Here at 25YLSite, we handle a lot of heavy lifting. Analysis, interpretation, deep discussion, introspective interviews…you name it, we’ve got it. “Favorites” takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites—whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever!—in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Steve Wandling’s favorite Game of Thrones moments.
The wait is over. Winter is finally here.This weekend sees the premiere of the final season of HBO’s smash series Game of Thrones. It’s been a hell of a ride, but all things must pass. Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have taken us all on quite the epic journey. Don’t break your tissue boxes out just yet though because the home stretch is sure to be a television event for the ages.
Before we dive head first into the war between the White Walkers and the living (and everything else), I wanted to take the opportunity to look back at where we have already been. In a series as explosive as Game of Thrones, that is packed with so many memorable moments, picking out ten of my favorite was quite the challenge. But like a member of the Kingsguard on the battlefield, I took to it with gusto. Enjoy the list and when I get back, I’ll tell you all about your mother. I promise…
Jaime Lannister Loses a Hand
In the David Benioff directed episode “Walk of Punishment,” everyone’s favorite Knight of the Kingsguard, Ser Jaime Lannister (Nickolaj Coster-Waldau), is being transported by Locke (the ever brilliant Noah Taylor) to Hareenhall as a prisoner of war. This moment was both shocking and the most pivotal moment in the series at that point for Jaime’s character. From the start, the show cast Jaime in a pretty villainous light. In the series pilot, he pushed a young Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) presumably to his death when the boy caught him having sex with his sister Cersei (Lena Headey). I’m not trying to make an argument that Jaime Lannister is a hero. He’s not. He’s done some extremely monstrous things since then. But this was the moment that made Jaime have to start all over again. What’s a knight without a hand after all?
The execution was done expertly as well. In a series stuffed with characters that come and go, it’s easy to forget Locke, but Noah Taylor played him to ruthless perfection. Without Jaime’s hand, his entire world and status were shattered. Locke knew that this was a worse fate for Jaime than death. But to me, the moment when Jaime Lannister became a much more interesting character that couldn’t be clearly defined as hero or villain began the moment that blade came down.
Nice Day for a Red Wedding
No Game of Thrones list would be complete without one of the most shocking episodes in television history. At the time, no one saw it coming. Looking back, it should have been obvious. Robb Stark (Richard Madden) was a terrible leader who lost “The War of the Five Kings” for the North, countless soldiers’ lives, and the lives of his mother, wife, and unborn child. He was a stubborn, foolish “pretty boy” who couldn’t be bothered to even strategize the war he had waged and inspired his fellow Northerners to take up arms in. He was too busy wooing new wife Tarissa (Oona Chaplin). This too proved foolish as it led directly to Robb breaking off his arranged marriage with the daughter one of the Starks long time allies, the Freys. Sadly, Robb Stark was not his dearly departed father Ned (Sean Bean) at all.
“The Rains of Castamere,” directed by David Nutter, is the very definition of a water cooler moment. Robb and his banner men are all betrayed and murdered by Walder Frey (David Bradley), who was apparently slightly more pissed off at the Starks for besmirching his daughter then he let on. The scene is an absolute bloodbath. Robb was the hero of the show. Viewers were left traumatized. Who the hell were they supposed to root for now? (Author note’s: the answer has always been Cersei.)
The Lannisters won again, making an alliance with the Freys, who felt Robb Stark had it coming. And as shocking as that scene was, looking back all I can really say is…yeah. Yeah he totally did. The Lannisters send their regards indeed.
Brothers Bran Stark and Jon Snow’s (Almost) Reunion At Craster’s Keep
I’ve noticed that a lot of my writing often focuses on aspects of family; be it lack thereof, finding one’s own family…and although Game of Thrones is a huge show that encompasses an entire world, I often find myself drawn to many of the more personal moments found within the series. The episode “First of His Name,” directed by Michelle MacLaren, has one of my favorite familial moments in the entire run of the show. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) took down Karl (Burn Gorman) and his band of mutineers at Craster’s Keep, but without knowing that his baby half-brother Bran was there as captive.
Locke, working with Jon Snow to oust the ex-Night Watchmen from the keep, found Bran and his traveling companions, but being the sneaky fucker that he is, refused to tell Jon Snow that his brother was on the premises. (Yes, this is very same Locke that chopped off Jaime’s hand.) Locke saw an opportunity to make some money by delivering the true heir to the Stark throne into the hands of their enemies. This plan didn’t really work out too well for him, as Hodor (Kristian Nairn) snapped his neck like a twig. Remember kids: it doesn’t always pay to be ruthless and ambitious.
