This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Warning: contains major Game of Thrones spoilers.
“Don’t get into any fights. But if you do, win.” – Rickard Stark
Game Of Thrones may frequently be referred to as the show about “tits and dragons,” but brutal fight scenes and a high body count are just as important to the show’s tone and to its success. Here, we celebrate 30 of the best – and it should be noted, there are so many fantastic fight scenes in this show, we had to leave out some great ones.
We’ve gone for a fairly loose definition of “fight” here. To qualify, an example has to be an actual fight, with both sides standing a chance, both getting in a few jabs, and having some ability to defend themselves, whoever eventually wins. Murder, mass murder, murder-by-dragon and successfully defending oneself against attempted murder in your father’s bedroom are all not quite what we’re looking for. Apart from anything else, if we included every kind of violence, the list would have to be three times as long as it already is. We’ve also left off Arya killing the Night King, because although that was awesome, it was a sudden and very quick assassination, not a fight as such. The fight does not have to be to the death, and a surprising number aren’t. Murder is sometimes more effective than an open attack or duel in the world of Game Of Thrones.
30. Arya Stark and Nymeria vs Joffrey Baratheon
Season 1, Episode 2: “The Kingsroad”
This one’s not a great fight in terms of the action, but it is significant. This is the fight that makes Sansa and Arya, sisters who didn’t like each other much in the first place, into enemies. It’s the fight that ensures Arya hates both Joffrey and the Hound, and that results in Nymeria being sent away and the death of Lady, depriving both Stark girls of their direwolves in one fell swoop. It’s also extremely satisfying seeing Joffrey get bitten by Nymeria, despite the dire consequences.
Who wins? Nymeria.
To the death? Not the fight itself, but it indirectly causes the deaths of Lady and Mycah.
29. Theon Greyjoy vs Harrag
Season 7, Episode 7: “The Dragon And The Wolf”
From season three to five, Theon Greyjoy was transformed from a cocky, selfish, shagabout into pitiful, broken creature Reek by the monstrous Ramsay Bolton. When Theon helped Sansa Stark to escape Winterfell in the season five finale, it marked a change in him. Over the next two seasons, he would leave snivelling Reek behind and start to become the sort of man Ned Stark might even be proud to call his ward. This fight was the moment Theon became that man. He stood up to Harrag, realized his weakness was in fact, a strength, and vowed to atone for his previous cowardice by rescuing his sister. There’s no fancy swordplay or gymnastics between these two Ironborn, at best, this is a pub car park-level scrap, but character-wise, it’s a crucial one for Theon and as ever, brilliantly acted by Alfie Allen. For Yara!
Who wins? Theon.
To the death? Harrag doesn’t look as though he’ll be going reaving anytime soon.
28. Khal Drogo vs Mago
Season 1, Episode 8: “The Pointy End”
This is a great fight sequence, particularly Drogo’s dramatic finish, ripping out Mago’s tongue via his throat. However, it loses points for Drogo’s sheer stupidity in deliberately walking into Mago’s sword and getting a deep cut just to look macho, when he must have seen enough battles to know that, in a world without antiseptics, any wound can become infected and end up being fatal. It’s not big and it’s not clever, Drogo.
Who wins? Khal Drogo.
To the death? Yes.
27. Arya Stark vs the Waif
Season 6, Episode 8: “No One”
This is an exciting sequence, making us genuinely fear for a fan favorite character and taking us all over the city of Braavos as the Waif chases Arya down. It also gains points for Arya’s clever use of her earlier training to lure the Waif into the dark and fight her there. However, the sequence loses points for a lack of plausibility – any other character on this show who had been stabbed in the gut like that would either have died, or needed to be nursed back to life by a kind healthy person – and for Arya’s own stupidity leading to the fight in the first place, as she stands around openly in the middle of Braavos, without bothering with any kind of disguise, knowing the Faceless Men are after her.
Who wins? Arya Stark.
To the death? Yes.
