With House of the Dragon soon set to debut, we’re all about to be thrown back into the world of Game of Thrones. This makes for a perfect opportunity to look back on the original series, which – despite disappointing many with its messy final season – delighted droves of fans for the better part of a decade.
There are of course numerous ways to re-engage with the beloved TV show, and we suspect many will even be re-watching it in the lead up to House of the Dragon.
In this piece, though, we want to look back on some of the highlights of the series, specifically by ranking 15 of the best Game of Thrones battles and fights throughout the eight-season run.
So without further ado, let’s draw our Valyrian blades and start with number 15…
15. Jon Snow vs. Wildlings
Season 3, The Rains Of Castamere
While Robb, Catelyn, and others are being massacred by Walder Frey at the Red Wedding, Jon Snow gets into a memorable skirmish in the North. Undercover with Wildlings, he’s tasked with executing a man who assists the Night’s Watch.
When he hesitates, the Wildlings decide that he’s still “a Crow,” and Jon is forced to defend himself –battling Tormund and (with help from an off-site Bran embodying the direwolf Summer) slaying the Wildling Orell (who wargs into his eagle seconds before dying).
It’s not a grand spectacle, but it’s a nice glimpse of Jon Snow’s prowess and an important moment in his ever-evolving friendship with Tormund, who will eventually accept him as a Crow.
Jon also gets off a satisfyingly savage GoT line as he finishes off Orell, telling him, “You were right the whole time” (regarding Orell’s suspicion that Jon was a Crow).
14. Bronn vs. Ser Vardis Egen
Season 6, A Golden Crown
Tyrion Lannister is imprisoned by Lysa Stark at the Eyrie, on suspicion of attempting to kill Bran Stark. He` manages to gain an audience with Lysa, however, and demands ‘trial by combat’ in order to gain his freedom.
His initial plan is to have his brother Jaime fight as his champion, but when Lysa refuses him this, he is forced to rely on the only present soldier willing to volunteer: Bronn the sellsword.
Bronn duels Lysa’s champion, Ser Vardis Egen, and essentially dodges his blows, repeatedly. Bronn does this until Vardis tires, at which point Bronn easily gains the upper hand – killing Vardis and pushing him out of the Moon Door.
This fight scene is somewhat thrilling and the location around said Moon Door makes it interesting. It also represents the crucial moment at which Bronn ties himself to the Lannisters.
13. Ned Stark vs. Jaime Lannister
Season 1, The Wolf and the Lion
This sword fight takes place early on, just after Ned Stark has relinquished his position as Hand of the King (refusing to take part in Robert Baratheon’s plot to assassinate Daenerys).
As Ned leaves King’s Landing, he’s diverted by Littlefinger, who sheds light on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the previous Hand (Ned’s friend Jon Arryn).
As Ned leaves Littlefinger’s company, however, he and his men are confronted by an aggressive (and still two-handed) Jaime Lannister, along with Lannister guards. Jaime wants answers regarding Tyrion’s imprisonment at Ned’s command; Jaime’s men kill Ned’s, and Jaime and Ned duel.
The fight doesn’t last long, and ends with a Lannister guard spearing Ned’s leg from behind. While it lasts though, this is one of the few duels we get to see between renowned fighters in this series.
Season 5, The Bells
Remember when the entire internet spent eight years clamoring for a one-on-one sudden-death showdown between the Clegane brothers? Well, “Cleganebowl” finally happened toward the very end, and it was simultaneously epic and disappointing.
This Game of Thrones fight scene was epic, because it was a little unlike anything we’d seen before: two monstrous men brutally dueling in a crumbling castle enveloped in flames. It was kind of like a WWE version of the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin duel in Star Wars Episode III, if anything, and that made for an engaging watch.
By the time the brothers finally had it out, there were two problems, though. First was that Gregor had by then become comical in his undead beastliness; second was that the fight was entirely inconsequential, and it seemed a foregone conclusion both would die.
We can’t call it a ‘cinematic masterpiece’, but “Cleganebowl” was enthralling in its way.
11. Ned Stark vs. Ser Arthur Dayne
Season 6, Oathbreaker
This is a past battle scene which Bran revisits alongside the Three-Eyed Raven. Immediately following Robert’s Rebellion, Ned Stark and some fellow Northmen visit the Tower of Joy, where they confront lingering members of the Mad King’s Kingsguard – including legendary swordsman Ser Arthur Dayne.
The two sides clash until only Ned and Dayne remain. Ned is defeated, but saved by a dying Howland Reed, who stabs Dayne from behind.
We suspect this is a polarizing selection, because some found the fight to be ridiculous. Dayne’s two-handed swordplay is almost goofy compared to everything else we see in GoT, which makes this long-awaited glimpse of a legend a bit underwhelming.
