io9 inhaled a lot of TV this year. We do it for work, we do it for fun, we do it when we really should be sleeping. We’ll be getting into our favourite shows of the year next week, but today we’re celebrating the individual moments that stood out: big twists, shocking reveals, notable brawls, character revelations, and more.
And since we’ll be discussing spoilers, including some recent season finales, here’s one of these…
Maarva’s funeral – Andor spent much of its first season being a masterclass in tension, and yet nothing could compare to the simmering revolt that sets the stage for the funeral of Maarva Carassi Andor (Fiona Shaw) in the finale. Our heroes and villains all drawn to Ferrix to tighten the net around Cassian (Diego Luna), the sudden, mournful outbreak of music to herald the march to Maarva’s ceremony, all released in the cathartic moment Maarva’s hologram wills her community to resist the Empire. It’s about 15 minutes of a nearly hour-long episode, and your heart is in your mouth and your butt on the edge of your seat every second of it.
Nemik’s manifesto – Nemik (Alex Lawther), our dearest space Socialist. How little would you know just how vital your stirring manifesto would become, after you literally got crushed by the weight of Imperial capital? Watching Cassian’s journey after the Aldhani heist — from being outright fearful of Nemik’s revolutionary thesis when offered it, to embracing it and listening to its stirring treatise as he prepared to fight on Ferrix in the finale — through the lens of Nemik’s watchword about community spirit in rebellion against the Empire was a highlight of Andor’s back half.
Luthen’s speech – It’s kind of rude for Stellan Skarsgård to sweep in at the end of one of Andor’s best episodes for tension and dialogue alike and drop an all-timer speech, but that’s exactly what he did at the end of “One Way Out.” Part tragic realisation, part harrowing fury to keep Luthen’s ISB double agent in line, it’s one of the very best soliloquies in Star Wars, as Skarsgård’s haunted vigilante weighs the cost of his sacrifice in the name of resistance.
“One way out” – “One way out.” “One way out.” We can still hear the chanting as Cassian and Kino Loy lead a prison break/rebellion on Narkina 5. Not only was the extended sequence a hugely satisfying payoff, it had some of the most exciting, intense action in the whole series.
Aldanhi heist – An arc-based format did Andor some good, because it meant that every handful of episodes, things were going to pop off in spectacular fashion. The show’s excellent second arc capped off with “The Eye,” all-time banger of an episode that made a case for what heists in this universe can be. The show uses rising tension to perfect effect as it seems like the Aldhani crew are going to pull everything off, then a nosy air traffic pilot and a single heart attack ruin everything. Combined with poor Nemik getting literally crushed by capital and a fantastic visual spectacle in the Eye of Aldhani, this episode felt like something Star Wars had never given us before. It was television on the big screen, and it was magnificent.
House of the Dragon
Daemon vs. the Crab Feeder’s Army – Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) is a petty, petty man in House of the Dragon, but his pettiest moment is also the show’s most gory. Having finally been offered aid from his brother King Viserys in his ill-advised war in the Stepstones, Daemon’s response is not acceptance or even self-righteous smarm. It’s to walk into the den of the Crabfeeder alone, pretend to offer himself up as a prisoner, and then proceed to slaughter dozens of men, and ultimately the Crabfeeder, single-handedly. It’s John Wick meets Game of Thrones, and both incredibly fun and horrifying in equal measure.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury
Suletta proves herself – As Suletta Mercury bumbles between various upper tier students of the Asticassia School of Technology in Gundam’s first non-prologue episode, it feels like the school is just going to eat this poor naive girl alive. Nowhere is this more true than when she faces off against the school’s top mech pilot, Guel Jeturk. But the girl comes into her own once inside her Aerial mech, showing Guel and those watching their bout what she and her Gundam — mechs which were outlawed and destroyed when Suletta was just an infant — are capable of. Watching Aerial’s drone lasers slice up Guel’s mech and hearing Elan Ceres say the word “Gundam” as the score swells carries a ton of significance, even for viewers who had zero knowledge of the franchise beforehand. For all that Witch of Mercury has to offer, the closing battle to its first episode will always be a standout.
