Can’t tell your Tyrells from your Martells? Check our mini-binge of the 10 essential episodes, and you can at least pretend to know who Ghost is.
SEASON 1, EPISODE 1
“Winter Is Coming”
The series premiere is a confusing but crucial info dump of crisscrossing family ties and incesty shenanigans that define Westeros. Plus, there’s that White Walker tease we’re catching up to years later. Just don’t get too attached to anyone.
SEASON 1, EPISODE 10
“Fire and Blood”
With King Robert and Ned Stark out of the picture, we get a clear vision of the show’s real power dynamics. Meet the King in the North, watch Arya go on the run, and witness the birth of the Mother of Dragons.
SEASON 2, EPISODE 9
Don’t like long strategy sessions? Cut straight to the spectacular climax of season 2, when rebel king Stannis launches an attack on the mainland. It’s the best-ever King’s Landing episode, paying generous attention to Tyrion’s cerebral heroics, Cersei’s fatalism, and Joffrey’s cowardice. Plus: Things go boom!
SEASON 3, EPISODE 5
“Kissed By Fire”
A crucial pivot point. Dany now has an army, while Robb loses half of his. And in a bathtub, Jaime Lannister recounts how he became a Kingslayer — the moment when the show’s baddie turns into its bruised soul.
SEASON 3, EPISODE 9
“The Rains of Castamere”
Getting confused by all these characters? Good news: It’s time for a wedding! The #RedWedding episode resets the power structure of Westeros in a few bloody minutes. (Also, Dany conquers Yunkai. Whenever you don’t see Dany, it’s a good bet she’s off conquering somewhere.)
SEASON 4, EPISODE 2
“The Lion and the Rose”
Blood Wedding No. 2 unites half the remaining cast for a memorable afternoon in King’s Landing, which joins two powerful families and kills yet another king. It also firmly establishes Ramsay Snow as the show’s neo-Joffrey, a devious freak bent on turning the North into his own Hellraiser.
SEASON 4, EPISODE 6
“The Laws of Gods and Men”
Tyrion tried to live up to his family name, and tried to protect his country — even if his family and his countrymen hated him. So his angry speech in this episode isn’t just a showcase of Peter Dinklage. It’s a repudiation of the whole Westeros society. And it’s all chaos from here.
SEASON 4, EPISODE 9
“The Watchers on the Wall”
What “Blackwater” was for King’s Landing, “Watchers” is for the Wall. When the Wildlings attack Castle Black, Jon Snow has to organize his misfit brethren and defend, well, the entire civilized world. Currently one of the show’s most expensive episodes (mammoth-riding giants ain’t cheap).
SEASON 5, EPISODE 8
Two long-teased story lines take center stage. Renegade Tyrion finally talks to rebel Empress Daenerys, while Jon Snow gets his first real look at the White Walker terror. If the White Walkers are the Final Boss of Game of Thrones, this episode could be a preview of the series finale.
SEASON 5, EPISODE 9
“The Dance of Dragons”
Look, you should just watch the whole show. But the one benefit of watching only the episodes on this list: You can skip straight through years of Dany very gradually building an empire out east. And remember that little dragon you met in “Fire and Blood”? He’s all grown up.
A version of this story originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1408-1409, available here.