The 10 most satisfying deaths ever seen on Game of Thrones
When I ask you about Game of Thrones, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Tense, fraught political machinations, with far-reaching consequences? A difficult-to-pinpoint, but all-the-same distinct fear of weddings? Or, as guest star Ian McShane once said, “t*ts and dragons?” The HBO fantasy epic means different things to different people, but for me, Game of Thrones has always been synonymous with one thing: death.
Longtime fans will be well familiar with the phrase “valar morgulis”, and over the years, no show can hold a candle to GoT’s astonishing body count, which will only continue to skyrocket as the White Walkers begin their destructive march. Some of them, like Ned Stark’s all the way back in the start of season one, or Robb and Catlyn Stark’s at the end of season three… or, pretty much any of the Starks at any point, you can't really see coming, and they adversely affect your ability to trust and connect with TV show characters.
Here, though, are 10 character deaths on Game of Thrones that I think were not only richly deserved, but pretty enjoyable to boot. In ascending order from least to most satisfying, without further ado...
10. Oberyn Martell gets his head a-sploded at the hands of the Mountain
Most of the deaths chronicled here will depict utter bastards getting their well-deserved comeuppance, but I’d like to kick off this list by talking about a death that happened to a good character, even if his particular characterisation wasn’t that great. Oberyn Martell, better known as the Viper, was perhaps the least loathed of all the Dorne characters, and he met his end in a trial-by-combat on behalf of Tyrion Lannister. He was up against the Mountain, who, for lack of a better word, is a big-ass dude who has no other purpose but to explode heads in spectacular fashion. Here was the first of hopefully many heads exploded still to come.
Ducking and diving, Oberyn actually wins this fight against all odds, but instead of finishing the fatally-wounded Mountain off, he wastes vital time questioning the Mountain over the death of his daughter. No, fool! Finish him! Eventually, Oberyn’s profligacy is brutally punished, as the Mountain explodes his head. It seems like a massive mismatch, but what makes this death particularly satisfying for me is not only how much Oberyn deserves his squishy demise, but also for the fact it gives us perhaps our first look at how powerful (and brutal) the Mountain can really be.
9. Stannis Baratheon loses his head in more ways than one
Although his older brother Robert Baratheon kicks off Game of Thrones as the king of the Seven Kingdoms, Stannis has more than a few jealous glances at his brother’s crown, and his doomed pursuit of the Iron Throne leads to his eventual demise, not to mention all the pretty awful things he does that make his demise all the more satisfying. His association with Melisandre, the Red Priestess of the Lord of Light, does him exactly no favours; together, they cruelly burn Stannis' daughter Shireen (whose face is partly covered in Greyscale) and kill Stannis' brother Renly (who was ahead of him in succession to the throne) with some sort of demon baby. You kind of had to be there.
Eventually, he marches North to take on the wildlings, but is taken down by Bolton forces in the North at the end of season five, and ends up wounded and alone in the woods, where he meets Brienne of Tarth. This would be fine, apart from the fact that Brienne really hasn't forgiven him for the whole demon baby thing. The utter defeat on Stannis' face as he realises his fate is delicious, and although we're denied the final blow by a cruel cutaway, it's just desserts for what was was a real reign of terror on Game of Thrones. Though it does stop Stannis from ranking higher on this list.
8. Joffrey Baratheon chokes at the Purple Wedding
I couldn’t do a list about deaths on Game of Thrones without including this one, featuring the original villain on this spectacular and storied show, Joffrey Baratheon. He’s unceremoniously killed at his own wedding to Marjorie Tyrell, seemingly poisoned, blood running down his face, purple with asphyxiation. As satisfying as this demise was, I haven’t given it a very high ranking on this list, and that’s for one reason; it’s nowhere near as satisfying as it should be. Poison? Really? After all the obnoxious comments, childish demands for respect, and all the unnecessary deaths at his tiny, petty hands? In a just world, Joffrey gets bludgeoned to death with his own crown, and the entirety of Westeros cheers as Joffrey leaves this mortal plane. TL;DR - Joffrey sucks.
At least he died doing what he loved. That is, being a jerk: he’s needlessly mocking his uncle Tyrion when he meets his demise, and as the prime suspect for that death, Tyrion ends up on the run, later meeting up with Daenerys Targaryen for the latter parts of the show.