When Bran and his friends escaped to continue their own journey further North, Bran saw his older brother fighting in the distance. Jon had no idea that Bran was even there. It’s a heartbreaking moment as any hope of reunification wouldn’t come for the brothers until much later…and it was also a character defining moment for Bran Stark on his quest to find the Black Raven. He could have easily run for safety in the comfort of his brother’s arms. It would have been more than understandable in less harrowing situations, but here it was just so painful to watch brother stare longingly at brother, knowing deep down that his own journey lies elsewhere outside comfort, away from family, and further onward into the unknown and the cold.
Tyrion Lannister Murders his Father Tywin
At this point, there’s only a few characters on Game of Thrones that are a safe bet for a “who is making it to the end” pool. One of the characters that surprisingly is safe money in my eyes for survival is none other than Lannister family outcast Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). We’ve seen Tyrion go from drunkard to master of the coin of King’s Landing, have love affairs with prostitutes and marriages to royalty, to accused killer of King Joffrey Baratheon and wanted fugitive, to Hand of Queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).
In perhaps Tyrion’s most remarkable feat, he managed to escape a date with the executioner. Falsely accused of killing King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), Tyrion escapes his prison cell just before dawn with a little help from his older brother Jaime. How sweet. Jaime got a little more than he bargained for, though, when Tyrion snuck upstairs and murdered the man who put him on trial and ordered his execution: their father, Lannister patriarch Tywin (Charles Dance).
Tywin was always ashamed of Tyrion. He hated him for being born a little person. He blamed him for the death of his wife, who died giving birth to Tyrion. It always struck me as odd since everyone including Tywin knew that Jaine and Cersei had always been romantically involved that he had such disdain for Tyrion. I think he really did see him as a monster; as less than human. The moment when Tyrion found dear old dad in, let’s say, a compromising position (on the toilet) and fired that crossbow into his cold, stony heart, misanthropes everywhere leapt up and cheered. Chalk that up as one for the good guys and a warning to shit dads everywhere.
Stannis Baratheon Sacrifices Daughter For Nothing
Game of Thrones traditionally gives the big payoff of the season (“Red Wedding” for example) in the penultimate episode and lets the finale set things up for everyone to ponder around the water coolers until next season. Season 5 episode “The Dance of Dragons,” directed by David Nutter, was no substitute. This was probably the darkest the show ever got for me…and I loved every bleak second of it. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), in his claim to the Iron Throne, had done some very dark things. Most of them involved black magic and a redheaded sorcerer, seductress, and worshiper of the God of Light named Melisandre (Carice Von Houten). Nothing could prepare viewers for what the God of Light was about to ask next.
It seems that things were not going well for Stannis’ campaign in the “War of the Five Kings” by that point. He was in the North, where no one but Northerners want to be, in the freezing cold. His wife and deformed daughter were also with him, which is always fun in war time. To top it off, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) had just ransacked a lot of their supplies in the night, which caused a great deal of unrest amongst his men. It started to look like it was time to lick his wounds and go home.
That is, until Melisandre instructed Stannis that everything would be fine and his forces victorious if he just burned his only daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) at the stake as a sacrifice to the God of Light. Melisandre claimed that is the only way to victory, so Stannis horrifyingly did it only to be surrounded soon after and killed by a force far outmatching his own. Melisandre, however, managed to escape before everyone else was killed. Figures.
Littlefinger Murders Lysa Arryn
I love delightfully evil characters. Westeros’ Lord Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Alan Tudyk), is perhaps the most deliciously evil one of them all. He was plotting and scheming his way up the ladder since before he got Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) head permanently removed from his shoulders. Baelish is a ruthless, yet charming and intelligent individual. If you were to look up a picture of “snake” in the dictionary, his face would be what you would find. Starting out as a pimp and brothel owner, Baelish’s journey throughout the series was like watching him play a game of chess against the entire world. He always seemed to be holding all the cards and he was never to be trusted, although Littlefinger could be quite the friend when needed to be. But he made a deadlier enemy. Just ask his (ex) wife.
Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner)’s aunt, is also a villain…and she was utterly insane. She and Baelish were actually behind the entire damn thing from the get-go. After conspiring to kill Jon Arryn, Lord of the Vale, with Lysa, Littlefinger married her. But when she started to act her insane self around young Sansa Stark, whom he brought to the Vale for protection, Lord Baelish did what he always did best: he quietly turned the tables.
Lysa was just about to throw Sansa through a gigantic hole in the floor of the Vale’s castle, and the only thing that stopped her was the soothing, reassuring words of her husband Lord Baelish. But when Littlefinger starts to mesmerize someone with his words, there’s usually something very bad about to happen to them. This case was no different as he made Lysa feel at ease—telling her that the whole idea of him loving Sansa instead of her was ludicrous—just long enough to get her in his grip and send her flailing to her death. Littlefinger’s moves on the chess board eventually ran out, but he was definitely one of the most fun people to watch play the game.
