Major spoiler warning for anyone who hasn't yet watched the entirety of The Punisher Season 1. Do not read on if you have episodes left to go.
With the five shows comprising Marvel's Defenders-verse, Netflix proved it was more than fine with making the generally cheery comic book world as dark, dangerous and sanguinary as possible. It's likely few were shocked to see The Punisher is on a whole other level when it comes to the brooding brutality, both with and without deadly weapons involved. (Though anything is technically a deadly weapon in Frank Castle's presence.) Carrying on the tradition that Daredevil set a few years ago, The Punisher delivered a full season of feral fist-fights, garish gunfights and one particularly memorable brawl involving a sledgehammer. Without any superpowered teammates, too.
Since Frank is the kind of many who doesn't put a whole lot of stock in "further ado," let's jump right into the biggest and most badass fights of The Punisher Season 1. And remember that all the season's battles and brawls were up for contention here, not just the fisticuffs-only fights.
11. The Ball-Gag Bonanza - Ep. 7
The Punisher was largely more focused on hyper-violence and its conspiratorial plotline than it was in its characters getting down and dirty between the sheets, but Billy and Madani carried on a sexual relationship, and Micro totally pulled his dong out for Frank. Then there was this pre-coitus interruptus showdown, which started with Colonel Morty Bennett looking to relax with his dominatrix for a calm night of floor-licking and spankings. Frank spoiled the mood with his need to hack Bennett's phone, and the Anvil security team showed up to take Frank out (complete with pink laser lights), but our hero made short work of these soldiers in non-lethal ways. He also added some insult to the shameful Bennett's injury by slapping and punching him right in the face.
10. The Hotel Showdown - Ep. 10
An easy standout for the season, The Punisher's "Virtue of the Vicious" heist plot aimed for heightened dramatic effect by messing with the hotel-centered timeline of Senator Ori and Karen's gun control convo. Daniel Webber's militant bomber Lewis single-handedly infiltrated the Anvil team, managing to take Karen hostage for a while before finally blowing himself up. But before that, Frank got to show off just how seemingly unbreakable he is taking out cops in a stairwell, and by leaping down the middle of a stairwell using a firehose as a half-ass bungee cord. (He also hung a corpse on his back to block bullets, which also scored points.) Admittedly, the episode's fractured timing split the action up, thus making the episode's placement here challengeable. But I'm sticking with it.
9. Lewis Vs. Curtis - Ep. 9
In The Punisher's first season, two characters on opposite ends of the same spectrum were the PTSD-ridden Lewis Walcott and the more comfortably acclimated Curtis Hoyle. And though Curtis only wanted to help the younger soldier, Lewis was too far gone by the time Curtis discovered O'Connor's corpse. Quick as it was, the ensuing domestic brawl between the two men was well choreographed, and it immediately went from a cheer-worthy fight to something much more horrifying, with Lewis using Curtis' own prosthetic leg to beat his face into a swollen pulp. I felt slightly sickened during that scene, thinking that Curtis was indeed dead by the end of it, but he definitely lived. And I possibly had a repeat feeling of nausea whenever we saw his jacked-up face again.
8. The Warehouse Battle - Ep. 8
While most of the fights on this list are centered on Jon Bernthal getting bloodied up, Amber Rose Revah's Madani and Michael Nathanson's Stein took centerstage (opposite Billy's crew) for a big gunfight in the middle of a mannequin-filled warehouse. The only government-sanctioned entry on this list, the warehouse shootout was Madani's decoy operation meant to take down this group down (even though she still didn't know Billy was involved). Billy was not about to let himself get caught, though, so he engaged Madani's team in an unpredictable and intense gunfight that only ended after he'd sacrificed one of his own men and soon left Sam to die a bloody and bug-eyed death in Madani's arms. As exciting as the gunplay was by itself, this scene's emotional impact made it an even more memorable highlight.
7. Forest Firefight - Ep. 5
Frank headed out into the woods in an attempt to track down an off-the-grid soldier who might have answers, but he instead unwittingly led Rawlins' enforcers out there, resulting in one of The Punisher's most interesting and hair raising sequences. Frank and Jeb Kreager's Gunner stealthily picking off soldiers like it was a slasher movie, and the horror element was made all the more apparent from Rawlins' p.o.v., since he was watching everything through body-cam feeds on his computer, giving it all a weird Blair Witch vibe. Rarely do TV shows get to engage in mini-wargames in the great outdoors like this, and one could almost feel sympathy for the clueless soldiers getting slaughtered. But then, they shot Frank, killed Gunner and didn't fight back with Rawlins, so no sympathy can be spared for them.