Aerial vs. Pharact – The Witch From Mercury’s first big Gundam vs. Gundam fight is one of the most gorgeous action moments of the fall anime season, a tense, heartbreaking duel between Elan (piloting the sinister, EMP-laden Gundam Pharact) and Suletta and her “sister” in the Aerial. Stunning action, real big stakes, and the epic moment Suletta unlocks even more of her Gundam’s potential to overwhelm the Pharact’s systems and claim victory are all great highlights… even if they heralded a darker turn in the series’ story.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Mount Doom awakens – The Rings of Power’s first season was filled with a lot of expected reveals. But one unexpected, epic delight was getting to see the literal birth of Mordor, as the Southlands where all our heroes aligned on defending from the Orcish threat — and doing so successfully — were torn apart in ash and flame, as the mountain top dominating the skyline exploded with lava. Snatching defeat from the battered forces of good after an episode dedicated to their unlikely victory was the kind of dark twist the show needed — and it provided some literally explosive action.
Dead End: Paranormal Park
Barney sings about Logs – It was already a delight to see Dead End set up the climactic showdown of its first season via a magically-induced musical episode, but the highlight of it all is “Some Guy,” Barney’s wistful, romantic ditty about wanting to ask his co-worker Logs out on his date — and just how much he really fancies him. Dead End’s focus on a casually queer cast of characters, centered on Barney as the rare trans lead in an animated series, was wonderful, and there was just something special in seeing it frankly and equally casually give us a love song about one boy wanting to ask another out.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
The Enterprise vs. the Gorn – It’s hard to pick just one moment from Strange New Worlds’ two encounters with the Gorn. But while the absolute horrors of “All Those Who Wander” are up there, the Enterprise’s do-or-die space battle against the unseen threat of the Gorn fleet in “Momento Mori” is a masterclass in tension, made even better by the fact that it still works even though you know that this is a prequel show and the Enterprise will be fine. Even without showing us (or our heroes) a glimpse of the Gorn, the “Balance of Terror” vibes in an almost nautical, radar-viewed fight against the odds between an almost weaponless Enterprise and the overwhelming force of their foes is just top-tier Star Trek.
Cliffhanger finale – From its very first scene introducing us to Helly (Britt Lower) in the boardroom, Severance was filled with incredible moments. But it was the absolute final moment that stuck with us the most. That Mark’s (Adam Scott) “outtie” finally realises the wife he thought was dead is actually alive and working alongside him at Lumon — screaming it out as the show cut to black — is the ultimate “Play Next Episode” moment. Only, the next episode was like a year away.
Villains unite – If you were a kid who grew up watching The Karate Kid movies, the fifth season of Cobra Kai delivered something you’d never imagined in your wildest dreams. The main villains of all three original Karate Kid films (William Zabka’s Johnny, Yuji Okumoto’s Chozen, Sean Kanan’s Mike Barnes) came together with Daniel (Ralph Macchio) to fight Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), the supervillain. It was like Avengers: Endgame in the Karate Kid universe and an action scene that topped everything else the series had seen.
The Book of Boba Fett
Slave 1 vs. the Sarlacc – We all knew Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) would get out of the Sarlaac pit. But we never thought you’d see him get his ship, formerly known as Slave 1, back, and fly it to the pit — where he’d subsequently be attacked by said pit. The showdown was quite possibly the most absurd and fun Star Wars sandbox moment ever.
Two Oscars meet a hippo – At the start, you thought you had Moon Knight clocked. Here was this mystery show with a dude (Oscar Isaac) who has split personalities, one of which is a violent killer hero. But then the two personalities… met each other, and it was weird. And then they also met… a talking hippo, and it was even weirder. In that moment you realised Moon Knight was not what you were expecting, it was something more.
