Oberyn Martell, Sansa Stark, and Samwell Tarly in 'Game of Thrones'

The Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Characters, Ranked

One of the most daunting tasks when you first start watching HBO’s Game of Thrones is getting acquainted with its huge ensemble cast; there are just so many characters. Several of them have cemented themselves in pop culture history over the years, of course—I mean, there are hundreds of babies out there named Khaleesi and Arya.

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With this in mind, I would first like to make a disclaimer that I based this list of the “best” characters on their overall arc from the first season until the end, their development, how much you want to root for them (and in some cases, both hate and root for them), and lastly, how iconic they’ve become since the show ended. I’d also just like to mention that I’ll be focusing on the main characters from Thrones and not A Song of Ice and Fire as a whole, so no taking into account the cast of House of the Dragon. (Sorry!)

20. Jorah Mormont

Ser Jorah Mormont in 'Game of Thrones'

When Thrones kicked off, Jorah Mormont was a disgraced knight living in exile after fleeing his pending execution in one final act of cowardice. Somewhere along the way, he came across Daenerys Targaryen, whom he identifies with and helps adapt to her life as a new Khaleesi. As we all know by now, Jorah turned out to be a spy sent by King Robert to kill Dany in exchange for his freedom and the ability to return home. It was the one disloyal thing Jorah ever did towards Dany, and it was a betrayal he committed prior to actually meeting her. He remained her closest advisor and faithful companion (unfortunately just a companion, much to his disappointment) until the very end.  

19. Maester Aemon Targaryen

Maester Aemon in 'Game of Thrones'

Son of a King and a brother to another, we first meet Maester Aemon as a soft-spoken old man in his twilight years, still serving the Night’s Watch under Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. We don’t know much about him except that he’s been around for a really long time and that the then-Lord Commander held him in such high regard that he could only hope Aemon lived for another hundred years to give them guidance.

Later on, he reveals his true identity to Jon Snow when the latter’s commitment to the Watch is tested. He tells Jon that he was also once put in a position where his family was near slaughter and eventually put to extinction, but because of his vows and his advanced age, he was forced to do nothing. Like Jon (although no one knew this at the time), he was a Targaryen—and there’s something poignant in that. Although he never had the chance to meet Daenerys, he did meet and mentor Jon.

In the words of Samwell Tarly, no man was wiser, gentler, or kinder. And now his watch has ended. 

18. Samwell Tarly

Samwell Tarly holds a stack of books in 'Game of Thrones'

Sam is another of the show’s characters who is just good, no strings attached. After being sent to the Wall so his family’s seat could pass to his younger brother, Sam becomes fast friends with Jon Snow, the only exile among the Black Brothers (aside, perhaps, from Maester Aemon) and one of the very few people who treat him with kindness. Samwell ends up becoming a steward for the Maester, which allows him to spend time with his books and texts, which prove to be excellently useful later on. Despite being known for his poor skills with swordsmanship and battle overall, Sam is noted for being the first person to actually kill a wight. Not bad.

17. Davos Seaworth

Davos Seaworth in 'Game of Thrones'

The Onion Knight is arguably the humblest of all of Game of Thrones’ characters. Born in Flea Bottom, Davos Seaworth grew up to become an excellent smuggler. At the height of Robert Baratheon’s Rebellion, he extended his services to the late King’s brother, Stannis, in bringing food to Storm’s End when it was under siege. After the war, he was given lands and riches in return by Stannis, who also decreed that the now-reformed smuggler’s fingers be cut off for his past crimes—which was no problem with Davos, who agreed and thought that it was only fair.

From then on, Seaworth would remain loyal to Stannis and would later be named his Hand during the War of the Five Kings. And unlike most of the characters on the show, he was never one to agree with his king blindly. Despite season 8’s many flaws, it only made sense for Davos to end up on the Small Council. 

16. Lyanna Mormont

Bella Ramsey as Lyanna Mormont in 'Game of Thrones'

Lyanna Mormont—named after Lyanna Stark, one of the most haunting figures of the entire story despite almost never appearing in it—is the young and fierce lady of Bear Island, a small island in the Bay of Ice in the North. We meet the young Lyanna, played by future The Last of Us star Bella Ramsey, after she has become the ruling lady following her mother’s death in the War of the Five Kings, where she renews her House’s allegiance to the Starks. While she is much younger than all the other Stark bannermen, Lyanna makes her voice heard—remaining true to Northern tradition and pretty much carrying the election of Jon Snow as King in the North. 

