Top 10 Episodes of 2014

by IMDb-Editors | created - 18 Nov 2014 | updated - 15 Dec 2014 | Public

It's a great time to love television. It's also a terrible time to love television, if you're tasked with narrowing all of the episodes you've seen over the last 365 days down to a Top 10 list. Can you remember every episode of television you watched? If you can, congratulations on your photographic memory.

But if you're like me, then you know that's a near-impossible task. Some outstanding hours and half-hours of television episodes simply aren't going to make this list. That doesn't mean they're not worthy; the more likely explanation is that I probably forgot about them. Or, just as likely, I probably haven't seen a few of them.

And remember, this is one person's admittedly too-short list of bests. It doesn't mean that any episodes not mentioned here aren't good or worth seeing; remember, everyone's idea of what is "best" is subjective.

Keep that in mind as you peruse my Top 10, presented in ascending order. Feel free to compile and share your own list of best episodes. - Melanie McFarland, TV Editor

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1. Outlander (2014– )
Episode: The Wedding (2014)

TV-MA | 54 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Marriage to a Scot seems to be the only legal way out to save Claire from falling into the paws of Black Jack Randall. And Jamie accepts to become her husband and protect her. Claire is ... See full summary »

Director: Anna Foerster | Stars: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Graham McTavish

Votes: 5,033

#10 Flashing back and forth through their different perspectives of their wedding day, Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, barely more than friends as they exchange their marriage vows, become intimate on an emotional level before consummating their union of necessity (and for Claire, protection).

What makes this episode unique in a premium landscape filled with gratuitous female nudity and sex for the sake of titillation, is the palpable awkwardness these two share in the moments leading up to the love scene. The moment itself, and everything that follows, is erotically charged not because of exposed breasts or explicit frames, but for the halt-and-advance nature of the hours leading up to the act, and the humor and honesty in their exchanged stories as the two get to know each other. This moment to which the entire first half of the season has been building was not only delivered as promised, but genuinely earned by the episode's writer and director -- both of whom, unsurprisingly, are women.

2. Game of Thrones (2011–2019)
Episode: The Lion and the Rose (2014)

TV-MA | 52 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

Joffrey and Margaery's wedding has come. Tyrion breaks up with Shae. Ramsay tries to prove his worth to his father. Bran and company find a Weirwood tree.

Director: Alex Graves | Stars: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Charles Dance

Votes: 44,756

#9 Traditionally any wedding day is supposed to belong to the bride, but this episode was all about fathers, sons and daughters. In the North, Roose Bolton meets with his bastard son Ramsay Snow, who impresses his father by demonstrating that he's turned Theon Greyjoy, an Iron Born prince, into his compliant pet. Further North, Bran Stark connects to the gods of his deceased father and receives direction as to where he should go.

The main event, the royal wedding, not only featured the long-awaited comeuppance of one of the worst people in Westeros, but a demonstration of how little the Lannister patriarch, Tywin, valued his children in comparison to power and appearances. While daughter Cersei sowed disdain and hatred among honored guests, and son Jaime threatened his future brother-in-law with murder in his sleep, the groom shamed his uncle Tyrion publicly, on multiple fronts. All of this played as background noise to a visually stunning event, a feast for the viewer's eyes as rich as the one laid out for the wedding guests. All of it was a distraction, too, leading up the climactic poisoning that would mark the beginning of the terrible, swift fall of one of television's best loved characters, Tyrion Lannister.

3. True Detective (2014– )
Episode: Who Goes There (2014)

TV-MA | 56 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Martin is faced with marital problems. The search for Reggie Ledoux leads the detectives to a motorcycle gang called the Iron Crusaders, which Rust worked undercover in the past.

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga | Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts

Votes: 20,490

#8 In my view, while there was much to love and recommend about season one of "True Detective," in the end it was very long on style but came up short on substance. But where style was concerned, it was often exceptional, demonstrated in this season's crowning visual achievement, that legendary six-minute tracking shot.

Director Cary Fukunaga captured a near-perfect opera of violence pulled off by hundreds of extras landing exactly where they needed to be as the air shatters with the crackle of bullets, splinters and broken glass, all while the camera stays relentlessly trained on Matthew McConaughey as his character Rust Cohle escapes from the maelstrom with a suspect. Debates still arise over whether "True Detective" was robbed of this year's Best Drama Emmy, but that sequence's status as one of the TV year's most extraordinary feats is virtually unassailable.

4. The Walking Dead (2010– )
Episode: No Sanctuary (2014)

TV-MA | 42 min | Drama, Horror, Thriller

Carol takes drastic action to rescue Rick and the group from the cannibals of Terminus as she and Tyreese reach the compound. A familiar face makes a return.

