A decade ago this week (April 17), one of the bloodiest, randiest and most dazzling TV series ever debuted. Game of Thrones was a genuine game-changer: an event series for the social media era that became the most dissected (and sadly for HBO, pirated) show on the internet. To mark its 10th anniversary, here’s a reminder of some of the fantasy epic’s most shocking moments… not including that super-random Ed Sheeran cameo.
Bran Stark goes out the window
Game of Thrones sets out its stall in the very first episode by showing us that super-grim things can happen to anyone – even an innocent kid. When 10-year-old Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) catches sinister siblings Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) stealing a moment of incestuous passion, Jaime panics and pushes him out the window. Right from the start, we realise this is a world where secrets will trump anything resembling decency.
Did it make us gasp? Enough to wake the neighbours who didn’t know what Game of Thrones was yet.
Theon’s surprise penectomy
Game of Thrones characters lose body parts like most of us lose socks, but seeing Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) getting dismembered – quite literally – is a brutal season three highlight. Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) then adds insult to truly wince-inducing injury by sending the severed manhood to Theon’s father. It’s a moment of evil genius.
Did it make us gasp? And our eyes water, tbh.
Jon Snow gets murdered
It’s properly painful watching heroic Jon Snow (Kit Harington) get stabbed to death by members of the Night’s Watch – even before his supposedly loyal steward Olly (Brenock O’Connor) sticks the knife in, too. The only thing that takes the edge off this scene’s shock factor is the fact Jon comes back to life a few episodes later, a twist many fans had predicted.
Did it make us gasp? Of course it bloody did!
Cersei gets shamed
This devastating scene proves Game of Thrones doesn’t need bloody violence to make us squirm. Its shock value lies in humiliating one of the show’s most poised and powerful characters, Lena Headey’s Cersei Lannister, in such an unbelievably brutal way. We see her walking naked through King’s Landing, getting pelted with rotten fruit and human excrement all the way, while Septa Unella (Hannah Waddingham) rings a bell and taunts her with cries of “shame”. That she manages to keep her composure only underlines what a true queen Cersei is.
Did it make us gasp? So much that we needed a Cersei-style glass of wine to calm our nerves.
Arya kills Ser Meryn Trant
Consistently cruel and condescending, Ser Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie) ranks among the show’s least sympathetic characters. Still, you wouldn’t wish the way he goes on your worst enemy: first Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) gouges out his eyes; then she stabs him all over like a pin cushion; and finally, she slits his throat. Even by Arya’s standards, it’s intense as hell.
Did it make us gasp? Yes – and gip a bit, too.
The Purple Wedding
There are many ways to describe King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), but Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) said it best when she observed: “He really was a cunt, wasn’t he?” So, seeing him choke to death at his own wedding, before his marriage to Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) could be completed, was a shocking Game of Thrones moment that also felt absolutely spot-on.
Did it make us gasp? Yes – before we started cheering.
Shireen gets burned alive
For many fans, this proved to be a controversial moment as well as an incredibly shocking one. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is a tough-as-nails character softened by his love for daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram), so watching him sacrifice her to appease the Lord of Light was deeply upsetting as well as pretty gratuitous.
Did it make us gasp? Yes, and wince at the same time.
Jaime loses his hand
Cool and confident Jaime Lannister derives his self-esteem from his swordsmanship, so when Locke (Noah Taylor) slices off his hand in season three, it’s a really callous way of cutting him down to size. That he does so after lulling Jaime into a false sense of security only makes it more shocking.
Did it make us gasp? It made us fall off our iron throne.
The Red Wedding
This iconic Game of Thrones moment remains viscerally shocking every time you watch it. When Robb Stark (Richard Madden) marries his pregnant lover Talisa (Oona Chaplin) instead of Walder Frey’s daughter, the irate patriarch has him murdered in front of his own mother, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley). But before that, seeing Talisa repeatedly stabbed in her baby bump is a seriously disturbing image that very few shows would dare to show.
Did it make us gasp? Through the retches and tears, yes.
Not just shocking, but the ultimate boss move from showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. By killing off Sean Bean’s Ned Stark – a point-of-view character in the novels, and seemingly a lead in the series – they let us know that absolutely anything can happen in Westeros. They don’t even wait for the season finale: poor Ned gets executed in the penultimate episode of season one.
Did it make us gasp? Hard enough to wake a sleeping dragon.