Closeup of Daenerys Targaryen in HBO's Game of Thrones.
(HBO)

The 15 Saddest Deaths in ‘Game of Thrones,’ Ranked

Regardless of how we all feel about how it ultimately ended, Game of Thrones has cemented its place in the pantheon of pop culture. In 2018 alone, there were over 4,000 babies named Khaleesi, and I think that speaks for itself. From having a huge ensemble cast to dragons, Game of Thrones is remembered for a lot of things, but it is arguably most known for its deaths and the lack of immunity of any of its characters, including its main leads. This has, of course, resulted in many memorable, iconic, downright angering, and of course, sad deaths. 

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Now, going off that previous description, we could rank all the deaths on Thrones in quite a number of ways. For this one, though, I’m focusing on that last adjective: sad. The show’s final season had the highest death count pegged at 3,523, followed by Seasons Seven and Six. Naturally, this number includes every person who has died onscreen, as well as those that were only mentioned to have died offscreen. For this list, I chose these deaths based on the pain they brought me, their significance (in some cases, their utter insignificance and how their death was actually unnecessary and avoidable), and generally, the amount of tears that I shed.

As Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon prepares to release on HBO Max August 21, we look back at some prominent Game of Thrones character deaths. Without further ado, let’s get to it. These are the saddest deaths in Game of Thrones on HBO.

Lady the Direwolf’s Death

Lady, Sansa Starks Dire Wolf in GOT
HBO

It’s long been theorized that the Stark’s dire wolves mirror and foreshadow the fates and lives of the Stark children. And true to this, much like her owner, Lady is described as the most beautiful of her litter. Unlike the other dire wolves, we witness Lady die early on in the show, after having bitten Joffrey (who we still hate to this day) in the ruby ford. If you can recall, Sir Ilyn was the one who was supposed to carry out her execution. Still, Lord Eddard insisted on doing it himself, which is what makes it all the more heartbreaking: he managed to kill Lady in one blow because she loved Ned and couldn’t sense anything wrong. 

Both in the book and the show, it’s mentioned that when her bones were taken to Winterfell to be put to rest in the Starks’ crypt, her brothers, Grey Wind, Shaggydog, and Summer, all felt her death and howled all night. I may or may not be crying as I’m typing this. 

Lady Lyanna Mormont’s Death

Lyanna in Game of Thrones
HBO

I’m going, to be honest here: I hated Lady Lyanna Mormon’ts death. But that didn’t lessen the blow of her passing even by the slightest. Named after none other than Lyanna Stark herself, Lady Lyanna Mormont quickly became a fan favorite for consistently being the tallest and bravest person in every room she was in. She’s also definitely up there among the best hype women in Thrones history. Who could ever forget that note she sent Stannis when he asked for Bear Island’s support?

Missandei‘s Death

Grey Worm and Missandei enter Winterfell on Game of Thrones where the North meets people of color for the first time yayyyy only thing scarier than dragons are brown people on horses.
HBO

Missandei’s death is another one I take issue with because of how unnecessary it was. The fact that she died in chains only makes everything much worse. Why was Missandei executed? I know that her death was among the (many) reasons that led Dany to make the choices that she made—but this is what made her death both sad and upsetting for me: Missandei became sort of a tool to further Dany’s character at the last moment.

Syrio Forels Death

Who could ever forget this Braavosi master swordsman who gave young Arya Stark her motto? Syrio was easily one of my favorite characters from the first season (and book) for quite a number of things, but especially for how he gave Arya the ability to master Jon’s parting gift to her: Needle. That, and how he first started her training by making her catch cats. Very Mr. Miyagi wax-on-wax-off. Although his death wasn’t exactly shown onscreen, the brave face he put on as he sent Arya away and faced those Lannister men with nothing but a wooden sword still sends chills down my spine.  

Say what you will about Season Eight but when Arya is trapped in that room with a dying Beric Dondarrion, as the wights close in on her, Sandor Clegane, and Melisandre, that final “Not today”—as an ode to both Syrio and Arya’s journey was a beautiful touch. 

Margaery Tyrells Death

HBO

I had a delayed reaction for this one, and it was mostly because I didn’t believe she was actually dead until the following season. Margaery Tyrell’s death was the crux of two important plots: Cersei’s seizing of the Iron Throne after Tommen’s untimely death—caused by Margaery’s passing—and Olenna Tyrell’s alliance with Daenerys. Still, it was how it was so abrupt and unexpected that stung the most. After the Season Six finale aired, almost every article online was an in-depth discussion of whether or not Margaery could have survived. Well, that was until Natalie Dormer herself confirmed in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar that she wasn’t coming back.

“There’s a moment before Margaery and the High Sparrow die when they look at each other and Margaery realizes that Cersei has outplayed him and she’s gonna die because of that. There’s this moment that Jonathan Pryce gives as well; this look on his face when he realizes he’s been outplayed by Cersei. Margaery is a fatality of the High Sparrow underestimating Cersei,” the actress shared. 

