I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Not only does it have some of the best characters in Star Trek canon, but DS9 also pushed the boundaries of syndicated storytelling by introducing serialized plotlines. While every show and their mother is serialized today, procedurals were the norm in the 90s, especially with Star Trek. DS9 dared to tell a deeper and more complex story. That story is known as the Dominion War.
While Deep Space Nine has some amazing non-Dominion-centric episodes, you can’t really watch the show without feeling the Dominion’s presence. The Dominion War is the core story underlying the entire series, so it deservedly caters a lot of attention. But for a show that is 132 hours long, it can be a bit intimidating to dive in, especially if you only want to follow the Dominion War arc.
Thus, I took it upon myself to create a complete Dominion War viewing guide. But as I attempted to identify the essential episodes of the series, I discovered I was pulling at a thread. If episode X was important, then you had to have seen episode Y, which of course means you need episode Z. In the end, I had not one, but three viewing lists. So here they are, with many more details below:
The Complete DS9 Dominion War Guide
The Essential List
Essential + Expanded
Essential + Expanded + Supplementary
Your first question is probably along the lines of: Why are there three lists? How big a nerd are you? To the later question I would say: very. But I will expand further on the first question.
Ultimately, one list wouldn’t work for everyone. Some people want a streamlined viewing of the Dominion War while others would appreciate a more fleshed out of the story. Obviously, determining the importance of each episode is not an exact science. But as I rewatched each episode, I discovered that most episodes fall into one of three categories:
Essential: A pivotal episode that is integral to understanding the Dominion War story. A can’t miss.
Expanded: Expands on the overarching story, focusing heavily on the Dominion. Episodes sometimes includes lasting consequences, but not required viewing.
Supplementary: Stories tangential to the overarching story, but the Dominion still play a noteworthy role in the episode.
For the sake of brevity, I have not included every single episode that mentions the Dominion, because that would become superfluous. I am including any episode in which the Dominion or their effects are featured prominently. Using the criteria above, we end up with three viewing lists.
The Essential List will provide the most streamlined viewing by including only the most important episodes of the series. You will miss out on a lot, but you will still get to watch some of the best episodes of the series while watching the complete Dominion War arc.
The Essential + Expanded List will further flesh out the greater Dominion War themes. Not only do you get all the of integral story, but you will also get most of the backstory. This provides a deeper understanding of the characters (on both sides) and hopefully a greater appreciation of the Dominion War arc.
The Essential + Expanded + Supplementary List is the closest version to a complete list possible. In addition to the above, it includes some fairly inconsequential episodes regarding the Dominion and/or tangential events to the war that help shape the story. For those looking for a “complete” without watching the whole series, this is it.
Below you will find a summary and justification of each episode in the guide. Because the list encompasses nearly the entire series, there will undoubtedly be spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Dominon War Episode Summaries and Justifications
2×07 Rules of Acquisition and 2×10 Sanctuary (Supplementary)
Rules of Acquisition and Sanctuary contain the first two whispers of the Dominion. The malevolent force is only hinted at, but it’s clear that they are a major player in the Gamma Quadrant. It’s fitting that the first introduction to the Dominion is through the eyes of the Ferengi. Their lust for profit and expansion immediately puts them in touch with the who’s who in the Gamma Quadrant. Sanctuary doubles down on this premise, illustrating the power the Dominion wield by turning a race of people into refugees.
That being said, neither episode is particularly strong. Both suffer from Star Trek early-season-itis and the Dominion only play background roles within the episodes. Watch them if you want to see the foreshadowing, but they are the definition of supplementary material.
2×26 The Jem’Hadar (Essential)
The second season finale finally introduces the true might of the Dominion. The Jem’Hadar starts innocently enough with a Sisko family trip (plus Quark and Nog) into the Gamma Quadrant. But before long they come across a mysterious alien being hunted by the Jem’Hadar. As the episode slowly unravels, the true threat of the Dominion is revealed.
What’s great about this episode is that it shows just how outmatched the Federation and the Alpha Quadrant really is. The Dominion isn’t just a brute force enemy, but also incredibly intelligent and cunning. The Jem’Hadar already know plenty about the on-goings of the other side of the wormhole. And when push comes to shove, it is the Dominion that stands tall. An ominous introduction of the threat to come.
