A version of this post originally ran in April 2016, prior to the start of Season 6. Those rankings have been updated to include Season 6.
Game of Thrones returns on Sunday night, with the start of Season 7. Spoiler alert: lots of people have died in the previous six seasons. Here is our look back at some of the best scenes involving a character’s death.
Warning: some of these are graphic.
#12: Renly Baratheon Meets a Shadow Demon
Lisk: For early viewers in season 2, this was one of the first WTF mystical moments (okay, okay, we had already seen the dragons) and our first true exposure to the dangers of Melisandre. The shadow demon decided the war between the Baratheon boys and set Stannis on his path toward King’s Landing.
#11 Myranda Finds Out that Theon Greyjoy is Back
Phillips: The woman with the world’s sharpest hipbones made the classic bad guy mistake and just talked too long. Her long monologue about her and Ramsay Bolton’s plans for Sansa Stark’s “parts” gave Theon “Call Me Reek!” Greyjoy a chance to grow some…uh, courage.
The jealous Myranda’s death wasn’t as spectacular as others, but it signaled a huge shift in the series, as Reek once again became Theon. And we all know his “master” won’t be happy with him or Sansa for the death of his plaything and their subsequent escape. That story will likely take up a decent chunk of Season 6.
#10 Ser Barristan versus the Sons of the Harpy
Phillips: For four-plus seasons I referred to Barristan Selmy as “Chekhov’s Knight” because we constantly heard about what an amazing fighter he was, but he never actually did battle with anyone.
Well, as Chekhov’s theory goes: if you introduce something into the plot you better use it. Ser Barristan may have been slain by the Sons of the Harpy, but dammit he took a bunch of them with him. The fight scene leading up to his death was one of the best in the series, and it was the perfect send-off for a man heralded as such a great warrior. He went out in a blaze of knightly glory.
#9 Janos Slynt Forgets His Manners Against Jon Snow
Lisk: Janos Slynt served in the King’s Guard. He wasn’t going to listen to Ned Stark’s bastard son at the Wall. Big mistake. This was one of those scenes that continued to define Jon Snow. He established his authority as the Lord Commander, and when it was questioned, he spared no mercy, even as Slynt went from smug to begging for his life.
#8 Karl Tanner Gets a Mouthful and Locke Gets Hodor’d at Craster’s Keep
Phillips: This is the moment I believe Jon Snow went from whimpering, lovesick, rejected member of The Cure, to the badass fighter who led the defense of The Wall. Sure, Snow had killed people before, but it had been far less personal than his one-on-one brawl with knife-wielding assassin Karl Tanner. He was completely vulnerable in this fight and had to rely not just on his castle-trained sword skills, but also his cunning. He stared death in the face and wound up surviving.
Karl was one of those characters that often pops up throughout Game of Thrones who you really wish had their own backstory. He was unabashedly evil, didn’t care for you or your rules and in the end he got a sword through the back of his head. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: if you’re gonna go out, at least do it with Valyrian steel splitting your skull and sticking out your mouth.
Lisk: Karl was a legend in Gin Alley! Meanwhile, within the same battle sequence, we also had the conniving Locke, who had cut off Jaime Lannister’s hand and was pretending to be part of the Night’s Watch, meet his doom at the hands of Bran, taking over Hodor’s body and transforming the gentle giant into a killing machine.
#7 Tywin Lannister Pays His Debts on the Throne
Lisk: This one checks off so many boxes. Tyrion Lannister had put up with so much from his father, being blamed for his mother’s death in childbirth. Tywin had put him on trial even though he knew he was innocent. Then, Tyrion finds Shea in his father’s bed and in a crime of passion/emotion kills his former lover, only to come across Tywin on the commode.
This killing altered the course of the show–Tyrion fled Westeros; and the Lannister family dynamic was completely turned. Tyrion had been one of the best characters before this point; he established that he could play the Game here and do something that seemed unthinkable.
