Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by HBO
Note: This article has been updated to reflect the events in the season-four finale of Game of Thrones. You might want to watch that before you proceed any farther. This will still be here when you get back.
Does it really matter who sits upon the Iron Throne? As Miley Cyrus once said, it’s the climb. Game of Thrones is a show, ultimately, about the struggle to survive — but some of the program’s many characters survive more interestingly than others. Heading into Sunda night’s season finale, Vulture assessed which of these seemingly countless individual journeys we were most invested in. What we learned is that screentime isn’t indicative of our interest level (sorry, Bran), nor does it matter whether a character’s motivations seem noble (Jon Snow would top that list). Just give us colorful, depraved, humorous, and complicated story lines — and barring that, just a really cute kitty cat — and we’re good.
The rankings below reflect our opinions of 114 living Game of Thrones characters after the season-four finale. The folks whose scenes we’d never fast-forward appear far below, preceded by dozens of forgotten faces and snooze-inducing screen hogs. A question to consider as you work your way down this compendium of survivors: Is this character worthy of a spin-off in their current situation? We’d watch the Brienne-Podrick sitcom, definitely. The Sam-Gilly rom-com? Not so much. Cersei Goes Forth? Make it happen. Other notes: Our assessment is based entirely on the characters as they exist on the show, not the books, and specifically where their stories are after the fourth-season finale. While there are more than 114 living characters on the show, you won’t find the likes of Jonos Bracken or Deziel Daht here. We’re mainly concerned with still-living characters who have appeared in multiple episodes, who have received lines of dialogue, and have been given names, although we’ve made exceptions in certain instances. And it goes without saying that such a ranking is entirely arbitrary; we encourage you to voice your opinions in the comments section.
Here, then, are 114 still-living characters, ranked in descending order from “Why are they forcing this down our throats again?” to the characters George R.R. Martin and his TV proxies David Benioff and D.B. Weiss better not ever kill, ever. [Reminder: We have updated this list to include the season-four finale, so halt here until you’ve watched it.]
114. The three-eyed raven
Or, should we say, the tree-eyed raven? Quoth the raven: Nevermore — please? Sigh.
113. Robin Arryn
More than the belated breast-feeding, we detest the Lord of the Vale because his incessant urgings about just wanting people to fly conjure up Sugar Ray.
112. Hot Pie
A great nickname, sure, but that’s about all Arya’s old pal has going for him.
111. Baby Sam
He is not related to Sam, so there’s hope. Although he is related to Craster and Gilly, so of course there isn’t.
His tongue was ripped out, but his songs still sucked. But hey, at least he got to keep his hands.
109. Meera Reed
Seems to us, Jojen’s sister doesn’t have any special powers, although she did pretty well against the skeleton warriors. Bonus points for having the good sense to knife her brother.
She and Sam forged a love for the ages in a hopeless place, against all odds. But sadly, not even their long-overdue first kiss made us give an aurochs’s ass.
107. Hizdahr zo Loraq’s manservant
His entire role: to beseech Daenerys on behalf of his master.
106. Bran Stark
My, how he’s grown … tiresome!
105. Janos Slynt
Cool name; pretty good (if wussy) hider; lame in every other regard.
104. Meryn Trant
This member of the Kingsguard is the Joffrey lapdog who had no trouble smacking Sansa after she saw her father’s head on a spike.
103. Lancel Lannister
You’re one of those little fancy lads, aren’t ya? Boy, you’re cute. Gosh, what a sweet little outfit.
102. Walda Bolton
Roose’s new wife, née Frey, chosen for her heft. Poor thing says “hello” to her crazy son-in-law Ramsay because she doesn’t know him yet.
101. Mace Tyrell
Margaery’s joke of a dad is a kiss-ass with a terrible ’do. Good thing Olenna’s the Tyrell really running the show.
100. Boros Blount
This member of the Kingsguard also did Joffrey’s bidding, but at least has the good sense to keep his helmet over his mug most of the time.
Ramsay’s psycho bedwarmer memorably shot an arrow through a girl in the forest, and that’s all she wrote. (And a shout-out to her sadistic gal-pal, Violet, who was also involved with Theon’s castration.)
98. Hizdahr zo Loraq
See, Daenerys? Ser Jorah was right. You can’t just go around murdering everyone.
Fun fact: There are zero fun facts about Ros’s prostitute pal.
96. Black Walder Frey
The great-grandson of Walder Frey, it was he who slit Catelyn Stark’s throat to close out the Red Wedding. He also wears a stupid-looking hood.
93-95 [tie]. Anya Waynwood, Vance Corbray, Yohn Royce
The tribunal of terrible and interchangeable bores assembled to investigate the death of Lysa Arryn and bought Sansa’s lie exonerating Lord Baelish.
