Game of Thrones’ final season is just seven weeks away and it’s understandable if panic is setting in. It’s the final season of the most epic television program of all time. You don’t want to be lost, but there were a million plotlines to remember. You’re only human. You could’ve easily forgotten something from season five. Or, maybe you haven’t watched GoT at all yet and want to be part of the conversation.
If you’d thought ahead, you could have followed the manageable binging guide I proposed back in August and gently waded through the series. But wading time’s over. Now, you need to dive if you want to have any hope of ever staying afloat. With just seven weeks to watch 67 hours of television, you’ll have to average just over an episode per day to be up to speed by the April 14 premiere.
Fortunately Thrones has a wealth of little plotlines, characters and details that are OK to skip. I wouldn’t recommend skipping them under normal circumstances. But these circumstances are not normal. Save the details for wiki pages and Reddit threads. Here’s your full-on, unhealthy binge guide to get this done.
How Much You Should Watch: All of it. In its early running, GoT quickly and indelibly introduces key characters and establishes a complex universe. Appreciate Sean Bean while you can. With the notable exception listed below, it’s worth watching 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 is drenched in hot, molten justice (no, it’s not kinky as it sounds).
Least Essential Character: Viserys is important but only because he sucks. Once you process that, you can skip most of his scenes, even when he explains important-seeming backstory.
Most Memorable Scene: “I did warn you not to trust me…”
How Much You Should Watch: Most of it. Season two keeps up most of its predecessor’s momentum. Battles and bloodshed abound. We also finally see dragonfire, but Dany’s story just drags on endlessly. The final two episodes are vital (a recurring theme), while episodes 4, 5 and 6 are good for a little palace intrigue and medieval torture.
Best Episode: “Blackwater.” When Thrones wages its first battle, it delivers. Tyrion emerges as a hero, 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. Watch on 1.5x speed, except for the parts when her dragons actually breathe fire.
Best Forgotten Character Relationship: Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister.
These two are easy to overlook as the show unfolds. Their interactions also foreshadow Arya’s go-to tactic of hiding in plain sight.
Best Scene: “Wildfire!”
How Much You Should Watch: Most of it. It’s a 10-episode spread of gore and heartbreak, with a major twist toward the end. The first couple episodes are key before it slows down in the middle—wiki pages are good enough. But the end of episode eight (“Second Sons”) through the episode 10 finale (“Mhysa”) are must-watch.
Best Episode: “The Rains of Castamere.” This is the episode with the Red Wedding, GoT’s point of no return which told its audience anyone can die at any time. Nothing on television will prepare you for this episode. Or watching it again.
Least Essential Plotline: Sam and Gilly. They’re cute, but it’s like a second-tier 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).
How Much You Should Watch: Most of it, but definitely the end. This is one of the show’s stronger seasons. Things get a little boring around 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 mind-blowing one-on-one battle. And no, I do not regret my choice of words.
Least Essential Plotline: Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven. This when everyone gets annoyed with Bran. Smash fast forward every time Bran’s on-screen.
Best Murder Buds: Arya and The Hound. The Hound teaches Arya valuable lessons in killing as Arya unintentionally exposes The Hound’s hidden humanity.
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.
How Much You Should Watch: Not much. This is probably the most frustrating season. Outside of “Hardhome” (ep. 8) and “Mother’s Mercy” (ep. 10) you’re better off catching the highlights on YouTube. 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. The writers clearly didn’t care about it and you shouldn’t either.
Most Underused Character: Myrcella Baratheon (Lannister).GoT is so cruel. Again, the show takes us from emotional reunion to brutal death in mere seconds.
How Much You Should Watch: All of it. This might be the show’s pinnacle. There are some pacing issues (mostly jetpacking between locations in improbable time), but those don’t become a major problem until next season.
Best Episode: “Battle of the Bastards.” The greatest medieval-style battle in the history of television and cinema. Plan a night around this episode alone.
Least Essential Plotline: Siege of Riverrun. The Blackfish’s farewell is sad but the whole ordeal is pretty inconsequential. Skip on by.
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.
What You Should Watch: All of it for context, but it’s not the show’s best work. Dany, Jon & Co. enact a really dumb plan, and story development and character interaction leaves a lot to be desired. 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.
Least Essential Plotline: Capturing a Wight. The plan was dumb, even though it resulted in some epic snowy battle sequences. Watching smart characters brainstorm and eventually agree to it was painful.
Best Incestual Romance: Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Jon and Daenerys the title from Jaime and Cersei, and not a moment too soon. It’s the pairing the audience hoped for from the beginning. So what if they’re related?