73. “The Last of the Starks,” Season 8, Episode 4
This was it, folks; this was the moment many of us knew season 8 was going to let us down. Season 8’s opening episode, “Winterfell” was a mixed bag, but “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was amazing, and while “The Long Night” had its issues, season 8 looked like it was heading in the right direction before “Starks” aired. Its flaws are legion and its bright spots few. More than any other episode, “Starks” was a microcosm of the issues many fans had with season 7 and 8.
Chief among those issues was the rushed pace that was out of step with the slow burn we’d come to expect from the show. Sure, you could argue we didn’t need to spend time endlessly walking up and down the Kingsroad, but having Jaime and Brienne finally act on their romantic feelings only for Jaime to depart for King’s Landing five minutes later didn’t pay proper respect to their complicated, long-developing relationship. See also Bronn’s sudden appearance and immediate disappearance.
Sure, there were small moments to enjoy — Arya and the Hound on the road to King’s Landing was a nice callback to season 4 — but they were too far and between to overshadow the what felt like two episodes mashed together. The opening funeral scene was also well done, but the good doesn’t outweigh the bad.
You could point to small moments like the infamous coffee cup, or showrunner David Benioff’s comment about Dany “kind of forgetting” about the Iron Fleet as proof of the episode’s status as the worst in the series, but really it was more about pacing, and characters making nonsensical choices simply to serve the plot. Thanks to an image leak beforehand, we knew the episode would start in Winterfell with the funerals and end with Missandei and Rhaeghal’s deaths, and yet I still couldn’t believe how quickly things moved.
Like most of season 8, it wasn’t the events themselves that were frustrating, but how as an audience we were supposed to buy into said events without the groundwork being laid. Dropping season 8 to just six episodes might have sounded like a good idea to someone, but more time for these storylines to settle and breath and stretch could have helped things. As it is, we were left with the truncated mess that was “Starks.”
72. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Season 5, Episode 6
The reasons “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” lands as the worst episode of Game of Thrones come from all over the map, but let’s start with the good stuff. For the first time in the series, we are shown the Hall of Faces, when Arya’s mentor Jaqen H’ghar takes Arya deep below the House of Black and White for what has to be one of the strangest tours of all time.
Other highlights of the episode include Tyrion’s fantastic dialogue with a slaver regarding whether or not Tyrion is anatomically proportional, along with Olenna Tyrell’s arrival back in Kings Landing after Loras is arrested for buggery. As always, Olenna and Tyrion continue to have some of the best dialogue on the show, and any scene they are in instantly raises the bar for the rest of the cast.
Littlefinger, freshly returned from dropping off Sansa at Winterfell, promises to smash Roose Bolton for trying to marry Sansa to Ramsay. Sure, that’s a marriage Littlefinger arranged, but as always he’s playing every side against the other. Loras and Queen Margery are both eventually arrested at Loras’ inquiry and taken into custody, much to the delight of Cersei and the horror of poor little Tommen.
And now for the bad stuff. First up, we have the most poorly choreographed fight scene in the series, pitting a one-handed Jamie Lannister and Bronn against the Sand Snakes of Dorne. Continuing the widely panned Dornish road trip story line, Jaime and Bronn try and “rescue” Myrcella from an attempted kidnapping attempt by Oberyn Martell’s bastard daughters. Almost nothing about the scene works, and we should all just try and move on.
And then there’s perhaps the most controversial moment yet aired on Game of Thrones, as newly married Ramsay Bolton and Sansa Stark retire to a bridal suite following their wedding, with Theon Greyjoy in tow, before Ramsay rapes his new wife offscreen as Theon looks on. The act served no purpose for either character’s story arc—viewers were already familiar with the sadistic nature of Roose Bolton’s bastard son. Sansa, meanwhile, had started to grow into someone who actually controlled her fate, as opposed to simply reacting to events. Fans were infuriated by the regression, along with the sexual violence inflicted upon her.
71. “Beyond the Wall” Season 7, Episode 6
Perhaps no episode was more indicative of the season 7’s unevenness than “Beyond the Wall.” The good stuff is really good, but large swaths of it are an illogical mess.
As the title implies, most of the episode concerns Jon and his merry band of misfits’ quest to capture a wight beyond the wall, although we take a break from that for a few scenes. One thing that weighs the episode down is the continued in-fighting between Sansa and Arya. Their conflict ratchets up over the course of the episode, but it all felt so…stupid. There’s no fancier word for it. It was stupid. No fan actually believed Arya might murder Sansa, no matter how many times Sansa said she might, and everyone wondered why these sisters didn’t resolve the issue by having an honest conversation.
Back beyond the wall, we were treated to some fun banter between our heroes, and the undead polar bear attack was fantastic. It isn’t until our crew runs into a conveniently small patrol of wights — led by a single White Walker — that things began go off the rails.
From a technical standpoint, everything that happens from the moment Jon and friends ambush the wights is amazing. Watching Dany’s dragons burn through the Night King’s army like kindling was a sight to behold. But Logically, “Beyond the Wall” suffers. We could excuse one of two plot holes in an episode, but between Gendry’s mad dash to Eastwatch, the fastest raven in history, the convenience of just ONE wight being left after Jon kills the White Walkers, Benjen’s hasty return and exit, and the Night King having a secret stash of chains capable of pulling a dead dragon from the bottom of a lake, “Beyond the Wall” was just too sloppy to sit any higher in our rankings.
70. “The House of Black and White,” Season 5 Episode 2
Landing in the bottom ten episodes on a series as great as Game of Thrones doesn’t always mean the episode is terrible; it can simply mean that not a whole lot happens. With the exception of the final four episodes, Season 5 often felt as if it was treading water, and this episode contributed to that feeling.
Interspersed with shocking moments, like the return of Jaqen H’ghar, are moments when Cersei Lannister once again threatens to hurt people. This time it’s the Dornish. (“I will burn their cities to the ground!”) As a plus, Bronn comes back into our lives, as he walks slowly along the shore with his “dim-witted” future wife before Jaime mysteriously promises him a bigger castle and a more beautiful bride, if only Bronn will go on a road trip with him to Dorne on a super secret rescue mission. As viewers, we are never told why Jaime expects no one to recognize him on said rescue mission.
Back at Castle Black, Jon Snow rebuffs surrogate father Stannis Baratheon’s offer of legitimacy, as Jon believes it would be a betrayal of his vows to the Night’s Watch. Ned would have been proud. As a reward (or punishment, depending on your point of view), Jon is elected the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, narrowly defeating Alliser Thorne.
After offering her services to yet another Stark daughter, and yet again being rejected, Brienne and Podrick flee Littlefinger’s guards, but decide to tail Sansa as she begins to trek north to Winterfell. And finally, Daenerys makes mistakes in her struggle to rule Meereen. After executing one of her own followers for killing an imprisoned Son of the Harpy, Dany is mercilessly booed by the freed slaves of Meereen, and has to be escorted away by the Unsullied. On the bright side, Drogon shows up at the end of the episode, seemingly to comfort everyone’s favorite dragon mother after a rough day at work.