92. Tobho Mott
The King’s Landing armorer, who apprenticed Gendry and answered the questions of both Jon Arryn and Ned Stark, may or may not still be alive. But, hey, he is known far and wide for his well-crafted and expensive weaponry and armor. And for having the most Star Wars–y name in the Seven Kingdoms.
91. Eddison Tollett
He did his part in repelling the Wildlings’ first attack on the Wall by giving orders to release the completely improbable ice scythe.
90. Othell Yarwyck
A mostly unrecognizable man of the Night’s Watch, so it doesn’t even matter that he has been portrayed by two different actors.
89. The Royal Steward
Hear ye! Hear ye! This nameless herald serves but one purpose on the program: to make royal pronouncements!
88. High Septon
This nameless religious official is often on hand to preside over weddings, yet lives to tell the tale.
87. Lothar Frey
Come and hearken to his tale, for he is Lothar, of the Frey people, and he stabbed Robb Stark’s pregnant wife in the gut.
Where do elderly Dothraki warriors go to die? Who even knows, because the show totally dropped this dutiful character like a stinky penny.
This prostitute is not timid, servicing Podrick and taking part in the Oberyn orgy.
84. Ser Alliser Thorne
Stabbed in the gut in the siege of Castle Black, the Night’s Watch commander was pulled into the barracks and never seen again. He might be dead! But either way, he’s always been sort of dead to us.
83. Ellaria Sand
Welp. Maybe Oberyn’s lover and Meera can sail away and be sad together.
82. Donnel Waynwood
Not only is he the Knight of the Gate, a.k.a. the Bloody Gate that bars entry to the Vale, he is also a skilled comedian, at least if you’re Arya.
81. Ilyn Payne
The tongueless executioner and distant relative of Podrick beheaded Ned Stark. His whereabouts are unknown, although he remains on Arya’s short list and was name-checked by Tywin as recently as the season-four finale.
80. Rickon Stark
The youngest Stark child was off to Greatjon Umber’s place with Osha last we saw him. We don’t know who Greatjon Umber is either.
79. Greatjon Umber
Oh, there he is! How could we forget?! Somehow, this large Stark bannerman is still alive, and possibly hiding Rickon. Maybe if he was named Gigantor we’d care about him more.
78. Tycho Nestoris
The Iron Bank of Braavos doesn’t care if you’re king by birthright, Stannis. Results, not whining.
77. Balon Greyjoy
One of the cursed Melisandre/Stannis targets who seemed like he’d become a moderately sized player in the game. But that never happened.
He’s the old pyromancer who hooks Tyrion up with the explosive projectiles that help King’s Landing defeat Stannis Baratheon’s attacking armies.
There will be Blood. And on that black horse is a rider named Ramsay Snow. Although also, one time, Theon/Reek. Do we care? Neigh.
This guy is technically still alive and part of Khaleesi’s retinue, but she really distanced herself from her Dothraki friends quickly, didn’t she?
73. Tormund Giantsbane
This rowdy redhead is currently incarcerated at Castle Black. And that’s all we have to say about that.
72. Salladhor Saan
It’s just really hard to care about someone whose only reason for being on the show is having a lot of ships.
71. Grey Worm
He’s that unsullied guy who could. Not. Stop. Looking. At. Missandei’s boobs. What does “worm” refer to, exactly?
Remember this Shrek-like goon who menaced Tyrion during his stay at the Eyrie? You do now!
69. Kevan Lannister
Tywin’s bro. It’s impossible to remember this person.
The Dr. Frankenstein of Westeros, he gives Jaime a new golden hand and big ups for protecting the masses. Biggest selling point: great Scrabble name.
Mother always said to avoid stranger danger, but we have to give it up for the Hound’s (former) handsome horsey.
This is a no-nonsense chieftan from a tribe called the Burned Men that Tyrion falls in with on his way out of the Vale and somehow appears in multiple episodes.
65. Bastard’s girls
Pop-culture pooch matchmaking idea: These dogs, which Ramsay enjoys watching rip the throats out of helpless women and the like, should totally be introduced to the Lads, Higgins’s Doberman watchdogs on Magnum P.I.
64. Illyrio Mopatis
This creatively hirsute merchant of Braavos had a crucial scene early in the first season when he had that super-secret meeting with Varys in King’s Landing; he also gave the dragon eggs to Dany. And with that, Mopatis was outie, but something tells us he’ll be back.
63. Selyse Baratheon
The most stand-by-your-man-iest of all the show’s women, Stannis’s wife is content to let Lady Melisandre and the Lord of Light have their way with her husband! She also keeps her dead babies bedside in jars.
The smarter, sexier, better Wildling. Sorry, Ygritte.
61. The Child(ren) of the Forest
She/he/it throws fireballs. The mysterious creature is also way more effective at keeping Bran safe than Hodor. But why does she/he/it live in Carcosa?
