So, lately I've seen many old battle threads of GOT characters being revived in the Battles board. I think that many people don't understand many fundamentals of the world of GOT, and I would like to discuss some of the names that come up often, and conclude with my list of top 10 fighters in the show. Yes, in the show, excluding the books. Of course this list is just my opinion, but it is based off analysis of many fights, statements, feats etc. A few things that I would like to establish right off the bat, though:
- Pain tolerance IS NOT A THING. Not in battle, that is. Any human being would ignore any injury that isn't life-threatening and/or crippling in a fight, or at any other situation of life-or-death for that matter. It's called "adrenaline".
- Game of Thrones characters are supposed to showcase, at their core, realistic human abilities. Any character that displays physical traits that are above human capability by real-world standards, is indeed superhuman as far as those stats are concerned.
- "Fodder", in turn, is a false term to use here. It's not comics, where any unnamed character exists for the sole purpose of dying or otherwise getting beaten by a certain hero or villain. If a GOT character can beat 2 nameless swordsmen at the same time, it's as impressive as if a real-world fighter beats 2 fighters at the same time.
- Choreography is not a factor in live-action fights. You can't have a human actor portray inhuman speed/skill and still have his opponent/s portray decent skill at the same time.
- There are many occasions where lore and reputation can speak volumes of a character's skill and prowess. A character with better on-screen feats isn't necessarily a better fighter.
So read on if you will, but be ready for some walls of text so long that they could keep the White Walkers away.
Candidates for the top 10 fighters list:
1. Jon Snow:
Jon Snow is one of the most central characters in the series, and will undoubtedly have a very important role in the future. He has displayed a fair measure of skill, and some nice speed, and people around the North say that he's the greatest swordsman ever.
If breaking down his 2 most infamous fights, which are the short duel he had against the White Walker and the Battle of the Bastards, we can conclude that he isn't that great after all. Against the White Walker, Jon won thanks to one decisive X-factor: Valyrian Steel (which is another thing I would like to touch later). In the beginning, he was tossed aside by the White Walker and lost his Valyrian Steel sword. He dodged a couple of the Walker's strikes, which is honestly his most impressive showing in this fight, only to be tossed again. When he reached his sword again, both he and the White Walker were surprised to see that it didn't vaporize to the touch of the Walker's magical blade, after which Jon blocked another one of the White Walker's strikes, and killed him. But, would any normal foe have died to that cut? Probably not. The White Walker vaporized to the very touch of Valyrian Steel - AKA "Dragonsteel". If it were a human, he would have been wounded, but not killed. Bottom line - not bad, but not that impressive either.
Now, in the Battle of the Bastards, Jon also didn't show anything too much out of the ordinary. Yes, he is shown on-screen to be killing almost 20 enemy soldiers. But it's in the midst of a large open battle, and any survivor of any such battle would have probably taken multiple lives in the process. Not to mention that he was an inch away from getting killed multiple times in this fight and was saved at the last second by his men. Moreover, he was bloodlusted as bloodlusted could get due to Ramsay having just killed his brother in cold blood. His best showing in this fight is actually when he faces Ramsay, and blocks all of his arrows with a shield. Although a very solid argument could be made that this is more of a bad showing for Ramsay rather than a good showing for Jon.
Is his reputation as the finest swordsman to ever walk the earth justified? I would say no, not even close. Jon's X-factor over most characters in GOT is his sword. Not only is it a Bastard Sword, which is larger and has longer reach than most. It's a Valyrian Steel sword - one of the only two such weapons we get to witness in action. Valyrian Steel is sharper, tougher and lighter than regular steel, and grants its user a very big edge in the gear department. But, at the end of the day, would Jon pose a threat to most notable fighters in the series? No, I don't think he would.
2. Robb Stark:
I'm pretty much forced to mention him. Not much to say on Robb, but I see him being brought up on the forums way too often, for pretty much no reason whatsoever. We don't see him fighting even once, not in the books and not in the show (I only recall one time, in the very beginning of the first book, where he beats Joffrey in a practice duel. Not that it's much of a feat, nor does it make a difference here). We know he is an excellent leader and strategist, not more than that. He was trained by Ser Rodrik Cassel since childhood, and as far as we know he has the prowess of any other highborn in the realm. Is it enough to pose a challenge to most notable fighters? No, very far from it.
