A popular thing to do in this generation of the internet is to take a popular TV show and discuss which season of that show was the best (and which ones sucked horribly). And with few exceptions, most shows that go for five seasons or more have their fair share of truly brilliant and just awful seasons.
Game of Thrones is no exception to this rule (though I do think there’s been more good than bad). And with season six in the books, I felt inspired to take the plunge and rank all six seasons going from worst to first. I’m sure there will be disagreement over these, so feel free to state where I went wrong in the comments.
Worst Season: Season Five
I liked Season Five better than most. Sure, it was painfully slow for most of it and took a long time to really find it’s footing (though some will say it never really did). But in a lot of ways, Season Five was better than Season Four. Unlike Season Four (which I will discuss its flaws shortly), Season Five kept a consistent flow in the story lines of all its central players. It also produced one of the best episodes in the history of the series (“Hardhomme” in episode 8) and several great moments (Cersei’s walk of shame, Dany flying on a dragon for the first time, Jon’s “death” (wink wink), and the realization of just how awesome a threat those Whitewalkers were.
However, Season Five also produced some of the show’s most controversial moments with Shireen’s death(still makes me cringe thinking about it) and Sansa’s marriage to Ramsey. But what really makes Season Five the worst is Dorne.
No other season had a central plot line that was has poorly written, acted, or executed. The results on screen were so bad that producers David Benoiff and DB Weiss decided this past season to spend as little time as possible in Dorne, restricting the southernmost kingdom to two five minute segments. Dorne was poorly done and mostly pointless, taking season five down in a heap with it.
5. Season Four
Yes, Season Four had some really major moments. Joffrey’s poisoning got the season off to a particularly memorable start. Tyrion gave his great courtroom speech (which would have won an emmy for Peter Dinklage if not for some guy named Walter White in his final season). Arya and the Hound produced one the best arcs of any season, an arc that would end with the epic Brienne vs The Hound battle royale.
This was also Oberyn Martell’s season, portrayed brilliantly by Pedro Pascal. His trial by battle vs. the Mountain produced one of GoT’s most gruesome deaths. Tyrion finished Season Four with another defining moment; taking out his former lover (Shae) and his father while the latter was sitting on a toilet. And there was also “Watchers Against the Wall,” Season Four’s entry for “best episode of all time.”
But in Season Four, several locations raced ahead of others, forcing the producers to hit the pause button in places like Meereen (where Dany sat in a pyramid the whole season), Dragonstone (where Stannis did what he did for all of season 3: sit on a rock and stew over his loss at the Blackwater), and the Wall (where we were constantly reminded the Wildlings were coming while seeing little evidence this was actually happening).
So while season four had some massive moments we’ll always remember, the time wasting in between those moments really hurt the overall quality of the season.
4. Season Two
Most of Season 2 was a season to breath for the audience still coping with the reality that what we were watching was not a traditional heroes and villains drama. Ned Stark’s beheading loomed large over most of the season’s start, with the Stark children especially struggling to deal with it’s aftermath.
It was during this bleak early part of the season that the show did a nice job introducing new, vitally important players to the game (Stannis, Davos, Melisandre, Brienne, Margaery, Roose Bolton) before charging up the engines again for the climax at “Blackwater.”
But unlike Season Four’s Wall Battle, the battle at “Blackwater” was built up strongly throughout the season, with each arc brought to a mostly satisfying conclusion in Game of Thrones’s first epic battle episode.
Overall, season two proved to be a great bridge season between the morale shattering endings of seasons one and three.
3. Season One
I often wonder if we won’t look back years from now and point to this season, the first season of Game of Thrones as a game changer in the history of television.
If it’s not considered the game changer, it will be included among many other shows that represented a change in what we expect from the episodic television format. Before Game of Thrones and shows similar to it in this modern era, TV shows had very clear heroes and villains. The actions of heroes were always rewarded, while the dastardly deeds of villains proved to be their undoing.
But in the first season of Game of Thrones, the honorable Ned Stark, who always did the right things, always kept his vows, and was the central character in the show, got his head chopped off for it. The first season made clear Game of Thrones was going to be different. The honorable way would get you killed in this world we were watching.
Season One was also notable for staying almost entirely true to the books. All seasons following would drift increasingly farther from the source material as the producers began plotting their own course for the TV edition of Martin’s world.
Also notable: Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for his portrayal of Tyrion, creating a certified fan favorite from the start.
2. Season Three
No season is defined more by one single event than Game of Thrones third season. And my what an event it was!! Robb Stark’s fall at the Red Wedding was sudden and shocking. Though we all knew things would not go well when Robb and his family entered the home of Walder Frey (or when he shacked up with the foreign nurse in the first place, for that matter), no way did we think the carnage would be as sudden and effective as it was. The Red Wedding is still one of the defining (if not the defining) moments of this show. The term itself has become a synonym for shocking television moments.
But Season Three didn’t just have the one shocking twist. Some of the best character moments happened in Season Three. Brienne and Jamie’s relationship developed and produced a real character change in the Kingslayer. Arya had some of her best moments hanging out with The Brotherhood without Banners and the seeds were sown for her Season Four arc with the Hound.
And the first signs of Daenarys Targaryen’s rise to power were felt when the Mother of Dragons put her beasts to use for the first time. “Dracarys” was the command that burned a slave master, allowing Dany to walk away with an Unsullied army as she began her march to conquering the rest of Slavers Bay and (one day) Westeros.
Overall, Season Three had the best balance of character moments, plot development, and shocking reveals of any of Game of Thrones six seasons. But that was not quite enough to make it the best season.
1. Season Six
The battle for the top spot went down the very end. But a lackluster 8th episode (“No One”) had me ready to declare Season Three the champ.
But then “The Battle of the Bastards” gave “Game of Thrones” its best battle scene (at least from a technical prospective) to date. To be considered the best season in the history of Game of Thrones, the ninth episode of the season must be up to par, and “Battle” certainly was. And while episode 9 got Season Six back into contention, episode 10 delivered the finishing blow.
It didn’t matter what followed those first 25 minutes of “Winds of Winter,” Cersei’s blowing up of King’s Landing clinched the title for Season Six. The technical brilliance of that scene and the bastard battle were enough to merit consideration. But midseason also had the loss of Hodor, a scene that amazingly comes in third for it’s technical presentation behind the Green Sept and the Battle of the Bastards. The increased pace kept the action moving as the show moved furiously towards an end game. And did I mention the confirmation of the long time fan theory, R + L = J?
Now, Season Six was not without flaws. Euron Greyjoy’s introduction to the narrative (though purposeful) lacked any real impact other than getting his niece and nephew to Daenarys. And there were a couple of plot holes (Arya standing on a bridge in the open in Braavos and Sansa not telling Jon she had more men for him) that had fans scratching their heads.
But I can look past those because of how overwhelmingly fantastic the great elements of Season Six were, better than any previous season in the show’s run.
How would you rank the seasons? Share your thoughts in the comments. And coming Monday, I’ll be finishing my Game of Thrones wrap-up week by comparing the Books to the Show and asking the question: Which is better? I’m sure that won’t get anybody fired up.
Monday, June 27th: The Season Finale Recap
Today: Ranking the Seasons
Monday: Book vs Show: Which one is better?