On the other hand, it’s a hugely significant moment in the show, ultimately leading to confirmation that Jon Snow is in fact Ned’s nephew (as it is Ned’s sister Lyanna, pregnant with Rhaegar Targaryen’s son, who is beyond Dayne in the tower).
10. Battle of Castle Black
Season 4, The Watchers on the Wall
In this battle episode, Mance Rayder is launching his full-blown assault on the Wall, while a force of Wildlings and Thenns attack Castle Black from the south.
What ensues is something of a whirlwind, during which numerous Game of Thrones characters share the spotlight. We see Alliser Thorne in command and leading combat; Ygritte, Tormund, and Styr the Thenn all do damage; and Jon Snow and even Ghost are in the thick of the action.
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It’s a stirring episode from start to finish, climaxing in Jon’s defeat (barely) of Styr, and Ygritte’s death in Jon’s arms.
We’d perhaps rank it a few spots higher, but for the fact that the battle doesn’t really settle anything, it sort of weakens both sides.
9. Daznak’s Pit Ambush
Season 5, The Dance of Dragons
This two-part battle takes place in Meereen. It begins with Daenerys, Hizdahr zo Loraq (to whom Daenerys is betrothed), Daario Naharis, and Tyrion Lannister among those watching Jorah Mormont in Meereen’s fighting pits.
Jorah struggles against multiple opponents, but is ultimately the last man standing. At that point, however, real battle ensues as dozens of members of the Sons of the Harpy (who have been plaguing Daenerys) reveal themselves throughout the arena.
The Sons of the Harpy murder Hizdahr zo Loraq and encircle the rest, with Jorah, Daario and Co. fend them off nervously. Drogon then soars onto the scene, mutilating some Sons of the Harpy and scattering the rest.
Undoubtedly one of Daenerys’ best scenes ever, it’s an entertaining and dramatic sequence, but it makes it into our top 10 on the grounds that it’s also our first true glimpse of Drogon’s potential to turn the tides of battle.
8. The Battle at Hardhome
Season 5, Hardhome
Arguably one of GoT’s most famous and biggest battles, Hardhome boils down to a scramble for two things: dragonglass (which Jon and others have discovered can kill White Walkers), and Wildlings.
Jon, Tormund, and others are at Hardhome to both save and recruit Wildlings in the coming battle against the White Walkers, only to be set upon by the Night King and his army.
This sets off a frantic escape, during which Jon and the others simultaneously work to get as many people as possible onto boats and save as much dragonglass as they can.
That’s the setup, but Hardhome ultimately resonates because of three memorable moments: a chilling glimpse of White Walker officers on a hilltop; the simultaneous realization by Jon and the Night King that Longclaw (and Valyrian steel) can fight White Walkers; and the Night King raising the dead from the battlefield.
7. Battle on the Frozen Lake
Season 7, Beyond the Wall
This epic battle takes place while Jon Snow and a company of elite fighters are north of the Wall attempting to recover a “living” wight. The idea is to prove the threat of the Night Walkers to the powers in the South – but naturally, the group winds up in a perilous situation, surrounded by countless wights on a lake of ice.
Battle ensues, and the group fights admirably but hopelessly, until Daenerys arrives in response to a message from Gendry. Dany and the dragons save the day (though Viserion is struck down by the Night King).
From the suspense in seeing our favorites battle it out, to the drama of witnessing Daenerys and her dragons arrive in the nick of time, and even seeing Dany lose one of her ‘babies’ was game-changing. It’s a spectacular event and arguably one of the greatest Game of Thrones scenes ever.
6. The Mountain vs. the Viper
Season 4, The Mountain and the Viper
The fight between the Mountain and the Viper is perhaps the most famous duel in GoT, save for Cleganebowl. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Representing Tyrion in a trial by combat (Tyrion being on trial for the murder of King Joffrey, which he did not commit), Oberyn looks to settle a score against Gregor – who raped and murdered Oberyn’s sister Elia.
The duel is a clash of styles, with Oberyn’s quickness and twirling spear up against Gregor’s thick armor and brute force. Oberyn proves to be the more capable fighter however, toying with and ultimately defeating Gregor.
When he savors his victory a little too much however, Oberyn is knocked down and brutalized by Gregor. It’s a fantastic scene, even if it involves the death of a fun character and the beginning of another’s journey toward becoming a reanimated zombie savage.
5. Brienne vs. The Hound
Season 4, The Children
We suspect ranking this above Mountain vs. Viper will be an unpopular decision. But go back and watch these two fights again – this one really is (arguably) better.
