Game of Thrones season 8: Before Battle of Winterfell, all 16 battle sequences ranked
With just a few hours separating us from the inevitable deaths of many of our favourite characters at the hands of the White Walkers — come Game of Thrones season 8 episode 3 — this might perhaps be a good time to do what Westerosi do, on the eve of a big battle:
Down a few glasses of wine or ale (or fermented mare’s milk, if that’s your drink of choice), sit around with old friends, sing a haunting song or two, and recount tales of the past.
And what better tales to tell, than those of other battles?
Here’s a non-definitive ranking of all the battles we’ve seen unfold in Game of Thrones’ hitherto 69-episode run.
We’ve looked at actual battles — two armies ranged against each other — and left out smaller skirmishes (like Jon’s vengeance upon the mutineers at Craster’s Keep, or Ned’s fight with Jaime in King’s Landing), attacks (which excludes Daenerys’ conquest of Astapor or Vaes Dothrak, Stannis running down Mance Rayder’s wildling army, Theon seizing Winterfell), slaughter (as at the Red Wedding), long drawn-out incursions (such as Yara Greyjoy’s in the North), magical resolutions (Stannis ending Renly’s rebellion in the Stormlands with Melisandre’s help), tactical coups (Jaime using Edmure Tully to take back Riverrun for the Freys), and one-on-one combat, no matter how scintillating (we’re looking at you, Brienne and Ser Sandor ‘the Hound’ Clegane; not to mention a young Ned Stark versus the ‘Sword of the Morning’ Ser Arthur Dayne; or any of Arya's fights really).
16. Battle at the Fist of the First Men — S2 E10 & S3 E1
While Jon is off with Qhorin Halfhand, trying to infiltrate Mance Rayder’s forces, the other brothers of the Night’s Watch pitch camp at the Fist of the First Men. Edd, Grenn and Sam are collecting animal dung for the fire one day when they hear the horn blow — once, twice, three times. It is to signal the Others. The trio rushes back to camp, but Sam falls and takes shelter behind a rock; he sees an army of wights walking towards the Fist, led by a White Walker astride a dead horse.
By the time Sam makes it back to camp, the battle has nearly ended, and the Night’s Watch has suffered heavy losses. Sam is attacked by a wight, but saved by Ghost, and then Commander Mormont. Their horses have all been slaughtered, and since Sam didn’t send out ravens to the Wall (as he was supposed to in the event of an attack), the few brothers still standing have to trudge back to Castle Black.
Casualties: Most of the Night Watch’s 200-strong ranging force
Victors: The Army of the Dead
MVP: Commander Jeor Mormont, Ghost
15. Sack of Winterfell — S2 E10
Not a ‘traditional’ battle, but the ‘Sack of Winterfell’ qualifies as a siege and therefore makes it to our list. Five hundred of Roose Bolton’s men, led by his bastard Ramsay, surround Theon and the Ironborn, in Winterfell. They blow horns all through the night to disorient the Ironborn.
Within the castle walls, an increasingly frustrated Theon is advised by Maester Luwin to flee Winterfell, go to the Wall, and join the Night’s Watch, where his many transgressions will be pardoned. Maester Luwin also tells him — and this may be important for characters in the upcoming S8 E3 — that Winterfell has hidden passageways, built for the lords to escape. But Theon tells Maester Luwin that he’s “gone too far”.
The next morning, Theon rallies the Ironborn for battle. Just as he lets out their war cry — “What is dead may never die” — his second-in-command, Dagmar, knocks him unconscious. Maester Luwin attempts to intervene, and is stabbed by Dagmar.
The Bolton men torch Winterfell, Theon is carried away to the Dreadfort to serve as Ramsay’s plaything, and the Ironborn who betrayed him are crossed in turn by the Boltons: Promised safe passage back home for giving up Theon, they are instead flayed alive.
Casualties: The Ironborn, Maester Luwin
Victors: The Boltons
MVP: Ramsay Snow
14. Battle of Oxcross — S2 E4
Not too many of Robb Stark’s battles were shown on screen — which is a pity, because until he was slaughtered by the Freys while at a wedding feast, the “Young Wolf” won every battle he fought. In the War of Five Kings, Robb is the “king” with the least amount of experience — yet he caused Tywin Lannister the most anxiety.
The Stark men steal upon Stafford Lannister’s camp under cover of night. Two sentries, trading bawdy jokes, are startled when their horses start whinnying. Grey Wind suddenly appears alongside — and we see in the very next frame that Robb has achieved a complete rout.