3. Jaime Lannister:
Jaime is a character that has a lot to break down. He has very little showings in the show, but they are all being discussed in the thread linked above. He is a character whose prowess and skill at arms is already established, and at his core he is meant to be a deadly fighter. This is why George R. R. Martin and the creators of the TV show didn't feel the need to show his abilities on-screen (or on-page) all that much, because he is already established as a character whose main trait is fighting skill. But, if you want solid proof, I think that his fight with Brienne sealed the deal for me. Yes, of course he lost. But is it a bad showing? No. Jaime was after months of captivity, even a year I think. He wasn't only malnourished and in horrific physical condition, he was also rusty for lack of training (or even touching a sword) since the day he was captured. On top of that, he was cuffed, and unarmored. He started the fight by toying with Brienne for a bit, even giving her some pointers, before he got serious. Yes, Brienne won, but he made her really sweat for it. It is, in fact, a great showing of skill, strength and determination on Jaime's side.
4. Oberyn Martell:
Ah, The Red Viper, my namesake. I have to admit that I AM a tiny bit biased whenever it concerns the Prince of Dorne, but I will be as fair as I can now. The Red Viper's only on-screen feat, as we all know, is his fight against The Mountain, which is arguably the best fight scene in the series. Personally I'd rank it as either the best or the second best. Anyhow, The Red Viper beat The Mountain a very solid victory in their duel, and only died because of context concerning this specific fight. Now, The Mountain is freakishly huge, insanely strong, extremely brutal, and heavily armored... making Oberyn the perfect man to fight him. Oberyn is quick, agile, smart and extremely dexterous. He chose the spear as his weapon to compensate for his giant opponent's reach advantage, and even though a spear isn't usually the ideal weapon for a duel - he used it like a devil, with skill that made him look like a juggler in a circus performance. He wanted to humiliate The Mountain, and was toying with him all throughout the fight, and even though his victory wasn't flawless - it was very close to being so. Bottom line, Oberyn Martell is certainly NOT someone that you would want to face on the battlefield.
5. Brienne of Tarth:
Brienne is a complex one. Just how good is she? She's depicted in the series as being very good, and many may think she's one of the very greatest. She will not be easy to break down and this segment might be the longest one here, as she's pretty inconsistent in my opinion, but bear with me. Here's what we know for fact: she's strong, she's skilled, and she can be pretty damn brutal, despite her usual chivalry. She has had a numerous showings in the show: Beating Loras Tyrell one on one, killing two of Renly's Kingsguard, beating Jaime Lannister who was under horrible conditions, barely beating The Hound who was under not the best conditions, killing three Stark soldiers, a few Bolton soldiers and two Arryn soldiers. Let's break those down, in chronological order:
First was her fight against Loras. It's a solid showing, no doubt, but all we see are bits and pieces of the fight. It wasn't a stomp, that much we know, but it was still a solid victory in which Brienne displayed some strength and skill. One thing worth mentioning is that she was using a flail, which is a very tricky weapon to master. Loras is hardly a very top-notch opponent, but it was, after all, the final match of a tournament which earned Brienne championship. In the show, it isn't known how many fighters participated, but in the books I believe it was around 130 (just for the record though, as this doesn't make a difference for the show). All in all, a pretty good showing, but not too unusual.
Soon thereafter came the fight where she killed two of Renly's Kingsguard, which is in my opinion her best showing. They came at her one by one instead of together, which makes it a little less impressive than it could have been, but it's a very solid showing nevertheless. Brienne had her back to the wall, and was in shock for having just watched her king (whom she was in love with since childhood) being killed by a friggen cloud. Those two men were knights, among the most elite in Renly's ranks, so they were far from fodder (Brienne had probably beaten them in the past during that tournament coming to think about it). In this scene, Brienne had shown some solid skill, and very good strength when she knocked one of the knights down with a backhand punch. The whole thing was over in just about 10 seconds. She could have spared them, but she made sure both of them are dead. Don't mess with that wench when she's upset, that much is certain.
Next was her killing three Stark soldiers. It was hardly a fight though, as they didn't really have the chance to fight back. Brienne surprised them by pulling out her weapons, knocking one man out and slitting the other's throat in the process. The third tried to grab her from behind, which is honestly the only resistance she faced from them, and she killed him quickly too. Then she executed the man whom she knocked down in a very slow, painful manner, as payback for them killing three innocent girls. It's a solid showing of speed, quick thinking and some brutality. But, it's important to remember that the three men heavily underestimated her and were mocking her for being a woman just a moment before, which granted her some advantage.
Then came her fight with Jaime. Ah, the fight with Jaime. I won't delve too deep into it as I consider it to be a great feat for Jaime more so than for her. Honestly, beating a man who's practically a pale shadow of himself isn't too much to write home about.
After that came her fight with The Hound. Another pretty good showing. The main thing that bugs me was that Sandor wasn't at his best, since he had a festering wound that slowed him down. Without it, he could have won, especially considering how close the fight was. He had almost won several times. Moreover, Brienne had the very big advantage of using Oathkeeper - the only other Valyrian Steel swords that we get to see used in battle other than Longclaw. Is it a good showing? Yes. Is it a perfect one? No.
