If we had to pick one network that’s put out the most quality television, that network would be HBO. Other networks may have had some gems—Breaking Bad on AMC, Fargo on FX, Homeland on Showtime—but HBO still holds the crown for their combination of quality and quantity. And among these tremendous shows, there are episodes that stand out like works of art. We checked IMDb to find the highest rated episodes in HBO’s history, and selected our favorites out of those that you need to see. Only episodes that received a rating of 9.0 or higher were considered.
Game of Thrones: The Watchers on the Wall
Season 4 Episode 9 – For one episode of Game of Thrones, the slew of storylines were put on hold for one grand battle. Yes, an episode-long battle. All the action takes place at the Wall, as Jon Snow leads the Night’s Watch against Mance Rayder’s army of characters. It’s anxiety and action on a steep slab of ice, and it’s perfect.
True Detective: Who Goes There
Season 1 Episode 4 – This is the episode that made us fall in love with True Detective. The first three episodes were solid, but episode four, and that ridiculous long-shot of the shootout at the end, made us firm believers in the show’s brilliance and the McConaissance in general.
Mr. Show: Life is Precious and God and the Bible
Season 4 Episode 1 – It’s hard to compare a sketch comedy show to the likes of Game of Thrones and The Wire, but Mr. Show was so brilliant it deserves a place on this list. The highest rated episode, and one of our favorites, is “Life is Precious and God and the Bible.” The name comes from the lifeboat sketch in the episode which features the greatest last thought a person ever had.
Game of Thrones: Blackwater
Season 2 Episode 9 – While the battle itself may not have been quite as epic as the one in “The Watchers on the Wall,” the fight scenes and epic speech from Tyrion put “Blackwater” squarely on this list as well.
The Wire: Middle Ground
Season 3 Episode 11 – Even though it’s arguably the greatest show of all time, The Wire doesn’t have many single standout episodes. With a handful of 9.0’s to choose from, we went with the most memorable of the bunch. Why is it so memorable? Well, after almost three full seasons making us root for the business genius of Stringer Bell, he got the Ned Stark treatment. It also really started to form the larger-than-life character of Omar.
Band of Brothers: Why We Fight
Season 1 Episode 9 – This one was a tough call because Band of Brothers is often considered a miniseries, but it’s still an episode of HBO programming, and, let’s be honest, it’s fantastic. It really deals with the “why” of war, and some of the intricacies not shown in war-based action flicks.
The Leftovers: The Garveys at Their Best
Season 1 Episode 9 – It’s been a few weeks, and we still don’t know how we feel about The Leftovers. But for all the confusion and odd plotlines, we have to admit there were some really well-done episodes. The greatest of the bunch was “The Garveys at Their Best.” It’s the flashback episode, and the episode that gives you some of the back story you’d been craving since the first episode. By making you wait so long for it, the episode is even better.
True Detective: The Secret Fate of All Life
Season 1 Episode 5 – Nothing was going to top the previous episode, but “The Secret Fate of All Life” was about as incredible a follow-up as you could ask for. The showdown with Reggie Ledoux and Rust firing his gun, spraying bullets all over the yard highlight the episode. It left us in delightful confusion as we wondered where the story would go with the supposed bad guy out of the way.
The Sopranos: Denial, Anger, Acceptance
Season 1 Episode 3 – We were somewhat surprised by the lack of high scoring episodes of The Sopranos. “College” didn’t even score high enough to make this list and it’s our favorite episode. So we went with the best rated one which we think is deserving of this list. “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” is highly regarded because it starts to dig into the central theme of the entire series: Just what kind of man is Tony Soprano? It couples that with the fallout between Christopher and Brendan and Uncle Junior, while creating the power struggle at the top of the mob.
Six Feet Under: Everyone’s Waiting
Season 5 Episode 12 – Want a lesson in how to end a series? Look to Six Feet Under. “Everyone’s Waiting” is the last episode, and it’s freaking brilliant. It wraps up the story of every main character by jumping in time to show you how each one dies. No loose ends, all nice and tidy. Perfect.
Game of Thrones: The Mountain and the Viper
Season 4 Episode 8 – Just another episode of Game of Thrones where a character you love dies. Oh, and in what glorious fashion he does. It’s not just the fight at the end and it’s gruesome finish that makes this episode a classic, it’s the final drink shared between Tyrion and Jaime, it’s Sansa’s conniving turn, and other excellent moments.
Oz: Revenge is Sweet
Season 4 Episode 11 – Oz was one of the rare shows that really got better as it went on. While there are some great episodes to choose from, “Revenge is Sweet” is the one that stands out the most. The odd drug designed to age prisoners so they can be released quicker made for one bizarre and interesting storyline.
Silicon Valley: Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency
Season 1 Episode 8 – Man did Silicon Valley save the best for last. Throughout the first season we teetered on the brink of losing interest despite the tremendous cast of comedians, and then, in one glorious dick joke, they won us over.
Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere
Season 3 Episode 9 – You probably know this episode by the name used around water coolers the day after it aired: The Red Wedding. It’s the reason why people have a very real hatred toward a man who writes fantasy novels for a living. The brilliance is in how much it affects you, and how no other show would have the balls to pull something like it off.