Ned Stark’s Death

HBO

I may be alone on this boat, but I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Lord Eddard Stark’s death. As Arya once told Tywin Lannister, what killed Ned was his loyalty. But if you think about it, it was also his stubborn self-righteousness and outright refusal to play the game of thrones, which would have been all well and good, I guess, if he didn’t have, oh I don’t know, five kids depending on him? Still, the fall of the Stark patriarch was one of the series’ first tragedies that showed us no one in Westeros is ever really safe.

Then again, even without reading the books, the fact that he’s played by Sean Bean should have been the first indication of looming death. 

Daenerys Targaryen’s Death

Closeup of Daenerys Targaryen in HBO's Game of Thrones.
HBO

I want to preface this by saying I am not a fan of the Mad Queen arc they went with in the final season and if anything, Dany is only in this list because I am sad about her character assassination. Dany had to endure the loss of countless homes, an abusive brother, and the deaths of her husband and unborn child. If she couldn’t have won the Iron Throne, surely there could have been an alternative to her dying

Hodor and Summer’s Death

Hodor and Summer’s deaths signaled the arrival of Winter (just as Ned Stark promised). Hodor’s death in particular was on some level, messed up because it explained the nickname he’d gone by his entire life: Hodor = Hold the door. In a short vision, we learn how as a young boy, Hodor had been warged into by Bran (from the future) as he and Meera are escaping. Then named Wylis, Hodor “hears” Meera crying for someone to hold the door as the white walkers and the Night King are closing in, leaving Wylis’ mind broken for the rest of his life, until his death, repeating the command to hold the door, eventually shortened to “Hodor.”

I know we’ve talked about how no one is safe in Westeros but Hodor was sweet and most of all, innocent. He died a hero but he also deserved so much more than to be left behind.  

Ygrittes Death

HBO

‘The Watchers On The Wall’ is consistently ranked as among Thrones’ best episodes and rightfully so. In this penultimate episode of its fourth season, we watch as the Night’s Watch battle it out with the Wildlings, who attempt to scale the Wall and invade Westeros. It’s also in this episode we witness Jon and Ygritte unite for five whole seconds before she’s hit by an arrow, square across the chest. PAIN.

In the books, Ygritte’s death is carried out almost the exact same way but there’s this one line Jon tells her, before she breathes her last, that still brings tears to my eyes:

“Jon Snow, is this a proper castle now? Not just a tower?”

“It is.” Jon took her hand.

“Good,” she whispered. “I wanted t’ see one proper castle, before … before I …”

“You’ll see hundred castles. The battle’s done. Maester Aemon will see to you. You’re kissed by fire, remember? Lucky. It will take more than an arrow to kill you. Aemon will draw it out and patch you up, and we’ll get milk of the poppy for the pain.”

The only consolation for Ygritte’s death is that Rose Leslie and Kit Harrington ended up together in real life and are now happily married with a child of their own. I can make my peace with that. 

Oberyn Martell’s Death

Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones
HBO

Yet another death none of us saw coming. If you told me on July 31st of 2013 that Oberyn Martell was going to die on that week’s episode of Thrones (I still hadn’t gotten around to reading A Storm of Swords back then. I was only halfway through the second book.), I would have been mad but would also never have been able to guess how he dies. I mean, having his skull crushed with the Mountain’s thumbs? No one would ever guess THAT. 

It’s impossible to dislike the Red Viper. He’s sassy, funny, and he’s played by Pedro Pascal. He also once went to the Citadel to study and forged six links of a maester’s chain but quit because he was bored, fought with a poisoned spear, soldiered in the Disputed Lands, and is a bisexual icon. Not to mention the fact that his motive is revenge for his sister and her murdered babies. So of course, I was devastated when Oberyn died. 

Shireen Baratheon’s Death

Shireen was the sweetest girl who deserved so much more than what she got. Born as the fourth child of Stannis and Selyse Baratheon, Shireen was the only child of the couple who had survived childhood. As an infant, she had contracted greyscale from a doll Stannis had bought from a Dornish merchant and despite everyone’s advice to send her to live out what would presumably be a short life out in the ruins of Valyria with the Stone Men, Stannis did what he could to find a cure. With the help of several healers, Shireen’s demise from the illness was abated but the left side of her face was left scarred. Despite her survival, Shireen’s mother Selyse grew to be cold and resentful towards her because of how sickly she was and how Shireen reminded her of her incapacity to give Stannis a son. This is what makes Shireen’s death all the more painful: she was kind and sweet despite her unloving and cold mother and her circumstances. She taught both Davos and Gilly to read and remained loyal to Davos despite the Onion Knight’s differences with her father. 

