Its first three seasons were packed full of action, drama, excitement and surprises, and anticipation is now reaching fever-pitch ahead of the return of hit fantasy epic Game Of Thrones next week.
In order to re-cap the most memorable events thus far, and celebrate the very finest highlights, Mark Butler picks out 25 of the greatest moments in the saga to date.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS – AND ADULT CONTENT – BELOW!
“The things I do for love”
Probably one of the most shocking debut episode finales ever filmed, this opening cliffhanger has everything. Incest, treason, attempted child-murder – and a horrifying action that will forever taint one of the series’ most complex characters. Truly a statement of intent.
Joffrey gets a slap
Even this early on in the saga, it’s obvious what a detestable little twerp Prince Joffrey is. As such, the moment everyone’s favourite dwarf decides to teach him some manners is a real spirit-raiser – as well as demonstrating just how deceptively brave and principled Tyrion is.
The Mountain is a sore loser
Having been unhorsed and defeated in a joust by admittedly dubious tactics, Gregor ‘McBastard’ Clegane’s solution is to decapitate his own steed, attempt to kill one of the most beloved knights in the kingdoms, and then brawl with his brother when he intervenes. A terrific way of establishing both the brutal Mountain and conflicted Hound – and emphasising their hateful relationship.
Khal Drogo is a badass
The Dothraki Horse Lord gets to show just why the Seven Kingdoms – and pretty much everyone – should fear his coming. Challenged by a disgruntled captain, who has found himself cock-blocked by an outraged Dany, Drogo allows his attacker to wound him and sheds all of his weapons contemptuously, all while delivering a shiver-inducing speech. You just know it’s not going to end well for Mago.
Tywin skins a stag
Charles Dance’s magnificent performance as the patriarch of House Lannister is one of the best things about the show: and his character’s introduction is simply perfect. Chastising and lecturing the previously unflappable Jaime with cold yet wise authority, his intelligence, ruthlessness, and concern with the family name are all laid bare for the audience to see.
Cersei and Robert discuss their marriage
One of the most extraordinary original additions to the TV saga, this phenomenal exchange – not in the books – sees the world-weary king and his embittered queen come face to face in a thought-provoking and surprisingly tender scene. Robert’s speech on the Dothraki threat is thick with ominous tension, and then things get genuinely poignant when the pair begin to ruminate on their sad, forever doomed relationship.
Ned loses his head
A tragic, shocking climax to the penultimate episode of Series One, the unjust execution of noble, honourable Ned Stark is made all the more galling by the presence of fan favourite Arya amid the baying crowd. As bitter a pill to swallow as it may have been, it proved that this saga does not play by ordinary convention. Seeing the main character up to that point killed off in such ruthless fashion, we learned that no one is truly safe.
“The king in the North!”
Of course, the very next episode we had something to cheer about at least. Not content with capturing Jaime Lannister and completely blindsiding Tywin, Ned’s talented son Robb gets crowned by his Lords as they signal their intention to fight only for themselves. Great speech by the Greatjon too (whatever happened to him?).
Yoren’s blaze of glory
One of the most memorable supporting characters, Night’s Watch recruiter Yoren departs in style. Having already delivered a great speech to the vengeful Arya about his own painful past, and intimidated a mounted soldier into fleeing, he shrugs off a bolt to the shoulder by lecturing his attackers on the shortcomings of crossbows – before fighting fiercely to the last.
“There’s no cure for being a c***”
God bless Bronn. After Joffrey torments Sansa mercilessly for her brother’s victories in the field, Tyrion magnificently faces him and his despicable guards down – before his trusty sellsword companion offers his own, rather blunt assessment, of the boy-king’s disposition.
Joffrey gets a slap – again!
In the midst of a deadly riot provoked by Joffrey’s “vicious idiocy”, his uncle is once again forced to take him to task. And boy does he make his point passionately – and forcibly.
Surely one of the most shocking moments to unfold in any TV drama, dark magical forces conspire to further Stannis’s cause as sorcerer Mel quite literally gives birth to a horrifying spectral assassin. Davos can only look on in aghast terror – as do we.
