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With 60 episodes under its belt and counting, HBO’s Game of Thrones has produced an enormous amount of characters — some more successful than others, sure, but almost all of them distinct and memorable in their own right.
Indeed, the ensemble is so vast that you could anoint virtually any character as your personal favorite, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Is it nothing but Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in your forecast? No argument here. Do you forsake the old gods and the new, bowing before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) instead? Easy to see why! There’s no right or wrong way to prioritize affinity toward the heroes and villains of the HBO fantasy series — which is a helpful thing to keep in mind while considering how we have prioritized these characters.
With that out of the way, here’s how The Hollywood Reporter ranks the top 30 characters featured on Game of Thrones, through six seasons of the series:
30. The Red Viper (Pedro Pascal)
Oberyn Martell is far from the only character to suffer a swift and sudden end, but his death is easily the most visceral of the other contenders. On reflection, there’s an argument that his character exists purely to establish the idea of hope, only to wrest it away in the cruelest and most violent fashion imaginable — a breathing, bleeding metaphor for Game of Thrones at large.
29. Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju)
Not only does he serve as the Wildlings‘ de factor leader in a world without Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), and not only does he serve as Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) faithful lieutenant in the war for the north, Torment Giantsbane also serves as one of the show’s biggest sources of laughter. In a show as bleak as this one, a little bit of barbaric levity goes a long way.
28. Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen)
The lone representative of Bear Island on this list (with an honorable mention to Bella Ramsey as Lyanna Mormont, who was absolutely explosive in her very limited appearances in season six), Jorah has been one of the most sturdy and reliable forces on Thrones since the show’s very first episode. OK, so perhaps his reliability has been questionable from time to time, but through six seasons, the greyscale-afflicted warrior has more than earned his keep by now.
27. Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham)
In a winter wasteland filled with murderers and manipulators, the Onion Knight stands out as one of the few men in Westeros still holding tight to some shred of decency. Davos is easily among the show’s most noble individuals, with his role as Jon Snow’s consigliere in season six only further endearing him to the audience.
26. Melisandre the Red Priestess (Carice van Houten)
Without the Red Priestess of Asshai, there would be no Jon Snow — at least not anymore. Points for that, if nothing else. Further marks are earned through her sheer presence, bringing magic back into the world of Thrones in a massive way; really, it’s the reintroduction of dragons and Melisandre’s subsequent debut that truly put the “fire” into this song.
25. Tie: Robb and Catelyn Stark (Richard Madden and Michelle Fairley)
It’s virtually impossible to separate these two tragic figures from one another, killed in the same iconic incident: the Red Wedding. Their deaths mark the end of one era of Thrones and the beginning of another, the fall of the Starks and the rise of the Lannisters. As of the end of season six, it looks like the time for wolves is at hand again, but a Stark resurgence will never fully erase the trauma of Robb and Catelyn’s horrific ending.
24. Walder Frey (David Bradley)
One of the many Thrones characters viewers absolutely loved to hate. Really, few figures beyond Walder Frey were more thoroughly rooted against during their time, so much so that his eventual demise at Arya Stark’s (Maisie Williams) hands was almost too tame for the Red Wedding architect. Still, this mouth-breathing menace earns his place on this list due to his iconically rotten presence.
23. Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright)
Few characters are at a more interesting intersection in Thrones than the little lord of House Stark, finally returning from his vision quest north of the Wall. Although at times he feels like little more than a plot device, the vast potential for this time-bending wizard cannot be overstated as the series heads toward its final seasons.
22. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley)
You underestimate Sawmill Tarly at your own peril. The Night’s Watch steward, currently a student at the Citadel learning to become a maester, is one of the only characters on Thrones who has vanquished a White Walker and lived to tell the tale. Hardly what one would expect from the out-of-shape craven who first appeared on the Wall back in season one, right? Sam’s come a long way, and he still has further to go.
21. Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa)
He didn’t survive past the first season, but the Dothraki warlord’s impact resonates all these years later. Viewers first bought into Thrones at least in part through Drogo’s evolving relationship with Dany (Emilia Clarke), imbuing her with the Dothraki warrior spirit she has carried with her ever since. Even death can’t make us forget the time Khal Drogo removed a man’s throat with his bare hands, either.
