2011's Best Episodes: Game of Thrones' Shocking Beheading, Walking Dead's Discovery
Madison Lintz and Andrew Lincoln
From Oprah's surprisingly low-key farewell to the year's most soul-crushing break-up on The Good Wife (Kalicia, no!), the year was packed with fantastic hours of television — pretty much all of which we watched. There were teary goodbyes (Friday Night Lights' Texas forever! Smallville's tights and flights!), tense face-offs (why can't all CIA interrogations take place on the front porch of a cabin, like on Homeland?) and of course we made room for a little Glee (because certain underdogs deserved it). Which made the list. Tune in all week for our top 25.
Here's the second batch in our weeklong countdown of 2011's best episodes (Catch up first with Episodes 25-21, Episodes 20-16 and Episodes 15-11):
10. "Queen of Jordan," 30 Rock
How do you fill the void left by larger-than-life personality Tracy Jordan? With wine-throwing, weave-pulling and a pointless cocktail party. In other words, it's a job for Real Housewives! Or at least a Real Housewives spoof! Scene-stealer Sherri Shepherd rose to the occasion as Tracy's wife Angie, who is just as off-the-wall and out of touch with reality as her crazy hubby. Although shot in spot-on Housewives style, the episode still featured 30 Rock's classic absurdist comedy (the gay hairdresser thinks Jack is gay when he says he played both ways on the college football team, Jenna forces her own intervention to get attention and is shipped off to Minnesota), but added a little something special. We would call this one of the comedy's best episodes, but legal said we can't use "best."
9. "Pretty Much Dead Already," The Walking Dead
In the midseason finale of its sophomore season, this show somehow managed to revive -- or reanimate, if you will -- the humanity that's at the core of compelling zombie dramas. In the episode's final minutes, Farmer Herschel is devastated to witness his hoarded horde of zombies (that he alone views as "sick" humans) get riddled with bullets before his eyes. The tragic capper, however, is when a zombiefied Sophia, the missing little girl they've all been searching for, stumbles out, and it falls on Rick to pull the trigger with her mother sobbing nearby.
8. "The Sun Also Rises," The Vampire Diaries
The second season's penultimate episode was filled with tears, culminating in Klaus turning Aunt Jenna into a vampire before ultimately killing her. Worse, watching Elena lose her only semblance of a parent and knowing she was responsible for the death was wrenching. We've felt terror, hysteria, and laughed pretty darn hard while watching this show; this was the first time we sobbed.
7. "The Weekend," Homeland
What begins as a weekend getaway between new lovers ends with the fiery confrontation that's been brewing since the pilot. Although Carrie fully gives in to her lust for Brody, the Marine sniper she suspects is plotting a terrorist attack, she can't shake her nagging suspicions. So when she accidentally gives away details that suggest she's been watching Brody via surveillance, Carrie spills her entire theory. Cue the most excellent interrogation scene ever staged at a cabin in the woods. Brody convincingly answers enough of Carrie's questions to sway her, but when she begs his forgiveness for not trusting him, his unflinching "F--- you, Carrie," sets her in a tailspin the culminates in the show's also excellent season finale. (Oh, and he was lying.)
6. "Baelor," Game of Thrones
A pivotal event in this episode is so shockingly audacious that even now we'd like to issue a spoiler alert lest readers miss out on one of television's biggest surprises. HBO's epic fantasy series may have been hard to grasp at first -- a huge cast, foreign-sounding names, a feudal-type setting and baffling political intrigues -- but eventually we got to know the central characters, especially hero, patriarch and all-around upstanding fellow Ned Stark, played by Lord of the Rings' Sean Bean. We rooted for the morally high-minded right-hand man of the king, and so viewers could only watch (and rewind their DVRs) in disbelief as Ned was summarily beheaded in an act of betrayal -- with his two young daughters watching -- in a public square. What? Killing off someone who was supposedly the protagonist and emotional center of the show did not compute -- and drove home the fact that no one, not even the passive viewers, are untouched by the fantastical cruelty of this world conceived by author George R.R. Martin.