She’s also the one who reproaches the King she herself helped put on the throne when he returns to Winterfell having bent the knee to Daenerys Targaryen, something that is a credit both to her allegiance to the North and to her bravery—a bravery that Lyanna displays even in her final moments, when she brings down a giant during the Long Night before succumbing to her wounds, dying a true hero.

15. Eddard Stark

Sean Bean as Ned Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones.

Eddard “Ned” Stark was known across the realm for his righteousness and honor—two things that also largely contributed to his death. Named Warden of the North and Lord of Winterfell after the deaths of his father and eldest brother, Ned Stark had the makings of a good ruler, balanced out by his stubbornness. If anything, his constant need to do the right thing—regardless of how it would affect not only himself but by extension, his family—was borderline frustrating yet also admirable. Still, the former Stark patriarch was one of the very first people viewers rooted for, which left us all gutted and harshly initiated into the realities of the world of Westeros.

14. Sandor Clegane

Arya Stark and the Hound being a comedic duo in season three of Game of Thrones

Sandor Clegane, known as the Hound, is definitely a secondary character within the overall Game of Thrones but a fascinating one nonetheless. Defined since childhood by the burn on his face—the result of a cruel punishment by his older brother Gregor, who held young Sandor over a brazier for playing with one of Gregor’s toys—and a paralyzing fear of fire, we first meet the Hound when he arrives in Winterfell with the royal family as the personal bodyguard of Prince Joffrey.

While his harsh and rude ways wouldn’t strike anyone as knightly, Clegane actually has a very realistic outlook on the world and pretty decent moral compass to accompany it. His journey—first with Arya Stark, then with a congregation of faithfuls of the Seven, then with the Brotherhood Without Banners, then with the armies of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen during the Long Night—is one of realization, during which he begins to understand that the vengeance against his brother he’s always dreamed about might not be the ultimate objective of his life. Of course, all this character development was chucked into the bin in favor of having the infamous Cleganebowl, during which Sandor indeed faced his now-zombified brother Gregor—a duel which resulted in the end of both brothers.

13. Catelyn Tully

Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Tully is one of the most important characters of the first part of the show, and a key player in many of the events that happen throughout the course of the first three seasons. We meet her as soon as the show starts—she’s the current Lady of Winterfell, the wife of Ned Stark and the mother of their five children. A dutiful, compelling, and sometimes impulsive woman—a trait she passed down to one of her daughters, though not the one you might be thinking about—Catelyn ends up embroiled in the mystery behind Jon Arryn’s death and the attempted murder of Bran Stark and kidnaps Tyrion Lannister, bringing him as a prisoner to her not-so-reliable sister Lysa Arryn. 

It could be argued that Catelyn’s actions precipitate the events that lead to Ned Stark’s death and the War of the Five Kings, during which she stands beside her eldest son, a newly elected King in the North, as Robb Stark wages war on the Lannisters. Her end comes at the same moment as Robb’s during the infamous Red Wedding, where House Frey allies with House Lannister to kill all the Starks and their bannermen present at the wedding of Catelyn’s brother Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey, one of Lord Walder Frey’s many descendants.

12. Jon Snow

Kit Harington in Game of Thrones (2011)

Jon Snow is one of the most pivotal characters of the entire show, and despite how botched the final season was, his importance to the entirety of Game of Thrones can’t be overstated. And he does have plenty of moments and traits that make him beloved by fans, starting off with the mystery that surrounded his parentage for the better part of the show.

We first meet Jon as Ned Stark’s bastard son, as revealed by his surname, which is typically given to noble bastards in the North. Jon has good relationships with his father and most of his siblings but not with his father’s lady wife. We also immediately know that Jon will soon leave to join the Night’s Watch, and his journey actually starts once he arrives at Castle Black.

From there, Jon Snow grows as a man and as a leader. He rebels against authority when he finds it unjust—see the whole sequence at Craster’s Keep—and does the right thing even when it’s not easy, which results in his death, even if only momentarily. He’s a fascinating character, saddled with issues that all go back to his bastard status, and it’s a shame that the show’s final seasons turned their back on his complexity in favor of keeping him sympathetic at all times for the public’s modern sensibilities.

11. Theon Greyjoy

Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones

Theon hovers just shy of the top 10 for two reasons: First, he has one of the show’s most flawless arcs, and second, his was the only death to come out of season 8 that actually matched the entirety of his development. We first meet Theon as a proud and slightly irritating ward of the Starks who seems to only find delight in sleeping around and annoying Jon. Later on, in an attempt to gain the love of his estranged father, Theon betrays the Starks and tries to become a Greyjoy instead, only for it to fail and for him to fall into Ramsay Bolton’s deranged clutches.

