I love to watch and admire great performances in film and television.
Say what you will about how Game of Thrones ended—there's loads to say and most of it negative—but however badly the final season got, Game of Thrones still had some of the best performances of recent times.
There were bad performances too, but the overwhelming majority of the cast was remarkable. They all brought the show's complex and fascinating characters to life in a truly spellbinding way and their incredible work is one of the main reasons why the world fell in love with Game of Thrones.
However bad the writing would eventually get, the cast always held it together and never ceased to amaze anyone lucky enough to watch them in action.
So, who was the best of the best? Who wears the crown when it comes to Game of Thrones performances?
10. Maisie Williams - Arya Stark
There's no denying that Arya completely lost her way as a character after season four. Not only were her storylines boring and irrelevant to the rest of the show, but she was also overly unlikable. So, why did she work at all? Because of Maisie Williams.
Maisie Williams is, next to Florence Pugh (fun fact: they starred together in Pugh's debut film, The Falling), probably the finest British actress of her generation.
A mature, consistently charismatic performer who gave a killer performance as the vengeful young Stark, she was always able to hold her own while acting alongside the adult cast. Most notably, she was brilliant in her scenes opposite the amazing Charles Dance.
Even though the writing for Arya went downhill, Williams never lost her edge and turned in a fearsome and powerful performance every step of the way.
9. Liam Cunningham - Davos Seaworth
Another one of the show's most heroic figures and another one of its best, Davos Seaworth benefited from the full force of veteran Irish actor Liam Cunningham's talent. His performance was another sensitive, controlled and consistently compelling turn that brought Davos to life and made him damn-near impossible not to love.
He also absolutely nailed the big emotional scenes—particularly when he was confronting Melisandre over the death of Shireen Baratheon. In that case, he made the scene one of the highlights of season six's tenth episode, The Winds of Winter—and that's saying a lot, since that is one of the best and most action-packed episodes the show ever delivered.
Davos' story largely ended in the right way and thanks to how tremendous Liam Cunningham was as Davos, he will always be a Game of Thrones legend.
8. Jonathan Pryce - The High Sparrow
Jonathan Pryce, the terrific acting veteran from Wales, was an excellent choice for the High Sparrow and was every bit as great as anyone who's seen him before would've expected.
The High Sparrow was one of the all-time best Game of Thrones villains. A power-driven fanatic hiding behind a pious act, Jonathan Pryce gave a brilliantly ambiguous performance that reflected the mysterious nature of the character. It was hard ever to know what he was thinking or what he would do next.
Mercifully, he also avoided ever turning the character into an over-the-top villainous caricature and instead presented him as a believable, complicated and remarkably human villain. One almost felt sorry once he was blown up by Cersei, for he was a truly captivating antagonist every moment he was on-screen.
7. Pedro Pascal - Oberyn Martell
Pedro Pascal was only in Game of Thrones for eight episodes, but he stole our hearts right from the start.
A complete badass with extraordinary screen-presence, he enlivened every single scene he was in and made Oberyn one of the show's coolest-ever characters. He also made Oberyn a fully-fleshed out character with a ton of emotional depth, meaning viewers cared for him even more. This also made his nightmarish and horrific death even more harrowing.
In terms of his finest moment, his speech in which he reveals he will be Tyrion's champion in Tyrion's trial-by-combat is definitely his best scene. Thanks to Pascal's tremendous delivery of this monologue, it was one of season four's best moments.
6. Conleth Hell - Varys
Conleth Hill was one of the best performers Game of Thrones ever had. He made Varys absolutely magnetic to watch every moment he was on-screen.
In another wonderfully subtle performance, Conleth Hill filled every line and facial expression with nuance, subtext and shrewd intelligence. It was always hard to know what his motivations were and there was always the sense he had tens of little schemes brewing. In other words, Conleth Hill perfectly encapsulated the secretive spy-master.
Like many of the characters, Varys was screwed over in the final season (Conleth Hill openly admitted he wasn't a fan of the last two seasons, which is understandable), but Hill kept delivering all the way through despite this and he managed to elevate his character's terrible death scene a tiny bit with his ever-brilliant performance.
