Tits and dragons. That’s how Ian McShane famously described Game of Thrones, but while both of those are absolutely true, HBO’s fantasy epic has much more going on, enough to make it the biggest TV show of the modern era – a titan of dizzying scale, expensive effects, compelling characters, labyrinthine politics, violent revenge, and, yes, tits and dragons. The gratuitous physical content has since been (welcomely) toned down, while the dragons have been (impressively) dialled up, but the show’s growing presence in living rooms across the country has been building ever since its very first episodes, with Season 1 laying intriguing, thrilling and surprising groundwork for what was to come.
With the eighth and final season coming this April, and with all seven seasons available on Sky and NOW TV as box sets, we count down by looking back at some of the show’s best bits (in no particular order), season by season. The re-watch is dark and full of memorable moments.
“The things I do for love…”
Incest is a bad thing. The only thing worse? Pushing children out of windows 10 storeys up. Both of these truths were made undoubtedly clear by the very opening episode of Game of Thrones, which saw young Bran Stark climb a tower in Winterfell, only to discover Cersei and Jaime Lannister doing the unholy in secret. Their copulating turns out to be the root of everything that follows, with the death of Cersei’s husband, Robert Baratheon, causing Jaime and Cersei’s illegitimate son, Joffrey, to claim the throne – and sparking both challenges to his claim, and brutal betrayals and murders to protect it. And nothing marks out the most dangerous villains in the pack like seeing people willing to murder an innocent boy (by defenestration, no less) to cover up their sins. One hour in, and we already have everything we need to know about Game of Thrones.
“The lion doesn’t concern itself with the opinions of the sheep…”
Those are the tough words of Tywin Lannister, patriarch of the Lannister family and father to Cersei and Jaime. He’s speaking to Jaime as they prepare for battle against Robb Stark, son of Ned Stark, the family from Winterfell in the North who are quickly marked out as the honourable ones in this universe. Tywin, on the other hand, is the emblem of the opposite, even as he clings to a notion of nobility and status that is rapidly fading in this new, cutthroat generation. Gutting a deer in the middle of battlefield, Charles Dance’s gravelly performance marks Tywin out as a man to be feared, a man to be obeyed, and a father whose expectations of his children only breeds a toxic house of wealth, greed and cruelty. He’s got a great way with words, though.
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Ned Stark, BFF to Robert, reluctantly agrees to go to Kings Landing, capital of Westeros, and serve as Robert’s right-hand man – after the last was killed for investigating the true lineage of Joffrey Lannister. Ned, though, is foolishly open about all this, even confronting Cersei with the facts. She responds with one of the most iconic speeches in the show to date, outlining just how lethal the stakes in this harsh game are – a harbinger of the fate that awaits those who try and play by the honest rules.
“You’ve heard the phrase ‘a Lannister always pays his debts…'”
In the house of Lannister, there’s one man who’s looked down upon by the rest: Tyrion, the unwanted son of Tywin, who is humiliated and dismissed by his family for his diminutive stature. And no sooner have we met him, and been entertained by his drinking, womanising ways, than we see his gift for talking and persuading others into doing what he wants – starting with the guard tasked with monitoring him, after he’s arrested by Catelyn Stark, Ned’s wife, for being the suspected attacker of Bran. That’s not enough to hold back Tyrion, though, who emerges as the best thing in the programme, thanks to Peter Dinklage’s silver-tongued portrayal of the manipulating, yet strangely charming and sincere, outsider. The fact he shortly finds himself an ally in Bronn, the coolest side character in the whole show – cements a double-act that sees us through every subsequent season.
“It’s hard for them to bow without heads…”
One of the reasons for Game of Thrones’ success is its knack for summing up characters in a single, quotable lines of dialogue, without sacrificing complexities and depths to do it. Petyr Baelish, the wanderingly-accented master of the coin in Kings Landing (and devoted lover of Catelyn) is a case in point, as he manages a brothel and traffics in every piece of gossip and knowledge going. But he’s also in it to get the Iron Throne for himself, something that becomes clear when he trades words with Varys, a eunuch in the heart of the Kings Landing network of power who has his own sources of information. Where Varys serves the kingdom for the greater good, though, Baelish makes it plain that he’s only in it for himself – and that his polite smile hides a brutal determination.
“Treason shall never go unpunished.”
Those are the fateful words of Joffrey, who rules that Ned’s head – and all the dangerous knowledge it contains – should be severed from his body. It’s a horrifying, shocking moment, perhaps the most defining moment of the whole series, as it announces that Game of Thrones has no qualms with killing off its most famous cast member and most likeable character (he even was introduced to us in Episode 1 by watching him behead a traitor himself). The resulting surprise and outrage generated the kind of buzz that helped to make Game of Thrones must-see – and must-talk-about – telly.
“Or maybe he will give me yours…”
That’s Sansa, Ned’s daughter, after Joffrey (to whom Sansa is essentially betrothed) offers to give her Robb Stark’s head. Sansa’s reply is a short-fused one-liner for the ages, showing that the she’s prepared to stand up to the evil little king, even if she has had a crush on him, like, forever. But her inability to leave him, at least at first, also sets Sansa Stark on a firmly tragic path that will go on to span multiple seasons.
“I want the crown he promised me.”
That’s Viserys Targaryen demanding his payment for his sister, Daenerys Targaryen, after he sells her to Khal Drogo, leader of the ruthless Dothraki warrior tribe. And so he’s given a crown by Drogo – one of melted gold that’s poured directly onto his head, killing him on the spot. It’s a grisly, gruesome death, one that balances the horrifying departure of Ned Stark by letting us enjoy the downfall of a bad guy who had it coming – Game of Thrones trades in violence, but it can go both ways.
“The prince is riding…”
Ser Jorah, the devoted soldier who will love Daenerys to his dying day, translates the chants of the Dothraki for Viserys (pre-crowning), as they watch her eat a horse’s heart. Why? To prove to Khal Drogo that she could be worthy of the title Khaleesi. Not only does she gobble the whole thing down, raw, she’s keeps it down, and grins with the effort it takes. If you’re looking for the sign of someone worth fearing who isn’t a Lannister in this epic saga, this is it.
“Blood of my blood…”
Jorah, again, pledges his allegiance to his queen at the end of Season 1 – because we’ve just witness her walk into a fire (the pyre burning the body of the deceased Drogo) and emerge entirely unscathed. And also, with some new pets on her arms and shoulders: three freshly hatched dragons from eggs she was given as a ceremonial gift earlier in the season. As far as closing shots in TV shows go, this is a tough one to beat, as we see a tribe kneel down to this powerful figure – a figure who, after 10 episodes talking of how dragons no longer exist, wastes no time in writing a brand new mythology for the whole series. If you’re going to rewatch one sequence from Game of Thrones Season 1, this is the one to pick.
Game of Thrones Season 8 premieres on Monday 15th April at 2am on Sky Atlantic. Season 1 to 7 is available on-demand on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also watch Game of Thrones online legally in the UK with NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with a 7-day free trial for new customers.