From auspicious debuts (hey, Jane the Virgin, The Affair and Transparent) to gut-wrenching twists (why, Hannibal, why?), we were spoiled with fantastic hours of television in 2014. TVGuide.com has compiled the top 25 episodes of the year. Which ones made the cut?
10. "1," The Affair
There's he-said-she-said. And then there's The Affair. The show's unique narrative structure, employing both Noah's and Alison's perspectives in recounting their titular relationship — not to mention the intense chemistry between Dominic West and breakout Ruth Wilson — all framed by a murder investigation in the future, has made TV's latest (forbidden) love story by far its most intriguing. The discrepancies in their stories and memory biases vary from big (did Noah or Alison save his choking daughter?) to small (Alison's dressed seductively in his version and is covered up in hers), but neither are unreliable narrators. If anything, The Affair accentuates one fact: There is no right or wrong version because we all live in our own truths.
9. "The Mountain and the Viper," Game of Thrones
This game-changing episode, which also features "good" Stark daughter Sansa's va-va-va-voom makeover, ultimately belongs to Oberyn Martell, the lusty Dornishman who won our hearts with his egalitarian views and wicked tongue. In his gorgeously executed duel for vengeance (and to save Tyrion's life), he's a whirl of limbs, charisma and bravado that gets everybody's blood thrumming as he dances around his lumbering opponent. This vitality, this sheer rightness of purpose has to mean that he wins, which is why it's such a shock when he's taken down. Oh, and having his teeth smashed in, eyes gouged out and head ultimately smushed like a garlic clove doesn't help. The visceral crushing merely echoes the emotional crushing of Tyrion's and our hopes that maybe just this once, Game of Thrones will favor the a happy ending.
8. "The Strategy," Mad Men
Amid the revolving door of women who have gone in and out of Don Draper's life, there's been one who's stayed constant. Mad Men is ultimately a story about two colleagues, Don and Peggy, and how their professional and personal relationships have evolved against the cultural shifts of the 1960s and '70s. "The Strategy" neatly crystallizes this dynamic into a single episode, mirroring Season 4's "The Suitcase." The former mentor and mentee pull an all-nighter poring over the firm's Burger Chef pitch, but instead of heated fireworks, this time, the two open up to each other about their doubts and fears. It ends with them sharing a non-romantic slow dance to Frank Sinatra's "My Way" — a lovely, sad moment that's both intimate and distant, and would've made for a superb series finale.
7. "Pilot," Transparent
Proving yet again that the most fascinating, well-rounded stories are being told on non-traditional outlets, Amazon made a giant splash with Transparent. The pilot introduces us to the Pfefferman family, led by Maura, who struggles to tell her children that she's transitioning from male to female. Aside from Jeffrey Tambor's brilliant, delicate performance as Maura (nee Mort), the episode's true strength is in a brilliantly directed dinner party scene that illustrates just how endearingly messy — figuratively and literally — the members of this family truly are. Just the right amount of intriguing hints about each Pfefferman throughout the half-hour, as well as a delicious two-part reveal in the final scene, solidifies Transparent as our new favorite series to binge.
6. "Buridan's Ass," Fargo
This episode is delicious not for the high body count, but how these people died. Malvo offs the insipid, tan-tastic Chumph in such a diabolical way — Chumph is duct-taped to an exercise bike, empty gun strapped to his hand, when Malvo fires shots across the street at cops who answer in kind — that we cringe and savor the impending doom. There's also an inevitability in Molly getting shot in the whiteout by Gus' friendly fire and in the freak death of Stavros' firstborn, via a rainstorm of fish, that concludes the biblical plagues that have, well, plagued Stavros. And Lester, our mouse-turned-murderer, truly embraces his inner psychopath when he saves his own skin by planting evidence of his wife's murder... to frame his brother. Death is not just death on Fargo. It is the paintbrush by which the series makes us examine morality, consider the vagaries of fate and question our own motivations.
Check back to see the rest of the list!
The Year of Gore: Check out 2014's grossest (and most stomach-churning) TV moments!