It seems we’ve reached a point where it’s easier to be a “Game of Thrones” fan than it is to avoid watching the show. With so many people talking about the intricate plot and anticipating new episodes, now seems as good a time as ever to jump on the bandwagon.
For those who are finally ready to accept the world of Westeros into their lives, there’s bad news. There are only a few days left until the premiere of “Game of Thrones” Season 5 on HBO. Each season is 10 episodes long and, if you’re not oozing with free time, you won’t be able to binge-watch all four seasons in time, (although I’d highly recommend doing it at some point).
Still, there’s no reason that you can’t be caught up on the series even if you don’t have a quick 40 hours to spare. To help get new fans ready for “Game of Thrones” Season 5, below is a rundown of the 12 essential episodes to watch before the 2015 premiere.
“Winter Is Coming” (S1E1)
The first episode in the series is kind of a no-brainer. By default it’s forced to set up as much information for the viewer as possible. Characters are introduced, worlds are created and history is laid out. The first episode opens in Winterfell where King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) is on his way to meet with his long-time friend Ned Stark (Sean Bean). Following the death of their mentor Jon Arryn, Robert is there to promote Ned to be the new Hand of the King. While those are the broad strokes of the plot, what this episode really accomplishes is setting up the mystery that hooked thousands of fans into the world of Westeros politics.
“A Golden Crown” (S1E6)
This episode does a great job of recapping the sort of culmination of the mystery established in “Winter Is Coming.” Ned Stark has figured out Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) aren’t what they appear to be. Now that Robert is dead and King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is on the throne, it’s up to Ned to prove that he’s not the proper king. In addition, it’s got one of the best fight scenes in the entire series. With Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) captured at the Vale, he recruits the sell sword Bronn (Jerome Flynn) to battle a skilled knight for his freedom. Without spoiling too much, the episode ends with a big old twist.
“Fire and Blood” (S1E10)
Honestly, the penultimate episode of every season is always the best. However, the season finale of each season is what you really need to get caught up on the series. So, if you’re able to watch a “previously on” scroll, you should do it because episode 9 ends with one of the more shocking plot twists on “Game of Thrones.” Still, “Fire and Blood” sets up the events of Season 2 and puts some great characters in a position to do some real interesting things at the start. If the previous two episodes have made you fall in love with the mysterious woman with white hair, hereto forth known as Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), then this episode is absolutely for you. Just remember, dragons are extinct…
“The North Remembers” (S2E1)
Theoretically, you’ve just watched the Season 1 finale. It sets up quite a lot but this episode brings it all to fruition. Not only do we see how the war between the Starks and the Lannisters is shaping up, we’re introduced to Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). He’s the brother of Robert and Renley Baratheon (Gethin Anthony). Stannis is a hard man that many, including the Starks, don’t feel is fit to rule. Having said that, he is next in the line of succession to the Iron Throne as it is revealed that Joffrey is the product of incest. The season opens with five kings contesting the throne -- Stannis, Renly, Rob, Joffrey and Daenerys.
“The Ghost of Harrenhal” (S2E5)
This episode sees the fight between the two brothers end with a paranormal assassination. It’s something you’ll have to see to really believe, but by the end of this episode you’ll know the outcome of the Baratheon Civil War. Despite the meaty plot line coming to a close, the episode still succeeds in being dense with story as we see Tyrion handling his new role in King’s Landing like a real pro, Theon Greyjoy getting the idea to make a bold move that defies his father’s orders and Arya meeting the mysterious Braavosi assassin Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). Jaqen is a little creepy, but he’s about to become very important in Season 5, so pay attention.
“Valar Morghulis” (S2E10)
The Season 2 finale takes place after the Battle of Blackwater. While it’s one of the most impressive episodes of the series, all you functionally need to know is that Stannis attacked King’s Landing and was beat back by reinforcements from Tywin Lannister. What makes this episode particularly special is the reveal that Jaqen is a member of “The Faceless Men.” In addition, Daenerys ends her stay at the city of Qarth with a bit of fan fare. Finally, the last shot of the season can only be described as a “doozy.”
“Dark Wings, Dark Words” (S3E2)
OK, normally it’s a bad idea to skip the season premiere, but the second episode introduces far too many people to left out of your abridged binge-watch. Although Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) is a major character, he doesn’t really lay out his important plans for the Night’s Watch and his wildling army’s march on the Wall until this episode. Furthermore, we’re introduced to Jojen Reed (Thomas Brodie Sangster), who agrees to travel with Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) north of the wall now that their home of Winterfell has burned down. This episode also serves to set up the dissention within the ranks of Rob Stark (Richard Madden).
“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (S3E7)
A lot happens between episode 2 and episode 7 of this season, but it’s largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The real reason to watch this episode is so that you won’t be completely in the dark when the time comes to watch the Season 3 finale. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” sees the stakes of the politics in King’s Landing turn up as well as Robb Stark’s desperate attempt to maintain power in the North by promising marriages to Walder Frey (David Bradley).
OK, I should mention outright here that the biggest and most heartbreaking plot twist you’re likely to see on television happens in Season 3 episode 9. Still, it’s plot that’s easily summarized by characters in this episode. However, if you want to go ahead and watch the last 10 minutes of episode 9, you’ll be doing yourself a favor and a disservice at the same time.
The episode opens after the events of infamous Red Wedding. The Season 3 finale then sees the entire world of Westeros deal with the fact that the war in the north is over and that everyone is irrevocably changed because of it. In addition, characters start to collide once again in the North as Bran and his gang meet Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), a friend to Jon Snow. This episode ends with all of the politics and in-fighting in Westeros being thrown out the window as news from the Wall reaches the rest of the country. White Walkers are coming, and before them a fierce Wildling army.
“The Lion and the Rose” (S4E2)
If you’ve been paying attention to the episodes on this list thus far, you’ll realize that the way this episode ends is one of the more satisfying moments in the series. Not much is established plot-wise in this episode other than the continued journeys of some of our favorite characters. However, the big moment at the end, which I won’t spoil for you, will set the stage for the entirety of Season 4.
There are many reasons to add this episode to your catching up list, but understand that it will peak your interest in a big fight scene. Tyrion, having been blamed for the death of Joffrey, insists on a trial by combat. Enter, The Mountain, Ser Gregor Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). In this episode, we also learn where Arya and her new companion the Hound (Rory McCann) are faring on the road. However, the real crux of this episode has to do with what happens in the Vale.
Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) has brought Sansa (Sophie Turner) to hide. While there, it’s revealed that the lady of the Vale (Kate Dickie) was responsible for the death of her husband Jon Arryn, and that Littlefinger was the one who hatched the whole scheme that set all of the series’ events in motion. The episode ends with a harsh power play on the part of the former brothel owner, as well as some really uncomfortable scenes between him and Sansa.
“The Children” (S4E10)
Again, it’s worth mentioning that the penultimate episode of each season is usually the most visually stunning, and Season 4 was no exception. Still, it takes place entirely at the Wall, and all you really need to know is that the Night’s Watch beat back the Wildling army’s first siege, but cannot handle a second. Also, Tyrion lost his trial by combat.
Basically, this episode just puts a ribbon on everything that’s been happening in the season thus far and sets the stage for some pretty fantastic reveals come Season 5. Without giving too much away, Arya (Maisie Williams) is on her way to do some pretty cool stuff in Braavos.
Just like that, you’ve reduced your “Game of Thrones” binge-watch from 40 hours to a mere 12. Get yourself caught up on all of Westeros’ hottest moments and impress your friends with your not-so-novice knowledge of the show come April 12 when it hits HBO.