3×01/3×02 The Search Part 1 and 2 (Essential)
After the events of The Jem’Hadar, Sisko gets proactive in regard to the Dominion threat. The crew of DS9 head into the Gamma Quadrant in search of the Founders on board their brand new warship the Defiant. The mission sends them head first into the Dominion.
The Search again illustrates the superiority the Dominion has over the Federation. There is a continuing trend of not just being outmatched physically, but also strategically. This episode has a lot of twists and turns, with the final reveal setting the stage for the series moving forward.
3×06 The Abandoned (Supplementary)
Quarks purchases wreckage from the Gamma Quadrant that includes a baby Jem’Hadar (whoops). As the child rapidly ages, Odo, Sisko, and the others must decide the Jem’Hadar’s ultimate fate. Will he be given to the Federation for study or will the Jem’Hadar be allowed something more?
While The Abandoned touches on some key Jem’Hadar backstory, such as their addiction to Ketracel-white, the episode is fairly removed from the overarching story. The dynamic between Odo and the Jem’Hadar is interesting to watch unfold, but the episode is not the strongest. There is also a bizarre B story about 16 year old Jake dating a 20 year old Bajoran Dabo girl. Watch if you are interested in Jem’Hadar lore, but skippable otherwise.
3×17 Visionary (Supplementary)
Chief O’Brien is exposed to radiation poisoning, sending him back and forward through time. 5 hours in the future, O’Brien observes the events of a Romulan delegation’s briefing on the Dominion. O’Brien must unravel the mysteries of his time jumps while also trying to stay alive.
Visionary is very supplemental to the Dominion War, so much so that I almost didn’t include it in this list. Ultimately, I decided to include it because the episode foreshadows the Romulan’s stake in the Dominion and how severely they view the situation. The episode itself is also strong in its own right, with classic Star Trek time travel antics and mysteries. If you’re a fan of that stuff, watch Visionary. If you are only interested in the Dominion War, skip it.
3×20 Improbable Cause and 3×21 The Die is Cast (Essential)
After Garak’s shop is destroyed in an explosion, Odo discovers there is more to the story than a simple assassination attempt. Odo and Garak unravel a mystery that leads them all the way to the Tal Shiar and Obsidian Order. The unlikely alliance of intelligence agencies is determined to preemptively strike the Dominion.
This is an excellent two-parter and could have easily been the season finale. Garak and Odo are two of the strongest characters in the show and until now haven’t interacted much. They display their entire range, bringing strong character moments to a story that is galactic in scope. Probably the best episodes yet on the list.
3×26 The Adversary (Essential)
Sisko and the crew of the Defiant are called to intervene in a possible coup on Tzenkethi. Things quickly turn south as their ship is sabotaged by a changeling. Sisko and the others must find a way to regain control of the Defiant before they unintentionally start a war with the Tzenkethi.
If it wasn’t for the ending, this episode would be supplementary. As a season finale, it is a fairly weak entry. It is by no means a terrible episode and it has big consequences moving forward, but the stakes never feel high. The episode falls into various tropes (self-destruct sequence cancelled at the last minute anyone?) and leaves us waiting for the inevitable resolution to the problem. You could also nit-pick the convoluted way in which the changeling attempted to start a Federation war with the Tzenkethi. But most of these criticisms aren’t deal-breakers. It is a middling episode, but required viewing.
4×01/4×02 The Way of the Warrior Part 1 and 2 (Expanded)
The Klingons decide to go on the offensive against the Dominion. They believe the recent coup on Cardassia was part of a Dominion plan to establish a foothold in the Alpha quadrant. In an effort to better understand the Klingon actions, Sisko recruits Worf. The crew of DS9 must find a way to stop the Klingons without starting a war.
A lot of guides say that this episode is essential viewing and I can see why. First, it establishes Worf as a main player on the show. Secondly, it introduces the Klingons being at war with basically everyone. But the Dominion never show themselves in this episode. The episode is more about the confrontation with the Klingons and the Dominion’s rippling effects on the Alpha Quadrant. It’s a fun 90 minutes of television and definitely worth a watch, but non-essential to the greater Dominion War arc.
