If it’s been surprising, shocking or thrilling on Game of Thrones, odds are good it came from a ninth episode somewhere down the line.
Ninth episodes have launched a thousand think pieces and a million memes. If you ask someone who doesn’t watch the show or hasn’t read the books what knowledge of they have of the show, it came from a ninth episode.
This week’s “Battle of the Bastards” is, you guessed it, Episode No. 9 in the current season of GoT, and it’s a good time to look back and see the competition this year’s episode is up against. So, in order from worst to first, the ninth episodes of Game of Thrones, ranked:
5. Season 4, “The Watchers on the Wall”
Somebody has to be at the bottom and Watchers on the Wall is the unlucky one. Think of it like the fifth best steak you’ve ever eaten: it’s been done better, but, at the end of the day, it’s still damn good.
What happened: The entire episode is devoted to the Wildlings’ attack on The Wall. There are giants and bravery and soldiers on both sides plummeting to their deaths. Jon Snow emerges as the leader he always seemed destined to be. Ygritte gets snipered by that little rat bastard Ollie.
Internet reaction: A smattering of “You know nothing Jon Snuuuhs” and a universal hatred of Ollie.
Verdict: It gets its spot at the bottom of the list because the fourth season’s most stunning moment came the episode before in “The Mountain and the Viper” and the enormous battle scene was done better the next year.
4. Season 5, “A Dance of Dragons”
What happened: Dany gets ambushed by the Sons of the Harpy and is surrounded in the center of the gladiator ring. Luckily, her wayward dragon, Drogon, swoops in to save the day. True to her Targaryen name, she climbs on the back of Drogon and flies away to safety. Up in the North, on the advice of Melisandre, Stannis puts his daughter (fan favorite Shireen) to the torch to appease the Lord of Light with royal blood.
Internet reaction: Much like with the death of Hodor this season, Shireen was one of the few pure characters the show had and fans did not take her death, which hasn’t happened (yet) in the books, lightly. In a season that featured numerous sexual assaults on favorite female characters, Shireen’s sacrifice was the last straw for many folks, launching Twitter rants and angry think pieces that numbered in the thousands.
Verdict: Most people think the instant classic “Hardhome” was the ninth episode of this season, but it aired the week before “A Dance of Dragons.” While it finally unleashed the full destructive power of Dany’s dragons, “Dragons” paled in comparison to one of the most chilling, intense and heartbreaking battle sequences ever committed to film.
3. Season 1, “Baelor”
What happened: Ned loses his head. Arya starts a trip she had just recently decided to come home from. Robb Stark makes a deal with the devil in the guise of Walder Frey. Tyrion goes to battle for the first time.
Internet reaction: It’s the first time that people put together that Sean Bean dies a lot on screen.
Verdict: This episode cemented the show’s reputation that no character is safe after it beheads the character played by the biggest-named star on the series. This episode might not have been as flashy as ones in subsequent seasons, but the ripples of the events in this chapter as still being felt strongly today.
2. Season 2, “Blackwater”
What happened: On the advice of the Red Woman, Stannis Baratheon sails into King’s Landing with the intent of taking the Iron Throne by force. He might have done it if not for Tyrion’s mind for strategy, a barge full of wildfire and some good timing by Tywin and the Lannister family army. We also see the kind of crazy that lurks under the polished veneer of Cersei (drunk Cersei is the best Cersei), as she’s ready to poison herself and her children when Stannis appears to have the upper hand.
Internet reaction: My body is ready
Verdict: This is significant because it’s the first large battle episode of the series and the first to really use some splashy special effects. Most importantly, defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory for Tyrion. He loses his job as Hand, nearly loses his nose and gets virtually no credit for successfully defending the city. It’s a blow that sets Tyrion on the path he follows into the service of Dany.
1. Season 3, “Rains of Castamere“
What happened: The Red Wedding.
Internet reaction: I can’t look!
Verdict: “Hardhome” may have been big for Game of Thrones fans, but there has been no episode before or since more important to Game of Thrones itself. People who know nothing else about GoT know about The Red Wedding. The ambush at the wedding of Edmund Tully sent tongues wagging the world over. TV pundits wrote about it for weeks afterward. News outlets covered the buzz following that episode. Even book readers, who were secretly chuckling because they knew what was coming, were shocked by the brutality of it all. In show terms, it shook up everything. The surviving Starks scattered, the Lannisters were suddenly invincible, and the Boltons became the power in the North. Hard to beat this episode for its 1-2 punch of quality and significance.