'Game of Thrones': Every Dead Character, Ranked

Spoiler alert!
Courtesy of HBO

[This story contains spoilers through every episode of HBO's Game of Thrones.]

"Anyone can be killed."

These were the wise words Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) uttered all the way back in the second season of Game of Thrones, unwittingly articulating the show's overarching philosophy toward its expansive cast of characters. It doesn't matter who you are, whether you're Hand of the King or the King himself, whether you're a flashy newcomer with an air of importance or someone who has been around since the earliest days of the series: when you come to play in Game of Thrones, you win or you die, as the characters and viewers alike have come to know all too well over the course of seven seasons.

The manner in which Game of Thrones dispatches its castmembers is often unspeakably brutal, and almost always utterly unforgettable. Fans can spend (and have spent) hours and hours, days even, debating the best deaths in the show's history. That's not what we're doing here. For our present purposes, we're looking back at the various characters who were killed over the course of Game of Thrones, and ranking them in terms of their overall importance to the story, their individual identities, and quite frankly our own personal preferences. Your mileage may and almost certainly will vary. 

In anticipation of some questions: dragons and direwolves do not apply, we're not counting anyone who died before the series began and we're not counting anyone who has died and come back to life — with apologies to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer). And yes, some of our favorites are grouped together in bundles (here's looking at you, Baratheon brothers), both for the sake of convenience and for the purpose of getting as many worthy characters on here as possible.

With that out of the way, our rankings of the 25 best dead Game of Thrones characters, through seven seasons:

25. Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd)

Before we ever knew how much we hated Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), there was Viserys, the sole surviving son of the Mad King. Game of Thrones is nothing without wicked villains to root against, and the self-proclaimed son of the dragon was one of the show's earliest and best examples in that regard.

24. Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover)

An enduring member of the small council (with a shocking amount of physical endurance, at that) — until he endured no longer, thanks to his assassination at the hands (or daggers, rather) of so many children. He lacked a major impact on the overall Game of Thrones narrative, but Pycelle's secret stretch scene and the temporary season two beard removal stand out as some of the show's earlier highlights.

23. Talisa (Oona Chaplin)

If we were ranking deaths purely on shock factor and nothing else, Talisa (and a few others) would rank very close to the top of the list. The Red Wedding aside, Talisa brought a warmth to the Stark storyline in seasons two and three, bringing a sense of love and hope into what was often a loveless and hopeless situation. But as her death demonstrated, there's no such thing as "happily ever after" on Game of Thrones.

22. Lord Commander Mormont, Alliser Thorne, Yoren and Qhorin Halfhand (James Cosmo, Owen Teale, Francis Magee and Simon Armstrong)

Senior members of the Night's Watch, all of whom died under different circumstances: killed by traitors, killed as a traitor and killed in the service of a higher purpose, respectively. They represent one of the show's core ideas: the fall of an older generation as a new one rises.

21. Pyp and Grenn (Josef Altin and Mark Stanley)

Speaking of the newer generation, Pyp and Grenn started off as adversaries against Jon Snow and Sam Tarly (John Bradley), before ultimately becoming two of their best friends. In the books on which Thrones is based, both Night's Watch soldiers remain alive and well, making their deaths in season four all the more shocking and painful.

20. Wun Wun the Giant (Ian Whyte)

The most valuable player at the Battle of the Bastards (outside of the knights of the Vale, of course), Wun Wun acted as a veritable battering ram and earned an arrow to the eye for all his troubles. In a season with a sad lack of Hodor (Kristian Nairn), Wun Wun filled the "lovable giant" void — if only for a time.

19. Catelyn Stark and Lysa Arryn (Michelle Fairley and Kate Dickie)

The Tully sisters died without much love for the other in their hearts, but their fates were intertwined with one another all the same: killed thanks to the machinations of Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), subtly in Cat's case, rather overtly for Lysa. Both characters suffered their share of scorn from fans over the course of the series, but without their presence, some of the show's most pivotal moments (the Red Wedding and the death of Jon Arryn respectively) wouldn't be possible.

18. Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram)

Sacrificed in the name of R'hllor, in an effort to win out over House Bolton on the battlefield, Shireen's death in season five is one of the must stomach-churning moments in the show's history. She was also one of the rare characters in the series who was a pure innocent, never once inflicting any amount of pain on another life, fears of her grayscale affliction notwithstanding. 

17. Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman)

Another of the show's innocents, Tommen would have made for an even-keeled king, perhaps even a great one in time — if not for the interference of his mother Cersei (Lena Headey), that is. There's a real weight to Chapman's turn as young Tommen, slowly but surely crushed under the might of the crown and the overwhelming responsibilities that comes with it — right up until he's swiftly and surely crushed after leaping from the Red Keep.

16. Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye)

He's the only member of the Eastwatch elite to die on the mission beyond the Wall, as long as we're not counting red shirts. Aside from the fact that he was one of the most surprisingly soulful characters on Game of Thrones, Thoros was also a fearsome warrior in his own right, with even Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) remarking upon the red priest's legendary battle prowess during the days of the Greyjoy Rebellion.

15. Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney)

Also known as "Barristan the Bold," and with good reason. Revered as one of the best swordsmen in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, Barristan's skills on the battlefield are absolutely legendary, including his final stand against the Sons of the Harpy in Meereen. Though he died sooner than his counterpart in the books (who is still alive through five novels in the series, even if his demise now feels somewhat inevitable), Barristan's time on Game of Thrones was nice while it lasted.

14. Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou)

First of all, let's start with the basic premise: Syrio Forel is dead. There are only six episodes left in Game of Thrones, which means absolutely no time for some elaborate twist in which Arya's (Maisie Williams) first mentor comes back from the grave. With that said, he was one of the best done-in-one characters the show ever presented, certainly in the first season.

13. Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa)

The Dothraki warlord is one of the most iconic characters in Game of Thrones lore, which is saying something considering he didn't even survive the first season. In the early days of the show, Drogo was as synonymous with Game of Thrones as anyone, one of the few names you could pass along to people who didn't watch the show and still earn a reaction of recognition. Several seasons later, he remains that way. Points for staying power!

12. The Baratheon Brothers (Mark Addy, Stephen Dillane, Gethin Anthony)

Much like Simba, all three Baratheon brothers just could not wait to be king. Unlike Simba, it's that quest for power that got all three men killed — by lions, no less. Addy's larger-than-life turn as King Robert provided the first season of the series with some of its most memorable moments, Anthony's warm presence as Renly offered a glimpse at what an actually responsible Baratheon regime might have looked like and Dillane's Stannis was as cold as his own bitter end.

11. Ramsay and Roose Bolton (Iwan Rheon and Michael McElhatton)

In the aftermath of losing two of the greatest villains on the Lannister side of the aisle, Ramsay and Roose were left to pick up the slack for two seasons of terror. Tough shoes to fill, but fill them they did, especially Ramsay, one of the most sickening sadists in Game of Thrones history. Death by dogs was almost too good for the Bastard of Bolton.

10. Walder Frey (David Bradley)

The co-architect of the Red Wedding, Bradley's Walder Frey was one of the single most loathsome characters in the show's history — which is exactly why he's such a great villain. Every great villain deserves a great demise, and Walder delivers in that regard: killed by Arya in bewildering fashion, the shock on his face matching the same look of defeat on the Starks at the Red Wedding.

9. Robb Stark (Richard Madden)

We should have learned our lesson after the way in which we lost Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), the apparent main character of Game of Thrones, before he was shockingly removed from the board in the penultimate episode of season one. But the show successfully pulled off the same trick again in season three with the Red Wedding, punctuated by the death of Robb Stark, the man who looked poised to take down the Lannister regime and avenge his father. Through seven seasons, it looks like that's a job for the combined forces of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) instead.

8. Olenna and Margaery Tyrell (Diana Rigg and Natalie Dormer)

With apologies to Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), who is great in his own right, but not at the same level as his sister and grandmother: Margaery and Olenna, the temporary Queen of Westeros and the full-time Queen of Thorns respectively. Two of the savviest players competing in the titular game of thrones, the deaths of Margaery and then Olenna at the end of season six and the midpoint of season seven, respectively, are among the most underrated tragedies in the series.

7. Hodor (Kristian Nairn)

Three words say it all: hold the door. (Fine, one more word: Hodor.) 

6. Ygritte (Rose Leslie)

"You know nothing, Jon Snow." Ygritte died as she lived, delivering her signature takedown of the man who would go on to become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and later the King in the North — and potentially even the King of the Seven Kingdoms when all is said and done. Her three-season arc was shorter than so many fans would have liked, but Leslie's turn as Ygritte was impactful all the same, fiery and fierce in every single one of her scenes.

5. Ned Stark (Sean Bean)

Given the complexity of the narrative, many memories from Game of Thrones are sure to fade away over time. With that said, nobody will ever forget what it was like when Ned lost his head. The de facto main character of the series through the first nine episodes, Lord Eddard's execution was by far and away the most shocking moment of the series up until that point — and arguably still the most shocking moment of the series, matched only by the Red Wedding.

4. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance)

He's not the top villain in Game of Thrones history, but he's high on the list. Among the reasons why the Lord of Casterly Rock was such a formidable and worthy adversary, the mutual respect he held for his own enemies is right at the top of the list — and is also the reason why he was able to pull off the Red Wedding in the first place. The scenes he shared with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Cersei and Arya, just to name a few, were always magnetic thanks to Charles Dance's cold and calculated performance.

3. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen)

Petyr Baelish looked at chaos as a ladder. At the top of the climb: Arya Stark, knife in hand. Losing the man who arguably launched the main narrative of Game of Thrones into action, with six episodes still left in the series, marked the end of an era in its own right. There's some debate about the way in which Littlefinger was finally taken down through the combined forces of the surviving Stark siblings, but it's impossible to deny the constant creepy presence Gillen brought to the table as Littlefinger through his seven seasons on the show.

2. The Red Viper (Pedro Pascal)

Perhaps a little too high for some fans' liking, Oberyn Martell of Dorne earns his place this high on the list thanks to the mesmerizing charisma of Pedro Pascal. Introduced into the world of Thrones in season four, the Red Viper arrived like a fantasy world's version of Han Solo, fully-formed as a lovable rogue worth rooting for. By most accounts, it looked like the Red Viper would be the one to finally take down the Mountain — but the single most disgusting moment in Game of Thrones history tells us decisively otherwise.

1. Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson)

The most loathsome villain in all of Game of Thrones, and it's truly not close. After three full seasons of unchecked brutality, in which he at least commanded, if not outright carried out, the deaths of several important characters, Joffrey finally met his gruesome end in the second episode of season four — a rare and hard-earned victory for the good guys and viewers alike. Despite how much we hated the wicked little boy king, he was a villain we loved to hate, thanks to Jack Gleeson's incredible scene-stealing turn as the single worst human being in the entire Seven Kingdoms. His departure is one of the best and most memorable deaths in Game of Thrones lore, Joffrey left an impossible void in his wake, as much as other villains have tried to take on his legacy — the Night King included.

How would you rank the late, great Game of Thrones characters? Sound off in the comments section, below. For more coverage, head to THR.com/GameOfThrones.