joke of the Hound spending all season dragging Arya across the country to ransom her to another relative that turns up dead at the last second. And Maisie Williams’ laughter is just the right shade of black; it’s the only way they could have played it, but no less perfect for that.
Shocking. Exciting. Graphic. Satisfying, then even more horrifying in turn. This is the quintessential Game Of Thrones sequence, delivering an action sequence as visceral and exhilarating as any in the series, with enormous stakes for Tyrion as well as the combatants themselves, and then delivering a sucker-punch every bit as vicious as Ned’s execution. And it is a plot turn that has repercussions throughout the ensuing seasons, sending Tyrion, the entire kingdom of Dorne, and the Mountain in very different directions than I was expecting. How many subsequent “Previously On” segments feature Ellaria’s horrified scream?
It’s everything, and along with the Red Wedding and the birth of the dragons, one of the indelible moments that people think of immediately when the show comes up in conversation.
Grenn was never a major character, but he was a likeable and loyal friend to Jon. And in a show where many more central heroes die frequently and badly, he went out like a bigger boss than any of them, facing down a goddamn giant, and rallying his less seasoned comrades with a forceful recitation of their vows. We don’t get to see the fight itself, but in the aftermath it is clear that both Mag the Mighty and Grenn of A Farm acquitted themselves heroically.
Season 4 really upped the show’s game in terms of action. I have 2 big fight scenes on this shortlist, and the attack on the mutineers at Crasters probably would have made it if I hadn’t just talked about a similar near miss/warging action sequence with Jon and Bran in the last entry. The entirety of “Watchers On The Wall” set a new standard for spectacle. There are many great moments – the watchman getting speared by the giant arrow, Edd taking the Wall and dropping the Scythe, Thorne showing genuine chops, Jon dueling the Magnar of Thenn and Ygritte’s death - but this is the one that stands out most in my memory.
Gwendoline Christie has been perhaps the show’s greatest find, bringing soul and grit to the very difficult character of Brienne. Each year she gets a big showcase fight - Loras and then Stark men in S2, Jaime in S3, the Hound in S4, Littlefinger’s men in S5, Bolton search party in S6, Arya in S7. This one is the best. A full blown slobberknocker with an opponent that has been established as at least as deadly a fighter as her, and a prominent enough character in his own right that it felt entirely plausible that he could kill her – particularly fresh off the (ahem) crushing turnout of the Mountain vs Viper. But even when the suspense of the outcome is removed, the choreography remains as good as any fight in the series, or about any other cinematic swordfight I can think of. And the scenery painfully gorgeous. But it’s also just important to savor when the good guys (even if our feelings about the Hound are as conflicted as Arya’s at this point, we’re certainly not rooting for him) win a round. Even if Brienne doesn’t recover a Stark girl as she intended, her walking away alive and with a world-class notch on her belt was a welcome relief after the knee to the balls that ended 4.08.
Bonus points for how good Maisie Williams is in the lead up to the fight, and the aftermath with the dying Hound.