Tywin vs Arya
The scenes between Tywin and Arya at Harrenhal are another great invention of the series, and are highlights for a number of reasons. They help humanise the Lannister leader, who rewards her intelligence and resilience with kindness and respect, while simultaneously providing some terrific tension. The silent stare-out at the end of this clip is a perfectly-judged moment.
Thanks goodness HBO got the budget they needed to do the Blackwater battle justice. As Stannis’s fleet sails towards King’s Landing, Bronn executes Tyrion’s wildfire weapon-of-mass-destruction plan to devastating effect. We feel every bit of Davos’s pain and Tyrion’s sobering combination of astonishment, horror and relief.
“Come with me and take this city!”
Not that Stannis is phased for a second. Having seen half his ships obliterated, he simply hops onto a boat, leads his men across the bay with a rousing cry, and charges the walls at the head of his army – kicking some serious ass in the process.
“F*** the king!”
If you weren’t cheering when the Hound finally told Joffrey where to go, you can’t be human. Simmering with fear, resentment and fury, the pyrophobic warrior hands in his notice in the very thick of the Blackwater maelstrom – leaving his sniveling monarch looking like the scared little boy he really is.
Poor Theon turncloak. It turns out taking Winterfell wasn’t such a great idea after all. Surrounded on all sides and facing insurmountable odds, the troubled Ironborn lad delivers a genuinely terrific speech to his small group of soldiers – a rousing, heartwarming speech to rival William Wallace or Aragorn, complete with swelling orchestral soundtrack. And then comes the – quite literal – punchline.
Game Of Chairs
The small council meets for the first time with Tywin present and correct, and what follows is a dialogue-free slice of hilarious silent comedy, as the key power-players choose their places at the table and attempt to one-up one another in doing so. Tyrion’s solution to the problem is priceless.
Queen Of Thorns
Undoubtedly one of the most formidable women in Westeros – and a gem of a supporting character – the Tyrell’s outspoken matriarch is introduced in a sublime scene in which she both comforts and interrogates a bewildered Sansa. Sharp as a blade and delightfully contemptuous of the men who hold power, she’s played magnificently by Dame Diana Rigg.
Dany unleashes the dragon
Her wrath in the House Of The Undying hinted at dragon-based fun to come, but boy does the showdown in Astapor underline Dany’s growing confidence, power and war-ready savvy. As the loathsome slaver struggles to control his new pet, a language switcheroo from the Dragon Queen, and one single deadly word, is all it takes for her hosts to realise what a dreadful mistake they have made.
Davos learns to read
As well as being Stannis’s moral compass, the lowborn ‘onion knight’ Ser Davos Seaworth is just an all-round top guy – and watching him master an understanding of the written word is a real heartwarming moment. Visited on his cell by the kindly Shireen, it isn’t long before the former smuggler is picking up a very handy new skill.
“Chaos is a ladder”
For the most part, show Littlefinger is a hammy, thoroughly unsubtle shadow of book Littlefinger. But in this epic, spine-chilling monologue, he recoups a great deal of goodwill – and hints at his truly pitch-black depths – with his menacing, ominous words. The accompanying shots of Ros’s ghastly fate and Sansa’s tragic plight are the icing on the cake.
“You’re like a wizard”
Both a neat little callback to the first series, and an uplifting character beat in its own right, our increasingly plucky Sam The Slayer gets a much-deserved confidence boost from Gilly when she unintentionally stokes the fires of his childhood fantasy.
Jaime to the rescue!
Having already gone some way to winning over the audience with his previous reveals regarding the Mad King and his past, the previously-reviled Lannister continues his character rehabilitation by diving into the Harrenhaal bear pit in a bid to save Brienne. He manages it too. What a guy.
The Red Wedding
It’s the event that launched a thousand YouTube reaction videos, and sent millions of people into fictional mourning. Yes. That’s right. It’s Westeros wedding days Walder Frey style. The visceral nature of the bloodbath is shocking, and there are some incredible little moments too – not least Roose Bolton’s sly, sadistic nod to his chainmail-covered arm.
Game Of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic on Monday April 7.