Many television shows have stellar first seasons but are unable to find the same success in future seasons. This is not the case with Game of Thrones, which not only had a stellar first season, but went on to have many other outstanding seasons as well. More than a year after the series finale, fans continue to debate which season is the best.
Seasons 1-4 and season 6 were critically acclaimed and well-received by most fans, seasons 5 and 7 received more mixed responses, and season 8 proved to be disappointing for many fans and critics. With that being said, every season has something unique and compelling to offer in the debate of which season is the best.
8 Season 1: Sets The Tone For The Entire Series
Season 1 does a perfect job of setting the tone for the complex and unique series. The execution of the leading hero Ned Stark makes it clear that no character is safe and this universe is even more cutthroat than anyone realized. Just because a character is honorable and a good person, that doesn’t mean that they will be safe.
The first season does an excellent job adapting iconic scenes like Ned’s execution, but it also sets the tone in scenes that don’t exist in the books. The most memorable example of this is the scene between Cersei Lannister and Robert Baratheon where they talk about how their marriage saved the Seven Kingdoms, but made them miserable.
7 Season 2: The Ultimate Tyrion Season
Tyrion Lannister is one of the show’s best characters, and season 2 is the ultimate Tyrion season. He gets to be Hand of the King and plays the game of thrones better than anyone else. Despite the reckless decisions his family has made, Tyrion rules with grace and cleverness while Tywin is busy fighting a war and Joffrey is busy satisfying his sadistic whims.
Tyrion gains invaluable allies and roots out the traitors who seek to undermine him, all while keeping his family in power and saving King’s Landing from itself and from invading forces. Season 2 is peak Tyrion, and that alone can make it the best season.
6 Season 3: The Red Wedding
Season 3 does a lot of things well, but it is ultimately defined by the Red Wedding. The Red Wedding is arguably the most tragic, shocking, and well-executed moment in the entire series. Incorporating the deaths of Talisa Stark and her unborn child makes the Red Wedding even more devastating than it already is in A Storm of Swords.
Even by the end of the series, the Red Wedding remains one of the most memorable, important, and game-changing events in the whole show, the likes of which the series was arguably never able to reach again.
5 Season 4: Iconic Moments In Almost Every Episode
Season 4 includes more iconic moments than any other season. Almost every episode includes one of these moments, such as Joffrey’s death at the Purple Wedding, Tyrion’s monologue when he’s on trial, Littlefinger pushing Lysa through the Moon Door, the Mountain crushing Oberyn Martell’s skull, and Ygritte dying in Jon Snow’s arms.
The season finale alone contains Tyrion killing Tywin and Shae, Bran finally reaching the Three-Eyed Raven, Arya abandoning the Hound after his duel with Brienne of Tarth, and Stannis saving Jon and the Night’s Watch from the wildlings. Season 4 is relentless and memorable, as practically every episode seems to contain a massive plot twist or emotional high point in the story.
4 Season 5: Hardhome
Like the Red Wedding in season 3, season 5 is defined by and made great by a single event. “Hardhome” is an episode that resonated well with book readers and non-book readers. The existential threat of the White Walkers is teased in the previous seasons, but this is the episode where the characters and the audience are forced to confront it in a way that isn’t shown in the books.
Unlike the Battle of Blackwater or the Battle of Castle Black, there is no force that shows up to save the protagonists from overwhelming odds at the last minute. It’s a straight-up massacre that wipes out many individuals, and Jon Snow barely makes it out alive. As the Night King raises all the dead and adds them to his army, it becomes crystal clear that this is the true enemy of the series, and little else matters in the face of this threat.
3 Season 6: Successfully Moving Beyond The Source Material
The show finished adapting most of the existing source material in seasons 4 and 5. Season 6 heads into mostly unexplored territory and yet it manages to be a critically acclaimed and well-received season.
This season tackles Jon Snow’s resurrection, Bran becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, “hold the door,” the Hound’s return, Arya reclaiming her identity, the Battle of the Bastards, Cersei blowing up her enemies inside the Sept of Baelor, the reveal of Jon Snow’s parentage, and Daenerys finally setting sail for Westeros. Season 6 handles all of these developments and more in a fluid and thrilling fashion without being able to draw from any fully fleshed-out source material.
2 Season 7: Bringing All The Key Players & Conflicts Together
Some fans feel that season 7 is where the show starts to go off the rails as the story seems to rush toward its looming conclusion. There is definitely merit toward this sentiment, but season 7 does deserve credit for bringing all the key players and conflicts together in Westeros.
The storylines of characters like Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Cersei Lannister seemed separate and disconnected for so long. In season 7 these characters and their storylines are no longer separate, and they clash in momentous ways. Daenerys unleashing Drogon and the Dothraki against the Lannister troops, dragons vs. the Army of the Dead, and Jon and Daenerys becoming the most important relationship in the story are things the show was building toward for years, and fans are finally able to see these things become a reality.
1 Season 8: Satisfying Conclusions For Some Characters
There are many valid criticisms of season 8, but it doesn’t get enough credit for being the season that provides satisfying conclusions for certain characters. Sansa Stark becoming Queen of the North–and asserting that the long-suffering North be free of the Iron Throne–is a perfect conclusion for her character development.
Brienne of Tarth being knighted is one of the best moments in the entire series. It’s the honor she always deserved more than any other character and she is also the right choice to become Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Theon Greyjoy rescuing his sister and then sacrificing everything to defend Bran and to defend Winterfell completes his arc of redemption. Jorah Mormont fighting until his last breath to defend Daenerys embodies everything his character stood for, right up to the very end.