“Game of Thrones” Recap: Key Episodes to Help You Prepare for “House of the Dragon”

Lena Heady in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

House of the Dragon is coming and you can read our review here. HBO’s Game of Thrones (GoT) prequel centering on House Targaryen, the platinum blonde dragon-riding family, premieres this Sunday, August 21. And even though the events of this new GoT-universe show are set hundreds of years before the times of Arya Stark, Jon Snow, Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, we thought we’d revisit some of Game of Thrones’ key episodes to catch up with the main characters, lore, family dynasties and lingo of Westeros.

Season 1, Episode 1: “Winter Is Coming”

Sean Bean in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO 

When Game of Thrones first premiered on HBO in 2011, those of us who hadn’t read the books were a bit lost. There were the many families and their mottos, the political machinations involved with getting on the Iron Throne or manipulating whomever was in power. There were also several mythological elements that pointed to a long winter ahead and White Walkers swarming the Seven Kingdoms south of the Wall.

But mostly the pilot episode of the show surprised us, not only with the incestuous relationship between Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Heady) and her twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but the fact that Jaime would stop at nothing to keep their secret relationship safe. Even pushing a little (if nosy) boy off a tower. The things we do for love…

Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”

Rewatching this decade-old show with more of a 2022 approach and sensibility you’ll feel how badly Game of Thrones has aged when it comes to the objectification of women and the use of sexual abuse as a plot device. 

But the show also excelled at some genuinely creative storytelling. For one, it had a vast ensemble cast of characters who all served a specific purpose. Even though some of them initially seemed quite separate from the rest (i.e. Khaleesi, played by Emilia Clarke, and the rest of the bunch all the way across the narrow sea), they’d all end up meeting in seasons to come. 

Later in season one, the show managed to stun viewers once again — those who hadn’t read the original George R.R. Martin books, that is — by killing off nonother than the show’s apparent star — and certainly the actor with the most name recognition — Sean Bean’s Ned Stark. Lord Stark fell prey to the court’s political game and lost his head for it. And the show proved how the Game of Thrones is played. 

Season 2, Episode 10: “Valar Morghulis”

Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

In the finale of Game of Thrones’ second season a lot of things came to fruition. Tyrion Lannister’s (Peter Dinklage) bravery kept King’s Landing safe against Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). No one recognized that though, except for spy-master Varys (Conleth Hill). Tyrion also learns that his sister Cersei tried to have him killed in battle. 

Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Jaime continue their pilgrimage to King’s Landing. Arya (Maisie Williams) parts ways with Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) but he gives her an iron coin. If she gives it to any Braavosi and says the words, “Valar Morghulis,” they’ll take her to Braavos and Jaqen will teach her the way of the Faceless Men. 

Osha (Natalia Tena), Hodor (Kristian Nairn) and Rickon (Art Parkinson) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) escape from Winterfell after the castle is taken by Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and the men from the Iron Islands. The younger Starks are told to head to the Wall in search of their stepbrother, Jon Snow (Kit Harington). However, Jon isn’t actually at the Wall, but very much north of it and very much conniving with the Wildlings — the Free Folk who live beyond the Wall — and learning how much of a threat the White Walkers really pose. 

Khaleesi, a.k.a. Daenerys Targaryen, finds herself in momentary trouble at the House of the Undying; she and her dragons are chained up. Fortunately, the little ones are stronger than they look. When Khaleesi commands them with the word “Dracarys,” they’re all freed by the dragons’ fire. 

But probably the act in this episode with the more rippling consequences is Rob Stark’s (Richard Madden) wedding to Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin), which sees him breaking the promise he made to Walder Frey (David Bradley) to marry Frey’s daughter. 

Season 3, Episode 9: “The Rains of Castamere”

Richard Madden and Michelle Fairley in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

After the brutal demise of Ned Stark, viewers of the show should have learned how Game of Thrones always finds creative ways of disposing of Stark family members.

