By Amy Skorheim
George RR Martin once wrote for television. He left after constantly being told his scripts were too big, too expensive to film. So he wrote a series of books with as many characters, settings, battles, and dragons as he wanted. Then HBO turned those books into Game of Thrones, going all-in on the concepts of big and expensive.
Before the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, we’re looking back over the ten best battles the show has given us. Epic. Thrilling. Disheartening. But never pointless. Each battle has served to propel the saga along. And while we all want to know how everything turns out, none of us want this show to end.
[SPOILERS AHEAD: We’re talking about events from seasons one through seven.]
Season 5, Episode 10: “Mother’s Mercy”
It’s a small battle, and it’s over quickly. Stannis has done the unthinkable, sacrificing his daughter so the Lord of Light will melt the snow and he can advance on the Bolton-held Winterfell. The snow did indeed melt. But a big chunk of Stannis’s army decided the last Baratheon had gone a shade too far in murdering his own kid. His remaining army is dispatched quickly. After, there’s a little catharsis in his death, when Brienne finally gets to uphold her promise to avenge her beloved Renly's death.
Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”
It’s a battle we don’t even get to see. The show takes us to the fight between the Lannisters and the Stark army with Tyrion as our point of reference, but the Half Man gets knocked out before a single sword is swung. Of course the reason for just presenting the lead up and aftermath was first-season budgetary constraints. But the Green Fork battle gave us an appreciation for Robb Stark’s tactical abilities, tricking the Lannister army and capturing Jaime Lannister in the Whispering Wood.
Season 5, Episode 9: “The Dance of Dragons”
Daenerys and her entourage thought they were watching gladiatorial games, not entering battle. Then the Sons of the Harpy attack. Outnumbered and surrounded, Dany, Missandei, Tyrion, Jorah and Daario stand in the middle of the arena, and in a show that doesn’t mind killing off good people (this episode especially) there’s a moment when we think maybe all is lost. But. Then. Drogon. The dragon saves them all and the moment we’ve wanted for five seasons finally, awesomely arrives. Daenerys Stormborn rides a dragon.
Season 7, Episode 2: “Stormborn”
Fire, smoke, chaos everywhere. The fully maniacal Euron Greyjoy attacks his niece Yara’s ships as she sails to sack King’s Landing. The ensuing battle is brutal and visceral and does not turn out well for Yara or the Sand Snakes. Sadly but perhaps wisely, Reek returns and Theon abandons his sister and jumps ship.
Season 4, Episode 9: “The Watchers on the Wall”
This wasn’t the first time the show devoted an entire episode to a battle (we’ll get to that in a minute). When the Wildlings set upon the Crows at the wall, we get a slew of great character moments (Thorne being not-terrible, Jon being a leader, Ygritte and Jon’s short-lived reunion smile) plus truly great battle shots (giants and mammoths, Jon fighting the Thenn, Ghost’s attack, and an awesome 360° view of the battle). Then in a quiet moment in the middle of it all, Ygritte says goodbye to Jon — who still knows nothing.
Season 5, Episode 8: “Hardhome”
Jon’s decision to ally with the Wildlings against the White Walkers was a tough one. Bringing the Wildlings to the Wall was even tougher. As Jon and Tormund load their new allies on boats to carry them south of the wall, the army of the undead attacks. A few thousand Wildlings manage to escape and Jon learns that Valyrian steel can kill White Walkers, but those minor wins are overshadowed when the Night King raises every one of the dead, adding them to his already massive force.
Season 7, Episode 4: “Spoils of war”
After the Lannisters and Tarlys sack Highgarden, their armies have a lot of loot to carry back to King’s Landing. Unfortunately for them, a Dothraki horde descends upon their army — followed by a dragon. Bronn manages to wound Drogon with a shot from Qyburn's giant crossbow, but the loss is devastating for the Lannisters. After more than a century, dragons have returned to the battlefield in Westeros.
Own the moment dragons returned to the battlefield with a framed fine-art print.
Season 7, Episode 6: “Beyond the Wall”
Take a group of fan-favorite characters and send them beyond the wall to capture a wight. What could go wrong? Start with a zombie polar bear attack and end up with the raiding party surrounded by legions of undead as they await their fate on a frozen island. Thanks to Gendry’s impressive running ability, Daenerys is alerted and shows up with all three dragons, allowing an escape. (Will we ever tire of last minute dragon rescues? No.) Seeing Visceron die was horrible. Seeing him rise as an undead ice dragon was horrifying.
Remember the frozen lake with a limited-edition print for your wall.
Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater”
After budget constraints forced battles off-screen in season one (Green Fork, Oxcross, Whispering Woods) the showrunners were very careful to make sure we saw a properly epic battle in season two. They did not disappoint. Using an entire episode to show the battle — and sticking to one location for the first time — we got to see a battle worth the wait.
We get: Tyrion’s tactical prowess and his rousing “let’s go kill them” speech. Stannis at the front of the charge. The terrible beauty of the green wildfire show. Bronn saving the Hound. Podrick saving Tyrion. And big daddy Tywin saving them all.
Season 6, Episode 9: “Battle of the Bastards”
The best battle took place in what might be the best episode of the show and delivered everything you could ask for: spectacle, satisfaction, stunning visuals. It will be a long time before anyone forgets Jon Snow standing alone, facing a charging calvary, or his climb out of the growing pile of the fallen.
A last minute cavalry save, giant vs drawbridge, Ramsay and Jon one on one in a bastard showdown — every bit of the battle was thrilling to watch. And in the end, everyone’s least favorite character finally gets his due, which was possibly the best bit of revenge in a show that’s very good at passing it out.
Own a piece of Game of Thrones history with a limited-edition, fine-art print from our official collection. Each print is hand-framed, numbered and fully licensed by HBO. See our entire Game of Thrones collection here.