The issue here is essentially that Brienne and the Hound both feel a need to protect Arya Stark, but don’t trust one another. So, when Brienne comes upon the Hound and Arya in the midst of their travels, a duel ensues. That’s about the whole story, but it’s the quality of this Game of Thrones fight that stands out.
For a series set in a medieval fantasy realm, GoT gives us relatively few one-on-one clashes between elite, armored knights, but this one delivers.
Brienne and the Hound are fairly evenly matched (Brienne comes out on top), the fight occurs in wide open mountain terrain, and the choreography and general production are outstanding. It’s just a really enjoyable fight and one of the show’s best.
4. The Loot Train Battle
Season 7, The Spoils of War
This is perhaps less of a battle than it is a massacre. Nonetheless, it’s wholly remarkable – one of those GoT sequences that made you wonder, how in the world are they doing this on TV?
Following the sacking of Highgarden, Jaime Lannister is leading a caravan of Lannister and Tarly soldiers, as well as toting a great deal of loot. During a rest however, the caravan is ambushed by a massive Dothraki horde – as well as Daenerys herself, riding Drogon into battle in Westeros for the first time.
Despite brave leadership from Jaime, and a scorpion arrow from Bronn that wounds Drogon, the combination of Dothraki fighting prowess and Drogon’s fire is overwhelming.
The Lannisters and Tyrells are effectively slaughtered, and Jaime is almost roasted by making a last run at Dany (before Bronn tackles him into a river and out of harm’s way).
3. Battle of the Blackwater
Season 2, Blackwater
In this relatively early Game of Thrones battle, Stannis Baratheon attacks King’s Landing from the sea, with much of the Lannister army away – and Tyrion in charge of defenses.
The stage is set for a rout, but for the Lannisters’ clever scheme of sending a single ship to bleed wildfire into Blackwater Bay. A flaming arrow from Bronn ignites the wildfire and destroys half of Stannis’ fleet, making for an astonishing visual spectacle.
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The real battle takes place on land however, where Stannis still nearly has the force to overcome King’s Landing. Yet, spirited leadership from Tyrion rallies the defenders, such that they hold off the Baratheons until Lord Tywin Lannister arrives with reinforcements.
It’s a brilliant sequence, one of GoT’s more fascinating tactical battles, and a shining moment for the beloved Tyrion – who rallies his men with his memorable quote, “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!”
2. The Night King vs. Everyone
Season 8, The Long Night
The ultimate clash between the dead and an unlikely alliance of the living takes place at Winterfell, and it’s almost impossible to recap.
Jon and Dany ride dragons, Melisandre wields magic, the Dothraki are massacred, and the Unsullied hold off waves of wights as long as they can. The undead ice dragon Viserion nearly slays Jon, Jorah is wounded defending Dany, and Theon dies bravely guarding Bran from the Night King himself – and all of this barely scratches the surface.
There are fair criticisms of this episode – namely that the battle is quite literally too dark to see at times. But it’s important to remember what it was like to see it for the first time, and to experience the thrill of Arya’s ultimate triumph over the Night King (and by extension his army).
1. The Battle of the Bastards
Season 6, Battle of the Bastards
The Battle of the Bastards sees Jon Snow and an army of Wildlings seeking to retake Winterfell (and rescue Rickon) from Ramsay Bolton.
The action kicks off with the iconic moment when Rickon is “freed” and shot down with an arrow at Jon’s feet, leading Jon to draw his sword alone against Ramsay’s charging army. Once his own army catches up however, the two forces clash and chaos begins.
Ramsay ruthlessly orders arrows rained down on both armies, effectively creating barricades that enable his cavalry to encircle Jon’s forces. All is nearly lost before an army from the Vale arrives, with Sansa Stark and Littlefinger in command. Jon is saved and charges Winterfell with only Tormund and the giant Wun-Wun. The giant breaks down the door, enabling Jon to confront and overcome Ramsay face to face.
There may not be a battle scene that’s been executed better in film or TV. The Battle of the Bastards contains heartbreak and heroism, desperation and despair, tactical intrigue (inspired by real-life events), political urgency, personal vengeance, and spectacular action.
It’s a flawless war episode (and one of the most expensive TV episodes), and thus our pick as the best Game of Thrones battle in a series full of great ones.
While we suspect many will quibble with the order one way or another, looking back on these terrific duels and battles ultimately makes for an excellent reminder of the things that made Game of Thrones so remarkable.
Disappointing last season or not, this was a show that captured the public’s imagination in an unprecedented way, and it was often these epic battle and fight scenes that drove the narrative, ramped up the intrigue, and advanced the relationships between the characters and the audience.
Here’s hoping House of the Dragon can produce some similarly wonderful action!
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