TV's Best Returns

"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." - Cersei Lannister, "Game of Thrones"

On Sunday night, at 9 p.m. EST, the best show on television returns with its sixth season premier. It's fair to say no show on television is like "Game of Thrones." That's a credit to author George R.R. Martin, who created the world through a series of books, but also to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

When the show debuted on April 17, 2011, I didn't know what to make of it. In fact, I gave the pilot a C-, and I was convinced the show wasn't going to be for me. I hadn't read the books, and I had trouble diving into the rich world and narrative.

Five years later, I can't believe there was ever a time when I thought "Game of Thrones" wasn't for me. By the end of that first season, I was hooked. And the show has done nothing but get better in its five seasons. As we prepare to embark on the sixth season, I'm going to give you five reasons why it's TV's best show and my five favorite episodes.

If you've never seen "Game of Thrones," do yourself a favor and dive in. All 50 episodes are available on HBO's streaming service.

Five reasons "Game of Thrones" is the best:
1. It's wildly unpredictable. This statement is even more true of season six, which has surpassed the books and now will be presenting surprises to even the most ardent readers. But this is a show that's not afraid to kill any character at any time. That creates real stakes, something missing in most TV shows and movies today.

2. A rich, complex world. This is a credit to Martin. It is a fantasy world in that it's not our world, but it's grounded with a sense of reality. Are there dragons and ice zombies? Yes. But there's also sibling squabbles, power grabs, cruelty and nobility. It's the richness of the world and the characters that keeps you coming back.

3. Great performances. When the series began there were a few famous and familiar faces among the cast. But really, it was the unknown actors -- many of whom were children -- who've become the stars. They've grown with their characters and drawn in the audience. It's perhaps the best acted show on television.

4. A blockbuster budget. HBO reportedly gives "Game of Thrones" $100-$120 million a year for 10 episodes. And they don't waste that budget. This show does things no other show on television does in terms of the scope and spectacle of its action sequences. It has battle episodes that are as good or better than anything you'll see at the theater this summer.

5. It has dragons. I know what you're thinking, 'what a nerd statement.' Maybe it is, but it's also awesome. It's something you have to see to appreciate. But when they come, or when the White Walkers come, it's an experience like no other.

My Five Best Episodes:
1. 3.09 "The Rains of Castamere," June 2, 2013
About: This was the penultimate episode of season three, and it was a game-changer. It was shocking, brutal and unbelievable. After the episode was over I sat in silence for 30 minutes trying to collect my thoughts. To me, this was the best episode of the series so far.

2. 5.08 "Hardhome," May 31, 2015
About: When I talk about spectacle and scope, this is what I'm talking about. The episode features an epic clash five years in the making, and it was everything you could hope for and more. 

3. 5.09 "The Dance of Dragons," June 6, 2015
About: Again, spectacle and scope. But this was an episode that encapsulated everything "Game of Thrones" has to offer. It went from the depths of despair and brutality to soaring moments of triumph and wonder. It was an episode I watched 10 times the week after it aired just because I was enraptured by what I had seen.

4. 2.09 "Blackwater," May 27, 2012
About: This was one of the first big battle episodes, and it was a stand out moment for one of my favorite characters, Tyrion Lannister. 

5. 1.09 "Baelor," June 12, 2011
About: This was the first episode that left me stunned, and the moment I was all in on the show. This was the episode where I realized "Game of Thrones" was unlike anything I'd seen on TV before, and that was a good thing.

"Game of Thrones" airs at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights on HBO.


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