With the eighth and final season coming at 2am on Monday 15th April, and with all seven seasons currently 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.
How do you make Game of Thrones even more epic? Cut a season from 10 episodes down to only seven. It’s a counterintuitive move for HBO’s fantasy epic, but one that makes it clear the writers aren’t looking to over-egg their pudding, aiming for quality over quantity. It also means that every episode has to have even more death, conflict and dramatic revelations than normal – which makes the prospect of the shorter, six-episode eighth season even more mouth-watering.
Here are Season 7’s top 13 moments:
Where do we begin?
Those four words are all we need after the gap between Season 6 and 7, as Daenerys and her team arrive at Dragonstone, a formidable castle at the entrance to Blackwater Bay and the once home of House Targaryen. Their quiet arrival, building to that question just before the end credits, is delivered with the kind of confidence of a show that knows it’s onto a good thing. The cool, tense atmosphere is then broke by Jon Snow’s hilarious arrival in Episode 2, as Missandei introduces Daenerys with all the titles and aplomb of a rightful ruler – and Ser Davos (the always-brilliant Liam Cunningham) simply replies with “This is Jon Snow. He’s King in the North.” Needless to say, they don’t find a compromise immediately, and neither refuse to back down from their moral principles.
Walder gets his just desserts
Nobody does cantankerous old villain quite like David Bradley, and he gets the chance to shine right at the start of the season, as he opens with a monologue that presages his bloody demise, not to mention the death of every single person involved in the Red Wedding, all at the same time. If you thought Arya wasn’t disturbing and homicidal enough, this is the moment for you, complete with the young Stark assassin going all Titus Andronicus on some pies.
Bronn vs. Daenerys
The Loot Train Battle isn’t the biggest showdown in Game of Thrones history, but it is one of the most agonising, as we see Daenerys and her dragons swoop down upon the Lannister fleet. It’s the first time we really see them in battle, and it’s devastating – and scarily awe-inspiring – how effective they are at burning a path through the field of tiny, flammable soldiers. What’s even worse than that is that this is also the first time we really have people to root for on both sides of the conflict: on the one, Daenerys and Tyrion, trying to make the world a better place; on the other, Bronn and Jaime, trying to stay alive. As Bronn lines up a giant crossbow to fire a harpoon at the dragon, do we want him to succeed? But, as horrifying as Drogon’s yelp of pain after being hit is, do we really want him to die? It’s a brief taste of the kind of emotional torture to expect in the final season – because it can only get worse from here.
Arya vs. Brienne
There might be less stakes in this face-off, but it’s equally riveting, as Arya unveils just how prodigious her fighting skills have become, post-Braavos. Brienne’s genuine surprise is a joy, as they spar fiercely in the Winterfell courtyard, but there’s also a note of satisfaction and pride, as Brienne finds her mission of protecting the Stark girls hasn’t become the disaster she once feared.
Olenna admits all
It was only a matter of time until Olenna Tyrell was bumped off by someone with a grudge, and, in this case, it’s the Lannisters, as Jaime poisons her wine and quietly, painlessly, delivers a lethal blow. But she doesn’t go silently, dropping a huge truth bomb with the revelation that, yes, she was the one who arranged the poisoning of Joffrey – and the knowledge that Tyrion wasn’t the one to blame after all is enough to start sowing seeds of doubt and division between Jaime and Cersei.
Sam saves Jorah
Every season needs some light-hearted relief from the fiery, icy doom that’s on its way, and this season, it comes from Samwell Tarley who goes with Gilly to become a Maester – and, while reading up and training (under the lovely Jim Broadbent), comes across Ser Jorah, whose Greyscale has taken over half of his body. Sam, not one to give up, finds an old book detailing a dangerous procedure and follows it to the letter, ultimately curing Daenerys’ right-hand man and saving his life. It gets him a well done from Broadbent’s mentor, but the Maesters refusal to take Bran’s warnings about the Night King and White Walkers seriously means that Sam ultimately leaves, frustrated, and heads back to Westeros to help Jon. Because all light-hearted diversions come to an end.
Littlefinger gets it
One of the most frustrating things about Season 7 is how Sansa and Arya, now reunited, continue to bicker and suspect each other of backstabbing. That’s fuelled by Littlefinger, who continues to sink his claws into them both – but, just when you think their characters are behaving inconsistently, they reveal that they’ve only being playing along to expose Littlefinger’s sneaky power games. And so, just as Baelish betrayed Ned Stark, they ambush him with an unexpected trial, and Sansa and Arya really come into their own as the new power couple to fear in the North. Aidan Gillen is great as ever, as he goes from surprise to anger to begging in tears on his knees. Maisie Williams is just as good, as Arya calmly, coolly delivers the coup de grace. To his neck.