From there, we watch as Theon becomes Reek, a shell of the person he once was. This changes when he crosses paths with Sansa (sobs) whom he saves and later fights for as reparation for his betrayals—and because in the end, he was truly a Stark after all. 

10. Arya Stark

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in 'Game of Thrones'

Arya is one of Thrones‘ most beloved characters and rightfully so. Born the third child of Ned and Catelyn Stark, Arya is noted for being like her late Aunt Lyanna with her love for horses, adventure, and mischief. Unlike her sister Sansa, who immediately took to needlework and singing, she found more enjoyment in watching her brothers train—and hoping to join them. Arya finally gets her wish when her father allows her to train with water dancer and swordsman Syrio Forel.

Unfortunately, after Ned’s untimely death, we watch as Arya becomes the “lost” wolf among her pack of siblings and finds herself traveling all across Westeros before finally ending up in Braavos, where she receives the training that will change her life and lead her to avenge her deceased family. 

Through the years, we watch Arya go from being a lively and fun-loving kid to a master assassin whose only priority is her remaining and beloved siblings. And after everything the Starks had gone through, it was definitely something satisfying to see. 

9. Olenna Tyrell

Lady Olenna Tyrell in 'Game of Thrones'

Also known as the Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell is best remembered for her wit and sarcasm, but also ranks highly in terms of scheming and plotting. Following the death of her family, that wit and sarcasm turned to pure anger and hatred, which ultimately motivated her to join forces with Daenerys. What made Olenna a great character was her ability to stay three steps ahead of everyone and her realism, which made her an excellent player of the Game.

In season 7, during a council meeting with Daenerys and the rest of her advisers, Olenna was probably the only person there who did not want to underestimate Cersei after making the same mistake and paying the ultimate price for it (remember the Great Sept of Baelor?). She was also the only person straightforward enough to remind Daenerys that she was a dragon—all the rest, despite their cleverness, were sheep.

And of course, who could ever forget how she went out? As the Lannister forces closed in on Highgarden, Olenna and Jaime had a little one-on-one, with the latter giving her a vial of poison as a sort of way to make peace one final time (instead of following Cersei’s desire to have Olenna shamed and beheaded). Olenna agrees to take the poison, but not before delivering one last blow, taking the credit for Joffrey’s assassination: “Tell Cersei I want her to know it was me.”

8. Brienne of Tarth

Brienne of Tarth in 'Game of Thrones'

It’s humanly impossible to dislike Brienne of Tarth. From being the first woman to be knighted in all of Westeros to her commitment to her sworn oaths, Brienne is one of the most fiercely loyal allies to have. When we first meet Brienne, she had sworn her sword to Renly Baratheon. She took a liking to the youngest Baratheon brother after he’d rescued her from embarrassment during a ball. After witnessing his death alongside Catelyn Stark, she would later swear her fealty once more—this time to Catelyn, sending her on a journey in search of the Stark matriarch’s two daughters.

7. Jaime Lannister

Jaime Lannister in Game Of Thrones

A lot can be said about Jaime Lannister and how interesting his arc is—you go from literally hating him and wanting him to die after he pushes Bran out of a window, to sobbing over how he actually dies in the end and wishing it was Bran instead. A proud and noble man of House Lannister and the Kingsguard, Jaime was his father’s pride, his sister’s love (ew), and his younger brother Tyrion’s hero, but was always seemingly at odds with himself, making him among Thrones’ most multifaceted characters. There was Jaime the Kingslayer, Jaime the Oathkeeper, Jaime the Oathbreaker, and so on, until we meet Jaime the Honorable. 

6. Tywin Lannister

Tywin in HBO's Game of Thrones.

Some would argue against the inclusion of Tywin in this list, given that he did orchestrate the Red Wedding and was essentially one of the coldest characters on the show. And I agree with all of that, but those are also the exact same reasons why he made it on here. Tywin Lannister defined what it was to be a Badass Motherfucker. He was that one guy we all loved to hate, but at the same time, we secretly respected him.

The utter command he had over his children (Cersei included) and his dedication to his House’s honor was admirable. Remember that scene from season 2, towards the end of the Battle of the Blackwater and during the height of the War of the Five Kings, when Cersei was this close to poisoning herself and a young Tommen in the throne room out of fear, and Tywin walked in there declaring that they’d won? Chills. And this is coming from someone who has never been a huge fan of the Lannisters.

Cunning and calculating, Tywin was arguably the best player in the game. So when he went out after that … um … incident on the toilet with Tyrion, it was essentially checkmate for House Lannister.

