Blackwater to Highgarden— ‘Game of Thrones’ Biggest Battles Up to This Point

What sets apart Game of Thrones from other fantasy epics is its masterful ability to keep audiences engaged and on their feet via the formula Dialogue + Dialogue + Dialogue + More Dialogue = Pay Off.

Minor occurrences have major consequences. Characters whose names we forget play pivotal roles in advancing (and eventually merging) each storyline. A world flooded with sin all but completely blurs the lines between good and evil.

With this, every episode in the series has major significance. Each moment either adds to or subtracts from the construction of this massive fictional world.

That is why battles and conflicts make for the show’s most memorable moments. It’s why the five fights on this list come from episodes averaging an IMDb rating of 9.8/10. [1]

It’s not just the gore aspect of it, which indeed seem to be the ingredient for a popular thriller. It’s the satisfaction in realizing these battle sequences are the results of many decisions and interactions.

I think it’s safe to say the following five battles are the series’ most memorable, although they could easily be swept aside by the imminent conflicts of the final season, currently set to air in early 2019. Regardless, let’s recap.

Battle of the Blackwater [2]

The moment Bronn’s flaming arrow struck the stained green waters of Blackwater Bay, Game of Thrones as we knew it changed forever.

The Battle of the Blackwater was a whole series in the making. It was the result of a stable, although dangerous, situation in King’s Landing with King Joffrey gaining control of the Iron Throne. It required Stannis Baratheon to enlist the blood magic of red priestess Melisandre to assassinate his brother Renly Baratheon in the Stormlands. [3]

Its ending could be attributed to Stannis’s failure to secure an alliance with House Tyrell at Highgarden (we’ll be coming back to them in a bit). And if not for Robb Stark’s threat of conquest in the North, Tywin Lannister’s army would be nowhere near King’s Landing to begin with. [4] I’m sure I’m missing many other key events revolving around this battle.

The explosive (quite literally) battle at Blackwater Bay saw the attempted siege on King’s Landing by Stannis Baratheon. As onlookers, we struggle to choose a side to root for. We really want nothing more than King Joffrey getting his comeuppance, but we know such a result also puts the lives of Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark in danger.

It makes for a stressful sequence, if at all briefly quelled by the Hound’s direct defiance of Joffrey. “Fuck the Kingsguard. Fuck the city. Fuck the King.” So satisfying.

Stannis has the clear size advantage, out-numbering Joffrey’s army even after the great Wildfire explosion that incinerated much of his fleet in seconds. King Joffrey retreats to the Red Keep when more invaders arrive on the shore, allowing Tyrion to seize the opportunity to successfully rally the capital’s army.

A surprise attack on Stannis’s foot soldiers via the tunnels under the city [5] initially go to plan, but Tyrion’s face quickly catches the blade of a sword. Meanwhile, another huge wave of Baratheon troops has arrived on the shore.

If not for the last second rescue by Tywin Lannister, Loras Tyrell, and their respective (newly allied) Houses, King’s Landing surely would have fallen to the invading army of Stannis Baratheon. For now, the threat of invasion could be put to rest.

Battle of Castle Black [6]

Set entirely at the Wall, centuries of conflict between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings finally reach a boiling point with this battle. However, its timely occurrence could be attributed to the Mutiny at Craster’s Keep [7], in which members of the Night’s Watch revolt and murder their Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont. This establishes a schism in the organization, paving way for Mance Rayder (King-Beyond-the-Wall) to launch a series of assaults on the Wall.

The Battle of Castle Black serves as a huge moment in the development of Jon’s character. At Jon’s command, a cohort of Night’s Watchmen honorably hold the gates against a Wildling Giant, as they recite their vows one last time. It’s this moment, coupled with the failed leadership of acting Lord Commander Alliser Thorne, that will ultimately result in Jon’s rise to King of the North.

Ygritte and Jon’s mutual love is also central to maintaining the show’s theme of blurring the lines of good and evil. As wooly-mammoth-riding giants simply squash cowering Crows, and a giant hook clears a horde of Wildlings off the face of the Wall like a windshield wiper, we can only pray for the survival of our favorite characters on both sides of the fight.

This single-shot clip at Castle Black magically encapsulates the gore and horror of the battle.

Furthermore, it’s Ygritte’s decision not to kill Jon Snow when given the chance, that results in her taking an arrow to the heart. She eventually dies in Jon’s arms.