26. Jon Snow vs Tormund Giantsbane, Orell and other Wildlings
Season 3, Episode 9: “The Rains Of Castamere”
“The Rains Of Castamere” is better known for a different fight, but that scene, devastating as it is, isn’t so much a ‘fight’ as a ‘merciless slaughter of unsuspecting, unarmed people’. If you’re looking for a fight sequence, you want this one, as Jon Snow takes on all his Wildling friends and foes and breaks up with Ygritte in a particularly harsh manner that leads her to shoot him full of arrows shortly afterwards. The most satisfying moment has to be Jon’s reassurance to Orell as he kills him that “You were right all along”.
Who wins? Jon Snow is still alive at the end of it, so that’s probably a win. But no one really wins here, though Orell definitely loses.
To the death? In one case, yes.
25. Samwell Tarly, Gilly and Ghost vs Night’s Watchmen
Season 5, Episode 7: “The Gift”
Although there’s more blood and gore in many other fights on the show, this one is particularly brutal in a different way. Poor Gilly, the child of an extremely abusive household, just can’t catch a break wherever she goes and she is assaulted yet again by two unpleasant Night’s Watchmen, while Sam is brave but not entirely equipped to hold off two other men in a fistfight. Thank goodness for Ghost.
Who wins? Ghost. But Sam gets a pretty badass boast in there and Gilly’s not going down easy herself.
To the death? Probably not, though no one really cares what happens to these guys.
24. Ser Jorah Mormont vs Qotho
Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”
During the first season, there was a small running thread throughout Danaerys’ scenes made up of comparing the Westerosi and Dothraki lifestyles and ways of fighting. This is important for Danaerys’ character development, as she aims eventually to rule over both peoples, but it also rests on an interesting practical question about the merits of fighting free vs wearing heavy armor. Heavy armor certainly wins here, as Ser Jorah’s saves his life and allows him to get rid of the sulky Qotho using his Westerosi fighting style.
Who wins? Ser Jorah.
To the death? Yes.
23. Ser Jaime Lannister vs Euron Greyjoy
Season 8, Episode 5: “The Bells”
Honestly, this was not the way we wanted Jaime Lannister to go out, running back to his sister-lover and having to stop to swat the pesky fly that was Euron Greyjoy on the way. But it’s a brutal and well designed fight scene nevertheless, and shockingly allows Euron to land a fatal blow before Jaime manages to finish him off – though in the end a pile of rocks took the honour of actually killing Jaime Lannister before he could succomb to the wound.
Who wins? Jaime Lannister.
To the death? Yes, both of them (that stab wound was not survivable).
22. Jon Snow vs Ramsey Bolton
Season 6, Episode 9: “The Battle Of The Bastards”
The greater part of this battle is devoted to a general melee, our heroes slashing, hacking and swinging heavy things at enemies all around them. Towards the end, however, following the arrival of the Knights of the Vale and the Snow/Stark victory, Jon Snow storms the castle and is finally able to confront the man who seized his home, murdered his brother and raped his sister. Naturally, he proceeds to give him a thorough beat down. At last!
Who wins? Jon Snow.
To the death? No – Jon decides to allow Sansa to finish off the little toad instead.
21. Brienne of Tarth vs Ser Loras Tyrell
Season 2, Episode 3: “What Is Dead May Never Die”
When we first approach this fight, following Catelyn Stark into Renly Baratheon’s camp, it doesn’t look like anything special – two knights fighting each other in a spectacle for an audience, not a serious duel. However, one of these knights, who is very tall, stands out for throwing Loras to the ground and pointing a knife at his throat, rather than accepting defeat when disarmed of sword. This turns out to be not a knight at all, but a woman, and this is the fight that gets her onto Renly’s Kingsguard, over the objections of pretty much everyone else. As an introduction to a major character, this is a pretty good one.
Who wins? Brienne of Tarth.
To the death? No.