7. Viserys Targaryen finally gets his "crown of gold", regrets it somewhat
Although you wouldn’t know it know, Daenerys’ story in the first few seasons of Game of Thrones was quite the tragic one. She’s sold into slavery, and although she is the mother of dragons, it takes a while before those dragons become more than just CGI-lizards. She suffers quite a bit initially in her hero’s journey, and that’s at least in part down to her brother Viserys, who’s pretty much the worst. One of my defining images of Daenerys Targaryen is the silver-haired princess bursting into tears as she’s forcefully… introduced to Khal Drogo, but they quickly fall in love with one another, and it’s Drogo who gets to pull off one of his more spectacular kills.
At this point, we’ve already seen Khal Drogo respond to a smack-talker by ripping out his throat with typical Dothraki panache, but this kill is less about brutal brute force than it is about glorious, poetic comeuppance. Here, Drogo has had enough of Viserys’ whining about getting to Westeros, pestering the King of the Dothraki about when he’s going to get him his “crown of gold”. Poor choice of words there, Viserys; Drogo obliges him in all but the most literal of ways, pouring molten-hot gold over his head, and as it solidifies on his head with the prince in agony, all Drogo says is “there’s your crown of gold”. Perfect.
6. You can be damn sure the Hound is going to get some chicken
Although the deceased in this entry isn't of the high billing that some of the actors get in Game of Thrones, this string of deaths are noteworthy for being the cannon fodder for one of my favourite characters. Sandor Clegane, better known as the Hound, starts off as quite a gruff and ornery character, and he remains that way all through the series. The difference being, however, that at some point, he learned to have a heart. Taking care of Arya Stark as they both make their way as fugitives, they take a stop at a tavern that's pledged itself to House Lannister, and inside, Arya recognises Needle, her sword that was stolen from her by Polliver on behalf of the Lannisters who are in charge of the Iron Throne.
Inside this tavern, things quickly go south, as they're recognised by the men inside, and the Hound tells the Lannister men with trademark grace and candor: "f*** the King", before blithely announcing he's going to eat some chickens. Polliver responds by asking why he wouldn't die for the King when he seems willing to die for a couple of chickens, but the Hound replies by saying "somebody's going to die for these chickens". I won't ruin the spectacle for you by explaining what happens, but let's just say the Hound gets his chicken.
5. Kraznys mo Nakloz shows the perils of making assumptions
In general, the land of Westeros has a few spoken and unspoken rules: one, all men must die, two, winter is coming, and three, don’t mess with dragons. At this point of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen is still a pretty tragic character; she was sold into a marriage by her awful brother; once Khal Drogo died, she was once again sold into slavery, and though she gave birth to three dragons, she gets treated like crap by everyone around her, purely because she’s a woman. Not this time. Partway through season three, her dragons come fully to the fore, and an unsavoury slave owner is the recipient of our dragon-based catharsis.
As the owner of the Unsullied as well as a slave owner, Kraznys is, like many men on Game of Thrones, just not a nice guy. He meets Daenerys in Astapor as she attempts to buy a number of his soldiers, and he constantly insults Daenerys because he thinks she can’t speak Valyrian. In order to free the slaves, Daenerys offers Kraznys one of her dragons in Drogon, and as you might imagine, he takes it. It’s all part of Daenerys’ plan, however; you see, Drogon, like most dragons, are not slaves, and then reveals that she knew Valyrian the whole time, meaning she understood each of Kraznys’ insults. Yeah, he knows he’s screwed.
4. Tywin Lannister dies squatting at his chamberpot
Let’s not mince words here: Tywin Lannister is a jerk. Perhaps the biggest jerk on Game of Thrones, but it’s for that very reason that he ranks fairly highly upon my list. Although he’s got a fair few putdowns on the late King Joffrey, he’s also abusive to his youngest son Tyrion, mocking him for his size and sleeping with Shae, the love of his life. To boot, he was the supreme puppet master at the forefront of the Lannisters’ grab for power. Such a character may deserve a drawn-out, violent death, you’d think. Tywin’s is relatively quick, but that’s kind of why it’s so satisfying.