4×04 Hippocratic Oath (Expanded)
Bashir and O’Brien become stranded on a planet and are captured by a group of Jem’Hadar. Their leader, Goran’Agar, reveals that his Jem’Hadar are attempting to free themselves from the addictive drug ketracel-white. Bashir and O’Brien must decide to help the Jem’Hadar or help themselves escape.
This episode contains a lot of backstory about the Jem’Hadar and the function they play within the Dominion. Specifically, how they view the Vorta as slave masters and the Founders as gods. It’s also a classic Bashir/O’Brien episode where we see their friendship and their conflict. There is a B story involving Worf learning to fit into his role on the station that is arguably stronger than the Bashir/O’Brien plot line. Watch if you are a Jem’Hadar completionist, otherwise you can pass.
4×07 Starship Down (Supplementary)
While negotiating a trade deal with the Karemma in the Gamma Quadrant, the Dominion attack. The Defiant is heavily damaged and must locate the Karemma ship within a gas planet, all while taking on two Jem’Hadar warships.
This episode is essentially the The Next Generation Season 5 episode Disaster. Members of the Defiant crew are separated and forced to bond through crisis. There are some noteworthy moments, such as Kira’s relationship with Sisko and his role as the emissary, but in general the episode is fairly rote.
4×11 Homefront and 4×12 Paradise Lost (Essential)
After a changeling bomb in San Francisco kills dozens of people, Sisko and Odo are recalled to Earth. Sisko is given the title of acting Chief of Starfleet Security as they investigate how to best stop the changeling threat. But when the clues don’t add up, Sisko and Odo believe something else is amiss.
This 2-part episode is classic DS9 fare in the best way possible. The episode looks at the lengths people go to protect themselves from an existential threat. How do we live our lives when anyone could be an enemy? Many of the themes ring truer today perhaps than when the episode initially aired. Light on action and heavy on ideals and philosophy. An excellent set of episodes.
4×23 To the Death (Expanded)
A group of Jem’Hadar strike Deep Space Nine. The Defiant crew hunt down the perpetrators, only to discover the Jem’Hadar are in possession of an Iconian Gateway. Now they must join forces with the Dominion to stop the rogue Jem’Hadar.
I had a hard time deciding how important To the Death is to the Dominion War arc. It introduces Weyoun into canon and articulately displays the contempt the Jem’Hadar and Vorta have for one another. It’s also the first episode that shows the Dominion has flaws. But on the other hand, the plot itself is fairly inconsequential to the greater story. More of a one-off tale staring the Dominion. But it’s a good episode with a TNG callback to the Iconians. Definitely worth watching, but not essential.
4×26 Broken Link (Essential)
Odo becomes dangerously ill. With no other solution in place, the crew of the Defiant must head to the Gamma Quadrant to find the only people that can help Odo: the Founders.
While Broken Link is very much an Odo episode, the B story surrounding Garak really stands out. One of my favorite scenes is when Garak confronts the female Founder, asking if there were any Cardassian survivors from the events of The Die is Cast. Her response is chilling and dooming to the Cardassian people. The episode as a whole is strong and the conclusion resonates moving forward.
5×01 Apocalypse Rising (Essential)
While in the Great Link, Odo saw that Gowron is a changeling. Now Sisko, O’Brien, Odo, and Worf are tasked with going undercover and exposing Gowron.
This is a fun episode that I’m glad wasn’t stretched into a two-parter. For as exciting as the Klingon-version of the DS9 crew should be, it almost overstays its welcome. Most of the episode is simply standing around and observing Klingon culture, but even so there are good bits of humor and action. As always, the mission isn’t as straight forward as it seems. The ending also has lasting ramifications for the series.
5×02 The Ship (Supplementary)
The crew of the Defiant is on a planetary survey in the Gamma Quadrant when a Dominion Warship crashes. The wreckage would be of great importance to the Federation, but the Dominion arrive before it can be salvaged.
