So, tell me if this sounds familiar: you’ve left yourself less than a few days to catch back up on Game of Thrones, even though you had exactly 595 days between the end of season seven and the start of season eight to get your re-watch in. There may be no (responsible) way to cram all 67 episodes into your life before the show starts back up on April 14th, but you can still get yourself reacquainted with the series and hyped up for the next six Sundays by watching these ten essential Game of Thrones episodes.
Season 1, Episode 9: Baelor
That’s right, we’re suggesting you skip the first few episodes of season one. Instead, let’s jump right in with the installment that taught us Game of Thrones will kill anyone, even the biggest star of the show. In addition to its powerful ending, ‘Baelor’ also features some of the best Tyrion scenes of the whole series. We get a better understanding of the messed up relationship he has with family patriarch Tywin. We meet Shae for the first time, and there’s a lot of great banter with Bronn. Meanwhile, in Essos, Daenerys gambles big on blood magic in a desperate attempt to save Khal Drogo’s life.
Season 2, Episode 9: Blackwater
You might have noticed that the battle between the armies of Robb Stark and Jaime Lannister in ‘Baelor’ goes down completely off camera. That’s because of first season budget constraints, but HBO more than makes up for that penny-pinching in season two when Stannis launches a naval assault on King’s Landing. There’s no jumping around thousands of miles in this episode. Everything focuses on the capitol, where everyone is preparing for a brutal sack at the hands of Stannis’ much larger army. The battle itself is a work of art, jam-packed with blood and fire and heroics and infamy.
Season 3, Episode 9: The Rains of Castamere
This episode features the infamous Red Wedding, the biggest gut punch in the entire series – which is saying a lot given how often Game of Thrones beats us up and takes our emotional lunch money. While it’s worth watching this one just to marvel at the ruthless destruction of House Stark, there’s a lot of other great moments to enjoy as well. Jon betrays Ygritte and escapes the Wildlings, Arya and The Hound navigate a fragile truce on their way to the Twins, and Daenerys rips Jorah’s heart in two by falling for Daario.
Season 4, Episode 8: The Mountain and the Viper
We’re going to admit that this episode has a decent amount of fluff, but it’s still worth watching just for the final duel between Oberyn Martell and The Mountain. Such dizzying highs! Such terrible lows. Past that, this is the one where Tyrion delivers a cryptic monologue about his beetle-killing cousin Orson, a romance begins to bloom between Grey Worm and Missandei, and Sansa channels Littlefinger to win over the lords of the Vale.
Season 4, Episode 9: The Watchers on the Wall
Once again Game of Thrones throws out all the other plot lines to concentrate on an epic battle, this time the Wildling attack on Castle Black. While Mance Rayder sends giants and mammoths to breach the gate at the base of the Wall, a war party assaults the castle from the south. The episode takes you back and forth between two vastly different forms of warfare, keeping the intensity high with some single shot sequences that are stunning feats of cinematography. This episode is also guaranteed to hit you right in the feels when star-crossed lovers Jon and Ygritte reunite.
Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome
For five long seasons the White Walkers have been a terrifying but infrequent threat, appearing and disappearing with no apparent objective. At Hardhome we get to see just how overpowered the Night King’s undead army is and how screwed humanity will be if they get past the Wall. We also get to enjoy the long-awaited meeting of the minds between Tyrion and Daenerys, as well as Arya finally getting to the assassin portion of her Faceless Man training.
Season 6, Episode 5: The Door
This episode moves a lot of key pieces into place for the final two seasons. Yara’s bid to become queen of the Iron Isles is derailed by her uncle Euron. A new Red Priestess named Kinvara lets Daenerys in on the Prince That Was Promised prophecy, and Arya begins to question the morals of the death cult she’s joined. We go back thousands of years with Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven to witness the creation of the Night King, and see a time-bending incident that breaks Hodor’s mind. All this while White Walkers and the Children of the Forest duke it out with ancient magic.
Season 6, Episode 9: Battle of the Bastards
Two battles are better than one, and while the war between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton is clearly the main event, Daenerys versus the slaver fleet in Meereen is definitely a satisfying co-headliner. For the first time we get to see her dragons unleashed in a full-on war scenario, and it’s glorious enough to suggest humanity might have a chance against the White Walkers after all. As for the Battle of the Bastards, it took 25 wet and muddy days to film and you can clearly see the attention to detail that brings in every shot.
Season 7, Episode 4: The Spoils of War
This time Daenerys gets top billing in her first battle on Westeros as she unleashes Drogon and 100,000 Dothraki screamers on an unprepared Lannister army. It’s a complete route that once again shows off the impressive destructive force just a single dragon provides. But if you’re feeling a little weary of war, there’s a lot of great meetings between characters in this episode, too. Arya and Sansa reunite in Winterfell and sadly realize how much they’ve both changed. Jon and Daenerys meet and the chemistry is immediately off the hook. Daario who? And Tyrion grapples with the realities of betraying his house as Daenerys burns his brother Jaime’s army to ashes.
Season 7, Episode 6: Beyond the Wall
Sure, the whole plan to capture a wight and bring it back to Cersei Lannister is a bit silly. And let’s face it: no other episode in the entire series strains the boundaries of plausibility like ‘Beyond the Wall.’ But all that doesn’t matter because it also features dragons versus White Walkers and a flaming zombie bear! Even Uncle Ben’s instant ride can be forgiven. While we’re hoping season eight doesn’t take its cues from this episode, it’s hard not to appreciate the unadulterated fan service ‘Beyond the Wall’ provides.