The cast of One Tree Hill is who we want standing next to Us when all our dreams come true
The WB series, which moved to the CW after the WB was discontinued, has become a mainstay in the pop culture zeitgeist since its premiere in 2003. Set in the town of the fictional Tree Hill, North Carolina, the show follows two estranged half-brothers Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan (James Lafferty) as they navigate sharing a town — and a basketball team — while dealing with their malicious father, Dan Scott (Paul Johansson).
Hilarie Burton Morgan, Bethany Joy Lenz, Sophia Bush, Moira Kelly, Lee Norris, Barbara Alyn Woods and Craig Sheffer rounded out the rest of the show’s main cast, delivering an endless amount of high school drama before jumping four years ahead for its final five seasons.
While the series is beloved by fans, the show was often a tumultuous experience for its actors. The women of the series went public with harassment allegations against creator Mark Schwahn in 2017. While Schwann never addressed the accusations, Morgan, Lenz and Bush created their OTH rewatch podcast, “Drama Queens,” in 2021 to reclaim their time on the series and reframe it in an empowering way.
“The show itself is a thing that we have had all these mixed emotions about for so long,” Bush told Variety in July 2021. “This is an opportunity for us to lean into everything that was good and we’re going to take back everything that should have been better. To be in that position of empathetic power feels really good. Because there was no one in power who showed us all that much empathy, and we want to do it differently.”
It’s impossible to narrow One Tree Hill’s most iconic moments down to 10 — but keep scrolling to see Us try.
‘First of All, You Don’t Know Me’
The line that changed it all. After Peyton’s (Morgan) car breaks down in the series premiere, Lucas arrives to tow it back to his Uncle Keith’s (Sheffer) auto shop. The interaction between the two characters is the foundation for their six-season love story, which begins with Lucas pining over Peyton — despite the fact she’s dating his brother, Nathan.
While Lucas and Peyton are twin flames from the start, Peyton initially tries to keep her distance. “First of all, you don’t know me. Second of all, you don’t know me,” she tells him. That doesn’t stop him from trying to get her art published — sparking a romance for the ages.
The famous piece of dialogue would come back around in season 6 when the pair drive back to the spot and reminisce about their first conversation on the night before their wedding.
The Season 1 Finale That Subverted Expectations
While the game where Lucas misses the winning shot may not initially seem like a contender for the most iconic OTH moment, “The Games That Play Us” was expertly crafty in subverting fan expectations. When else has the main character lost in the final few seconds?
In addition to Lucas’ letdown, the relationship shift between Nathan and Lucas comes to a head. After a season of being at odds, the brothers bond over their mutual hatred for their father — who is now coaching their team. Elsewhere in the episode, Haley and Nathan sleep together for the first time — and get married! — Brooke and Peyton make peace after feuding over Lucas, and Lucas decides to move to Charleston with Keith after the shame of losing the game.
Lucas does get one win. He gets to show off his new blank basketball jersey — sans the Scott moniker — to his father.
When Jake Shows Up Right As Peyton Tires to Buy Cocaine
After leaving Tree Hill to protect his daughter, Jenny, from her estranged mother, Nikki (Emmanuelle Vaugier), Jake (Bryan Greenberg) returns to town in season 2 just as a lost and lonely Peyton — who has been missing Jake since his departure — is about to buy cocaine.
As Peyton approaches her dealer, the scene cuts to a pair of feet walking down the street. While viewers initially assume they’ll see Lucas coming toward her — thinking the two might be reigniting their season 1 romance — the camera pans up to reveal Jake. He later reveals Luke was the one to call him after being worried about Peyton’s well-being.
At home, Jake realizes he wants to bring his daughter back to Tree Hill for good. They move in with Peyton, sparking the beginning of the pair’s romantic arc together. “I think it stopped raining,” Jake says in Peyton’s bedroom as a thunderstorm clears. “Yeah, I think maybe it did,” Peyton replies, smiling.
Jake and Peyton weren’t endgame, but he brought Peyton back to life — and was essential to her journey.
Haley and Nathan’s 1st Rain Kiss — and Every 1 After That, Too
We dare you to move after this iconic moment. To fully understand the momentous rain motif that existed throughout Nathan and Haley’s romance, one has to rewind back to their first kiss outside of Haley’s house in season 1.
After a disastrous first date — where Nathan reveals he started flirting with Haley to get back at Lucas — Nathan shows up to apologize. As Haley goes off on him for his mistakes, he cuts her off by kissing her mid-sentence as Swichfoot’s “Dare You to Move” roars in the background.
Later in the season, Nathan shows back up after the two have another fight over Nathan keeping pictures of his ex Peyton on his computer. He confesses his love to her in the rain and the pair share another passionate kiss. Over the next nine seasons, Haley and Nathan would continue to have rainfall during their most romantic moments — including the first time they sleep together, when they reunite after breaking up and during the series finale.
Dan Shoots Keith
Not every moment on this list can be a joyous one, but Dan shooting Keith during the season 3 episode “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept” undoubtedly changed the course of the series forever. While the majority of the hour was spent with the Tree Kill kids on lockdown after Jimmy Edwards (Colin Fickes) brings a gun to school — and shoots Peyton in the leg — the final moments shocked fans forever.
