Game of Thrones (HBO)
The song: Sigur Rós, ”The Rains of Castamere”
The episode: ”The Lion and the Rose” (402)
The hook: The April 13 episode saw Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) leave Westeros for good, but just because Joffrey’s death was welcome didn’t make it any less shocking. Perhaps King Baratheon had it coming after churlishly dismissing the band (Icelandic trio Sigur Rós in a guest spot) from a wedding banquet. Never fear, all was well that ended well for the rockers — more than we can say for Joffrey — as ”Rains of Castamere” played out the episode.
Read James Hibberd’s recaps and full Thrones coverage
The Walking Dead (AMC)
The song: The Mountain Goats, ”Up the Wolves”
The episode: ”Still” (412)
The hook: Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney) boozed, bonded, and backstoried on March 2, consecrating their new friendship in moonshine-fueled fire as the North Carolina quartet’s strummer about overcoming ghosts from the past played out the episode. The next week was bookended by the bereft fiddle instrumentation of ”Blackbird Song” from American Idol‘s season 9 winner Lee DeWyze, who happens to be a Walking Dead superfan and wrote this ”Song” with the show in mind.
Read Maricela Gonzalez’s recaps
Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
The song: J2 feat. Cameron the Public, ”Man in the Mirror”
The episode: ”You’ve Got to Hide your Love Away” (1014)
The hook: This take on Michael Jackson’s ’88 instaclassic closed out the March 6 ep, which officially kicked off a campaign of ’80s covers with highlights that included spring breakout Sam Smith trying on Whitney Houston’s ”How Will I Know” for size March 20 and Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) bidding Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) an emotional goodbye to Aqualung’s ”Take on Me” during the May 15 season finale.
Read Samantha Highfill’s recaps and her tribute to Meredith and Cristina’s friendship, plus Sandra Gonzalez’s farewell chat with Oh and creator Shonda Rhimes and her Grey’s exit ranker, then watch a supercut of Cristina’s best dance-like-nobody’s-watching moments
The song: Harry Nilsson, ”You’re Breaking My Heart”
The episode: ”Beach House” (307)
The hook: The second soundtrack to Lena Dunham’s hipcom knocked it out of the park, with Miguel’s ”Simplethings”, Lily Allen’s ”L8 CMMR,” and Michael Penn’s season-closing ”Good Girl Down.” But it was Nilsson’s 1972 rocker on Feb. 16 — part of season 3’s best episode — that made for the season’s greatest musical moment. Before things got ugly during a weekend out of the city, the girls mounted a full-on dance number Sunday with the help of a choreographer they’d invited over for an afternoon of frolicking. Unfortunately, it was this very dance number that triggered Marnie’s (Allison Williams) control-freak streak and drove the ladies — especially an awesomely over-it Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) — to lob truth bombs at each other. By the end of the ep, the friends smoothed their rift by breaking into the dance, then laughter, once more without music. Rhythm heals, y’all.
Read Darren Franich’s reaction to the finale, Jeff Jensen’s season 3 review, and Hillary Busis’s chat with star Allison Williams
The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
The song: Birdy, ”Wings”
The episode: ”Home” (522)
The hook: The final two episodes of TVD‘s fifth season were a one-two punch of ”They just did WHAT?!?!” On May 8, RAIGN’s Florence Welch-like wail on ”Don’t Let Me Go” echoed fans’ reactions to the possibility that Stefan (Paul Wesley) had his heart literally ripped out and apparently died. The next week, English singer-songwriter Birdy (née Jasmine van den Bogaerde) closed out a trio of powerful tunes — led off by I Am Strikes’ ”Love Is Just a Way to Die” and played through by Lucy Rose’s ”Be Alright” — that brought major weeps for Delena shippers as Elena (Nina Dobrev) made her way back from the other side?but the love of her afterlife Damon (Ian Somerhalder) — along with Bonnie (Kat Graham) — did not.