Avengers Con – Marvel fans love something meta and what could be more meta than an up-and-coming hero, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani), visiting a Marvel convention in a Marvel show? The jokes and references were flowing, all to set up Kamala’s first big action set piece and introduction to the Marvel universe.
Ms. Marvel gets her name – It shouldn’t have worked. In the comics, the Captain Marvel-obsessed Kamala Khan takes the name Ms. Marvel in honour of her favourite superhero, who had used the moniker for years. But in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not only had Carol Danvers only just arrived on the superhero scene, she had never been called Ms. Marvel. So how could the Ms. Marvel TV series explain this discrepancy away? By having the hero’s sweet, supportive father (Mohan Kapoor) reveal while “Kamal” in Arabic means “perfect, in Urdu it means “marvel.” While Kamala loves that she (technically) shares a name with Captain Marvel, Dad provides the kicker: “You are, and always have been, our Ms. Marvel.”
“Running Up That Hill” – The “Running Up That Hill” sequence gave Kate Bush probably the biggest musical moment on streaming television this year. In a pivotal moment for Max (Sadie Sink), the rhythmic sounds of the ‘80s needle drop saved our fave spunky teen from the grips of Vecna’s curse. It also gave the song viral chart-topping and Tiktok hit status. We’re obsessed with that moment and finding out what our own curse-breaking songs might be, and you know what? Even after all the replays, we’re still not sick of “Running Up That Hill.”
“Master of Puppets” – Eddie’s Metallica guitar solo gave this season’s new cult hero a perfect send-off. Eddie, an endearing Dungeons & Dragons nerd and burnout in the first half of season four, was given an even bigger purpose in its concluding episodes. Joseph Quinn really imbued the character with appealing earnestness, making him the biggest loss for an instant newcomer favourite. We’re still holding out for a hero’s return, somehow!
Vader’s mask – When Disney announced it was making an Obi-Wan series and Hayden Christensen was back as Darth Vader, everyone pictured the same image: Vader, in his iconic suit, with Anakin’s face revealed in some way. And though Star Wars Rebels (courtesy of Ahsoka Tano) had done it before, this new showdown between Obi-Wan and Vader resulted in Vader’s mask being shattered and Anakin’s eye being revealed. Instantly, you had an iconic Star Wars moment.
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law
She-Hulk asks the tough questions – Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) smashing through her own finale to complain about the generic CG battle royale the show had devolved into — a frequent and fair complaint about Marvel Studios’ body of work was a brilliant decision that was matched only by the decision to turn MCU head honcho Kevin Feige into a computer, complete with Feige’s ever-present baseball cap. However, nothing beats Jen barraging the AI with questions including, “When are we getting the X-Men?” and then barreling the camera to give a thumbs up to the audience. Maslany should win an Emmy for her facial expression alone.
Daredevil’s return – Sure, seeing Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock in Spider-Man: No Way Home was great. But everyone wanted to see him as Daredevil and that return came in the most unexpected of places. Matt’s Daredevil was as cool as we could remember and not just an excellent foil for Jen, but a pretty suitable love interest too.
Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi
Dooku vs. Yaddle – While Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi was a mixed bag overall, seeing Count Dooku finally, officially, break bad, and do it at the expense of Jedi Master Yaddle, was both a huge moment in Star Wars lore, as well as a very cool and exciting action scene. Plus, it was just nice for the other “Yoda” character to finally get her time in the spotlight.
For All Mankind
First person on Mars – For All Mankind’s third season really began at the end of season two, when we saw a mysterious boot set foot on Mars. Instantly we knew season three would be about the race to Mars and identifying who that boot belonged to. Who was the first person on Mars? Were they American? Russian? It was left largely mysterious for most of the season, even after everyone got to the Red Planet, until the finale when it’s revealed, in a shocking turn of events, North Korea beat them both there.
Opening credits – The first season of Peacemaker was filled with great moments. Like the one where members of the Justice League showed up. How cool was that? And yet, it was those opening credits at the start of every episode that just make you feel good and ready for another episode of the wacky, fun show.