Sansa Feeds Ramsay to the Dogs
Speaking of delightful villains I miss on the show, one is most certainly Ramsay Bolton. From torturing and castrating Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), to feeding his own stepmother and her new born baby to a pack of vicious dogs, Bolton was a complete bastard every step of the way. He was also an actual bastard, having started out as a Snow, like Jon, before his father deemed him worthy enough to use the family name. In the most hyped grudge match in the history of Westeros, Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton finally met face to face on the battlefield in the episode “The Battle of the Bastards,” directed by Miguel Sapochnik.
The entire episode mostly took place on the battlefield, but it was after that Ramsay finally got what was coming to him from his own wife, Sansa Stark. How do you pay someone back for marital rape and constant torture? How do you get even with someone who has changed you in ways you can’t ever return from? The simple answer is you probably can’t. Some things that happen to us forever leave a scar.
So what’s a girl to do when said asshole villainous psychotic husband is finally at her mercy? Tie the bastard up and feed him to his own dogs. It was another surprising character reveal that Sansa could even go there, but after everything that she had been through, it’s no surprise that she was willing to give back what had been given. One thing is certain, I don’t care how much you hate Ramsay, the moment those dogs started to turn on him you felt a slight turn in your stomach…and more confusing is how much you enjoyed it.
Cersei Lannister’s Prophecy of Doom
The Season 5 cold open of “The Wars to Come” centered on a young Cersei Lannister (Nell Williams) and one of her friends going to visit an old witch that lives in the woods named Maggy the Frog. Cersei, basically wanting to know if she’s going to grow up and marry the charming prince Rhaegar Targaryen, got more than she bargained for with Maggy. Maggy told her that she would indeed marry a king (she did not specify which king) and she would have three children spoiled by riches. That’s the good news.
The bad news was all three children were to die before their time and that a younger, more beautiful queen would rise up to take Cersei’s place. It was such a revealing moment for her character. Cersei grew up with this knowledge, especially concerning her children, and despite all of her best efforts throughout the series, watched them die in terrible ways one by one by one. She was haunted by it. This back story didn’t humanize her, but it went a long way toward explaining her mind set as an adult. It also served as another example of a big show doing a lot with it’s quiet moments.
There’s Brave Men Knocking At Our Door. Let’s Go Kill Them!
“Blackwater” is still my favorite battle of the entire series to date. Directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers), the entirety of the episode is in preparation of and leading up to the Battle of King’s Landing between Stannis Baratheon’s forces and the forces of King Joffrey and his Lannister allies. The biggest problem facing King’s Landing was that no one had the courage to go out and fight them, except for one man: Tyrion Lannister. In his finest hour, he not only led the defense against Stannis Baratheon’s assault and manage to hold them off, he gave one of the best rallying cries of all time when he proclaimed: “There are brave men knocking on our door. Let’s go kill them!”
I still get chills every time I think of that moment, the courage that he displayed, and the chaos that followed. I firmly expected Tyrion to bite the dust that night, but I am proud to say that he lives on. The episode also had the benefit of being directed by Neil Marshall, who has made some of the most exciting independent genre cinema of the 21st century, but it is Tyrion’s speech that stuck with me.
Cersei’s Plan Comes Together
I may have mentioned earlier in the piece that I am full on #teamcersei. This is, after all, a ruthless show about ruthless people doing ruthless things. She’s the true ice queen. Lena Headey has given us moment after moment of villainous greatness, but she never feels like Maleficent. Underneath we often see the human behind the queen, the person behind the monster. That isn’t the type of moment that brings this list together. No, my favorite moment in Game of Thrones history is seeing Cersei pull off killing all of her enemies by outsmarting them all at once.
In the Season 6 finale “The Winds of Winter,” directed by Miguel Sapotchnik, Queen Cersei gathered all of her enemies at the Great Sept of Baelor in what was supposed to be her trial, including the religious zealots known as the Sparrows, most of the House of Tyrell (including her son’s wife), and the majority of the royal court. Instead of standing trial, she sent them all flying sky high with an explosion of wildfire that rocked the very foundations of King’s Landing. It was a master stroke and one that will (hopefully) lead her to rightfully sit on the Iron Throne when Game of Thrones is all said and done.
So those are my favorite moments from Game of Thrones. There’s obviously a few others that really came close to making the cut…but I had to leave off somewhere and ten seemed like a good list. Once the final season ends, maybe I’ll come back and write a list of ten more memorable moments from the entire show. There’s a little bit of everything on this list: from quiet family moments, bloody family moments, weddings gone bad, and people behaving worse. But in a time of war that will decide who sits on the Iron Throne and rule the land, only the most ruthless and cunning can survive. Winter is here indeed. Long live the Queen!