YEM’s Top 10 One Tree Hill Episodes of All-Time!

With their podcast Drama Queens taking over the Internet, One Tree Hill stars Sophia Bush (who portrayed Brooke Davis), Hilarie Burton (who played Peyton Sawyer), and Bethany Joy Lenz (as Haley James Scott) are reminding everyone why One Tree Hill was such a fan-favorite for young adults for so many years! Running for nine seasons and 187 episodes (from 2003-2012), there were countless memorable episodes. Beyond the compelling storylines, there was also an impressive amount of popular music featured on the show, and viewers quickly connected to their favorite characters and heartthrobs.

For all these reasons and more, YEM is taking a special look back at the Top 10 Episodes of One Tree Hill! This list is in no particular order:


#01. Pilot – Season 1 (Episode 1)

Nathan Scott (played by James Lafferty) is the star player of the Tree Hill Ravens high school basketball team, just like his father Dan Scott was years earlier. Things are not so well between the two, however. Dan is a bully to Nathan, who he vicariously lives through in order to re-live his own high school glory days. When some of the Ravens players celebrate a win by stealing a school bus, they get arrested and kicked off the team. This leads to Coach “Whitey” Durham inviting Nathan’s half-brother Lucas Scott (played by Chad Michael Murray) to join the team. Besides joining the Ravens and taking some of his spotlight, it’s clear Lucas also gets along well with Nathan’s steady girlfriend Peyton. In response, Nathan challenges Lucas to a one-on-one basketball game in front of a bunch of their classmates from school. Lucas accepts and pulls off a shocking win, at least to Nathan! This pilot episode gives us a strong idea of how the show is going to move ahead going forward and we get to know all the main characters (with the exception of Brooke, who we first see in episode 2).

What was learned? This sibling rivalry between half-brothers Lucas and Nathan is the basis of the early episodes of the show, especially in the first season. Jealousy (as in Nathan’s case here) is typically rooted in insecurity and fear of not being good enough, or the fear of losing something – like Nathan’s starting shooting guard spot on the team.

#02. Are You True? – Season 1 (Episode 3)

After the big one-on-one basketball loss to Lucas, Nathan become frustrated by Lucas’ growing popularity at school. To get back at him, Nathan has the basketball team haze him, hoping he will quit the team. However, Lucas stays. In another attempt to anger Lucas, Nathan seeks tutoring help from Haley (Lucas’ best friend) and gives her a bracelet as a gift. Unknowingly to anyone at the time, this is the beginning of a relationship between the two characters, which quickly turns romantic. “Quickly” may be an understatement: Nathan gets emancipated from his parents Dan and Deb at 16 years old and Nathan and Haley are married by the end of the season! Brooke also begins to fall for Lucas.

What was learned? It starts to become clearer that much of the rivalry between Nathan and Lucas is due to both of them wishing to be loved by their father Dan Scott, despite also resenting him. This in turn pits them against one another. They eventually start to realize they will never get the love they want from their Dad (much like Dan didn’t receive love from his own father). Once they realize this, Nathan and Lucas’ relationship slowly gets better. Still, their competitive nature remains and throughout their high school years, they would quarrel over both Haley and basketball on numerous occasions.


The Tide That Left and Never Came Back – Season 2 (Episode 22) 

& The Leavers Dance – Season 2 (Episode 23)

During the second season, Nathan and Haley’s relationship breaks down when Haley gets offered a chance to tour as a singer and Nathan issues her an ultimatum – don’t go or he will divorce her. Haley leaves anyway and Nathan’s life becomes a mess. On the flip side, Lucas and Brooke’s relationship becomes more intimate when they travel to New York for an overnight stay with Haley. However, Lucas still realizes his true love is Peyton. Rock band Jimmy Eat World makes a memorable appearance when they perform in Tree Hill. Lucas and Nathan’s family issues spiral even further out of control when Nathan’s Mom Deb comes back from rehab for her pill addiction. Dan faces the risk of going to jail due to illegal business practices at his dealership that Lucas uncovers. Deb soon relapses. The confrontation between the sons and their Dad lead to Dan cutting off Lucas’ college fund, while also stopping pay on Lucas’ required heart medication as well. Not too long after, Dan nearly dies when his dealership (Dan Scott Motors) burns to the ground. Searching for Lucas’ proof on Dan, Nathan instead finds proof Lucas went to visit Haley without telling him. At the end of the finale, Nathan finds Haley waiting for him on his doorstep, which hints at signs of their reconciliation.

What was learned? Things in life rarely play out the way we expect them to. People can and will surprise you in both good and bad ways sometimes.