Director: Greg Nicotero | Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan

Votes: 22,423

#7 Criticizing "The Walking Dead's" storytelling flaws has become something of a national sport, even though the ratings have done nothing but rise year after year. But when the show returned in October, the group that broke out of Terminus's cannibal compound was supercharged in comparison to the bedraggled survivors who wandered into its trap. In this action packed hour, Rick Grimes restored our faith in his leadership by reclaiming his warrior instinct, a trait that would overtake him in subsequent episodes but one fans have been missing.

The unexpected breakout character of the hour, as well as the first half of this season, was Carol. Yes, Carol, the previously meek, physically abused mother and caregiver. She returned from exile to save "her people" with the methodical ruthlessness of a military commando. In training the story's focus on her, the writers have added a new dimension to the action drama's themes of death and resurrection: with the old world gone, those left behind have to constantly shed their identities and the dearest ideals to survive. That conversation has long centered upon Rick, but the fact that we're having it now about a woman few would have predicted could survive the end of the world shows how adept this show is at renewing itself, keeping us hungry enough to return each week for more.

5. Penny Dreadful (2014–2016)
Episode: Closer Than Sisters (2014)

TV-MA | 54 min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Vanessa recalls her past and the events that ultimately lead to Mina's disappearance.

Director: Coky Giedroyc | Stars: Reeve Carney, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Rory Kinnear

Votes: 2,857

#6 This is one of those episodes where the story stops still for an hour and, to put it in the most pedestrian terms, nothing happens. Yet to understand why Sir Malcolm and Vanessa Ives, two people who can barely conceal their disdain for one another at times, have bound themselves to each other, we have to look into the shadows that linked them.

In this hour, told from Vanessa's perspective as she writes a letter to her "dearest Mina" that will never be sent, we witness how a father's sin begets that of another family's daughter, and how the twin devils of desire and envy awakened a terrible power in Vanessa. But this hour also explores the difficult, at times contorted platonic love that women can feel for one another, a love that can survive the painful betrayals it also feeds. Through it all, we're also invited to marvel at Eva Green's extraordinary dramatic abilities; to say she gives her character an emotional workout in this episode is understating it.

6. Sons of Anarchy (2008–2014)
Episode: Suits of Woe (2014)

TV-MA | 72 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

As the whole of the Sons of Anarchy organization bears down on the outlaw motorcycle club's California-based Redwood Original chapter, President Jackson "Jax" Teller comes face to face with an extremely unpleasant reality.

Director: Peter Weller | Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Dayton Callie

Votes: 2,620

#5 From the moment Gemma Teller Morrow murdered the true love of her son Jax, she was on borrowed time. Gemma deflected suspicion by placing blame on a rival gang's henchman, setting off a cycle of violence and death that culminated in the brutal revenge killing of one of SAMCRO's own. For all of her machinations, it was her toddler grandson who ended up revealing her secret. What happened afterward, however, may have surprised this show's biggest fans.

This episode served as a reminder to those placing bets as to whether Gemma would meet Mr. Mayhem that while series creator Kurt Sutter has no problem killing off his characters, his storytelling is far more poignant when he forgoes death and digs into pain instead. No moment shows that more clearly than the phone call during which Jax tells Gemma's lover Nero what she did: instead of letting the viewer hear the conversation, we're left to read the creep of anguish and devastation slowly wash across Nero's face.

Extreme violence is a hallmark of this series, but in this hour, Sutter and his writers successfully explore the exquisite tragedy of losing one's life without actually dying. (That would come later.)

7. Transparent (2014– )
Episode: The Symbolic Exemplar (2014)

TV-MA | 30 min | Comedy, Drama

Josh goes on a date with Rabbi Raquel while Ali explores her feminine side with a TA from Gender Studies class. The kids turn out for Maura's performance in a talent show, but her delight quickly turns to dejection.

Director: Jill Soloway | Stars: Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass

Votes: 428

#4 Wrapped within this episode's crashing storylines that examine each character's evolving relationship with gender and sexuality, is a return to the show's main theme of selfishness: Aimless Ali Pfefferman processes her father's gender transition by going on a sexually-charged date with a trans teaching assistant that ends awkwardly, as her brother Josh treats his parent's transitioning experience as a freakish joke, while railing against changes in the family home. Sarah Pfefferman, meanwhile, decides to deflect her discomfort by getting high and flaunting her new, somewhat contrived identity as woman who left her husband for another woman.

But even Maura Pfefferman is selfish to expect her children to unquestioningly accept her emergence as a woman, against the warnings of her transgendered friends that the journey would not be smooth. This point is driven home during Maura's performance in the local LGBT support center's talent show: While awkwardly covering Gotye's "Somebody I Used to Know", her children at first snicker at her from their chairs before disappearing into the night, one by one. Maura's gaze upon the row of empty chairs is nearly as devastating as the scene that follows shortly thereafter, when she shows up on the doorstep of sympathetic ex-wife Shelly, her face destroyed and her hair deflated. Shelly gently puts her arms around the crumpled Maura in a moment everyone gets, but perhaps only women can truly comprehend on a gut level.