The Ship is a fairly tense episode, most of it being a standoff between the DS9 crew and the Dominion. It suffers from a few Star Trek cliches, such as the new characters that are just around to die. The episode also has a very Star Trek-y lesson morale at the end, which it may or may not have earned. Certainly worth a watch, but it is non-essential to the overall story.
5×10 Rapture (Expanded)
After a holosuite accident (shocking!), Sisko begins to have prophetic visions. As Bajor is accepted into the Federation, Sisko starts to understand its greater purpose within the universe. Also, as you might have guessed, the visions are killing Sisko…
Rapture is the definition of an Expanded episode, but it is well worth watching. There is lots to love with plenty of foreshadowing. For as “big” as an episode this is, it is still intimate, focusing on Sisko, Kasidy, and Jake. Is the life of one man more important than understanding the future? Classic Star Trek.
5×14 In Purgatory’s Shadow and 5×15 By Inferno’s Light (Essential)
DS9 receives a Cardassian signal from the Gamma Quadrant. When Garak determines the message is from Enabran Tain, Work joins him to investigate the origins of the signal. Back on the station, Dukat is hanging around and rustling feathers. Antics ensue on both fronts.
This two-parter is probably my favorite thus far in the series. This has everything you would want in a Dominion War episode. The highlight is Worf taking on Jem’Hadar after Jem’Hadar in battle. Also, the “reveal” near the end of the first episode is perfectly done. The episode has ramifications for the rest of the series. A fantastic and essential viewing.
5×21 Soldiers of the Empire (Supplementary)
Martok receives orders to investigate the disappearance of a Klingon warship in Cardassian space. Worf and Jadzia join under Martok’s command, but soon realize that low morale is putting the mission in jeopardy.
This is a mediocre episode with only the slightest relation to the overall story. You get a deeper glimpse of Klingon culture, but it isn’t anything a seasoned fan hasn’t seen before. If you are interested in watching “How Martok Got His Groove Back”, then go for it. Otherwise move on to the next episode.
5×23 Blaze of Glory (Supplementary)
When Sisko learns of a Maquis plan to attack Cardassia, he must turn to Michael Eddington for help. The unlikely duo enter the Badlands in search of the remaining Maquis. But can Sisko avoid the Dominion and stop an all-out war?
The episode only has a tangential tie to the Dominion War and is really more of a wrap up to the entire Eddington/Maquis-arc of the series. It’s a fine episode and you can’t help but enjoy the lovably-hateable Eddington. If you skip it, you won’t miss anything related to the Dominion arc.
5×25 In the Cards (Expanded)
The crew of Deep Space Nine has the blues. The Dominion threat grows and tensions are at an all-time high. In an effort to cheer up his dad, Jake attempts to acquire a Willie Mays rookie baseball card. Antics ensue.
With a summary like that, you’d be surprised how relevant this episode is. It’s one of the first episodes that illustrates the Dominion’s effect on everyday life on the station. In what should have been the main plotline of the episode, Weyoun is on DS9 negotiating a non-aggression pact with Kai Winn and Bajor. While the focus is on Jake and Nog’s comical adventure, the underlying themes are relevant to the series as a whole.
5×26 Call to Arms (Essential)
Sisko is determined to prevent more Dominion ships from entering the Alpha Quadrant. As more and more Alpha Quadrant powers sign non-aggression pacts with The Dominion, Sisko and the crew of DS9 decide to mine the entrance to the wormhole.
Call to Arms defines the future of the series and the Dominion War to come. In just one episode, the show manages to touch on nearly every notable plotpoint in the series thus far. It’s a fantastic episode and the first true Dominion War episode. A must watch.
The Terok Nor Arc (Essential) – 6×01 A Time To Stand, 6×02 Rocks and Shoals, 6×03 Sons and Daughters, 6×04 Behind the Lines, 6×05 Favor the Bold, 6×06 Sacrifice of Angels
Shit just got real.
The six episode arc that kicks off season 6 is quintessential Deep Space Nine. It is the first real attempt at serialization and multiple narratives. Nearly every major character has a storyline running throughout these episodes (except poor Bashir).
