'Game Of Thrones': Ranking the major battles so far

Jon Snow faces down the enemy in The Battle of the Bastards. (HBO)

It was recently reported by Watchers on the Wall that the Game Of Thrones crew just completed a gargantuan 55 day shoot for an upcoming battle sequence in Season 8. To put that time frame into context, the longest shoot to date was for the ‘Battle of the Bastards’, which lasted for a mere 25 days.

The show’s central premise of powerful families vying for control of the Iron Throne has ensured a huge volume of violent encounters over the years. Due to budgetary constraints of course, some of these battles had to happen off screen, such as the Battle of the Green Fork during the War of the Five Kings.

Others meanwhile were fairly one-sided affairs and involved minimal actual conflict, such as the Lannister taking of Highgarden and most of Daenerys’ victories in Slaver’s Bay.

However, when the show has crafted full-on battle sequences, it has provided some of Game Of Thrones most memorable moments:

5. The Battle of Castle Black (S4 E9 – ‘The Watchers On The Wall’)

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) faces down Styr the Magnar of Thenn (HBO).

The Battle of Castle Black saw the depleted men of the Night’s Watch holding back the vast might of Mance Rayder’s wildling army. The long-held animosity between the wildlings and the Watch was building up to this moment for several seasons and when it finally arrived, chaos ensued.

The entire episode is incredibly cinematic, the cover of darkness adding an even greater level of intensity to the atmosphere. Jon Snow’s dispatching of Styr is a definite highlight, as is Grenn’s spirited last stand in the tunnel beneath the wall. However, it’s the shot of Jon holding a dying Ygritte in his arms while all havoc swirls around them that lingers the longest. It’s a breathless and visually stunning battle which firmly cemented Jon’s heroic credentials for the first time.

4. The Battle of the Blackwater (S2 E9 – ‘Blackwater’)

Wildfire arrives in Game Of Thrones at the Battle of the Blackwater. (HBO)

This epic struggle for control of King’s Landing was the show’s first large-scale battle sequence and remains one of its most tense and action-packed episodes yet. As Stannis’ army closed in on the capital, they looked all set to claim victory and drive the Lannisters out for good.

Throughout the battle, Tyrion showed he had the courage to match his intelligence. He deftly masterminded the defence of the city while King Joffrey merely cowered in fear. Tyrion not only rallied the beleaguered troops with a fiery speech, but also masterminded the dramatic wildfire attack which initially tipped the balance in their favour. This explosive maneuver kick-started the conflict and also served as a stunning and unexpected visual for us viewers.  

The trope of having an army turn up at the last moment to turn the tide of battle is one which the show would revisit on several occasions, but never again this effectively.

3. The Battle of the Goldroad (S7 E4 – ‘The Spoils of War’)

Drogon lays waste to the Lannister forces. (HBO)

This deadly battle served as a huge statement of intent from Daenerys and also served as a severe wake-up call to the Lannisters. Shot in broad daylight, it not only required impressive levels of CGI, but also incorporated a huge volume of extras. The sequence as a whole demonstrated just how extensive the show’s production had now become.

There was little or no build up to this battle, it simply exploded from nowhere in a flurry of violence and destruction.  The Lannister army led by Jaime and Bronn was returning with the spoils of war from Highgarden, when a loud rumbling in the distance grabs their attention. Moments later, a horde of Dothraki screamers rampages in to view followed by Daenerys herself riding Drogon overhead.

The end result was a truly impressive spectacle to watch unfold. The battle split loyalties among viewers who can’t help but root for Bronn and Jaime, and it undoubtedly also demonstrated the crucial role that dragons will play in the wars to come.  

2. Hardhome (S5 E8 – ‘Hardhome’)

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) faces down a White Walker. (HBO)

The arrival of the Night King and his army of the undead at Hardhome is a masterclass in slow-building tension. The gradual realisation on the faces of Jon and his men is captured perfectly as the storm clouds on the horizon move ever closer. When the whites do eventually attack,  they deliver a relentless onslaught of violence that engulfs the entire village.

When the battle commences, the sheer ferocity of it all shows just how petty the squabbles of men will prove to be in the face of such force. The whole event was nerve-shredding to watch unfold and that final shot of the Night King staring Jon down before raising the dead back to life is simply stunning.  Jon may once again prove himself as a leader of men, but it’s the terrifying power of the Night King which hits hardest.

1. Battle of the Bastards (S6 E9 – ‘The Battle of the Bastards’)

The chaos of the Battle of the Bastards. (HBO)

The Battle of the Bastards is comfortably the current benchmark for large-scale action on TV. The season 6 showdown sees Jon’s bedraggled northern alliance facing down Ramsay Bolton’s Lannister-backed army in a desperate attempt to reclaim Winterfell.

The battle is an intense, horrifying and utterly gripping frenzy of action from start to finish. Thanks to some incredible direction, we as viewers are completely immersed into the ongoing melee. You practically feel every hack, lunge and splatter of mud. The battle also masterfully builds suspense as the desperate plight of the grossly outnumbered northern army grows steadily worse.

The grim horrors of war are laid bare throughout, with dead bodies soon completely clogging up the field of battle. The harrowing shots of Jon and his army getting penned in and crushed beneath the weight of fallen comrades was especially well executed. It was a blood-soaked battle between good and evil that has set the bar seriously high for whatever season 8 now has in store.

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