20. Brienne of Tarth vs three unpleasant Stark soldiers
Season 2, Episode 10: “Valar Morghulis”
Another show of strength from Brienne, who manages to impress a snarky, weary and thoroughly ticked off Jaime Lannister with her reaction to coming across three extremely unpleasant Stark soldiers on the road to King’s Landing. Pro tip: do not boast to Brienne of having murdered three women, giving them “two slow deaths” – you will find yourself on the receiving end of the third death. For romantics, this is also pretty much the beginning of Jaime’s admiration for Brienne. He likes a girl who can fight.
Who wins? Brienne of Tarth.
To the death? Yes.
19. Ser Beric Dondarrion vs Sandor Clegane
Season 3, Episode 6: “Kissed By Fire”
This one came as a nasty shock to Arya, desperate for revenge for her friend Mycah. You’d think that a man attacking the Hound, who has a deathly fear of fire, with a flaming sword would have an advantage. Unfortunately for Arya, Sandor Clegane is extremely difficult to kill, and the Hound’s ability to fight back despite his obvious terror and burning shield is impressive. Luckily for Ser Beric, he happens to have a Red Priest on hand as his revival immediately following the fight is as impressive as the fight itself.
Who wins? Sandor Clegane.
To the death? Yes, but it doesn’t stick.
18. Brienne of Tarth and Ser Jaime Lannister vs a bear
Season 3, Episode 7: “The Bear And The Maiden Fair”
OK, so calling this a “fight” is stretching it a bit, as they’re mostly just escaping the bear. However, Brienne was fighting it with a wooden sword when Jaime got there, and keen to keep going (her initial response to his command to “get behind me” is “I will not!”). Of course, the real fight is here is a verbal one, as Jaime manages to convince Locke to just let this one go in the best interests of everyone. And since this is adapted almost exactly from the same scene in the 2000 book, right down to the pink dress, any resemblance to Anchorman is an unfortunate coincidence.
Who wins? Ser Jaime Lannister.
To the death? No – they only have one bear, after all.
17. Jon Snow and Craster’s wife vs Karl Tanner
Season 4, Episode 5: “First Of His Name”
There are so many deeply unpleasant people in A Song Of Ice And Fire that you’d think we wouldn’t need any more, but apparently Craster, King Joffrey, Ramsey Bolton and Euron Greyjoy weren’t enough for the TV version. And so we get Karl Tanner, a Night’s Watch mutineer who led the mutiny against Ser Jeor Mormont and has been sitting pretty in Craster’s keep, treating his daughter-wives just slightly worse than Craster himself did, ever since. And so it is particularly satisfying to see one of these wives help Jon to finish him off during the battle at the keep.
Who wins? Jon Snow and one of Craster’s daughter-wives (the only win the poor woman is likely to get – she’s probably an ice zombie by now).
To the death? Yes, definitely.
16. Gendry vs two Goldcloaks
Season 7, Episode 5: “Eastwatch”
The way the tension builds through this scene, as Davos works through every trick in his smuggler book to get rid of two inconveniently curious Goldcloaks peacefully, is very well accomplished. However, we’ve seen Gendry’s huge hammer lying in the boat, and we know that we won’t get to the end of the scene without seeing him use it. Davos can bluff his way through most things, but there’s no hiding a facially scarred blonde dwarf – the Goldcloaks know exactly who Tyrion is, and Gendry is off. All that rowing obviously helped build up the strength in his arms.
Who wins? Gendry.
To the death? Yes.
15. Brienne of Tarth vs Ser Jaime Lannister
Season 3, Episode 2: “Dark Wings, Dark Words”
The greatest swordsmen in Westeros, so popular opinion within the series seems to have it, include Jaime Lannister, Ned Stark, Barristan Selmy, Sandor and Gregor Clegane, Oberyn Martell and (mostly in tournaments) Loras Tyrell. We’ve already seen Brienne beat Loras Tyrell in a tournament duel, so seeing her go up against Jaime Lannister (in his last right-handed swordfight) is pretty exciting. As commentators never tire of pointing out, Jaime is weakened, malnourished and has his hands tied, but it’s still a good fight, and the slight undercurrent of sexual tension makes it clearly stand out from most of the fights we’ve seen on the show.
