Since Game of Thrones is premiering three months later than usual this year, you may be tempted to fill all those dark, terror-filled nights between then and now with old episodes of the show.
But with 60 hours of Thrones already behind us, a full series rewatch might seem as daunting as a fist-fight with the Mountain.
As an alternative to sequestering yourself in the House of the Undying and swearing off sunlight for the next few weeks, we’ve (agonizingly) identified seven vital episodes that should prepare you for the wars to come, based on where we think the show is heading from the clues sprinkled throughout the Season 7 trailer and other teasers.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
“Winter is Coming” (Season 1, episode 1)
The first episode of the series sets up all the conflicts that are still driving the show to this day, and gives us our first hint that Lyanna Stark may have more of a role than simply being Ned’s dead sister.
The episode also illustrates the disturbing lengths that Cersei and Jaime Lannister are willing to go to in order to maintain their power including trying to murder young Bran Stark when he inadvertently catches the siblings in flagrante delicto. That Jaime Lannister has evolved from a douchebag who shoves 10-year-olds out of windows into one of the most sympathetic heroes of the series is a testament to the show’s narrative power.
“Blackwater” (Season 2, episode 9)
GoT‘s first attempt at staging an episode around one pivotal battle remains one of its finest hours in terms of scale and thrills but it also introduces the destructive power of wildfire, which is used to completely destroy Stannis Baratheon’s fleet. The day is saved by the quick-thinking of Tyrion Lannister, who proves himself to be a more worthy leader than his nephew Joffrey could ever be. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to see more of Tyrion’s strategic prowess in action in Season 7, now that he’s allied with Daenerys against his sister.
“Kissed by Fire” (Season 3, episode 5)
While this midseason episode might seem restrained on paper, it does a lot of heavy-lifting in terms of plot momentum, planting seeds that don’t pay off until seasons later. The political maneuvering between Robb Stark and his followers sets the table for a certain wedding that takes place a few episodes after, while Littlefinger is already using Sansa in a pawn as he starts consolidating his power. His cunning plan to ruin her chances of marrying Ser Loras result in a chaotic set of circumstances that will temporarily align her with Tyrion and, as a result, with Littlefinger himself soon after. And wouldn’t you know it, the puppet master is still trying to pull her strings in Season 7.
But the real strength of the episode comes from its mythology: We see the first example of someone being resurrected by the Lord of Light when Beric Dondarrion fights The Hound, and witness the first stirrings of Jaime’s vulnerability (as well as getting some vital context about the Mad King) when he reveals the origin of his “Kingslayer” nickname to Brienne. Oh, and Jon Snow loses his virginity!
“The Rains of Castamere” (Season 3, episode 9)
Forever known as The Red Wedding, this episode had such an impact on its unwitting audience members (at least those who hadn’t read the books) and pop culture as a whole, one could argue that it was the pinnacle of Peak TV.
The betrayal of Robb Stark by the Freys (with the backing of the Lannisters) continues to reverberate throughout Westeros and while Arya has now taken her revenge on Walder Frey and his sons, she and the other Starks are still out for Lannister blood, putting Cersei firmly in the crosshairs next season. Another traumatic scene you might’ve forgotten: The episode also sees Bran and Jon come thisclose to reuniting an event we’re still waiting for.
“Oathkeeper” (Season 4, episode 4)
Another deep cut, this episode sees the first real cracks in the foundation of Cersei and Jaime’s relationship, when he defies Cersei’s desire to capture Sansa and instead sends Brienne out to find and protect her, even giving her his Valyrian steel sword to aid her in the quest.
Elsewhere, Littlefinger continues his machinations; we get the first appearance of the Night King in a suitably chilling sequence; and Daenerys secures her first major victory when her Unsullied army liberates the slaves of Meereen and conquers the city but also proves that she has her father’s taste for blood when she orders the public execution of the slave masters rather than showing them mercy.
“Hardhome” (Season 5, episode 8)
If the Season 7 teasers released so far reveal anything, it’s that the White Walkers are the most immediate and deadly threat facing our characters as the series nears its end, whether they realize it or not. This episode is a perfect demonstration of the Night King’s power: Jon and his allies barely escape with their lives after a brutal battle with the wights, and they realize just how dire their situation is when they witness the Night King reanimating the dead to add them to his growing army.
“The Winds of Winter” (Season 6, episode 10)
Last season’s finale features so many showstopping moments, we’re still reeling from them: Cersei destroys her political opponents (and the Great Sept) with wildfire, prompting her son Tommen to commit suicide and allowing her to gain control of the Iron Throne; Arya kills Walder Frey in the most delightfully disgusting fashion imaginable; Jon is declared King in the North; Bran discovers that Jon is actually the son of Lyanna Stark (and a mystery father that’s not actually a mystery because HBO is apparently done being coy); and Daenerys sets sail for Westeros giving us one of the most satisfying and shocking hours of TV in recent memory. Is it July yet?
Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres July 16 on HBO.
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