If Game of Thrones Season 3 was a story of new unions being formed, Season 4 shook things up by giving us 10 episodes of people battling, competing, killing and splitting up, smashing all those precious alliances and truces against the rocks of betrayal and sheer survival. The result is one of the most shocking and violent seasons to date, delivering surprising deaths and also raising the bar for the show’s climactic battles.
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.
Joffrey vs. Pigeon Pie
If there were any doubts that Game of Thrones was a ruthless beast, Season 4 reminded us – and took only two episodes after the Red Wedding to do it. That, naturally, took place at another wedding: the Purple Wedding, between Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. But after humiliating Tyrion for the umpteenth time, and after Sansa was whisked away to Littlefinger by Ser Dontos Hollard (promptly killed by Littlefinger to cover his tracks), the nuptials were stopped mid-nup, by Joffrey choking to death on a poisoned pigeon pie. Jack Gleeson, easily one of the most repugnant screen presences in recent moment, bows out in the same brilliant style, going bright purple in the face with his gasping death. Everyone at home was just as shocked as Cersei.
The Night King vs. Craster’s Sacrifice
You may recall old man Craster from Season 3, who was sacrificing his sons to the White Walkers. This season, we actually get a look at what happens to them, as the White Walkers gather to transform one of the donated babies to into one of their own. It’s the first proper look we get at the White Walkers on their own terms, and it’s as creepy as anything you could imagine – not least because we also our first glimpse of the Night King.
Littlefinger vs. Lysa
Aiden Gillen keeps getting better with every season, even with an accent that wanders round all seven kingdoms of Westeros. He’s slipperier than ever as he steals Sansa away to The Eyrie for safety, where she finds him copulating furiously with her Aunt Lysa. But Lysa gets jealous of Littlefinger’s obvious soft spot for Catelyn Stark’s daughter, and when she confronts them both, he pushes her through the Moon Door in the middle of The Eyrie’s throne room – sending her plummeting to her death, and leaving her son, the wee six-year-old Robert Arryn, who’s disgustingly sickly and snooty. If that shows Littlefinger’s colours truer than ever, though, he’s surpassed by Sophie Turner’s Sansa, who goes on to lie and cover for Littlefinger, claiming that he didn’t kill Lysa at all – proof that the once vulnerable, fragile daughter of Ned Stark is done being a victim.
Tyrion vs. Cersei
With Joffrey dead, Cersei is baying for blood, and she bays for it specifically from Tyrion, who has always been the outsider of the Lannister clan. Put on trial, he ends up venting all of his hatred for the loathsome bunch, raging about the way Tywin has coerced a testimony against him by Shae, of how he has always been bullied, hated and ostracised – and Peter Dinklage delivers it with all the gusto, sincerity and moving passion that has made him the first name in each episode’s opening credits.
The Mountain vs. The Viper
Tyrion manages to find a way out of a death sentence – by once again calling for trial by combat. This time, though, Jaime can’t do it, which means that Ser Gregor Clegane, Cersei’s champion and an intimidating, towering fighter, goes into duel with Prince Oberyn “The Viper” Martell. Oberyn has the added motivation of revenge for the death of his sister and kids, and that pushed him to topple The Mountain for a crucial moment – and, as soon as he took his eyes off him, found himself on the floor with The Mountain on top, gouging out his eyes with bloody, violent determination.
Daenerys vs. Jorah
Iain Glen has become one of the MVPs of Game of Thrones, thanks to his dogged portrayal of the ever-loyal Jorah Mormont, the desperately faithful number two to Daenerys. But when Tywin, the cunning trickster, sent a pardon to him in Mereen, exposing the fact that Jorah was originally meant to be spying on Daenerys for the Lannisters (he’s since stopped, obviously), the Mother of Dragons has no choice but to banish him from service – and so we see Jorah removed from the Friend Zone, but not in the way he’d like. In a season of big moves and loud battles, this was a quiet blow that still hit hard.
The Night’s Watch vs. Everyone Else
If it’s big battles you want, Episode 9 doesn’t disappoint, with The Night’s Watch bracing to defend The Wall against Mance Rayder (the wonderfully frostbitten Ciaran Hinds) and his massive army of wildlings. Giants, giant arrows and even more giant grappling hooks are all unleashed in a spectacular hour of TV, one that climbs up the icy barrier and swoops down either side, as we see Jon killing people with hammers, members of the Watch reciting their vows in the face of a charging giant, and – most powerful of all – the death of Ygritte, whose last words to Jon Snow, of course, tell him he still knows nothing.
Bran. vs The Skeletons
Season 4’s big secondary arc involves Bran Stark, as he voyages North of the Wall with his new companions (no, the little boy from Love Actually doesn’t make it) and he and Hodor find themselves at the mercy of a field of animated skeletons – because if you’re a fantasy show, you should never miss a chance to pull some Ray Harryhausen magic out of the cupboard. The results ultimately leads to Bran becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, but before that, did we mention the animated skeletons?
Brienne vs. The Hound
In a season where we see The Wall almost fall down at the hands of a gargantuan force of wild soldiers, Season 4’s most exciting battle perhaps comes shortly after, as The Hound and Arya, continuing their journey to nowhere in particular, stumble across Brienne of Tarth. Determined to do her duty by Catelyn Stark, and protect both Arya and Sansa, she ends up in a sword-off with The Hound – and, proof that she’s one tough bad-ass – hands his canine butt to him on a platter. Arya watches quietly from the sidelines, along with Podrick, and you can’t blame them: this is one bloody affair that sees The Hound left for dead by Arya, as she instead hops on a boat to Braavos – a tantalising resolution to a storyline that might have merely been meandering, if it weren’t for that burst of violence.
Tyrion vs. Tywin
Nothing says burst of violence like a bit of patricide, and Tyrion Lannister doesn’t hesitate to shout it from the rooftops: freed from a prison cell by Jaime, he sneaks into the Tower of the Hand, discovers Shae is now with Tywon, and, after killing her, with a tearful apology, he grabs a crossbow and assassinates the most powerful man in Westeros on the privvy – with no apology in sight. Talk about the Iron Throne that man deserved.
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.