By Eliana Dockterman
April 4, 2019

Warning: This post contains spoilers for every season of Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones is a show about the struggle for power. So naturally, it’s filled with battles. Game of Thrones’ final season reportedly boasts the largest fight ever filmed for a television series or a movie. The battle of Winterfell will pit the White Walkers against the living, and the show’s creators say it will rival the Battle of Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings in scale and ambition.

But it will be hard to top some of the fights that came before, which provided many of the series’ most surprising, anxiety-producing and tragic moments. In preparation for the upcoming epic battle, we decided to rank all 16 of the big battles that have featured on the series.

Since the show usually involves at least one skirmish per episode, we set a few ground rules. First, the fights had to include more than a few people. So while many fans are obsessed with the Mountain-Viper duel or the bruiser between Brienne and the Hound, those affairs don’t count as actual battles. The battles also had to happen onscreen. In season 1, Game of Thrones characters spent a lot of time in surveying the damage of a battle after it has already taken place, a savvy budget-saving move.

The result is that many of the fights on this list fall into two categories: Jon Snow sword-fighting on the ground or Daenerys Targaryen burning people to a crisp from atop her dragon. Jon’s fight scenes tend to be more gritty and realistic, while Dany’s tend to be more fantastical and epic. Our heroes will have to pair those two distinct strategies as they fight the White Walkers in season 8.

Here are all the battles of Game of Thrones, ranked.

13. Assault on Dreadfort (Season 4, Episode 6)

HBO

Key Players

Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), Theon Greyoy (Alfie Allen), the Ironborn, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) and Ramsay’s dogs

Why it’s epic

It’s not epic. It’s epically frustrating. Finally, we thought, Yara will rescue Theon , and the Reek torture scenes will end. No such luck. A totally broken Theon refuses to go with the Ironborn rescue party, and a truly terrifying Ramsay Bolton scares them off with his dogs.

Best moment

It’s not necessarily the best moment, but it’s certainly the most disturbing: Why is Ramsay shirtless and totally covered in blood? He’s in bed with Myranda in the scene beforehand, so presumably he is sporting sadomasochistic cuts that he acquired in the bedroom. Eek.

Winner

Ramsay Bolton. He started the fight by sending Yara her brother’s penis in a box.

MVP

Ramsay’s dogs, who apparently strike fear into the heart of Ramsay’s enemies more than Ramsay himself.

The takeaway

The Reek storyline is one of the longest, most torturous in the entire series. Let’s never talk about it again.

13. Raid on Craster’s Keep

HBO

Key Players

Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the Night’s Watch, Hodor (Kristian Nairn), Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick), Jojen Reed (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Locke (Noah Taylor), Karl Tanner (Burn Gorman) and Gilly (Hannah Murray)

Why it’s epic

The Night’s Watch charges into the sinners’ den that is Craster’s Keep in order to kill the men who betrayed them. Jon puts a sword through Karl Tanner’s head. Bran wargs into Hodor and uses him to crush Locke to death. Two big wins for the Stark boys.

Best moment

Bran crawls toward his brother Jon, screaming his name, before Jojen convinces Bran to leave Jon behind. In the short term, it’s tragic. But because Bran chose to seek out the Three-Eyed Raven — a decision that eventually leads Bran to discover Jon’s true parentage — Bran and his “brother” will have a lot more to talk about when they reunite.

Winner

Jon Snow. During his skirmish with Karl Tanner he learns a valuable lesson about when to fight nobly and when to fight dirty.

MVP

One of Craster’s daughter-wives stabs Karl in the back right when he’s about to kill Jon.

The takeaway

This is one of the most frustrating Stark near-misses in the series: Bran Stark comes ridiculously close to reuniting with Jon Snow but decides to travel beyond the Wall instead. The battle itself has little impact on the overall plot: It’s a lot of Night’s Watch infighting. But Jon gets a satisfying — if disgusting — win against Karl.

12. Daenerys Sacks Astapor (Season 3, Episode 4)

Daenerys Tagaryen in Season 3 of Game of Thrones
HBO

Key players

Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), the Unsullied, Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney), Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Kraznys (Dan Hildebrand) and Drogon

Why it’s epic

All the men at this negotiation — from the slavers to Daenery’s own advisors — underestimate her. She uses their low expectations to her advantage and pretends to trade Drogon to Kraznys in exchange for the Unsullied. But after the trade-off, she reveals that she can speak Valyrian, tells the Unsullied that they are free and orders Drogon to burn Kraznys to a crisp.

