I’ll admit it, I re-watch shows. They still have the narrative the capacity to enthrall me, though I have no delusions about their impending conclusions. Viewing the “how” or analyzing the “why” of a story is often quite more engaging than knowing the “what” of a show, itself.
I rewatched Game of Thrones recently, or as it’s known to book readers, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” I’d heartily recommend others do the same, as it remains engrossing, a show that quite literally reinvented the landscape of fantasy television.
As a frivolous endeavor, I’ve thus organized for review a list of my Top 5 Game of Thrones characters, in descending order. Please note, these rankings incorporate into my assessment both Seasons 7 and 8, which altered my estimation of several previously highly-regarded characters quite drastically.
Express your agreement or disagreement in the comments section.
5. Olenna Tyrell
Photo courtesy of YouTube, Lady Olenna Confesses Her Crime
Appropriately referred to as the “Queen of Thorns, Olenna is the mistress of Highgarden, home to House Tyrell, overlords of The Reach, Wardens of the South. Scrupulous, cunning, ambitious, biting and incisive with words – Olenna is a consummate anti-hero, one we all root for, in spite of her lack of moral compunction. She has one overarching objective throughout the duration of the series: advance the standing, as ruthlessly as possible, of House Tyrell.
In this endeavor, Olenna is ultimately thwarted. Despite her keen aptitude for scheming and plotting, she is not exempt from error. House Tyrell, by the ending of the series, has been destroyed, buried into oblivion like several of the other great houses in Westeros.
She still has one demonstrably delicious scene, however, one ardent viewers of the show still relish.
In it, Highgarden has fallen to the Lannisters. Olenna correctly understands her demise is approaching. Jaime Lannister, head of the invading army, approaches Olenna individually in her castle. In his hands, he carries a poisoned chalice, insisting Olenna imbibe it. Olenna, not eager to pass into the night, quietly, first initiates one last conversation before acquiescing.
Jaime assures Olenna, quite graciously, that the poison will be painless, catalyzing a swift and dignified death.
Olenna smiles wickedly, and responds to Jaime: “You know, I’d hate to die like your son. Clawing at my neck, foam and bile spilling from my mouth, eyes blood-red, skin purple. Must have been horrible for you, as a Kingsguard and a father. It was horrible for me.”
She pauses, juicily.
“Not at all what I intended. You see, I’d never seen the poison work before. Tell Cersei. I want her to know. It was me.”
Yes, the Queen of Thorns, for the mere reason of murdering the most capaciously villainous brat in the series, King Joffrey, merits inclusion in these rankings.
4. “The Hound,” Sandor Clegane
Photo courtesy of YouTube, Tormund and The Hound Talk About Brienne
The quantity of memorable quotes from Sandor Clegane, “The Hound,” a consummate realist, is truly spectacular. Poetry of the crassest kind. Here are a few:
“I understand that if any more words come pouring out your c*** mouth, I’m gonna have to eat every f***ing chicken in this room.”
“F*** the Kingsguard. F*** the city. F*** the King.”
“Hate is good as any to keep a person going, better than most.”
“Of course you are. You’re almost there and you’re afraid you won’t make it. The closer you get, the worse the fear gets. No point in trying to hide behind that face. I know fear when I see it. Seen it a lot.”
“I’m honest. It’s the world that’s awful.”
The Hound was ruthlessly burned by his sadistic brother, Gregor Clegane, “The Mountain,” as a child, and the vicious betrayal of someone he should have been able to trust; forever shaped him as an individual. He becomes a tattered soul, wrapped in a crude iron suit of bloody pragmatism.
Chance introduces him to Lady Arya Stark, who he rescues from assured imprisonment after her father Eddard Stark, is unjustly beheaded. They develop a queer relationship, a strange mix of both admiration on his end; and revulsion, but grudging respect, on hers. They both share an acute understanding of pain, an unrepentant desire for revenge.
Sandor insists he’s only protecting Arya for the bounty on her noble head, but as the viewing audience observes the blossoming of their friendship, we know he’s being slightly disingenuous. He sees himself in little, voracious, Arya Stark.
Throughout the series, Sandor remains a force of unfettered physical violence. He’s a survivor, and that’s a difficult thing to accomplish, in the medieval world of Westeros.
3. Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen
Photo courtesy of YouTube, Epic Dragon Scene Game of Thrones Season 3 Daenerys Targaryen Rise to Power
Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Stormborn, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Queen of the Andals and First Men, the Unburnt. Titles, titles, titles.
Quite a grandiose resume, for a woman of such inconsiderable physical stature. Beautiful, with flowing white hair beckoning her Valyrian heritage, we are first introduced to “Dany” as a timid young virgin princess, cowed into submission by her overbearing older brother, Viserys. Naïve and starry-eyed, Dany quickly becomes acclimated to the dreary and dispassionate nature of the world after her marriage to the imposing Khal, or “King” in Dothraki, Drogo.
Her naivete quickly vanishes. A dragon is born, breathing fire and blood.
Betrayed by a vindictive witch in the grasses of the Dothraki sea, Dany’s concealed power conspicuously presents itself. Almost intuitively, she has her khalasar erect a bier on which to burn the witch who killed her husband through dark arts. In the bier on which she burns the witch, she places three innocuous, but precious, dragon eggs gifted to her by a Pentoshi merchant, Illyrio Mopatis. Confidently, she walks into the throes of the inferno, joining the witch, in which we presume Dany will also perish.
She doesn’t. She walks away miraculously unscathed, clutching three dragon hatchlings in her hands – Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion. Ancient creatures of Old Valyria, fire breathing mounts, sources of immense power, now exclusively possessed in the hands of one woman.