The arc as a whole is an amazing character piece. On the station, Dominion and Cardassian antagonists are given ample screen time next to our usual DS9 heroes. Odo’s character arc is particularly noteworthy. Worf has joined Martok’s crew for his own adventures. Oddly enough, the Starfleet characters (Sisko, Jadzia, Bashir, O’Brien) are probably the least interesting, albeit no less essential.
What else can be said? This is the best 6-episode run of the series yet. Unskippable for the Dominion War arc.
6×09 Statistical Probabilities (Expanded)
Dr. Bashir is temporarily in care of an eccentric group of genetically enhanced individuals. After witnessing their cognitive abilities, Bashir believes they can assist with the ongoing Federation/Dominion negotiations.
This episode is borderline “Supplementary” because the focus is on Bashir’s relationship with the genetically enhanced quartet. But Statistical Probabilities establishes some important story elements, even if somewhat in the background. Most notably, Damar’s ascension into Dukat’s previous role as leader of Cardassia is worth noting. It’s a middling, non-essential episode, but worth a watch at least once.
6×10 The Magnificent Ferengi (Supplementary)
When Quark learns of his mother Ishka’s capture by the Dominion, he puts together a ragtag group of Ferengi to rescue her. With the vorta Keevan in tow, Quark and his team go to Empok Nor for a prisoner exchange. Antics ensue.
The episode is a classic “Ferengi” episode, but that isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually quite comical at times and the Dominion characters are of the love-to-hate variety. I was glad to see Keevan return and Yelgrun (Iggy Pop!) is a great vorta as well. The reason this episode is classified as Supplementary is because when all is said and done, it is of no consequence to the greater Dominion War arc. There is a one-off line from Yelgren about the Breen, which could be construed as foreshadowing, but that’s about it. Still a fun episode and worth a watch, especially if you are a Ferengi fan.
6×11 Waltz (Expanded)
Sisko boards the U.S.S. Honshu to escort Dukat to trial. But after a Cardassian ambush, the Honshu is destroyed, leaving Sisko and Dukat stranded on a dangerous planet. Worf and the Defiant crew must rescue Sisko before he succumbs to the violence of an unhinged Dukat.
Waltz is a fine episode that delves into the inner workings of Dukat’s mind, but I went back and forth on how integral it is to the Dominion War arc. On the one hand, Dukat is obviously a central figure to the show and this episode is ultimately the first step towards the final Dukat and Sisko confrontation. But on the other hand, Dukat’s character is reinvented a couple times between here and there, making this episode less mandatory viewing. At the end of the day, this is a skippable episode in terms of plot, but worthy of a watch.
6×14 One Little Ship (Supplementary)
O’Brien, Dax, Bashir shrink in size to investigate an anomaly. During their mission, the Defiant is attacked and commandeered by Jem’Hadar. Now the Defiant’s only hope rests in one little ship.
Look, it’s Honey I Shrunk the Kids meets Deep Space Nine. Depending who you are, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. The episode is downright goofy. In terms of the greater Dominion War, there is an underlying Alpha versus Gamma Jem’Hadar plotline, but that is never mentioned again. If you are a completionist looking for a ridiculous episode, this one is for you. Otherwise, it’s an inconsequential episode.
6×19 In the Pale Moonlight (Essential)
Sisko recounts his plan to bring the Romulans into the Dominion War.
Watch this episode. It’s considered to be one of the series’ bests. While the story is galactic in size, the episode is truly about Sisko and how far he will go to save the Alpha Quadrant from the Dominion. I could write a whole article on this episode, so I say again, just go watch it.
6×22 Valiant (Expanded)
When Jake and Nog’s runabout is ambushed by a Jem’Hadar force, they are rescued by Red Squad, a group of elite Starfleet cadets. When Nog is quickly promoted to Chief Engineer, Jake questions the morality of what is occurring.
Valiant isn’t essential viewing for the Dominion War story, but it does wrap up the Red Squad storyline from wayyyy back in Homefront/Paradise Lost. It also introduces the new Jem’Hadar battleship. It’s borderline Supplementary, but ultimately I decided it was worth the Expanded designation. Worth a watch for fans of Jake and Nog or those who want a fuller view of the Dominion War.
