From Biggest Controversy to Weirdest Cameo - the 9 defining moments of Game of Thrones
As the series draws to a close, Meadhbh McGrath looks back on the highlights which shocked and saddened viewers
When Game Of Thrones premiered in 2011, we couldn’t have imagined it would grow to become the world’s most popular show.
The series has created some of the biggest moments in TV history, from gruesome deaths and magical creatures to show-stopping battle sequences.
Now, with the end in sight, with the final season kicking off in the early hours of Monday morning, we look back on the highlights of a global TV phenomenon.
Most Shocking Twist
The death of Ned Stark
It was the moment Game Of Thrones announced itself as unlike any other show on television, by dropping the axe on its most famous face. Who kills the top-billed star of the series?
With the death of Sean Bean’s Ned Stark, we learned that nobody is safe on Game Of Thrones.
This wasn’t the story of the good guy who triumphs against the odds; in Westeros, anything could happen – including the beheading of the hero, in front of his own children.
Played by Dublin actor Jack Gleeson, the snivelling boy-king (left) spent four seasons torturing people, brutalising his wife Sansa Stark and ordering the executions of all manner of men, women and children, from Ned Stark to newborn babies. His cruelty knew no bounds, and yet his death was a bittersweet one for fans.
However satisfying it was to watch his face turn purple after drinking poisoned wine at his own wedding, Joffrey was the villain fans loved to hate.
The Red Wedding
Not since “who shot JR?” has there been a watershed moment that so captivated audiences worldwide.
It was the scene that elevated Game of Thrones from hit show to cultural phenomenon, with the brutal slaughter of Robb Stark, his mother Catelyn, and his wife Talisa and their unborn child.
Walder Frey, seeking revenge on Robb for breaking a marriage pact, orchestrates one of the most horrifying and bloody scenes in TV history.
It shocked everyone, but we couldn’t look away.
Icelandic band Sigur Ros played musicians at Joffrey’s wedding, and Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody appeared on horseback in season three – but while they blended in, pop star Ed Sheeran (inset above left) stood out like a sore thumb.
Cast as a surprise for real-life fan Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, Sheeran’s cameo fell totally flat. The chart-topper can sing about castles and hills all he likes, but he had no place here.
The charming Dornish prince’s death is a standout for a number of reasons.
Seeking justice for the murder of his sister, he offered to act as Tyrion’s champion in a trial by combat, and goes up against the Mountain.
After showing initial promise, Oberyn gets preoccupied demanding a confession, and ends up getting his head popped like a grape.
It was a gut-punch, and a reminder, like Ned Stark’s death, that nothing is certain in Game Of Thrones, and that good rarely triumphs over evil.
Khaleesi and Khal Drogo
There’s not a lot of room for romance in Game Of Thrones, but the series has managed to squeeze in some steamy affairs, from Jon Snow and Ygritte to Missandei and Grey Worm.
However, no one has managed to trump the pairing of Khal Drogo and his Khaleesi (one of Daenerys Targaryen’s many titles). Their relationship started off violently, with an arranged marriage that Dany initially wanted to escape.
In time, they became a power couple, and despite losing her Sun and Stars early on, Dany used her position as a springboard to greater prominence.
On top of that, fans can thank Game Of Thrones for introducing actor Jason Momoa, who immediately shot to fame as a world-class hunk.
The show has been criticised many times over the years for excessive sexual violence, and it reached a peak in season five, when 15-year-old Sansa was raped by Ramsay Bolton.
It was the show’s lowest moment, and one viewers found hard to forget.
The showrunners – along with actress Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa – defended the episode, arguing that it started a discussion and represented the abusive world of the show.
However, it left a bad taste that even Sansa’s later revenge, feeding Ramsay to his own dogs, couldn’t shake.
The Hodor reveal
“Hold the door… hold door… Hodor…” The truth about the Starks’ most loyal servant broke viewers’ hearts, as we finally learned that Hodor’s name isn’t a name at all.
It was really a vision of his violent future, in which the gentle giant sacrificed himself to give Bran Stark a chance to escape the army of the undead.
Fans the world over mourned the loss of the most selfless and kindhearted character on the show.
Most Predictable Twist
Jon Snow comes back to life
Did anyone believe Kit Harington was gone for good? The latter seasons have been criticised for taking fewer risks, and when it came to the resurrection of Jon Snow, it was a question of when, not if.
Fans couldn’t help but notice the not-insignificant matter of his famously long curls: during filming for the next season, “Harington Hair Watch” assured fans “the locks are still there” – so Jon was definitely coming back.