Dany quickly gathers followers and seeks refuge in Slaver’s Bay, Old Ghis. There, she immediately asserts her dominion over the three Ghiscari cities of Astapor, Yunkai and Meeren, fashioning a fledgling empire, which she struggles to completely tame. Instead of heading West, to the Seven Kingdoms, where her true ambitions lay, she elects to learn the art of lordship, and establishes her throne in Meereen.
The predations of the “Old Masters,” the slaveowners whose property Dany confiscated, however, do not dissipate. Dany’s life is constantly threatened, even despite her attempts at ingratiating herself into Ghiscari culture by wedding a pedantic nobleman by the name of Hizdahr zo Loraq. When even that fails to ameliorate the latent anger of the slaveowners, Dany turns her dragons, and her army of Unsullied and Dothraki, against them; defeating them with “Fire and Blood,” reducing them to ash. She then finally decides to head West, with the newly arrived Iron Fleet at her disposal.
From there, Dany’s fortunes both burgeon and evaporate. More victories, coupled with more frustrations. She arrives in Dragonstone, her birthright, situated across the bay from King’s Landing, where the Iron Throne awaits. She demands fealty from each domain in Westeros, who naturally refuse. The only issue for each of these fiefdoms and kingdoms that dare to challenge Dany are, predictably, her three now-adolescent dragons. She has overwhelming aerial superiority over each challenger, not even counting her massive army. Each opposing force fails, in quick succession, to stem her advance; except King’s Landing, which she prevaricates from taking by force, at the behest of her chief counselor, Tyrion Lannister.
The tragedy of Dany arrives in the last two episodes, after aiding Jon Snow in defending the realm from the White Walkers, an army of the undead. She eventually casts her inhibitions aside, after Cersei Lannister, the Queen Regent of King’s Landing, stupidly beheads Dany’s closest friend and handmaiden, Missandei, before her eyes. Dany’s rage transforms, again, into “Fire and Blood,” and she reduces the capital into a city of ashes. What else would one have expected of her? She is the blood of the dragon.
In the final episode, she is murdered by Jon Snow, her cousin and lover, who almost unilaterally decides her actions have made her unfit to rule. It was an unfair death, for a character who had honest impulses, but perhaps too much power for one person alone to wield.
In Dany’s place, the remnants of the Westerosi nobility “elect” Bran Stark, his “compelling” story being his only qualification to hold the Iron Throne.
2.) Sansa Stark
Photo courtesy of YouTube, Game of Thrones S08E06 Queen in the North
Weird selection, I acknowledge. Much of Sansa’s appeal to me resides in her character development, from the most tepid and demure of women to a calculating and frank leader of men.
Sansa, as an adolescent girl desires nothing more than to be ensconced in a comfortable castle, servants at her side, meekly dictated to by a noble prince of her father’s selection. She eventually receives her desire, becoming betrothed to the man-child, Prince Joffrey “Baratheon”, heir to the Iron Throne. She is disabused of her fancy for him quickly, as Joffrey delights in viewing her as a “plaything” to be toyed with and abused. Joffrey relishes her emotional pain. Fortunately, she is whisked away from King’s Landing through the machinations of the enigmatic agent of chaos, Littlefinger; after Joffrey is poisoned.
Sansa then learns the art of politics, the game of thrones, from Littlefinger, who is infatuated with her. She discovers to disclose as little information as possible, to trust as few people as possible. She becomes a sagacious political chess-player, once she is finally escorted to safety by “Brienne the Beauty” to her home in Winterfell.
At the conclusion of Game of Thrones, Sansa argues vociferously for the independence of the North. Her wishes are granted, and in place of Jon Snow, she is crowned Queen in the North. Of all the character transformations we witness in Game of Thrones, Sansa’s evolution might constitute the most complete transfiguration.
1.) Arya Stark
Photo courtesy of YouTube, Arya Stark // See What I’ve Become
Arya Stark, similar to Dany, defies gender stereotypes from the outset of Game of Thrones.
In one instance, in the first season of the show, her father explains the schematics of her future as a noblewoman: “You will marry a high lord and rule his castle. And your sons shall be knights, and princes, and lords.
Arya demonstratively shakes her head: “No. That’s not me.”
One sentence, that one line, permeates Arya’s entire character arc. She becomes an exile after her father, Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, and Hand of the King, is beheaded. She, like “The Hound,” becomes possessed with a desire for violent revenge. And revenge, the bitterest of pills, swallows her soul.
After perambulating about Westeros, from fiefdom to fiefdom, attempting to reconnect with the scattered Stark clan; Arya decides to become a “Faceless Man,” a member of the legendary cult of assassins in Braavos. She organizes a “death list” of people she intends to kill, which she recites every night.
The most electric scene featuring Arya’s fruition of revenge transpires at the “The Twins,” of House Frey. Their Lord, Walder Frey, was the perpetrator of the “Red Wedding” where Robb and Catelyn Stark, Arya’s brother and mother, were murdered. Arya justifiably returns the favor. She arrives at “The Twins” arrayed in a disguise, a skill she managed to master while training with the “Faceless Men.” She serves Walder a dish of his sons entrails, with whom she has already disposed of. Walder responds with horror. Arya coldly takes off her mask and utters the following words to Lord Frey:
“My name is Arya Stark. I want you to know that. The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.”
She slits Walder’s throat hungrily. Catharsis. Justice.
Arya, in a more significant, but somewhat anti-climactic blow, also eliminates the Night King in Season 8, the most threatening foe of the entire series.
Arya is resourceful, she’s determined, she’s ferocious, she’s clever, she’s loyal. If there is a hero in the Game of Thrones series, it is certainly Lady Arya Stark. Although, as she herself would say, “I’m no lady.”