Winter. Is. HERE!!! For seven seasons, Game of Thrones has entranced us with deep fantasy, jaw-dropping moments, and characters that have driven stories that we wouldn’t dare to put into our heads (but George R.R. Martin and crew had no issues with…). But now, with the 8th and final season approaching in mere hours, it’s time to look back and see just who was the best characters of the bunch. Two Game of Thrones die-hards (who have watched the series multiple times front to back) are here to weigh in on who is the best. Let the battle for the Throne begin!
I’ll fully admit that I only got into Game of Thrones because of a free week of service on my cable provider. But once I started watching it, I got hooked, and I watched Game of Thrones over and over when I could (including an internet-only binge thanks to some loyal fans out there), and Season 8 has me excited. You might look at my list and think it’s basic, but honestly…just because it’s basic doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Honorable Mention – Ned Stark
Ah, Ned, I miss you. You had a good head on your shoulders…I’m sorry, too soon?
For those who didn’t read the books, Ned Stark’s death at the tail end of Season 1 was the first of MANY jaw-dropping moments. Even the writers and team were like, “Are we sure we should do this?” Even though the books said he had to die.
And honestly, this death is what makes Game of Thrones…Game of Thrones. Ned is the stereotypical fantasy hero. He’s a good soul, with great honor, hates doing bad things, and despises evil. He protects his family, but is also loyal to his friends and his king. And as many noted in the show, that’s what got him killed. Honor and loyalty are great things, but they can’t be the only things. Especially in this deadly game.
But while Ned is dead (pardon the pun), his legacy endures via his family. Sure, many of them died, but you could see his influence in them. From Robb refusing to torture prisoners, to Arya and Sansa’s fiery spirit at times, to Jon’s believe in truth and honor. He had a profound impact on this show, even seven seasons in. Which goes to show that though he may be dead, he’s hardly forgotten.
5. Jorah Mormont
Ok, remember what I said about loyalty and honor not being enough? Well, it’s true, but Jorah is one of the few people who can pull it off because of the deeds he’s done.
Here was a man kicked out of Westeros because of slave trading, but got a second chance at life by being a spy for the crown. The target he was to keep tabs on? Daenerys Targaryen, of course. And part of the reason he did his duty to the crown was that he wanted to come home and reclaim his honor through service to the crown.
But, he soon fell for Daenerys (yes, it’s a bit creepy in context, but it’s honestly a pure love), and even when he had the full pardon in his hands, he refused to leave her side. He became not only her proud warrior, but one of her most trusted advisors. He would never lie to her…except for why he was in her service in the first place.
When Tywin Lannister exposed Jorah in a roundabout way, Daenerys banished him from her side. And did he slink away and die? No! He made his way back to her with Tyrion Lannister as a “gift”. It didn’t work, and he got banished again. And what did he do? He made her way back to her…AGAIN! Saved her life, multiple times, and proved that she was the only one he ever wanted to serve from this day to his last.
And you can’t deny, after he returned after getting cured from Greyscale (thanks Sam!), you couldn’t help but be happy for that reunion with Dany.
Sadly, I do think Jorah will die in Season 8 as I noted in that list I mentioned above. But when it comes to the purest of intentions, and the greatest of loyalty, few can top Jorah Mormont. Trust me when I saw that everything I’ve said before is just the tip of the iceberg of what makes him such a great character, but I want to save some room for the others.
4. Arya Stark
The moment we met Arya Stark, we knew she was different. If you recall, it was when she was with all the other women, including Sansa, and they were all happily sewing…except for her. Cut to Bran’s archery practice, and we see her show up her brothers and nail the bullseye.
To me, Sansa is the best of the pureblood children of Ned (you know what I mean…). Robb was great, and Sansa became great, but Arya is who you’ve rooted for since Season 1. Her attitude, her dialogue, how she hates the “norms” pushed upon her and fought to break them, it’s what makes great characters.
And once the end of Season 1 came, she was the one who kept getting thrown into more and more dangerous situations, and yet she always made them turn out like she wanted. Captured by the Lannisters? She threw them off her scent, and became the favorite servant of Tywin. “Watched over” by the Hound? She learned from him, got what she wanted from him, then left him to die. Troubles becoming a Faceless Man? She grew where she could, killed who she needed to, and then left. That’s what Arya does, she overcomes.