The following morning, we watch as both sides clean up their dead. Despite the Watch’s apparent victory in defending Castle Black, we are left with nothing but sour taste. And with the Army of the Dead looming, the Crow vs. Freefolk conflict will be deemed completely pointless…

Massacre at Hardhome [8]

Historically, Game of Thrones’ biggest moments come in the penultimate (9th) episode of each season. 1.9 shocked us with the execution of Ned Stark. 2.9 visually stunned us with the Battle of the Blackwater. 3.9 left ours jaws on the floor with the Red Wedding. And 4.9 made us cry as Ygritte took an arrow to the heart in the Battle of Castle Black.

Hardhome, the eighth episode of the fifth season, broke that mold.

5.8 takes us beyond the Wall, where Lord Commander Jon Snow and Tormund Giantsbane sail to a Wildling settlement at Hardhome to recruit an army to fight the Dead. However, the Night King and his zombie militia crash the party and massacre pretty much everyone in sight.

Since the literal beginning of the series, it’s been pretty clear that the Army of the Dead is no laughing matter. That still couldn’t adequately prepare us for the slaughtering we witnessed in this episode. In the grand scheme of the show’s gory history, this massacre was something out of a next-level high-budget horror movie.

Hardhome is a turning point of no return in the show’s plot. Any human threat is suddenly miniscule.

The episode’s closing shot — Jon staring hopelessly as the Night King brings the massacre’s deceased to life with a simple raise of his arms — leaves us viewers as frozen as the tundra beyond the wall.

Battle of the Bastards [9]

Season six had been building up to the great battle for Winterfell, and when HBO announced that the penultimate episode would be named Battle of the Bastards, we knew that either Jon Snow or Ramsay Bolton would fall.

The forever-infamous Red Wedding from way back in season three was not an isolated incident, as its preceding and succeeding timelines paved the way for this season six battle. Describing its prelude is a thesis in itself, so for this sake, we will only focus on the aftermath. The key takeaways are:

(a) House Frey conspired with House Lannister and House Bolton to massacre House Stark at the Red Wedding. [10]

(b) House Bolton gains control of Winterfell.

(c) Ramsay Bolton murders his father Roose (Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North), and feeds Walda Frey-Bolton and her newborn son (heir to Winterfell) to his dogs. [11] With the true Bolton bloodline now out of the picture, Ramsay (a bastard), can claim the Winterfell and the North.

The fight itself drew inspiration from actual historic battles. In the Battle of Cannae (a key moment in the Punic Wars between the Roman Republic and the Carthaginians), Carthaginian troops led by Hannibal slaughtered Roman infantry men by forming a semicircle and simply moving inward. [12]

American Civil War testimonies detail that piles of human bodies became literal obstructions on the battlefield. Showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, in addition episode director Miguel Sapochnik, wanted the battle to emulate this historically accurate chaos. [13]

At many points, we are convinced Jon Snow is toast, but it’s clear the Lord of Light has other plans in store for the eventual King in the North.

At the battle’s end, Ramsay retreats to Winterfell where he hopes to wait out the storm caused by the last-minute arrival and rescue of the Knights of the Vale. However, Wildling giant Wun Wun breaks through the gates, and Jon delivers an ass-whooping to the Northern King, before allowing Sansa to feed him to his own dogs — a brutal but fitting end to the rule of GOT’s most sadistic character.

The red Bolton banners of flayed men fall to the ground, and for the first time since before the Red Wedding, the wolf sigil flies at Winterfell. The North Remembers!

Battle of the Gold Road [14]

We can keep saying the Battle of the Gold Road came out of nowhere, but the evidence suggests we should have seen this coming for years.

“Larger every year, your grace.” [15] Varys warned us back in season four, regarding Dany’s three dragons.

“Only a fool would meet the Dothraki in an open field.” [16] The late King Robert Baratheon warned us back in season one, regarding the army which would ultimately pledge its allegiance to the Targaryen cause.

Indeed, nothing in this series has been more goose-bump inducing than the moment we see Drogon come out from behind those clouds.

A massacre best compared to Hardhome, the “Loot Train battle” saw the incineration of the Lannister army on the Gold Road near Highgarden, and with it, all their food and gold.