Read Mandi’s recaps, plus her immediate reaction, her full recap and her postmortem with showrunner Julie Plec, then check out Samantha Highfill’s analysis of how TVD’s finale was a game-changer, watch Paul Wesley’s Pop Culture Personality Test, and find out what the show’s stars hope for in season 6
The song: The Temptations, ”Smiling Faces Sometimes”
The episode: ”Flesh and Blood” (317)
The hook: A good, old-fashioned Scandal montage on April 10 set up the next week’s season 3 finale. As terrorist mama Maya Pope (Khandi Alexander) started the clock on a bomb that could take out some of the Beltway’s most powerful players. The most ”Smiling” face of all belonged to President Chief of Staff Cyrus (Jeff Perry), who realized he’d just been handed a way to eliminate all his opponents to the Temptations’ 1971 tick-tick-ticking percussion. The Temps closed out season 3, with 1972’s ”Papa Was a Rolling Stone” nailing how Liv’s (Kerry Washington) dad has been known to change allegiances — and enemies — whenever is convenient and/or advantageous. Unfortunately for Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), who just lost his son and his lover, and Harrison (Columbus Short), who might be losing his life, Eli’s shifting favor did not work in theirs.
Read Katie Atkinson’s recaps, see what showrunner Shonda Rhimes revealed to Jimmy Kimmel about season 3, then check out our gallery of Scandal‘s top 10 most shocking twists (and a few that didn’t make the cut but we couldn’t ignore)
How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
The song: Cristin Milioti, ”La Vie en Rose”
The episode: ”How Your Mother Met Me” (916)
The hook: In HIMYM‘s ultra-watched 200th ep on Jan. 27, Mother (Milioti) did justice to Édith Piaf’s signature song. Plucking at a ukulele given to her by an old boyfriend who’d passed away, she was in a bittersweet mood after looking heavenward and asking his permission to fall in love again. The tender rendition underscored cuts between all the characters, most importantly soon-to-be love Ted (Josh Radnor) listening to the serenade that sparked his love for Mother. (It also foreshadowed Ted’s dilemma in the love-it-or-hate-it series finale.)
Read Sandra Gonzalez’s recaps, check out cast members’ favorite episodes, and see our ranking of the series’ top 50 episodes
The Blacklist (NBC)
The song: Pearl Jam, ”Just Breathe”
The episode: ”Berlin: Conclusion” (122)
The hook: Providing nice symmetry after their song ”Pendulum” closed out the midseason finale, Eddie Vedder & Co. imparted some much-needed relief as May 12’s Blacklist came to a close. Liz (Megan Boone) and Red (James Spader) wrapped up their life-threatening pursuit of Berlin (Peter Stormare), and EP Jon Bokenkamp characterized them both as ”introspective and resolute — steeling themselves for the daunting road ahead,” with Pearl Jam’s track reflecting the calm after a decision made — the calm before a new storm.
Read JoJo Marshall’s recaps and her assessment of season 1’s highs and lows
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
The song: ”Dongs All Over the World”
The episode: ”Anna Kendrick/Pharrell Williams” (3917)
The hook: The Pitch Perfect star took part in a hilariously sexual antidote to the princess-heavy April 5 episode with this members-only, Pussycat Dolls-style parody number featuring SNL MVPs Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Cecily Strong, and Sasheer Zamata.
Read Erin Strecker’s recap, find out who YOU voted the best host of the season, and see which cast member took this year’s MVP title
The song: Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen, ”It Ain’t Yours to Throw Away”
The episode: ”On the Other Hand” (222)
The hook: Though Scarlett (Bowen) thought she’d made peace with leaving Nashville, a serenade by Gunnar (Palladio) lured her back in for a bittersweet duet — their first in a long time — that underscored many stories in Music City on May 14. But will the artistic collaboration last? Please don’t ”Throw Away” this storyline, showrunner Callie Khouri!
Read EW’s Nashville recaps
Mad Men (AMC)
The song: Vanilla Fudge, ”Keep Me Hangin’ On”
The episode: ”Time Zones” (701)
The hook: During April 7’s season opener, the ”new start” referenced in the Long Island rockers’ 1967 hit worked on several levels. Not only did the folks of SDCP begin to split time between New York and Los Angeles, Don (Jon Hamm) also made a small step toward correcting his wandering ways. His breakdown at the end of the premiere begged the question: Would Don be set free from his demons, or will he keep ”Hangin On”? The theme continued throughout season 7 as Don went through peaks and valleys of his sobriety, responsibility, ability to parent, and more.
Read Jeff Labrecque’s recaps
The Originals (The CW)
The song: The Hawk In Paris, ”Freaks”
The episode: ”The Battle of New Orleans” (121)
The hook: The closing moments of the penultimate ep used MS MR’s ”Bones” (a Jukebox selection from Feb. 16, 2013) to set up the supernatural badassery of the next week’s season finale. Before that, there was plenty of scrapping between the French Quarter’s wolves and vamps, starting with a ”Freak”-y march to battle that was accompanied by These New Puritans’ appropriately titled ”We Want War.”