Oh, and she gets revenge. Her revenge kills have been some of the best parts of the show. But the best one was the revenge of the Red Wedding by wiping out ALL OF HOUSE FREY!
Now sure, in the trailer for Season 8 we see Arya be afraid, but that’s fair, it’s White Walkers she’s going to be afraid of. And while it may be that she dies, I bet you if she does, she’s going down swinging.
3. Daenerys Targaryen
Cop out? Sure. But let’s be honest here, if we’re going to look at the growth of a character from Season 1 to Season 8, who has had more growth than Daenerys Targaryen? This was a girl who was born to be royalty, yet was used as a pawn by her brother to get HIM the throne. Yet we could tell she was special. She learned, slowly but surely, how to play the “game”. From manipulating Khal Drogo, to killing people that spurned her or wronged her, finding her inner strength when it was needed the most, learning to rule, learning to command, knowing when to be tough, and when to be merciful. She truly is the queen the Seven Kingdoms deserves, and the seasons have helped show that.
Sure, she made moves that frustrated us, but that’s because for all her dragon-scale toughness, she’s still human, and that’s great. She makes mistakes, but she endeavors to be better. And unlike a certain other queen, she’s willing to ride into battle herself to get the job done. That Season 7 scene with her going against the Lannister army was epic on every level, and it was in large part because she was riding Drogon into battle. And when Jon and the others were in trouble north of the wall? She rode in with ALL THREE DRAGONS just to make sure he and the others would live.
Now yeah, it looks as though she won’t make it through the series because it’s “too obvious” that she would win the war. But, if she does win, we know that Westeros would be in good hands.
And just between you and me, if she asks to bend the knee? I will kneel before my Khaleesi.
2. Tyrion Lannister
The God of Ti…you know what he’s the god of.
Anyway, from the beginning of the show, we were taught that the Lannisters were evil. Tywin and Ceresi were manipulative, Jaime was a jerk, Geoffrey was a monster, and many of the others weren’t much better. And then…there was Tyrion.
Tyrion was the “black sheep” in every way, and all because he was born a dwarf. But did he care? Nope! He did what he wanted, when he wanted. Which usually meant sleeping with lots of women and drinking until…well until he wanted to stop.
And yet, not unlike Arya, every single situation that posed a serious danger to his life, he wormed his way out of. He got Bronn to fight for him when he was in the Vale, got the Storm Crows to fight by his side instead of killing him, held the line at the Blackwater (with a little help from Pod) until his father could help win the day, got his brother to save his life after Oberon failed to kill the mountain, got Daenerys to accept his help, and on and on. I missed a lot, but just go with it.
Tyrion is the man, literally. He’s smarter than people give him credit for, but he is incredibly kind at times. Like he was to Bran, to Jon, to Shae (before he killed her of course), to Daenerys, to Jorah, and of course, to Sansa.
For me, one of Tyrion’s best moments was how he reacted to his fathers demand that he marry Sansa. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to get married per se, it was that he knew this was going to crush Sansa more than anything. He pitied her, and hated what his family had done to hers. And then on their wedding night, he had the chance to sleep with her, but he couldn’t do it. Because he knew it wasn’t right.
While it absolutely was right that he killed his father for all that he had done to him and the ones he loved. Very satisfying.
Many hope that Tyrion survives the show because honestly he’s been one of the most enjoyable characters the show has. You love him, you cheer for him, you pity him, you sympathize with him, and you’d definitely drink with him.
And if not…? “I demand a trial by combat!”
1. Jon Snow
I can hear it now…”You know nothing Todd Black…”
And I’m sorry you feel that way, but Jon Snow for my favorite Game of Thrones characters. Because, like Daenerys, he’s had the chance to show you over the course of 7 seasons why he is in the position he is.
Of the “Stark children”, he was the lowest, and yet he was beloved by all but his “mother” Catelyn. He felt the only way to get honor for himself and prove his worth was to go to the Wall. And when he arrived? He learned that he had been lied to, the Nightwatch wasn’t what it used to be. But did he let that weigh him down? At first…a little. But he grew, and he did it without sacrificing who he was.
