by Preston Tolliver
“Game of Thrones” has mastered the art of tricking its viewers (or readers, if you were into that sort of thing before the books stopped for the long winter) into thinking that the characters who matter least matter most. It’s why we were shocked when (spoiler alert) Ned lost his head, or when Robb got stabbed a thousand times in some serious “Et tu, Roose?” fashion. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that as the show barrels toward its end, its two main protagonists – or those who have seemed over the last eight seasons to be its main protagonists – are the least compelling characters headed into the final episodes.
Still, they deserve a bit of credit getting us to where we are, through the Great War and to the last one. But while they’re in the top five, they’re not the best characters (they didn’t even crack the top three). Their stories kept us interested for years but fizzled out with a few yards to go to the end zone. Others, though, – the top three, specifically – have run the distance.
10. Bran Stark
Bran’s story hasn’t gotten the airtime it deserves (it was even left entirely off one season), but his influence on the world cannot be understated. Ever stoned, he is the know-all be-all Three-Eyed Raven and could be much more interesting than showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have let him be.
9. Ned Stark
The hero we thought would carry us through the series, who had his capa detated in the ninth episode of the first season.
8. Jamie Lannister
“The things we do for love.” It’s no easy feat that a guy who hooks up with his sister and pushes a kid out of a window (and that’s just in the first episode!) is one of the more beloved heroes of the story headed toward its end, yet here we are.
7. Tyrion Lannister
The quick-witted imp who drinks and knows things. Despite all the dragons and ice zombies and giants, Peter Dinklage made dialogue the most exciting part of the show.
6. Petyr Baelish
Chaos is a ladder: without Littlefinger, none of this happens. Gendry probably gets the Iron Throne after Robert dies, Cersei and Jamie and their beautiful, blonde-headed incest children are cast out of King’s Landing and all of Westeros is happy. That doesn’t sound quite as good.
5. Daenerys Targaryen
“Game of Thrones” has been largely about the destines of two people: Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. Fire and Ice. Daenerys’ character arc is an example of what happens when reality gets in the way of destiny. Who started as the Breaker of Chains and could become the carpet-bomber of King’s Landing (not that that wouldn’t be understandable), and Emilia Clarke has captured that transition perfectly.
4. Jon Snow
The mystery surrounding Jon Snow’s lineage was the most compelling story in all of “Game of Thrones” until it was answered. Everyone’s suspicions of who his parents were and what that meant for the Seven Kingdoms was answered (albeit long after everyone watching had figured it out), and the payoff flared out quicker than a firecracker tossed in the river. The prince we were promised since the beginning – the one we’ve long thought, anyway – went from main dude to main dude in the last season-and-a-half, but still, the character of Jon Snow deserves credit for keeping us invested in the story for as long as he did.
3. Sansa Stark
The “little bird” turned Lady of Winterfell has survived the worst of Westeros and has become stronger in spite of it. A child in the beginning who wanted nothing more than to be a princess or a lady, who found tortured throughout the series by most of the people she was surrounded by, Sansa has now become the moral center of the show. Daenerys has seemed destined for the throne, but she’s also vengeful; Jon has seemed like the savior of mankind, but he’s kind of dense; and yeah, Arya’s cool, but she’s also a psychopath. Amidst the chaos of the world and the people around her, there’s Sansa Stark, using the lessons she learned – for better or worse – to be the leader Daenerys should have been.
2. Arya Stark
“Game of Thrones” has had its share of inconsistencies in the last few seasons, but one constant has been the growth of Arya Stark, from young tomboy to no one to savior of all of Westeros. Each of the main protagonists have undergone a transformation throughout the series, but none more so than Arya, and while the story has often seemed like it was about the identities and mysteries and destinies therein of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, it’s always been the story of the never-lady of Winterfell.
1. Cersei Lannister
Cersei Lannister isn’t a despicable villain in the way that her son or Ramsey Bolton were. Where they became drunk on the power they were given and rushed to their barbarity, Cersei holds her liquor a little better. She’s still impulsive, but methodical. There’s a rationality to her irrational crimes against the people of Westeros, a psyche to be delved into beyond a character who just wants to rule (whether that be over a single subject or an entire people). Getting the Iron Throne – or in her case, keeping a grasp on it – is a game that Cersei has played unafraid to sacrifice every other piece to keep the queen on the board.