Her fight with the Arryns came not long afterwards. Nothing really unique about it. She killed two men. With the first one, she pretty much had the element of surprise, and killed him in one blow when he was charging at Podrick. The second one she had a more proper fight with, and she made short work of him - not before cutting his sword in half, which is part thanks to Oathkeeper and part thanks to her strength.
Last but not least is her fight with the Boltons. It wasn't at all impressive, and honestly she should have died there. She was on the ground after being dropped off her horse, and one of the soldiers came up to her, sword in hand, perfect chance to kill her... but he kicked her instead, giving her a chance to get back up and fight. Why did he do this stupid thing? Nobody can tell. And why did his comrade just watch him die instead of riding in and help? Again, it's a mystery. Hardly a good showing, but all in all, she still won.
Bottom line: Brienne is fierce, she's strong, she's brutal and she's skilled. Is she perfect? No. She has had better moments and worse, But with Oathkeeper in hand, she'd still pose a challenge to any worthy fighter.
6. Sandor Clegane:
Sandor Clegane, AKA The Hound, is almost the whole package. While most fighters in fiction are either huge and strong or skilled and agile, Sandor has the best of both worlds. He isn't the number one strongest (although by feats alone he probably is), but he has the strength of at least four men and is almost 7 feet tall. He's also not the pinnacle of agility and martial skill, but he doesn't lack in this department at all. He's a very complete fighter, if you will. Among his craziest feats are cutting armored men in half with a single strike of his sword (and by "in half" I mean actually in half, check out the thread linked above), lifting a huge log by himself and walking and unknown distance with it, beating Beric Dondarrion in single combat despite his phobia of fire, and much more. His official attire and gear include a full set of plate armor with a dog's head full-helm that leaves almost no weak spots, a sword that is somewhere between a Bastard sword and a greatsword (as well as showing some skill with a morning star and an axe on occasion), and he has the strength and stamina to use it all of course. While I wouldn't say he's the best fighter in the series, he's certainly the most complete one, which earns him a very honorable spot when ranking the top dogs (pun not intended) in the show.
7. Gregor Clegane:
Sandor Clegane's big brother, Gregor (AKA The Mountain that Rides), is probably the most feared man in the realm. He's huge (around 8 feet tall), he's stronger than any man has the right to be, and he's outright evil. However, while his book counterpart is stated to be surprisingly quick and skilled, the show version is a lot less so (aside from one remark by Bronn that describes him as "quicker than you'd expect"). By feats alone, he's not as strong as Sandor, but by reputation he is, and this is one of the rare cases where I'd take reputation over on-screen showings (or lack thereof). Either way, he is definitely strong enough to wave around a greatsword almost as tall as he is like a tennis racket, chop a horse's head clean off in one blow, lift a grown man over his head with both hands fully stretched upward, and as we all remember all too well - crush a man's skull in with his bare hands, which is definitely a lot stronger than any average man. Thoros of Myr also recalls seeing him sever a man's arm and kill that man's horse in a single strike. Anyhow, as I was saying, his only actual battle showing was losing to The Red Viper. He's big and strong, he's heavily armored and has very long reach with this greatsword of his, but he lacks skill and speed, which would make any quick fighter a threat to him.
8. Khal Drogo:
Well, aside from statements such as "Khal Drogo has never been defeated", the man has one on-screen fight to his name, and it was one of the show's most iconic ones probably. He fought beautifully, he fought brutally, and pretty flawlessly too. He's fast, he's brutal and he's very skilled, maybe one of the most martially skilled in the series. Looks pretty damn strong as well, but has no feats to verify. The very fact that the man is a Khal means that he is the strongest and fiercest of his Khalasar which could very well be be considered a feat by itself (his bloodriders are supposed to be close second to him, which explains how he killed one of them in their fight, although I'm not entirely sure he was even a bloodrider. In the books, by the way, the wound that festers and kills him is inflicted by another Khal, one of two that he killed in one day). But Drogo has one big disadvantage: He's Dothraki. He fights in a style and uses a weapon that would be near useless against an armored knight. Sure, he could take on characters who don't tend to use plate armor, like Bronn, and beat them with sheer skill and speed (and probably strength). But against an armored knight of little more than average skill, he would probably lose.
