Game of Thrones aired for eight seasons full of thrills, violence, political machinations, and even a few dragons. The show became notorious for its willingness to subvert the audience’s expectations, killing major characters and adding unexpected twists to familiar storylines.
The surprises on Game of Thrones weren’t always what viewers wanted, but they still managed to shock fans, who believed the storyline was heading one place only for it to end up in a completely different direction. And while not all of these events were well-received, they were still shocking enough to send more than a few jaws to the floor.
The Red Wedding
Sure, fans of the books knew what would happen to Robb Stark and his armies once they entered Walder Frey’s castle. However, casual viewers were horrified when the Freys massacred Robb’s forces in one of the show’s most gruesome and shocking scenes.
Robb was arguably the worst of the Starks in Game of Thrones, and his foolish mistakes ultimately led to his demise. Still, the massacre remains one of the show’s ghastliest scenes. Indeed, multiple YouTube videos capture viewers’ disbelieved reactions, some of whom actually cried when they saw their favorite characters dying before their eyes.
Ned Stark’s Death
Speaking of unexpected deaths, none beats Ned Stark’s. Book readers already knew how season one would end, but new arrivals to the merciless continent of Westeros didn’t see his death coming. After all, he was the de-facto lead of the show, played by the most recognizable actor, Sean Bean.
Ned’s death paved the way for everything that followed and cemented Thrones‘ reputation as an unforgiving show, unafraid to kill its most pivotal characters … at least during the first four seasons. And while the show softened once the writers ran out of source material, Ned Stark’s death remains one of the most unexpected moments in television history.
Oberyn Martell’s Death
Oberyn Martell’s arrival in season four introduced a new, chaotic, and unbearably charming element to King’s Landing’s already complex dynamics. In fact, Oberyn was so entertaining that he quickly became one of the best characters introduced after Game of Thrones season one.
When he faced the Mountain in trial by combat, fans briefly thought he might actually win, as he was the superior fighter. However, his pride got the best of him, allowing the Mountain to overpower. Oberyn’s death wasn’t surprising per se, but its violence and gruesomeness were. Seeing the Mountain crush Oberyn’s skull with his bare hands might be the single most shocking moment in Thrones‘ history.
Melisandre’s True Age
“The Red Woman,” season six’s opener, gave audiences a glimpse into the title character’s psyche, something it had avoided doing up to that point. It wasn’t much, and Melisandre remained a mystery until the very end, but the episode did feature the character’s most iconic scene.
As she undresses, tired and defeated after Stannis and Jon’s deaths, Melisandre removes her necklace and reveals her physical body is considerably older than she usually appears. Jaws went to the floor with the reveal, and while the show never did anything with it after the episode aired, it remains one of Thrones‘ most unexpected developments.
Tyrion Becoming Stupid
For years, Tyrion Lannister was Game of Thrones‘ undisputed genius. He was clever, cultured, perceptive, insightful, observant, and an effective tactician. He proved his intelligence time and again, quickly becoming a fan-favorite character, the voice of reason in a world full of violence.
However, starting with season five, Tyrion became more incompetent. Tyrion made some terrible decisions in Game of Thrones season seven, costing Daenerys several crucial victories, and by season eight, he was but a shell of his former brilliant self. Fans lamented his character’s regression, a surprising development that no one saw coming.
Melisandre Burning Shereen At The Stake
The Red Woman committed a lot of unnecessary cruelty throughout the show, but none of her actions were as brutal or unforgivable as burning Princess Shereen alive. With Stannis’ army starving and near death after Ramsay’s men burn their supplies, Melisandre convinces him that a sacrifice of royal blood to the Lord of Light will improve their odds.
Shereen was one of the kindest and purest characters on the show, so fans knew she wouldn’t last long. However, seeing her willful father offering her to the stake while she begged for mercy was mortifying and an out-of-the-blue decision that marked the moment Game of Thrones officially jumped the shark.
Cersei Blowing Up The Sept Of Baelor
Cersei Lannister was one of the cruelest characters on the show. Selfish and proud, she cared only about herself, once claiming that “everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.” Her foolish choice to empower the Faith Militant came back to haunt her, with the High Sparrow shaming and confining her to the Red Keep. About to lose everything she held dear, including her last living son, Cersei did the only thing she knew: destroy everything, literally.
Fans let out screams of shock when the Sept of Baelor blew up during season six’s finale, “The Winds of Winter.” Inside were several of the show’s key players, including everyone’s favorite Tyrell, Margaery. Blowing the Sept turned out to be one of Cersei’s best political plays on Game of Thrones, an unexpected yet effective decision that turned her into the Queen of Westeros and the show’s ultimate villain.
Daenerys Burning King’s Landing
For seven seasons, Daenerys was Game of Thrones‘ ultimate hero. She was a conqueror disguised as a liberator, a woman hellbent on taking back her family’s legacy who didn’t mind killing anyone who got in her way. She was as violent as every other character in the show, but she remained fair and honorable for the most part.
Season eight changed that, effectively turning her into a villain who burned entire cities to the ground. Daenerys destroying Kind’s Landing was one of the most unexpected moments, and fans couldn’t do anything but watch as one of Game of Thrones‘ best characters got ruined by season eight’s bizarre choices. The show’s handling of her downfall was rushed and terrible, ultimately doing a disservice to a fan favorite and even inspiring figure.
Bran Becoming King Of Westeros
Season eight ruined more than one character for some fans. However, Bran’s downfall began as early as season six, ever since he began training with the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran became detached, emotionless, speaking in riddles that more often than not came out as annoying. He claimed time and again how he couldn’t be the Lord of Winterfell because of his supernatural duties, only to end up becoming King of all of Westeros.
Having Bran become King was a choice no one saw coming. It was also, arguably, a terrible one, considering his status as the Three-Eyed Raven. Subverting the audience’s expectations is fine, but none when the actual choice comes off as lazy and uninspired.
Arya Killing The Night King
Speaking of subverting the audience’s expectations, the Night King and his role on the show ended up being the single biggest disappointment in Game of Thrones for many fans. The show spent seven seasons building him and his army up, setting the stage for the ultimate clash between the living and the death, only for the conflict to end up being a really long night, literally.
Worst of all, the show discarded its own lore and had Arya be the one to kill the Night King. The choice looked cool on-screen as it was completely surprising — hardly any fan thought she’d be the one to do it, as all odds pointed to Jon being the savior. However, it was ultimately disappointing, not because Arya is an unworthy character, but because fans expected the books’ mythology to mean something. The show traded consistency for spectacle, creating an undeniably unexpected moment that’s nonetheless become a stain the show will never be able to wipe out.