In “The Rains of Castamere,” popularly known as the Red Wedding, Robb, Talisa and Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) are all brutally murdered at Frey’s place after being betrayed by Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton). Rob not marrying Frey’s daughter really was taken as a great offense and had tragic consequences.

Season 3, Episode 10: “Mysha”

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

Season three’s finale proved once again how much of a natural leader Daenerys Targaryen is — plus it solidified her role as a liberator. When she frees the enslaved Yunkish people, the crowd receives her as “Mysha,” which means mother, and lift her into their arms. Her dragon Drogon watches from above, flying. 

Season 4, Episode 2: “The Lion and the Rose”

Jack Gleeson in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

On the list of Game of Thrones’ most disliked characters, Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) is probably high up there with the likes of Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) and Walder Frey. So when the child-King meets his demise in quite the brutal way during his wedding to Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), some of us may have actually clapped. 

Season 4, Episode 8: “The Mountain and the Viper”

Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson and Pedro Pascal in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

By now we really should have been used to fan-favorite characters finding their end in the most brutal ways. Yet “The Mountain and the Viper” got some of us non-readers yet again. After a stellar fourth season in which Pedro Pascal and Indira Varma get introduced as the very sexy and hedonistic Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand, it was difficult to foresee that the Game of Thrones writers would actually kill off the beloved Oberyn.

Yet they did, and in the most gruesome way imaginable. Oberyn dies in a duel against Gregor Clegane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) to decide the fate of Tyrion. At the end of the episode and as a result of the trial by combat, Tyrion is sentenced to death by his father Tywin (Charles Dance). Only we know that, by the end of season four, the smartest of the Lannisters will get revenge on his cruel dad. 

Season 5, Episode 9: “The Dance of Dragons”

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

The show’s second-to-last episode of season five sees Stannis Baratheon giving way, once again, to superstition and allowing the Red Witch Melisandre (Carice van Houten) to persuade him to sacrifice his daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) as a last resort so that he can fulfill his ambition of taking the Iron Throne.

The episode also brings the viewer some uplifting moments. Khaleesi flyes on Drogon for the first time when the dragon saves her from an assassination attempt by the Sons of the Harpy. 

Season 5, Episode 10: “Mother’s Mercy”

Hannah Waddingham and Lena Headey in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

The finale for season five is once again a myriad of momentous events for several of our favorite characters. Theon Greyjoy and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) escape the monstrous Ramsay. Arya Stark keeps getting rid of names on her list and kills Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie). But, as a result, she’s blinded since she stole from the Many-Faced God. 

Jaime Lannister follows Cersei’s orders and retrieves their daughter Myrcella (Aimee Richardson) from Dorne. He tells the princess that he’s her father, and they share a tender moment before the young Myrcella dies, poisoned by Ellaria Sand. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), a fellow Night Watch trainee of Jon Snow’s from the Wall, asks permission to study at the Citadel in Oldtown as he’s interested in everything there is to know about the White Walkers.

Ready to become an ally to Daenerys Targaryen, Varys joins Tyrion, Khaleesi’s ever-loyal Jorah Mormont (Iai Glen), Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) in Meereen. Daenerys is still lost though — she disappeared thanks to a flying Drogon. They land far from Meereen and are soon surrounded by menacing Dothraki.

Cersei is forced by Septa Unella (an almost unrecognizable Hannah Waddingham) and the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) to walk the streets of King’s Landing naked while people throw stuff at her and chant: “Shame”.

And in a somewhat unexpected turn of events, yet another Stark finds his demise: Jon Snow is stabbed by his Night’s Watch brothers. They consider him a traitor for trying to join forces with the Wildlings against the White Walkers. 

