Game of Thrones’ most memorable moments tend to be the aesthetic ones: the Battle of the Bastards, the white walkers at Hardhome, our first sighting of the dragons in action. But the show’s most crucial element—for better and sometimes for worse be its writing, and nowhere is that clearer than when Game of Thrones gives its characters room to share what’s on their minds, whether it’s their motivations, their fears or their plans for revenge. From Tyrion telling the nobility what he really thought of them to Brienne explaining her loyalty to Renly, here are the series’ best monologues so far.
10. Littlefinger, “The Climb” (Season Three, Episode 6)
Most memorable line: “Chaos is a ladder.”
This monologue, delivered to Varys in front of the Iron Throne, serves as a rare insight into the mind of one of the show’s most mercurial characters. In it, Petyr Baelish lays out the closest thing he has to a philosophy: sow chaos, and profit from the wreckage. As he continues to try to manipulate Sansa in Season Seven, it appears that Littlefinger is still one of the game’s most unpredictable players, and its most dangerous.
9. Varys, “And Now His Watch is Ended” (Season Three, Episode 4)
Most memorable line: “Influence grows like a weed. I tended mine patiently until its tendrils reached all the way from the Red Keep to the far side of the world, where I managed to wrap them around something very special.”
There’s a lot we could say about this monologue from Varys. It finally revealed how he became a eunuch, and why he hates magic. It also marked the beginning of a tentative friendship between the master of whispers and Tyrion. The biggest takeaway, though, was just how ruthless Varys is capable of being. As he casually opened a wooden crate containing the sorcerer who cut him, Varys channeled his inner Hannibal Lecter, and gave a whole new meaning to his nickname: The Spider.
8. Brienne of Tarth, “High Sparrow” (Season Five, Episode 3)
Most memorable line: “They were toying with me. ‘Brienne the Beauty,’ they called me.”
Each character in Game of Thrones has something that keeps them going. For Brienne, it’s loyalty: to Catelyn Stark, to Sansa, and now to Arya, too (that fight scene!). But Brienne’s first and deepest allegiance was always to Renly Baratheon, the one-time contender for the Iron Throne, and in Season Five she told Pod why. When Brienne was younger, Renly rescued her from a bunch of cruel lordlings. “They’re little shits,” he told her. “And little shits aren’t worth crying over.” Which, apart from being sweet, is just solid dating advice. It made for a tender moment in an otherwise brutal season.
7. Maester Aemon, “The Watchers on the Wall” (Season Four, Episode 9)
Most memorable line: “Love is the death of duty.”
The penultimate episode of Season Four is usually remembered for the battle on the Wall, but it also gave us this heartbreaking speech from Maester Aemon, in which he revealed his Targaryen blood and warned Jon about love getting in the way of duty. What made it so touching was Aemon’s reminiscing about all the sacrifices he made for the Night’s Watch: giving up a “woman’s love,” a “brother’s smile,” and a “newborn son.” In hindsight, though, the speech seems to hint that Aemon knew about Jon’s true identity all along. After all, everything Aemon said about himself could apply to Ned Stark, too. Ned’s duty was to Robert Baratheon, but he pretended Jon was his son out of love for his sister, Lyanna. If that’s true, then it makes Aemon’s death even more bittersweet?—?and his role in Jon’s character development even more powerful.
6. Olenna Tyrell, “The Queen’s Justice” (Season Seven, Episode 3)
Most memorable line: “I want Cersei to know it was me.”
When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. But sometimes, you win and you die. Olenna Tyrell outplayed her enemies right to the very end, even as the Lannister army closed in around her. Just before she took her last sip of Arbor wine, she made sure Jaime knew who really murdered Joffrey. It was a cruel and cunning final move, and it ensured that even in death, Olenna would torment Cersei. The Queen of Thorns departed the great game the same way she played it: with stoicism, with a sly twinkle in her eye and, most importantly, with style.
5. Ned Stark, “Baelor” (Season One, Episode 9)
Most memorable line: “I grew up with soldiers. I learned how to die a long time ago.”
There have been a handful of really pivotal episodes in TV history: Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias”, The Sopranos’ “College”. For Game of Thrones, that episode was “Baelor.” Had it been any other series, Season One’s penultimate instalment would have featured our hero delivering an epic speech and then defeating the bad guys. We got the speech, but instead of saving the day, Ned Stark lost his head. It was the episode that taught us that on Game of Thrones, no one is safe. The show would rip beloved characters away from us again, but never quite so powerfully. You never forget your first time.
4. Cersei Lannister, “Blackwater” (Season Two, Episode 9)
Most memorable line: “His mother said, ‘You are a lion, my son. You mustn’t be afraid, for one day all the beasts will bow to you. You will be king.’”
“Blackwater” was a stellar episode for a number of reasons. It featured a groundbreaking battle sequence, an immortal one-liner (“Fuck the Kingsguard, fuck the city, fuck the king!”) and some serious Tyrion-Bronn-wildfire antics. Its centerpiece, however, might be this chilling moment between Cersei and Tommen. Thinking the battle is lost, Cersei prepares to poison her son, all while telling him a Disney-esque bedtime story. It was here that we learned the full, twisted extent of what Cersei was willing to do for love.
3. Daenerys Targaryen, “Breaker of Chains” (Season Four, Episode 3)
Most memorable line: “First I went to Astapor. Those who were slaves in Astapor now stand behind me, free. Next I went to Yunkai. Those who were slaves in Yunkai now stand behind me, free. Now I come to Meereen.”
One of Game of Thrones’ biggest pleasures is seeing Daenerys open a can of whoop-ass on a bunch of slavers, and she never did it more epically than when she laid siege to Meereen. In her best ‘fire and blood’ voice, Daenerys offered the people freedom in exchange for loyalty. To hammer the point home, she had her catapults fling thousands of broken slave collars over the city walls. They didn’t have to mull it over for long. Breaker of chains, indeed.
2. Tyrion Lannister, “The Laws of Gods and Men” (Season Four, Episode 6)
Most memorable line: “I saved this city. All your worthless lives. I should have let Stannis kill you all.”
By the middle of Season Four, Tyrion Lannister was understandably pissed. He was on trial for a murder he didn’t commit, two thirds of his immediate family wanted him dead, and the one person he thought he could trust?—?Shae?—?had turned against him. It was all too much, and in “The Laws of Gods and Men,” the dwarf of Casterly Rock finally exploded like a jar of wildfire. He told the nobility to drink poison, he threw their hypocrisy in their faces, and called out the trial for the sham that it was. But he saved his real venom for the Internet’s Most Hated Boy King. “I did not kill Joffrey, but I wish that I had,” Tyrion said. Twitter agreed.
1. Jaime Lannister, “Kissed by Fire” (Season Three, Episode 5)
Most memorable line: “Tell me, if your precious Renly commanded you to kill your own father and stand by while thousands of men, women and children burned alive, would you have done it? Would you have kept your oath?”
Finally, we got the Kingslayer’s side of the story, and what a story it was. Jaime painted a picture of a man torn between vows: to serve the king, to honour his father, to protect the innocent. His decision?—?to save the people of King’s Landing and kill the Mad King?—?changed his life permanently, but it also set the stage for all the events that would follow. It’s the best monologue because more than any other it represents what makes the show great: morality is complex. Villains can redeem themselves, and our heroes are always at risk of giving in to their demons. That’s a big part of why we tune in every week, and why we’ve stuck with the series for so long. As thrilling as the wars to come are sure to be, it’s the characters’ internal struggles that we really care about.
Luc Haasbroek is a writer who lives in Durban, South Africa. You can follow him on Twitter @LucHaasbroek.