At the beginning of June, my wife and I came back with the kids from visiting my parents and decided to go with the beach vibe’s flow, and in our continuing quest to maintain our sanity, we decided to FINALLY watch HBO’s Game of Thrones. We were consumed by it from the first days of June until July 22nd, highlighted by an entire season viewed inside a Blowing Rock, NC bubble during our anniversary weekend. Surrounded by reminders at the resort that the world was battling a pandemic (virus and mindset), we watched “GOT,” as it became known in our house; we ate great meals and we watched GOT. It was during that weekend that I decided to write this column when we had finished our journey through Westeros, the North, the Iron Islands, King’s Landing, Dorne, and beyond. What a show it was, and though I can appreciate the controversy of the conclusion, I’m going to focus on the things that I liked.
#10: The Adventures of Bronn of the Blackwater
Numerous characters among the secondary and tertiary players in the giant game of chess that was the GOT Universe had arcs that led to satisfying moments. Brienne of Tarth comes to mind in that category, as do Theon Grayjoy, Tormund Giantsbane, and Samwell Tarley. The most enjoyable of those characters gets the nod on this particular list. By a hair over Giantsbane the Wildling, it’s Bronn (Sir Bronn eventually), whose comedic timing was as valuable to GOT’s TV show quality as his fighting skills were to Tyrian and then Jamie Lannister in the storylines. From random guy hanging out in the Vale of Arryn to the Lord of High Garden and a member of the King’s council, Bronn never failed to add an element of entertainment to such a heavy-weighted emotional show. So, it’s not one moment, per say, but a series of them that land Bronn and his outlook of the world to this list.
#9: Hodor Means “Hold the Door”
There are lot of proverbial chess pieces in Game of Thrones, but few main characters ever felt like they lacked purpose. Hodor was a prime example of GOT offering payoffs along the journey that created deeper emotional connections to on-going, bigger storylines. Bran Stark embarked on an interesting quest from the first few episodes on, and Hodor was his protector for several seasons. When it became clear that Bran was an integral part of the show’s future, Hodor sacrificed himself to save the future Three Eyed Raven. While he was being attacked by soldiers of the dead, we saw into the past, when a young man’s mind is temporarily merged with future Bran visiting his father’s memories. It was Hodor, back when he was just an innocent boy named Wylis. He had the vision in that moment of his future self holding the door shut so that Bran could escape the army of the dead. That was when he lost his mind and became a simpleton who could only say “Hodor” (hold the door). His purpose was to protect Bran, and it was heartbreaking to watch him take his purpose all the way to his own demise; when the dead army was eventually defeated, I remembered Hodor’s sacrifice, which made the Night King’s death more cathartic.
#8: The Army of the Dead Snuff Out the Dothraki Army
The battle between the living and the dead is teased from the very first scene of the very first episode; it had to live up to the eight seasons of hype behind it. Tonally, I loved the choice for the music that played throughout the episode, which had its entire 90-minutes dedicated to the grandest battle in GOT history. I greatly appreciated many other parts of the Battle at Winterfell too. Yet, it was the opening scene that was most memorable. It was a moment that emphasized the sheer gravity of the coming threat, the Dothraki charging into the darkness with flaming weapons right at the oncoming army of the dead, then within 30 seconds seeing hundreds of flames snuffed out from the point of view of the forces closer to the Winterfell castle. The episode became a classic David vs. Goliath tale, with the dead army completely owning the living’s greatest warriors making it clear just how much.
#7: Sansa Flips the Script on Little Finger
Lord Baelish added a complex dynamic to GOT, weaving his web of lies amidst several admirable attempts to help protagonists, albeit all benefiting his own plot. Sansa Stark got caught in the web, which ultimately took her from one living you-know-what right into another. She was the show’s most sympathetic character, like a girl reading Seventeen magazine and dreaming about princes getting teleported into the real world of the 15th century, when cruel leaders like King Joffrey and Ramsey Bolton pounced on her weaknesses. Sansa overcame the odds, though, and during the final two seasons came into her own as a leader, herself, ultimately the Queen of the North. Best exemplifying her transformation from the early seasons until she rose like a phoenix out of the ashes of her past was the moment when she outwitted Lord Baelish, who was plotting to turn her and Arya against each other.