When she’s made to burn at the stake as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, she even carries with her a wooden stag that Davos finds in the aftermath of her pyre. Shireen was only one out of the many innocents who had to die on the show but is perhaps most remembered for being among its most painful ones. 

Maester Aemon Targaryen’s Death

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgTDP2aGN2k&t=132s

Considering how he actually reached an old age, some may argue that Aemon probably doesn’t deserve a spot on this list but I say otherwise. Aemon’s backstory is perhaps one of the most interesting and underrated tidbits of Thrones lore. Born a prince, Maester Aemon was the third son of a king but in both the books and the show, everyone in Westeros seems to have forgotten this because of his lifelong service in the Night’s Watch. As he once told Jon Snow, the gods saw it fit to test Aemon’s vows to the order three times: once as a boy, another during the fullness of his manhood when he turned down the crown in favor of his brother Aegon the Unlikely, and one final time when he grew old (upon the extinction of his house with the fall of the Mad King and the massacre of his grandchildren). Had he chosen to be released from his vows, Westeros possibly would have never seen the reign of Aerys II but then again, Aemon may also have not grown old—with the duties that came with the crown.

This is why his last words never fail to make me cry: “Egg [Aegon], I dreamt that I was old!” There is also something so poignant in that he may have never met Dany but at least he got to meet and help Jon, who also happens to be an Aegon just like his favorite brother, Egg. 

Jaime Lannisters Death

jaime lannister GOT
HBO

There’s no one quite like Jaimer Lannister. As he aptly puts it, “There are no men like me. Only me.” If he died during the first season, I could not have cared less. Heck, I probably would have even celebrated. By the end, though, it was an entirely different story. When ‘The Spoils of War’ episode from the seventh season aired, I was anxious for an entire week because I was so worried Jaime had died. I quite literally went from hating him to praying that he doesn’t bite the dust. That’s how you do a bad-guy-turned-good-guy character arc. Like with almost every death from the final season, I hated how they chose Jaime’s demise. If you can recall, he’d gone back to King’s Landing after he and literally everyone else defeated the Undead to save Cersei which was…anticlimactic (and a waste of the arc if you ask me because, by this point, he was more than his love for his family’s pride or Cersei). But I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it? In the end, Jaime was no longer at odds with himself but was simply a good man. 

He was no longer the infamous Kingslayer or Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Only Jaime, the boy who helped his struggling brother to survive childhood and who in the end, was the man who fought under the right cause. He was honorable. 

Robb Stark’s Death – (plus Talisa, Catelyn, and Greywind)

Robb Stark (Richard Madden) ponders his next move on Game of Thrones.
HBO

Ah, yes. The Red Wedding, the episode that spawned thousands of reaction videos of people screaming in front of their televisions. Robb’s short reign as King in the North was marked with youthful promise. Still, as they say, with youth also comes naivete and inexperience, which is best seen in the choice that led to his and his army’s demise: his decision to marry for love. Despite this, you just can’t help but root for Robb. He had lost no battles, was out here to avenge Ned, and most of all, to save his sisters. The way his siblings looked up to him was what broke my heart the most—the way Bran missed him when he was in “Robb the Lord” mode, how Sansa told Joffrey according to the stories she heard, Robb fought where the battle was thickest and maybe one of these days he’d give her Joffrey’s head (merited), the fact that Jon almost left the Night’s Watch to fight alongside him, and of course, the look on Arya’s face when she found out that he was dead when she was only a couple of yards away from him. 

They called him the “Young Wolf” for his strength in battle. Young he was, and young he will always be. 

Theon Greyjoy’s Death

HBO

Perfect arc, from start to finish. In fact, he deserves a separate post altogether, but I digress. We first meet Theon as a proud man who also happens to be Ned Stark’s ward. He is close with Robb, much to Lady Stark’s disappointment, but eventually betrays them anyway. And so we descend into his atonement, where he is quite literally tortured by Ramsay Bolton and loses not only his (then favorite) part of his body, but also, in essence, his humanity. We see its slow restoration when he crosses paths with Sansa, whom he manages to save perhaps as payment for it all: for betraying Robb, faking Bran and Rickon’s deaths, and taking Winterfell for his own. 

The thing about Theon is that despite having hailed from a noble house, he has never felt like he belonged anywhere. He was taken from the Iron Islands as a young boy, after his father had led a failed uprising. While in Winterfell, although the Starks were more than kind and welcoming to him, those around him were always quick to remind him that he was not of the North. And so, by betraying the Starks later on, he thought he would finally, not only gain the respect and love of his estranged father, but also find a place for himself.

In the end, he realizes that his true father is the man who raised him, Ned. And that he did have a home, which he died for. When Sansa pins that Stark sigil on his body before they set all those they had lost in the battle against the Undead ablaze, I cried the entire time. 

You’re a good man, Theon. Thank you.

(featured image: HBO)


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Author
Danielle Baranda
Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.