Bronn is an odd duck in the show. He's basically a nobody, a sellsword with no name, who happened to be at the right place at the right time and get into the story. He's proven himself a very dangerous foe. He's very skilled and quick, and he's also clever and likes to fight dirty - which is a dangerous combo. In the first time in the show we get to see the man in action, he and a group of fighters fend off a group off tribesmen that ambushed them. Bronn is seen tearing through a few of them fairly quickly, displaying some unusual fighting style that involves things such as kicks, throws and half-swording. In his next fight, Bronn faces Ser Vardis Egen, a knight of the Vale, in single combat. Bronn used the fact the he is (a lot) younger than his foe, and as a result quicker and more agile, to his favor. He fought in very light armor, against a heavily armored foe, dodging most of his strikes and blocking the rest, using a dirty move or two in the process, until he wore him out enough to easily finish him off. Bronn is also the man who taught Jaime how to fight with his left hand (although he was chosen for this task for his discreetness more so than for his skill), and fought alongside Jaime in a few battles in Dorne, in which he had displayed some good skill and speed, especially when fighting two of the Sand Snakes by himself. In the Battle of the Blackwater, he displayed his skill with a bow as well as some more close-quarters competence. He has a lot of confidence, and is never afraid of a fight (except for that one time when Tyrion asked him to fight The Mountain for him. Bronn suggested that it's conceivable that he could dance around Gregor until he tires him out and somehow kills him, but refused because it wasn't worth the risk). He had his hand on the hilt of his weapon, ready to pull it out and fight even against The Hound, against two knights of the Kingsguard, and when he was alone with Tyrion, surounded by tribesmen ready to kill him. All in all, Bronn is someone who is a very dangerous foe. One of the best? I wouldn't say so, but he certainly doesn't lack skill. We have never seen him battle someone of confirmed skill who isn't an old, slow knight, however, and although his showings are very good they don't top those of many others by a huge margin.
10. Syrio Forel:
Syrio Forel, the First Sword to the Sea-Lord of Braavos, is the first and one of the only fighters in the series that we see using the style called the Water-Dance, which is a lot like fencing - it is swift and elegant, and the Water-Dancer's weapon of choice is a thin, sharp rapier. He is introduced in season 1 as the man who teaches Arya Stark how to fight. His last appearance, though, is one of the show's most memorable fighting scenes. Meryn Trant is sent to fetch Arya, who is training with Syrio, and he brings four soldiers with him. When one of the soldiers approaches to take Arya by force, Syrio of course protects her. He parries the soldier's sword with no more than a flick of the wrist, and knocks him down with one blow to the helmet. In case you were wondering, Syrio had a wooden practice sword, not an actual weapon here. Then the three other soldiers came at him, only to be taken out easily as well. It's VERY easy to miss, but the first one actually got back up and joined his comrades. Syrio, being at a severe disadvantage due to having no weapon, uses amazing skill and smarts to win here. He hacks only at the soldiers' helmets, making their ears ring and probably causing a few concussions, he dodges and makes them hit one another, he uses sweeps to bring them to the floor and tangles them with their own cloaks. Then came Meryn Trant, broke Syrio's stick, and killed him.
...or did he? We never see Syrio die, nor do we see or hear of a body. There are strong theories that suggest that Syrio survived, and is actually the Faceless Man that calls himself Jaqen H'ghar (which is a very logical explanation as to how Jaqen found himself a prisoner in King's Landing in the first place). Interesting theory, but just a theory nonetheless. Anyhow, Syrio has proven that he is not a man that you would want to mess with. If he only had a real sword...
11. Baristan Selmy:
Now we're getting somewhere. Selmy... Selmy is a legend. No less. Even at 60 years old, he's one of the very best knights in Westeros. He is often spoken about by Jaime Lannister, who describes him as the finest knight he had ever witnessed. He describes his fighting as a form of art, as something so perfect that it appears almost unreal. He also called the move that Selmy used to kill Simon Toyne, chief of the Kingswood Brotherhood, "the best move I ever saw". Eddard Stark at one point also remarks that he's glad that he and Barristan had never faced in the battlefield, since a widow's life wouldn't have suited his wife. Jorah describes him as one of the greatest fighters that the Seven Kingdoms had ever seen. He also holds credit to one of the show's most badass one-liners - "Even now, I could cut through the five of you like carving a cake!" Spoken to five men of the Kingsguard, and judging by how serious Selmy was, and how wary those five had appeared... I dunno, I kinda believe him. In his last stand, which is one of my favorite battle scenes in the show, Barristan was facing a whole platoon of Sons of the Harpy, in a narrow corridor. He came just in time to save Grey Worm, who was surrounded, and killed two unsuspecting Sons of the Harpy before the rest noticed he was there. Then they came at him. All of them. He was surrounded, and he killed around 12 of them if not more before finally being overwhelmed. This is, in fact, one of the best feats in the entire show. Sons of the Harpy are (mostly) just angry former nobles with no training whatsoever, that much is true. But the sheer numbers and the bad environment that Barristan had to deal with in that fight do more than compensate. Ser Barristan Selmy in his prime was no less than a legend, and even as an old man, he was a true beast.
