Ranking the Game of Thrones Seasons

Game of Thrones was a genuine cultural phenomenon. Given how badly it ended, you might forget there was a point when it was perfectly fun genre television. I would even say it’s worth going back and watching some of it. Find out which seasons were worth the time.

8. Season 8: The Wheels Come Off

It seems hard to believe now but there was once a moment when we thought the final season of Game of Thrones might be Actually Good. There was so much riding on this season. The final four seasons were all essentially setup for this six-episode payoff. And the show completely failed in every meaningful way. No show has collapsed so spectacularly, and it is frankly very hilarious how this all played out. Not much else needs to be said.


7. Season 7: Uh Oh

At a bare minimum, season 7 was incredibly uneven. An important thing to understand about this season is that it really was mostly just setup for the final six episodes of the show that would make up season 8. Any chance this season had of being redeemed in our collective memory went out the window when the final season shat the bed so spectacularly. There were things in this batch of episodes that were enjoyable on their own. The problems were glaring and arguably (definitely) way worse than the positives though.


6. Season 5: Post-Tywin Hangover

It really was not understood in the moment, but season 5 and season 6 really just existed to stall with the main characters as the show got them from place to place to set up the seasons 7/8 endgame for the whole show. That dynamic made these two seasons distinctly filler and thus quite a waste of time. There were a couple of other things at work that helps to understand why this season in particular on the weaker side of things. The Death of Tywin Lannister had a couple of unexpected consequences. For starters, Charles Dance was such a steadying presence on the show. He grounded the show in a very important and meaningful and nailed every scene he was in. Secondly, Tywin the character was so focused on his goals that it kept the whole show focused on the larger games being played. Season 5 and later season 6 made the show feel directionless and frustrating.


5. Season 6: We’re in the Endgame, Now


Like season 5, this season of stalling and clearing the board was a real mixed bag. You give this the nod over season 5 because that feeling of “things are actually happening” is undeniably better than what we got a season earlier. But even that feeling is a mixed bag once with perspective you learn that the things happening were meaningless even in the context of the program.


4. Season 2: The Rise of Tyrion

Season 2 was based on the overall weak book 2 of the series, and unsurprisingly the show fell into many of the same traps the book did. The one undeniably excellent part of the show was how they essentially decided to center things around Peter Dinklage. Dinklage took over for Sean Bean and carried the program on his shoulders and helped keep the show together even as threads of the world came undone. While you would not be necessarily excited to go back and watch this season, you would not be all that frustrated while watching it.


3. Season 4: The End of Hope

I always tell people that you can really just stop watching Game of Thrones after season 4. In fact, the finale of season 4 in retrospect kind of feels like a bad-ass ambiguous ending for the whole show. Closure in television and movies is overrated. Life is messy and doesn’t just end in any neat way besides death. The image of Arya leaving the only land she has ever been in and sailing off to the great unknown is kind of a beautiful moment that I think back on as a far more fitting end to the story. It would be okay that we did not learn “what happened” to many characters. The journey of the first four seasons was entertaining and satisfying enough on its own that it could in fact stand on its own.


2. Season 3: You win…or you die

Season 3 was a huge turning point for the show in terms of the shift from being a relatively niche show to a pop cultural phenomenon. While there were many great things that happened during this season, it is undeniable that the Red Wedding was a genuine Moment. I had not read the books yet, and that sequence really just took my breath away. Much like the execution of Ned Stark two seasons earlier, what made the moment so satisfying was not just the shock of it but that as soon as it happens you feel like it made perfect sense and that you should have seen it coming. In a real “be careful what you wish for” feeling though, the show felt like it was made in the shadow of the Red Wedding forever after. Instead of a show about characters, it became a show about moments, and very few genuinely big moments were left in their arsenal. So they just kept trying to recreate the magic of this one in various ways. Alas.


1. Season 1: The Great Game

I often point to one moment in season one that I feel like simultaneously explains why I once was in love with this show and also why the show no longer made an impact on me by the end. And it was a moment that did not happen in the books. Robert and Cersei have this quiet conversation reflecting on their years together. And it is just beautifully human how these two very sad and lonely people in this unhappy, arranged marriage reflect together in a way that tells you this show is at the end of the day about people. The show got steadily further and further away from this kind of stuff before almost abandoning it altogether by the end. When it was revealed that this scene essentially came about as an accident because the incompetent and new-to-television showrunners kept coming in way too short on their episodes and needed to fill them out, it kind of explained the whole failure of the show.


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