Who wins? Nobody, really – Brienne has the upper hand, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of Locke and his men.
To the death? Brienne needs Jaime alive, but he is trying to kill her. Unsuccessfully, we’re glad to say.
14. Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane vs Polliver and others
Season 4, Episode 1: “Two Swords”
There are some Game Of Thrones characters who would have gone for Polliver and his bunch of nasties straight away, seeing them assault an innkeeper’s daughter, and others who might have responded badly to their problem with torturing people being that it’s got a bit boring. Arya and the Hound are more circumspect, and less willing to get into a fight where they’re outnumbered, but we can see where the wind is blowing when Sandor refuses to return to King’s Landing with a “Fuck the king.” And so Arya gets Needle back, crosses a name off her list, and gets revenge for Lommy, while the Hound gets his chicken.
Who wins? Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark.
To the death? Several.
13. Tormund Giantsbane, Jon Snow, Ser Beric Dondarrion, Sandor Clegane, Thoros of Myr and Ser Jorah Mormont vs a zombie bear
Season 7, Episode 6: “Beyond The Wall”
We could have gone for the big fight and its major casualty at the end of the episode, and don’t get us wrong, that was really something and had us on the edge of our seats. But we know rescue is on its way because we’ve seen Danaerys leave, and it’s a bit hard to make out what’s going on at times. This earlier fight, which foreshadows the episode’s big climactic development, also suffers a little from making us wonder which redshirt just bit the dust, but it’s an exciting sequence, and our first opportunity to see our ragtag band of heroes fighting together.
Who wins? Ser Jorah Mormont.
To the death? Certainly the bear’s, and indirectly Thoros of Myr’s as well.
12. Samwell Tarly vs a White Walker
Season 7, Episode 8: “Second Sons”
The actual fighting in the sequence is quick and to the point (hah!) – though the White Walker shattering Sam’s regular old steel sword with is hand is pretty impressive. The fight is really significant for other reasons. Aside from the emotional impact of Sam’s bravery protecting Gilly and the baby, this is the fight that shows us that White Walkers are not invulnerable, and that what is dead can indeed die again, and for good. As long as you can get your hands on some Valyrian steel.
Who wins? Samwell Tarly.
To the death? To a second death for a member of the undead, yes.
11. Daario Naharis vs the Champion of Meereen
Season 4, Episode 3: “Breaker Of Chains”
This is another example where the fight itself is brief, but impressive. Having successfully argued that he is the most expendable of Danaerys’ warriors, Daario proceeds to defeat the Champion of Meereen in front of the whole city by refusing to ride a horse and killing his opponent’s and so clearly marking himself out from her late, lamented Dothraki husband (though to be fair, we mostly saw Khal Drogo fight on foot, and he was pretty nifty then, too). We see more of the Champion’s private parts than we do of his face, as he goes down in a cloud of dust.
Who wins? Daario Naharis.
To the death? Of both the Champion and his horse.
10. Jon Snow and his allies vs the Army of the Dead
Season 5, Episode 8: “Hardhome”
This is more a battle than a fight, so we’re cheating a bit, but still. It’s awesome. Of course, many of the battle scenes in Game Of Thrones are awesome – Tyrion blowing up Stannis’ fleet with wildfyre, the Night’s Watch defending the Wall against the Wildlings, Danaerys decimating the Lannister army with Drogon. But for the sheer intensity of the hand-to-hand combat, we’d have to go with the “Hardhome” battle against the Night King as the really stand-out example.
Who wins? The Night King, though survival and retreat is almost a victory in itself.
To the death? Err, it’s complicated.