12. Daario Naharis:
Moving from one loyal servant of Daenerys to another. Daario Naharis is the captain on the mercenary group known as the Second Sons. He was hired to kill Daenerys, but killed the two other captains of the Second Sons instead, sneaked into Daenerys's private chambers dressed as an Unsullied, and swore allegiance to her. Since then, he had proven himself a worthy fighter a few times. First was when taking the city of Yunkai, where he, Jorah and Grey Worm had to face a large number of guards by themselves. The first half of the fight is pretty cool, and the three fighters make short work of the guards, which outnumbered them at least three to one. In this fight, Daario has displayed some very nice skills, even blocking attacks that came from behind him. The second half of the fight happens off-screen, but it involved even more enemies and the three warriors emerge victorious once more. Granted, since Daario wasn't alone, we cannot know what happened there, but he looked pretty unscathed to me so we can assume he did a pretty good job. All that being said, those guards were just slaves, and were probably untrained as well as not in a very good physical condition. While it does take away from the feat a little, it's still very impressive. His most recognized feat is him killing the Champion of Meereen. It is indeed a very good showing of skill with a throwing knife, but not much more than that, so this feat, however cool it may be, isn't a variant in deducing Daario's skill as a warrior here (for the record, in the books, the fight was won in a more badass way IMO, and it wasn't Daario who fought for Dany, it was Strong Belwas - a character that doesn't appear in the show. He's a former pit-fighter, huge and fat, uses an Arakh, and a eunuch). He's been trained in many fighting styles and had become a champion of the fighting pits, which also earns him some great renown. Other than that, all we have of him is killing a few Sons of the Harpy in the fighting pits, and beating a Dothraki in a fist fight. Daario is very versatile, very skilled and very unpredictable. A fine warrior no doubt, but his greatest victory is still winning the heart of Daenerys.
13. Grey Worm:
Moving on to the third loyal servant of Daenerys. Grey Worm is the leader of Dany's army of Unsullied, chosen by his brothers from among their ranks. Unsullied, by definition, approach battle as you might approach a video game: they would do their best to win, fight until their dying breath, but whether they die or live to tell the tale doesn't really matter to them. They do not know the meaning of fear. Unsullied are more weapons than people, trained since childhood in the arts of war, and only the best make it through and become proper Unsullied. In the books, they are trained to feel no pain whatsoever, but in the show it doesn't appear as such. Anyhow, Grey Worm has a good starting point by being an Unsullied before we even go into feats. Among them, however, are his aforementioned fight alongside Jorah and Daario in Yunkai, as well as the fight where Baristan was killed against the Sons of the Harpy, in which Grey Worm had killed many Sons by himself (I lost count), and remained the only one alive out of the squad of Unsullied which entered the corridor. It is in fact a pretty damn good showing in my eyes. He was even fast enough to kill two or three when he was alone and completely surrounded, before any of them could react. As an Unsullied, Grey Worm uses a long spear and a round shield, and wears a suit of armor made of some thin metal (probably steel, maybe iron) that leaves his arms exposed, as well as small gaps in the neck and the visor. Grey Worm is a weapon, and as such, he is a very worthy contender in here.
14. Jorah Mormont:
Dany's fourth and final servant, though the "loyal" part was very questionable at times. Ser Jorah Mormont is an exiled knight of Westeros, who had served and protected Daenerys since childhood. In Westeros, he has earned renown by participating in many battles, in which he had shown great courage. He was one of the first people to charge into Pyke when Balon Greyjoy rebelled against the crown, and was anointed by King Robert right after the fight was over. However... how good of a fighter is he, is another matter. I have never been impressed with Jorah as most people, I would actually rank him not far above average. I mean, he's pretty good, he's not a slouch or anything, but he doesn't hold a candle to many fighters here. He's pretty old, and pretty slow. However, he is smart, experienced and resourceful. His first real fight in the show was against Qotho, one of Khal Drogo's bloodriders, which is the fight that proved just how ill-suited Dothraki are to fight knights. Qotho danced around Jorah, sliced his cheek, dropped him on his back, and died after his Arakh got stuck in Jorah's reinforced steel-plate armor. If not for the armor, Jorah would have died right there, of that I have no doubt. He has some solid showings, such as beating the guards at Yunkai alongside Grey Worm and Daario, and slicing through some slave-fighters in his first pit-fight. On his second pit-fight though, where he was actually fighting warriors who had earned their place there, he almost died to three different opponents. The first one was a fat, lumbering giant wielding an axe, which Jorah killed with some effort. That really earned him some bad repute in my eyes as far as his speed goes. Next he was facing a Water-Dancer, who is frankly the only person in the entire show that is seen using this style other than Syrio. The Water-Dancer stomped Jorah pretty bad (by which we can safely assume that Syrio, being the First Sword of Braavos, would also beat Jorah), but Jorah was saved by another pit-fighter who stabbed the Water-Dancer in the back. Jorah then fought the man who had just saved him, and beat him with some effort (although I must admit that his finishing move was pretty awesome, and showed a measure of skill and resourcefulness). After this fight had ended, Jorah did display some nice strength and accuracy by taking his fallen foe's spear and tossing it straight into a Son of the Harpy that was creeping on Daenerys, with such force that knocked him back and sent him crashing on to the floor. Jorah then killed a couple more Sons before the end of the scene. After that, we see that he's actually pretty old and lacks stamina when he and Daario go on a mission to find and rescue Dany, and Jorah is exhausted by the long trekking and steep hills that they have to cross, while Daario barely seems to be bothered by it.