Read Samantha Highfill’s recap and her assessment of season 1’s highs and lows, then find out how star Joseph Morgan answered a lightning round of ”What Would Klaus Do?”
American Horror Story: Coven (FX)
The song: Fleetwood Mac, ”Seven Wonders”
The episode: ”The Seven Wonders” (313)
The hook: Stevie Nicks kicked off Coven‘s Jan. 29 finale with a performance of her band’s 1987 single. The song’s title just so happened to be the name of the tasks the witches of Miss Robichaux’s Academy had to perform in order to suss out who would be the next Supreme, and as Nicks sang and twirled through a hilariously retro-music-video-style tour of the mansion, the witches performed various mystical feats (telekinesis, rejuvenation, mental candle-lighting, etc.).
Read Darren Franich’s recaps and Tim Stack’s exclusive Q&A with AHS creator Ryan Murphy
The song: Aimee Mann, ”Come Sail Away”
The episode: ”Geothermal Escapism” (505)
The hook: In amusingly literal style, Troy (Donald Glover) rode off on a boat on Jan. 23 as Mann sang those famous title lyrics from Styx’s 1977 piano-rock classic. The silver lining of his for-good departure from the Greendale gang? He was on the adventure of a lifetime with his idol LeVar Burton. And, in light of the news that NBC canceled Community before its goal of ”six seasons and a movie,” we wish the entire study group bon voyage!
Read Ray Rahman’s recap, take a look at Darren Franich’s visual anlaysis of the finale, and check out creator Dan Harmon’s post-cancelation letter to fans
The Mindy Project (Fox)
The song: Stepdad, ”Find Love (Bonus Track)”
The episode: ”The Desert” (214)
The hook: With a Jan. 21 teaser, the Michigan electropoppers set up a long-awaited hook-up between Danny (Chris Messina) and Mindy (Mindy Kaling) after he laid a long, passionate kiss on her at 10,000 feet in the air. The will-they-or-won’t-they relationship culminated in a rom-com-style sprint through the street (and up the stairs of the Empire State Building) to Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 megahit ”Dancing in the Dark” and a tempo drop courtesy of The Cars’ ”Drive” as the pair cooled down and heated up with another super-smooch on the May 6 finale.
Read Erin Strecker’s finale recap, our exclusive conversation between Kaling and Billy Crystal, Sandra Gonzalez’s chat with Ike Barinholtz about the finale, and the one thing about the finale Mandi Bierly found questionable
The song: ”I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” originally by U2
The episode: ”City of Angels” (511)
The hook: The old-school Gleek in us has to give the hat tip to two tear-jerking-yet-triumphant performances by the New Directions in the back end of season 5. First, they paid tribute to their late leader Finn Hudson (played by Cory Monteith, who passed away unexpectedly last summer and was movingly honored last October in ”The Quarterback”) and defended their Nationals title with a Finn-centric lineup on March 11. Then, on March 25, they said goodbye to Mr. Schue (Matthew Morrison) with a reworked version of Glee‘s signature song: Journey’s ”Don’t Stop Believin”’
Read Jodi Walker’s recaps
Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family)
The song: Sara Jackson-Holman, ”Break My Heart”
The episode: ”Cover for Me” (422)
The hook: ”Go ahead and break my heart, you had me from the start. Go ahead and let me down, I’m better off alone, and you know I know, you know I know it.” Throbbing yet sultry, Jackson-Holman’s track perfectly conveyed the complicated feelings Aria (Lucy Hale) had for her ex Ezra (Ian Harding) on March 4 as she read a manuscript he’d written about the Liars.
Read Samantha Highfill’s recap
The song: The Doors, ”Break on Through (To the Other Side)”
The episode: ”Where There’s Smoke” (308)
The hook: No happy endings here! April 14’s midseason finale saw John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) engaging in a pill-fueled threesome as the fate of scotch-drunk Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) hung in the balance. A pounding remix on Jim Morrison’s incendiary 1967 song made it clear that, as Southfork went up in flames — from which Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) attempted to rescue Bobby (Patrick Duffy) — the time to hesitate was through.
