“Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
The first episode of the series does a good job of setting up the dynamics between the show’s central characters while also establishing its distinct tone and remarkable pace.
“Rory’s Dance” (Season 1, Episode 9)
With Emily exploding at Lorelai, and Lorelai exploding at Rory, this episode is both the show’s first hint at how complicated the relationships between the three Gilmore girls would get, and one of the its greatest outings.
“Christopher Returns” (Season 1, Episode 15)
The first time Rory’s father comes blowing through town, but far from the last, “Christopher Returns” is a great episode to understand how Lorelai and her daughter relate to the men in their lives.
“Like Mother, Like Daughter” (Season 2, Episode 7)
Rory’s feud/friendship with Paris — one of the show’s best supporting characters — gets a good spotlight in this episode. Plus, Lorelai and Emily walk in a fashion show in matching outfits, and it’s delightful.
“The Bracebridge Dinner” (Season 2, Episode 10)
“The Bracebridge Dinner” shows off the best of Stars Hollow — the town’s hilariously quirky residents and its loving sense of community. The episode also kicks the Dean-Rory-Jess love triangle into high gear.
“There’s the Rub” (Season 2, Episode 16)
As a boyfriend, Jess fit into Rory’s world in a way that Dean never could, and nowhere was that better on display than in his one major encounter with Paris.
“Teach Me Tonight” (Season 2, Episode 19)
Jess was far from perfect — he crashes Rory’s car in this episode and lands her in the hospital — but it was also clear from the start that none of her other boyfriends understood her like he did.
“Lorelai’s Graduation Day” (Season 2, Episode 21)
One constant throughout the series was that the more Rory sought independence, the more complicated her relationship with Lorelai became. The first serious indication of that came when she missed her mother’s graduation to be with Jess.
“They Shoot Gilmores Don’t They?” (Season 3, Episode 7)
Undoubtedly the best episode of the series, the dance marathon episode features an elaborate set piece, the dissolution of Rory’s relationship with Dean and a heartbreaking shot of Rory sobbing in her mother’s arms.
“A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” (Season 3, Episode 9)
“A Year in the Life” debuts Thanksgiving weekend, so why wouldn’t you watch the show’s most famous Thanksgiving episode? Bonus: Adam Brody as the show’s best love interest.
“The Big One” (Season 3, Episode 16)
The endlessly amusing rivalry between Paris and Rory is centerstage here, and Liza Weil’s crazed monologue about not getting into Harvard is one for the ages.
“Those Are Strings, Pinnocchio” (Season 3, Episode 22)
“Gilmore Girls” took a big leap with Rory’s graduation from high school, closing the door on Chilton and Jess, and resetting Rory’s relationship with her grandparents so Lorelai can open her own inn. “Those Are Strings, Pinnocchio” handles the transition beautifully, with more than a few tears along the way.
“The Lorelai’s First Day at Yale” (Season 4, Episode 2)
Rory’s many struggles at Yale were foreshadowed from her very first night, when she buckled under the homesickness and asked her mother to spend the night in her dorm.
“The Incredible Sinking Lorelais” (Season 4, Episode 14)
The centerpiece of the show was always the relationship between Lorelai and Rory, and as a result some of the most memorable episodes of its latter half came when the mother-daughter duo weren’t together.
“Raincoats and Recipes” (Season 4, Episode 22)
A callback to “The Bracebridge Dinner,” “Raincoats and Recipes” once again sees all of Stars Hollow gather at Lorelai’s inn. Unfortunately, this one ends with Lorelai and Luke finally getting together while Rory makes a bad, bad decision with Dean.
“Written in the Stars” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Luke and Lorelai were always more compelling apart than they were together, but they were never more worth rooting for as a couple than on their first date.
“You Jump, I Jump, Jack” (Season 5, Episode 7)
Even though he was kind of a jerk, Logan was Rory’s longest-lasting boyfriend and “You Jump, I Jump, Jack” makes a compelling case for his appeal. The Life and Death Brigade is basically a just a gang of bored rich kids, but at least they look like fun.
“Wedding Bell Blues” (Season 5, Episode 13)
Emily and Lorelai had a lot of major falling outs throughout the seven-season initial run of “Gilmore Girls,” but only one — after Emily tried to sabotage her daughter’s relationship with Luke — seriously seemed like it could never be undone.
“But I’m a Gilmore!” (Season 5, Episode 19)
Everyone in Stars Hollow always treated Rory like an angel child who could do no wrong, and much of Season 5 was seeing how she reacted as that safety net fell away. As it turns out, not well.
“A House Is Not a Home” (Season 5, Episode 22)
The epitome of Rory’s spoiled-child period, the Season 5 finale sees the youngest Gilmore in prison for stealing a boat, quitting Yale and cutting ties with her mother, all because her boyfriend’s father treated her poorly.
“Fight Face” (Season 6, Episode 2)
Rory and Lorelai’s split was hard for a lot of “Gilmore” fans to bear during the show’s initial run, and “Fight Face” is the best example why. When the mother and daughter go at each other, it’s downright vicious.
“Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out” (Season 6, Episode 8)
When Rory’s at her lowest, Jess is the only one who can snap her out of it. Rory’s best boyfriend (fight me) returns to serve up some harsh truth: Logan sucks, dropping out of Yale was dumb, and she’s going nowhere with her life.
“The Prodigal Daughter Returns” (Season 6, Episode 9)
Witness the worst decision the show ever made: Luke’s secret daughter, April Nardini. But at least Lorelai and Rory finally make up.
“The Real Paul Anka” (Season 6, Episode 18)
Jess started out the show as a troubled teenager, but in his final appearance he proves Luke and Rory right for believing in his potential when he welcomes them to the open house for his publishing company.
“Bon Voyage” (Season 7, Episode 22)
Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her writing partner/husband Daniel Palladino left the show before Season 7 began, and as a result there’s a noticeable decline in quality. The duo is back for the revival, but Sherman-Palladino has said she hasn’t watched Season 7. So why should you? If anything, just watch the finale to see where everyone left off before “A Year in the Life.”