Back at the outset of season four, Petyr Baelish inadvertently predicts Tywin’s death when he riffs on the age-old phrase valar morgulis. When Tyrion escapes from prison he finds out that his father has been sleeping with the love of his life, all after that same patriarch abused him all of his life for being a dwarf, and tried to frame him for murder. As you can imagine, Tyrion is pretty upset at all this, and when he catches his dad on the toilet armed with a crossbow, there’s only really going to be one outcome. The lameness and awkwardness of the whole deal, with the life force dripping out of Tywin Lannister as sure as his digested dinner, makes it that much better, and to boot, that episode came out on Father’s Day. Wonderfully ironic.
3. Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) finally gets his comeuppance
Starting off as little more than the Master of Coin for the King, Petyr Baelish made his way towards becoming one of the key players in Westeros thanks to a vast network of spies, a knack for being on the right side, as well as no small amount of manipulation thanks to his wealth of knowledge and political secrets. He's also to blame for the majority of the events in season one that kick the plot into motion; he betrays Ned Stark, leading to his execution, marries his way into being Leader of the Vale before murdering his new bride, before pretending to be on Sansa's side as he gives her away to Ramsay Bolton, where she is abused in many different ways.
Seemingly too slippery to be taken down, the man better known as Littlefinger is an example of the kind of character that thrives in Westeros, but it's fitting when those manipulations prove to be his end. In season seven, Littlefinger attempts to turn the newly-reunited Sansa and Arya Stark against one another, but this plan backfires quite spectacularly. He's accused in front of all the lords of murder and treason, his lies exposed in the best possible way. His throat is cut by Arya Stark with the blade designed at murdering her brother Bran, and his face as he realises his house of cards is falling down is a kaleidoscope of glorious panic. Let's really savour this one:
2. Walder Frey eats humble pie, one other kind of pie
Ah, Walder Frey: where do we begin? Apart from being a slimy, immoral and generally less-than-reputable guy, he also committed the cardinal sin in Westeros by attacking someone he'd let into his house as a guest, brutally murdering Catelyn, Robb and a whole lot of other Starks in season three's The Rains of Castamere, in a scene better known as the Red Wedding, probably the tragic pinnacle of the Game of Thrones episodes. Be still, my aching heart. With such a terrible deed now a blot on his copybook, we were hoping retribution would come swiftly for Walder Frey, but we didn't see his demise until the end of season six. It was, however, worth the wait.
As he watches the Lannister Army leave after heated negotiations, Walder Frey tucks into some pie, laments the tardiness of Black Walder and Lothar Frey, his sons, and slaps the rear of a server girl he deems "too pretty" to be one of his. He's right: that server girl turns out to be Arya Stark, now a deadly assassin thanks to her training as a Faceless Man, and she's not quite over the whole Red Wedding thing. As for the pie? It turns out Walder's sons were right there with him, although they're significantly worse for wear. Arya slits his throat, and then later disguises herself as him to poison the rest of Frey's sons, showing that "winter has come for House Frey". Glorious vengeance!
1. Ramsay Bolton loses the Battle of the Bastards
Once Joffrey died near the beginning of season four, Ramsay Bolton quickly took up the mantle of the most villainous character in Game of Thrones. Flaying people alive (the flayed man is actually his house sigil), forcing himself upon Sansa Stark and torturing Theon Greyjoy to the point of irreversible psychological damage, Ramsay Bolton (the bastard son of Roose Bolton) was the guy we all wanted to get his just desserts, but he was seemingly as smart as he was evil, continually avoided assassination attempts and capture. I think, though, that his demise was worth the wait.
Finally, near the end of season six in the Battle of the Bastards against Jon Snow, Ramsay's forces are completely decimated, before he finally loses in a one-on-one fight with Ned Stark's bastard. The suffering, however, doesn't end there. No, that comes later, when he's face to face with his victim Sansa Stark as prisoner in the dog kennels, where Ramsay's dogs, who he admits "haven't been fed in seven days", are waiting for him. Yeah, you see where this is going. As Ramsay screams and the dogs chow down, I swear you can see Sansa crack a smile in the shadows, and I honestly don't blame her.
Well there we have it, lords and ladies of Westeros: 10 death scenes on Game of Thrones that really helped to consolidate the show for me in the same way as some of the more tragic passings.
You might not agree with me entirely on this list, but I think that's just an indication of how many satisfying deaths we've had on this Odyssean HBO fantasy epic. I, for one, cannot wait for season eight. I bet we'll have a few more possible entries to this by the time Game of Thrones finally wraps up for good.