Winner

Daenerys, who gains an army of loyal free men.

Best moment

Daenerys surprises Kraznys by revealing that she spoke Valyrian all along.

MVP

Drogon, flexing his dragon muscles.

The takeaway

It’s almost unfair to call this a battle, considering that Daenerys is the only one with an army when she surprise-attacks the slavers of Astapor. But she does free all the slaves in the city and begins to define herself publicly as Breaker of Chains.

11. The Battle of Winterfell (Season 5, Episode 10)

Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan—HBO

Key Players

Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), Selyse Baratheon (Tara Fitzgerald), Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Danielle Ingram), Ramsay Bolton, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Theon Greyjoy, Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie)

Why it’s epic

It’s really more tragic than epic: Stannis’ men abandon him after he entrusts their fate to Melisandre, a woman who burns children alive.

Best moment

Brienne happens upon an injured Stannis and finally avenges Renly Baratheon.

Winner

Sansa Stark, for seizing the moment and finally escaping captivity with Theon in tow.

MVP

Unfortunately, Ramsay Bolton. Unlike the show’s other major human villain, Joffrey, he’s pretty good at fighting. Like Joffrey, he’s creepily sadistic about it.

The takeaway

This is barely a battle, especially given the epic build-up to this moment, human sacrifice and all. The story centers more on Stannis’ downfall than the actual fight between the two families for Winterfell. Conspiracy theorists out there will be quick to point out that we never actually see Stannis die, just Brienne raising her sword over him. But this is certainly the end of Stannis’ bid for the Iron Throne.

10. Siege of Meereen (Season 6, Episode 9)

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones
HBO

Key Players

Daenerys, Daario (Michael Huisman), Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Missandei, Drogon, Rhaegal, Viserion and the Slavers

Why it’s epic

We’re not going to complain about dragon fire. After years of skirmishes with the slavers, Daenerys puts down these types of rebellions once and for all. By destroying the slavers’ fleet with Drogon and releasing her other two dragons from their cramped living quarters under the Meereen pyramid, she establishes her dominance as Mother of Dragons.

Best moment

Tyrion tells the three slaver leaders that one of them must die for breaking their pact with Daenerys. Two of them push the lowborn one forward. Grey Worm then kills the two highborn cowards and leaves the lowborn man untouched.

Winner

Daenerys. Isn’t she always?

MVP

Drogon. Daenerys unwisely locked up her other two dragons to earn the trust of the people of Meereen. We see in this scene that Drogon has grown to at least twice the size of his siblings.

The takeaway

Honestly, at this point it’s unclear why any human thinks they can defeat a woman with three dragons. After what feels like an endless slog of political upheaval in Meereen, Daenerys gains control of her three children and settles the question of who will determine the rules in Slaver’s Bay. Still, this brief battle is easily overshadowed by the Battle of the Bastards — which takes place in the very same episode.

9. Uprising at Daznak’s Pit (Season 5, Episode 9)

HBO

Key Players

Daenerys, Jorah Mormont, Daario, Grey Worm, Tyrion, the Unsullied, the Sons of the Harpy and Drogon

Why it’s epic

As the Sons of the Harpy surround Daenerys and her allies in an assassination attempt, Drogon swoops in from nowhere to save her. After Drogon literally rips someone in half, Daenerys mounts a dragon for the first time and flies away.

Best moment

It’s obviously Drogon swooping in to save his mom. But Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Daenerys holding hands as they wait to die is a close second.

Winner

Daenerys, who is helpless in the beginning of the scene — guarded by men — but winds up the most dangerous person in the arena by the end. Drogon is a weapon of mass destruction.

MVP

Jorah Mormont for saving Dany’s life by throwing a spear at the man who is about to assassinate her in the beginning of the fight. (He does grab her hand though, which is not great considering he has Greyscale at this point.)

The takeaway

It’s unclear how — once Drogon flies away — Tyrion, Missendai, Daario, Jorah and Grey Worm escape danger, but whatever. Dany can ride dragons now. She’s going to kick Cersei’s butt.