A far more momentous development — and one that will change the course of the war — occurs the morning after the battle, when, walking through the field of wounded, Robb comes upon a woman tending to the soldiers: it is Talisa.
Casualties: Heavy losses for the Lannister side
Victors: The Starks
MVP: Grey Wind
13. Battle of the Whispering Wood — S1 E9
Another of Robb Stark’s triumphs that took place offscreen, the Battle of the Whispering Wood nets the Northerners a very precious hostage: Ser Jaime Lannister. Robb sends 2,000 men to engage with the Tywin Lannister’s camp in the Riverlands (known as the Battle of the Green Fork). Even as the Lannister army there repulses the Stark attack, Tywin Lannister finds out that the real thrust of the battle was elsewhere — at Whispering Wood, in fact, where Robb, his grand-uncle Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully and 18,000 Northerners have defeated Jaime’s men and captured him.
Robb was among the few kings we’d see engaging with the aftermath of his battles. At Oxcross, we watch him tending the wounded, alongside Talisa. After Whispering Wood, even as his army celebrates, he tells Catelyn: “I sent 2,000 men to their graves today” [referring to the men who led the ruse at Green Fork].
Theon, who has fought beside him, says: “The bards will sing songs of their sacrifice.”
“Aye,” Robb responds. “But the dead won’t hear them.”
Casualties: Not specified
Victors: The Starks
MVP: Robb Stark
12. Battle at Yunkai — S3 E9
After the Masters of Yunkai and Daenerys are unable to reach an agreement, both parties prepare for a battle. Daario Naharis (then played by Ed Skrein) brings the Second Sons over to Daenerys’ side by the simple expedient of murdering its captains. He also tells Daenerys that he will take a few of her trusted men — Grey Worm, Ser Jorah Mormont (Ser Barristan Selmy is asked to stay and protect the Queen) — through a little-guarded back gate, and they will fight their way to open up the city for the Targaryen army.
Daario leads Ser Jorah and Grey Worm into the city, as promised. There they fight their way through a group of slave soldiers who later lay down their arms. Daenerys waits with Ser Barristan for news of the battle’s outcome and Jorah and Grey Worm come to her to report their mission was a success.
Even as she rejoices, Jorah notices that Daenerys is looking beyond them — “And Daario Naharis?” she asks, as Jorah’s face registers a deep hurt. Daario steps forward just then, and lays the flag of Yunkai at her feet. He tells her: “The city is yours, my Queen.”
Casualties: Some Yunkai soldiers
Victors: Daenerys Targaryen
MVP: Daario Naharis
11. Sack of Highgarden — S7 E3
We didn’t get to see much of the battle itself — probably because the few Highgarden soldiers didn’t put up much of a fight against the combined and impressive might of the Lannister and Tarly armies. But the scene afterwards, as Jaime sits down with Lady Olenna Tyrell for what will be her last conversation ever — he gives her poison to take with her wine — is what gives this battle sequence its heft. We leave Lady Olenna to do the talking:
Casualties: Lady Olenna Tyrell, Highgarden’s soldiers
Victors: The Lannisters and the Tarlys
MVP: We’re going to buck convention here, and say — Lady Olenna
10. Battle of the Green Fork — S1 E9
Better remembered as the battle before which Tyrion met Shae.
Tywin Lannister is camped in the Riverlands, besieging Riverrun, where Tyrion joins him (along with Bronn and the Hill Clans) after escaping from the Eyrie. The Lannisters are to march on the Tullys the next day, and Tywin asks the Hill Clans to fight with his men, in exchange for a reward. They agree, on the condition that Tyrion will be alongside them, as a guarantee that they will be paid their dues. Tywin places Tyrion and the Hill Clans in the vanguard for the battle.
That night, Bronn brings Shae to Tyrion. The trio play drinking games and guess details of each other’s lives: Bronn has been beyond the Wall, “on business”; Tyrion was married, to a girl named Tysha. Early the next morning, Tyrion — with Shae beside him — is roused from his sleep by a great hullabaloo in the camp. The Starks have stolen the march on the Lannisters and attacked already.
Tyrion runs out with the Hill Clans, but falls and is trampled and trodden until he passes out. When he regains consciousness, he is told the battle is over. The Lannisters have seemingly “won” but found out that the attack was merely a ruse. Robb Stark has instead attacked Whispering Wood — and taken Jaime captive.