Bottom line, Jorah is a very experienced, brave and resourceful knight, who uses his brains and years of experience to his advantage. But, just like all human beings (except for Barristan it appears), he's getting old and slow, and would most likely get overwhelmed by any younger name in here.
15. Arthur Dayne:
Well, I know that Ser Arthur isn't really a character in the show and only appears in a
LSD trip flashback that Bran witnessed with the Three-Eyed Raven. But he has to go in here, it would be a sin to exclude him. Ser Arthur Dayne is the peak of skill in the show. He's even more of a legend than Selmy. Before analyzing his one on-screen fight, there's one important detail that has to be taken into mind. Arthur Dayne was wielding the legendary sword Dawn, and held the title "Sword of the Morning". Dawn, along with the title that comes with it, is the ancestral sword of House Dayne. However, unlike regular heirlooms that are passed from father to son, Dawn only goes to a knight of House Dayne that proves himself worthy. If no knight of House Dayne is found worthy, Dawn just gathers dust until someone is worthy enough to claim it. It is the Mjolnir of the world of GOT, and Ser Arthur is Thor. All knights to previously wield Dawn and hold the title "Sword of the Morning" were the greatest warriors of their respective times, and Dayne is said to be the greatest of them all. This alone speaks volumes on Arthur Dayne's capabilities. Moreover, Dawn itself is forged from a fallen star, and is said to match Valyrian Steel in quality. But, it is also said that "Dawn was just a sword, and Ser Arthur was the true steel."
Now, moving on to his actual on-screen showing. A fight scene that rivals the infamous single combat of The Mountain and The Viper for the show's greatest fight scene (in my opinion, of course). In this fight, Dayne wields Dawn in one hand, and another longsword in the other. Realistically, wielding dual longswords requires vast amounts of skill and dexterity and, was historically only ever used as a means to show-off a man's skill. The fight starts as a 2v6, Dayne and Gerold Hightower VS young Ned Stark and five lords that accompanied him. Dayne and Hightower each take out one man before Hightower falls to Ned's sword, which leaves Dayne alone against four people. He starts the fight surrounded on all four sides, and fends off all four attackers simultaneously. It is, to the best of my memory, and after searching far and wide, the only scene in the show that depicts one fighter fending off four others that surround him. In reality, even a master swordsman would have virtually no chance against four swordsmen of even average skill that have him surrounded. But Dayne no only beat them, he murder-stomped them all without taking a single hit. There are many videos, articles and memes that mock the imperfect choreography of this fight, and claim that Dayne didn't win because he was good, but rather because his opponents were bad. But, just as I said in the beginning of this thread, choreography isn't a factor here. You have a human actor, who needs to portray a feat of inhuman skill. You can't do that without compromising. That doesn't take away from the actual prowess of his enemies. We know, for fact, that Ned Stark is a more than capable warrior, and he was handpicked by Robert to lead this mission. We also know that Ned handpicked his five companions. We also know, that all six of them are highborn, trained by the best quartermasters in the realm, and highborn are always better fighters than your average soldier or cutthroat. Not to mention that a second before that, Ned killed Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Arthur was fighting four fighters with skill that ranges from good to great, and won a flawless victory. As far as skill, dexterity and speed go, Ser Arthur Dayne is unreal. With Dawn in hand, he is something that is hard to describe with words.