9. Syrio Forel vs Ser Meryn Trant and several Lannister men
Season 1, Episode 8: “The Pointy End”
We don’t see the end of this fight, and it’s quite short, but what we do see is seriously impressive. Syrio Forel holds off a group of armed men long enough to allow Arya to escape, with a wooden sword! We’re left with the tantalizing image of Syrio facing off against Ser Meryn Trant with nothing but a broken wooden sword, and are forced to imagine what might have happened next.
Who wins? Given that Ser Meryn Trant is still alive afterwards, presumably he did.
To the death? Our heads say it must have been, but our hearts don’t want to believe it. We won’t call this one until the show is finished.
8. Bronn vs Ser Vardis Egan
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Golden Crown”
This is a well staged fight in which the audience has a major emotional investment, as this man we barely know steps up to defend Tyrion (for money, of course) against Lysa Arryn’s champion. However, the real joy of this fight is watching Bronn fight dirty against Ser Vardis. At this point in the show, the wars have not yet begun in earnest, and many of the younger knights of Westeros have fought mostly in tournaments and for show, in a situation where real danger comes only from accidents and it is important to obey the rules. But the political situation is about to fall apart, and these gamers will not survive – to survive in a real war, you have to break the rules. Which is why we love Bronn from the start.
Who wins? Bronn.
To the death? Yes.
7. Lyanna Mormont vs a Wight Giant, and Ser Jorah Mormont vs Wights
Season 8, Episode 3: “The Long Night”
Tiny Lady Lyanna Mormont almost single-handedly taking on an enormous wight giant in the middles of the mayhem of the Battle of Winterfell is by far the most mis-matched fight on this list. Watching Lyanna’s bones crushed to the accompaniment of some truly sickening sound effects is just horrible and this looks like being a pure curb stomp rather than a fight. But Lyanna is not done yet, and although she has no chance whatsoever of survival, she manages to stab the giant in the eye and take it down with her. Before the dawn, her cousin Ser Jorah Mormont has also gone down fighting, defending his Queen to the last, repeatedly driven to his knees but rising again until the threat is gone. If House Mormont had to be entirely destroyed, at least it went out with a bang.
Who wins? It’s all pretty much a no score draw.
To the death? Yes – thankfully Lyanna’s brief resurrection as a wight doesn’t last long.
6. Ned Stark, Howland Reed and their men vs Ser Arthur Dayne and another Kingsguard
Season 6, Episode 3: “Oathbreaker”
(It’s not clear whether the second man is Ser Gerold Hightower or Ser Oswall Whent – in the book, both are present, but we only see one in the show.)
Back in season two, Jaime told Brienne he’d never understood why some knights carried two swords (which, at the time, seemed mostly like a plot convenience to get him a sword). Here, we see why, as two men hold off half a dozen for a good while, Ser Arthur Dayne swinging double swords with abandon. This fight also forces Bran to face the uncomfortable fact that things did not go down quite as Ned Stark had always claimed during Robert’s Rebellion, and he is horrified to see Howland Reed stab Ser Arthur in the back. But mostly, the joy of this fight is seeing these two, who have been praised so much within the series for being great swordfighters, actually going at it, and the fight is well choreographed and shot.
Who wins? Ned Stark and Howland Reed.
To the death? Yes.
5. Sandor Clegane vs Ser Gregor Clegane
Season 8, Episode 5: “The Bells”
The long-awaited showdown known affectionately as Cleganebowl had been hyped so much in the fandom that the real thing could never entirely live up to the fans’ expectations. Still, while pleasing everyone was impossible, this long-awaited fight was an impressive spectacle. It may have started with some unintentional comedy (the hilariously quick dispatch of Qyburn, followed by Cersei quietly walking away and leaving them to it) but watching these two slug it out amid the falling ruins of the Red Keep, on a half-destroyed staircase, before eventually plunging into the flames is certainly epic.
Who wins? Sandor – though he chose the kamikaze route to victory.
To the death? Yes, both (and the second in Gregor’s case).
