Here are the ground rules I used both in terms of how I choose which characters to include as well as how I come up with a hierarchy. There will sometimes be some wiggle room based on the laws of a particular show or movie’s universe, but these rules form the basis of my approach.
1: I am completely ignoring any mention of reputation, and I will not extrapolate based on things that happen off-screen. For example, my Game of Thrones rankings will not include Barristan Selmy. Even though he is frequently referred to as being among the best swordsmen in history, we only see him fight once in a brief, unspectacular skirmish that he loses. Only the fights that we see will count.
2: I am only interested in the depiction of fights and combat styles as they are in a show or movie. If there is another version of the characters or battles that I evaluate, such as a novelization, then it will not count towards my rankings. I know that this means that my rankings may contradict existing lore. That’s fine.
3: No ranged combat. If I included archers and the like, then there would be no suspense when I announced Legolas as the best fighter in Middle Earth. This is applicable when ranged weapons are an advantage rather than the norm.
4: Battles against a horde of extras don’t really matter, since more often than not these battles tend to follow the conservation of ninjutsu and are just phoned in. That is to say, when one character goes up against hundreds of nameless, anonymous bad guys, they turn out to be cannon fodder. Meanwhile, a duel against one, named and recognizable character is much more difficult and, to my interest, telling in terms of fighting skill and technique. I will, however, make note of battles against extras that are clearly intended to show off a character’s mastery.
5: I will only evaluate human or human-equivalent characters. To clarify, if a fantasy movie or show has dwarves or elves that are basically humans of different body types, then I’ll include them. But I won’t, for example, compare Jon Snow to a dragon and I won’t take points away from Faramir because he would lose to a cave troll.