When it comes to pure craftsmanship, Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 9: "Blackwater" is a great epic hour of TV. The episode was essentially one giant battle, and the creative and technical masterminds behind the show somehow created a movie-like feel on a small-screen budget. From ships exploding in believable green flames to carefully choreographed and wonderfully brutal fight sequences, it was everything we could have wanted.
But while it might win for best TV battle in terms of pure visuals, we're not sure if it is truly the best "epic" episode out there. Don't get us wrong — it was certainly excellent, and could easily go down in cultural history as an unrivaled TV event. But before we crown it king, let's take a look back at 10 other episodes from the last 10 years that give it a run for its money in terms of bold goals and expansive storytelling.
Note: This article contains spoilers for a number of shows. Read each blurb at your own risk.
10. Grey's Anatomy, "Sanctuary/Death and All His Friends" (2010): Grey's Anatomy has had its fair share of big finales, but we still think this one takes the cake. A man, crazed with grief, comes into the hospital, gun blazing, killing and wounding several of the docs and forcing others to try to survive and save their friends. And, of course, it all left off on a killer cliffhanger. We still get freaked out thinking about it.
9. True Blood, "And When I Die" (2011): Every True Blood season finale is jam-packed with craziness, but "And When I Die" gets our vote just for the sheer amount of blood spilled. Jesus, Debbie, Nan, and maybe Tara all meet their untimely (or, in some cases, far too late) end. Shocking moments include a possessed Lafayette killing Jesus (*tear*), Debbie shooting Tara (what!?), and the return of, like, every damned villain. Steve Newlin's a vampire! Russell got out of his cement grave! How did they pack so much into one episode?
8. Six Feet Under, "Everyone's Waiting" (2005): Most of the episodes on this list got here by blowing things up or otherwise disposing of characters in brutal ways. Six Feet Under's finale earns its spot by killing everyone. Okay, so actually what it does is show us a montage of how each of the characters die, mostly in everyday ways. But still, in terms of sheer scope it's hard to beat that. This episode's ending could easily have come off as cheesy, but it manages to be one of the best finales of all time.
7. American Horror Story, "Afterbirth" (2011): Speaking of killing everyone, whether you love or hate American Horror Story, it's hard to deny that its suitably macabre Season 1 finale is a pretty unique thing. All the characters lose their lives to the house. Hey, it is a horror story, after all.
6. Angel, "Not Fade Away" (2004): The brilliance of Angel's series finale is that it leaves the biggest battle to the imagination, ending with our heroes gathering for a seemingly futile fight against an army of demons — the final line is "Let's go to work." But there is plenty of action shown on screen, too, as the members of the team take one last night to say goodbye to life before taking down the Circle of the Black Thorn in a defiant gesture against the evil Wolfram & Hart Senior Partners.
5. Lost, "The Constant" (2008): Lost had episodes with bigger fights and higher body counts, but when it comes to big picture storytelling and heart rending emotion, "The Constant" is the standout episode of the series. Desmond travels through his own history to figure out how to save his life, culminating in one of the most beautiful and dramatic love scenes in TV history. What's more epic than a love story that involves time travel, the Island, waiting for years, and never giving up on each other?
4. Community, "Modern Warfare" (2010): Community is the only sitcom to make this list, and it could have been here for a handful of different episodes. But in the end "Modern Warfare" wins for being the pure distillation of awesome. Not just a sitcom episode about a community college paintball war, "Modern Warfare" is everything that is great about action movies boiled down to one non-stop half hour of pure joy.
3. Battlestar Galactica, "Resurrection Ship: Part 2" (2006): The second episode in one of the best two-partners of all time contains a gorgeous space battle, a double assassination conspiracy, and one of our heros floating in space, oxygen leaking out of his damaged suit. And, of course, underlying the action are the questions that haunt the entire series: How do you define life, what is humanity, and how much of your morality are you willing to sacrifice for survival? From epic fighting to epic themes, "Resurrection Ship: Part 2" has it all.
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Chosen" (2003): Buffy ends with Buffy and co. defeating the First Evil. Willow uses her magic to awaken slayers across the globe, Spike sacrifices his life, beloved characters die, Buffy kicks all sorts of butt, and Sunnydale is literally wiped off the map. It's hard to get more epic than that. (See, Joss Whedon had plenty of small screen experience leading up to his recent blockbuster success.)
1. Breaking Bad, "Face Off" (2011): "Face Off" wins hands down for most incredible machinations carried out by a single character. Walter finally manages to take out indestructible drug kingpin Gus by convincing Gus' bitter enemy Hector to act as a suicide bomber in a nursing home. Then Walter and Jesse burn down their meth lab in a blaze that rivals the waters of "Blackwater." And let's not forget the last-second twist that reveals Walter was the one who poisoned Brock so that he could manipulate Jesse into helping him. Evil. Genius.
These are just our personal favorites, and there are plenty of other shows that could easily have made the list (24, House, The Sopranos, Fringe, Gossip Girl, and The Vampire Diaries all spring to mind). What's your favorite epic hour of TV? Let us know in the comments.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaMartin47.
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