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40 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Characters – Ranked and Updated

From Arya to Yara, the Night King to the Mother of Dragons, we count down the ‘Game’s best and worst players

The strongest story arcs. The best one-liners. The most shocking demises. Whether they win or die, whether they’re hero or villain – or like most people on this show, somewhere in between – each character on Game of Thrones can employ an entire arsenal of factors to win the game that matters most: the battle for being crowned the series’ best character. As David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ smash-hit fantasy saga returns to HBO for its seventh season this weekend, we’re counting down the 40 most memorable characters from worst to best – updated since we last did this around the start of Season Four. In a cast so sprawling that some heavy hitters didn’t even make the cut (also: sorry, Podrick Payne, we still love you!), who is the one true king or queen?

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26

Missandei

Meet the Mother of Dragons’ right-hand woman. Missandei was an enslaved translator who helped Daenerys overthrow not just her “masters,” but those of the entire Slaver’s Bay region. Now she’s one of the Targaryen queen’s most valued advisors – and a potential love interest to the quiet eunuch general Grey Worm. Here’s hoping they survive the winter and live on to dream of spring together.

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25

The High Sparrow

Jonathan Pryce was one of the series’ biggest casting coups, so it’s fitting his fundamentalist character pulled off a coup of his own. Empowered in an ill-advised move by Queen Cersei as a bulwark against her rivals in House Tyrell, he and his fanatical followers brought the system to its knees and ruled King’s Landing in the monarchy’s place – at least until Cersei blew them all to seven hells. All the while, Pryce’s chilling holy man smiled and spoke softly. If the gods are on your side, who needs to yell?

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24

Hodor

Bran Stark’s enormous guardian was a man of few words – and we found out how he became that way in one of the show’s saddest sequences. So we’ll honor his legacy by keeping this brief. We’ve got three words for you: “Hold the door.”

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23

Khal Drogo

A Genghis Khan in guyliner, Drogo began as a brutal barbarian and ended at the hands of an infected wound and black-magic medicine. But in between, he developed into one half of the show’s most rapturous romance (not to mention its most unlikely and, perhaps, disturbing, considering the manner in which it began). Given Jason Momoa’s magnetic, sumptuously shirtless performance, who wouldn’t eat their hearts out for that?

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22

Viserys Targaryen

The John the Baptist to Joffrey Baratheon's Jesus Christ, Daenerys' big blonde brother was the first royal douchecanoe Game of Thrones rowed downstream. But unlike his larger-than-life successor, Viserys got a moment or two to seem human: first breaking down about his loveless, hunted life, then begging for said life before his brother-in-law boiled his brain with molten gold. He was no dragon, but he was a heck of a character.

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21

Bran Stark

In any other series, this adventurous little boy turned paraplegic psychic would unequivocally be the main character – half Luke Skywalker, half Professor X, all Joseph Campbell hero’s-journey archetype. Instead, he gets pushed out a window, and then pushed to the margins of the story as bigger, bolder characters fight and die for the throne. His growing powers of telepathy and time travel are part of a much longer game, against a far deadlier enemy – and he’s only just begun to play.

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20

Oberyn ‘The Red Viper’ Martell

He’s sexy (and serpentine)  – and he knows it. He’s Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne, the bisexual brother of the southern region’s timid ruler, and his lust for life and skill for killing alike made him a breakout star during Season Four. Actor Pedro Pascal invested him with an intelligence and warmth that kept him from getting cartoonish, making his skull-shattering death at the hands of the Mountain one of the show’s most shocking moments.

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19

Stannis Baratheon

What if you were the rightful king of Westeros, but nobody cared? That was the predicament of the late King Robert’s unsmiling sibling. His brother Renly, his rival Robb Stark, both of Jaime and Cersei’s sons (yes, even Joffrey) – all of them are more appealing than this so-called Lord of Light. Actor Stephen Dillane made every ounce of Stannis’s resentment visible onscreen, whether he was fighting to save the realm from the wildlings or sacrificing his own daughter to his cause. Only in death, at the hands of Brienne of Tarth, did he seem to find peace.

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18

Theon Greyjoy

Prince of all families, master of none. Raised as a foster-son-slash-hostage by Ned Stark, the once-swaggering heir to the Iron Islands built up a lifetime of resentment. He betrayed his foster brother Robb and seized Winterfell for his own – until all sides abandoned him and he wound up at the tender mercies of the Bastard of Bolton. His transformation into the traumatized “Reek,” and his redemption by helping Sansa Stark escape from their tormenter Ramsay, made for one of the show’s most unexpected and satisfying storylines. Now he rides with the Mother of Dragons.

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17

Melisandre

Blood, fire, sex, magic: The Red Woman’s not just a powerful sorceress, she’s a human Voltron formed from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ back catalogue. Sometimes it seemed like her constant trou-dropping was intended to distract from how obviously wrong she was about Stannis Baratheon being the messiah – a fact she learned to her horror when the sacrifice of his daughter failed to produce a victory. But the shocking revelation that her youthful glamor is an illusion – and her show-stopping resurrection of Jon Snow from the dead – prove she still has a part to play in the war against the darkness.

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16

Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane

He’s not the most terrifying killing machine in the Lannisters’ employ, or even in his own family; that would be his truly insane and gigantic older brother the Mountain, a.k.a. the guy who burned half his face off. But he’s got a penchant for protecting children like Sansa and Arya (when he’s not killing children, that is), and he slices through the system’s hypocrisy like a sword through a would-be rapist’s midsection. He’s both as fierce and as vulnerable as his namesake – and now, after getting left for dead by Brienne and Arya and returning to the fight as a member of the do-