Casualties: 2,000 Stark men
‘Victors’: The Lannisters
MVP: Hill Clans
9. Sea Battle of the Krakens — S7 E2
Better remembered as the one in which Theon jumps.
Yara and Theon are transporting Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes in the Targaryen fleet from Dragonstone, when they are set upon by Euron Greyjoy’s crew. A night battle at sea + fire = lots of confusion. Euron kills Nym and Obara, before defeating Yara in combat; he calls out mockingly to “little Theon” to save his sister. Theon looks around the carnage, slips back into ‘Reek mode’, panics, and leaps into the ocean. Ellaria and Tyene Sand are taken prisoner and ferried to Cersei at King’s Landing.
Casualties: Lots of Ironborn, Nymeria Sand, Obara Sand
Victors: Euron Greyjoy
MVP: Euron Greyjoy
8. (First) Battle at Winterfell — S5 E10
Stannis’ sadly depleted army reaches Winterfell. This is not the same army that attacked Mance Rayder’s army beyond the Wall. They’re sore, hungry, demoralised.
Along the way, they’ve had many setbacks — the snow hinders them, more than half the men have deserted, Ramsay’s raiding party has set fire to most of the food stores, the horses are all gone. While Davos rides back to Castle Black to rustle up some support and supplies, Melisandre burns Shireen Baratheon at the stake, in a bid to “appease” the Lord of Light. The next day, Lady Selyse is found hanging by her neck in the woods. Melisandre herself abandons camp when she realises the battle is lost. Faced with the news, Stannis stoically marches on.
Even as he commands his men to dig trenches and prepare for a siege, Ramsay rides out with his army. Hopelessly outnumbered and at a disadvantage, Stannis smiles and draws his sword before walking ahead to meet his enemy. (It has been a gift to see Stephen Dillane as Stannis.) The Baratheon army is put to the sword; Stannis — lying wounded in the woods — is executed by Brienne.
This is a man who allowed his own daughter to be burnt, murdered his brother, a man known to be dour, hard and unyielding — but in his last moments, as he looks death in the face, Stannis stands incomparably tall.
Casualties: The entire Baratheon army, a few Bolton men
(Post-battle — Stannis Baratheon)
Victors: The Boltons
MVP: Ramsay Bolton
7. Siege of Meereen — S4 E3
Daenerys, the Unsullied, and the Second Sons reach Meereen. On her way to the city, she has seen the bodies of 163 slaves crucified to mileposts. Her army takes up position outside the fabled gates of Meereen. The masters send out a champion to take on any of Daenerys’ men in single combat. She chooses Daario (now played by Michiel Huisman), who unhorses the Meereenese champion, and slays him with one blow.
Daenerys uses her trebuchets to launch barrels full of slave collars into the city, and exhorts the slaves to throw off the shackles of servitude and turn against the masters. Later, Grey Worm infiltrates Meereen along with a few Unsullied and provides the slaves with weapons. The slaves fight the masters, and throw open the gates of the city for Daenerys. They hoist her onto their shoulders and call her “Mhysa”.
Casualties: The champion of Meereen, the masters
Victors: Daenerys Targaryen
MVP: Daario Naharis, the slaves-turned-freefolk of Meereen
6. Second Siege of Meereen — S6 E9
The masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volantis bombard Meereen with fire-cannon from their ships anchored in Slavers’ Bay. In the streets, the Sons of the Harpy unleash violence. Inside the Great Pyramid, Daenerys threatens violence on her enemies, to “burn their cities to the ground”. Tyrion cautions her against doing what her father would have, and proposes an alternative.
The masters are called to discuss the terms of surrender — only to realise soon enough it is not Daenerys’ surrender they are discussing, but their own. Even as they issue threats, Drogon appears and carries Daenerys away. Rhaegal and Viserion burst out of the catacombs and join Drogon in the sky. Together, they unleash fire on several of the slavers’ ships.
Meanwhile, Tyrion tells the three masters that one of them must die. Razdal mo Eraz (of Yunkai) and Volantis’ Belicho Paenymion turn against the Astapori master Yezzan zo Qaggaz, calling him a lowborn outsider. Grey Worm steps forward with his dagger. As Yezzan falls to his knees, Grey Worm slays Razdal and Belicho.
Daario rides in at the head of Dothraki khalasar and kills the Sons of the Harpy. The siege of Meereen ends.
