My 5 Least Favorite and 5 Favorite 'Game of Thrones' Characters
I originally wrote this article after Season 6. Now the show is over. But, there's not much to add, since seasons 7 and 8 were pretty bad and mostly added nothing to the main characters' story arcs.
I was super pumped to see how Game of Thrones would continue after Season 6.
Turns out, it ended disappointingly, sliding downhill like a rolling cheese wheel, after Martin quit being actively involved in the writing.
So at that time, I made this list of my favorite and least favorite characters. The thing I found interesting about Game of Thrones was that the characters were subtle and morally complicated. Most characters could be open to alternative character interpretation. Was Shae a greedy backstabber, or a good woman caught up in bad circumstances? The moral complexity of the characters made for interesting discussion.
That is, until seasons 7 and 8 reduced most major characters to cardboard cutouts of themselves. The showrunners simply cut the Gordian knot of moral complexity, creating simple, one-dimensional, heroes and villains out of characters who'd once been a lot more interesting. So, here's to the memory of Game of Thrones' past glory, a kind of tribute to who these characters were before they died or before the show assassinated their characters.
The five characters I hated the most, followed by the five I liked the most. Many, I am hoping, will meet better fates in the books than they did in the show.
Least Favorite Characters
Shae seems to understand very little about being a prostitute. It seems weird that Tyrion falls for her, when she acts either distant or hostile and confrontational. Her sucky attitude is encapsulated by the line, "You think your father can hear us? HE'S 300 MILES AWAY!". Ok, Shae, how is it that someone is a prostitute in a place as established as full of spies as King's Landing, without understanding simple discretion? I feel like someone needs to send her back to Whoring 101.
She acts childish and stupid, but the audience is supposed to see it as her being a strong woman. But I didn't see her as strong. I thought she was weak, stupid, spoiled, and entitled. She was a gold digger all along, hoping that one rich client to falling for her was her ticket from Whore Island to Ladyville. Doesn't work that way, as it turns out. Especially if you turn on said client, testify against them, and shag their father.
And, her story seems like a big waste of time. She is introduced as someone with a mysterious past, and that past is neither important to the overall story nor revealed. It's probably not that interesting, anyway. She's probably like the prostitute mentioned by Ros, who grew up in Flea Bottom, but adopts a foreign accent just to sound exotic. If she is from Essos, it's never explained why she ended up there, or why she stays in King's Landing. And it's never important.
RIP: Shae, the Funny Whore
4. Theon Greyjoy
I get that you are supposed to not like him. It's also easy to feel sorry for him, because he is bullied by his father, and the other Iron Islanders, when Robb lets him go home. Then he gets captured, tortured, castrated, and psychologically tormented by the one person in the North worse than him, Ramsay Snow.
But, what he did to Bran and the staff at Winterfell was still not just morally unforgivable, but also a very stupid move strategically speaking. Theon was just a punk teenager trying to be intimidating. But everyone could see how he was really weak and afraid. He wasn't scary, and you knew when he took over at Winterfell that he had no hope of holding onto it.
It might have been more interesting if he had remained at Robb's side, perhaps preventing him from doing so many stupid things. Or, if he had taken up Maester Luwin's advice and taken the black. But instead, he put pride before reason, and it led to his downfall. At least he got somewhat redeemed by helping Sansa escape from Ramsay. And the whole losing his junk thing. But he was originally a very annoying character.
3. Danearys Targaryen
Her plots seem to go nowhere, and she's pretty arrogant. I also think Emilia Clarke is not the best actress, just passable. When everything else is focusing on Westeros, Dany's plots are like a slow, plodding tour of various foreign cultures and places across the sea. None of them are important, other than serving as hide-out places for various Westerosi characters. Her plots are similar to those of Bran Stark, in that both involve character who is supernaturally gifted but only promised to be important to the plot later. Much later. When her brother Viserys lost his patience and became hot-headed over the Dothraki taking their own sweet time in invading the kingdom, imagine his impatience had he lived to see later seasons. In fact, waiting around in Meereen, and other Essos cities is even more dull than waiting around among the bloodthirsty Dothraki warrior clans.
On second thought, let's not go to Westeros, it is a silly place.
Daenerys is a self-righteous hypocrite who prefers burning people to diplomacy. That was exactly why her father was... not exactly a popular man. Seems like the fashion of burning people you don't like has spread to Cersei though, so we'll get a showdown soon between two Mad Queens. (I wrote this just after Season 6, but I called it! Although it was not much of a showdown.)
And if this bitch claims any more goddamned titles, I swear to gods...
And, no wonder everybody just calls her "khaleesi" and some people even think that's her name. Her real name is stupid, and I bet no one knows how to effing pronounce or spell it correctly. Martin made up some good names, but this isn't one of them.