He stumbled, he fell, he fell in love, and yet he got back up. It was he who led the final charge in the defense at the wall. He led the counterattack at Hardhome. And when he died, people did their best to bring him back, and he made the most of that opportunity.
With the help of Sansa he won back the North, and became its King! And while everyone was squabbling about what to do with certain things, he was focused on the bigger picture…the Night King. When everyone was focused on themselves, he was always looking at the bigger picture.
Which brings me to the best point I can make about Jon, he’s just a really good guy. Though Ned isn’t his real father, he certainly emulates him a lot, and I mean that in the best way possible. He believes in honor, in truth, even when it gets him in trouble (or killed). His speech after he rejected Ceresi’s offer was even more proof of just how great Jon is. He’s an honorable man in a land of dishonorable people. And many think he will be the King by the end. Though he won’t like it, it would be a nice sight to see a truly honorable person be on the Iron Throne.
Tyler’s List – AKA The TRULY RIGHT List
5. Theon Greyjoy
I look at Theon as two separate characters, Theon Greyjoy and Theon Stark. Theon struggles with his identity, and before he can grow into his best self he has to resolve the conflicts facing his two personas.
Game of Thrones introduces us to Theon Stark first. In the pilot, he looks like a Stark, talks like a Stark, and holds Stark values. He is a bit crude compared to Stark true-borns, but he seems like part of the family. Deep-seated jealousy and insecurity drives him to betray Robb, starting his fall.
He pays for his treachery through Ramsay’s torture. Theon thinks he deserves this punishment for betraying his family, and that makes it easy for Ramsay to break him. After betraying every Stark value – loyalty, honor, honesty – Theon can only be revived by committing himself to those beliefs again. By saving Sansa from Ramsay, Theon gets redeemed.
Theon Greyjoy’s conflict begins long before the pilot. Although the Starks treat him as family, Theon Greyjoy was stolen from his home on the Iron Islands and wants to reclaim his place as heir to the Iron Islands. The Greyjoys see him “corrupted” by Stark values upon his return, believing him to be too soft to sit upon the Salt Throne.
He hits his nadir when Yara comes to rescue him from Ramsay. The broken Theon betrays the Greyjoy words “We do not sow”, choosing servitude over freedom out of fear. Saving Sansa from Ramsay does not redeem him as a Greyjoy. He remains cowardly and weak long after that. Theon Greyjoy’s redemption comes on the beaches of Dragonstone, when he beats the snot out of one of the iron born captains in order to rally the men to save Yara.
Jon Snow unlocks Theon’s true potential when he tells him that he is both a Stark and a Greyjoy. With that underlying conflict resolved, Theon finally sheds his Reek persona and becomes the man that only he, as both Stark and Greyjoy, could be.
4. Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion challenges the notion of good and evil, the key idea behind the entire Game of Thrones series. Thanks to Peter Dinklage’s charismatic performance, the dwarf wins our heart in season 1 and forces us to cheer for the hated Lannisters in season 2. He is one of the few characters with a sense of humor which, combined with his grounded perception of the world around him, makes him one of the most likable players in the game.
Tyrion might be Thrones’ greatest hero, but he hasn’t gone on a traditional hero’s journey. His story feels true to life – it doesn’t end after he kills Tywin, arguably the climax of his personal story. He goes on, achieving greatness by attacking every challenge before him with as much fervor as the last. Whether that challenge was leading Hill Tribesmen into battle against the Starks, serving as hand of the king, or planning Joffrey’s wedding as Master of Coin, you can count on Tyrion to bring his all.
Self-awareness is a rare trait in Westeros, but Tyrion has it and uses it to his advantage. He constantly helps his fellow little guy, teaching them the same lesson he learned from being a dwarf: know who you are, and embrace every last detail.
3. Daenerys Targaryen
The best characters have agency – the ability to control their fate – and no one represents that freedom better than Daenerys Targaryen. Though we meet her as a meek and abused princess on the run, Dany decides to take control of her life and eventually the world.
At her lowest point, Dany was sold to warlord Khal Drogo to secure an army for her brother. She had nothing but her body and three hardened dragon eggs. Determined to be more than a body for sex, Dany seizes control in the bedroom and wins Khal Drogo’s heart. Khaleesi’s fortunes rise and fall, but she never allows herself to be controlled again.