4. Brienne of Tarth vs Sandor Clegane
Season 4, Episode 10: “The Children”
This is an odd fight – not only are we fond of both characters, but both are fighting to protect Arya – if only they could sit down and have a conversation they could straighten all this out and go after Sansa together. But that would be far too sensible (and Arya would never have gone to Braavos and become a Faceless Man). And so, we watch Brienne and the Hound fight a really pointless duel that nearly kills him.
The reason it’s so highly placed on the list, however, is the sheer brutality of the fight itself. We hear every scream and we feel every punch as these two emphatically not-knights go to town on each other. The hand held camerawork increases the nauseating sense of disorientation, while we particularly enjoyed seeing the detail from the book that Brienne bites off a man’s ear (though it is a different man in the source novel). Narratively speaking, this may be one of the most frustratingly futile fights we’ve seen, but for sheer brutal action, it can’t be matched.
Who wins? Brienne of Tarth.
To the death? As it turns out some time later, no.
3. Ser Jorah Mormont vs a priest of Novos, a Braavosi water-dancer, a Meereenese spearman, and a Harpy assassin
Season 5, Episode 9: “The Dance Of Dragons”
There’s nothing like a good gladiatorial fight to produce some really exciting television. There’s the baying of the crowd, the desperate struggle to survive from the gladiators themselves and, wherever possible, a good dose of inter-personal conflict between the watching ruler and the gladiator. Danaerys and Jorah’s reunion is just as dramatic as we could have hoped, and watching her watch him fight is as tense as the fighting itself. Added to that, we get to see a group of different fighting styles pitted against each other – Braavosi water dancing is clearly the business, but Ser Jorah’s armor once again does him proud, and his other two opponents have nothing on his brutal style.
Who wins? The Braavosi water dancer defeats Ser Jorah (this is clearly the fighting style for a duel) but he gets lucky and is saved by the spearman; Ser Jorah defeats the others himself.
To the death? Yes.
2. Ned Stark, Jory Cassell and their men vs Ser Jaime Lannister and his men
Season 1, Episode 5: “The Wolf And The Lion”
For all that we are constantly being told what great swordsmen Ned and Jaime are, this is the only time we really get to see them in action (with their original actors – we do, of course, later see Ned fight in a flashback). Ned is injured in this episode and killed a few episodes later, while Jaime fights in a battle offscreen, is captured, gets one more fight in which his hands are bound throughout, and then loses his sword hand. The death of poor Jory builds on the death of Lady the direwolf to prepare us for just how vulnerable even major characters are on this show, as well as making us hate Jaime even more for stabbing him in the eye, but it’s seeing Ned and Jaime go for each other that’s really exciting – Jaime himself agrees, being extremely annoyed when one of his men interrupts.
Who wins? Neither – Ned and Jaime are fighting one on one when one of Jaime’s well-meaning men intervenes and stabs Ned in the leg, which is cheating. So, in a way, the winner is Random Lannister Soldier No.3?
To the death? Jory’s, but not Ned’s.
1. Oberyn Martell vs Gregor Clegane
Season 4, Episode 8: “The Mountain And The Viper”
The number one spot had to go to this, surely the most memorable duel the show has so far produced. Like several other fights here, the audience are firmly on the side of one character in particular, as the other is figuratively a monster, guilty of horrible crimes. However, unlike Jon Snow against Ramsey Bolton, Arya against Polliver, Brienne against the nasty Stark men or Sam against a White Walker, although Oberyn more or less succeeds in getting his revenge (dealing a major and distinctly mortal-looking blow), he doesn’t walk away from this fight. Martell is righteous, handsome, determined and fighting for our beloved Tyrion’s right not to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit, but he makes the classic mistake of letting his guard down, and down he goes himself in one of the show’s most gruesome scenes. Our hearts break anew whenever we think of it, but there’s no doubting it’s a great, if gory, fight scene.
Who wins? Gregor Clegane. Since they both end up dead, it would be tempting to call this one a draw, but there are major consequences to Gregor’s victory, so it’s important to acknowledge it. Plus, Gregor comes back.
To the death? Both, though one sticks harder than the other.