It’s an old storytelling rule: You never kill animals or children. As part of its mission to wallow in the worst aspects of human behavior, Game of Thrones has broken this rule early and often, and its commitment was never more painful than last night, when Stannis Baratheon offered up his daughter Shireen as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. If there was ever a scene meant to be watched behind closed hands, this was it. How did Shireen’s death compare to series’ previous paedocides? Let’s compare:
10. Unnamed Stableboy (Season 1)
Has the onscreen death of an innocent child ever been less of a tearjerker? This kid barely appears for a second before he’s being run through by Needle, and no one in the scene — not the writer, not the director, and certainly not Arya — seems to consider his death a big deal. Afterwards, we swear his corpse just vanishes, video-game style. (Also, not that we were Laurence Olivier at age 10, but this might be the worst piece of acting in the series.)
9. Rhaego (Season 1)
What happened to Daenerys’s child with Khal Drogo? He was supposed to be the Stallion That Mounts the World, but instead emerges a stillborn monster with scaly skin and tiny wings. It was almost certainly Mirri Maz Duur’s doing — in Daenerys’s vision of the life she could have had, this future warlord appears to be like a perfectly healthy baby boy.
8. Unnamed Farm Boys (Season 2)
Remember when it seemed like Theon had killed Bran and Rickon, but then a few episodes later we found out that they were still alive, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief? Except that there were still two tiny corpses to account for, which meant that we were all technically cheering for the deaths of two anonymous farm boys who had gotten only a smidgen of screen time — a very unpleasant realization.
7. Joffrey (Season 4)
Credit director Alex Graves for not skimping on the tragedy here. It would have been easy — too easy — to turn Joffrey’s wedding-day death into a simple celebration. Ding dong, the witch is dead, let’s topple the statues on Coruscant. Joffrey was an evil, psychotic, murderous child despot, but he was still a child, and when he dies in his helpless parents’ arms, they are as heartbroken as yours or ours would be.
6. Baby Eddard Stark (Season 3)
The future King in the North didn’t even make it out of the womb before he became the first victim of the Red Wedding. The future of the Stark line was gone in an instant — and minutes later, its present would be, too.
5. The Baratheon Bastards (Season 2)
As Maggy the Frog made clear, Cersei Lannister would have three children, but Robert Baratheon would have 20. In the Goldcloaks’ murder of those unlucky brown-haired bastards, we got our fullest look yet at the depravities King Joffrey was capable of. The victims were often faceless, but the montage of death intruding on everyday domestic scenes drove the point home: In the game of thrones, it’s the powerless who suffer most of all.
4. Lommy (Season 2)
When you’re a kid, you can’t do anything yourself — it’s only natural to expect adults to help you. If you’re hungry, someone will feed you. If you can’t walk, then someone will have to carry you. Don’t blame Lommy for assuming those rules would still hold true for a world at war; blame the men who abandoned their humanity at the first grasp of a sword.
3. Zalla (Season 4)
From birth, Daenerys’s dragons have provided Game of Thrones with some of the series’ biggest crowd-pleasing moments. But, as the show intermittently reminds us, they are also among the most dangerous things on the planet; only White Walkers can match them in potential for mass destruction. Zalla’s father didn’t need to say a word; his daughter’s charred bones were enough to make clear — the source of Daenerys’s power, quite literally, is death made flesh.
2. Mycah (Season 1)
Game of Thrones let us know very early on what kind of show it would be. Mycah was a simple butcher’s boy who had the bad luck to be playing swords with Arya when Joffrey wandered by. His murder by the Hound (seemingly just for the hell of it) and the casual way nearly everyone brushes it off was our first indication that the lives of the smallfolk come incredibly cheap in Westeros. Plenty more innocents would die on Game of Thrones, but the sight of Mycah’s lifeless body hanging over that horse was one of the first season’s most harrowingly indelible images.
1. Shireen (Season 5)
It’s a tale straight out of myth: To prove his devotion, a father must sacrifice his beloved child to the gods. The altar is constructed, the blade is drawn, but at the last minute, his hand is stayed — it was just a test! Sunday night’s episode contained no such happy ending, just the frightened screams of a young girl and the stone-faced glare of a father who’d convinced himself he was making the hard choice. Utterly heartbreaking.
Honorable Mention: The Baby That Got Turned Into a White Walker (Season 4)
This was unquestionably sad, but does it count as a death? It’s a complicated ontological debate: White Walkers are clearly alive and they seem to have some sort of consciousness, but you could argue that the nonconsensual removal of one’s human soul at the hand of the Night’s King is on the same level of existential violence as death itself — even if this little guy doesn’t really look that upset with his new blue-eyed look. When your only example of humanity to go on is Rast, becoming a puckered ice-demon doesn’t seem too bad.