With only one season left to go, we pit the first seven seasons of "Game of Thrones" against each other for the ultimate power ranking.
“Game of Thrones” has seven seasons down and one to go — hard to believe after six years and 67 episodes. “GOT” will be remembered as a highlight of the Peak TV era, and IndieWire has already named it one of the best-directed series of the 21st century. But how does the series stack up when you pit all seven seasons against one another?
Below we’ve ranked the seven seasons of “Game of Thrones” from worst to best. It’s important to note that no season has been flat-out terrible; even the most uneven seasons included some of the most thrilling television moments of its year. With only six episodes left before “Thrones” signs off for good, here’s where the current seasons rank.
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“Blackwater” remains one of the show’s best episodes, a battle episode so intimate it proved “Thrones” didn’t need a massive budget to make the chaos of war feel so intensely palpable — but one classic installment is all Season 2 really has in its favor. Picking up the pieces after Ned Stark’s beheading, Season 2 feels very much like you’re reliving another debut season. Perhaps it was inevitable given the source material, but all the table setting over who has the rightful claim to the throne (Stannis! Renly!) and the many character introductions stalled the Season 1 momentum and forced the show to rebuild from the ground up. In this regard, Season 2 is important for how it sets up a lot of the drama to come (Theon’s betrayal at Winterfell would come back to haunt him seasons later, for instance), but it’s by far the least entertaining. The less time spent thinking about Daenerys’ meandering storyline in Qarth, the better. It’s second only to Dorne as the worst “Thrones” storyline ever.
The most recent run of GOT episodes was saved by game-changing moments (Jon and Daenerys finally meeting, the death and resurrection of Viserion) and expertly directed spectacle (the Loot Train Battle, the destruction of The Wall). It was a good season of television that could’ve been great, had it not been for leaps of logic and much-discussed issues with timelines. Sometimes it’s easy to put GOT’s flaws aside, given how strong the performances and individual moments can be, but this season made many of the show’s biggest problems feel so blatant that it was hard not to be frustrated. Penultimate seasons are hard to pull off, and the show seemed to be burning through plot at a faster rate than usual in order to get the series where it needs to be for Season 8. It was hardly a disaster, but it felt too rushed and uneven to really come together into one great whole.
Season 5 is perhaps more disliked than any other season of “Game of Thrones,” and a lot of that has to do with the misfires that were Jamie and Bron’s mission in Dorne and the forgettable inclusion of the Sand Snakes (“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” is a series low point). It didn’t help that the show was coming off back-to-back powerhouse seasons, either. In reality, Season 5 might just be the most focused season of “Thrones” as all the major characters are forced to reckon with their own sense of leadership.
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Jon Snow runs into trouble at The Wall after he’s named Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and forms an alliance with the Wildlings. The storyline builds not only to Snow’s cliffhanger murder but also to “Hardhome,” a battle episode involving the Army of the Dead that was so intense you’d be forgiven for not being able to catch your breath. Daenerys struggles to rule Meereen against the Sons of the Harpy, a storyline that introduced her to Tyrion and provided the show with an amazing Drogon moment (“The Dance of Dragons”). Cersei’s attempts to use the Sparrows to her advantage backfires, leading to Lena Headey’s best work ever in “Mother’s Mercy.” Arya trains with the Faceless Men to become her own leader and goes full Quentin Tarantino by murdering Meryn Trant in bloody fashion. All these storylines dragged on for a bit longer than needed, but they all built to rousing climaxes.
Season 6 is a messy run of “Game of Thrones” episodes. It’s the most jam-packed season by far, with so many disconnected storylines going on across the map that it was nearly impossible to give every character a moment to shine. There’s blind Arya facing off against the Waif, the Hound returns and meets the Brotherhood, Sam visits his family with Gilly, Cersei awaits trial, Jon Snow is resurrected, and so on. What redeems the entire season is that it includes three of the best “Thrones” episodes in history: “The Door” brought the most tragic twist involving Hodor and broke the hearts of every viewer; “Battle of the Bastards” resulted in the show’s greatest directorial achievement; and “The Winds of Winter” elevated the series to its absolute best. The finale’s prolonged opening sequence in King’s Landing that ends with the explosion of the Great Sept felt like nothing “Thrones” had ever done before. These three episodes singlehandedly proved “Thrones” belonged in the pantheon of essential Peak TV.
GOT needed a home run after the middling second season, and it more than rose to the occasion in Season 3. Pairing Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth was a stroke of genius; the show redefined our emotional connection to the Kingslayer and deepened our understanding of the character. Sparks flew between Jon Snow and Ygritte beyond the Wall, while Daenerys made us all forget about Qarth with a thrilling mission to free the slaves of Astapor. Hearing the Mother of Dragons utter the word “Dracarys” for the first time was a rock-star moment. The image of dragon fire exploding behind a fierce Daenerys is as iconic as GOT gets. But the season all comes down to the Red Wedding, easily one of the most shocking television episodes ever made. The scene still defines the series to this day.
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The season that started it all. “Thrones” didn’t have the budget to pull off big battles, but what Season 1 lacks in spectacle it invests in some of the show’s strongest character arcs. Look no further than Ned Stark, played with staggering humanity by Sean Bean. He made Stark’s death earth-shattering; viewers felt the sting of every defeat and betrayal and gets them firmly on Team Stark. Ditto for Emilia Clarke, who beautifully tracks Daenerys’ rise from prisoner to the Mother of Dragons. Every character is shaped so strongly that you’re immediately drawn into this world of scheming rivals. You fall for Arya’s rebellious side, cringe over Joffrey’s spoiled arrogance, and swoon over Robb Stark and Jon Snow. “Thrones” proved the most effective world building is simply character building, and that’s when the series is at its best. It was no easy feat introducing millions of viewers to George R.R. Martin’s world, but Season 1 made it feel effortless and addictive.
Following The Red Wedding wasn’t going to be easy, but the show delivered its best run of episodes with the 10 installments of Season 4. The decision to split Martin’s “A Storm of Swords” across two seasons paid off in spades as the most important story threads and confrontations heightened the stakes in the post-Red Wedding world. The Lannister drama took center stage and turned the political drama into something far more personal. Joeffrey’s wedding-day death kicked off the season with a bang and triggered a powder-keg trial that resulted in Peter Dinklage’s series-best work and the shocking deaths of Oberyn Martell, Shae, and Tywin Lannister.
The clash of opposing forces made the various other subplots feel more united, giving the season a sense of thematic unification that often gets lost among the plot threads. The Hound and Brienne faced off in a bloody duel for Arya’s protection, while the clash between Jon Snow and the Wildlings reached its peak with “The Waters on the Wall,” a full-blown battle epic that found “Thrones” channeling its innermost “Lord of the Rings.” No season has balanced epic spectacle and character-building drama as powerfully as this one.
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This Article is related to: Television and tagged Game of Thrones, HBO
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