2. Sansa Stark
While certainly her life was no picnic, wooden acting, the fact that she acted like a spoiled bitch prior to her trauma conga, and just not being very interesting, despite getting lots of attention from the story, all work against this character. She's like her mother, but without the wisdom that comes with age, and like her sister, but less badass, making her the least likeable Stark woman. She's a realistic character, in that teenage girls are more like her than they are likely to be as cool as Arya, but that realistic nature also makes her bratty and annoying.
One thing that sucks is that she never sees past Tyrion's appearance, or family name. She didn't try to get to know him. If she had, she would have seen he's not the monster many people believed him to be. But hey, she's stupid, and easily frightened, and you would be frightened too in her shoes.
But the main reason I hate Sansa doesn't have much to do with who Sansa is as a person. It's more of how she's treated by the show. Her plots just seem like a series of unfortunate events. It becomes dull. "Hey, look, another shitty thing is happening to Sansa". She's not a terrible character, but constantly watching her be a cosmic chew toy isn't fun. I was hoping for her to get some karmic justice after three bad marriages, not to mention all the family deaths she endured. She's no longer abused, and becomes a queen of an independent North. Not a bad ending, compared to how some other characters' story arcs end. But other than the satisfaction of Ramsay Bolton's death, her story arc isn't the most interesting part of the overall story.
1. Robb Stark
When Ned Stark first dies in the end of Season 1, you want to root for Robb, because it seems like justice is on his side. But he makes a series of very stupid decisions that cost him his war, his title, his father's legacy, his wolf, his life, and that of his mother and several of his men. They make a big show of how stupid and incompetent boy terror Joffrey is, but Robb makes so many bad decisions "because muh feels" that it's hard to like him either.
- He should have allied with and supported Stannis. His father died because he supported Stannis. So Robb refusing to support Stannis is a betrayal of his father.
- He didn't listen to his mother, even though she was right about everything.
- He should have never accepted the "king in the North" shit. He should have told his men to sober up and realize that they had no hope of achieving that without getting killed.
- He was unbelievably stupid in falling for Exotic Chick five minutes after pledging to marry a Fray girl. Noblemen in the middle ages were never allowed to marry for love. Instead, it was expected that they would work to build love up with someone they had already married but didn't know. Which is what his damn mother tells him. But he won't listen.
- He handled Theon stupidly. Sending Theon to the Iron Islands was like letting a captive bear loose in the woods and then going back to it and expecting a hug. He obviously thought Theon was a friend, but that kid's hatred of the Starks was pretty obvious to everyone.
So yeah, hated this guy. At the red wedding, I was just like "ha I read the books" and "aw, Catelyn is dead, no!", but I was not crying for this emotion-driven idiot.
5. Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound
"Your friend's dead, and Meryn Trant's not, 'cause Trant had armor. And a big fucking sword."
I like Clegane because he leaves Joffrey at the battle of Blackwater. It's caused by fear of fire, because he was burned by his brother as a child. From there on, his travels, alone and then with Arya, while not particularly plot-forwarding, are very entertaining. Clegane has an attitude of being independent and in it for himself. This contrasts with Arya, who cares a lot about helping people. I like Bronn and Jaime for being similarly snarky and cynical, but The Hound always seems to get the last laugh. Some of his lines are the most memorable, and funny, in the whole show.
4. Jaime Lannister
"So many vows...they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It's too much. No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or the other.”
Jaime is interesting because the beginning of the story starts with him doing a morally reprehensible act: pushing Bran out of a window to hide his love affair with his own sister, Queen Cersei. But he goes through some things that make his character much more sympathetic, including:
- The hard expectations placed on him as a son, as a knight, as the leader of the King's Guard, etc.
- He gets crap for his role in the rebellion, and the nickname "king slayer", but he defends his actions, because he was saving innocent people.
- Jaime calls out Ned Stark, and later Catelyn and Robb, when they make stupid mistakes. He shows a lot of intelligence in judgment, even though Tyrion is the "brain" in the Lannister "brains, beauty, brawn" trio.
- Jaime is used to illustrate the moral complexity of the show.
- Jaime has some pretty good lines in his banter with Brienne, and it's heartwarming how they bond gradually over their shared misadventures.
While Tyrion is the undisputed king of witty comebacks in this show, Jaime gets a few really clever ones in of his own.
And then, uh, the show forgets about all of his character development, interesting moral complexity, and charming wit. He is one of the characters done the most dirty by the way the show ends. I was furious when he left Brienne and went back to Cersei! Who else?
"How did you know about that?"
"I thought you said you knew who I am."
In the show, Varys operates a vast network of spies. Through his command of information on everyone and everything, he wields a lot of influence, and few dare to challenge him. Unlike his comrade Littlefinger, he doesn't seem to be driven by a desire for power. No one is sure what he wants, which makes him all the more feared. The interesting thing about Varys is he is a mystery. He knows everything about everyone else, and yet so little is known about him. No last name, not from Westeros originally. He eventually tells a story about how he lost his Yankee Doodle, but it could be a lie to conceal his real past and therefore his motivations and desires.
