It’s been a hell of a few days for Marvel and Thrones fans, and if you’re a fan of both, you’re likely feel bit broken after watching both the emotional finale of Avengers: Endgame (opens in new tab) and the big battle with the White Walkers in Game of Thrones season 8 (opens in new tab), episode 3, The Long Night. It sounds too good to be true that we’ve been treated to two epic genre showdowns in the past few days, but which is the best?
With two big battles for humanity releasing around the same time, from two of the biggest franchises of all time, and concluding (or leading into a conclusion for) two of the most popular stories of all time, it’s unsurprising that fans are comparing the final Avengers: Endgame battle and the Battle of Winterfell. While the styles of the MCU and Game of Thrones are very different, both the battles have similarities, from the moment when it looks like the good guys are going to lose, to the CGI-heavy action sequences. So, which franchise gave us the best battle? It’s time to draw a line in the sand as we look at each of the main categories in both battles and decide who won the battle for the best cinematic battle of the year.
Note: If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame or Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3 yet, run away screaming now because major spoilers for both are a-coming.
The big action sequences
No big battle is complete without a number of huge, usually CGI-heavy action sequences that really convey the scope of what’s happening and it’s not always easy to get right (see: Justice League (opens in new tab)). When it comes to big action sequences both Marvel Studios and HBO know what they’re doing and spared no expense to bring the final Thanos and White Walker fights to life.
The moment all the resurrected Avengers start appearing to back up Captain America is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, but for me, it was the sequence in Game of Thrones where the Dothraki, complete with fiery blades, quietly disappear into the night as they were snuffed out by the Night King’s army that will stay with me. Plus, when it comes to big action sequences, you can’t really beat dragons. Marvel knows what makes an epic action sequence, but in this case, Game of Thrones wins.
Who wins? Game of Thrones
The one-on-one fight scenes
It’s not all about the big action sequences though. When it comes to battles as big as these, you also need some smaller fights to bring the audience in on the action. These are the little moments that make you cheer (Cap wielding Thor’s hammer), gasp (Spidey swinging through the battlefield with the gauntlet), tug on your heartstrings (Tony and Pepper fighting side by side), and give you chills (Captain Marvel’s timely appearance). Despite just how many characters were involved and just how busy that battlefield was, Endgame still managed to bring us in close for these fan-pleasing moments.
Game of Thrones had them too, but perhaps not as many as we’d have liked. Arya sneaking around Winterfell trying to hide from the wights is so intense; Lyanna Mormont’s face off with the zombie giant is unbelievable; and the moment the dead rise in the crypt and start attacking those hiding there is brilliantly done, but other than that, there aren’t many one-on-one fight scenes that blew us away. The Battle of Winterfell was more about the big picture and while that’s good, it means we lose significant moments like this.
Who wins? Avengers: Endgame
The big battles are only as good as the characters standing on either side and while it’s easy to make the good guys look, well… good, it’s the villains who often get forgotten about. Endgame knocked it out of the park with Thanos though. The franchise hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to memorable villains, but Marvel Phase 3 really put everything into bringing the Mad Titan to life, and it all paid off in Avengers: Endgame’s final battle. By this point we already know (and dislike) Thanos a lot, but he still manages to get us riled up with his nonchalant attitude as he sits around waiting to win. Even his final face off with Tony is full of a level of emotion and character we rarely see from a blockbuster baddie.
In comparison, the Game of Thrones’ Night King is somewhat lacking. He’s arguably had longer than Thanos to be developed and yet, by the time we get the Battle of Winterfell he’s still a fairly one-dimensional villain. He’s scary for sure, but mainly because of what he can do (raising the dead) rather than who he is and with his motives and intentions still somewhat unclear, there’s only so much an audience can draw from a character like this. Plus, he barely puts in an appearance by the time he’s defeated meaning Thanos well and truly wins this round.
