Game of Thrones: The most shocking moments ranked - From Ned Stark and Hodor to the Red Wedding

Ahead of the start of House of the Dragon on Sky Atlantic with NOW, we look back at Game of Thrones' 10 most unexpected - and in most cases shockingly brutal - twists.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 1 August 2022 - 1.04pm
Sean Bean as Ned Stark in Game of Thrones

Stream every episode of Game of Thrones, plus behind the scenes extras on Sky Atlantic with NOW

Since HBO's Game of Thrones premiered in 2011, it's fair to say television has never been quite the same. We got incest, murder, unexpected beheadings, extreme torture – and that was just season one.

A worldwide phenomenon, Game of Thrones consistently pushed the envelope and surprised audiences with its shocking cullings of major characters and horrific deaths.

Stream every episode of Game of Thrones, plus behind the scenes extras on Sky Atlantic with NOW

Ahead of the premiere of spin-off series House of the Dragon in August, we have ranked the 10 most shocking moments in Game of Thrones.

10. Littlefinger's fate

The cunning and conniving Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) was many people’s pick to make it to the end of Game of Thrones. If a villain was going to survive and ultimately sit on the Iron Throne, who better than the scheming Lord Baelish?

However, the chief manipulator of Westeros met his match in season 7 when his plans to turn to Stark sisters against each other failed and Arya (Masie Williams) sealed his fate with a dagger.

9. Viserys's death

In her early years, Daenerys Targaryen had to deal with her entitled and annoying brother. He’s determined to become king, but Daenerys’s hunky new husband Khal Drogo gets tired of his brattish ways and crowns him with a head of molten gold. While many of us were happy to see the last of Viserys (Harry Lloyd), it was nevertheless a horribly painful way to die.

8. Daenerys' unusual dinner

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys in Game of Thrones

After Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) discovers she’s pregnant with Drogo’s (Jason Momoa) child, she’s ordered by the Dosh Khaleen to eat a raw horse’s heart. Their legend has it that if she is able to eat its entirety, then she will have a healthy baby boy but if she doesn’t this is an omen for both the child and their entire community.

Fortunately, Daenerys is a trooper and devours the entire thing, and declares that this proves she will have a strong, healthy son who shall be The Stallion Who Mounts the World.

7. Tyrion's revenge

Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones

Many fans see Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) as one of the few genuinely likeable characters on Game of Thrones. He’s extremely intelligent, funny and seems to be one of the few characters that has a moral compass.

But it all got too much for Tyrion in season 4 when he discovered that his beloved mistress Shae had slept with his father Tywin. Of course, anyone would be angry about this, but it’s especially hard for Tyrion to take as his dad has shamed Tyrion for his promiscuity and always doubted his abilities.

Tyrion’s seeks revenge by going on something of a rampage, strangling Shae and murdering his own father with a bow and arrow, while Tywin sits - ironically - on his own throne - the castle privy.

6. Jon Snow's 'death'

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones

We could have picked the reveal of Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) true parentage, but the speculation about L + R = J has been so rampant among fans that the reveal about him being Rhaegar Targaryen’s son was more of a slowburn than a sudden shock.

Instead, we picked the ‘death’ of Jon at the end of season 5 when the Night’s Watch turned on Jon for his perceived weakness with the Wildlings.

As the mutineers literally stuck the knife into Jon, it was a truly jaw-dropping moment – especially when little Olly delivered a savage blow.

The season 5 cliffhanger turned out to be a double shocker as this turned out to be far from the end for Jon when the show returned a year later.

5. Hold the door

Hodor in Game of Thrones

A heartbreaking and shocking moment that revealed the truth behind the much-loved and much-missed Hodor (Kristian Nairn).

There were many theories about the meaning behind the phrase ‘Hodor’, but not many predicted the tragic reveal that it was a garbled version of ‘Hold the Door’, from when a young Hodor saved Brand and Meera from the wights.

The storyline was particularly significant because it explained the powers of Bran, the Three-Eyed Raven and the connections between the past and present.

4. Shireen's horrific fate

One of Game of Thrones' darkest moments occurs when poor Shireen Baratheon meets her horrific end. Shireen, affected by the skin disease greyscale all her life, has led a pretty bleak life as the only Princess and daughter of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane).

She lives in virtual isolation and her only friend seems to be the sweet, middle-aged Davos.

Things go from bad to worse for little Shireen when Melisandre convinces Stannis that sacrificing Shireen will guarantee victory at his upcoming battles and help him inch closer towards claiming The Iron Throne.

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3. Bran Stark is pushed through a window

Poor Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is simply playing in his castle's grounds when he discovers Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) getting it on in broad daylight outside.

This would be a shocking sight for any young boy, but it’s particularly appalling for him as Cersei and Jaime are siblings – twins in fact. Jaime tries to cover up the discovery by pushing Bran out of the window he’s spying on them from. Fortunately, this doesn’t kill off the psychic Bran, but it does leave him crippled.

2. The beheading of Ned Stark

Ned Stark – heroic, noble, head of the Stark household and played by the Emmy award-winning actor Sean Bean. He was a solid fan favourite in the first season – only to be beheaded in its last episode on the orders of the odious King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).

Setting the tone that no character is ever truly safe from being killed off in Game of Thrones, this was one of the first of the show’s scenes to well and truly shock audiences far and wide.

1. The Red Wedding

Richard Madden filming the Red Wedding

Who can forget The Red Wedding? If you’ve seen it we don’t need to say more and if you haven’t you really have to see it to believe this incredible gore-fest.

In one swift moment, key characters are murdered in a horrific betrayal now considered one of the most shocking moments in TV history.

Stream every episode of Game of Thrones, plus behind the scenes extras on Sky Atlantic with NOW

Stream House of the Dragon weekly from 22 August on Sky Atlantic with NOW

Photo Credit: Game of Thrones © 2019 Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved. HBO® and all related programs are the property of Home Box Office, Inc.