20. Ned Stark (Sean Bean)
He’s the one who started it all. Without Lord Eddard of House Stark, there’s simply no Thrones. What’s more, the story hinges entirely on Ned’s beheading, the inciting incident that causes full-blown war between the major houses of the Seven Kingdoms, and sends his children off on their respective journeys through devastation and growth. The jarring nature of his sudden demise still ranks as one of the most shocking moments in television history, let alone Thrones.
19. Hodor (Kristian Nairn)
“Hold the door!” The lovable giant’s final words completely recontextualizes everything we knew about him before. It takes an incredibly light character and colors him in the darkest of shades. But it doesn’t make his final act any less heroic, as Hodor holds the door and keeps the undead from harming his friends. It was a tragic and brain-twisting ending, and an instantly unforgettable one at that.
18. Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon)
There’s no mincing words: Ramsay Bolton is the worst. But that’s part of what makes him one of the better characters on the show. With only one major exception, there’s no one else on Thrones more deserving of a swift punch to the face, given the increasingly inventive ways in which he tortured his various victims. But Ramsay is also one of the few characters on the show who actually gets exactly what he deserves: evisceration at the maws of his own flesh-hungry hounds, as unleashed by the woman he underestimated most. Vengeance is a dish best served cold, and it also works wonders in dog food form.
17. Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen)
The Iron Islander was one of the most hateable characters across the first two seasons of Thrones, betraying the Starks and all but handing Winterfell over to Lannister loyalists. But then came season three, and everything beyond, in which Theon was physically and figuratively flayed until he was something less than human — until he became Reek, marking the beginning of one of the show’s most improbable redemption arcs.
16. Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer)
With her impish grin and her carefully laid plans, Margaery was easily one of the most underrated players in the game of thrones. As beautiful as she was brilliant, Margaery played the political game better than most, bouncing from marriage alliance to marriage alliance and eventually winding up with great control over Westeros … but not before it was wrested out of her hands in a glorious burst of wildfire.
15. Olenna Tyrell (Dianna Rigg)
From her very first scenes on the show, the Queen of Thorns became an instant fan favorite. Her words are as witty as they are sharp, and her elderly exterior hides the bitter bloodlust that’s in her heart, as one of the chief architects behind the Purple Wedding. Her house was all but completely destroyed by the end of season six, making a Queen of Thorns without anything to lose one of the most anticipated characters heading into the show’s final acts.
14. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)
Is there anyone on Thrones who has lasted as long as Jaime Lannister and has had a more dramatic reversal from their first appearance? It’s hard to imagine the candidate. Jaime has come a long way from the incestuous pretty boy who pushed a small child out of a window. OK, that still sounds bad, but further details about his past have clarified Jaime’s outlook on life, adding new depth to someone who could have been a one-note villain. With that said, George R.R. Martin’s version of Jaime in the books is vastly superior to the character seen on the show, not due to anything lacking in Coster-Waldau’s performance, but because of the character’s weak season five storyline (the sooner we forget Dorne, the better) and his even more limited role in season six. Sadly, sometimes Thrones does not seem to know what to do with Jaime, who is otherwise one of the show’s greatest assets.
13. Bronn of the Blackwater (Jerome Flynn)
It’s often said that few characters benefited more in the leap from Martin’s pages to HBO’s television adaptation than this particular sellsword. Flynn plays Bronn with so much relish, chewing on every last bit of scenery he’s allowed, no matter which Lannister brother he’s currently palling around with. He’s funny, he’s fierce, and he’s fully utilized whenever he’s onscreen — yes, even when he’s traveling around in the southernmost Westeros region that shall not be named.
12. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen)
“I did warn you not to trust me.” If you didn’t have doubts about Petyr Baelish before he held a dagger against Ned Stark’s throat, you weren’t going to make that same mistake ever again. Easily the most aggressive gamer in the chaotic climb toward the Iron Throne, Littlefinger stands out as one of the few true villains still alive through six seasons of the show. Pretty impressive for such a smirking weasel, isn’t it?
11. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance)
The House Lannister patriarch and veritable ruler of the Seven Kingdoms (while he was alive, at least) was responsible for so much of the cold cruelty seen throughout the show’s first few seasons. He spearheaded the Red Wedding, and picked up the pieces after his royal grandson’s venomous death. But Tywin might be best remembered for his feud with his son Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), which ended with Tyrion kicking down the bathroom door and murdering his father right there on the spot. That’s one way to unceremoniously dump a major character.