Who wins? Avengers: Endgame
But what about the other side of things; the heroes? I could say a lot of about the much-loved heroes of both Endgame and Game of Thrones, but for the sake of time let’s stick to how they performed in their respective battles. I think it’s fair to say that the Avengers, especially Steve and Tony, made us all feel things we didn’t know we were capable of as they fought to save Earth in the Avengers: Endgame ending (opens in new tab). From Cap leading the charge, to Tony’s final sacrifice, not to mention Thor overcoming his insecurities to do battle, Spidey swinging for his life, Nebula defending her sister, and Captain Marvel just doing anything… There are just so many standout moments!
Game of Thrones is the same with Arya giving us unforgettable after unforgettable scene, and Lyanna winning the award for best kill and death pretty much at the same time. Then there’s Theon who completed what must be one of the best character arcs television has ever seen defending Bran, and let’s not forget the Hound, Beric, and Jorah who all had significant moments of valour. The only slightly negative thing there is to say is that our main heroes, Jon and Dany, didn’t get much chance to shine riding the dragons and staying out of the action for the most part. Plus, I would have loved to have seen more personal moments with Jaime, Brienne, Pod, Tormund, and the rest who we really just see fighting from a distance.
Who wins? Avengers: Endgame… but only just
Deaths are always a big part of any movie or TV battle, but when you’re dealing with the finale to the MCU so far and well, George R.R. Martin, the Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame deaths (opens in new tab) were guaranteed. But how did we feel about those that we lost in Endgame and Game of Thrones? Were their deaths satisfying or wasted? And how much did they make us cry? We knew not everyone was going to make it out of Endgame alive but Tony’s death is probably one of the most heartbreaking moments in the whole franchise. It’s so well done - with Tony finally making “the sacrifice play” to defeat Thanos with Pepper by his side - that this death alone wins it for me. Then there’s Nat/Black Widow. While not technically part of the final battle, I’d be remiss in not mentioning her shocking demise and although Steve got his happy ending, it does feel a little like we lost Cap too. *sob*
For a TV show known for killing off your favourite characters, the Battle of Winterfell is surprisingly light on death. A lot of characters that fans thought were goners survived, but it’s not just about the numbers. As previously mentioned, Lyanna’s death was one of the best in the show full stop and Theon’s sacrifice rounds out an impressive story that started back in season 1. While there were other great deaths too - most notably Jorah and Beric - overall the lack of major Game of Thrones deaths in this episode feels a little cheap.
Who wins? Avengers: Endgame
No-one wants to watch everything play out exactly as they expected, which is why any great fictional battle needs a healthy amount of surprises too. In this respect, the winner has to be Game of Thrones if only for the fact that Avengers: Endgame theories (opens in new tab) have been poured over so much in the last year or so that it’s virtually impossible to be surprised at this point. We knew major characters were going to die, we knew the dusted characters were going to return, and ultimately, we knew Thanos would be defeated.
Game of Thrones on the other hand played a very nice misdirect, which saw Ayra defeating the Night King while Jon couldn’t get anywhere near him, and Melisandre’s demise came as somewhat of a shock as well. Finally, perhaps the most shocking thing of all is that more characters didn’t die, which leaves us wondering what comes next!
Who wins? Game of Thrones
Who ultimately wins battle of the battles?
It goes without saying that both the Endgame finale and the Battle of Winterfell will go down in history as two of the best fictional showdowns of all time, but when it comes to which is better… I think I’d have to go with Endgame. For all its shining moments, the Battle of Winterfell lacks the personal moments and significant deaths to really make us feel like this is the end, which is perhaps because it’s not (we still have three Game of Thrones episodes to go). But Endgame breaks our hearts, fixes them, breaks them again, and makes us feel like we’ve lost and won all at the same time with its final battle, crowning it the winner of the battle for the best cinematic showdown of the year.
Want to get excited for more related content? Here's how Avengers: Endgame could influence the new Marvel TV shows (opens in new tab), and below our spoilerific chat about the ending: