Friday, 22 April 2016

Top 5: Game of Thrones Episodes

Fantasy phenomenon Game of Thrones returns this Sunday for its highly-anticipated sixth season - so I decided to reflect on my personal highlights from the show so far. 

Ever since it hit our screens back in 2010, Game of Thrones has redefined blockbuster television. Filled with blood, beheadings, boobs and battles, the show has garnered an audience of millions all of whom are captivated by the hundreds of characters and creatures that populate Westeros and Essos.

In anticipation of the season six premiere, I decided to take a look at my five favourite episodes from the series to date, as well as some honourable mentions...

Honourable mentions: Blackwater, The Mountain and the Viper, Fire and Blood, The Dance of Dragons, The Watchers on the Wall, The Children, Baelor, And Now His Watch Has Ended

5) The Laws of Gods and Men (Season 4, Episode 6)

A lot of the entries on this list have earned their place because they showcase the epic scale that Game of Thrones is capable of. On the other end of the spectrum is an episode like 'The Laws of Gods and Men' from Season 4. Eschewing giant set pieces for more compelling character-driven drama, this chapter contains one quintessential Game of Thrones scene that arguably earned Peter Dinklage his second Emmy win in 2015 all by itself; the trial of Tyrion Lannister.

Wrongfully charged for the murder of King Joffrey, Tyrion is put on trial by his father Tywin and his sister Cersei. During the trial we get some really great character moments from people like Jaime as he begs his father to spare Tyrion in exchange for his return to Casterley Rock, as well as Tywin's uncompromising response that showcases precisely why he is the head of House Lannister. 

The trial culminates in Tyrion's secret lover, Shae, being called to the stand to testify. Lie after lie pours from Shae's mouth as she reveals that Tyrion conspired with Sansa to murder Joffrey - a statement that provokes anger, despair and panic from the dwarf. The monologue delivered by Tyrion in repsonse is nothing short of brilliant, and it sets the stage for the equally as excellent trial by combat between Oberyn and the Mountain later in the season. 

4) You Win or You Die (Season 1, Episode 7)

Game of Thrones wasn't the kind of show that grabbed me from the very first episode; in fact, it took until Episode 7 of the first season, 'You Win or You Die', to really hook me into the story - and that's because this chapter is bloody brilliant.

Advancing rather rapidly towards the shocking penultimate episode, 'You Win or You Die' sees Eddard Stark confront Cersei Lannister about the true parentage of her children with King Robert, plainly stating that he knows they're in fact fathered by Cersei's brother Jaime. He warns her to leave King's Landing - but before you know it, Renly returns to inform them that the King is dying from an injury he sustained whilst out hunting in the forest. Before he dies, Robert bestows ownership of the throne to Ned, but Joffrey proclaims himself King. Ned assembles an army of City Watch with the help of Baelish and confronts Joffrey and Cersei, only to find that Baelish has betrayed him and Ned is thrown in prison for treason. What a cliffhanger!

Elsewhere, Tywin Lannister is introduced and Dany finds herself on the end of an assassination attempt - much to the anger of her husband Khal Drogo. They're interesting subplots, but nothing comes close to topping the frenetic backstabbing and political machinations of King's Landing.

3) The Lion and the Rose (Season 4, Episode 2)

The moment we were all waiting for finally came to pass - King Joffrey, the meanest prick in all the Seven Kingdoms, finally gets his comeuppance by choking down a goblet full of poison, and on his wedding day no less. What is it with this show and weddings?

With Joffrey and Margarey finally married in King's Landing, Joffrey's reception kicks off with various acts aimed at belittling Tyrion. A parade of dwarves reenacting of the War of the Five Kings is a kick in the guts, but pouring wine on his head and chopping up his present with a huge sword? That's just plain mean.

Thankfully, karma swiftly spits on bastard King; an unspecified assassin has poisoned his wine and soon enough Joffrey is purple-faced and lying dead on the floor. Cersei rounds on Tyrion, but is he really to blame? It's a death that resonates throughout the rest of the show at large, showcasing Martin's penchant for swift rug pulls that cause the status quo to continually be challenged.

2) The Rains of Castamere (Season 3, Episode 9)

If not the best episode of the series to date (it comes damn close), it's definitely the most talked about. 'The Rains of Castamere' is the episode that catapulted the show from Sunday night ritual for fantasy nerds to the water cooler topic at work for the proceeding week - and if you weren't clued in, you were missing out. 

In this chapter, Robb Stark's refusal to marry Walder Frey's daughter comes back to bite him the ass. With one of Robb's most trusted generals taking his place at the altar, everything appears to be going according to plan. The festivities begin, the vows are spoken - and then the shit hits the fan. Frey, angered by Robb's reluctance, has plotted to off the entire Stark clan right there in the Great Hall. The doors close, the crossbows appear and the arrows begin to fly. Robb, his pregnant wife Talisa and his mother Catelyn are all killed in the massacre - it's one of the bloodiest scenes in Game of Thrones history and a moment that is permanently etched into the memory of every audience member ever since.

That's not all; action is going off all over the place in this episode. Jon escapes an altercation with the Wildlings with the aide of Bran and his warg powers whilst Dany's siege of Yunkai comes to a swift and precise conclusion. 

1) Hardhome (Season 5, Episode 8)

By the fifth season of Game of Thrones, HBO are well aware of the fact that they have a major winner on their hands - they must do if they're committed to forking out $10 million for every episode.

'Hardhome' is the episode that showcases exactly what that kind of money can bring to the screen. The prolonged action set piece that rounds out this chapter (it clocks in at around 35 minutes) is astounding; it far surpasses anything the show has done before in terms of scale (outdoing the battles of Blackwater and the Wall) and gives the fans something they've been anticipating since they watched the pilot way back in 2010 - winter has finally come. 

Jon, the newly-appointed commander of the Night's Watch, has travelled into the far North to recruit the dregs of Mance Rayder's army for their war against the White Walkers. Progress is starting to be made when a thick fog descends upon the quiet fishing village and the vast hordes of the Night's King begin to advance towards the fort. Chaos ensues and the episode explodes into a sprawling battle that rivals some Hollywood tentpoles for quality.

It might not be the most riveting episode in terms of character, but 'Hardhome' tops my list because it signals the moment that Game of Thrones discarded with all pretence about rival families and petty squabbles - winter has come and 'Hardhome' gives us the first real taste at the larger war that is still to come.

What is your favourite Game of Thrones episode? Are you excited about the upcoming season? Let me know in the comments section below!

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