5. Oberyn Martell

Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones

As with Brienne, it is entirely impossible to dislike Oberyn Martell. Aside from the fact that the charming Pedro Pascal plays him on the show, he’s also very funny and cunning in his own right. In fact, Oberyn once went to the Citadel to become a maester but grew bored despite having already forged six links of the chain, fought with a poisoned spear (I mean, who does that? Oberyn Martell. That’s who), fought in the Disputed Lands, and he is our bisexual king.

There’s also the number of times Oberyn flawlessly came up with comebacks both in and out of Small Council meetings, showcasing his extensive knowledge when it comes to—well, everything. Then there’s his reason for travelling to King’s Landing in the first place: to seek vengeance for the death of his beloved sister, Elia. Unlike his older brother Doran, Oberyn was more vocal about his want for revenge after what happened to their sister on the day of the sacking of King’s Landing. When he died at the Mountain’s hands (literally), it only made sense that all of Dorne (and everyone watching at home) was devastated. 

4. Cersei Lannister

lena headey as cersei lannister on game of thrones.

Yes, I know. Cersei Lannister is the villain of Game of Thrones. Even more so than the Night King, considering that she survived longer than this mythical creature made of ancestral fears and ancient magic. And it’s precisely because of this that Cersei is one of the best characters of the show. Not only is she iconic, thanks also to a continuously brilliant performance by Lena Headey, but she remained entertaining almost to the very end—and we all loved to hate her, which is exactly the feeling you want your fictional villains to inspire.

Cersei has been introduced to us as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms from the very first episode—the wife of King Robert Baratheon and mother to his (supposed) three children. Fiercely loyal to her family and her family only, ready to do whatever it takes to see it advance without a single care for who or what she might trample in doing so, Cersei moves from being a Queen to being a Queen Mother to being a Queen Regent. All throughout her arc on the show she remains a thorn in the side of her enemies, and I absolutely adored her for it.

3. Tyrion Lannister

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in HBO's Game of Thrones.

Tyrion Lannister is a necessary fixture on any list of the best Game of Thrones characters. The youngest son of Tywin Lannister did not have an easy time growing up: Blamed for the death of his beloved mother who died giving birth to him, it is said that Tywin stopped smiling the moment Tyrion was born. As for his siblings—well, he had Cersei Lannister as an older sister, which I think speaks for itself. Still, with his quick quips, sarcasm, and cleverness, Tyrion is perhaps one of the best and easiest characters to love on Thrones.

In the first few seasons, we watch him visit the Wall to pursue the lifelong dream of getting the opportunity to “piss at the end of the world,” create a makeshift saddle for Bran Stark after his bad fall to enable him to ride on horseback once more, and irritate the life out of Cersei (which is our lifelong dream). There is also his love for his brother Jaime, his time as Hand of the King, that one time he slapped the shit out of Joffrey (again, another dream of ours that he fulfilled for us), and his love for drinking and just knowing things. 

2. Sansa Stark

Sansa Stark in 'Game of Thrones'

A spot just shy of the very top only seems right for the Queen of the North, no? Throughout eight seasons of the show, as Sansa so aptly puts it in the books, we watch as her skin turns to porcelain, to ivory, to steel. Regarded as Ned and Catelyn Stark’s perfect lady daughter, Sansa grew up dreaming of marrying a prince and living a life that would one day be a song. She didn’t get a prince—those are overrated and, in the world of Westeros, cruel—but she did get the legacy and the song.

After being made to go through the worst by Cersei Lannister, Sansa found ways to outsmart her captors by learning from them. She survived many unspeakable things, letting her contempt and anger simmer and brew, before returning the favor in the best-timed moments. (Do Littlefinger and Ramsay Bolton ring a bell?)

In the end, Sansa did grow up to become the woman her parents would have wanted her to become: the wise and brave Lady of Winterfell. 

1. Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, returns to her native Dragonstone in Game of Thrones

Daenerys is another permanent fixture on lists of this nature and rightfully so. After all, hers is the song of ice and fire—and she is arguably the most iconic character of the show, what with her dragons and her Valyrian silver hair. Born amid a raging storm and affectionately called “Dany” by those closest to her, Daenerys’ story is perhaps Thrones’ best arc and tragedy at the same time. She had spent almost her entire life in exile and evading assassins. As she once told Jon Snow, she had also been sold, assaulted, and even betrayed. 

“Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods. Not in myths and legends. In myself. In Daenerys Targaryen,” she tells him. Daenerys had achieved many impossible things—she led the Dothraki to cross the sea and, of course, heralded the return of the dragons to Westeros, and she was known as the breaker of chains. She was the first of her name, but also painfully, the last.

(featured image: HBO)

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Image of Danielle Baranda
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.
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Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.