#04. (TIE) Just Watch the Fireworks – Season 3 (Episode 15)

& With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept – Season 3 (Episode 16)

Dan Scott’s older brother Keith Scott announces his engagement to Lucas’ Mom Karen and plans to adopt Lucas as his own son, which Lucas embraces. Keith was already the father figure in Lucas’s life, which began not long after his brother Dan abandoned Karen when she became pregnant with Lucas. A nasty mayoral race puts even further strain on Dan and Keith’s relationship. Dan wins the race over Keith’s soon-to-be wife (and Dan’s ex) Karen and becomes Mayor of Tree Hill. A time capsule that was buried only the year before gets opened 49 years too early (by Rachel) which exposes various embarrassing secrets and Peyton’s Breast Cancer Benefit Concert at Tric (the all-ages nightclub owned by Karen) features performances by Jack’s Mannequin, Fall Out Boy, and Haley singing her own song, “Halo.” In the aftermath of the events at the time capsule re-opening, Jimmy Edwards brings a gun to school and holds Haley, Nathan, and others hostage before later committing suicide in the halls of the school in front of Keith. It comes to light that Jimmy never felt seen or understood by his peers and he’d been bullied at Tree Hill High. This was a truly heartbreaking moment in the history of OTH. The moment is quickly overshadowed by Dan, after convincing himself his brother Keith burned down his dealership (turns out it was actually Dan’s own wife Deb), shoots and kills Keith in cold blood. Dan covers up Keith’s murder by making it look like Jimmy shot Keith before shooting himself.

What was learned? Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Treat others with kindness and respect. You never know what someone else is going through.

#05. When it Isn’t What it Should Be – Season 3 (Episode 18)

Rachel invites the group on a weekend trip to her parent’s cabin in the woods. Nathan plans to propose to Haley again now that they’re back together, but the wedding ring goes missing. Haley finds out about the plan. A game of “I Never” starts, which causes everyone to share things with one another they normally wouldn’t, and Mouth admits he thinks Rachel is fat, which to pretty much anyone with eyes nowadays sounds ridiculous. Brooke greets Pete Wentz from the band Fall Out Boy with a spontaneous kiss, but he’s actually there for Peyton. Instead, Pete and Peyton disappear into her room. Back in Tree Hill, Karen gets into a huge fight with Dan and calls him Keith’s killer for letting Keith enter the school during the gun incident and a coward because Dan didn’t go into the school to help his two sons, who were both inside at the time. Karen has no idea Dan actually shot Keith though. Back in the cabin, Nathan successfully proposes to Haley for a second time.

What was learned? The show tackled many real-life issues in well-thought-out ways, while still staying recognizable as the show fans know and love. However, one thing from the series that does not hold up as well as the amount of body shaming the female characters of OTH dealt with, despite looking healthy. Body image is an ever-present issue for many and this may have just been an attempt by the writers to portray how some teens talk to one another and what was considered more socially acceptable at the time. However, the subject certainly could have been approached in a more body-positive manner, especially when considering the show’s influence on young adults worldwide.

#06. Some You Give Away – Season 4 (Episode 9)

In Coach Whitey’s last high school basketball game, the Ravens of Tree Hill are on the cusp of winning a State Basketball Championship for the first time in the 35 years that Whitey’s been a coach there. There’s a big issue, however: Nathan sees no option but to lose the State Championship game in order to save himself, Haley, and their unborn baby from Daunte Jones, a local criminal who has threatened their lives without Haley’s knowledge. Once Nathan admits what’s going on to Lucas, Lucas does everything in his power to stop Nathan from purposely sabotaging the team. Without their superstar Nathan playing to win, the Ravens fall far behind on the scoreboard against Pontiac. After the first half, Nathan has a change of heart and no longer agrees to throw the basketball game. Thankfully, the Ravens were still close enough to be able to pull off a comeback win at the very last second of the game and win the Championship! While the others celebrate, Dan offers to buy off Nathan’s debt from Daunte but finds out the criminal’s objective was revenge and not money. Brooke tells Lucas to go after Peyton, as it is clear that’s who Lucas really loves. With Nathan and Haley walking together outside, everything comes to a head. In retaliation for not throwing the game, Daunte tries to run over Nathan with his car, but Haley pushes Nathan out of the way at the last minute and gets hit by Daunte’s car instead. Daunte also crashes into a pole, which kills him. Lucas sees what happens and has a heart attack due to his weak heart. Haley, who is pregnant and took the brunt of the collision, also ends up in the hospital. Luckily, Haley, the baby, and Lucas all eventually recover. After hearing Haley is okay and so is their baby, it’s revealed the couple is going to have a boy.

