Thermal protection systems based on ceramic thermal barrier coatings (TBCs) are used extensively to protect hot-section components in gas turbine engines. They comprise thermally insulating ceramic coatings, deposited on an aluminum-containing intermetallic bond coat (BC) that provides oxidation protection. A thin thermally-grown oxide (TGO layer forms between the TBC and BC during cyclic thermal exposure. Each of the system constituents evolves in service and all interact during thermal cycling to control the thermo-mechanical performance of the system. Exposed to thermal cycling conditions, TBC systems are susceptible to loss of adhesion and spalling failures. Multiple failure mechanisms exist, dependent upon differing thermal histoiy and processing approach for various coating systems. Coating failure is ultimately controlled by the large residual compression in the TGO and its role in amplifying the effects of imperfections in the vicinity of the TGO. The failure occurs through a process involving crack nucleation, propagation and coalescence events. For a particular commercial system, it is found that the TGO ‘ratchets’ into the bond coat with each thermal cycle, at an array of interfacial sites. The displacements induce strains in the superposed TBC that cause it to crack. The cracks extend laterally as the TGO ratcheting process proceeds, until the cracks from neighboring sites coalesce. Once this happens, the system fails by large scale buckling. It is shown that the displacements are ‘vectored’ by a lateral component of the growth strain in the TGO. The relative roles of bond coat visco-plasticity, initial interface morphology, and phase evolution are discuss. The behavior observed for this system is compared with predictions of a ratcheting model, as well as with the behavior observed for other commercial coating systems.