Her natural inclinations might be too violent for some, but Dany has done far more good than evil. Put those Mad Queen theories to rest – Daenerys ended slavery in Essos, put her claim to the throne aside to fight the White Walkers, and risks her life for others. She has a good heart, but her fiery nature sure makes for compelling television.
2. Sansa Stark
Sansa divides Game of Thrones fans. In one camp sit folks who can’t forgive her for being a spoiled brat in Season 1, and in the other rest those who look at the big picture. The haters and losers will never admit it, but Sansa Stark has been a badass from nearly the very beginning.
I’m writing off Sansa’s spoiled season 1. She was a princess born to a noble home who dreamed of being a queen from a fairy tale – of course she was a brat. She was also 11-years-old. As soon as her father was beheaded, the old Sansa died and a new hero was born. If not for The Hound, Sansa would have killed Joffrey in the season 1 finale.
In season 2, she spends most of her time slinging zingers at Joffrey. Rewatch the Battle of the Blackwater (season 2, episode 9). Sansa absolutely shames Joffrey, humiliating him in front of his men by comparing him to Robb Stark. Though sidelined for much of season 3, despite everything she lives through daily, we find that Sansa still has a gentle heart. Her brief marriage to Tyrion shows that she has the intelligence to separate Tyrion from the other Lannisters and clues us into her natural gift for playing the game.
Sansa comes into her own in season 4, strategically saving Littlefinger from execution in the Vale. She puts her pride aside and heads off to marry Ramsay Bolton in order to extract revenge for Robb’s betrayal. Things go off the rails in season 5, as Ramsay proves far more cruel than anyone could expect, but again Sansa’s bravery prevails as she escapes his clutches. Sansa haters overlook just how much courage running took in that moment. Theon never had the courage to do it, despite given countless chances. Sansa’s emotional strength is unparalleled.
In the most recent two seasons, Sansa’s growth into an expert leader is complete. She runs Winterfell with all the skill of her father, her cunning resulting in the death of Littlefinger. She knows who to trust, how to learn people’s desires, and the best way to lead. Sansa is as honorable as any Stark, but smarter than those that ruled Winterfell before her.
1. Jaime Lannister
Jaime Lannister represents the best parts of Game of Thrones. He’s a character who has infinitely more depth than he lets on during the first season, revealing an emotionally complex person who struggles between his heart and his conscious.
You can’t talk about Jamie with mentioning the incredible performance from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. He brings the character to life through nuanced performances that steal every scene. Whether he’s reminiscing about the time he squired for Barristan Selmy, waving good-bye to Qyburn with his new golden hand, or carving up Ned Stark in the street, Coster-Waldau makes the larger-than-life Jamie human. It takes real skill to turn a man who threw a child out of a window into a sympathetic hero, but that’s exactly what Coster-Waldau does.
As the oldest Lannister, Jamie struggles with legacy. His empty pages on his entry as a Kingsguard haunt him, though he truly has accomplished more than almost every other man in the book. Jamie saved Kings Landing from the Mad King. He saved 500,000 lives, and all he got in return was scorn. That unjust hatred turned Jamie against the world, and against so-called honorable men like Ned Stark.
Jamie paints honorable characters we come to see as true heroes as more grey than we’d like. The famous scene with Brienne in the baths where he describes the scorn Ned Stark felt for him, despite the truth of his heroism, shows that those honorable characters may have done more harm than good. How many people had to die because Ned honorably told Cersei he planned to overthrow her? Does maintaining one’s principles make up for the harm those principles cause? When we learn that Jamie saved more lives than Ned ever did, we question our own moral compasses.
The truth behind the Kingslayer nickname explains who Jamie truly is, but he grows tremendously from that point. Through Brienne, he lets go of some of that hatred towards “honorable” people. Jamie shows his honorable side more often, rescuing Tyrion from the chopping block and leaving Cersei to fight the White Walkers. The balance between love and duty is a major theme in Thrones, and Jamie struggles to answer that question himself. In season 7, he chooses duty. I can’t wait to see where it leads him.
So there are our favorite Game of Thrones characters! Who are yours? Let us know in the comments below!