The secret to the best battle scenes on HBO involves the implicit intrigue behind them. When politics and money come into play, violence is often inevitable when parties disagree. This is evident in three poignant scenes from "Game of Thrones," "True Blood," and "Boardwalk Empire," each series using cultural anxiety to build up violent outcomes.
Wildfire Assault ("Blackwater," Season 2, Episode 9 of "Game of Thrones")
This epic battle is the result of two seasons' worth of politics and other events. When Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) attempts an invasion of King's Landing with a massive fleet, he finds that Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) has anticipated both his arrival and the exact gate he will attempt to overtake.
Lannister procures wildfire, a green substance similar to Greek fire. This substance ignites when it contacts water making it ideal to toss at an invading fleet. While it is effective, the wildfire only diminishes a portion of the force, and hand-to-hand combat ensues at the Mud Gate. This battle is extremely graphic, showing several decapitations and other means of gore.
Meanwhile, the women fight their own battles locked within. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) reveals to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) that the man-at-arms she has stationed in the room is actually there to kill the ladies should the invasion succeed.
Fairy Fight ("She's Not There," Season 4, Episode 1 of "True Blood")
"She's Not There" offers an explosive beginning to the fourth season of "True Blood" when protagonist Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) attempts to leave the land of her fairy kin to return to Bon Temps. We learn that beyond the food and the dresses and the pleasantries, the fey have true forms (which look more like goblins and aren't very pretty at all). When Sookie refuses the offer of fruit from Queen Mab (Rebecca Wisocky) after realizing how time works there, the queen and others pursue her.
Sookie finally escapes with the help of a relative, but it's clear that the fairies do not want her to leave. The ensuing battle covers a fair amount of austere terrain. The fairies flash bright magic at each other in warfare, showing that war, people and landscapes draw out true ugliness in every realm.
Warehouse Shooting ("21," Season 2, Episode 1 of "Boardwalk Empire")
"21" includes a painful but historically relevant scene. African-American bootlegger Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) is at his warehouse supervising the production and transport of illegal alcohol when three members of the Ku Klux Klan and their driver unexpectedly appear, opening fire on the warehouse and those inside with an automatic weapon. At first it seems like this will be an ambush rather than a shootout, but the weapon jams and one of the Klansmen heads inside the warehouse to make sure Chalky's dead.
After swearing affinity to "purity, sobriety, and the white Christian's Jesus," this lone Klansmen prepares to execute Chalky. However, he is shot by a woman who is then shot in turn. Wounded, the KKK make their escape, but as they drive off, Chalky fires one final shot, downing one of the men.
Although this shootout isn't epic in scale, it is in meaning for both the African-American community depicted in the film and the illegal trade of manufacturing alcohol, later causing a rift between Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and the white men with different ideals.