It took four months, but my re-watch of Game of Thrones in 4K is ended. I still don’t understand the extreme hate that Season 8 gets, but this article isn’t about that. This Top Ten Tuesday picks the best Game of Thrones episodes to watch in 4K UHD. The criteria goes by looks only in the stunning 4K format—so it’s not ranking the best episodes in general. (For example, “The Rains of Castemere”, which has a case for the top ten given the details of The Red Wedding and the darkness of the scene in and outside of hall, is probably the best overall episode of the series but does not make the list. I would recommend it as No. 1 to watch still, but not in terms of taking advantage of 4K quality only.)
Game of Thrones got bigger and bigger as time went on, so naturally the list consists of the later seasons. But another dozen episodes and standout scenes could have made the top ten. These in particular get an honorable mention:
“The Door” (Season 6, Episode 5)
“And Now His Watch Is Ended” (Season 3, Episode 4)
“Blackwater” (Season 2, Episode 9)
“The Rains of Castamere” (Season 3, Episode 9)
“The Watchers on the Wall” (Season 4, Episode 9)
“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (Season 5, Episode 6)
“Winter Is Coming” (Season 1, Episode 1)
“The Mother’s Mercy” (Season 5, Episode 10)
“The Children” (Season 4, Episode 10)
“Fire and Blood” (Season 1, Episode 10)
“Mhysa” (Season 3, Episode 10)
“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (Season 8, Episode 2)
[Also, I highly recommend watching Game of Thrones in 4K at some point. The immense detail put into the show stands out even more than it did when it aired on HBO in full HD.]
Now to the top ten:
10. “The Dance of Dragons” (Season 5, Episode 9)
One of the top episodes of the series, “The Dance of Dragons” is headlined by the final scene in the Great Pit of Daznak. After Jorah Mormont won the gladiator battle, we the viewers were placed directly in the action of Daenarys Targaryen and her closest advisors attempting to escape the pit with their lives—the intense scene is eased when Drogon screeches and flies in to save his mother and wreak havoc on her attackers, which is when the 4K UHD format really shines. Daenerys makes a triumphant exit by riding her dragon for the first time, leaving Tyrion Lannister and the others stunned at the situation. “The Dance of Dragons” also includes the despairing situation for Stannis Baratheon and his forces in the North, and Melisandre leading the burning of Princess Shireen at the stake.
9. “The Winds of Winter” (Season 6, Episode 10)
Again, these rankings are by appearance in 4K, not by overall quality—and the order could vary quite a bit, as each has its share of stunning moments in UHD. “The Winds of Winter” gives “The Rains a Castamere” a push for Game of Thrones’ best episode, and it begins with the exceptional and lengthy scene—with the awesome “Light of the Seven” score by composer Ramin Djawadi—capped by Cersei Lannister using wildfire to eliminate her enemies. Among the other moments in the momentous episode are Arya Stark getting revenge on Walder Frey in a dark scene, Samwell Tarly getting access to the massive and spectacular Citadel library, the Tower of Joy scene in Bran’s vision, Jon being named King in the North at a reclaimed Winterfell, Jamie Lannister returning to see Cersei being crowned in the gloomy Red Keep, and Daenerys finally setting sail to Westeros—all the events look tremendous in 4K.
8. “The Dragon and the Wolf” (Season 7, Episode 7)
“The Dragon and the Wolf” might go somewhat under the radar, but it’s similar to “The Winds of Winter” in that a ton of stuff happens throughout the episode—the first meeting between Daenaerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister (the daytime dragon pit meeting looked great, especially when Dany arrived on Drogon), the death of Littlefinger, and the reveal of Jon Snow as Aegeon Targaryen and true heir to the Iron Throne among them. They all look amazing, but the biggest picture-quality standouts to note are 1) Jaime Lannister leaving King’s Landing just as the snow majestically begins to fall on the capital, and 2) the Night King bringing down the Wall at Eastwatch on an ice dragon Viserion. The fall of the Wall is obviously a critical moment, and the boost in sound quality from the Dolby Atmos on the 4K UHD discs—also a big reason to watch Thrones in 4K—is as evident as ever when the massive structure comes down via dragon fire.