8. Greyjoy Naval Battle (Season 7, Episode 2)

HBO

Key Players

Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), Yara Greyjoy, Theon Greyjoy, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), Tyene Sand (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), Obara Sand (Keisha Castle-Hughes), Nymeria Sand (Jessica Henwick) and the Ironborn

Why it’s epic

Euron is a latecomer to the show. But what he lacks in timeliness he makes up for in sheer lunacy. Actor Pilou Asbæk is having the time of his life as the homicidal pirate in this battle.

Best moment

Theon jumps off the side of the boat. It would have been a leap in logic for Theon to actually summon the courage to save Yara from Euron. He’s not that far past the Reek phrase of his life yet. This escape is in character.

Winner

Euron Greyjoy. He captures his niece for himself, the woman who murdered Cersei’s daughter for Cersei, and he proves that Theon is a coward in the process.

MVP

It’s all about Euron. He single-handedly kills two Sand Snakes and what looks to be dozens of other fighters.

The takeaway

This isn’t a battle that does much to move the plot forward. It involves a lot of minor characters. But it’s short, incredibly violent and reverberates throughout the Seven Kingdoms: Euron decimates Daenerys’ newfound allies in one fell swoop. Euron hasn’t gotten enough to do in the show, but his bad behavior could rival that of Ramsay or Joffrey.

7. The Raid at the Weirwood (Season 6, Episode 5)

HBO

Key Players

Hodor, Bran Stark, Meera Reed, the Three Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow), Leaf (Fae Alexander), the Children of the Forest, Summer, the Night King (Vladimir Furdik), the White Walkers and wights

Why it’s epic

This is less a battle than an outright slaughter. The scene is made all the more tragic by playing host to of the show’s most shocking and emotional reveals: Bran warging into Hodor in present day addled Hodor’s brain in the past. As the young Hodor yells “hold the door” in the past while grown Hodor holds the door preventing the wights from reaching Bran in the present, the origin of his name and one-word vocabulary suddenly makes sense.

Best moment

Hold the door.”

Winner

The White Walkers sadly win this one by taking advantage of the moment that Bran accidentally breaks the magic spell around the Weirwood.

MVP

Hodor, obviously. Summer and Leaf tie for second for sacrificing themselves to save Bran.

The takeaway

It might be cheating to call this a battle. But Bran and Meera fare better against the White Walkers than most humans that cross their path: They live. And as one of the first major reveals that wasn’t in the book, the now-iconic scene surprised readers and non-readers alike. Plus, the fact that Game of Thrones can attach so much emotional weight to answering a question that was among most fans’ less-urgent Game of Thrones queries is a reminder of the show’s power.

6. Battle Beyond the Wall (Season 7, Episode 6)

HBO

Key players

Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, the Hound (Rory McCann), Jorah Mormont, Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle), Drogon, Rhaegal, Viserion, the Night King, the White Walkers and the wights

Why it’s epic

The book series on which Game of Thrones is based is called A Song of Ice and Fire for a reason. Fans had been waiting for a dragon-White Walker face-off for years. They finally got one, with devastating consequences.

Best moment

Yes, it’s tragic, but the Night King killing a dragon is the most thrilling moment in this set piece. It’s not totally clear why the Night King decided to kill Viserion instead of going for the closer, already-grounded Drogon. But with a javelin throw like that, that White Walker should try out for the Olympics.

Winner

The Night King. Jon may have escaped, but the Night King got an ice dragon.

MVP

Benjen Stark. This is his second deus ex machina appearance — he also saved Bran and Meera as they fled the wights chasing them from the Weirwood a season prior. But Jon would not have survived to romance Daenerys without Benjen’s help. (Though, as we will discuss later, Jon maybe didn’t want to survive at all.)

The takeaway

Look, the plan to capture a wight is terrible. It’s a miracle that the expedition only lost Thoros, several wildlings and a dragon. And the scene is docked extra points for the rushed exposition that got Jon and his buddies North of the Wall in the first place.

But it’s undeniable that the emergence of an ice bear and then an ice dragon makes up for just about all the plotting flaws that led to this battle. And the loss of Viserion has real emotional resonance. Sure, he’s probably the fans’ least-favorite dragon: after all, he’s named for Daenerys’ horrible big brother. But an increasingly cocky Dany learns in that moment that she’s not unbeatable.