Keith enters the school trying to save Jimmy — and ensure Lucas can bring an injured Peyton to safety — but can’t stop him before he shoots himself. When Dan joins them in the hallway, Keith thinks his estranged brother is there to help him. However, with his jealousy and anger toward his brother bubbling over the edge, Dan takes the gun and shoots Keith, wrongly blaming his death on Jimmy.
Lucas and Brooke’s Big Fight — and Brooke’s Fist on Rachel’s Face
In the third episode of season 3, Brooke (Bush) finds Lucas — who she’s dating non-exclusively — in the car with a naked Rachel (Danneel Ackles) in the backseat. After punching Rachel in the face, Brooke tries to storm off but Lucas stops her, confused on why she’s angry if this is what she “wanted.”
“What I wanted? I wanted you to fight for me. I wanted you to say that there is no one that you could ever be with and you’d rather be alone than be without me,” Brooke, still hurt from him cheating on her in season 1, says to Lucas. “I wanted the Lucas Scott from the beach that night, telling the world that he’s the one for me.”
“How was I supposed to know that?” he asks, to which she replies, “You just are.”
The scene is later paralleled season 3 episode 13, “The Wind That Blew Me Away,” when the pair fight in a thunderstorm after Lucas calls her the same affectionate name he used to call Peyton.
Following Brooke out into the rain, Lucas goes on to list all the things he adores about her. “I can’t say anything bad about Peyton, she’s my friend. She’s your best friend. The truth is I care about Peyton. The difference is I love you, Brooke. I want to be with you, not Peyton,” he tells her. “Because you kink your eyebrow when you’re trying to be cute. Because you quote [Albert] Camus even though I’ve never actually seen you read. And because you miss your parents but you’ll never ever admit that. And because I’ve given exactly two of these embarrassing speeches in my life, and they’ve both been to you.”
While they may not have gone the distance as a couple, the moment remains one of the most romantic — and well-earned — in OTH history.
“How was I supposed to know that?” he asks, to which she replies, “You just are.”
When Nathan Gets to Narrate
Season 3 continued to bring epic episodes with “Everyday Is a Sunday Evening,” which marked the first time another character besides Lucas narrated an episode.
This hour belonged to Nathan, who leads his basketball team to victory in the Coastal Classic. With Lucas sidelined because of his heart condition, Nathan steps up as solo team captain. Facing his biggest rival in the finals, he finds himself shooting a free throw — something he and Dan practiced hundreds of times when he was a kid.
As “Unsatisfied” by The Replacements plays as his soundtrack, Nathan takes the final shot, turning away from the basket and shooting while smiling and staring directly into the eyes of the opposite team
“Stepping up. It’s a simple concept. It basically means to rise above yourself; to do a little more, to show you something special. Something like this. Lucas is gone, but that doesn’t mean the season is over. As a matter of fact, I say it’s just beginning. You might want to stay out of my way for a while,” Nathan’s voice over says during the game. “Life’s funny sometimes; can push pretty hard like when you fall in love with someone but they forget to love you back, like when your best friend and your boyfriend leave you alone, like when you pull the trigger or light the flame and you can’t take it back. Like I said, in sports they call this ‘stepping up’. In life, I call it ‘pushing back.”
Brooke Slaps Peyton Over Lucas — Because He’s on the Door
The season 3 finale brings major revelations. Peyton realizes while visiting Jake in Savannah, Georgia that she’s still in love with Lucas — who is once again dating her best friend. Not wanting to repeat the same mistakes she made in season 1, she confesses to Brooke that she still has feelings for Lucas causing a huge fight between the BFFs.
When Brooke — who has been living at Peyton’s house — returns to gather her things, she questions why Peyton couldn’t just stay quiet about her feelings. “He’s on the door Peyton, he’s on the damn door next to me,” she yells, referring to the list they wrote in season 2 to avoid wanting to date the same guy twice.
When Peyton questions if Brooke even loves Lucas, Brooke slaps her before declaring their friendship over. It’s harsh – but Breyton find their way back together in the end.
Naley’s 2nd Wedding
Fake pregnancy announcements, murder attempt confessions, people drowning, breakups and friend fights — Haley and Nathan’s second wedding is filled with drama.
Rachel lies and tells Uncle Cooper (Michael Trucco) that she’s pregnant with his baby and the pair go flying off a bridge in a limo. Nathan and Haley witness the accident and Nathan jumps in after them, only to see the ghost of Keith while underwater. Deb (Woods) also reveals to Dan that she was the one who tried to murder him, while Brooke and Lucas finally called it quits for good.
Despite their relationship being fractured for awhile, the breakup is heartbreaking and results in one of the best performances of the show by Bush.
There’s also romance, however, and fans get to witness Haley and Nathan’s nuptials, which were done off-screen in season 1. It’s a fulfilling moment after the couple’s endless trials and tribulations of seasons 2 and 3.
When Lucas Realizes It’s Always Been Peyton
After four seasons — and one very complicated love triangle — Lucas finally realizes that Peyton is the girl for him.
In juxtaposition to the season 1 finale, Lucas scores the winning shot at the state championship for the Ravens. With confetti falls and everyone celebrates, Lucas listens to his heart. “It’s you,” he tells Peyton in the middle of the basketball court. “The one I want next to me when all my dreams come true. It’s you.”
The pair kiss and the rest is history.