It’s never not a good time to talk about HBO’s Game of Thrones. Arguing with your girlfriend about doing the dishes? Perfect time to discuss the political instability in Westeros. Getting yelled at by your boss? Counter with a theory on Jon Snow being Azor Ahai. It’s all deadly.
As we continue the loooooooong wait for season seven, now is a perfect time to spark a brand new GoT debate. Namely: What is the best season of the show to date? Every year has featured HOLY S— character deaths, hashtag-worthy plot twists and badass battle sequences, but which one stands above the rest?
Here is our definitive ranking of all six Game of Thrones seasons from worst-to-best. Feel free to sound off with your disagreements in the comments section.
6. Season Five
No season of Game of Thrones has been full on bad. The show is like sex or pizza, even when it sucks, it’s still good. But season five was…wanting in a few areas. Jon Snow gets a fantastic character arc (shoutout to episode five, “Kill the Boy”) and episode eight, “Hardhome,” has a strong case as the series’ finest hour. But elsewhere, this year of Thrones dragged.
Dorne, one of the coolest locations in George R.R. Martin’s never-going-to-be-finished book series, is given the short end of the spear thanks to all of the demands GoT has for screen time. I also think we can all agree that the Sand Snakes were laughably bad, correct?
Another big problem with season five was its treatment of Sansa Stark. Just as we thought Sansa was going to take control of her own life and become a major player in the great game, she’s brutally victimized (again) at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. Theon Greyjoy’s redemption was great, but did it have to come at the expense of Sansa’s?
Still, seeing Tyrion meet up with Daenerys had me squealing like the boar that did Robert Baratheon in and Arya’s revenge on Ser Meryn was a delightful example of torture porn.
5. Season One
Let me say again: none of Game of Thrones‘ seasons have been bad. But it’s only natural that some stand out more than others. Season one was damn good and arguably the kicking off point of the true Peak TV era. It ensnared us in its political drama and set the tone for the show’s infamous cruelties by killing off Sean Bean’s Ned Stark after convincing viewers he was our main hero (*pours one out for the fallen homie).
In retrospect, Ned’s code of honor is as foolish as Jaime and Cersei’s twincest hiding spots given the treacherous climate of King’s Landing. It was season one that taught us that nobility and morality get you killed in this world
Season one was also bookended with two BIG moments: our first glimpse at the White Walkers and the birth of Dany’s dragons. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss smartly played down GoT‘s fantasy elements and grounded the early goings in a realistic(ish) footing. But these two moments helped expertly set the table for what was to come.
Bravo, HBO. Bravo.
4. Season Two
From Daenery’s never-ending time in Qarth to Theon’s betrayal of the Starks and capture of Winterfell, season two had its occasional dull moments. Both of these storylines were arguably the characters’ weakest arcs to date. But like benchwarmers on a LeBron James-led team, those weak links were masked by greatness elsewhere.
Watching Tyrion wheel and deal as Hand of the King was like watching a Medieval version of The West Wing, just with more nudity and wine. Tyrion has always been a fan favorite and seeing him in a position of power allowed him to showoff his many talents. Specifically, his save-the-day strategy and get hype speech in the epic “Blackwater” episode.
Elsewhere, Jon’s journey beyond the Wall introduced us to Ygritte and the Wildlings, which was great. And the scenes between Arya and Tywin at Harrenhal were an especially charged departure from the books. Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tarantino and Benioff/Weiss all share the unique trait of making fascinating scenes out of people just sitting around and talking.
If only my dinner table could be so lively.
3. Season Six
You could argue that season six doesn’t deserve to be this high on the list and I’d certainly agree with many of your criticisms. The High Sparrow vs. The Crown storyline dragged in places as did Arya’s meandering time in Braavos. Overall, much of season six felt a bit too easy and convenient. But by the Old Gods and the News was it enjoyable!
Season six offered shameless fan service and after years of the bad guys racking up Ws, the good guys finally scored some revenge. We got: Jon being resurrected to help Sansa win back Winterfell, Bran uploading to the Tree Matrix and revealing the origins of both Hodor and Jon in onion-cutting fashion, the return of Sandor Clegane, Darth Cersei Mad King-ing everyone of importance left in the capitol, Daenerys recruiting both the Dothraki and Dorne to her cause and the “Battle of the Bastards.”
You get all that?
Season six was balls to the wall exciting after five seasons of doom and gloom. I won’t apologize for loving damn near every second of it.
2. Season 4
Season four belongs to Tyrion and Arya, both of whom end up leaving Westeros entirely for their own reasons by season’s end. Their storylines were gorgeous displays of character development and shined particularly bright; the Lord of Light would approve. Season four also exemplified how well the showrunners could pivot audience opinions on characters, painting Sandor Clegane as a tragic hero before his (apparent) demise.
This year of GoT benefitted from the introduction of Prince Oberyn Martell (maybe I’m bias here since that’s also my Clash of Clans handle). Martell served as some much needed new blood, which is what made his shocking and bone crushingly graphic death such a pivotal moment. While his highly anticipated fight scene with The Mountain was great, it was one-upped just a few short weeks later by The Hound vs. Brienne’s gritty brawl.
Some other pluses from season four: Joffrey dies painfully, Littlefinger is revealed to be the puppet master to some of the show’s most crucial inciting incidents and Sansa finally manages to get the f— out of King’s Landing.
1. Season Three
Aw, that’s sweet. Rob Stark and his wife are having a nice moment and HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING DEAR LORD THIS IS AWFUL.
The Red Wedding…What is there to say about it that hasn’t already haunted your nightmares?
The Red Wedding was a seminal moment in television viewing history. It’s impact from an audience perspective was as far reaching and culturally intrusive as Who Shot J.R. and The Sopranos‘ fade to black. The scene also reaffirmed all of the hard lessons we learned in season one, just on a bigger and more brutal stage. No, the new and improved son would not avenge the father. The bad guys would win again.
But season three’s greatness isn’t entirely due to the Red Wedding as it also featured arguably the show’s most spectacular pairing in Jaime and Brienne. The Kingslayer was one of the show’s Big Bads in its early years, but his redemptive arc here transformed him into on of the series’ most beloved characters.
On top of all that, Daenerys demonstrated her true power by barbecuing slave owners and gaining an army. To that point, it was her most significant moment as a leader and a conquerer.
Sure, Theon’s torture grew a bit tired after awhile, but season three was explosive in a way few shows have ever been.