#6 Joffrey Gets What He Deserves
Phillips: This is the one time I actually felt bad for Joffrey. He just married Margaery Tyrell, then died before he even got to the bedding ceremony. I mean, it’s Margaery Tyrell guys!
Still, the little punk got what he deserved in the end, and the blood flowing from every point on his face only served to send home the message: never trust Littlefinger.
#5 Hodor Holds The Door
Phillips: Man this one was so hard to watch. It was also brilliantly done and how they managed to keep the reason Hodor could only say “Hodor” secret for six years is incredible. Hodor was always a fan-favorite character, so the fact that he died protecting Bran and Meera, and that his death was connected to the event that caused him to loose his mind as the young Wylis, made it even more heart-breaking.
As Hodor did his duty and held the door closed to protect his closest friends, the shots of a young Wylis having a seizure and slowly devolving from repeatedly yelling “hold the door” into “Hodor” was equally painful to watch. Hodor had long been tormented by his eventual death, and no one knew it. It was a wonderful, devastating revelation of the kind that makes Game of Thrones such an amazing show.
Lisk: Mind. Blown.
#4 The Red Wedding Devastates the Starks
Phillips: This was easily the most emotionally draining scene in a series rife with them. Most viewers likely knew this was coming, as it was one of the most talked-about scenes from the books. Despite that, it was still like a slap in the face…or a dagger to the uterus.
The look on Robb Stark’s face when he sees his beloved wife Talisa and the future baby Ned Stark die is devastating. Throw in the sheer terror on Catelyn Stark’s face when she realizes Roose Bolton is dressed for a fight and you have a perfectly orchestrated death scene. It was great storytelling but man was it heartbreaking.
As Catelyn stands there watching Bolton finish off her son with a dagger to the abdomen, then cuts Walder Frey’s wife’s throat and cries out, she was echoing what every fan of the series was feeling in that moment. Then, of course, her own throat gets cut and sprays blood everywhere in true Game of Thrones fashion.
#3 Viserys Gets His Golden Crown
Lisk: We had to have one with Khal Drogo. This was also the first major character death on the show in season 1. Daenerys began to assert her independence from Viserys several episodes earlier, once it was discovered that she carried Khal Drogo’s child. It came to a head here, when Viserys overplayed his hand, and ended up getting the crown of gold he so desired.
#2 Ramsay Bonds With His Hounds
Phillips: This might have been the most satisfying death in television history. Ramsay Bolton deserved to die, and for several seasons he had it coming. After losing the “Battle of the Bastards” thanks to his estranged wife Sansa Stark’s brilliant scheming, Bolton was tied up with his own starving, man-eating hounds. Then Sansa took her revenge for the endless abuse she suffered at his hands. The starving dogs were let loose, and their beaten and broken master was helpless to prevent what happened next. I think I joined every true GoT fan in yelling “IN THE FAAAAACE!” when Ramsay finally got what was coming to him.
Lisk: Ramsay’s body count is too much to fully recap, ranging from Theon Greyjoy’s manhood to Osha and Rickon to his own devious father and his wife and newborn. His was a death long overdue, like his starving hounds’ next meal.
#1 Oberyn Celebrates Too Soon
Phillips: This wasn’t even close. Oberyn “The Viper” Martell was an absolute badass, and despite only being on the show for one season, he made an impression that lasted. Unfortunately, “The Mountain” made an even bigger impression…on Oberyn’s skull.
The lesson here kids is don’t get cocky when you’re in the midst of mortal combat. And should you get cocky in the middle of a fight to the death, stay out of the enormous dude you’re fighting’s reach. At least, I think that’s the lesson. Hopefully it won’t ever apply to anyone reading this, but if Trump becomes president does anyone doubt we’ll all have the option for trial by combat?
Oberyn came into our collective world like a whirlwind, stealing every scene he was in. He went out with an explosion that rocked the Game of Thrones world and ranks as the best death in the series. At least he dealt some punishment to his sworn enemy on the way out the door.