#6: The Mountain vs. The Mandalorian
There were a couple of fight scenes in the show that stood out, but one in particular sits on the iron throne of GOT battles. Setting the stage well were the stakes. Tyrion Lannister’s life was on the line…again. He was practically the narrator of the series, offering eloquent commentary to the madness of the period in human history when GOT took place. Losing him wouldn’t have felt right. Representing him was the Dornish Oberyn Martell, played by the same actor who starred in the Disney+ hit, The Mandalorian. On the opposite side of the fighting pit, representing Cersei Lannister, was the Mountain, the enormous knight of the King’s Guard. The irresistible force meeting the immoveable object, essentially, the battle was fascinating and emotional. Oberyn wanted revenge on the Mountain for killing his family members and kept yelling about it repeatedly as he chopped the giant down for size…but he talked too much and proceeded to meet his demise in a way that will stay with me like Tara’s death (via Gemma) in Sons of Anarchy. It was brutal, but very memorable.
#5: “This is Jon Snow; He’s King in the North”
After Robb Stark died, Jon Snow became my top guy. His brooding, quiet confidence was reminiscent of serious Thor from the first two standalone films in the MCU series. He was a character that deserved to be around until the end, earning every bit of the credibility he gained from start to finish. Yet, it is one particular moment that stands out to me among the rest, and it is not a battle scene or his being raised from the dead or even one of his fleeting moments of happiness. No, it is when Sir Davos introduces him to Daenerys, she of the half dozen or more nicknames, proudly rattled off by her supporters like Apollo Creed before his fights in the Rocky movies. The first Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen meeting begins the show’s two season climax; it generated an aura of the weight that the moment logically carried. Then, Sir Davos countered the Queen’s glorious (and wordy) introduction with his show-enhancing dry Irish wit. “This is Jon Snow…he’s King in the North.” Drop the mic, Sir Davos; you stole the show.
#4: King Joffrey Meets His Doom
Game of Thrones created quite a few visceral moments, including but not limited to the fist-pumping joy of seeing certain characters get their comeuppance, and for me none more so than the sniveling little weasel-monster, King Joffrey. I think I started clapping. I also think it was expertly placed in the series, building him up to peak wholly unlikeable levels and then taking him out of the picture at just the right time. He was the show’s top heel by my estimation; he had no redeeming qualities whatsoever and accordingly made disliking him as easy as breathing. So, needless to say, gruesome as it was, watching Joffrey meet his maker by poison was quite satisfying.
#3: Tyrion Lannister is The Man
Without question, the most likeable character on Game of Thrones was Tyrion Lannister. He was the smartest guy in the room in a relatable way; an everyman. Perhaps it would also be just to call him the most interesting character on the show. Admittedly, the palpable, deeper connection to him was never there for me like it was for someone like Jon Snow – maybe in that way his often held title of “Hand of the King” is appropriate, for he was the glue that held the show together, the unsung hero more than the true, show-closing protagonist – but his value was immeasurable. I’m testing the boundaries of what can be considered a moment, I suppose, so I’ll narrow it down to this: seeing him at the head of the table, running a country, in the finale’s final minutes, was not quite as satisfying in a heart-warming way as Joffrey’s death was in its way, but it was close.
#2: The Red Wedding
Frankly, this one is a bit odd, because I’m adhering to the column title’s charge of picking the most memorable moments, but this was probably one of my least favorite episodes. It is memorable to me because it was shocking. This was Season 3, Episode 9, and up to that point Robb Stark was my guy. I had developed rooting interest in several other characters by then, as well, but without question, I was buying a lot of Robb Stark stock. “The Red Wedding” took the wind out of my sails, simultaneously making it clear that nothing was off limits moving forward. I knew there were 8 seasons of this show, so from this episode on, Sarah and I were well aware that we could get to the series finale and everyone but one major character could be dead; if Robb and Catelyn Stark were not around for the long-haul, then…yeah. It was also memorable for being, to me, the most emotionally gut-wrenching moment of the series, particularly when Robb’s wife meets her end moments after telling Robb that she wants to name their baby, Ned.
#1: Arya Stark, from Little Girl to Hero
Given the way that things turned out for Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, whose complicated arcs left us feeling just short of like we’d been punched in the gut, Arya’s storyline progression was like a rated R version of Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. She was clearly a future badass from the out-set, but she developed as a character in ways that took you down into the depths with her, which made it all the more satisfying when we got to experience the joy of seeing her endure it all and wind up saving the world in perhaps the most memorable (in a positive way) episode of the final season (the climax of the war against the dead). I resonate strongly with rebels right now. Cheers to Arya for being the rebel with a cause that gave Game of Thrones perhaps its most fitting character conclusion to an eight season epic.