16. Eddard Stark:
Ned Stark is supposedly a very good fighter. He has but one actual feat, which is killing Ser Gerold Hightower - Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. It's undoubtedly a great feat, although we do know that Hightower wasn't the greatest knight of the Kingsguard at the time. His fight against Jaime Lannister in season 1 isn't even a feat, as it wasn't a real fight. Jaime had stated that he wanted Ned alive in that scene, and neither he nor his men tried to kill him. Jaime wasn't fighting Ned; he was toying with him for his own amusement. That being said, in his prime, Ned was supposedly pretty good. Remember I mentioned how Ned told Barristan that if they were to meet on the battlefield, then Ned's wife would have become a widow? Well, to that Selmy replied that Ned underestimates himself, as Selmy had seen him kill a dozen great knights. That makes sense, as Ned has a Valyrian Steel greatsword - Ice. Although, we only see it being used for executing people on death sentence, and it is unclear why Ned didn't use it when fighting Arthur Dayne. We can assume That he had used it when killing the dozen great knights that Barristan had mentioned, though we can't know if they really were a dozen, or if they really were great. The only solid thing we have is him killing Hightower, and while Hightower can be assumed to be very good, we actually don't know HOW good. At least not in the series. He's supposedly pretty old though he doesn't appear so. The Kingsguard has had people that range in skill, from as high as Dayne, Jaime and Barristan, to as low as Meryn Trant. I would give Hightower the benefit of doubt and place him a bit above the average between those tiers.
All in all, Eddard has one brief showing against an opponent whose skill level we do not know, but is assumed to be above average. Aside from that there's only a (possibly hyperbolic) statement by Barristan. These two things alone aren't enough to place Ned at a very high tier, but he does gain some extra credit for using a Valyrian Steel sword (although he is never seen using it in combat, it is just assumed).
17. Robert Baratheon:
I only bring him up because I see him being used or mentioned a lot in the battle forums. Yes, he was supposedly a legendary fighter, possibly the greatest of his time when he was in his prime. However, unlike in the books, we don't know enough on him and his capabilities. In the books, he is sometimes regarded as the greatest warrior to ever live, as well as a lot more information that we can use to deduce that he was, in fact, pretty unstoppable. In the show, all we know is that he beat Rhaegar in single combat, and we don't even know how good Rhaegar was. We don't know anything else on Robert aside from one exclamation that Robert made once, saying that he used to be strong, and that he once killed a Tarly boy in one of the fights in his rebellion. That's really it. You don't have to be the greatest fighter alive in order to lead an army to victory (Robb Stark being proof of that), and although we do know that Robert was a remarkable general and commander, we don't know how good he was as a fighter. Bottom line, the show version of King Robert was supposedly a very good fighter in his hay-day, but there's next to nothing to verify it.
1. Mance Rayder:
While not displaying any fighting prowess in the show, The King Beyond the Wall has to be good enough to impress the chiefs of the Wildling clans and unite them under a single cause. In the books, he also easily overpowers Jon Snow, when disguised as Rattleshirt (Lord of Bones) by Melisandre's magic.
2. Jaqen H'ghar:
Not much that needs to be said. Jaqen is a Faceless Man, maybe even the Many-Faced God himself (if one such exists). He's a killer, but more of an assassin than a warrior. We don't know much about his actual fighting skills, but it's totally safe to assume that he is very good, surely more so than The Waif and Arya combined. In the books, there's one time when he actually does fight, and beats a few (I forgot the exact number) Lannister soldiers to a pulp simultaneously, when helping Arya and her friends escape from Harrenhal.
3. Loras Tyrell:
Loras is supposedly a pretty good knight, but lacks evidence as to just how good. All we know is that he reached the finals of the tourney held by Renly at Storm's End, at which he lost to Brienne. He did make her work for it a tiny bit though. The legitimacy of him reaching the finals is pretty questionable, actually. The king is his lover and the queen his sister... the dude had connections. We also know that Loras played a big part in the Battle of the Blackwater, where the forces of House Tyrell appeared out of the blue and attacked Stannis's army from the rear, finally defeating them. However we don't know just how well Loras himself performed. In the books, the Tyrell forces are led by a knight wearing the late Renly's suit of armor, and is thought by Stannis's men to be Renly's ghost seeking revenge. The "ghost" kills Ser Guyard Morrigen - commander of Stannis's vanguard - in single combat. It is later revealed that the "ghost" was actually Ser Garlan Tyrell - older brother to Loras and Margaery, who doesn't appear in the show. Garlan is stated to be the best swordsman in House Tyrell (whilst Loras is the best jouster), and whenever he's training, he spars against three knights simultaneously. If I were to make a top 10 fighters list for the books, Garlan would have easily earned a very respectable ranking in it.
4. Areo Hotah:
Hotah is the captain of the guard to Prince Doran Martell of Dorne. That big black guy with the long-axe. In the books, he has very minimal showings but is referred to as an excellent fighter with many years of experience. In the show, all we know is that he thinks that Jaime in his prime would be a good match for him, but not much more than that.
Yes, Yoren. That pretty random Night's Watch guy who was sent to King's Landing to get some fresh troops for the Wall, and was also tasked to escort Arya back to the north. He has one fight in the show, in which he is facing a large group of Lannister soldiers. When one of them shoots him in the shoulder with a crossbow, he kills him, then goes on and kills some more before being overwhelmed and killed. I counted 4 kills, might be more. It's actually a showing that could rival many of those by any of the 17 candidates mentioned above. I actually considered including in the original candidates list. But, he is a very minor character that has but one showing and no reputation. He was also backed by a few fellow Night's Watch men, which takes a tiny bit away from the feat, although not THAT much. I'm still a bit torn on this, but even if I were to put Yoren as a candidate, I wouldn't put him in the top 10 anyways.