7. “The Spoils of War” (Season 7, Episode 4)
“The Spoils of War” is the shortest Game of Thrones episode, but it’s clearly one of the best—and one of the best-looking. The candlelit crypts of Winterfell—where Arya and Sansa Stark have their reunion—always look really good in 4K, and Arya’s return to Winterfell was framed so nicely. But the masterpiece episode is probably at its best in 4K for the Battle of the Goldroad—also known as the loot train attack. Jaime Lannister stayed with his army despite Bronn telling him to retreat, but the Lannister forces were no match for Daenerys Targaryen, Drogon, and the Dothraki. The battle scene was a complete slaughter, and the soldiers being lit on fire with ashes flying all around—while tracking the movements of Bronn, who worked his way to the scorpion to target Drogon, and Jaime—is one of the most intense scenes in the show. The final dozen or show seconds of Jaime trying to end the war before Drogon stepped in front and then Bronn came out of nowhere looked sick.
6. “The Bells” (Season 8, Episode 5)
There are a few examples throughout the series where Drogon is in darkness and you can see his mouth open and the fire build up before he burns someone alive, and “The Bells” represents one of those moments here on the list, with Varys meeting his end after turning on Daenerys Targaryen and attempting to have her poisoned to install Jon Snow as King. The nighttime scenes—Varys’ death, Tyrion Lannister freeing his brother Jaime, and Daenerys’ scenes within the Dragonstone castle—really pop. And then when Daenerys and Drogon lay waste to King’s Landing—first to opposing soldiers and then to the entire city—the destruction is a sight to behold. Included in the apocalyptic setting was the long-awaited Cleganebowl, the death of Jaime and Cersei Lannister, and the final scene where Arya Stark survives and rides off on a lone white horse.
5. “Beyond the Wall” (Season 7, Episode 6)
There were good scenes at Winterfell and at Dragonstone, but the journey beyond the Wall is what gets this episode a clear spot on the list. Firstly, the landscape is stunning as Jon Snow and company make their way through the snowy terrain—the 4K helps show how beautiful Iceland and Belfast (where the scenes were filmed and presented on-screen) are. The good guys also encountered a zombie polar bear on their way to capturing a wight—and once they were found out by the Army of the Dead, things really picked up. The transition from day to night and dawn was outstanding, with the details looking lifelike as usual in 4K even for the dark and dull shots. Daenerys Targaryen’s arrival—starting with a bang when Drogon flies overhead a near-hopeless Jon—and the first battle between her dragons and the Night King’s army gives a magnificent look at the blending of the fire with the icy territory. The Night King takes out Viserion, Uncle Benjen saves his nephew, and Jon declares Daenerys his Queen to help cap off the grand episode. And the final shot of the Night King turning Viserion into an ice dragon and weapon for the Army of the Dead is one of the most memorable moments in Game of Thrones.
4. “Battle of the Bastards” (Season 6, Episode 9)
An incredible amount of detail went into “Battle of the Bastards”, which tracked Jon Snow as he did battle with Ramsay Bolton’s forces in the open field outside of Winterfell. The shot of Jon facing down Ramsay’s charging forces after attempting to save Rickon Stark might be the most iconic of the entire series—and from there, it’s utter chaos. The strategy Jon planned (a pincer movement) was actually used against his army of northerners and wildlings, leading to them getting trapped and the recently resurrected hero nearly suffocating beneath the pile. Finally, the Knights of the Vale arrived while Sansa Stark and Littlefinger looked on, ultimately delivering a victory. As Game of Thrones tends to accomplish, it feels like you are in middle of the scene—and it truly looks like it too in Ultra HD. The battle portion gets most of the recognition, and deservedly so; but the 4K format is a major plus, as usual, for the night before the battle and the night after the battle when Sansa finally gets her revenge on Ramsay.
