For fans of HBO’s smash-hit series Game of Thrones, the show might be more accurately titled Games of Scarring Emotional Abuse. In plotlines where the rate of brutal murders per season threatens to eradicate all the original characters before the series finale, “happiness” for any Thrones character (and the fans rooting for them) is derived not from anything good happening, but from mere survival of the most recent war, wedding, torture session, or family reunion.
Thanksgiving at the Eyrie. “NO YOU CAN’T HAVE MORE STUFFING.”
As a way to pass the time until the next season of misery and despair premieres, we here at The Boola undertook the masochistic exercise of compiling the most horrific, shocking, and depressing moments from the last four seasons into one convenient list. Feel free to use this as a review before next season, or perhaps to get some perspective on your life if you’re feeling a bit down. In order from least to most traumatizing, these moments are:
- The Nymeria/Lady debacle
We’ll start out small, relatively speaking: in one of his earlier bouts of sociopathy, the whiny Prince Joffrey exaggerated a justified attack on him by Arya’s direwolf, Nymeria. When Joffrey’s charming mom/aunt Queen Cersei caught wind of this, she raised enough of a stink to get her husband, King Robert Baratheon, to condemn Nymeria to death solely so Cersei would shut up.
Every kiss begins with mutual loathing.
As if the execution of half-grown direwolf cuties wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse: Arya had already pulled an Air Bud on Nymeria, throwing rocks and shouting until the direwolf vanished into the woods. So, in a sickening perversion of justice that only the queen could concoct, Cersei reminded everyone present at Trials with Wolves that there was another direwolf available for the killing: Sansa’s demure, well-mannered Lady.
Sansa is only allowed so much happiness. Off with the direwolf’s head.
Despite the best persuasive efforts of Team Stark, Lady died by Ned’s knife that night, and new Thrones’ fans realized the grim truth that not even cute animals are safe in this universe.
- The Brienne/Hound fight
Although the on-screen kill count of this fight mercifully remained at zero, this scene earned a spot on this list for pitting Thrones’ two most beloved quirky outlaws against each other.
Clash of the Titans, Game of Thrones-style.
Fans had grown to love both of these characters throughout four seasons. Their atypical backgrounds, reactions to moral quandaries, and, perhaps most of all, lethal fighting styles made for a compelling blend of ferocity, practicality, and heart. A boss fight between them, then, constructed a lose-lose situation that tested fan loyalties for an emotionally-agonizing three minutes.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO FEEL RIGHT NOW
With the fates of both Brienne and the Hound unclear at the conclusion of their showdown, fans can rest easy-ish. Except those who suffered from heart palpitations thanks to this scene.
- When Theon ‘killed’ Bran and Rickon Stark (season 2, episode 7)
When the traitorous Theon Greyjoy flooded the walls of our beloved Winterfell in an effort to win the approval of Westeros’ most disapproving father, he underestimated the North’s loyalty to the Stark family. Struggling to control the population of Winterfell and gain the respect of his own men, Theon murdered and burned the two youngest Stark siblings beyond recognition. The sheer brutality of the act itself combined with Theon’s appalling ability to turn so violently on two children he watched grow up make for a knockout emotional one-two punch.
Get it? One, two? Because he killed both Bran and Rickon? …I’m sorry…
Luckily, we discover in the next episode that the wily wildling Osha and the loveable halfwit Hodor actually hid little Bran and Rickon in the crypts under Winterfell, saving both their lives and the hope of the North (but not the two orphans Theon actually killed). Still, for tricking fans into believing the boys were dead for a whole week, the creators of Thrones should have at least shipped a box of Kleenex to the house of every HBO subscriber as apology. We’ll just have to be satisfied knowing that Theon lost his favorite toy one season later.
And kick-starting a slew of hilarious Theon-sausage transition shots!
- The beheading of Ned Stark (season 1, episode 9)
Also known as the moment in which George RR Martin made a few million fans’ hearts simultaneously skip a beat, the climax of the first season threw the curveball of the decade by executing the presumed main character. Though beheading by an experienced King’s Justice is far from the worst death recorded in Westerosi history, the lead-up to this moment upped the shocking-o-meter to levels unreadable even on the most lenient of WTF-scales.
The Boola’s wtf-o-meter got stuck like this after seeing this episode.
Ned spent the entire first season being one of the few morally-unambiguous people in all of King’s Landing, and for all his effort he ended up in a jail cell with a Jaime Lannister-inflicted leg wound. Then his daughter Sansa begged in front of an unsympathetic court and appeared to successfully broker a deal to save Ned’s life. But when Ned appeared before the public of King’s Landing to receive his sentencing…
Joffrey went all Queen of Hearts on his ass. Well, head. Ba dum tss.
- The Oberyn/Mountain fight
The trial by combat to determine Tyrion Lannister’s fate pitted everyone’s favorite marauding sociopathic mountain, Ser Gregor Clegane, against one of the sexiest Thrones characters ever: Oberyn Martell of Dorne.
Everybody try to keep your pants on, please.
Of course, Oberyn’s combination of devilishly good looks and witty charisma was too much for the modus operandi of Westeros – someone so sexy and good had to die, so he lost. Pretty brutally, by a crushing blow to the head. The anguish caused by this alone would have won this scene a spot on this list. Combined with the brilliant (a word which here means “nauseatingly realistic”) visual effects, though, and this scene managed to pack a lifetime’s worth of trauma into just a few seconds.
We’re not 100% sure actor Pedro Pascal wasn’t actually crushed to death here.
To top it off, Martin let us temporarily think that we could safely root for the good guy. After breaking one spear and doing some fancy flips and kicks, Oberyn had the Mountain on his back and fans awaiting the fatal blow. And then…
Oberyn starts monologuing. And, as we all know from a multitude of other shows and movies, monologuing means certain death for the orator. Sure enough, the Mountain takes advantage of his opponents’ righteous decrying of Tywin Lannister to swipe his legs from underneath him, punch some teeth out, and roll him into the deadly embrace pictured above.
- The Red Wedding
For those who don’t know the technical term for this scene, just think of the one moment in the Thrones series that brought you closest to quitting it forever. Recall the scene that officially crushed your dreams for a Stark family happy ending, the time when you finally realized that no matter how often you scream “no, this can’t be happening!” at your television screen, in the world of Game of Thrones, it’s always happening.
Yup. That one.
The Red Wedding – from here on out known as “Walder Frey’s Murderific Party of Betrayal (With Extra Murder)” – completed the deconstruction of the “good guys always win” fantasy-fiction stereotype that began with the execution of Ned Stark. Martin didn’t just want to end Robb Stark’s war of revenge, he made sure to do it in such a shocking way that no fans will ever mistakenly think the show will have a happy ending ever again.
Preach, Ramsay. Wait, no, we hate you.
Fine, Thrones, you’ve made it clear that your modus operandi isn’t in line with our naive optimism. So what makes fans continue to be so rabidly impatient for the next seasons to premiere?
One reason, mostly: despite all the above sadness, though, there is one stunning moment of justice that manages to numb the pain of the rest of the show. One moment of glorious restitution done in such a satisfyingly brutal and catastrophic way that it reels us back in for another few seasons of emotional torture.
0. JOFFREY IS DEAD
AWWWWW YEEEAAAAH, BREAK OUT THE DORNISH WINE, CUE UP THE BARDS, AND KISS THE NEAREST TAVERN WENCH!