We also discover that Qyburn’s much-hyped Scorpion (that giant crossbow) left nothing but a scratch on Drogon’s wing. Despite this, Bronn proves once again he’s the best archer the Seven Kingdoms have ever seen, although this guy could probably give him a run for his money.

Jaime’s seemingly moronic decision to charge at Dany and her wounded dragon is a subtle callback to a season one episode, in which Robert Baratheon tells Barristan Selmy of a pivotal moment during the Rebellion when a Tarly soldier charged at him with his sword. [17]

Jaime admired the great fighters like Robert and Ser Barristan, and seized the opportunity to end Dany’s conquest of the Seven Kingdoms then and there. If not for Bronn’s last second heroics, Jaime would be a pile of ash. Give that Bronn his “fookin’ castle!”

As Thrones has so excellently done before, we as an audience again struggle to pick a side in this fight. Do we root for Dany, who’s arrived at Westeros to supposedly free the Seven Kingdoms from tyranny? Or, do we root for Jaime and Bronn, fan favorites who must defend the seemingly evil Cersei Lannister from invading forces.

Couple that with a cameo appearance by Mets ace pitcher Noah Syndergaard as a spear-wielding Lannister soldier [18], and you have one of the most epic battle sequences in TV history.

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SOURCES:

[1] IMDb ratings for the battle episodes referenced in this article — Blackwater (9.7), The Watchers on the Wall, (9.6), Hardhome (9.9), Battle of the Bastards (9.9), The Spoils of War (9.8)

[2] Game of Thrones — Season 2, Ep. 9 — Blackwater, episode originally aired by HBO on May 27, 2012.

[3] Game of Thrones — Season 2, Ep. 5 — The Ghost of Harrenhal, episode originally aired by HBO on April 29, 2012.

[4] Game of Thrones — Season 2, Ep. 8 — The Prince of Winterfell, episode originally aired by HBO on May 20, 2012.

[5] These tunnels were commissioned by the Mad King Aerys Targaryen as an escape route.

[6] Game of Thrones — Season 4, Ep. 9 — The Watchers on the Wall, episode originally aired by HBO on June 8, 2014.

[7] Game of Thrones — Season 3, Ep. 4 — And Now His Watch is Ended, episode originally aired by HBO on April 21, 2013.

[8] Game of Thrones — Season 5, Ep. 8 — Hardhome, episode originally aired by HBO on May 31, 2015.

[9] Game of Thrones — Season 6, Ep. 9 — Battle of the Bastards, originally aired by HBO on June 19, 2016.

[10] Game of Thrones — Season 3, Ep. 10 — The Rains of Castamere, originally aired on HBO on June 2, 2013.

[11] Game of Thrones — Season 6, Ep. 2 — Home, originally aired on HBO on May 1, 2016.

[12] TIME, Inc.: “Here’s the Real History That Inspired the Game of Thrones ‘Battle of the Bastards’, http://time.com/4374748/battle-of-cannae-game-of-thrones/, written by Melissa Chan (June 20, 2016).

[13] IGN: “Game of Thrones: The Real-Life Battles That Inspired “Battle of the Bastards”, http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/06/20/game-of-thrones-the-real-life-battles-that-inspired-battle-of-the-bastards, written by Terri Schwartz (June 19, 2016).

[14] Game of Thrones — Season 7, Ep. 4 — The Spoils of War, episode originally aired by HBO on August 6, 2017.

[15] Game of Thrones — Season 4, Ep. 6 — The Laws of Gods and Men (Script), https://genius.com/Game-of-thrones-the-laws-of-gods-and-men-needs-editing-annotated, episode originally aired by HBO on May 11, 2014.

[16] Game of Thrones — Season 1, Ep. 5 — The Wolf and the Lion (Script), https://genius.com/Game-of-thrones-the-wolf-and-the-lion-annotated, episode originally aired by HBO on May 15, 2011.

[17] Game of Thrones — Season 1, Ep. 3 — Lord Snow, episode originally aired by HBO on May 1, 2011.

[18] Cut4: “In his ‘Game of Thrones’ cameo, Lannister soldier Noah Syndergaard threw a strike with a spear,” http://m.mlb.com/cutfour/2017/08/07/246983546/noah-syndergaard-makes-guest-spot-on-game-of-thrones-in-epic-battle-sequence, written by Adrian Garro (Aug. 7, 2017).