6. Qhorin Halfhand:
If we're already on the topic of Night's Watch men... Qhorin Halfhand was the most notorious one of his time. A ranger whose face any Wildling knew, feared and hated. Other than that, all we have on him is the scene where he fought Jon Snow and died, but it was made clear that he let Jon win so he could earn the Wildlings' trust. He had Jon on the back foot the whole time before he let himself be disarmed and killed.
7. Brynden Tully:
Brynden Tully, AKA The Blackfish, is the uncle of Catelyn Stark and Edmure Tully. He used to be a legendary knight, earning great renown in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, though we don't know exactly what he did to earn it. He is pretty good with a bow, but other than that we don't know much of his actual prowess. We know that he died fighting when Edmure surrendered Riverrun to the Freys and the Lannisters, but we don't know if he took anyone with him. Probably not, because it is never mentioned (and it would have been a pretty crucial detail to tell if it did happen), and he himself stated that he hadn't had a swordfight in years so he would probably make a fool of himself, never mind the fact that he's pretty old (at least 60 I think, maybe more). In earlier events, Jaime said that he thinks that he can beat The Blackfish even with his left hand due to his old age, and Bronn told him that his money's on Brynden. However, we don't know which of them should be taken seriously (if any).
Notable names from the books that are excluded from the show and could have made the list:
- Ser Garlan Tyrell - second son of Lord Mace Tyrell. Regarded as the greatest knight of House Tyrell, and has the feats to prove it.
- Strong Belwas - a former pit-fighter who has earned great renown. He uses an Arakh and fights unarmored, and claims to have never lost a fight.
- Victarion Greyjoy - brother to Balon and Euron Greyjoy and captain of the Iron Fleet. He's an experienced reaver, very savage and strong.
Finally - the top 10 fighters list:
The logic behind this list isn't ranking the strongest, quickest, most martially skilled or most experienced fighters out of the 17 candidates that I analyzed above. The list was established by trying to predict the outcome of a fight between any possible duo out of those 17 fighters, fighting in their prime and using their best gear. Under different circumstances, such as fighting unarmored or fighting from horseback, it could be different.
10. Daario Naharis
Daario is a very skilled, versatile and unpredictable fighter that follows his own rules. He has experience fighting foes of many kinds, and has learned to fight and counter them all.
Bronn's mind is as sharp as his sword, and he has no honor or chivalry whatsoever. Combining these two traits together and adding some very good skill and speed, makes him a very dangerous foe.
8. Grey Worm
More a weapon than a man, Grey Worm knows no fear and will never shy away from battle. Unsullied are the finest soldiers in existence, and Grey Worm is the most elite fighter within their ranks.
7. Brienne of Tarth
Brienne is a chivalrous warrior of great skill, armed with a Valyrian Steel sword. Any man who pisses her off would get a very close look of that blade.
6. Sandor Clegane
As I said before, The Hound is the most complete fighter on the show. While not the number one character in any category, he is still not lacking in anything. Take the skill of an elite knight, combine it with the strength of at least four men and take away all mercy and remorse, and you get yourselves a Hound of the finest breed.
5. Syrio Forel
It's been demonstrated in the show what an average Water-Dancer can do with a rapier, and what Syrio can do with a wooden practice sword. Give Syrio a rapier, and you have yourselves one of the greatest swordsmen who ever lived. Oh, and he's also possibly a Faceless Man.
4. Prince Oberyn Martell
The Red Viper of Dorne has the speed and agility of an acrobat and wields a spear with the skill and dexterity of a juggler. Besting him in combat would prove a challenge to anyone. But even if you beat him, make sure he doesn't touch you even once or you're still die from the deadly poison that coats his blade.
3. Ser Jaime Lannister
While lacking impressive on-screen victories, his close losses still speak volumes. Ser Jaime is a man whose skill and prowess are so well established right off the bat, that he doesn't even need feats to prove it.
2. Ser Barristan Selmy
One of the most gifted knights the world has ever seen. At 60 years old, Ser Barristan is a beast that can tear through hordes of enemies. In his prime, he was all but unmatched.
1. Ser Arthur Dayne
The Sword of the Morning is the noblest of knights, possessing unrealistic skill. When wielding his legendary blade, Dawn, Ser Arthur is a peerless warrior. His predecessors were all the greatest of their respective times, but he tops them all. A legend among legends.
Hope you enjoyed and thanks for the read!