Season 6, Episode 2: “Home”

Kit Harington in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

A lot of things happen in this second chapter of season six. Bran is trained by the Three-Eyed Raven. Cersei mourns the death of her daughter and plots revenge. Arya seems to surrender to her brutal training, conceding that “A girl has no name.” Tyrion meets a dragon for the first time. Ramsay kills his father, his father’s wife and their newborn, making sure he’s the heir to House Bolton and the North. And Theon’s father, Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), gets killed by his brother Euron (Pilou Asbæk). Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) swears to avenge her father.

But mostly this is the episode where Melisandre manages to bring Jon Snow back from the dead. 

Season 6, Episode 10: “The Winds of Winter”

Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

The finale of the sixth season sees Cersei pouring a glass of red wine while watching from the window of the Red Keep: She organized the explosion of the Sept. The High Sparrow, Margaery Tyrell and many others die as a result. Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), Cersei’s only remaining child, jumps out of a window because of Margaery’s death. Cersei is crowned Queen.

All the way across the narrow sea another queen, Khaleesi, names Tyrion her Hand. And she readies herself to sail for Westeros with her army and dragons. 

Season 7, Episode 7: “The Dragon and the Wolf”

Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

The finale of season seven packed in a lot of reveals, in true GoT fashion. Cersei and Daenerys’ allies all meet at the Targaryen dragonpits. Danny’s party wants to press the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms about the real threat posed by the White Walkers — something they can all theoretically form a united front on. Persuaded by her brother Tyrion, Cersei promises to send her troops north, but she’s of course lying. She might also be pregnant. But the lie about helping the north causes Jaime to finally desert his twin sister. 

Back in Winterfell, skilled manipulator Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) tries playing his Machiavellian games, hoping to turn Sansa against her sister Arya. But the older of the Starks has realized Littlefinger can’t be trusted. She accuses him of killing Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie), his former wife and Sansa and Arya’s aunt, as well as of conspiring to kill Jon Arryn and betraying Ned Stark. In the end, Arya kills Littlefinger. 

Sam arrives at Winterfell where he meets Bran Stark, who’s now the Three-Eyed Raven — a seer who once lived beyond the Wall. Between the two of them, they realize who Jon Snow really is: the lawful son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and the true heir to the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, completely unaware of that information, Daenerys and Jon — who is indeed Khaleesi’s nephew — make love. 

The White Walkers keep riding south. They destroy the Wall with the help of the dragon Viserion who’s also an undead creature now.

Season 8, Episode 5: “The Bells”

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO 

In a way you could stop with the reminiscing about — and even the rewatch of — Game of Thrones in season seven. I feel the controversial season eight didn’t satisfy many viewers. And things only got worse with every new episode of the show’s final season. 

Things started to get a bit baffling with episode three, titled “The Long Night”. The one-hour and 36-minutes episode involved a brutal nocturnal fight to defend Winterfell. But you probably know it better as the really dark episode in which you were convinced your TV was broken. It’s also the episode where Arya kills the Night King, the leader of the White Walkers, and, with his death, his whole undead army too. 

And you know episode five, “The Bells”, better as the one where Daenarys totally loses it and torches down King’s Landing — and its inhabitants — even though the bells are signaling the city’s surrender. Cersei and Jaime die unsatisfyingly in this one. 

Season 8, Episode 6: “The Iron Throne”

Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones. Photo Courtesy: HBO

The show’s finale sees Bran Stark becoming King Bran the Broken of the Six Kingdoms — but only after Jon kills Daenerys, fearing the Dragon Queen had already turned into the Mad Queen. (We’re told early on that it runs in her family.) Tyrion serves as Bran’s Hand. Sansa is crowned Queen of the North and her kingdom remains independent. 

As punishment for killing the former Queen, Jon is sent to the Night’s Watch yet again, but we see him going out beyond the Wall and guiding the Wildlings home. We’ll see more of that adventure in the already-confirmed GoT sequel centering on Harington’s character. Arya Stark sets sail for whatever is west of Westeros. She’d be a great addition to the Jon Snow sequel in any case.

But, for the time being, we’ll have to be content with whatever political plotting and family drama House of the Dragon has in store for us.