5. Loot Train Attack (Season 7, Episode 4)

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
HBO

Key Players

Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and the Dothraki

Why it’s epic

Daenerys makes a big debut at Westeros. The Dothraki utterly destroy Cersei’s army even before Drogon swoops in and reduces their loot train to ashes.

Best moment

Tyrion repeats, “You f—ing idiot” as he watches Jaime charge Daenerys and her dragon. He’s just saying what the audience is thinking.

Winner

Daenerys. Not only does she decimate the Lannister forces (and their precious loot), but her display of power convinces both Jaime and Bronn that they have no interest in fighting three dragons to protect King’s Landing. They understand they have no chance. Too bad Cersei wasn’t there to watch.

MVP

Bronn for appearing out of nowhere to save Jaime from his idiotic attempt to fight a dragon.

The takeaway

Despite its lame name, the Loot Train Attack is among the show’s most compelling battles because fans simply did not know who to root for. Tyrion plays the audience surrogate in the scene, hoping that Jaime survives but also rooting for the wounded dragon.

This is the first time we as an audience are really forced to confront the carnage that Daenerys can unleash. Previously, she’s taken vengeance against slaveholders and kidnappers, but she’s never fought characters that we actually care about, like Bronn. And while Jaime has gone from villain to hero, Dany is starting to exhibit some Mad King — or in this case Mad Queen — tendencies with her love of fire.

4. Battle at Hardhome (Season 5, Episode 8)

The Night King in Game of Thrones
HBO

Key Players

Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane, Edd Tollett (Ben Crompton), Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), the Night King (Richard Brake, before the role was recast), the White Walkers and the wights

Why it’s epic

In case you haven’t been paying attention, this episode clarifies the stakes of the entire TV show: the White Walkers aren’t just an idea but an overwhelming, unbeatable presence. As Jon nobly tries to usher Wildlings South of the Wall, the White Walkers attack and add a few thousand more ice zombies to their army. Jon Snow has one small victory though: He kills a White Walker!

Best moment

It’s a meme for a reason: The Night King raises his arms as the dead surrounding him rise as wights.

Winner

The Night King for proving how much more powerful he is than any man.

MVP

Yes, Jon Snow loses this battle. But he still earns the title of Most Valuable Player by managing to kill a White Walker with Longclaw, his Valyrian steel sword. Valyrian steel’s ability to kill White Walkers (and all the wights that that White Walker created) will prove to be an essential piece of information heading into the big battle with the White Walkers in season 8.

The takeaway

Director Miguel Sapochnik is known as the “battle guy” on Game of Thrones. He cut his teeth on “Hardhome” (after making his directorial debut on the relatively tame episode that preceded it). The last 20 minutes of this episode are some of the best in the show’s history — and the fact that the epic scene was presented as a surprise at the end of the episode, rather than taking up the full runtime, makes it all the more effective.

Unlike the larger battles where dozens of named characters are fighting in different parts of the skirmish, fans only need to keep track of a handful — really, one — hero in this sequence. That works on an emotional level too: It feels like one man is battling thousands. The scene doesn’t quite carry the emotional heft of when Jon fights a mortal enemy. But if you like these zombie battles, you’re sure to get more of them in the last season.

3. Battle of the Blackwater (Season 2, Episode 9)

Battle of Blackwater in Game of Thrones
HBO

Key Players

Stannis Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), Tyrion Lannister, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), Bronn, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), Sansa Stark, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) and the Hound

Why it’s epic

This early battle redefined what Game of Thrones — and television as a medium — could accomplish. The spectacle of the Lannisters’ green wildfire ripping through the Baratheon fleet was one of the most memorable scenes that any fantasy series has conjured up on the screen — big or small.

Best moment

The Hound sees fire and turns on his heels: “F— the Kingsguard, f— the city, f— the king.” This is the correct take on Joffrey.

Winner

Tywin Lannister. The Lannister family is only able to survive the attack because of Tywin’s reinforcements. He also saves Cersei from having to poison her own children.

MVP

Tyrion Lannister earns points for his pyrotechnics work — at least at the beginning — and though he is betrayed by his family and nearly killed, he lives to fight another day.

