Then there’s the rest of us who want to catch up but only wish to return to a few great episodes. But which episodes? There’s Cersei’s walk of shame (Season 5, Episode 10), the first time we see what that green wildfire can do (Season 2, Episode 9), the Mountain and the Viper (Oberyn Martell) facing off (Season 4, Episode 8), Jon Snow’s resurrection (Season 6, Episode 2) and all those terrible Dorne scenes with the Sandsnakes (Season 5, various episodes).
So how do you choose? Luckily, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have a knack for filling the most beautiful, memorable episodes with major plot points, so we’ve put together a five-hour journey through Westeros and beyond. Think of it as an enjoyable set of CliffsNotes to prep you for the war to come.
These are best watched in the order presented.
Some of the following videos contain violence.
“Winter Is Coming” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Sure, it might seem a little obvious to start from the beginning, but cliches are cliche for a reason. As with any series, the first episode introduces the audience to an entirely new world — namely, Westeros. We meet the most important houses: the Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens and Baratheons. We also get our first glimpse of vital elements such as the Night’s Watch (and thus the Wall), and we see the White Walkers in action (specifically, killing two members of the Night’s Watch).
Perhaps most importantly, the show makes it very clear how subversive it plans to be. In a deeply uncomfortable scene, Viserys Targaryen (remember him?) thoroughly examines his sister Daenerys’s naked body, as he prepares to essentially sell her into marriage to Khal Drogo, the leader of the Dothraki. Then we’re introduced to the incestuous relationship between Jaime and Cersei. The latter leads Jaime to throw Bran from a tower, paralyzing the boy from the waist down — which becomes a major plot point.
We also meet the direwolves when they’re cute, lil’ pups!
There’s perhaps more packed into the pilot than any other episode, so it’s sure to jog any long dormant memories as quickly as winter awakens the dead.
“The Rains of Castamere” (Season 3, Episode 9)
The thematic backbone of “Game of Thrones” can best be described as taking a fairy tale and turning it on its head. We become aware of that fact the second Ned Stark’s head hits the ground while his body remains upright in the first season.
By “The Rains of Castamere,” we’re also aware that each season’s penultimate episode packs a punch, to say the least.
Still, that knowledge prepared no one for this episode, more colloquially known as “The Red Wedding.” The series, to this point, seems to be about Robb Stark (i.e., Prince Charming) and his mother, Catelyn, leading an army to avenge the death of his father/her husband. Instead, as even non-watchers may know, Robb, much of his army and his pregnant wife, Talisa, are massacred by the Freys and the Boltons. It’s one of the most shocking moments in modern television, good enough to earn Benioff and Weiss an Emmy nomination for writing and good enough to cement “Game of Thrones’s” status as one of the most important series of all time.
“The Children” (Season 4, Episode 10)
Of all the episodes on this list, “The Children” is the one you’ve probably thought least about. It’s not as flashy as the great battles or shocking deaths, nor is it a particularly raunch-filled romp.
But it’s the perfect apéritif for the great meal that’s to come in the final three seasons: It’s here that Bran first encounters the Three-Eyed Raven in real life, that Daenerys realizes not all slaves want to be freed (leading her to chain up her dragons in the catacombs of Meereen) and that Tyrion seals his own fate by murdering his father, Tywin, before teaming up with Varys to sail to Essos, where he’ll eventually meet Daenerys.
Aside from Tywin’s death, these might feel like small moments. So much of “Game of Thrones” has been about moving chess pieces around in service of plot. Tyrion needs to go to Essos, for example, to bring Daenerys back to Westeros.
That’s what makes this episode so key — it puts all those chess pieces in motion.
“The Battle of the Bastards” (Season 6, Episode 9)
Hope comes in limited supply in “GoT,” and it often pops up in the most unexpected places. This time, it appears in the show’s bloodiest battle — based on the actual Battle of Cannae. The episode, which centers on a battle fit for the silver screen, proves to be one of the most beautifully horrific things ever shown on television. As Jon Snow and Sansa Stark retake Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton, bodies pile up until they’re unrecognizable.
Uh, so what’s hopeful about this? Well, Bolton was like the most evil dude on the show, and he gets eaten by his own dogs — and it’s also the moment where we see that Sansa has grown up from a child who naively wanted to be a princess to a self-sufficient woman, hardened by the cruel realities of this world. Plus, Daenerys reunites with her dragons!
“The Dragon and the Wolf” (Season 7, Episode 7)
The sheer volume of characters and enormity of its world is both one of the show’s greatest assets and one of its greatest deficits. It takes seven seasons for two of the show’s main characters, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, to even meet. When they do, though, woo-eee.
Most viewers had two takeaways from this episode: (a) Bran and Sam finally meet and explicitly confirm “R+L=J,” which refers to the fact that Jon Snow is the secret offspring of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, making him an heir to the Iron Throne. (b) This news doesn’t reach Jon and Daenerys, who end up having sex — even though she’s his aunt.
But so much more happens. Jaime basically disowns Cersei. Little Arya Stark, now a face-changing assassin, kills Littlefinger (again, finally). She also partners up with her sister Sansa, whom she had spent most of the series apart from.
Most importantly, the Night King and thousands of his followers reach the wall, beginning the Great War.
Winter is here.