What was learned? Be careful with who you associate yourself with.

#07. Pictures of You – Season 4 (Episode 13)

A class assignment (about what type of person do your classmates see you as) helps reveal the innermost thoughts and secrets of Lucas, Peyton, Brooke, Nathan, Haley, and their classmates. Chase learns that Brooke cheated on her calculus exam by stealing the test, which eventually leads to them revealing they have feelings for one another. Nathan is terrified of becoming a father, while Haley is afraid she will no longer have the opportunity to leave her mark on the world once she’s a Mom. Nathan also discusses his Mom’s suicide attempt, while Peyton tells Nathan about how she severely damaged her knuckle when punching something after one of the many times they broke up a few years earlier. Lucas reveals to Glenda he’s been secretly writing a novel, and he gives it to Glenda to read since she is the only other person who knows about it.

What was learned? Quite a lot actually. As the famous saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. There are many layers to people, and it’s rarely easy to open up and share thoughts you’ve previously kept guarded against others for fear of judgment. Many of us do this as a self-defense mechanism, especially from our teen years going forward.

#08. Prom Night at Hater High – Season 4 (Episode 15)

On the day of the Prom, Nathan’s pre-Prom party quickly turns everyone against each other. Nathan’s past sexual conquests are questioned (like his previous hookup two years earlier with Brooke that neither Haley nor Peyton knew about). Rachel gets suspended from school after taking the blame for the calculus exam she stole with Brooke. Peyton tells Lucas she wants to skip the Prom entirely, especially after having a huge fight with her former BFF Brooke. However, Nathan ultimately convinces Peyton to go to the Prom with Lucas. Things take a surprising turn, soon thereafter. Instead of Lucas showing up to pick up Peyton, Peyton’s stalker Derek shows up first and knocks Peyton unconscious.

What was learned? Outside of the shocking ending, this episode discusses both platonic and romantic relationships and how complicated they can sometimes be. A solid relationship should be based on mutual trust, respect, and communication. It doesn’t mean you need to know everything about a person you’re close to in order to have these things. However, if you’re unable to have these traits amongst one another, it becomes difficult to build a strong relationship going forward.

#09. (FITS LIKE ONE EPISODE) The Birth and Death of the Day – Season 4 (Episode 20)

& All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone – Season 4 (Episode 21)

As graduation day arrives, Haley prepares for her high school graduation speech and her role as a young mother, while Nathan prepares for life without basketball since he was caught point-shaving due to Daunte’s previous influence over him. Brooke makes a heartfelt confession (the fact she stole the calculus test), which puts her future in jeopardy. Lucas confronts his father Dan after his Mom Karen’s life was threatened. Haley gives birth to her son: James “Jamie” Lucas Scott. After Karen nearly dies having her and Keith’s daughter Lily (who Karen was already pregnant with at the time of Keith’s death), Dan confesses to Keith’s murder and goes to prison. Lucas accepts the role of Jamie’s godfather and also joins Coach Whitey’s new college basketball team as his assistant.

What was learned? Dan ultimately took responsibility for killing Keith but robbed Lily of the opportunity of ever knowing her father. He neglected his son Lucas his entire life, bullied his other son Nathan (despite hating his own Dad for doing the exact same thing to him), and nearly completely destroyed the women he was in romantic relationships with – Karen and Deb. He killed Karen’s fiancé (his own brother) after previously abandoning Karen to raise their child Lucas on her own (when he couldn’t get custody) and later drove Deb to drug addiction, while also manipulating and blackmailing her into staying with him. While there were certainly other villains during the show’s existence, Dan Scott has to be among the worst. After getting out of jail, however, Dan eventually redeems himself by rescuing Nathan (who was kidnapped) in Season 9.

#10. You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three Tonight – Season 6 (Episode 17)

Once Season 4 ended, the show jumped four years into the future to show the characters’ lives after college. In Season 6, it’s revealed Peyton is pregnant with Lucas’ baby, but there are complications around the baby’s birth, which could result in both the baby (and Peyton) dying. It is a risk Peyton is willing to take despite Lucas’ objections to Peyton putting her life in the balance. Later in the season, during Lucas and Peyton’s wedding night, Peyton collapses and she is rushed to hospital. The hospital staff were left with no option but to perform an emergency c-section and it was unknown whether either Peyton (or baby Sawyer) would survive. After Peyton ends up in a coma for a few days, thankfully she and the baby both pull through.

What was learned? The love of a caring parent often knows no boundaries. Peyton was willing to risk everything (including her own life) in the hopes everything would work out and Sawyer would be born.

Watch all 9 Seasons of One Tree Hill on Hulu!