The takeaway

This is the first big battle in the show. It’s also the first one that divides the audience’s allegiances since there are both good guys and maniacs on each side of the fight. But at this point, the series creators are still trying to figure out how to show the epic proportions of a very expensive battle scene while focusing on the emotional ramifications of that fight for a few characters.

It’s astounding to look back on this fight and realize that neither Jon nor Daenerys were involved. It just goes to show that the journey to the Iron Throne is a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Battle of Castle Black (Season 4, Episode 9)

HBO

Key Players

Jon Snow, Ygritte (Rose Leslie), Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), Allister Thorne (Owen Teale), Tormund Giantsbane, Olly (Brenock O’Connor), Gilly, Pyp (Josef Altin), Grenn (Mark Stanley), Mag the Mighty (Neil Fingleton), Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter), Styr (Yuri Kolokolnikov) and Ghost

Why it’s epic

The Wildlings attack Castle Black, and Jon becomes de facto commander of the Night’s Watch in the process. This is Jon’s first major test as a leader, and he succeeds. There’s also a really impressive 360-degree shot in the midst of the battle that proves this is one of the best choreographed fight scenes ever filmed.

Best moment

The death of Ygritte in Jon Snow’s arms. I dare you not to cry.

Winner

Jon Snow — as much as you can be a winner after your lover dies.

MVP

Grenn and the five men with him, for facing down a giant and holding. that. gate.

The takeaway

In some ways Jon is a cliche: the hero who reluctantly steps up only to discover that he was born to be a leader. But unlike the protagonists of countless other stories, Jon is made truly miserable by this revelation. He never smirks during a fight or celebrates a victory. He just throws himself in harm’s away over and over again, grimacing the entire time. But it’s his realistic (or perhaps nihilistic) attitude that makes him a good commander: He’s able to make sacrifices, like essentially ordering Grenn to his death.

And then there’s Ygritte’s death, which stands out among the hundreds that have transpired on the show. The fact that a chaotic fight scene can zero in on such an emotional moment is a testament to the direction of the sequence.

1. Battle of the Bastards (Season 6, Episode 9)

HBO

Key Players

Jon Snow, Ramsay Bolton, Sansa Stark, Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson), Davos Seaworth, Tormund Giantsbane, Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and the Knights of the Vale

Why it’s epic

This battle scene is gorgeously and expertly shot, putting it on par with the best battle scenes in cinematic history. It’s also one of the more realistic: Yes, there are giants. But in this fight, other fantastical elements like dragons, White Walkers and Wildfire can’t swoop in save our heroes — only men can. For the most part, what we see is down and dirty, hand-to-hand combat. The piles of corpses, the phalanx-style wall of soldiers, the sheer dumb luck of who survives and who dies all ring true.

Best moment

Jon caught in the center of a mosh pit of soldiers, staring up at the camera. It’s like he’s begging to be killed but fate won’t let him die.

Winner

Sansa Stark. Sorry, Jon. If Sansa hadn’t secretly called on Littlefinger for backup, you would have lost this one.

MVP

Jon Snow. At this point, he seems to have a death wish. He tells Melisandre that if he dies, not to bring him back again. Then he proceeds to run out alone in front of Ramsay’s soldiers. Is he brave or suicidal? Depends on your perspective. But those types of actions make for a great soldier.

The takeaway

The absolute ruthlessness of this battle begins with a perfect note: Ramsay playing one final, sadistic game as he shoots Rickon in the back with an arrow. (Rickon, run in zig-zags!) The incredibly violent scenes that follow are cinematic in scope. The camera follows a lone Jon closely on the ground. From among the shots of flying horses and fallen giants come a few silhouettes of Jon looking lonely in the horde. And of course, it’s fitting that the scene ultimately ends mano-a-mano between Jon and the man who killed his brother and raped his sister. Never have fans more desperately wanted a hero to kill a villain on the show. But Jon, ever the noble hero, lets Sansa do the honors.

But there’s one nit to pick: Game of Thrones still hasn’t offered a clear answer on why Sansa didn’t tell Jon that she recruited the Knights of the Vale to come help them. Perhaps she was annoyed at Jon for not consulting her on his battle plan, given her experiences with Ramsay. Maybe she didn’t trust Jon yet. Maybe all our questions will be answered in the final season. But at the moment, the secret seemed illogical and even out of character for the savvy Sansa.

Regardless, this is the best battle in the show’s history.

Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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