60. Myrcella Baratheon
She is being fostered in Dorne, which, considering Oberyn’s untimely death at the hands (literally) of a Lannister goon, would seem to hint at an increased story line next season. Myrcella time!
A badass leader of the Black Ears who enters into a lucrative arrangement with Tyrion as he exits the Vale. Chella cool!
She may know 19 languages and is in the employ of a semi-non-tyrant, and now she has a new (presumably castrated?) love interest. And yay, diversity on the program. But so don’t care.
57. Lord of Bones, a.k.a. Rattleshirt
On the plus side, he has two nicknames, both fairly awesome. On the negative side, everything else.
Everybody loves a contortionist whore, right?
Shagga, the leader of the Stone Crows, is named Shagga. And really, that’s all anyone needs to know.
One of four Stark direwolves still (presumably) alive, he also gets the least amount of screentime and has, by far, the worst name of the litter (although Lady, R.I.P.). And yet he’s still more interesting than 61 other characters.
Suggestion: The archer of the Brotherhood Without Banners should change his name to Thatoneguy.
52. Grand Maester Pycelle
Topic: There is nothing either grand or ma(e)sterful about this doddering, potion-purveying gent. Discuss.
51. Yara Greyjoy
The only thing we can ever picture when it comes to Yara is her brother Theon’s hands down her pants. It’s a problem.
50. Loras Tyrell
How long would this guy last if wedded to Cersei? She’d eat him for breakfast.
49. Lord Beric Dondarrion
He died. The Hound killed him. And yet he’s still alive. Cue the Twilight Zone music!
48. Maester Aemon Targaryen
He’s a Targaryen, and therefore a potential claimant to the Iron Throne, although the old guy likely decomposed in the time it took for us to type that.
47. Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane
There is only one Inigo Montoya, and his name is Mandy Patinkin. Imposters will be dealt with accordingly, and this guy, seemingly destined to return as Mt. Frankenstein, swings the sword.
46. Walder Frey
Did anyone else yell, “Hey, he’s the guy who devised the Red Wedding!” when watching The World’s End?
This orpaned pipsqueak’s parents were eaten by cannibals, so he avenges their deaths by … shooting a friend of the cannibals. Can we all agree that Olly’s revenge would have been more sweet if he’d shot the cannibal attacking Jon Snow, not Ygritte?
Those flaming swords are a neat parlor trick, but the Lord of Light fan’s not a bad guy to have around, especially if you have a knack for turning up dead.
Good for warging and spying so far, but let’s face it, the warging scenes are the worst, and so is everything about Bran’s interminable quest. Summer has suffered mightily by association!
42. Edmure Tully
Catelyn’s younger brother didn’t die at his eventful wedding, a.k.a. the Red Wedding, because the mayhem took place as he was bedding his unexpectedly hot new wife.
41. Samwell Tarly
Our interest in Sam’s story line vacillates episode by episode, between barely tolerating and [snoooooooze]. But darn it if his newfound chutzpah isn’t growing on us like the fungus that certainly grows within the folds of his black garments!
40. Daario Naharis
Yes, he’s man candy, but Daenerys could do way better than Smirky McSmirkington. Drogo4Life.
39. Ramsay Bolton
Total psychos who are not Joffrey are boring.
38. Ser Barristan Selmy
What a tattletale! Does he have no respect for the Bro Code? Did he forget that both he and Ser Jorah served terrible kings?
37. Tommen Baratheon
Ten points for creative cat-naming, and not being a total asshole (yet). Minus a zillion points for not having Joffrey’s swag.
36. Shireen Baratheon
What would be cool is if Stannis’s weird-faced smart daughter and the yet-to-be corrupted cat-lover Tommen Baratheon (no relation) got together, right? No?
Ah-oooooo! What’s that noise? That’s the sound of a presumably still-alive, and Arya-missing direwolf wandering around the countryside, looking for blood — your blood, especially if your nickname is the Hound. Second-best Stark direwolf alert!
Last we saw Robert Baratheon’s bastard son and look-alike of Christian Bale and Podrick Payne, he was on a rowboat to King’s Landing with no knowledge of how to swim. Gendry, row your boat ashore!
Should reckless, pervy, father’s-love-seeking Theon Greyjoy return to us, he’d be most welcome. Reek? Not so much.
32. Roose Bolton
And thus begins a run of four middle-aged white guys who may make you say meh.
31. Mance Rayder
He finally showed up for the finale to deliver some solid quips. And his name is still the show’s best bet for anyone looking to start a 1960s British invasion revival band.
30. Jorah Mormont
Banished to the friend zone and then just actually banished, Ser Jorah is now only interesting if he goes apeshit on his queen. Crush Daenerys, Jorah!
