Game of Thrones is an absolute beast of a show. Ten or so hours a year, we’re delighted with some of the best fantasy television to ever exist, and it’s wonderful and terrible and amazing and sad and sexy and badass as hell.
There have been plenty of ups and downs — including character deaths, story twists, reversals of fortune… and more character deaths. Here’s how all seven seasons stack up.
When considering the weakest season of Game of Thrones, season five quickly comes to mind. That isn’t to say the season was bad, but when compared to the absolute “can’t tear my eyes away” viewing of the first few seasons, it just doesn’t hold up.
There were plenty of highlights, such as Stannis’ slow march to Winterfell, Arya crossing Ser Meryn Trant off her kill list, and Jon’s surprise assassination to close the finale, but the season was mired by Dany’s storyline grinding to another boring halt, Brienne sitting and waiting, Bran being nowhere to be found, and Sansa’s character growth coming to an abrupt end at the hands of Ramsay.
It seems crazy to say this, but as the show has gone on, the character deaths haven’t kept up with the new characters that are constantly being introduced. The show is now split across so many disparate regions that certain storylines have to move slower than others, which creates inconsistent viewing. Season five has been the biggest culprit of this, to its obvious detriment. I did like how the show started to separate itself from the books, as it finally brought us book readers down to the same surprised level as the “casual” viewer.
Read my full review of season five here.
While it definitely doesn’t suffer from being boring, season seven goes too far in the opposite direction — the entire season felt completely rushed, with little time to breathe in between set-piece moments and characters teleporting across Westeros in order to justify their next plot point. But a race to the finish could have easily helped up the stakes for our characters… if it weren’t for the terrible dialogue.
Season seven has to be the worst offender when it comes to missing George R.R. Martin’s influence. I’m not sure if the writers and showrunners don’t know what to do with the characters anymore, or they just had a different vision for the show from the start, but season seven doesn’t work. Characters do and say things that go completely against how they’ve been developed, and much of the mystery and magic of the preceding seasons is no longer there.
As with season five, this wasn’t a terrible season, and most of those big actions sequences delivered. The entire episode that took place beyond The Wall was chock-full of excitement, and Dany burning the Lannister troops on the back of Drogon was absolutely brutal. The smaller moments were nice, too, like the multiple Stark reunions at Winterfell, favorite characters meeting up in King’s Landing, and Jon and Dany’s burdgeoning romance (though I’m on the side that think the whole thing is a bit gross). I’m sure season eight will deliver even more spectacle and insanity, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about how the whole thing will wrap up. This show has become more about fan-service than its characters and world, and I don’t like that.
Read my full review of season seven here.
It’s really hard to compare season six to the rest of the show, as it was the first season that diverged or moved past the books completely. As such, it has a bit of an advantage in the shock and surprise department for me. Unfortunately, those surprises don’t entirely make up for some of the same problems that plagued season five.
There are just too many characters on this damn show. I certainly don’t mean to harp on the negative, because season six was a great season and helped get some characters and stories back on track from the slow-moving season five, but it’s hard to ignore. I’ve said it many times, but when you only have ten hours to tell your story in a season, every minute matters. Scenes like Tyrion playing word games with Missandei and Grey Worm feel like time wasted because they don’t really add character-developing or story-telling value. Dany’s story also felt like an after-thought, a sort of “been there, done that” with the Dothraki. Even the resolution felt rote, with her yet again surrounded by a circle of newly devoted followers.
Still, there were plenty of great things to happen in season six. Jon and Sansa’s reunion was a tear-jerker for sure, as was Hodor’s brave end. Hold the door, indeed. Battle of the Bastards was another penultimate episode with a fantastic, singular focus. We learned more about the origin of the White Walkers, though that wasn’t handled as clearly as it should have been. Bran’s flashbacks were a particular favorite of mine — I’m always a sucker for history and world-building in a show I love. Plus, book readers finally got the reveal we’ve been anticipating for years — Jon is, in fact, a Targaryen. Season six set the stage well for the final story push, but I still have concerns over the writers’ ability to juggle so many stories at once.
Read my full review of season six here.
Season four is kind of the forgotten season — at least for me. When I sat down to write this list, it was the placement of this season that I struggled with the most.
It had a ton of value, but it was definitely a transition season for the show. Certain elements started to deviate from the books, which I appreciated. There were some amazing scenes, like Arya and The Hound’s search for chicken, Joffrey’s demise at the Purple Wedding, Tyrion’s trial, and Brienne’s face-off with The Hound. For me, though, the highlight was the battle between the Night’s Watch and The Wildlings. Some of the camera work in that episode was absolutely stunning.
