Warning: This post contains spoilers for season seven of Game of Thrones.
“Beyond the Wall,” the sixth episode of Game of Thrones‘ seventh season, is just days away, which means it’s almost time to see Westeros’ dream team — Jon Snow, Tormund, Jorah Mormont, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr and the Hound — come face to face with the army of the dead. Blood will no doubt be shed and lives will almost certainly be lost during the hour — something that’s become the norm in the penultimate installment of each season of the HBO drama.
The decision to have a season’s climax occur in its second-to-last episode is a narrative choice that works for Thrones. Now, that’s not to say that major plot developments don’t occur in the show’s season finales (cough cough, Jon Snow’s death). But while the final episode tends to tie up loose ends and introduce new storylines for the following year, the second-to-last generally functions as the axis on which the events of the season turn.
So before Sunday’s long-awaited clash decides the fate of the realm, let’s take a look back at all the insane things that happened in the penultimate episodes of Thrones‘ first six seasons.
Season 1: Baelor
Oh, to go back to the days before Ned Stark was beheaded. When Joffrey gave the order to Ser Ilyn Payne to bring him Ned’s head, Westeros suddenly became a much darker place. As the chaotic final moments of Ned’s life played out at the Sept of Baelor, viewers were forced to reconcile themselves with the fact that in the world of Thrones, heroes die, villains triumph and no character — no matter how beloved by fans — is safe.
Other significant events included Robb achieving his (arguably) greatest victory of the war by capturing Jaime, Jon receiving his Valyrian steel sword Longclaw as a gift from Lord Commander Mormont and Daenerys foolishly choosing to try and save the injured Khal Drogo with blood magic — a decision that cost her their unborn baby’s life.
Season 2: Blackwater
In Thrones‘ first capsule episode, viewers got to see the conflict between two factions of the War of the Five Kings come to a fiery head, as Stannis’s forces attempted to wrest control of King’s Landing from the Lannisters in the Battle of the Blackwater. From the wildfire explosion to Tyrion’s betrayal to the Hound’s declaration of, “F—k the King,” the skirmish was indeed an epic one, only ending when Tywin arrived in the knick of time to save the city.
Season 3: The Rains of Castamere
Another decidedly tragic moment in the Stark family saga, the Red Wedding saw the murder of King in the North Robb, his pregnant wife Talisa, his mother Catelyn, his direwolf Grey Wind and the majority of his army while his sister Arya watched helplessly as the massacre occurred around her. The North remembers…and so do the fans.
Elsewhere, Jon finally showed Ygritte and the Wildings his true colors, Bran warged into Hodor for the first time and Daenerys seized control of Yunkai with the help of her newest subject, Daario Naharis.
Season 4: The Watchers on the Wall
As the Night’s Watch made its stand against the invading Wilding army in the Battle of Castle Black, Jon emerged as a true leader among his fellow men. Unfortunately, his victory at the Wall cost him the girl he loved, as Ygritte was shot in the back by Olly while she aimed an arrow at Jon.
Ygritte’s death was the culmination of the inner battle between love and honor that has plagued Jon since he learned of his family’s war with the Lannisters back in season one, and seemed to show that — as long as he was a member of the Night’s Watch — he would always choose honor. As we now know, Jon’s commitment to doing the right thing would lead to his murder at the hands of his sworn brothers, ultimately freeing him from his oath and allowing him to take up the Stark cause.
Season 5: The Dance of Dragons
In one of the biggest “holy sh—t” moments of the series to date, a desperate Stannis allowed Melisandre to burn his daughter Shireen at the stake as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, a move that quickly cost him not only the war, but his own life.
Luckily — before every viewer could turn their TV off in horror — the scene segued into the action-packed reopening of the fighting pits of Meereen, a sequence that featured a long-awaited demonstration of the power of full-grown dragons. After wreaking havoc on the Sons of the Harpy, Drogon allowed Daenerys to climb on his back and ride him for the first time as he flew up and away from the city.
Season 6: Battle of the Bastards
With the fate of the North hanging in the balance, the Stark forces took on the Boltons for control of Winterfell in a gruesome battle sequence that saw Jon at the center of the action. But just when it seemed like all may be lost, it was Sansa who rode in with the Knights of the Vale to save the day. The episode culminated in the sadistic Ramsay finally getting his just desserts — being fed to the bloodthirsty hounds he had set loose on so many others as Sansa watched.