In the books, it's revealed that Varys is working for the Targaryens, and scheming to bring back a Targaryen prince thought long dead who's been hiding out in Essos. It's implied that the plan is for this kid, technically Daenerys' nephew but close to him in age, to marry Daenerys and have them take the Iron Throne together. In the TV Show though, they simplify this down to having Varys work for Daenerys.
I like Varys because he seems to have a soft, sensitive center and rich inner life, but successfully puts forth a tough front. He's able to survive and thrive in a vicious, backstab-y court. He's intelligent, and delivers some amazing verbal punches, proving you don't need to have a sword to be a badass.
(I just realized the double entendre joke in that last line, teehee.)
2. Cersei Lannister
"I choose violence."
You know you're supposed to hate Cersei. But much like Jaime, she gets more sympathetic over time. Cersei had to deal with a lot of unfair bullshit. First, she was engaged to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, but then has to marry instead Robert Baratheon, who leads a successful rebellion against the Targaryens and becomes king. In this world, women are commodities traded to secure political alliances between noble families, much as they were in the middle ages in real life. They have no agency, no say in who they marry. In light of that, it makes sense that she chooses love in the arms of her brother, who makes her feel safe from her awful husband, who blatantly sleeps around. Robert also can't forget his constant grief over Lyanna Stark, which makes him unable to love Cersei.
Out of desperation to be rid of him, she has Robert murdered, and makes it look like a hunting accident. But of course, she didn't think this through. It becomes a total nightmare for the realm when teenage terror Joffrey is crowned. Ned Stark revealed Cersei's secret affair with Jaime, causing Stannis and Renly to declare for the throne, and the Iron Islands and the North rebel against the new king. Everyone think Joffrey is weak, due to his age and inexperience.
It just gets worse and worse for Cersei when Joffrey dies, too. She loses her political influence, and a new fanatic, fundamentalist cult rises up as a new power among the masses, who have hated her and her family for a long time. In an attempt to bring down her rival Margaery Tyrell, she ends up getting herself imprisoned by said religious fanatics. Eventually, she gives in to their torture, and confesses her sins to their leader, the "High Sparrow". But mere confession is not enough; they force her to walk naked through the streets and cut her hair off. This kind of humiliation would make anyone go crazy with rage, even if they had been a lamb before.
So, Cersei later blowing everyone she hates to smithereens is understandable, and dare I say, a bit satisfying. Of course, it's sad because Margaery and Cersei's son Tommen were innocent. But from Cersei's perspective, it's a triumph that she can now take hold of power in her own right, instead of having to wield power vicariously through a husband, lover, or child.
Did Margaery and Tommen deserve what they got because Good is Dumb? I wouldn't go that far. But it is also satisfying that season 6 may have seen an end to all the political instability and in-fighting. Everyone in King's Landing became too afraid of their new Queen to try anything. As Robert Baratheon said, it's fear that holds the realm together. Margaery and Tommen were unable to inspire any fear, and so the religious fanatics were able to gain power they otherwise wouldn't have been able to get. Cersei is essentially Hobbes' Leviathan.
I guess that makes her sort of like Dany. But unlike Dany, at least she's not on a high horse. She doesn't pretend to be morally in the right. She's had a tough life, she's been surrounded by weaklings, cowards, and fools, and yeah, a lot of her plans have failed. But she shows courage or ruthless cunning. And when she tells someone off, even if it's mean, it can be very satisfying anyway.
Again, the last seasons of the show really ruined her character. Mostly, all she does in season 8 is stare out a window waiting to be killed. But she was fun in the earlier seasons.
1. Tyrion Lannister
"It's not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do it if it were easy."
I mean, who else? Peter Dinklage deserves all the praise he gets for doing such a good job acting as this character, and being a great role model for little people. He has a great voice and a charismatic face. But, I would argue that the real brilliance of the character comes from George R. R. Martin having written him so damn well in the first place, so the acting is just icing on the cake.
Tyrion is amusing, sympathetic, complex, and driven by intellectual curiosity. He likes "playing the game" of politics, likes outwitting people and beating them at their own game. He uses a lot of self-deprecating humor, but this hides real inner pain. His sad back story is tragic and compelling. Similarly to Cersei, he is treated unfairly because of what he is, a dwarf. But unlike Sansa, life isn't just a string of traumatic events for him. He still has some good times and moments of triumph that are awesome and fun to watch, despite suffering many defeats and humiliations as well.
One of the reasons I don't like Shae is because I had high hopes for their romance to be real, that she would have feelings for him. I understood his feeling of betrayal, and the sadness of realizing no woman would ever love him, except for money. I guess, this just isn't the kind of story where lovers can run away together and live happily ever after. And maybe, when you're born into a messed up family, you can't help being a bit messed up yourself.
So who are your favorite and least favorite Game of Thrones characters?
What are you hoping will happen with the way the books will end?
© 2017 Rachael Lefler