40 Best 'Game of Thrones' Characters - Ranked and Updated - Rolling Stone
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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-gooding Brotherhood, we’ll see which side of his personality wins out.

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15

Varys

He’s the spider at the center of a web of spies, the nest to which countless little birds flock to sing their secret songs, the mixed metaphor at the dark heart of Westerosi politics. But Game of Thrones‘ most potent eunuch is also witty, wise, and the closest thing to a friend that Ned Stark and Tyrion Lannister had in King’s Landing; he’s now providing that same kind of support to Daenerys. And thanks to actor Conleth Hill’s distinctive delivery, all of his on-screen appearances are freaking delightful.

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14

Samwell Tarly

Because every epic fantasy saga worth its salt needs a portly, adorable sidekick named Sam. Please note, however, that long before Jon Snow discovered his destiny, it was his timid, bookish brother in the Night’s Watch who was rescuing women and children, killing White Walkers, and generally learning the true nature of the secret threat to the Seven Kingdoms. Now he’s got a girlfriend, a baby, his father’s stolen sword, and a ticket to join the Seven Kingdoms’ braintrust, the maesters. This guy’s going places.

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13

Margaery Tyrell

She doesn’t want to be a queen – she wants to be the queen. Between that ice-cold declaration and her red-hot sex appeal, you’d be forgiven for thinking Lady Margaery is a junior-varsity Cersei. But her care for the peasants, her brother Loras, her grandmother Olenna and her fellow fiancée-to-Joffrey Sansa Stark all appear legitimate. They just also happened to be great politics, which is part of what made Margaery one of the game’s most powerful players – and made her imprisonment by the High Sparrow and death at the Lannister Queen’s hands so tragic.

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12

Jaime Lannister

If these rankings were based on who had the most metal nickname, the Kinglsayer would win in a walk. But as it stands, going from sisterfucking and the attempted murder of a child in the pilot episode to saving the life of his former enemy Brienne (not to mention the population of King’s Landing) by the end of Season Three is a transformation that takes him right to the top twelve. His attempts to balance his newfound morality with his desire to protect his crumbling family have been fascinating and heartbreaking to watch..

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11

Tywin Lannister

Combining the malevolent mastermind vibe of the Emperor with the Oedipal menace of Darth Vader, Tywin was the dark father of the Lannister clan. And if his merciless treatment of his children had any redeeming quality whatsoever, it’s that he was even more Machiavellian toward their enemies. Do the ends justify the means? Perhaps they do if they help create a character this coldly compelling. But his son Tyrion didn’t see it that way, and paid him back for a lifetime of abuse with a crossbow to the gut.

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10

Ramsay Bolton

Like an experiment in creating a character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, the psychopathic son of backstabbing Lord Roose Bolton was sick enough to make Joffrey Baratheon look like Eddard Stark. But actor Iwan Rheon’s gleeful, almost giddy style turned him into the closest thing Westeros had to a bona fide supervillain. Eventually, his victim Sansa Stark gave him a taste of his own medicine by giving his dogs a taste of him. His crimes were hard to watch, but the character himself never was.

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9

Brienne of Tarth

Even in a series full of outcasts, this woman warrior stands out from the crowd, and not just because she’s a solid twelve inches taller. Trapped in a body built to do things people of her gender aren’t supposed to do in this society, she seems to seek escape by pairing up with other misfits – a closeted king, a widow stuck in a war, a knight who’s lost both his honor and his hand, a kidnapped young woman who’s been through too much, a bastard King in the North. Despite a lifetime of indignities, she’s open enough to connect with all of them – which is how she connects with us, too.

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8

Arya Stark

On the one hand – the one holding the sword, most likely – watching a sweet little tomboy turn into the Punisher of Westeros before our very eyes is as much fun as Game of Thrones gets, especially given actor Maisie Williams’ precocious talent. On the other hand, she’s a child gradually losing all respect for human life – a slow-motion tragedy, and one of the series’ most complex character arcs. Now a fully trained assassin, she’s returned to the battleground to avenge her still-beloved family, making her Westeros’s number-one wild card.