Operation White Walker Kidnap
How do you convince a kingdom of people who don’t believe you that a host of zombies are advancing from the middle of nowhere and will soon wipe out everything? Jon Snow comes up with the unlikely solution: pop north of The Wall and kidnap a White Walker to ferry back to Kings Landing and show everyone what’s on the way. The result is a wonderful rag-tag bunch of people, from The Hound and Jon Snow to Jorah, Thoros and Tormund. But they’re inevitably outnumbered by the wights of the Night King, and they end up stranded on a frozen lake in the kind of set piece that would be perfectly at home in a big screen blockbuster. Fortunately, Gendry gets a raven to Daenerys who responds with a flying visit on a dragon, wiping out the White Walkers – only for the Night King to lob an ice spear into Viserion and killing him. They get away on Drogon, but we return at the end of the episode to see the Night King drag Viserion’s body out of the icy water, before reanimating him and turning him into a blue-eyed member of his now even more powerful army.
Daenerys comes to Kings Landing
Daenerys flying her dragon into battle is only topped by Daenerys flying her dragon into Kings Landing, as the swooping shadow of Drogon sees her touch down in the city – where she joins her key followers, including Jon and Tyrion. The latter arranged with Jaime for a meeting to show them the Walker, and that’s precisely what they do, scaring Cersei and the others with the reality of what’s happened. Cersei demands a neutrality pledge from Jon, who denies to stay true to Daenerys, and it falls to Tyrion to persuade Cersei to agree and join the fight against the Walkers. Meanwhile, there’s fun as Bronn and Tyrion are reunited, along with Podrick, and as Jaime and Tyrion swap cordial words, while there are no such kind utterances between The Hound and The Mountain 2.0, reanimated by Qyburn and Cersei and still proper creepy.
Jaime and Cersei split
Finally, after six seasons, the bond between Westeros’ unhealthiest power couple starts to crack. It’s all thanks to their disagreement over how to handle the White Walker Situation. While Jaime is all for banding together with the others, Cersei turns out to have lied to them, only pretending to fight alongside them rather than let her guard down. It’s the final straw, and leads to Jaime walking out and riding north – and Cersei threatening to have him killed by The Mountain 2.0.
Theon finds some self-respect
We would be remiss to look back at Season 7 and not mention the joy that is Pilou Asbæk (Borgen star, Tobias Lindholm’s regular lead actor, and Eurovision host), who appears as Euron Greyjoy. Killing off Theon and Yara’s dad, he declares himself king of the Iron Islands, before heading to Kings Landing and offering his hand in marriage to Cersei, in exchange for his fleet of ships. He then attacks Yara’s fleet to kidnap Ellaria and Tyene and brings them to Cersei as a bonus gift – she poisons Tyene and leaves Ellaria to watch her daughter die while chained up in a prison cell. Euron, meanwhile, spends every second on screen going over-the-top with his rampaging and pillaging, to the point where he gives Theon flashbacks to Reek, which stops Theon from saving Yara, when Euron also kidnaps her. Then, after season upon season of trauma, he finally finds the courage and self-respect to rally his troops for a rescue mission – and the catharsis of him eventually showing signs of recovery from his abuse at the hands of Ramsay Bolton is one heck of a pay-off.
The boat that rocks
There’s no bigger pay-off, though, than the supremely weird joy and squirming that accompanied Jon and Daenerys finally giving in to all those longing, loaded stares at each other. Having already bowed the knee to her, they end up bowing more than that in bed together – remember: he doesn’t know nothing, folks – as the ship they’re on sails north. But while that’s going down, we also get (courtesy of Bran’s flashbacks and Samwell Tarly’s library trips) the confirmation of the ultimate fan theory: that Lyanna Stark gave birth to Jon Snow in Dorne, and that his dad wasn’t Ned Stark, but none other than Rhaegar Targaryen, who secretly wedded Lyanna (according to the High Septon’s diary). That makes Jon the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Or, to precise, Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of His Name. And also, erm, the nephew of Daenerys.
If you see a cliffhanger coming, does it make it any less exciting? Not if Season 7 of Game of Thrones is anything to go by, as the final moments of the finale see the Night King unleash his revived, blue-eyed dragon – and the undead flying reptile blasts its hellish blue breath into the wall directly, causing a whole chunk of it to plummet to the ground. It’s the first time The Wall has fallen in centuries, and while watching Tormund and the wildlings on the wall rushing to safety gives the moment a tangible, human sense of peril, there’s chilling terror enough in seeing the white walkers march into actual Westeros with nobody to stop them. Expect Season 8 to kick off with the mother of all battles.
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.