Casualties: The slavers’ soldiers, Sons of the Harpy, Razdal mo Eraz and Belicho Paenymion
Victors: Daenerys Targaryen
MVP: Tyrion Lannister, Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion
5. Massacre at Hardhome — S5 E8
Jon, Edd and Tormund have convinced many of the Wildlings at Hardhome to come with them beyond the Wall. The evacuation is in progress when a storm blows in. Sensing danger, Loboda — one of the leaders of the Thenns — orders the gates of the stockade to be closed. Hundreds of Wildlings are locked out. Their tumult outside the gates rises, then dies down. And then the wights attack.
The Wildlings fight back but the wights are far too many. Jon and Loboda go to a communal hut to retrieve Sam's dragonglass daggers, but are attacked by a White Walker. The Walker kills Loboda, and then turns to Jon — who is able to cut through him with his sword Longclaw.
Wun Wun, Jon, Edd, Tormund and the Wildlings beat a retreat to the sea. As they head to their ships, the Night King walks onto the shore and raises his arms. All the dead are reanimated and rise as wights.
Casualties: Loboda, hundreds of Wildlings, some brothers of the Night’s Watch, a White Walker
Victors: The Night King
MVP: The Night King
4. Battle of Blackwater Bay — S2 E9
All through the night, King’s Landing has been on edge, expecting Stannis to attack the city. Ser Davos leads Stannis’ fleets towards the harbour. Tyrion, Joffrey, the Hound, Lancel Lannister take their places on the ramparts of the Red Keep.
A lone Lannister vessel floats out into the water. At Tyrion’s signal, Bronn — positioned some distance away — shoots a flaming arrow right at it. The vessel, filled with barrels of wildfire, explodes. Ser Davos’ son is consumed by the wildfire as are scores of Stannis’ men.
Even as his ships burn, Stannis comes ashore and attacks the Mud Gate. The Hound, Lancel and some other men lead a charge to hold it. The Hound, however, is unnerved by the flames and the burning soldiers. He rides back inside in a daze. Lancel, meanwhile, is shot by an arrow and retreats within the palace. He meets Cersei (who is with the other women of the court, including Sansa and Shae, sheltering in Maegor’s Holdfast). She commands him to bring Joffrey to her. Lancel is shocked, but does as she orders.
The morale of the Lannister soldiers falls as they see Joffrey leave the ramparts with his Kingsguard, but Tyrion exhorts them to fight so they can all live to see another day, then leads them out through a secret passage.
He leads the charge on Stannis’ army, and they briefly prevail — until the numbers prove to be too overwhelming for them. Tyrion is attacked by Ser Mandon of the Kingsguard and sustains an injury to his face. He is saved by Podrick.
Stannis is fighting along the walls of the Red Keep, when a fresh cavalry rides in and makes short shrift of his army. Stannis wants his men to stand and fight, but they drag him away.
The soldiers storm into the Throne Room of the Red Keep triumphantly, where Cersei is about to poison herself and Tommen. The knight who leads them takes off his helm — it is Ser Loras Tyrell, brought over to the Lannister side by Littlefinger. With Loras is Tywin Lannister.
Casualties: Ser Davos’ son, hundreds of soldiers from both sides, Ser Mandon
Victors: The Lannisters
MVP: Tyrion Lannister, Loras Tyrell, Tywin Lannister
3. Battle at Castle Black — S4 E9
To place this third, after the Battle of the Goldroad and Battle of the Bastards was a tough call. The Battle of Castle Black is filled with moments of heroism, great action sequences, and a heavy emotional toll. Cinematically, however, the two battles at the top of our list, have a slight edge.
Mance Rayder’s army attacks the Wall. At the same time, Tormund, Ygritte and Styr the Thenn, attack Castle Black from the south. Ser Alliser Thorne leaves the Wall to Jonos Slynt, going down to deal with Tormund et al. Slynt, an inefficient and cowardly choice, is sent away by the brothers on some pretext (he proceeds to cower in the same room as Gilly and Little Sam) while Jon takes charge.
The brothers beat back scores of Wildlings who are scaling the Wall, as well as an elephant and a giant attempting to force their way in through one of the tunnels. Enraged, a second giant attempts to force the gate of the tunnel with his bare hands. Jon sends Grenn with a few brothers to hold the tunnel.
Meanwhile, Pyp dies in Sam’s arms after being shot by one of Ygritte’s arrows. Ser Alliser is injured and dragged to safety by his men. Sam goes to Jon atop the Wall and tells him he must lead the charge on the ground as they are overrun. Edd takes command of the Wall, using a giant scythe to kill the Wildlings on the Wall in one fell swoop. Sam releases Ghost, who then wreaks severe damage on the Wildlings.