Interview With the Vampire
The church scene: Interview With the Vampire’s first episode was an incredible introduction into the world of the Vampire Chronicles and the story that was about to unfold. The final scene, from the moment that Louis (Jacob Anderson) stumbles into the church, screaming out his confession, to the tableau as Louis and Lestat (Sam Reid) lie on the ground, bloody and exhausted, had us breathless.
“Ticket, please:” In the sixth episode, Reid pulls out all the stops, being as campy as possible as he prances into the train car where his daughter Claudia (Bailey Bass) is hiding, and says in the worst Brooklyn accent imaginable, “Ticket, please!” while using the head of a decapitated conductor as a puppet. Incredible delivery, incredible performance, Sam Reid out here as Lestat in his tight light fits giving the most theatre-kid performance of his life.
The Armand reveal: We knew that something big was going to happen, and many in the fandom were suspicious of Rashid (Assad Zaman). When Rashid revealed his true identity as Armand and Louis called him “the love of my life,” we had to pause and lie down and then immediately rewatch the entire season because the last five minutes of Interview With the Vampire changed everything. A fantastic end to a fantastic first season, and one that will stay with us for a long time.
Death taking the life of a drowning man: Kirby Howell-Baptiste has gotten a lot of praise (and very deservedly!) for her portrayal of Death in Netflix’s The Sandman, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s seminal comic series. As Dream (Tom Sturridge) and Death go about Death’s tasks, there’s one moment where Death escorts a young man who has drowned during his honeymoon. She tells him, you have as much time as anyone else does: a lifetime. It was a perfect delivery, a wonderful line, and added a lot of brightness to an otherwise very tragic moment. Really, a stunning scene.
The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself
The first Decimation: In a world full of witches that manifest superpowers on their 17th birthday, Annalise (Nadia Parkes) receives an unusual gift: the power of Decimation. What this means is that using her mind she can break things apart to their most basic elements — a gun becomes just bits of metal and screws, a hamster explodes, and in one memorable scene, a security guard comes apart, flayed open, his skin, muscles, tendons, guts, blood vessels, and bones simply lifting themselves off each other in a ghastly moment that solidified the horror at the core of this series.
Oni: Thunder God’s Tale
The finale: Oni delivered emotional pathos without talking down to its audience, and the ending when Onari has to stand up to her father, who’s been turned into a mindless monster, is a real tearjerker. As the town comes together to support Onari, she reminds her father why he protects the village in a moving, visually incredible moment.
Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War
Closing credits of episode one – The first new episode of Bleach in a decade largely spends its time re-establishing what a big deal Ichigo Kurisaki and his friends are while also teasing the danger to come for the rest of the Soul Society at the hands of the Wandenreich. Closing out the episode is a recap of the entire series up to Blood War’s start set to “Rapport” by Japanese rock band Tatsuya Kitani. The song is a fantastic earworm and perfectly matches the footage from old episodes it’s set to. Even if you’d never watched Bleach before Blood War, its special closing theme was packed with enough history and raw emotion that made you understand why Bleach was so beloved in its heyday, and why its return has been a long time coming.
Spy x Family
Loid v. Yor – One of the many joys that comes with watching Spy x Family is seeing what kind of ludicrous nonsense assassin Yor Briar and intelligence spy Loid Forger will do to or around each other and somehow not arouse suspicion from the other spouse. There’s many highlights throughout the still ongoing first season, but Yor almost beating Loid to a pulp while completely plastered is my favourite. Her strength and reflexes are a sight to behold, and the way he’s more hung up on her being a witch who multiclassed into monk rather than her being so strong her kicks ruin his gloves is just perfection. Get you a wife and/or husband like these two.
