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Game of Thrones took a nosedive in its eighth season. The quality of storytelling suffered, the production crew’s attention to detail went out the window, and the producers refused to be held responsible for any of it, evading the blame or, at worst, shifting the blame to viewers. The show is still better than a lot of what’s out there, but it has become an entirely different quality of show compared to its prior seasons, and as a fan, it’s painful because that juxtaposition makes it ever clearer how amazing this final act could have been and how much potential was squandered in the rushing of this last season.
Let’s revisit some of the greatest moments from Game of Thrones to relive the best of what this series had to offer, to remember the show for the amazing journey it took us on and not the disappointing destination we ended up at.
1. The Battle of Hardhome
The Battle of Hardhome isn’t simply the best battle of the series—with the Loot Train Attack as a close second, yes even over the Battle of the Bastards—but the most existentially dreadful scene in the show’s entire running. The 20-minute fight sequence is more nail-biting than any zombie film, and there are some fist-pumping moments like when we discover that Valyrian steel can defeat White Walkers, but the ending is literally spine-chilling. When the Night King raises his arms, you think he’s just showing Jon how much death and carnage he can bring—until the corpses begin to twitch and eyes flicker open, at which point you realize there’s no way to beat an entity whose army can only grow.
2. The Hound vs. Brienne of Tarth
You know why fight scenes—whether in movies, TV shows, books, or wherever else—are often boring or non-impactful? Because they often involve a protagonist versus an antagonist, and you know who you’re rooting for, and you know the protagonist is going to win because the story would end if they didn’t. Yet in this fight scene, we have two fan favorites doing everything they can to avoid bloodshed, but their goals are so antithetical that conflict is inevitable—and even as the fight rolls on, we don’t know who to root for. That’s a recipe that works, and it results in one of the most tense, most suspensful, and most heartbreaking scenes in the history of fiction.
3. The Judgment of Eddard Stark
The only crime committed by Eddard Stark was incessant naivety, and he certainly paid for it. For many viewers, Game of Thrones was simply a good show for most of its first season, whereas this moment solidified it as a great show. The willingness for a TV series to off one of its main characters—played by an actor of Sean Bean’s caliber no less—so early in its run bought trust from viewers and made a singular promise: this is unlike any other show you’ve watched. We all know how that turned out, and yet we can’t deny that we’ll never forget the first time we saw Ned Stark lose his head.
4. Oberyn vs. The Mountain
By this point in the series, we’d already seen Ned’s execution and the Red Wedding. Anyone who let down their guard deserved what was coming—and I was one of those people. Oberyn was one of my favorite characters, and while Game of Thrones had always been a brutal show, it also had its moments of victory, and I genuinely believed this was one of them. And then the reversal hit like a sack of bricks, and it has stuck with me ever since. Truly one of the most memorable and well-executed scenes in the entire series.
5. Hodor’s Name
Many elements came together to create this fantastic moment: we got to see Bran warg into the past, we got to see how Hodor got his name and why that’s the only thing he can say, and we got to see Hodor make a heroic sacrifice like no other. It’s hard to think of a more haunting moment.
6. The Shadow Monster
Even in a fantasy series about White Walkers and the risen dead and mythical dragons and magical fire priestesses, seeing something as otherworldly as a shadow monster is guaranteed to draw out a “WTF?!” from even the most nerdy viewers. And it’s not like she summoned one out of the flames—she gave birth to it. Yup, this showed us that Ned’s death was only the start and that the series still had many tricks up its sleeves.
7. The Red Wedding
If you thought Ned’s death was ballsy, then the Red Wedding probably had you on your knees. Not only did the show flex its willingness to kill off not just Robb but also his pregnant wife and child, then capping it off with the throat-slitting of Catelyn. Cutting to silent black has never been more effective or more fitting, as we really needed those after-moments to process everything that just happened. Powerful stuff.
8. The Sept of Baelor
Most viewers remember this moment as either “that kick-ass spectacle of an explosion” or “that sad moment when Margaery gets blown to bits,” but I actually love this scene because it’s the first time we ever hear piano in the scoring for Game of Thrones. It primes us with an uneasy feeling, like it’s something that we shouldn’t be hearing, as if it were a bad omen of things to come, that something in the series was about to shift in a dramatic way.
9. The Hall of Faces
When Arya first arrived at the House of Black and White, it was fun because there was a strange sort of mystery to the whole thing, plus we’d seen Jaqen H’ghar change his face and we wanted to know how the heck he did that and who the Faceless Men were. But when Arya first encounters the Hall of Faces, things got serious, real quick. It deepened the lore of Game of Thrones and cranked the mystery up several levels. What a cool idea, and kudos to whoever designed that set.
10. The Ice Dragon
Forget for a moment where the “resurrected ice dragon” storyline actually went, and cast yourself back to where it all started. The death of Viserion was shocking in the fact that we’d lost a dragon that we saw born from fire and grow up over several years. That was big enough. But then we see massive chains. Pulling something from the waters. Where the dying dragon settled. And the Night King is approaching it. To touch it. And it’s EYES OPEN? This may have been the very last actually shocking scene in Games of Thrones, but at least it was a good one.