Game of Thrones is medieval fantasy. A deconstructed political medieval fantasy but it’s got medieval combat in spades nonetheless. Though it’s been said that there’s excessive blood and guts, every season has had its share of awesome meaningful fights. Fight’s that sealed the fate of certain characters, fights of great spectacle and great stakes, fights that made us cheer and or ugly cry for our heroes.
This here’s a celebration of the most personal, most spectacular and best staged fights and duels from the Game of Thrones Series so far. Listed in chronological order and not qualitative order, but still my favorites and why I love them!
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Eddard Stark vs. Jaime Lannister
The first major confrontation between our season 1 hero Eddard Stark and the cocky condescending face of the Lannisters, Jaime. It showed that Lannisters have no qualms about fighting dirty, spearing the Stark men and then spearing Ned in the leg from behind.
It also showed a great difference between Ned and Jaime’s dispositions. Ned is a no nonsense fighter whereas Jaime is clearly enjoying the sport, testing himself against the Warden of the North. To put it another way, Ned never cracks a smile during the fight. Jaime is also clearly angry and disappointed when one of his men disables Ned.
There’s also the context of Jaime fighting to free Tyrion, although at this point in the story it could be Tywin’s talk of the family reputation that Jaime is acting on more than familial concern.
Great Sword play, straight up protagonist vs antagonist fight and foreshadowing the fall of the Starks.
Bronn vs. Ser Vardis Egan
Even though the Lannisters as a whole started out as the designated bad guys, Tyrion was still an instantly charming exception. And we knew that Catylen Stark’s accusations of Tyrion trying to murder Bran were false. Bronn was pretty much an unknown quantity when he volunteered to champion Tyrion in trial by combat but the subsequent fight characterized him perfectly. Pragmatic, cunning and opportunistic.
Without armor, shield or helmet, Bronn took on one of the finest knights of the Vale, and wore him out. An important lesson in the show about speed and smarts beating armor and brute strength.
Lysa Arryn: “You do not fight with honor!”
Bronn: “No.” *looks through moon door* “He did.” *Smirks*
Syrio Forel vs. Ser Meryn Trant
Speaking of speed and smarts. Throughout the first half of the first season we see demonstrations of Syrio’s prodigious sword play through his instruction of Arya. Then when the Lannisters made their play against the Starks at Kings Landing, we finally got to see Syrio throw down with some chumps who didn’t know who they were messing with.
Syrio truly turns sword play into an art and makes handling 5 fully armed and armored soldiers look easy, with a wooden sword, no less. Then Meryn Trant steps in. I like to think that Syrio let Trant break his sword to distract him from Arya a little longer. I also like to think that Syrio somehow got away.
Such a great sendoff for a one-season wonder.
Watch Syrio Forel vs. Ser Meryn Trant
Tyrion Leads the Counter Attack at the Black Water
Season 2 was pretty dense with political intrigue given that the War of the Five Kings was being waged in the back ground. Tyrion and Tywin each kept their courts in check and Robb and Stannis each dealt with doubts and quarrels with their advisers. And finally we got the Battle of the Blackwater and it’s all Tyrion. He arranged the wildfire trap that gave the defenders of King’s Landing a fighting chance and he rallied the troops when the sniveling chicken-$#!& Joffrey ran and hid behind his mother’s skirts.
Seeing the men of house Lannister rally behind Tyrion and obey his orders, even for a moment, was hugely satisfying. And of course there was the sudden betrayal by Ser Mandon and the heroic intervention of Podrick Payne. The suspense was unbearable watching Tyrion bleed in the mud while Tywin and the Tyrells rode in and took all the credit.
A defining character moment for Tyrion and the climax of not only the Battle of the Blackwater but the entire season.
Beric Dondarrion vs. Sandor Clegane
The Brotherhood without banners were a spiritual lot. Determined to serve justice to the Hound for one crime or another they heed Arya’s tale of the old story of Micah, the butcher’s boy. Beric Dondarrion sentences the Hound to trial by combat and anoints himself the champion for the Lord of Light.
Asside for the air of pomp, there’s not much to back up the undeniable sense of ominous anticipation. And then Beric Dondarrion lights his sword on fire, from a cut on his own palm! The fire obviously scares the Hound, but Beric Dondarrion seems to be not as agile or strong as he has been in years past. It’s a spectacular fight ending with Dondarrion nearly cleaved in two and gushing blood.
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder, Thoros falls on his knees praying over Dondarrion’s corpse…
The Hound: “Looks like your god likes me more than your butcher’s boy.”
Arya: “BURN IN HELL!”
Beric: “He will, but not today.”
A spectacular fight that served as a reminder that R’hllor, this Lord of Light does indeed hold some arcane power in the world.
Watch Beric Dondarrion vs. Sandor Clegane
Grey Worm, Jorah and Daario Infiltrate Yunkai
Three swordsmen of wildly different fighting styles and backgrounds are tasked with infiltrating and overthrowing the command structure of a slaver city for a young beautiful dragon queen. Sounds like an episode of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign doesn’t it? It’s precisely because this fight feels like a RPG scene come to life that I love it so. We’ve got a grand set-up, waves of mooks, a diverse party, witty banter and various skill sets at play.