6×26 Tears of the Prophets (Essential)
Sisko leads the Alpha Quadrant alliance into Cardassian space, despite visions from the Prophets warning him otherwise. Dukat returns to Cardassia, promising to sway the war in favor of the Dominion.
Oh boy. This is undeniably the most pivotal episode of the show thus far. The season six finale touches on almost every major character on both sides of the war. And of course, Tears of the Prophets is most remembered as being one of the most tragic of the series. This is a can’t miss episode. Bring your tissues.
7×01 Image in the Sand and 7×02 Shadows and Symbols (Essential)
With the wormhole closed, Sisko returns to Earth in an attempt to reconnect with the Prophets. On DS9, the crew deals with the ramifications of Sisko absence. Months later, Sisko has a mysterious vision from the Prophets and is joined by a familiar guest.
This two-part episode sets the stage for the rest of the series. There are some big revelations and the introduction of a sometimes controversial character (Ezri). With the time jump, the episodes do a good job at catching up with all of DS9 regulars, friend and foe. Obviously an important episode in the greater Dominion War arc.
7×06 Treachery, Faith, and the Great River (Essential)
Odo receives a secret message from an old contact on Cardassia. When he arrives, he discovers Weyoun wishing to defect to the Federation. Back on the station, Nog helps O’Brien procure a graviton stabilizer through Ferengi ingenuity.
This episode plays a surprisingly important role in the series despite its fairly innocuous plotlines. Sure, Weyoun defecting to the Federation sounds big and important, but the significance is in the foreshadowing information revealed. I initially thought about marking this episode as Expanded, but ultimately I felt viewers would be lost without it.
7×07 Once More Unto the Breach (Supplementary)
Kor, the Dahar master, seeks help from his friend Worf to find an honorable death in the Dominion War. Martok, on the other hand, doesn’t particularly care for Kor, the Dahar master. After Worf appoints Kor, the Dahar master, to an officer position on the Ch’Tang, we soon discover why.
While the Dominion War plays a central role in this episode, it is truly about wrapping up the story of Kor, the Dahar master. Can the old and weathered veteran find a place of value in the Klingon Empire and earn an honorable death? If you are a fan of Kor, the Dahar master, than this is a must watch. For those looking for only the integral episodes of the series, feel free to pass on this one. But before you go, did I mention that Kor is the Dahar master?
7×08 The Siege of AR-558 (Expanded)
Sisko and the crew of the Defiant stop at AR-558 for a supply drop. But when the Defiant is attacked by Jem’Hadar fighters, Sisko and crew decided to stay on the planet to assist the units on the frontline.
This is one of the few episodes that deals directly with the horrors of the Dominion War. Most of the series takes place in space (obviously) so it’s quite interesting to get a view of the war from the perspective of the footsoldiers. While the episode doesn’t deal with the greater war effort, at least one character will deal with ramifications from the episode down the road.
The Final Chapter – 7×17 Penumbra, 7×18 ‘Til Death Do Us Part, 7×19 Strange Bedfellows, 7×20 The Changing Face of Evil, 7×21 When It Rains…, 7×22 Tacking Into the Wind, 7×23 Extreme Measures, 7×24 The Dogs of War, 7×25 What You Leave Behind
This is it. The epic 9-part serialized conclusion to the Dominion War and Deep Space Nine. These final episodes wrap up every open arc on the show and are the very definition of essential viewing. For many, these episodes are arguably the best episodes of the series. The serialization is downright pioneering in nature and the tale being told is gripping. Not much else I can say. If I were you, I would block out a day and binge from here on out.
Creating this guide took quite some time, but nothing is perfect. I would love to hear feedback. Did I miss anything? Were any episodes a complete waste of time? Let me know.
I also couldn’t have done all of this by memory, so a big thanks to the folks at the astutely named Memory Alpha for their extensive database on all things Trek. Even after rewatching every episode above, I always had the associated Memory Alpha episode entry open in another tab while writing this guide. A great resource.
And finally, for those of you who somehow made your way through 5,000+ words on the Dominion War, thank you! I hope that this guide provided some value to you. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to take a look.
All images courtesy CBS Television