Heads up, violence fans! The next episode of Game of Thrones is (mild spoiler alert) supposed to be a doozy, and fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series know why – The Battle of Blackwater is one of the most extreme sequences in the books, complete with swordfighting, giant ships exploding, lots of fire getting thrown around everywhere, and a couple of choice kills by an unexpected assassin. Because of the show’s overall budget, Blackwater’s supposedly been scaled down a bit compared to the over-the-top text, but it still has the largest number of visual effects of any GoT episode to date.
Budgets aside, it’s incredibly tough to get an effective fight sequence on television, even if you’ve got plenty of money. If you’re on a network, there’s the censors to worry about, and on most shows that aren’t written by George R.R. Martin, you have to worry about keeping most of your major characters intact in a believable way. And let’s face it, not every show is ready for “battle” — we’re never going to see Castle and Beckett throw down to save Manhattan from a bunch of aliens, Avengers style (though wouldn’t Stana Katic look amazing in the Black Widow jumpsuit?). Still, there’s been some great action to be seen on the small screen over the years. Check out our list of favorites, and add your own in the comments.
Band of Brothers
Of course we couldn’t do a list like this without mentioning one of the most famous battle-heavy shows in television history. In 2001, the miniseries was given highest budget of any HBO series ever, though that record was surpassed in 2010 by its sister show, The Pacific (more on that later). It’s seriously impossible to pick just one battle to rank over all the rest, but considering that the show is primarily about Lt. Richard Winters, who supposedly led up to 200 men in the assault on Brécourt Manor, the battle that we see going on there is definitely one of the bigger ones — and it’s only in the second episode!
A companion program to Band of Brothers, this Hanks-and-Spielberg-produced HBO miniseries depicts American soldiers deep in the heart of the Pacific front during World War II. Unlike Band, which was romantically heroic in its depiction of the Allies’ fight against the Nazis in Normandy, The Pacific is a little more morally complex. But that doesn’t stop it from delivering some of the most heart-pounding action scenes ever put on television. Although it’s difficult to pick just one to highlight, the beach landing scene at Peleliu is particularly intense (so many explosions!). Of course, with Spielberg at the helm, what did you expect?
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Yes, we know what you’re thinking. “This is a children’s cartoon! And it inspired that awful M. Night Shyamalan movie! How could this be badass in any sense of the word?” Think again. Every single one of the fights in this show are completely riveting, in no small part because its creators drew from very specific elements of Chinese martial arts to put together the choreography. The most awesome moment in the series, though, is in the “Day of Black Sun” episode of Season 3, in which a small, ragtag group of rebel fighters go after an entire nation of military troops. Tanks explode! There are submarines! It’s completely awesome. (Honorable mention goes to the season finale, in which a bunch of 14-year-olds take down at least three or four dirigibles by crashing them into each other. And did we mention one of these 14-year-olds is blind?)
When your show is about a battlestar — that is, an enormous battleship — there had better be some pretty incredible fight scenes. Thankfully, Galactica delivers, reaching peak awesomeness during the battle for New Caprica in the third season, during the two-part episode “Exodus.” The trouble starts when the only two remaining batttleships in the fleet, Galactica and Pegasus, return to rescue colonists from the Cylon-occupied planet by lauching a surprise attack that finds them getting so dangerously far into the atmosphere that – no, you really just need to see it. Words can’t even describe how cool the effects are. And all on a SyFy network budget!
Of course, the battle sequences in Galactica wouldn’t be possibly without the action in Babylon 5 leading the way. The episode “Severed Dreams” won a Hugo award in 1997 for Best Dramatic Presentation, and depicts the human race pretty much launching into full fledged civil war as Babylon fights for its own independence. Ships explode! Space pilots weave in and out of everywhere! Laser-bullets fly! It’s everything you wish Star Trek: The Next Generation would be if the crew of the Enterprise would actually suit up and take down some enemies TIE fighter-style. (Seriously, let Worf stab somebody without getting knocked out, at the very least!) Sure, we’ve come a long way since clunky ’90s-era computer graphics, but for its time, this fight was pretty insane.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand
With an episode title like “Kill Them All,” this season finale of the sex-and-violence-packed Starz program was bound to have plenty of gore. Instead of fighting to the death like you’re supposed to do in the arena, Spartacus and Crixus decide to lead a massive slave revolt against the people in charge, and all hell literally breaks loose. Plus, Crixus kills a pregnant woman. They’re all about equal opportunity slayage over there in Ancient Rome.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Say what you want about how weird the final season of Buffy was (too many new characters! Weird racial and sexist overtones! They killed your favorite character! Annoying Buffy speeches!), but you can’t deny that the series-ending battle sequence in “Chosen” is fantastically, gleefully chaotic. The Scooby gang unlocks all the potential slayers at once to fight against the “Ubervamps” in the Hellmouth under the basement of Sunnydale High School, and Buffy wields a scythe, which, if we were given an option, we would choose over a stake any day. Come on, look at it!
Sources say that the Battle of Blackwater in next week’s Game of Thrones episode will last 16 minutes, which makes it even longer than the infamous opening to Saving Private Ryan. This trumps the previous record held by another HBO show, Rome, in which the Battle of Philippi lasted nine minutes. It’s going to be tough to beat that level of gore, though, because Philippi was a pretty ridiculous nine minutes. Think of a body part, and somebody in this scene definitely got stabbed in it, or at least shot with an arrow in it (yes, even the knee, Skyrim dorks). Don’t believe us? Watch the scene for yourself – just don’t eat anything first.
So maybe it’s not the climactic battle of dueling armies that pretty much everything else on this list is. That doesn’t mean the inexplicable feud between Peter Griffin and that giant chicken isn’t any less epic in scope. Over the course of about 13 different episodes, they’ve fought in an airport, a moving train, a subway platform, a cruise ship, a skyscraper set to explode (from which Peter leaps), a sewer, and a Ferris wheel, and have beat each other up with photocopies, golf club, airplane propellers, frying pans, golf clubs, and so much more. In the Star Wars parody episodes, they even dress up Ernie the chicken as Boba Fett to Peter’s Han Solo. Is there any ongoing fight more intense than that? We don’t think so.