Read Mandi Bierly’s recaps
The song: The 2 Bears, ”Take a Look Around”
The episode: ”Looking for Now” (101)
The hook: Closing out the Jan. 19 debut, this club thumper about possibility was both ambient and apropos as neurotic twentysomething singleton Patrick (Jonathan Groff) headed to a bar to search for Richie (Raúl Castillo), whom he’d met earlier in the evening. What seemed like a one-night stand developed into a surprisingly complex relationship, culminating in a an ill-advised work fling for Patrick — set to Holy Ghost!’s ”Do It Again” and Lindstrøm & Christabelle’s ”Music in My Mind” — followed by a heartbreaking split that was ushered in by Arthur Russell’s ”I Couldn’t Say It to Your Face.” The late folkie’s rueful lyric ”I needed space” had painful resonance considering Patrick had said those same words to Richie just hours before he cheated.
Read Darren Franich’s review of the series premiere and Erin Strecker’s reaction to the pilot, then read Tim Stack’s finale postmortem with creator Michael Lannan
Reign (The CW)
The song: Sanders Bohlke, ”My Baby”
The episode: ”The Consummation” (113)
The hook: Call it Mary’s Choice. The Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) had to pick which of two brothers, Francis (Toby Regbo) or Bash (Torrance Coombs), would be her king on March 6. The wedding night reached its, uh, climax as rejected Bash was forced to watch the marital consummation to the tune of Bohlke’s lament: ”You are a body I could hold. You are a good woman I am told.” To Bash’s consolation, though, he soon found an unlikely love in his father’s former mistress Kenna (Caitlin Stasey), and they had a passionate episode on April 24. A ménage à trois of sexy songs — Lenka’s ”Two Heartbeats,” Glass Animals’ ”Exxus,” and NEULORE’s unreleased ”Tribes” — bookended their consummation, which was set to BROODS’ ”Bridges.”
Read Samantha Highfill’s ”Consummation” recap, her ”Toy Soldiers” recap, and watch Coombs’ and Stasey’s steamy chemistry
True Detective (HBO)
The song: The Hat feat. Father John Misty & S.I. Istwa, ”The Angry River”
The episode: ”Form and Void” (108)
The hook: Though Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Hart (Woody Harrelson) escaped a house of horrors on Detective‘s ratings-busting March 9 finale, this haunting T Bone Burnett-penned original, which played over season 1’s end credits, proved the future wouldn’t be all light over dark for these two.
Read Jeff Jensen’s review as well as his postmortem with creator Nic Pizzolato, check out Darren Franich’s reaction to the finale, and listen to some casting ideas for season 2
Downton Abbey (PBS)
The song: ”O Mio Babbino Caro,” originally by Giacaomo Puccini
The episode: ”Episode 2” (402)
The hook: A harrowing juxtaposition — as Australian opera diva Nellie Melba (Kiri Te Kanawa) performed ”Caro” upstairs at the Abbey on Jan. 12, the soprano’s piercing high notes covered screams coming from downstairs as slimy valet Green (Nigel Harman) sexually assaulted Anna (Joanne Froggatt). As Denise Warner pointed out, ”The aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi details the struggle [a young girl named] Lauretta has with her family and the family of the boy she loves, which threatens to tear the young lovers apart. A little foreshadowing for Anna and Bates’ relationship, perhaps?” Though Anna was making inroads to reconnecting with her husband Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) by the end of fourth season, the possibility of her ability to trust again was in doubt for many episodes after the attack.
Read Denise’s recaps
The song: London Grammar, ”If You Wait”
The episode: ”Stay a Little Longer” (512)
The hook: ”Can you give me, everything? ‘Cause I can’t give you anything”? The Jukebox favorites’ piano ballad was heartbreaking on Jan. 10 as Julia (Erika Christensen) tried to explain the circumstances of her emotional affair to Joel (Sam Jaeger). The weeks-long dissolution of the Grahams’ marriage continued to a slew of beautiful songs, including Laura Marling’s ”When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been)” and Tom Odell’s ”Another Love.” Were all Julia and Joel’s tears really used up as Joel left their home on Jan. 23? Maybe not. The estranged spouses seemed open to reconciliation as season 5 ended.
Read Samantha Highfill’s finale recap
New Girl (Fox)
The song: Michael Franti & Spearhead, ”I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like)”
The episode: ”Dance” (322)
The hook: April 29 saw a good, old-fashioned New Girl ending as the gang took the floor of Jess’s (Zooey Deschanel) school dance and got their groove on to the self-affirming collab. Another season 1 throwback came on April 15 when Jess, newly split from Nick (Jake Johnson), indulged in her break-up go-to: Dirty Dancing, and the ex-roomfriends bonded from a distance to the dulcet sounds of Eric Carmen’s ”Hungry Eyes.”