Grey Worm is elegant and precise as per his training, Jorah kind of tanks the most mooks and Daario is flashy and lethal. The three men of Queen Daenerys fight well together.
Not the most widely remembered but definitely a personal favorite.
Watch Grey Worm, Jorah and Daario Infiltrate Yunkai
Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark vs. the Lannister Soldiers
There’s been no other fight in the series that has had such a long, multiple level, wickedly satisfying payoff for me than this one. Arya immediately recognizes Polliver, the thuggish men at arms for Gregor Clegane and House Lannister who stole her Needle and murdered the young boy Lommy. She says nothing and Polliver doesn’t recognize her, but he does recognize the Hound.
The tension builds steadily from there as Polliver realizes that the Hound is now his enemy. The Hound is having none of his sanctimonious drivel.
Polliver: “You lived your life for the King. You gonna die for some chickens?”
Hound: “…someone is.”
Table flips, shattered mugs and pottery, fighting over blades, low blows and personal vengeance make this the most brutal tavern fight I’ve seen on TV. The boiling over of tension in the scene itself, coupled with a whole season and a half of waiting for Arya to enact laser-guided-karma on Polliver is just brilliant!
Arya: “Fine little blade. Maybe I’ll pick my teeth with it.”
The Hound gets his chickens, Arya gets her Needle back and they both get horses. Delicious!
Watch Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark vs. the Lannister Soldiers
Oberyn Martell vs. Gregor Clegane
Tyrion finds himself in a trial by combat put on for political agendas more than getting to truth, again. And again, the merits of a cunning speedster against a hulking tank are tested. However, this time it’s not the opportunistic Bronn standing for Tyrion. It’s the passionate Oberyn Martell, who has been waiting for decades to for a chance to act on a vendetta against the Lannisters.
Like most trials by combat in the series, there’s a bunch of phony ceremony surrounding a duel to the death. But there’s also multiple levels of intrigue and high stakes at play. It’s the tipping point for Tyrion’s sentence in the charge for Joffrey’s murder, it’s the tipping point for the old Lannister/Martell feud, and it’s a fight like any other to the Mountain and the chance of a lifetime to Oberyn.
And what a fight it is. The Viper slithers around the Mountain, humiliating him and taunting him. Then when he’s finally down for the count, the Mountain turns the tables and crushes Oberyn’s skull in his hands.
This fight teases us to such a dizzying, cheer-worthy height and brings us crashing back to earth in the blink of an eye. No Game of Thrones fan will ever forget it.
Watch Oberyn Martell vs. Gregor Clegane
Jon Snow vs. Styr
Jon Snow hasn’t had the most memorable opponents but he has had some pretty memorable fights. When Mance Rayder brought a hundred-thousand strong host of Wildlings complete with Mammoths and Giants to overrun the Wall, Jon’s training and vigorous swordplay was needed throughout the battle. It was a thrillingly staged battle, made all the more affecting by its many earnest human moments and all the more entertaining for its many HOLY $#&@ moments.
The biggest threat was the advance raiding party sent secretly over the Wall to attack Castle Black from the South. Among them was Styr, Magnar of the free-folk clan of Thenns, known for cannibalism. Jon joins the fray in the courtyard after Lord Allister falls to Tormund Giantsbane, and Styr and Jon come to blows. Styr’s ferocity matches Jon’s fervent and hard-learned style. Despite getting his nose broken against an anvil, Jon manages to bury a hammer in Styr’s skull.
And then Jon comes face to face with Ygritte again. Her face is taut with conflict but Jon forgets the pitch battle around them and smiles in relief. She’s struck by an arrow and the two say an emotional goodbye.
The valor of the ordinary men of the Night’s Watch, the emerging leadership of Jon Snow and the heart-tugging climax make this fight a winner.
Brienne of Tarth vs. Sandor Clegane
When Season 4 gave the Hound a reprieve from suffering his book death on screen, we did not know then what a dream-come-true final duel the show would give him. Podrick and Brienne and Arya and the Hound each make their way to the Eyrie for purposes related to the surviving Starks. When the two pairs cross paths, the way the scene could go is up in the air every second.
Brienne and Arya seem they would be two people who would like each other a lot, but then Podrick recognizes the Hound and Brienne’s truth is just too suspicious for Arya or the Hound to believe. The Hound hasn’t fought anyone like Brienne before but Brienne has fought men her whole life.
One unique quality that this fight has compared to others on this list is that there’s no designated protagonist. We root for both Brienne and the Hound throughout the season, both of them want the same thing in actuality. It makes the fight especially suspenseful as it drags on and on, boiling down into more and more visceral levels of melee combat.
How good was this fight? I read the books, so I knew the Hound was living on borrowed time and Brienne had major plot points she hadn’t ticked off yet, and I still couldn’t look away for a moment or call it based on the fight in and of itself.
Watch Brienne of Tarth vs. Sandor Clegane
Do you agree with this list? Did you enjoy these fights for similar and or different reasons? What fights and duels would you like to see in the upcoming Game of Thrones Season 5? Let us know in the comments! Game of Thrones returns April 12th on HBO.