3. “The Iron Throne” (Season 8, Episode 6)
I know a vocal group despises Season 8, but, again, I liked it. And regardless of where you stand, its picture quality is as good as it gets for 4K content. “The Iron Throne” begins with a dystopian setting in the aftermath of Daenerys Targaryen’s demolition of King’s Landing. When Daenerys gets dropped off by Drogon and the dragon’s wings spread behind his mother, it’s another one of the most iconic shots in all of Game of Thrones. The speech the Targaryen ruler gives to her army is chilling, and the performance by Emilia Clarke deserves major props—as should go without saying for everyone in the series, including Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington in this episode. The nuances of their emotional performances in Game of Thrones’ final episode were more evident in 4K to me. After Daenerys’ tragic death at the hands of Jon Snow, Drogon destroyed the Iron Throne in the scene I’d say might most rival the bringing down of the Wall in terms of taking advantage of Dolby Atmos—and Drogon flying away with a deceased Daenerys was a fitting end for the dragon. After their farewells, I loved the series-ending montage featuring Jon, Sansa Stark, and Arya Stark—beginning with Jon picking up Longclaw, and showing strong detail with Sansa’s crowning as Queen in the North, Arya setting sail with a massive and glorious Stark banner on her ship, and Jon getting set to make a new home north of the Wall. Everyone should try to re-watch the finale in 4K.
2. “Hardhome” (Season 5, Episode 8)
When HBO first sent me a copy of Game of Thrones: The Complete Collection in 4K UHD late last year, the first scene I wanted to watch was the massacre at Hardhome. It does not disappoint. When riding up to Hardhome, Jon Snow’s fur cloak stands out—the detail is amazing, as it feels like you can get a sense of how the costumes in the show feel just by looking at the details in 4K. Then the dark and gloomy discussion in the tent—Jon and Tormund trying to convince more wildlings to join their cause and avoid becoming members of the Army of the Dead—is another example of Thrones delivering with its darker scenes, particularly in 4K. Again, “Hardhome” benefits from the Dolby Atmos, with the calming waters sounding realistic. But things quickly turn the opposite of calm, and it looked like the massacre was happening right in my living room. Jon’s one-on-one with a White Walker—with the Night King looking on—is among the best tracking shots of the series, as is the Night King walking to the edge of the deck and raising the newest members of Army of the Dead while staring down Jon, who comes to realize the serious threat he’s up against is even worse than he imagined.
1. “The Long Night” (Season 8, Episode 3)
When “The Long Night”—the final battle between the living and the dead and perhaps the most anticipated episode of the series—first aired on HBO a couple of years ago, I was stunned to find out that many people had issues of seeing what was going on. There were common complaints of things being too dark. Thankfully, I had no such problems, but I know people that said they used “good” televisions and had issues. Those issues should be solved in 4K UHD (and as I did not yet mention, with Dolby Vision and HDR) if you are watching on a quality 4K television (I have an LG OLED, which is about as good as it gets for picture quality, but I’d say sets around $1,000 or more should suffice). The build-up of the episode, which takes place during the night only, is tense, and the episode is very, very dark—but it’s all perfectly viewable and looks as epic as anything you’ll be able to watch in 4K. The fire brought by the dragons and by Melisandre brings a balance to the darkness, and the aforementioned candle-lit crypts of Winterfell make it look and feel like you’re hiding with Tyrion Lannister, Sansa Stark, and the others. The dragon battle and the moon shot when Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow are trying to take out the Night King is yet another super memorable and picturesque moment. You can see everything clearly and you’re left holding your breath when Arya Stark is navigating her way through the library surrounded by wights. And—before meeting his shocking demise at the hands of Arya—the confident Night King, after brushing off dragon fire with a smirk, gliding through Winterfell and to the godswood surrounded by his White Walker lieutenants (and quickly disposing of Theon Greyjoy before triumphantly walking to the Three-Eyed Raven) gives the show’s best look at the villains from beyond the Wall, while accompanied by the unforgettable score “The Night King”. All the while, characters like Jorah Mormont (R.I.P.), Jaime Lannister, and Brienne of Tarth were fighting for their lives. If you were not a fan the first time, I recommend giving “The Long Night” another shot in 4K. In terms of how it looks in 4K UHD, “The Long Night” is at the top of the list.