5. Alfie Allen - Theon Greyjoy
Alfie Allen is the most underrated performer in the show. Considering that Theon Greyjoy was one of the hardest roles in the entire thing—he went from villain, to traumatised victim, to a heroic, redeemed figure—Alfie Allen did an absolutely amazing job.
As a villain, he was infuriating but always understandable and never entirely hateful, which is always the mark of a great bad guy. As a victim, he provided an astonishing depiction of trauma and his facial acting was superb.
By the time Theon Greyjoy died—and he actually got the right ending, unlike many of the characters who survived to season eight—he was a sympathetic, human figure and it was easy to forget all the terrible things he did back in season two.
Theon had a great character arc to begin with and casting Alfie Allen was a goldmine, since he realised every step of Theon's journey in such a brilliant, emotionally-engaging way.
4. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - Jaime Lannister
Prior to the character assassination Jaime suffered through in season eight, he had an amazing redemptive arc and was one of the best-written characters on the show. Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, complete with an impeccable English accent, performed this journey to perfection.
In particular, the scene in season three in which he revealed why he really killed the Mad King Aerys Targaryan is one of the best-acted scenes in all of Game of Thrones.
Impressively, even before the reveal of Jaime's backstory in season three, it always seemed like there was a lot more to Jaime due to all the depth in Coster-Waldau's performance.
He was also an absolute master of facial acting and was able to convey an awful lot just by changing his expressions, which is always the mark of a great performance.
As a result, every step on Jaime's journey came through in a hard-hitting and emphatic way. Even though Jaime's character was fatally ruined in season eight, Coster-Waldau remained a masterful performer to the very end.
3. Peter Dinklage - Tyrion Lannister
Thanks to Peter Dinklage's monumental work, Tyrion has become one of the 2010s' most iconic and well-loved TV characters. Even when the character became increasingly mis-used in the later seasons Dinklage, aside from his slightly hit-or-miss accent, always ensured Tyrion was still a character everyone wanted to see.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Dinklage was that he really could do everything. He was a brilliant comic relief when he needed to be, he was a smart, deceptive political schemer, he was a great orator and most importantly of all, the big emotional beats were exceptionally powerful in his hands.
His portrayal of a sad, lonely man who'd been mistreated all his life was devastating and delivered with a brilliant subtlety. Like many of the best actors, he conveyed an awful lot with understated facial expressions and small movements which, nevertheless, spoke volumes.
In terms of Dinklage's best moments, that's very hard to pick. Still, his conversation with Shae in season two episode ten, his epic speech during his trial and the unforgettable scene in which he murders his father and former lover linger in the memory.
2. Charles Dance - Tywin Lannister
Charles Dance's introductory scene, in which he talks to Jaime about family and power while skinning a deer, was the best introduction scene in Game of Thrones and he continued to enrich every single scene he was in over the next few seasons.
Tywin Lannister was not a good person. He was a ruthless, merciless player of the political game motivated entirely by the lust for power, yet he was missed so, so much when his son, Tyrion, killed him. He was a brilliant representation of the kind of personality needed to survive in such a harsh world and Charles Dance gave a note-perfect performance.
Cold, calculating and brutal, yet also charismatic and wonderfully badass, Dance made Tywin a character you simultaneously loved and hated.
Tywin was an appalling and often unsettling figure, but thanks to all the nuances and moments of humanity Dance had amidst all that intimidation, he was a very human and complex villain who felt all-too believable. As villainous roles go, Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister is an acting masterclass. What could possibly top this?
1. Lena Headey - Cersei Lannister
There are many flawless performances within Game of Thrones but at the end there can be only one winner. All hail the queen.
Truly, Lena Headey's performance as Cersei Lannister is something else. She didn't so much play Cersei as live her, filling every movement, expression and line of dialogue with more than several pages of dialogue could ever convey.
She was a horrible woman with simmering rage running through everything she said but, thanks to the humanity and grief Headey injected into her, it was all too easy to forget her villainous nature. Like nearly all of Game of Thrones' villains, Cersei was a very sympathetic and complex figure who most viewers had a love-hate relationship with.
Cersei was arguably the best-written character before season eight screwed her over (and the TV version was a bit better than the book version too) and it's a great thing that Headey was able to do this incredible character justice.
So yes, Lena Headey's performance is arguably the best in Game of Thrones and it's hard to imagine anyone topping this in the upcoming prequel series.
© 2020 Matt mj