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7

Eddard Stark

He was the biggest character, played by the biggest actor, at the center of the biggest storyline and all the promo posters and trailers and commercials…and none of that could save him. Ned's dead, baby, and while his surprise execution is what made Game of Thrones part of the pop-culture pantheon, it's his hangdog sense of duty and honor — he died because he respected the value of the lives of freaking Cersei and Joffrey! — that made us care about him, and the show, in the first place.

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6

Joffrey Baratheon

In the annals of television history, has their ever been a better demonstration of the “character you love to hate” concept? This sniveling, sociopathic inbred bastard had Ned killed, Sansa beaten, babies murdered, whores tortured and audiences booing. For TV’s most vivid villain, crime paid – at least until those crimes caught up to him and he wound up poisoned at his own wedding feast. Perfectly portrayed by Jack Gleeson, who retired from acting after leaving the show, King Joffrey is no more. But his status as a great bad guy is forever.

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5

Cersei Lannister

As a woman, the matriarch of the Lannister clan battles for a place at the table in a world made for men, by men. As a mother, she’d do anything to protect her inbred brood, though her schemes have led directly to their deaths. As a player of the game, she coined the show’s catchphrase: “You win or you die.” And she’d rather die than give you control. Now she sits the Iron Throne herself, her enemies dead and her most loyal followers – Jaime and her fearsome undead bodyguard the Mountain – are by her side. Reign in blood, Your Grace.

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4

Sansa Stark

If a Disney princess had night terrors, the story of Sansa Stark might be what woke her up screaming. Ned’s elder daughter has had all her illusions about the world, and her safety in it, shattered. But her quiet, innate political shrewdness and emotional strength have enabled her to escape situations that likely would have cost every other Stark their heads. She avoided destruction by Joffrey, Cersei, Littlefinger and Ramsay alike – becoming a fan favorite in the process – and now she will either make or break her half-brother Jon Snow’s reign in the North. Sometimes, lone wolves do survive.

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3

Tyrion Lannister

The wildly popular character who landed Peter Dinklage on the cover of Rolling Stone, the Imp is almost always the smartest guy in the room. But what matters is that he’s almost always the most decent dude there, too, struggling to do the right thing despite his ruthless family and his own more than slightly sketchy nature. Can he make up for his most unforgivable lapse, the murder of his ex-girlfriend Shae, by helping the Mother of Dragons carve a path of freedom and conquest through the civilized world? Whatever the answer may be, this much is for certain: He’s horny, he’s funny and he’s never less than fascinating.

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2

Jon Snow

So, wait: You’re telling us one of the three main characters of the epic-fantasy series is a sullen teenage outcast who wears a lot of black and worries about girls? Vacate the Iron Throne, we need to sit down. But Lord Snow, played by brooding heartthrob Kit Harington, has come along way from his pouty origins. He battled to save the realm from the invading wildlings, then fought just as hard to save his former enemies from the White Walkers and their zombie hordes – a decision that cost him his life at the hand of his racist underlings. And famously, it didn’t end there. Jon was resurrected by the Red Woman, recaptured his ancestral home Winterfell from mad Ramsay Bolton and got crowned by his grateful subjects. Yet not even he knows the real truth: He’s the secret son of a Targaryen prince, making him not only the King in the North but the Blood of the Dragon. His is the Song of Ice and Fire.

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1

Daenerys Targaryen

She’s the heir to a powerful, dysfunctional family with even more powerful and dysfunctional enemies. Her story is a non-stop confrontation with complex ideas about sex, war, gender, race, politics and morality. She’s played by Emilia Clarke, an actor who went from unknown to star overnight, with the Rolling Stone cover to prove it. Oh, and she’s a fireproof messiah with a trio of flying nuclear dinosaurs at her disposal. Now, after six seasons of waiting, she’s headed to Westeros to take back the Iron Throne, and quite possibly save humanity from extinction at the cold hands of the White Walkers in the process. The Mother of Dragons is the human embodiment of everything that makes Game of Thrones great. Bow down.

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