Unfortunately, season four marked the beginning of some uneven storytelling on the show. Dany became one of the least interesting characters (a position she hasn’t yet relinquished). Bran’s story wasn’t always engaging this season, and neither was Sansa’s. Even Tyrion, for all his charm and wit, couldn’t keep me going when he spent most of his time behind bars. Thankfully, his arc in the finale was engrossing to watch. To me, season four marked a downward turn for the show after a stellar first three seasons, but it was inevitable that the show would lose its grasp on near perfection at some point. Still, season four was a fun ride.
Read my full review of season four here.
The sophomore season is always tough. The first season gets it a little easy purely by being first, so the story in season two really needs to kick off fast. It certainly doesn’t hurt to introduce a few new characters, either. Fortunately for Game of Thrones, season two was handled very well. It wasn’t as great as the first season, but it was still pretty damn great.
The advantage for season two was not having to introduce us to a bunch of the major players or areas, and mostly focus on building upon the things that have already been established. The scope of the show had already begun to expand, and the writers did an admirable job of keeping things clear and moving forward. It also offered up the largest battle on the show to date, and Battle of the Blackwater did not disappoint. I loved how I didn’t really want either side to win. The Lannisters were obviously terrible, but Stannis winning would mean the death of Tyrion and maybe even Sansa. Not to mention the fact that Stannis was responsible for murdering his own brother through blood magic.
And does everyone remember Robb Stark? Man that seems like so long ago, but he was a great character back in the early days. He was thrust into leadership because of his father’s murder, and the war brewing in the north was really cool to watch. We were also still learning more about the Night’s Watch and the impending doom of the White Walkers, so there was plenty of mystery to be had. The biggest flaw of season two was that things meandered around a bit at first, with no story through-line other than character development. But when things picked up, they picked up fast.
Read my full review of season two here.
As is fairly typical of television dramas, the first season ranks among the best. It’s a bit of a cop-out, but premiere seasons have an unfair advantage in that they introduce viewers to the world and characters of a show. Sure, things on Game of Thrones have progressed impressively, and the scale has certainly increased, but there was something pure about the first season. Maybe it was the limited cast, maybe it was the limited settings, but part of me prefers that simplicity.
The biggest moment to remember, obviously, is Ned Stark’s decapitation. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen on television. People like to look back and laugh now because Sean Bean seems to die in everything he does, but at the time it was crazy. I mean, the main character of a hit television series with a huge budget got killed off in the first season. The death toll has increased exponentially in subsequent seasons, but very few other deaths had the impact of Ned’s.
I also enjoyed really getting to know the Stark clan — the individual relationships and the honor with which they conducted themselves. It became clear that honor most definitely was not enough, but that only served to highlight how unjust this world was. Still, season one wasn’t perfect. As far as casting goes, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Kit Harrington as Jon Snow. He’s gotten better as time has gone on, but I’ve always found his performance a tad flat. I can also see how season one might have been a hard to follow at first, since there were so many different things going on.
Read my full review of season one here.
There are a lot of reasons why I think season three is the best season of Game of Thrones. The Red Wedding, Jaime’s character arc, and Jon’s sojourn with the Wildlings all come to mind. There were just so many things going on when compared to the first two seasons of the show, yet everything still felt concise and connected. That’s something the later seasons of the show have struggled with, but it all worked in season three.
After Ned’s death, it was hard to imagine a more unjust sequence of events occurring, but they most definitely did. The Red Wedding was brutal, especially when considering how close Arya was to being reunited with her family. The criss-cross nature of the Starks on this show has always been heartbreaking. It’s also tough to remember how well the Stark army was doing at the time. It really felt like there was a chance Robb would come through, defeat the Lannisters, and right so many of the wrongs that had been endured.
More than anything, though, season three felt like a season of building for the show. The White Walkers, the Wildings attacking The Wall, Bran’s journey north, Dany’s rise and the growth of her following. Season four didn’t capitalize on everything, and some aspects of the show were still building years later, but season three really set the stage for the things to come. It felt like the dark, bleak middle chapter on a show already known for being dark and bleak.
Read my full review of season three here.
And there you have it, my ranking of every season of Game of Thrones. Do you agree or disagree? Where do you think the final season will stack up? Let me know in the comments below, and check out my other tv rankings!