Read our full New Girl coverage
The Following (Fox)
The song: Mourning Rituals, ”Bad Moon Rising”
The episode: ”Resurrection” (201)
The hook: As we’ve come to expect from the serial-killer series, the Jan. 19 season 2 premiere ended on a pitch-black note with this Goth-rock cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 track. As FBI Agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) got under the skin — almost literally — of his nemesis, homicidal cult leader Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), apocalyptic lyrics including ”I see earthquakes and lightnin’. I see bad times today” signaled chilling developments ahead for Ryan — not to mention all the innocents who were inevitably caught in their crossfire, leading up to a pointed use of Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1956 track ”Too Close for Comfort” during an uneasy collaboration between Ryan and Joe on the April 28 finale.
Read Sandra Gonzalez’s finale postmortem with EP Marcos Siega and watch star Sam Underwood’s Pop Culture Personality Test
Criminal Minds (CBS)
The song: Trentemøller feat. Sune Rose Wagner, ”Deceive”
The episode: ”The Black Queen” (912)
The hook: When a Jan. 15 case forced Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) to reconnect with her hacker past, the Danish DJ’s throbbing beat gave a scene in a gaming den just the right amount of Jolt Cola-esque energy. (Bonus: Cool points of the 2001 variety go to Garcia for making a sassy, in-character entrance into the game space to Destiny’s Child’s ”Bootylicious.”)
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (NBC)
The song: Garth Brooks, ”The Dance”
The episode: ”Billy Crystal/Garth Brooks/Final Show” (2277)
The hook: Jay Leno’s emotional end to his 22-year tenure hosting The Tonight Show was packed with musical moments, including a riff on The Sound of Music‘s ”So Long, Farewell” with punch-line lyrics from Kim Kardashian and Jack Black, among others. But Leno tapped his buddy Brooks for two performances. First, the country megastar crooned Leno’s personal favorite song, 1990?s ”The Dance,” a reflective ballad about life’s unexpected endings and the twists and turns that enrich the journey along the way. Later, after Leno said his final goodbye, Brooks closed out the show with his barroom standby from 1990, ”Friends in Low Places.”
Watch the video of Leno’s parting words, see how Leno’s competitors bid him adieu, check out Jeff Jensen’s take on Leno’s farewell ep, and count down Leno’s greatest on-air moments with Lynette Rice and Darren Franich
The Carrie Diaries (The CW)
The song: Simple Minds, ”Alive and Kicking”
The episode: ”Run to You” (213)
The hook: Closing out the season finale on Jan. 31, the Scottish troubadours’ 1985 hit proved that failure wouldn’t be the end of life as Carrie (AnnaSophia Robb) knew it (though it was the end of the series, as we know it, since Carrie was canceled a few months later). As the hour wrapped up, and Carrie reaffirmed her decision to make a life for herself in New York, singer James Kerr asked, ”What you gonna do when things go wrong? ? What’s it gonna take to make a dream survive?” For Carrie, the answer was simple: Pull herself up by her bootstraps — fabulous, designer bootstraps, of course.
The song: Ruby Friedman Orchestra, ”You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”
The episode: ”Restitution” (513)
The hook: April 5’s season finale returned to form musically, using a song that’s become known as a Justified finale standard. ”It’s the most percussive version of the song. It has a real drive to it,” EP Graham Yost told Mandi Bierly of this version. ”I had as a goal from early on using a female cover of the song when a season would end with a dilemma for Ava (Joelle Carter). It really is the question: We know it’s gonna come down to Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins), but what’s gonna happen to Ava? And will she survive this story? Or will she be killed? It felt like almost more than any other time we’ve used it, it was appropriate. ? It was actually written in the script that, as Ava walks back to the car, Ruby Friedman’s version kicked in.”
Read Mandi’s postmortem with Yost
Cougar Town (TBS)
The song: NONONO, ”Pumpin Blood”
The episode: ”Depending On You” (503)
The hook: The whistlin’ ditty underscored an important first for Laurie (Busy Philipps) and Travis (Dan Byrd) on Jan. 21: Their post-fight make-up conversation. An effervescent beat and spot-on lyrics (”Hey heart? moving on, forward/Sticks and stones won’t break the bones”) complemented the new couple’s milestone and carried over into a similarly smoothed-over moment between Jules (Courteney Cox) and Grayson (Josh Hopkins).