The 10 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Characters, Ranked
One of the most daunting tasks when first getting into HBO’s Game of Thrones was trying to get around its huge ensemble cast’s characters and their names. Several of them through the years have, of course, cemented themselves in pop culture history (I mean, there are hundreds of babies out there named Khaleesi and Arya), with most of them defining what it means to be morally ambiguous and grey.
With this in mind, I would first like to make a disclaimer that I based these ten “best” characters on the overall arc of their character from the first season until the end, their development, how much you want to root for them (and in some cases, both hate and still root for them), and lastly, how iconic they’ve grown 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 of the cast of House of the Dragon. (Sorry!)
10) Maester Aemon Targaryen
Son to a King and a brother to another, we first meet Maester Aemon as a softspoken old man in his twilight years, still serving the Night’s Watch under Lord Commander 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 to 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 vows and commitment to the Watch are tested. He tells Jon that, like him, he was 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 at the time), he was 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.
9) Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion Lannister is, but of course, a necessary fixture in a Best Game of Thrones Characters List. 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 due to a 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.
8) Olenna Tyrell
Otherwise known as the Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell is best remembered for her wit and sarcasm but is also up there in terms of scheming and plotting. Although following the death of her family, that wit and sarcasm became pure anger and hatred, which ultimately became her driving force to later on 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 Seven, during a council meeting with Daenerys and the rest of her advisers, she 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 there 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, she 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 using Cersei’s preferred method of having Olenna shamed and beheaded). Olenna agrees to take the poison but not before delivering one last blow: “Tell Cersei I want her to know it was me,” taking the credit for Joffrey’s assassination.
7) Tywin Lannister
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 and was that one guy we all loved to hate but at the same time, secretly respected.
The utter command he had over his children (Cersei included) and dedication for his house’s honor was admirable. Remember that scene from season two, towards the end of the Battle of the Blackwater, during the height of the War of the Five Kings, and Cersei is this close to poisoning her and a young Tommen in the throne room out of fear, and Tywin walks in there declaring that they’ve won? Chills. And this is coming from someone who has never been a huge fan of the Lannisters.
Cunning and calculating, Tywin was of his own kind and 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.
6) Oberyn Martell
It is physically and mentally impossible to dislike Oberyn Martell. Aside from the fact that Pedro Pascal plays him on the show, he’s also very funny and cunning in his own ways. In fact, he 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 is our bisexual king.
There’s also the number of times he flawlessly came up with comebacks both in and out of small council meetings, showcasing his extensive knowledge when it comes to, well, everything, and his reason for coming to King’s Landing in the first place: vengeance for his beloved sister Elia. Unlike his older brother Doran, Oberyn was more vocal of his want for revenge after what had happened to their sister the day of the sacking of King’s Landing. And so when he died by The Mountain’s hands (literally), it only made sense that the entirety of Dorne (and probably all viewers) was devastated.
5) Daenerys Targaryen
Daenerys is another permanent fixture on lists of this nature and rightfully so. After all, hers is the song of ice and fire. 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 unknown men with varying reasons as to why they needed to kill her. 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 the breaker of chains. She was the first of her name, but also painfully, the last.
4) Jaime Lannister
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 pushing Bran out that window to sobbing over how he actually died in the end and wishing it were 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.
3) Arya Stark
Arya is arguably Thrones’ most beloved character 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 and hoping to train with her brothers. She finally gets her wish when her father allows her to train with water dancer and swordsman Syrio Forrel.
Unfortunately, after Ned’s untimely death, we watch as Arya becomes the “lost” wolf among her pack of siblings as she 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 as Arya go from a lively and fun-loving kid into 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.
2) Theon Greyjoy
Theon is this high on this list for two reasons: a) he has one of the show’s most flawless arcs, and b) his was the only death to come out of Season Eight that actually matched the entirety of his development. (Yes, this is a diss towards Jaime and Dany’s endings.) 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, he betrays the Starks and tries to become a Greyjoy instead, only for it to fail and lead him to Ramsay’s clutches.
From there, we watch as Theon becomes Reek, this shell of a person he once was, and lose himself. This all changes when he crosses paths with Sansa (SOBS) whom he saves and later on, fights for, as reparation for his betrayals and because in the end, he was a Stark.
1) Sansa Stark
The top spot only seems right and befitting 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 one day 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, anyway—but she did get the legacy and the song.
After being made to go through the worst under people no less than Cersei Lannister herself, 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 lady her parents would have wanted her to become—the wise and brave Lady of Winterfell.
(featured image: HBO)
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