8. Fargo (2014– )
Episode: Buridan's Ass (2014)

TV-MA | 53 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

Malvo executes his master plan, while Lester attempts to craft one of his own. Gus and Molly team up in Duluth.

Director: Colin Bucksey | Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Martin Freeman

Votes: 7,439

#3 Named for the hypothetical paradox of free will that theorizes a hungry, thisty donkey placed precisely between a bale of hay and a bucket of water, will eventually starve to death out of his inability to choose, this episode explores what happens when several key characters are faced with apparently unwinnable scenarios. What happens to a man when he's cornered and blind?

Well, let's see: Lester attempts to frame his estranged brother from his hospital bed; Lorne Malvo moves forward with his opportunistic blackmailing scheme, raising the body count on multiple fronts; and two cops demonstrate both the depth of their determination and their lack of experience and preparedness with potentially deadly results.

All this, and one other noteworthy element: the psychologically painful waiting game for one minor, comic character's death, which crept upon him with slow certainty and lent him an unexpectedly profound level of pathos as he faced it helplessly. This is an episode that begs for multiple viewings to appreciate the finer details, including small intersections with the 1996 movie's storyline and the gorgeous, terrifying use of a snowstorm to play upon its sense of blind dread -- an hour of televised brilliance at its most brutal, absurd and tragic.

9. Hannibal (2013–2015)
Episode: Mizumono (2014)

TV-14 | 44 min | Crime, Drama, Horror

Jack devises a plan to apprehend Hannibal, while Hannibal prepares for his departure. Will makes his decision, and it results in devastating consequences.

Director: David Slade | Stars: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas, Laurence Fishburne

Votes: 14,052

#2 The second season ambitiously opened by showing viewers where it was all headed, with Hannibal Lecter's refined disguise finally dissolving as he unleashed the full force of his twisted predator within upon his ally Jack Crawford. Then, at the moment before the killing blow, executive producer Bryan Fuller yanked us back in time again, when the FBI was still convinced that Will Graham was their murder suspect -- an assumption Will would later use to emotionally connect with Hannibal in an attempt to trap him.

Hour by hour we marched toward that inevitable finale, knowing what was coming but blissfully unable to predict the horror, shocks and game-changing revelations that would lead us there. Even more delectably aggravating was the finale's multifaceted climax -- oddly heartbreaking and emotionally rich, in spite of all the stabbing and blood. "Now that you know me, see me," Hannibal purrs mournfully as he stands over the man he incorrectly believed to be a twin in his darkness. "I gave you a rare gift, but you didn't want it."

Virtually every main character was left on the brink of death -- except for Hannibal, who steps out of the bloodbath into a renewing baptism by rainfall before disappearing into the night.

Nobody could ever refute the assertion that "Hannibal" is difficult to watch. But episodes like this amply reward those who have the stomach to withstand the drama's grotesque visuals and violence.

10. Sherlock (2010– )
Episode: His Last Vow (2014)

TV-14 | 89 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Sherlock goes up against Charles Augustus Magnussen, media tycoon and a notorious blackmailer.

Director: Nick Hurran | Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves

Votes: 25,681

#1 "Sherlock Holmes, you are a backstabbing, heartless, manipulative bastard." Those words, from Sherlock's "girlfriend," amounted to pillow talk. Sherlock isn't the kind of man who can honestly love any woman, as he's already something of a polygamist -- married to his intelligence, his ego, and his love of unraveling conspiracies. No, he can't enjoy romantic love, because he's addicted to his obsession with "the game."

This episode represents the culmination of this season's main theme: the wonders and perils of love. It began with Sherlock's return from a false death, forcing John to revisit his agony over his best friend's demise and reconcile with Sherlock, in spite of all he's put John through. Sherlock, meanwhile, witnessed the romantic love John Watson found with his Mary, an extraordinary woman who impressed Sherlock with her strength, natural abilities, and her clear adoration of his best friend.

But it ended with an examination of Sherlock's idea that love is a weakness to be exploited, an intoxicant that blinds, moving people to commit unspeakable acts. Sherlock refers to it as human error. And the gateway to this astounding tale happens to be one incredibly unctuous blackmailer, a media magnate with a penchant for exploiting sensitive information for personal gain.

The real treasure hidden within "His Last Vow" is the shocking mystery within the mystery, one that reaches back to the start of the season. To reveal what that is would ruin the fantastic surprise that makes it 2014's finest episode of television... and rob you of the lovely ache at the long wait for new episodes.

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