Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season premieres in April, 2019. From the season premiere onward, the adventures of Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow and Brysmus Tyklehyrt will dominate Monday morning conversations. If you didn’t realize that the third character in the previous sentence was someone we just made up, you have a lot of TV to watch to take part in the chit chat.
There are 33 Sundays between now and the premiere. There are 67 hour-long episodes in GoT’s catalogue. At a manageable two episode-per-week pace, you could be completely caught up in the epic fantasy show before the theme’s big rings start spinning and the drums kick in for the kick-off to the final season.
Then again, 67 hours is a long time, no matter how thinly you slice it. GoT has stacked plots on plots on plots. They’ve introduced dozens of characters who seem vital to the overall story until they’re abruptly killed. Not every one of the shows 4020 minutes have been good. There’s probably at least an entire seven and a half hour work-day of superfluous material you’re better off skipping. Here’s our guide to maximizing your GoT catch-up for peak efficiency and enjoyment.
Note: Spoilers ahead
Approaching The Season: Watch it all. GoT’s first season is a lean beast. Each storyline in the early running informs character development and universe exposition. With the notable exception listed below, it’s worth following from front to back.
Best Episode: “A Golden Crown”
After five episodes of detailed table-setting, Ned Stark finds out the Lannisters’ biggest secret, Tyrion Lannister finds his champion and Viserys Targaryen receives some hot, molten justice (no, it’s not kinky).
Least Essential Plotline: Miss me with Viserys and his bathtub tales of the fallen Targaryen dynasty forever. Smash that fast-forward button whenever that white-haired whiner starts mouthing off.
Best Friendship: Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark
The two war buddies reunite, reminisce, rule and argue like old times. Some friendships were made to last. Others involve Sean Bean characters.
Most Memorable Scene: “I did warn you not to trust me…”
Approaching The Season: Season 2 keeps up most of its predecessor’s momentum with plenty of battles and bloodshed. We also finally see some dragonfire, but Dany’s story just drags on without catching fire.
Best Episode: “Blackwater”
When it’s time for the show to do its first battle scene, it delivers. Tyrion emerges as a hero, but is betrayed; Joffrey is exposed as a coward; and Stannis fulfills his destiny as a tragic warrior with an exceedingly bad hairline.
Least Essential Plotline: Daenerys Targaryen, aka the Mother of Dragons, trapped in Qarth. She’s in danger, but it never really feels like she is.
Best Forgotten Character Relationship: Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister
These two are easy to overlook as the show’s events unfold. Their interactions also foreshadow Arya’s go-to tactic of hiding in plain sight.
Best Scene: “Wildfire!”
Approaching The Season: Oh boy. This season is packed with drama and violence. It’s a 10-episode spread of gore and heartbreak, with a major twist toward the end. Season three will leave you emotionally scarred and ready for anything.
Best Episode: “The Rains of Castemere”
Nothing that you’ve ever watched on television will prepare you for this episode. Or watching it again. This is GoT’s point of no return, the moment where you realize anyone can die at any time.
Least Essential Plotline: Sam and Gilly.They’re cute, but it’s like a boring teen romcom breaking out in the middle of a dragon show.
Do Not Miss: The Red Wedding, in all its mind-bending brutality. But for the sake of switching it up, Rickard Karstark’s betrayal gave us a glimpse of an emotional masterclass from Richard Madden (playing Robb Stark).
Approaching The Season: This is one of the show’s stronger seasons. Quests for justice will keep you intrigued while blatant injustice will infuriate you, namely involving Tyrion Lannister. Things get a little boring toward the middle (episodes 4 and 5), but pick back up for an amazing finish.
Best Episode: “The Mountain and the Viper”
The trial of Tyrion Lannister ends with a one-on-one battle that will blow your mind. And no, I do not regret my choice of words.
Least Essential Plotline: Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven. This is about the point where everyone gets annoyed with Bran. His arc isn’t clear (yet) and it feels like he’s just wasting time.
Best Murder Buds: Arya and The Hound
The Hound teaches Arya valuable lessons in killing, while Arya (unintentionally) helps expose some of The Hound’s hidden humanity. Like all good GoT relationships it isn’t built to last, but they do get a whole lot of murdering in.
Best Scene: Tyrion’s confession.
Worst Overlooked Death: Getting impaled by a giant’s arrow and falling hundreds of feet has to suck real bad.
Approaching The Season: This is probably the most frustrating season. The villains are annoying (see: High Sparrow) and some of the plotlines are infuriatingly dull. Learn to recognize Dorne to skip the scenes set there.
Best Episode: “Hardhome”
We finally see the horror of the Night King’s army, capped off with a gory, tragic battle scene.
Lamest Plotline: Dorne. Without Oberyn there was no energy behind it, and you can feel it in every scene.
Most Underused Character: Myrcella Baratheon (Lannister)
GoT is so cruel. Again, the show takes us from emotional reunion to brutal death in mere seconds. Give the actress a few extra royalty checks for her trouble, please.
Approaching The Season: This might be the show’s pinnacle, despite some pacing issues, which will only get worse with time. Was that peak worth the Dorne valleys of season five?
Best Episode: “Battle of the Bastards”
The greatest medieval-style battle in the history of television and cinema. Don’t @ me.
Least Essential Plotline: Siege of Riverrun. The Blackfish’s farewell is sad but the whole ordeal is pretty inconsequential.
Most Exploitative Relationship: Bran Stark and Hodor
Bran’s been kicking ass through Hodor for years. We finally find out why, and boy is it heartbreaking. Seriously, soul-shattering stuff. The showrunners executed it perfectly.
Best Scene: The Tower of Joy Reveal/King in the North Part 2
Approaching The Season: Dany, Jon & Co. engage in a really dumb plan, and the short season leaves a lot to be desired in terms of story development and character interaction. It seems straight-up corny at times, but by now you’re so invested it almost doesn’t matter.
Best Episode: “The Dragon and the Wolf”
Everything comes together in this episode, the best of this punctuated season by far. Plus there’s a motherfuckin’ ice dragon.
Silliest Plotline: Capturing a Wight. The entire plan was dumb, even though it resulted in some epic snowy battle sequences. Watching usually smart characters brainstorm and eventually agree to it was painful.
Best Incestual Sexual Relationship: Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen
Taking the title from Jaime and Cersei, and not a moment too soon. It’s the romance we all hoped from from the beginning. So what if they’re related?