Stars: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, Jack Gleeson, Richard Madden, Alfie Allen, Kit Harington, Charles Dance, Stephen Dillane, Carice van Houten, Michelle Fairley, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Sophie Turner, Natalie Dormer, Oona Chaplin, John Bradley, Sibel Kekilli, Rose Leslie, Liam Cunningham

Tuck your Emmy season in. It's been a great half-year for television, with many of your favorite shows adding more classic episodes to an already impressive roster. But there's only been one instant-classic season so far.

With the task of adapting the most acclaimed book from George R.R. Martin's revered series ahead of them, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss faced their tallest order yet—and boy did they deliver. In a world where magic has been dormant for thousands of years, the fantasy elements kicked into high gear in a season that included ice zombies, dragons laying waste to an entire city, cripples with mind-control, and immortal warriors.

But GoT wouldn't appeal beyond fantasy nerd circles if it only relied on the cool, eye-popping spectacle. The show is excellent because its sprawling cast puts you through the emotional wringer—think about how drastically different everyone (who's still standing) is now compared to the pilot. Three seasons deep, we're fully invested in these characters thanks to some truly fantastic acting, so much so that it's hard not to fist pump when Daenerys, once victim turned badass queen, scores another victory. Or feel anxiety towards the inevitable outcome of night ranger Jon's star-crossed romance with one of the very people he's supposed to defend against. Or get wrapped up in rooting for the most justified of the warring families to come out ahead, even though we learned long ago that this is a series sans protagonists, and too often, sans justice. 

We can't think of the last time an episode of TV left us as slack-jawed as the season's crown jewel, "The Rains of Castamere," a devastating reminder that Game of Thrones houses the cruelest universe of all time. And yet, we can't wait to return. —FT