10. The Hound (Rory McCann)
After spending almost two full seasons on the back burner (and apologies for that fire pun, Sandor), the Hound returned to Thrones with full force in the final stretch of season six, hatchet in hand, and new purpose in his heart. While we’re all in on the reformed bad-boy version of Sandor Clegane, it’s the man who wandered the realm with Arya that will always be the best version of the character.
9. Varys (Conleth Hill)
He’s just as much of a scheme-and-plotter as Littlefinger, and yet, there’s something about Varys that makes the viewer root for him. What’s that all about? Is it his tragic backstory? Is it his genuine bond with Tyrion? Is it the fact that he’s backing the right horse, or dragon as it were, as a champion of the Targaryen cause? It’s all of these things and more that make Varys the Spider one of the show’s single greatest characters.
8. Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie)
There are countless incredible images found all over the show, but Brienne charging into battle on horseback at the start of season six, rescuing Sansa (Sophie Turner) at just the right time, stands out as one of the most triumphant. Brienne the Beauty is often at the heart of some of the show’s best and most touching scenes, from bonding in the bath with Jaime, to the outright visceral awesomeness of her battle against the Hound, to her swift execution of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and beyond. Here’s to many more horse-and-sword battles to come.
7. Jon Snow (Kit Harington)
Don’t be sad that Lord Snow ranks as only the seventh best character of the series. For one thing, seven is the hot number when it comes to all things Thrones. For another, Jon Snow is straight up lucky to be alive, betrayed and killed at the end of season five, only to return from the dead two episodes later. If there’s one true protagonist of Thrones, there’s an argument that it’s Jon, someone who fights with both ice and fire in his veins. Kit Harington’s masterful work in the Battle of the Bastards is enough to place him on the list of all-time best Thrones characters, only a few spots behind some of the other top contenders.
6. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner)
If we were only considering her first season or two, Sansa might not even make the list. But taking her early days into consideration and contrasting them against her current place in the story, and you’re left awestruck at just how far this character has traveled since the earliest days of the show. Virtually no one on the show has been through as much turmoil as Sansa, and she’s come out on the other side stronger than ever. She’s not always the easiest character to root for, but there’s a strong argument that Sansa is among the show’s most satisfying players, and certainly enjoying one of the most satisfying long-game arcs.
5. Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson)
He wasn’t just the King of the Seven Kingdoms. He was also the king of characters we absolutely love to hate. When all is said and done on Thrones, people will still remember this wicked little boy king for the hateful coward that he was. But all of his painful flaws swirl together to form one absolutely unforgettable villain, arguably the greatest one the show ever produced — save for one other Lannister…
4. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)
Looking for the ultimate face of human evil on Game of Thrones? Look no further than the current Mad Queen of Westeros, the woman who fire-bombed the holiest site in the realm’s capitol city purely to seek vengeance against maybe four or five individual threats. Lena Headey has always been at her scene-chewing best as Cersei Lannister, but never more so than in season six, which culminated in the season finale’s explosive opening act. The stage is set for Cersei to have an even more transformative role on the show moving forward, a joyous prospect indeed — and as we’ve come to learn about Cersei and joy, it has a tendency to turn into ash in her mouth.
3. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)
She’s as synonymous with Game of Thrones as virtually any other character. Indeed, she’s a transcendent figure, even for those who don’t watch the show. Think about how often the words “Khaleesi” and “Mother of Dragons” are applied these days. The case should be closed there, as Emilia Clarke’s iconic work as Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea and Mother of Dragons (among other mouthy titles) more than speaks for itself.
2. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage)
He’s the Emmy-winning star of the show for a reason. Every single scene of Thrones is instantly made 10 times better with even the slightest amount of Tyrion. It’s so easy to think about Peter Dinklage’s remarkable work as Tyrion and describe it as “the role he was born to play,” but sometimes the easy route is the right one: Dinklage was born to play Tyrion Lannister, and the world is a better place for it.
1. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams)
Frankly, there are arguments for virtually every Game of Thrones character clocking in at the No. 1 spot, certainly when it comes to the last few entries. For this writer’s money, it gets no better than Arya Stark, a living example of how the horrors of war can impact a young soul that’s so perfectly primed to be molded by darkness. Arya’s blind vengeance against those who have wronged her has taken many forms over the years, including literal blindness, but it’s always anchored by Maisie Williams’ instantly classic performance. To Jaqen H’Ghar, Arya Stark is “no one.” For us, she is No. 1.
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