6. Frank vs. Carson Wolf - Ep. 2
If someone could just make a mocked-up boxing poster showcasing a fight between Frank Castle and Ponyboy Curtis, that'd be great, thanks. Because yes, The Outsiders and E.T. vet C. Thomas Howell showed up in The Punisher for a short while as the dirty government worker Carson Wolf, and it didn't take him long to end up on the wrong end of Frank's rage. Taking place in Wolf's envy-worthy abode, this fight was gloriously down and dirty, replacing weapons training with survival instinct, using an entire kitchen and more to spread out the cross hooks and broken bones. Frank walloped the piss out of Wolf with a toaster, which was awesome, and that table-edge knockout blow was cringe-worthy. Kudos to director Tom Shankland for splicing the outdoor p.o.v. shots in there, since those were as effective as all the kicks and punches.
5. Sledgehammer TIme - Ep. 1
The Punisher likely didn't start off in a way that many were expecting, with Frank sporting a beard and a new identity. But our first big peek at his Punisher persona in this series came near the end of the premiere, when Frank employed a sledgehammer to almost effortlessly destroy the asshole criminal coworkers that constantly gave him hell. Hinting at the season's future carnage, this fight was as gleefully exciting as scenes got in The Punisher, since it featured less of the emotional turmoil embedded in later confrontations. This fight was exactly what I was hoping for with The Punisher, and though there weren't any other big sledgehammer melees this season, here's hoping every other TV show takes note and turns that into a trope.
4. Operation Cerberus
It's safe to say that one of Frank Castle's biggest downfalls was being a talented and obedient solder. During one extremely ill-planned and deadly mission that even Frank knew was a bad idea, he forced an escape route by heading into and through a big building full of enemy soldiers. We got to see his proto-Punisher persona take hold, and Frank was an absolute machine during that sequence, relying completely on instincts and split-second reactions to take out the enemies and stay alive, and all to the subdued sounds of The White Buffalo. Adding to the tension is the fade-heavy editing, giving it a dreamlike quality that made it all feel like Frank's stress-inducing memories. It's the first time we saw Frank take a full blood bath, and the scene more or less ends on him delivering the eye-destroying blow to Rawlins' face. If only he could have kept going.
3. The Punisher's Real Emergence - Ep. 11
Though the show is called The Punisher, much of the season is spent watching Frank Castle trying not to fall back into that murderous persona. But he was so often pushed to a breaking point that it had to come out again, and so it did in "Danger Close." A squadron of Rawlins' goon soldiers infiltrated Micro's former headquarters, leading to a buffet of violence as The Punisher stepped from the shadows and took everyone out. From broken necks to stabbings to a hanging to a decapitated head with a grenade in it, The Punisher got mighty crafty with his rage, making Rawlins' guys look like action figures both before and after bringing out the big guns. He made one guy stab himself and then cut the dude's leg tendons so he couldn't walk away, and then blew the dude's face off. The Punisher's reemergence was most excellently worth the wait.
2. Rawlins' Torture Time - Ep. 12
The Punisher largely eschewed its slow-burn approach in its final stretch, and "Home" put Frank through a sickening amount of physical and emotional distress with a confessional Billy and a rabid Rawlins, and it wasn't even recognizable as a Marvel show. Not technically a fight, this entire situation's horrifying (and darkly comical) brutality could not be ignored here. Tied to a chair for most of it, Frank got the everliving stuffing beat out of him in between dream-states of reconnecting with Maria, to the tune of Paul Weller's "You Do Something To Me." As badly as Rawlins beat Frank's face in, the anti-hero struck the biggest blows, even taking a bite out of Rawlins' neck, and once the adrenaline-fueled Frank got free, he turned Rawlins' face into strawberry jam, shaking the camera with every knuckle-popping punch. Frank's vengeance peaked when he put his thumbs in both of Rawlins' eye sockets, finally taking his target out for good.
1. Hell in the Carousel - Ep. 13
Wow. Frank's final battle of Season 1, which was the first time he and Billy Russo really got to fuck each other up, was a tight microcosm of the brawls that came before it. Taking place on the very carousel that haunts Frank's memories, the finale's epic showdown was intense from beginning to end, with Billy using teenage hostages and mind games to draw Frank out. And when the two eventually got physical, fans got to watch a well choreographed fight to the finish, literally. I thought Billy putting that knife through Frank's arm was going to be the biggest stomach-turner, but that assumption got harshly upended when Frank pulled Billy's face down that broken mirror, getting all that glass stuck in his cheek. (All my bodily orifices squeezed shut at that moment.) For better or worse, Frank let Billy live in the end -- "You're gonna remember me!" -- letting the villain's unrecognizable face serve as a memory of his wild and most ungracious defeat.
There you have it, Punisher fans. We've waited years to watch Frank Castle get his own TV show, and showrunner Steve Lightfoot delivered one of the best and most brutal comic book stories we've seen yet. Will we get a Season 2 to keep the carnage going next year and beyond? We're definitely not going to stand in the way of it, lest we end up with our faces splattered all over the wall behind us.