The Definitive Ranking of the Best Battles in Game of Thrones
Despite what Ian McShane once said, Game of Thrones isn't just "tits and dragons"—it also has really, really impressive (and very massive) scraps.
With more to come this season, we've ranked all the most significant battles, in order, counting down to the very best.
8| Battle of the Green Fork - "Baelor" (season 1, episode 9)
You might not remember this one, mainly because we didn't actually get to see it on the show. Back in the days when Game of Thrones had to worry about things like budget, the showrunners decided to have this one happen off-screen—Tyrion Lannister, the eyes of the audience, was knocked out before he had a chance to take part.
It does sort of make sense, in context—the point wasn't to show a bunch of enemies scrapping, but to demonstrate Robb Stark's tactical know-how, with the clash being a mere distraction from his real plan. But still, we'd like to have seen a bit of it.
7| The Battle of Yunkai - "The Rains of Castamere" (season 3, episode 9)
Despite having a contract with the Wise Masters of Yunkai, Daario Naharis decides to chop his mates' heads off, before planning an attack on their city, leading Jorah and Grey Worm in what appears to be a suicidal attack.
But the three men succeed, forcing hordes of armed guards to surrender and handing the city, plus its newly freed slaves, to their new Mhysa, Daenerys.
This one's mainly fun because the odds were stacked so highly against our heroes.
6| The Battle of the Fist of the First Men - "Valar Dohaeris" (season 3, episode 1)
Another off-screen battle (we see the lead-up, but not the main events) from the early days of the show, which still wasn't confident enough to portray the first open confrontation between men and White Walkers since the Long Night, over 8,000 years prior.
Still, the sequence might be all build-up, but what build-up—intense, surreal, and truly terrifying, this was our most significant look at the White Walkers yet, while still only giving a taste of the menace they'd deliver in later seasons.
5| Battle of Winterfell - "Mother's Mercy" (season 5, episode 10)
One of the briefer, and more frustrating, battles—he might've been battling Ramsay's forces, but Stannis Baratheon's combination of bad planning and daughter-burning diminished audience sympathy to such an extent we didn't know who to root for.
Still, at least we got to see this one—and there's no denying the beauty of the cinematography or the brilliance of the choreography, as the Boltons secured their grip on Winterfell against Stannis' advancing armies, in a gloriously shot sequence.
4| Battle of Castle Black - "The Watchers on the Wall" (season 4, episode 9)
Now this is more like it. A battle so good it took a whole episode to portray the first night of fighting alone. Neil Marshall's stunningly timed set-pieces made us feel like we were in the middle of one of the most chaotic scraps so far seen on Thrones.
The set-up was simple: the Wildlings were invading Castle Black and the men of the Night's Watch had to hold them off until help arrived. But from that basic premise, one of the greatest Thrones episodes ever was born—with twists, shocks and tragic deaths around every corner. If would be the top battle, and probably episode, on any other show, but there's plenty of competition on Thrones.
3| Massacre at Hardhome - "Hardhome" (season 5, episode 8)
Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane and other men of the Night's Watch arrive at the Wildling town of Hardhome, in an attempt to convince the inhabitants to join them in the fight against the White Walkers. Unfortunately for them, Jon and co have timed their visit fairly terribly—just in time for a massive invasion of Wights, let by the Night King.
Cut to some awesome action, including Jon scrambling to fight a White Walker warrior, and accidentally attracting the attention of the Night King himself—enough to inspire a terrifying demonstration of bravado from the creature, two raised arms, that has already become iconic.
2| Battle of Blackwater - "Blackwater" (season 2, episode 9)
BOOM. That's our one-word review of this particular scrap. Oh, alright, we'll go into a bit more detail.
Thrones' first proper battle (no off-screen action here) is still one of its very best—the first true sign that this show could compete with the biggest blockbusters. It depicts the first thwarted Stannis invasion (man, that dude really was a bit rubbish at this stuff, wasn't he?), as the would-be king attempts to invade King's Landing and is seen off by Tyrion's tactical genius, and Tywin's substantial army.
But the best bit by far is the one you can watch above—Tyrion's wildfire trap, which is still one of the smartest and best-portrayed effects set-pieces on the show, right up until the most-recent episode, 'Stormborn.'
1| Battle of the Bastards - "Battle of the Bastards" (season 6, episode 9)
It couldn't be anything else, really. 'The Battle of the Bastards' is the pinnacle of Thrones' war mastery—the perfect coalescence of character and astonishing fight choreography, a battle in which we cared so passionately about the outcome, we felt on the edge of a heart attack for the entire duration.
Using several cinematic influences, director Miguel Sapochnik throws us into the fray—we felt each blow of the sword, each strike of the arrow, and we felt crushed by the bodies weighing down on Jon (a smart reversal of season three's closing shots, which saw Daenerys held aloft by her slaves). Here, Jon's not carried by his followers, he's smothered by them.
Then, when Littlefinger's army of The Vale arrived to turn the tide, we felt the relief every bit as readily as Snow.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.