Below, Jon fights and kills Styr the Thenn, but is wounded himself. As he catches his breath, he sees Ygritte before him, an arrow pointed at him. Jon smiles at her — just as an arrow pierces her heart. Olly stands behind her, with his bow.
"We should have stayed in that cave," Ygritte tells Jon, and he promises: "We'll go back there". She whispers, "You know nothing, Jon Snow," and dies.
Tormund is captured.
Jon takes stock of the fatalities. As he walks into the tunnel that leads beyond the Wall, he sees that Grenn and the other brothers have fallen fighting. Besides Grenn lies a dead giant.
Casualties: Pyp, Grenn, Ygritte, countless brothers and Wildlings, two giants
Victors: The Night’s Watch
MVP: Jon Snow, Grenn, Edd, Ghost
2. Battle of the Goldroad — S7 E4
When Daenerys rides against the Lannister and Tarly armies, marching back from the Reach to King’s Landing, she unleashes destruction of a scale never before seen in any battle in recent Westeros history.
Jaime, Bronn and the Tarlys (Lord Randyll and Dickon) are overseeing the transportation of the spoils of their war against Highgarden. Bronn hears the sound of many thousands of thundering hooves. Even as Jaime calls for the spears and shields to get into formation, a Dothraki horde charges at them. Daenerys rides Drogon at their head.
In a breathtaking display of horsemanship, the Dothraki shoot, slash and cut their way through the hapless Westerosi, while Daenerys directs Drogon to set the wagon trains, containing the harvest from the Reach, on fire. Bronn manages to reach Qyburn’s scorpion device and shoots several bolts at Drogon — one of which finds its mark. As Daenerys lands on the field and attempts to pull the bolt out of Drogon’s shoulder, Jaime — horrified by the way men around him have burned — picks up a spear and charges at her headlong. It’s a direct callback to “the Tarly boy” who foolishly attacked Robert Baratheon during the Battle of Summerhall.
Tyrion, watching from some distance away, is aghast, and hopes Jaime will come to his senses, but Jaime continues towards Daenerys. She turns to see him, just as Drogon lets out a roar of fire. Bronn pulls Jaime away, and falls into the river with him, in the nick of time.
Casualties: Thousands of Lannister and Tarly soldiers, some Dothraki
(Post-battle — Randyll and Dickon Tarly)
Victors: Daenerys Targaryen
MVP: Daenerys and Drogon, Bronn
1. Battle of the Bastards — S6 E9
The Stark and Bolton men face off outside Winterfell. Jon has far fewer men, and must look for a tactical advantage in making Ramsay’s army come to him. The plan goes haywire, however, when Ramsay brings Rickon Stark out on the battlefield, then shoots him just as Jon races out to save his half-brother. A seething Jon charges right at Ramsay — falling neatly into the trap the latter has set.
With their plans up in smoke, Tormund, the Wildlings, Wun Wun and Ser Davos charge ahead too. A furious battle ensues, and Jon’s side is slaughtered in droves. They are hemmed in by the Bolton shields and spears on three sides, and a wall of corpses and Lord Umber’s men on the other.
Jon falls to the ground and is nearly smothered by the press of men. We see the battle through his eyes — moments when his vision goes completely black, and glimpses of the fighting occurring overhead. He finally makes his way above the stampede and to air. Next to him, Tormund — stabbed by Lord Umber — has bitten into the latter’s throat and killed him.
A horn sounds, and a phalanx of soldiers rides onto the field. They’re the Knights of the Vale, brought to the battlefield by Sansa and Littlefinger. They smash through the Bolton army, while Wun Wun, Jon and Tormund pursue Ramsay, who has rushed back to Winterfell.
Wun Wun breaks down the Winterfell gate and is shot full of arrows, with Ramsay delivering the death blow. Jon then rushes Ramsay and beats him senseless — stopping only when Sansa arrives on the scene. Later, Sansa exacts her own bloody (and satisfying) revenge on Ramsay.
Casualties: Rickon Stark, Wun Wun, Lord Umber, Lord Karstark, Stark and Bolton soldiers
(Post-battle — Ramsay Bolton)
Victors: The Starks
MVP: Sansa Stark
Where will the Great Battle of Winterfell rank among these? We'll soon find out.
Game of Thrones season 8 episodes air every Monday on Hotstar Premium at 6.30 am, same time as US (simulcast).
Updated Date: May 16, 2019 17:18:42 IST
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