21 Mar 19
The Mercury News
When it comes to “Game of Thrones,” don’t be sad if you feel like you’ve got a case of mental Greyscale. HBO’s epic fantasy is so sprawling and so complex that it’s a major challenge to keep track of everything happening in the Seven Kingdoms. And it certainly doesn’t help that the last fresh episode aired more than a year and a half ago.
So to prepare yourself for the final season, which kicks off April 14, here are 10 essential episodes — listed in chronological order — that will refresh your memory and put you back in touch with the chase for the Iron Throne. (Warning to newbies: There are spoilers ahead). Episodes are available on HBO Now, HBO Go, Hulu, Amazon and iTunes.
1. “Winter Is Coming” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Let the game begin. The opener sets the vast geographic scene and introduces viewers to members of two powerful families — the Lannisters and the Starks — along with an exiled teen princess named Daenerys, who is gifted at her wedding with three dragon eggs.
Meanwhile, there are rumors of strange things occurring just north of a massive Wall that protects the realm from a ghoulish menace beyond.
Our first hint that this isn’t your typical TV show? Young Bran Stark interrupts Jaime and Cersei Lannister having incestuous sex and pays a terrible price when Jaime shoves him out a tower window.
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon.
2. “Baelor” (Season 1, Episode 9)
They did what?! The series establishes that absolutely no one is safe by delivering one of the most shocking twists in TV history. Noble patriarch Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), falsely accused of being a traitor, is executed by Joffrey, a newly crowned — and demented — boy king. Even more horrifying: It’s a beheading carried out before a crowd that includes his two young daughters, Sansa and Arya.
The plot twist defied decades of TV tradition: You just don’t kill off the hero in Season 1. Evil is not supposed to triumph over good. That’s insane!
We now know that this is a game played by very different rules — and one that will routinely make us yell out in anguish.
3. “Blackwater” (Season 2, Episode 9)
Written by George R.R. Martin, this is the first episode to feature a major battle. It set the tone for bigger, more intense confrontations to come.
It also revealed Joffrey to be a pathetic little coward (he flees the scene when defeat seems apparent) and Tyrion a strategic mastermind. It’s the latter’s astute use of wildfire that helps the Lannister forces to initially fend off Stannis Baratheon’s approaching ships.
At one point, when all seems lost, Cersei is on the verge of poisoning herself and her son Tommen. But the tide turns and the Lannisters come out on top again.
Robb and Catelyn Stark (Richard Madden, Michelle Fairley).
4. “The Rains of Castamere” (Season 3, Episode 9)
Ah, the Red Wedding. Arguably, the most memorable — and catastrophic — “Game of Thrones” moment thus far.
Three major characters — including another honorable Stark male (Robb) and his mother (Catelyn) — are slaughtered with stunning and surprising swiftness. Jaw-dropping. Gut-wrenching. Sob-inducing.
Readers of Martin’s novels knew it was coming, but even they were floored. The rest of us? Totally wrecked.
“The Lannisters send their regards,” indeed.
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5. “The Lion and the Rose” (Season 4, Episode 2)
What is it with weddings? The last episode Martin would write for the show contained another gruesome death. But this one is a real crowd-pleaser because the victim is Joffrey. The monstrous ruler is poisoned while celebrating his wedding to Margaery Tyrell, his face turning an awful purple before expiring.
Joffrey’s death opens a family rift among the Lannisters, with Cersei accusing Tyrion of killing her son. Meanwhile, Joffrey’s little brother Tommen is about to learn what it’s like to be king.
Also, this episode introduces the Night King, who appears in one of Bran’s visions.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage).
6. “The Children” (Season 4, Episode 10)
The dysfunction of the Lannisters reaches a new level in this episode. First, Jaime helps his brother, Tyrion, escape execution after being falsely accused by his sister and convicted by his father, Tywin, for killing Joffrey.
Then an angry Tyrion shoots daddy (on the toilet!) with Joffrey’s crossbow.
In addition, we’re finally introduced to the Three-Eyed Raven and learn that the Children of the Forest still exist. And last but not least, Brienne strikes a blow for girl power by defeating The Hound in a vicious throw-down.
7. “Hardhome” (Season 5, Episode 8)
It’s in this episode that we gain a feel for just how daunting it will be to defeat the Night King.
With no precedent in Martin’s books, “Hardhome” shocked fans via a sequence in which a terrifying army of skeletal wights launches a sneak attack on a Wildling village where Jon Snow has come hoping to forge an alliance with its people.
Jon and his men are no match for this otherworldly force and eventually flee. But during the battle, he discovers that a Valyrian steel blade can shatter a White Walker.
As he sails away, Jon sees the Night King resurrecting corpses to bolster his undead army. It’s an incredibly creepy-scary scene.
Kit Harington as Jon Snow
8. “Battle of the Bastards” (Season 6, Episode 9)
Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton face off for control of Winterfell and it’s one of the most tense, chaotic and breathtaking spectacles ever put on film. (But it reportedly will be eclipsed by a massive battle scene in the final season).
Ramsay is beaten and meets his gruesome fate, thus ending the run of a villainous character who was even more brutally vicious and sadistic than Joffrey. The Starks finally reclaim Winterfell, their ancestral home.
In other action, Daenerys and her dragons lay waste to the slaver fleet in Meereen.
Cersei (Lena Headey)
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9. “The Winds of Winter” (Season 6, Episode 10)
We always assumed that Cersei would resort to absolutely anything to retain power. This was the episode in which she dramatically outdid herself.
On the day of her trial — and presumed demise — she detonates a huge cache of wildfire under the Sept of Baelor, wiping out all of her enemies in one explosive swoop and exacting revenge on those who dared humiliate her.
Just one problem: Her son Tommen, after learning that Margaery was killed in the blast, goes and commits suicide. Oh well, that just means Cersei will take a seat on the Iron Throne.
Daenerys (Emilia Clarke)
10. “The Dragon and the Wolf” (Season 7, Episode 7)
It’s the finale that set the table for the show’s upcoming conclusion.
Jon Snow and Daenerys attempt to persuade a pregnant Cersei to join forces in the fight against the demonic Night King. After a later chat with Tyrion, she is apparently all in. But wait — it’s a ruse!
What the evil queen secretly plans to do is ally with Euron Greyjoy and thrash anyone who who emerges, weakened, from the impending Great War.
In other important developments, Bran declares that Jon needs to be told that he’s actually Daenerys’ nephew — and the rightful heir to the throne. That could be very awkward, especially since Jon and Dany just got it on.
Finally, the Night King destroys the Wall and his vast army of the dead pour into Westeros. Gasp. Winter has arrived.