29. Stannis Baratheon
A character as interesting as ham, but a fairly decent kind of ham that may actually make those scenes at the Wall worth watching.
Big ups for the gay male prostitute selected by Oberyn for his orgy earlier this season.
27. Daenerys Targaryen
Other than getting busy with smirk-faced Daario Naharis and totally harshing on fink-faced Jorah Mormont, Dany didn’t do much this season. Unchain your two remaining dragons, Targaryen girl, and fly up our rankings!
26. White Walkers’ master
This crowned entity of few words could probably take Daenerys’s dragons, right?
25. Jon Snow
The only fear is that Ygritte’s death makes him even emo-er. Action hero Snow was a nice break from all the sullen.
Asked for his thoughts about narrowly missing the top 20, the gentle giant and Bran-toter would only say, “Shucks! I mean, Hodor!”
23. Bryden Tully
We miss Catelyn’s elusive uncle, also known as the Blackfish, who said of Walder Frey: I’ve seen “wet shits I like better than Walder Frey.” Clearly the best Tully, alive or dead.
This mysterious shadowbinder, who, like Melisandre, also hails from Asshai (this is not a misspelling of “asshat”!), ranks high due to her Boba Fett–ish qualities as well as the fun tongue-twister about where Dany and Jorah encountered her. Quaithe in Qarth!
21. Baby white walker
He was surprisingly chill around the undead, and now he’s got the actual chill to go with it.
An up-jumped knight who provides needed comic relief in the humorless King’s Landing arena.
Can someone please start a bitchface meme for this poor, chained, sourpuss dragon?
Damn, if this scheming, pudgy, bald eunuch and Tyrion-exporter isn’t growing on us!
The top-dog Stark direwolf doesn’t appear often, but whenever he does, he exhibits more personality than his owner Jon Snow.
Speaking for the Lord of Light is a big, messy job, involving killer shadow babies, leeches, and frequent nudity, but she’s just red-haired and witchy enough to do it.
15. Podrick Payne
The gentlest of Dany’s dragons should have taken wing when he had a chance. Now that he’s stuck in chains with his poor brother, cue mind’s-eye P.O.V. shot of Viserion soaring high above Mereen, with the aformentioned Sugar Ray song blaring. Dare to dream, Viserion!
13. Jaquen H’gar
A hit man who can befriend a downtrodden girl and transform his face? Hurry back, Jaquen H’gar.
13. Ser Pounce
The star of the best scene from this entire season of Game of Thrones. But whither his friends Boots and Lady Whiskers?
12. Davos Seaworth
This old salt just wants to be literate! Turns out he’s also a major player, having successfully convinced Stannis to sail north to save the men stationed at the Wall.
11. Sandor “The Hound” Clegane
For whatever reason, training Arya to be a miniature killer has softened our stance on Joffrey’s lumbering former enforcer, and we’re not sure how to feel about that. Although Arya left him for dead and, as he says, he’s probably “done,” we’re going to leave him on here until we see the light go out from his eyes.
10. Jaime Lannister
He pushed a child out of a window and had “did he or didn’t he?” sex with his sister. But! He saved Brienne from a bear after losing his sword hand. Oh, what to do with all these complex feelings!?
9. Brienne of Tarth
Sorry, Jaime-Brienne shippers — it wasn’t until she set off with Podrick that we truly got invested in her story. Please spin off their adventures into a web series.
8. Olenna Tyrell
Who runs the world? Margaery’s grandma, who took Joffrey out of the picture with ease. “Here comes my cheese!”
Our dragon’s all grown up — just look at how he’s changed over the years, from that famous shot of him perched on Daenerys’s shoulder to that one time he scorched a goat. We prefer the latter, badder incarnation, and are glad to know that he’s flying free heading into season five.
6. Margaery Tyrell
Ol’ doe eyes latched on to Tommen right quick, and she doesn’t take lip from Cersei. An Olenna in training.
5. Sansa Stark
Um, what have you done with the real Sansa Stark? After three seasons of being a sullen pushover, you’ve replaced her with someone who finally knows how to play the game — and dress like a boss while she’s at it.
4. Petyr Baelish
Prior to this season, Littlefinger would have appeared farther down this list. But the ambitious meddler is flat-out dealing this season. Bonus points for making Lysa fly; negative points for the slappable facial hair.
3. Cersei Lannister
The original tiger mom and career survivalist. She’d make a better ruler than any of these other fools.
2. Tyrion Lannister
The littlest Lannister is obviously the bestest Lannister, whether strangling promiscuous women, shooting malignant kinsmen in the chest, or being shipped overseas in a holey crate. Tyrion forever.
1. Arya Stark
The most brave and murderous child in all the land. She’s lost everything except her sense of humor and that iron coin, and we love her for that.