Werewolf By Night
The transformation scene – The title primed you for it, and when Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal) finally made his much-awaited change into a werewolf in this bonkers, campy horror-fest, it really brought that classic monster transformation energy to Marvel’s Halloween special. The choice to go black and white — with an ensemble that, down to that flaming tuba player, understood the assignment — was also sheer brilliance.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
Nebula’s gift – James Gunn’s holiday special with the Guardians of the Galaxy was filled with fantastic moments — but it was Nebula’s (Karen Gillan) gift to Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) that gave us the most unexpectedly hilarious Marvel payoff. Somehow, the mercenary with a heart managed to acquire Bucky’s Winter Soldier arm, which Rocket expressed interest in during Avengers: Infinity War. It was feel-good, and it was earned. We hope the arm gets used in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Bugs Bunny’s Howl-O-Skreem Spooktacula
Witch Hazel returns – Witch Hazel got her own classic, Chuck Jones-style short that brought back the feel of that specific era for the character. With a fantastic voice performance by Candi Milo (Looney Tunes’ Granny), we’re treated to a fun, bewitching chase for some wicked beauty. Witch Hazel’s segment — along with the Daffy/Porky team up “Graveyard Goofs” — hit what we love about the timelessness of Looney Tunes cartoons: in an age where episodes past and future become instant memes, it makes total sense they will always speak to that inner id within that manifests through the chaos of their nature.
Riverdale Riverdales harder than it’s ever Riverdaled before – Given that season six of Riverdale involved parallel universes, superpowers, sorcery, time travel, and an appearance by the literal devil, it should be tough to pick the most unhinged moment in the gloriously bonkers TV series. But it’s not. After Veronica (Camila Mendes) siphons everyone’s superpowers and gives them to Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) to destroy the comet that’s about to crash-land on the town, the insanity rebooted Riverdale so hard that 1) everyone’s a teenager again, 2) they’ve gone back to 1955, 3) they seem to be living in the peppy, goofy harmless world of the original 1950s Archie Comics, and 4) no one has any idea what’s happened other than Jughead (Cole Sprouse). His face says it all.
Leland is the father! – Evil is a show that often feels like nothing but a string of memorable moments strung together, but topping Sheryl’s (Christine Lahti) demon boss and Andy’s (Patrick Brammall) freaky return and that time we thought Ben (Aasif Mandvi) was being sacrificed by a cult is the season three cliffhanger, in which Kristen (Katja Herbers) finally tracks down her missing egg — and finds it’s been used to impregnate a surrogate, and that the sperm donor was none other than her mortal enemy and possible demon on Earth, Leland Townsend (Michael Emerson). It’s a soap opera moment, for sure, but an awfully fun one that fits right in with Evil’s blend of campy humour and sheer terror.
What We Do in the Shadows
Familiar fight – The Night Market is generally off-limits to humans, and we learn one big reason why when Nandor (Kayvan Novak), always a master of speaking first and thinking later, forces Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) into a death match against the other familiars in attendance. The joy of seeing the mild-mannered Guillermo transform into an absolute arse-kicking beast in the ring — though he’d really rather not murder anyone, and he’d definitely prefer keeping his “vampire killer” status a secret — cannot be overstated.
Our Flag Means Death
Blackbeard’s return – “You came back!” “Never left.” Cue Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and dab your eyes, sailor.
Belle was Chucky all along – The characters on the show may have dared to hope that all the evil Chucky dolls had been chainsawed (and otherwise annihilated) out of existence, but Child’s Play fans know that Chucky always lives to slay another day. Still, that goofy last-act reveal — turns out the bride doll lurking in the background the whole time was actually yet another Chucky! — was so wild that even if you predicted it, it was a shriek-worthy high note to cap the season with.
Rick and Morty
Rick Prime – Over six seasons, Rick Sanchez has faced a staggering array of foes, assassins, frenemies, vengeance-seekers, and people who hate his guts for infinite petty reasons. But it wasn’t until this year that we met his true nemesis (apologies to Mr. Nimbus): Rick Prime, the original Rick — the Rick who killed “our” Rick’s wife all those years ago, set free by a space-time glitch to taunt other versions of himself. An extreme amplification of the smartest man in the universe, who has no family (like our Rick does) to keep him even slightly in check? He’s a potential game-changer, and we can’t wait to see what trouble he causes next.
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